Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons on Dying from Luke 23:46

C.S. Lewis once noted that every human being responds to their own mortality in one of three ways: they desire it, fear it, or ignore it. The latter two are, by far, the most common.  People actively suppress thinking about death, but when it cannot be ignored, they fear it. For many Christians, death is like an ever-present ghost that, when brought to mind, strikes fear into their hearts.  It is a reality we cannot avoid, as even Scripture says"It is appointed unto man once to die and after this, the judgment" (Heb 9:27).   

But how are we to respond to death?  The answer can be found in observing how Jesus responded when his own death approached. Luke 23:46 says "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last." This verse is packed with meaning, and implies the following principles:

1. When your death approaches, remember that God reigns. Jesus fully believed that God the Father was in control of all things: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  Nothing has slipped through God's fingers.  In Deut 32:39 God said "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me, I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand".  Isaiah 53:10 says of the coming Messiah, "It was the will of the Lord to bruise him".  Regardless of what occurred, Jesus had confidence that God was ultimate in control. In light of that knowledge, Jesus was able to walk towards death confidently.

2. When your death approaches, remember that God cares.  The New Testament refers to God as Father over 240 times: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. He is depicted as a loving Father who cares for His children. In the story often called the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (which is really about God the Father) it depicts God's love in v.20, "While he was still a long way off, His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him: He ran to his son,threw his arms around him and kissed him".  1 John 3:1 says "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!" Jesus approached death knowing that he was being cared for by a loving, protective Father.

3. When your death approaches, remember you have a spirit that will live on.  Jesus believed that humanity was created with an eternal spirit: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Jesus knew, and we should know, that death for God's people is not the end.  Paul put it this way, "We are of good courage and would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). Elsewhere he says, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (Phil 1:23). Jesus understood that death does not bring an end to the existence of human beings.  There is something better on the other side, which is the very presence of God. Paul tells us that we are to live by more than just sight: "What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).

4. When your death approaches, remember that God's arms and hands are extended to His dying children.  Jesus' words are extraordinarily powerful: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  Not into the grave, not into the void, not into the dark unknown.  Instead, at the moment of death God's children are delivered safely into His hands.  We are not left stranded and alone, but rather the Father himself greets us.  Jesus was willing to walk through the difficulty of death because he understood the Father would be there waiting for him.

5. When your death approaches, remember to trust God.  As believers, we are not to mumur, or complain, or rage against God.  Murmuring expresses our displeasure with God's direction in our loves. When we murmur or complain about our approaching death we are really saying we dislike how God is governing our lives. We are implying that God does not seem to know what He is doing and that He is not capable of saving us.  We are also saying that His promises to us are false, and that He is not to be trusted.  Yet Jesus truly trusted the Father: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Jesus was confident in death because he willingly entrusted his  life to the Father.

A prayer: Lord, teach us to approach our own deaths as Christ did.  Teach us to know you, believe you, and trust in you--that we might see you and be with you for all eternity. Amen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Should you take notes during the sermon?

Based on my recent post on preaching, I've received some really good feedback (and some not-so-good).  One of the 'not-so-good' e-mails came from a young person who seemed to take pride in never taking notes. Another was from a friend in another state who told me unless you take notes you can't grow as a Christian [yes, you know who you are...I love you man, but seriously how could you say such a thing?! :o)].

Certainly taking notes has been a beneficial activity for lots of Christians.So why would someone like Martin Llyod-Jones encourage his congregation not to take notes?  Lloyd-Jone's credentials as a Reformed, biblical preacher are unquestioned.  His sermons are the one modern-day preachers go to for good preaching.  You regularly hear men like Piper, MacArthur, and Sproul referring to and quoting Lloyd-Jones. Of the generation following Spurgeon, he was the finest example of expository preaching in the world. So why would someone with unquestioned loyalty to expository preaching tell his people not to take notes?

First, we need to understand that Lloyd-Jones went too far with this advice (as the quoted article from Jared Wilson pointed out in the my last post).  A total ban on note-taking isn't the cure. Keep in mind that he also was opposed to having his sermons recorded (they did it anyway), because he believed no one should be able to hit the 'pause' button when sitting under the preached Word.  In many respects, Lloyd-Jones was a product of his time.

Second, we do need to understand the problem Lloyd-Jones was reacting to.  There is an inherent danger in note-taking that, unless its users are aware of it, can be detrimental to to a true understanding of God's Word.  However, where Jones was wrong was believing that the danger could be avoided by banning the practice. What is the danger?  Sensitive expository preachers recognize at least two:

1. Note-taking focuses the mind on the intellectual facts of the passage, often to the exclusion of the moral demands the text is trying to make upon our heart.  Lloyd-Jones was an English rationalist, meaning he certainly believed in the importance of truth, facts, and precision (just read his sermons to see what I mean). But when we over-emphasize facts then the sermon is reduced to an intellectual exercise.  However, we dare not go too far with this caution, because we need facts in order to understand the passage.  This is why a ban on note-taking doesn't solve the problem.  It can create the opposite problem (e.g. a person who retains little understanding of the factual elements of the Bible passage).  Without knowing what the passage is saying, we are never going to understand what it is demanding.  But if we focus only on the facts, we will be equally ignorant of its meaning (though wrongly convinced we understand it).

B. Note-taking often tempts the congregant to focus on the words of the preacher instead of the biblical text.  Preachers like Lloyd-Jones, Martin Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and others were painfully aware of this problem.  Understand that it actually pained Lloyd-Jones to hear people say "I love sitting under your preaching".  It depressed him that people would leave his sermons remembering his clever points or well-spoken phrases. Like John the Baptist before him, he wished to "decrease" that the Word of God might "increase" in his hearers hearts.  He suppressed note-taking because he didn't want his congregants remembering quotes, as he was only interested that they walked out thinking more correctly about the passage before them.  Of course, that can happen even if one doesn't take notes! As much as I appreciate and agree with his concern, we dare not minimizes the clear need for teaching and preaching within Christ's Body.  God wants teachers/preachers, and so banning note-taking as an effort to minimize the preacher goes too far. 

How should Christians approach note-taking:

1. If it helps you, do it.  It's that simple.  It is an effective learning tool for some (myself included).  I'm a "quote" guy, so I love writing down insightful quotes and sayings.  I've never really cared about getting all the speaker's "points" (less so if they are alliterated--a nasty little speaking device which has often been used to do considerable violence to the biblical text in an effort to make fit the third "P"-word or the fourth "S"-word). With that said, I do love writing things down. Our church recently had a guest speaker who taught on humility, and I furiously copied things down as fast as I could.  Conversely, one of my favorite speakers is Dr. Jim Grier, and I've never taken a note during any of his sermons, partly because the way he draws me into the passage rather than speaking about the passage.

2. Write down what helps you understand the biblical text.  If you sense its drawing you further into the 'heart' of the passage, write it down (yes, even the alliterated points if it helps).  When done well, these can be a tremendous aid when you visit the passage again in your Bible reading.  Particularly helpful are comments about key words, important cross-references, or information about the historical context.

3. What down words from the preacher that can clearly be substantiated from the biblical text.  Note-taking is not the place to copy down the pastor's opinion about President Obama, or opinions that are barely connected to the text.  Each week I listen to a couple of sermons by John MacArthur and John Piper (among other men).  A few weeks ago I felt one of these speakers was going way off base.  While his words were good and even biblically true, I felt he was over-using cross-references and was making points that weren't connected very well to the passage before us.  I stopped taking notes until I sensed he was getting back to the text again.

4. Don't focus so much on note-taking that you fail to sit and deeply listen.  Listening for the purpose of taking notes is often very different than listening for the purpose of wanting to hear Scripture. A few months back I was listening to an old tape of Pastor Dave Derlan (a former pastor of Grace Chapel), where he said "I want you to stop taking notes for a minute and listen to me."  The challenge for note-takers is to remember there are times when you can hear the Spirit best by putting your pen down---and, to be fair, maybe you non-note takers can actually pick up a pen once in a while (yes, another loving 'slap' to the young man mentioned above)!  

5. Don't feel it is required.  It is okay not to take notes. It doesn't mean your more mature in the faith if you do (after all, Lloyd-Jones refused to).  But it also doesn't mean your more mature if you don't.  Refusing to take notes shouldn't be used as a license to be intellectually lazy.  If you can focus more on what the Spirit is saying in the text without taking notes, then so be it.

6. The goal of note-taking should be to "get" the passage, not the preacher.  Go ahead and write down great quotes or good points, but also remember the fear held by some of the greatest expository preachers in the history of the Church.  Whereas God has chosen to use preachers to equip his people, remember your goal as a congregant is to be impressed with the biblical passage, not the one who is teaching the passage.  A true expository preacher hates to hear "I loved your sermon".  He would much rather hear, "I as really impacted by what Paul said the Corinthian believers in our passage this morning".  Those are two very different statements.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Q&A: Can one who has committed adultery ever become a pastor or elder?

Q: Based on Proverbs 6:32-33, can someone who has committed adultery in the past ever be a pastor or elder?

A: Proverbs 6:32-33 says:
(32)But a man who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; whoever does so destroys himself. (33) Wounds and disgrace he will find, and his reproach will not be blotted out."
Since 1 Timothy 3:2 says an elder/pastor must be "above reproach",  some use this verse to claim that the sin of adultery permanently disqualifies someone from ministry since "his reproach will not be blotted out." While it is true that someone who is actively engaged in or unrepentant for adultery (or any other sin) is disqualified from ministry, the interpretation outlined above is a serious misunderstanding of God's Word.

First: We must read this passage according to its literary context.  One of the first rules on biblical interpretation is that context determines meaning.  Proverbs are not prophecies, but rather statements about how life generally works.  For example, Prov 22:6 says "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."  This is not offering Christian parents a guarantee that their children will be saved, but rather more often than not children will follow after God if parents provide them with a godly foundation.  Proverbs are truisms, in that they explain how life generally works.  Prov 6:33 is telling us that life works in such a way that adultery is considered shameful, even by the standards of the non-believing world.

Second: Read the passage according to its immediate context. These verses talk about more than just shame/reproach. Verse 33 says that adultery will receive "wounds", which refers to physical beatings from the husband of the woman involved in the adulterous relationship.  Verse 34 says the husband will be "furious" and "will not spare when he takes revenge".  Verse 35 says the adulterer will never be forgiven by the husband.  Certainly Scripture is not justifying physical violence or the refusal to forgive!  It is simply saying that the offense is so serious that the refusal to forgive is the normal response (as well as the physical beatings!). Yet, if we are to claim that adultery permanently disqualifies a man based on this verse, then we must also claim that the offended husband has the right to continue to beat him and refuse to forgive him.  We don't have the right to pick and choose which statements in the verse we are going to apply.

Taking this verse rigidly leads to other problems. The text says "his reproach will not be blotted out".  Is this during the man's lifetime?  Does it mean that his reproach will be on him for all eternity?  Most holding to the 'permanent view' would never make that latter claim, but the text itself does not allow for such arbitrary limitation.  Furthermore, can we make an exception for someone who committed adultery before they were saved?  Most would, but again if we are taking the more rigid view the text doesn't allow for that limitation.  Are we then to believe that pre-conversion adultery brings us shame upon us that will last for eternity? Certainly this cannot be Scripture's meaning.

Third: Pay attention to who is doing the action in the passage.  Who, exactly, is refusing to 'blot out' this man's sin?  Verses 30-35 are contrasting society's responses to theft and adultery.  Whereas "people" (v.30) will show pity to a thief who steals due to hunger, they will show no pity to an adulterer.  Society will refuse to 'blot out' (e.g. forgive/forget) this kind of sin, as evidenced by the recent example of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sinful human beings are the ones refusing to 'blot out' adultery, not God. 

Fourth: Read this passage with a biblical view of sin.  Often those who hold the 'permanent view' believe they are taking sin seriously, and therefore take a hard line against adultery.  The real problem, however, is that they have a superficial and rather silly view of what adultery really is.  Jesus tells us this sin is much more widespread and deeper than most believe.  Matthew 5:27-28 says "You have heard that is was said 'You shall not commit adultery'. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  If those holding to the permanent disqualification view are correct, then according to Jesus every single pastor on the planet must immediately resign.  If Jesus--who is God incarnate--has said there is no difference between physical adultery and mental adultery, then the consequences for both should be the same (and according to Matt 5:29-30, they are!).  If the permanent view is correct, then anyone who has lusted after a woman is also permanently disqualified from ministry.

Fifth: Read this passage through the lens of the Gospel.  Scripture must be read according to a redemptive framework.  The overarching story of the Bible is that sin brings shame, but Christ brings forgiveness and restoration. Both Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10 clearly teach that adulterers must be put to death, but no Christian currently puts this Law into practice. Christ has written a new law onto our hearts.  To believe that one sin brings permanent shame is a rejection of the very Gospel we proclaim!  Paul boldly told the Roman believers, "as it is written, 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whosoever believes in him will not be put to shame" (Rom 9:33, ESV).  Christ has removed the reproach and shame of all who put their faith in him.

When writing to the Corinthian believers, Paul said this:
"Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:9b-11).
Some in the Corinthian congregation had committed the sin of adultery, yet they found full restoration in Christ. The ugliness of sin (including adultery) is that it deserves the punishment of eternal shame.  The beauty of the Cross is that Jesus takes that shame from us.  He takes the repentant adulterer and washes him, sanctifies him, and justifies him.  The former sinner now becomes a holy vessel before the Lord.  We need to remember the truth God once spoke directly to Peter, "What God has called clean, do not call unclean" (Acts 11:9).

Proverbs 6:33 warns us of the dangers of adultery.  It reminds us that even the non-believing world around us condemns this sin.  It also warns us that life can go terribly wrong when we refuse to listen to God and go off in our own sinful direction.  But the Gospel reminds us how God forgives and restores.  David, himself an adulterer, once cried out to God, "Hid your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in my a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:9-10).  David had confidence that God would blot out his sins.  This is a precious truth, and God wants us to know it.  Even though the world around us may not 'blot out' (e.g. forget/forgive) the sin of adultery, God most certainly will.  Every repentant adulterer should find comfort in what God told Isaiah, "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Proclamational Preaching vs Bible Lectures

Below is an excellent article by Jared Wilson about taking notes during sermons (especially read the excellent quotes from Lloyd-Jones and Ortlund). I am convinced that most of what peddles itself as 'expository preaching' is little more than fact-driven Bible lectures. Now, a lecture on the Bible is a wonderful thing--just don't confuse it with expository preaching.  

You can easily recognize these 'Bible lectures' because they often have fill-in-the-blank handouts and excessively use power-point slides. The 30-45 minute-sermon is stuffed with facts and cross-references, all of which the dutiful congregant is expected to copy down. While this type of message is edifying and can be beneficial, we dare not confuse it with real, biblical, expository preaching. Bible lectures only have the appearance of depth, but because they are designed to target the mind they have no power to change the heart. 

True expository preaching proclaims the message of the passage and its hearers are drawn into the heartbeat of the text before them.  Ray Ortlund says "Hearing a sermon is not like hearing a lecture. It is your meeting with the living Christ. It is you seeing his glory, so that you can feel and and be changed by it."  The more I read the great expository sermons of men like Spurgeon, Calvin, and Martin Lloyd-Jones, the more I become convinced that most who consider themselves 'expository preachers' have no real idea what those words mean.

Below is Jared's blog post:


Ray Ortlund recently excerpted the Doctor on note-taking during sermons:
“I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors(Edinburgh, 1987), page 360.

Some thoughts of my own:

1. I began rethinking what preaching is about the time I began growing disillusioned with the "6 Steps to Successful Yada Yada Yada" I had been fed in church for nearly 15 years. At that time, we didn't often have to take notes, as a fill-in-the-blank notesheet was often provided. This many of us would dutifully complete, filling in the missing alliterations, then when the service was over, fold in half, stuff in our pockets, and later find converted back to pulp when the laundry was done.

2. It is difficult for people accustomed to 6 handy steps with accompanying Bible verses to transition to proclamational preaching. I learned this first when preaching this way in a young adult service hosted by a "seeker church" that preached the other way. There was category confusion. The sermons didn't seem bullet-pointy, so there was difficulty sensing the narrative. And I stunk at helping.

3. I first began thinking about note-taking in relation to what preaching is when I heard Tim Keller say in a sermon, "I don't mind if you take notes at the beginning of a message, but if you're still taking notes at the end, I feel like I haven't brought it home." I thought to myself, "Hmmm."

4. I began discouraging note-taking (not forbidding it) and relieving my church from the duty of note taking (meaning, saying they didn't have to) because I want them to see preaching in the worship service not as a lecture or as primarily an educational transmission to their minds, but as prophetic proclamation and as primarily aimed at their hearts.

5. Some people have said they process what they hear better when they write things down, and that's cool. Some people have said being told they shouldn't take notes if they don't need to was a huge relief. They now hear better. People are different. I would say if taking notes helps you hear, take notes. If taking notes is simply for memory afterwards, I would recommend not doing so. There is always the sermon audio to refer to, and I provide my preaching outline (which usually includes the lines people most want to remember) to anyone who asks for it.

6. My view of preaching is that it is an act of worship for both the preacher and the congregation. The aim of preaching is to proclaim and exalt Christ by proclaiming and exulting in the Scriptures. For this reason, I dissuade note-takers, the same way I dissuade a similar approach to the music time. In worship music, we respond to the gospel by exalting God verbally. In the preaching time, a congregation may not be exalting verbally (although "Amen"s are appreciated, and the occasional awe-inspired gasp is gold :-), but they are not passive in their silence.

7. The preacher ought to do his best on each sermon and preach his guts out in an act of audience-of-One worship, but it is best not to trust one sermon for specific results. Instead, we trust a pattern of and persistence in preaching to have a cumulative effect on the hearts of individuals and in the shaping of a local body. Note-taking is a one sermon act of trust. Just listening and exulting in proclamation trusts that it's okay to miss some good lines or good points, because it trusts the Holy Spirit to be shaping your heart through the preaching of God's Word.

8. Ditching the note-taking preaching ethos both elevates sermons and properly diminishes them. It treats a sermon as proclamation aided by the Spirit, which gives the sermon a supernatural weight. On the other hand, by treating all words in a sermon as expendable to memory, it puts the preacher's words in the right place compared to the Scripture's words. It diminishes the impact of a well-turned phrase and magnifies real revelation.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How should Christians view interracial marriage?

Is it biblically permissible for a person of one race to marry another?  Even if it is permissible, is it unwise?  Scripture speaks directly and forcefully to this issue, though sadly in some corners of Christianity there are those who have allowed their thoughts and attitudes to be influenced by the unbiblical world.

A Biblical View of Race: 
The view that we are divided into different races marked by skin-color was popularized by the evolutionist Charles Darwin. He maintained that the different ‘races’ existed because various human groups were on different levels of the evolutionary scale.  Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, urges Christians to reject any view that unbiblically divides humanity in this way.  He notes that “these so-called ‘racial’ characteristics that people think are major differences (skin color, eye shape, etc.) account for only 0.012 percent of human biological variation." He quotes an unbelieving scientist who was forced to admit that ‘race’ is only a man-made social construct that “has no basis in biological reality”.

This is affirmed by the Creation account, which indicates that all humans are descendants of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:20).  Acts 17:26 confirms this when it says all humanity is from "one blood" (more literally: 'are made from one').  Only human beings are created in God's image (Gen 1:26-27). Science merely confirms what Scripture has already declared: humanity is one race of beings, distinct from any other creature on Earth. 

While God divided humanity from the rest of Creation, some 'Christians' are determined to divide humanity among itself.  Of course, to do so requires taking Bible verses out of context (such as the Lev 19 command not to mate various breeds of cattle). Paul warns about such men “wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim 1:7). To further divide humanity into distinct and rigid racial categories is a blatant rejection of the teachings of Genesis 1 & 2, and is a dehumanizing assault on God’s image-bearer. Such an assault makes sense from those holding to an evolutionary view.  From one claiming to be a Christian it is a tragic abandonment of Scriptural truth.

Does God Desire those of different skin-colors to be Separate? 
John Piper told of receiving a letter saying: 
“God made races uniquely different and intended for these distinctions to remain. He never intended the human race to become a mongrel or mixed race.” 
Actually, this is a denial of the biblical record. God’s original plan was for humanity to be a unified whole, being in obedience to Him.  Division eventually occurred in Gen 11 when God judged the rebellious actions of those at the Tower of Babel.  Even here the division was by language (and by implication, culture), not by skin-color. They disobeyed God, resulting in division and divisiveness. 

But the 'tonic' or 'cure' for Genesis 11 is Galatians 3, which speaks of faith and obedience.  Believers are called to obey and have faith in Christ, resulting in a new life in Christ in which there is "neither Jew nor Greek" (v28).  Sin brings judgment and division, but Christ brings redemption and unity.  Those 'Christians' who insist that humanity must stay divided by skin-color are actively opposing the redemptive work of Christ which wipes away the effects of the Fall.
Certainly in the OT God commands His people to separate themselves from the non-believing nations. Deut 7:3 says, “You shall not intermarry with [the nations]; you shall not give your daughters to their sons…”  But the next verse explains what God means: (v4) “For they will turn away your sons from following Me to serve other Gods”.  In his book Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong, John MacArthur says:
“In the Old Testament interracial marriage is not forbidden on the basis of ethnicity, but rather idolatry…The basis of God’s prohibitions was to prevent false worship from being integrated into Jewish culture; therefore an Israelite could not marry a person who was not a true worshipper of God. This is still true for believers today (2 Cor 6:14). For God’s people marriage has always been an issue of faith, not race.”
But what about passages such as Deut 32:8 or Acts 17:26 that state God has determined the ‘borders’ of the nations?  Don’t such verses teach that it is wrong to ‘cross borders’ in marriage? Not at all. These passages are speaking about God’s sovereignty over the entire world.  The OT never taught it was wrong in and of itself to marry outside of Israel.  Ruth, a Moabitess, was free to marry Boaz because she became a believer in Yahweh.  Boaz’s mother (Rahab) was a non-Israelite and former prostitute who became a believer, eventually marrying Salmon from the Jewish tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:5).  In Numbers 12 God actually rebukes and punishes Miriam for criticizing Moses’ choice to take a black Cushite as his wife.

Scripture Allows Interracial Marriage: 
As mentioned above, Miriam and Aaron rebuke Moses for taking an African bride. They even tried using their faith as a justification for their view (v.2).  Although Miriam and Aaron are harshly rebuked by God for criticizing this marriage, Moses is never rebuked for having married her.  In v.11, Aaron repents and confesses that his opposition of this marriage was ‘foolish’ and ‘sinful’.  Notice the words Aaron choose! He hears God's truth and immediately repents.  The message from God was clear: do not oppose those things, and those people, that God condones.

In the New Testament Paul explicitly gives widows permission to marry interracially (among other ways).  1 Cor 7:39 says “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” Notice what is being said:
A.      She can marry anyone she wants.
B.      The only restriction is that the man must be a follower of Christ.
During Paul’s time Corinth was an important land and sea trade route, and it hosted the yearly Isthmian games. As such, it drew people from around the known world.  Within this ethnically diverse city, Paul in no way indicates the widow should stay within certain racial boundaries when seeking a husband.  Quite the opposite.  He refuses to recognize any barrier or restriction, with the sole exception of faith in Jesus Christ. 

Sin Divides; The Gospel Unites: 
In Colossians 3:9-11 Paul says, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all, and in all.”
The practices of the ‘old self’ are the ones that divided over petty, man-made criteria.  Such unredeemed practices believed things like: ‘Don’t marry the Scythian’, ‘Don’t fellowship with the barbarian’ (a NT term for anyone outside the Roman Empire), ‘Keep separate from the uncircumcised’, ‘Keep the Greek and the Jewish bloodlines unmingled’, ‘Stay away from the slave’.
By contrast, the ‘new self’ rejects such lines of thinking.  While cultural and ethnic differences obviously still exist, the point is that they are no longer barriers to believers.  We are fellow citizens of another nation (Phil 3:20), and therefore unredeemed attitudes are to no longer keep believers from experiencing complete unity and intimate fellowship.
The final image of Heaven is God having redeemed for Himself a people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9; 7:9). Believers, who come from all these diverse people groups, have been re-created into a single people through Christ.  1 Peter 1:9 tells us that we are to live in this reality nowas we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God's own possession."
Let non-believers divide over skin-color.  Christians, by contrast, are those who have put away all such sinful division. When looking for a marriage partner, be concerned with the level of their faith, not the pigmentation of their skin.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Gospel and Interracial Marriage

At our Wednesday evening service tonight we will be searching Scripture together regarding the issue of inter-racial marriage.  Often people think that Scripture doesn't directly speak to this issue.  Quite the opposite is true.  Sadly, many Christians have been influenced by the very "thought patterns of this world" that we are commanded to actively reject. In every corner of America (not just the deep south) genuine believers can be found who have nevertheless adopted a sinful approach to race and interracial marriage.

Thabiti Anyabwile once said something to the affect of "The world focuses on race for all the wrong reasons, while God focuses on race for all the right reasons---from every tongue, tribe, and nation he rescued men---to the glory of God!"  When sinful men approach the issue of race it can only breed a sinful response (racism, superiority, condemnation of 'intermingling the races', etc).  Yet when we approach race through God's eyes something redemptive happens.  We realize that all are created in God's image, and that in Christ there is "no longer Jew nor Greek".  

May God protect His people from the sin of racism, even as He empowers His people to view all things through the redemptive lense of the Gospel. If your in the West Liberty, Ohio area tonight, we encourage you to come and hear what the Bible has to say on this important topic. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Is Mary the Mother of God?

Q. Is it wrong to refer to Mary as "the mother of God"?

A. Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, and even some Protestants have long referred to Mary as the Theotokos, which literally means "God-bearer". In contemporary usage this Greek word is often imprecisely translated "mother of God'.

Many Christians bristle at this phrase. In the early centuries of the Church a man named Nestorius adamantly rejected referring to Mary as the theotokos. While he firmly believed that Christ has two natures (one divine, one human), he maintained that only the 'human' side of Christ was capable of being born. So while Mary was truly the mother of Jesus, and even the mother of the Messiah, she cannot not be called the 'bearer of God'. He maintained that divine nature, by definition, cannot have a mother.  We often hear such language in contemporary preaching. I remember hearing one Evangelist chiding Catholicism on this point, stating in a dramatic fashion that it is a horrible heresy to call Mary the mother of God.

I can sympathize with Nestorius (and this Evangelist), but I must disagree with him. Certainly Mary is not the mother of God in an eternal sense. But Scripture clearly maintains that Mary gave birth to God's divine son.  Consider the following verses:

John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

Jesus' person cannot be split into two 'sections'. It is not as if He is 1/2 God and 1/2 man. To say that Mary gave birth only to the human portion of Jesus is to misunderstand the incarnation. In fact, in 451 (the Council of Ephesus), the historic Church considered such belief heresy (so, our Evangelist friend above was the heretic, not the Catholics--at least on this point). As an illustration, your genetic make-up comes 50/50 from your mom and dad. You cannot divide out separately what is from your Dad. Its all mixed together. That is an imperfect illustration but it demonstrates something similar about Jesus. Jesus truly has two natures (God/man), but He is one person that cannot be divided.

Galatians 4:4-5, "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son
born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, 
that we might receive adoption to sonship."

The apostle Paul clearly maintains that Jesus, the divine son of God, was born of a woman. If this is unthinkable to you I would suggest that is the entire point. The incarnation is radical. It brings about that thing which is not supposed to be possible, yet with God, all things are possible (Matt 19:26). Cyril of Alexandria once wrote, "I am amazed that there are some who are entirely in doubt as to whether Mary should be called God-bearer or not. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how is Mary who gave him birth not a God-bearer?"  

Does this mean that we should agree with the Catholic view of Mary? On this issue, most certainly. The miracle of the incarnation isn't just that a virgin conceived (though that is obviously miraculous). The greatest miracle of the incarnation is that God became man while remaining God. Col 2:9 is adamant: "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form". Mary gave birth not just to a human Jesus, but to a fully human and fully divine Jesus.

Yet we strongly disagree with other ways the Catholics/Orthodox view Mary. While Scripture tells us she is blessed (Luke 1:42), she was still a sinner who needed a Savior. She is not holy because she gave birth to Jesus. She is holy because Jesus saved her from her sins.

In summary. It is heresy to deny that Mary is the mother of God. But is also heresy to pray to her or venerate/worship her.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Carson, Mohler, & Horton on Osama

Here are D.A. Carson’s reflections on Osama bin Laden from 2002, which I believe are some of the most balanced and biblical comments I've seen: 
“He is an evil man, and he must be stopped, but he is a man, and we should take no pleasure in destroying him. Vengeance is the Lord’s alone. Do not offer the alternative, ‘Should we weep for Osama bin Laden or hold him to account for his genocide and prevent him from carrying out his violent intentions?’ The right answer is yes.” —Love in Hard Places, (Crossway, 2002), 143 
Al Mohler, who said Christians should greet this news with "sober satisfaction", also commented on his blog: 
All people of good will should be pleased that bin Laden is no longer a personal threat, and that his death may further weaken terrorist plans and aspirations. But revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response. Should we be glad that forces of the United States military have the means, the will, and the opportunity to remove this threat? Of course we should. Should we be hopeful that such an action will serve as a warning to others who might plan similar actions? Of course. Should we find some degree of moral satisfaction in the fact that bin Laden did not die a natural death outside the reach of human justice? Yes, of course. But open patriotic celebration in the streets? That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies.
Michael Horton has written perhaps the best detailed response.  I'll highlight one of his comments, but urge the reader to look take a look at the more nuanced original article
We cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23). We may take satisfaction that temporal justice has been served, but Christians should display a sober restraint. When Christ returns, bringing infinite justice in his wake, his saints will rejoice in the death of his enemies. For now, however, he calls us to pray for our enemies, even for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). This is the day of salvation, calling sinners to repent and believe the gospel.

A Biblical Perspective on Collective Bargaining

A past post from Doug Wilson's blog that I thought worth repeating:

Just a quick note about "collective bargaining." The real question for those who would understand the nature of unions is the question of ownership. Say there is a particular job at the office building, or at the factory, or in the shop on Main Street. Who owns that job? 
The assumption behind collective bargaining is that the one who holds the job owns the job. The biblical understanding is that the one who offers the job owns the job (Matt. 20:15). This is not the same as saying that the employer is a great guy. No, the owners of jobs are frequently evil, and they abuse their position of ownership (Jas. 5:4). 
Labor/management disputes often fall into a false good guy/bad guy dichotomy, and it betrays a false understanding of the antithesis. In the Bible the owners are often the bad guys. But that does not mean they are not the owners of the jobs they offer. Bad guys can own things. And the commandment does not say, "Thou shalt not steal, except from bad guys." 
So there is absolutely nothing wrong with employees collectively deciding that conditions on the job are horrendous, and deciding en masse that they don't want to work there anymore. And there is no problem with them negotiating with the owner from that collective position. Say they are asking for a raise, or for safer working conditions. That is fully legitimate as well. What is not legitimate is for them to lock up the job they have abandoned as though they are the owners of it. To refuse to work a job that you simultaneously lay claim to is a claim of ownership, which in this case is a false claim. 
This sin (and it is a sin) is in evidence when strikers attack what they call "scabs." Scabs are workers looking for employment, and the horrendous conditions on the abandoned job would, in their instance, be an improvement. 
In other words, collective bargaining is nothing but extortion, and Christians should do everything in their power to have nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This Wednesday evening I will be presenting a message titled "Should Christians Pray the Imprecatory Psalms?"  Scripture often uses harsh language against the enemies of God's people, and David openly prayed for their destruction.  Biblical scholars refer to these as 'imprecatory psalms'.  The recent death of Osama bin Laden once again brings up the issue of how believers should understand and apply these verses.  There are Christians who claim we are to pray down God's wrath upon non-believers who oppose Christ, and still others who repudiate these psalms as harsh and unChrist-like.  Looking carefully at Scripture, I will argue that neither approach is biblical.  We invite you to attend tomorrow night to hear this important message.

Grace Chapel Church
500 Linden St
West Liberty, OH 43357
Service starts at 7:00PM

Biblical Certainty

I was reading another blog on the subject of biblical certainty.  The writer was responding to that movement which questions the possibility that we can know with confidence the truths of Scripture. The logic goes as follows:
a) God is infinite
b) We are finite
c) The finite can never grasp the infinite
d) Therefore, we can never understand anything about God.
Sometimes we hear this same logic presented in a different way:
a) There are many different interpretations of any given scripture passage
b) We are finite, and therefore can never have God's understanding of truth
c) Therefore, no one can ever understand Scripture with certainty.
The way we respond to this is important.  No Christian should ever claim we can know everything about God with absolute certainty.  Neither should we even claim we can understand every verse in the Bible with absolute certainty.  But the biblical position is that we can know God and accurately understand the central teachings of His Word. While there may be some legitimate interpretational questions on various biblical texts, to deny that we can know the essentials of the Christian faith is a denial of revelation and of God's power and ability to successfully communicate with humanity.

I'm not going to get into a technical philosophical response (we can save that for a later date).  As I read the blog I came across one of the comments.  Written tongue-in-cheek, the comment applies the logic above to our treatment of women:
There are numerous ways people choose to treat women. Some love them, some rape them, some beat them, some murder them to save the family honor and so on. So I guess the reality of multiple views means that we cannot know the proper or correct interpretation or understanding.  Whew! I thought I was going to have to make a moral choice or something.  I stand relieved.
Well said!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Feeling the Danger of False Doctrine

No doubt, some Christians get worked up over the smallest controversies, making a forest fire out of a Yankee Candle.
But there is an opposite danger–and that is to be so calm, so middle-of-the-road, so above-the-fray that you no longer feel the danger of false doctrine.
You always sound analytical, never alarmed.
Always crying for much-neglected conversation, never crying over a much-maligned cross.
There is something worse than hurting feelings, and that is trampling upon human hearts.

Osama bin Laden

Late this evening I heard the news that Osama bin Laden was killed by American military forces.  As I scanned the internet I was shocked to see various Christian leaders, many whom I respect, offering praise to God for justice being served.  Mark Driscoll tweeted "Thank you Jesus for being His JUDGE" and that this "justice is glorious".  Russel Moore also tweeted that "The sword of justice, when exercised justly, is a minister of God's righteousness." Even Justin Taylor, a blogger with a reputation for graciousness, offered similar sentiments as his first reaction to this news. Jared Wilson, author of "The Gospel-centered Church", offered a gospel-less tweet by (wrongly) quoting 2 Chron 20:27, "The LORD had made them rejoice over their enemies" (remember what Jesus said about our enemies?). Ed Stetzer, in a tasteless comment, chose to focus on his 'rights' as an American by saying "Now that bin Laden is gone, can we have our civil liberties back, send home the #TSA and restore the 4th Amendment?"  Abraham Piper (John Piper's son), thought it fitting to joke "Osama Bin Laden is dead? I want to see the long-form death certificate."  Frankly I find these comments little different than the ones left by non-believers on cnn.com and foxnews.com.  I have a sinking feeling that tomorrow will bring a host of similar comments, and a chorus of others justifying their own lack of grace and mercy.

Tonight I don't thank Jesus for being his judge.  Instead, I thank Jesus for not judging me. I weep and mourn for those who die in their rebellion against God, even as I am humbled that Jesus saved me though I was also was in rebellion.  And while I believe that the human sword of justice is a servant of God's righteousness (cf Rom 13), what utter foolishness would drive a Christian to rejoice in that truth on this terrible evening?  

Does this mean we shouldn't be thankful for justice?  Should we not praise God because, to some small degree, we are a little safer with Osama gone?  Yes, we should show gratitude for those things.  But God has told us that He takes "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezek 33:11). How dare we rejoice in the very thing that God refuses to find pleasure in?

I was encouraged to read a blog post from my dear friend Arthur Sido:

No rejoicing here 
Waiting to hear the President speak on the killing of Osama bin Laden. The long pursued enemy of the United States is dead. Osama bin Laden, public enemy number one and seemingly untouchable bogeyman, the name that taunted the U.S. for the last decade has gone to face his Maker. 
There was a time when I would have been overjoyed at this news. Justice is done! 
Not anymore.  
Osama bin Laden is a murderer and has the blood of untold people on his hands even if he didn't fly planes into buildings or blow up bombs. He died, without much doubt, outside of Christ and will stand before the Judge with no excuse and be condemned. That is nothing to rejoice in. 
There will be no chants of "USA, USA, USA!" in my home, no triumphal waving of the American flag. The eternal fate of Osama bin Laden is the same as that of anyone who dies outside of Christ: an eternal hell facing the righteous wrath of a just and holy God. The fate of Osama is something that we should take no pleasure in and is the same one that will be shared by your nice neighbor who waters his lawn and drinks ice tea on his porch but doesn't know Christ. If you are a Christian, bin Laden's fate is the same fate you would have suffered if not for the sovereign grace of God. You might not have plotted the 9/11 attacks but your justice would have been the same and being a tax-paying, flag-waving, patriotic American doesn't get you a different fate. 
For Christians in America, this serves as a test of where our allegiance lies. Is it with the U.S. of A. or is it with the Prince of Peace, the Lamb who was slain? Instead of smiles, this event should make ever more clear the urgency of the Great Commission. We are called to take the Gospel to all people, not just Americans. As followers of Christ we are called to love our enemies, not to hasten their demise or applaud their death.