Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jesus' Ongoing Ministry

One of the greatest things about the ministry of Christ that he continues to minister to us in heaven before the throne of God. In fact, because of His presence in heaven, the throne of God is a throne of grace for the believer in Jesus Christ.

In heaven, Christ is a glorified and resurrection body which has conquered and triumphed over sin and death. His body is one of indestructible life, that of the resurrection, that of the age to come, the new creation.

Yet, when we cry out to him, we have one who is able to sympathize with us. While Jesus Christ himself never sinned--in his earthly humanity, he was like us in all things. He had a body that was beholden to weakness and suffering. He knows what it is like to cry out to God the Father in great need.

This makes Christ, all the more, a fitting minister on our behalf. He has "been there" as it were. He has seen the struggle and walked it. He alone was heard because of his godliness in his cry to God but because of this he can identify and be a mediator for us both as the godliness that we need but also as the perfected one before the throne on our behalf. And yet because he was like us in all things, he can continue to minister as he does as the representative human.

Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Trinity and God's Love

John Owen's Communion with God is a classic text. It reminds us of the love we have from God and our communion with Him is from/with each of the three persons of the Godhead.

This is amazingly true and can be illustrated from many texts, one of which is Galatians 4:4-7.

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

First, we should note that while love is not specifically mentioned in this text, we cannot conceive these actions apart from the love of God. So while love is not mentioned by name here, plenty of other verses in Scripture describe the same content here in connection with the love of God.

Second, this passage does not “work” unless God is a Trinity. A basic definition of the Trinity is that God is one God (not three Gods) consisting of three eternal persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). God is one being and three persons.

Each person has all the divine attributes completely. So that the Father is eternal and glorious, the Son is eternal and glorious and the Holy Spirit is eternal and glorious. But they are not three eternal beings or three glories.

This is a vital doctrine for a number of reasons:
(1) Because this is who God is. --If you love your spouse, you have to love them for who they are.

(2) Because God would not be love if he were not also three persons. C.S. Lewis says that when most people say “God is love” what they really mean is “love is God”. But for their to be an eternal love of God, there needs to be three eternal persons.

So some basic point:
1. The love of God is accomplished by the sending of the Son.
  • The love of God is an active love.
  • God the Father accomplishes His Love in the sending of His Son.
  • Jesus Christ is our redemption.
  • So that there is no conflict between the Father and Son in this plan. Jesus didn’t say “do I have to do this?” 
  • There is also love that comes from the Father and from the Son.

2. The love of God is applied by the sending of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is pouring God’s love into our hearts by virtue of His presence in us. (Romans 5:5)
  • God’s love came into the world when God sent Christ, but God’s love came into our hearts when the Holy Spirit regenerated us with new life.
  • So God the Father sends the Spirit. But it is the Holy Spirit of the Son.
    (1) Because Jesus had a perfect spiritual experience with the Holy Spirit in His earthly life.
    (2) Jesus Christ is the one who went back to heaven so that the Holy Spirit could be sent. He too is involved in the sending.
How does the Holy Spirit help you grasp the love of God?
  1. You would not believe or grasp the gospel if it were not for the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit. You need regeneration. You need to be made alive, to be made to see.
  2. You will not love God unless God first puts His love in your heart. This is the Holy Spirit’s job.
  3. The Holy Spirit seals you. You cannot be cut of from Christ because the Holy Spirit resides in you.
  4. The Holy Spirit causes you to cry out to God as your Father.
3. The love of God is experienced by you in your adoption.
  • (1) Adoption is not the same kind of sonship.
  • (2) God’s love in your adoption brings a status to us and an inheritance for us. So adoption does bring the same kingdom privileges that the Son has won and acquired.
  • (3) God’s love in my adoption brings intimacy with God to me.

My thoughts today, stem from this sermon on the Trinity and the Triune Love of God. You can listen in the player below:

Monday, February 24, 2014

On the Holy Spirit

Last month I preached to sermons on the Holy Spirit from John 14 and 16.

A couple things I noticed in the passage:
(1) The importance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus doesn't give us "second bests" once he goes away. It is actually good that he goes away.
(2) The coming of the Holy Spirit is of major importance for the climax of redemptive history.
(3) The role of the Spirit is vital for the application of redemption in the Christian life. 
The more I study Scripture, the more I am convinced of the wisdom of older Reformed theologians. For example, they did not back off and minimize the Holy Spirit. 

One all too common critique out there is that if you are cessationist you have little or no value for the role of the Holy Spirit. I defy anyone to make that criticism after reading just a smidgen of Calvin or Owen, Bavinck or even Warfield (esp. on Calvin).

On the contrary I think those who emphasize the Holy Spirit by way of sensationalism minimize the role of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption. Indeed, this is the miraculous operation of the Spirit in the life of the person.

Here are two sample sermons attempting to do justice to the text and these issues:

The Holy Spirit Given to Us:


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Luther had it Right, Again

One of my favorite quotes from Luther is:

"The devil has no better way to conquer us than by leading us away from the Word and to the Spirit."
Table Talk 54.97

I ran across it in Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New On Paul [p.32 n.10]. (Westerholm's book is one you should read--particularly if you are unfamiliar with Luther and Calvin but you're into NT studies).

With regard to Luther's quote I have found it pastoral applicable more times than I care to count.

Friday, February 7, 2014

How to Have Fellowship Part 1

Recently Donald Miller created quite a firestorm of blogs and on twitter when he posted some reflections on church and his lack of attendance to church. There were a lot of good direct responses. The reality though is that we live in a culture that for all its talk of relationships and community has little knowledge or experience of fellowships and relationship.

Have you ever stopped to ponder why in our generation we have a break down of relationships? The divorce rate is up. It is not uncommon to find people who spent a longer time preparing for their wedding than the length of their marriage. Families break down. Teens and parents illustrate this regularly. In a world reeling with the effects of sin, relationships do not work without grace.

Good relationships consist of unity and fellowship but the truth is that these only thrive where Jesus Christ is known and he brings our relationships together.

In this first post we want to lay the ground of all relationships. We want to draw our thoughts in these three part series from 1 John 1.

We have fellowship when the Word who came becomes the Word proclaimed.

First, this means when Jesus Christ came to earth, he was heard, seen and touched.
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

‘That which was from the beginning,’ -this starts out very similar to John 1:1 “in the beginning was the Word”. But here he is talking about the beginning of the Word that was heard. There is a play on the idea of the Word. It is referring both to Christ: he was seen and touched. But also to the message that was heard.

Jesus is the Word became flesh but he also proclaimed the Word of the Gospel. He is the message but the message is also about Him.

In fact, as the Word, he arrived. He became flesh, he was manifest--or came close.

Elsewhere in John, we see this interplay between the proclaimed Word that brings life and the person of the Word who is life:
1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

What you need to know is that 1 John is written in part to refute a heresy. He tells us their are antiChrists people who deny Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that He came in the flesh. The message hasn’t changed from the moment Jesus came. The same Word of Life that Jesus preached is the same Word of Life that Paul the apostles preached. This is true today for all churches that are faithfully proclaiming God's Word. For all the talk about how church is not like the first century, the reality is that if it is faithful to the gospel and the Word of God there is more continuity that discontinuity. And you can't have genuine fellowship where the Word who is Christ is not heard through a proclamation of the Word.

Second, Jesus is his coming, comes for relationships. In his presence, He  was touched. He was real and true flesh and blood.

Docetism was an ancient heresy that said Jesus didn’t have a real body. He only looked like he had a body. But Jesus was real and tangible. When we profess faith in Christ, we are not professing faith in an idea, a myth, a legend but someone that is real and tangible. There was a real person who lived and died. He was God the Son.

In fact, Jesus Christ is the Word of Life.
1 John 1:2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.
The “life” is a person. He came. He was seen. The disciples, John here, have spent their earthly lives testifying to it. Because the eternal life--Jesus--has come, we are to go and out to proclaim the message of eternal life with our words. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

This life was with the Father but he also came near to us.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

1 John 2:21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

Third, when the Word is proclaimed and people believe we come into fellowship.

One of the modern misnomers is that preaching is an intellectual enterprise. Yes, bad preaching can come across like a lecture. A person can fall asleep in a good sermon because all he hears is the drone of "blah, blah, blah, lecture, lecture, lecture." But for the Bible, preaching and proclamation is a means of the Holy Spirit's work. It raises the dead, dried bones and dead hearts return to life. Spiritual life and renewal is imparted. When Jesus is proclaimed the bonds of fellowship with Him and with His church grow. 
1 John 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

The gospel goes out and is proclaimed and as people come to believe it they come into fellowship with each other. There is no genuine fellowship where their is no gospel being professed amongst the people. There is no mutual bond of unbreakable love where there is no confession of Christ.

You see when this message is heard and proclaimed there becomes a Fellowship with the Father and with the Son. One of the reason so many people do not have good relationships, a good church community and fellowship is they don't have a growing fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As a pastor, I encounter lots of people who take their spiritual temperature by themselves and for themselves and give themselves an A rating (B+ if they are 'modest') but the reality is they have no growing fellowship and you can see this because they can't even fellowship with other believers through situations where the love gets tough. For example, I once encountered a person who had stumbled in sin. When I encouraged them to draw near to God (which would have included repentance but also refreshment from God's grace), the person's response was basically "I have a good relationship with God. He loves me even when I make a mistake." Sadly the sin was downgraded to a mistake and God gave a mulligan. What a weak conception of fellowship. What a weak experience of grace and God.

Here's where we need to start for Fellowship:
Confession and Fellowship or Word and Communion go hand in hand.
We live in an age of the  church where she has anti-doctrinal tendencies. Christians love to say things like “deeds not creeds”.

What binds us together is Jesus Christ. The Word came. He was proclaimed. He is confessed. We are saying “these things are true, this person is real”

This grounds our fellowship with one another.

This profession of faith unites us to the Father and the Son.

When faith is not professed, there is no fellowship with God. When there is no fellowship with God there is no fellowship together.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Does Eternity Shape Your Thinking?

We rarely think about the reality of the afterlife with vivid imagery. A while back I got myself into listening to the music of Chuck Berry. He has some good stuff and a lot of what he did heavily influenced the development of Rock N' Roll into the 60s, 70s and beyond. You can hear in Berry's music the influence of Blues and Jazz combined with a pioneering Rock n' Roll sound.

While there is a lot of music (some good and some bad) that reflects upon death, Chuck Berry's song Downbound Train is worth a listen. The song even speeds up as the train approaches hell--it builds with intensity. Here are the lyrics to a song that is great to listen to but paints a picture of what a descent into hell could be like. [I've inserted semi-colons (;) for each line break. Stanzas are separated by a line break.]

Chuck Berry “Downbound Train" Lyrics 
A stranger lying on a bar room floor; Had drank so much he could drink no more; So he fell asleep with a troubled brain; To dream that he rode on that down bound train. 
The engine with blood was sweaty and damp; And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp; And imps for fuel were shovelling bones; While the furnace rang with a thousand groans.
The boiler was filled with lager beer; The devil himself was the engineer;
The passengers were most a motley crew; Some were foreigners and others he knew. Rich men in broadcloth, beggars in rags; Handsome young ladies and wicked old hags.
As the train rushed on at a terrible pace; Sulphuric fumes scorched their hands and face; Wider and wider the country grew; Faster and faster the engine flew; Louder and louder the thunder crashed; Brighter and brighter the lighting flashed;
Hotter and hotter the air became; Till their clothes were burned; and they were screaming with pain. Then out of the distance there came a yell; Ha ha said the devil we're nearing home,
Oh how the passengers shrieked with pain And begged old Satan to stop that train.
The stranger awoke with an anguished cry; His clothes wet with sweat and his hair standing high; He fell on his knees on the bar room floor And prayed a prayer like never before.
And the prayers and vows were not in vain;
For he never rode that down bound train.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is also famous for the vivid imagery. High school English teachers (and countless others) have slaughtered this text and painted Edwards as nothing more than a vindictive fire and brimestone preacher and these same folks (like one of my own high school English teachers) bash the Puritans with little first hand reading in them. Even sadder is when Christians join this rant against such a godly heritage, though they like all Christians were not without their flaws. More to the point, Edwards had in his mind an image of eternity: both sides. His sermon Heaven is a World of Love, is equally enrapturing as he paints the beauty of heaven and even makes ethical appeals to how we can live now with the ethics of heaven. Such visions our rare in our day, even within the evangelical church.

Sadly, in our day in age, we fail to grasp the eternal. It does not drive our thinking. Our reflections on it are weak and wimpy. Some, from within the church, would even have us believe that we should reflect more on how we live and act now than on heaven. "In the past, we've been too focused on heaven, which is from Greek or Platonic philosophy; such Christians do not live in this life benefiting those around us" is the all to common mantra. 

This fails to do justice to (a) Christian theology; and (b) countless Christians whose view of heaven pushed them to serve others in this life. I think we could argue that a strong sense of heaven leads to a strong sense of vocation in this life, not to mention personal holiness, evangelistic fervor, and countless other Christian traits. In reality, as Christians our citizenship is in heaven [Phil. 3:20]. Our lives should be lived in the here and now with the culture of heaven evident through and through. We are strangers and exiles and this world is not our home. Heaven, and ultimately the New Heavens and New Earth, is the home of the believer. Heaven is the ultimate reality. It is eternal life.

But an equal reality is that of hell. Hell is eternal death--not cessation of existence but eternal existence under the consequence of sin. It involves unending conscious torment because of judgment. Hell is not a place on earth or this life. Hell is not what I make it or simply the absence of God, like a mere eternal lonliness. It will be unending suffering and damnation for sin. It will be torment. Those who are there will long for an end but be recieving a due punishment for sin--a punishment each one of us, including Christians, deserve.

Oh, may we look to our hope Christ Jesus our Lord who is in heaven. May a reflection on eternity shape our thinking today. For the Christian there should be no such truth to the axiom "So heavenly minded no earthly good." In fact, the more heavenly minded, the more earthly good.

Colossians 3:1-2 NAU Colossians 3:1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

What does this "set your minds on things above" look like in the context?

Colossians 3:5-10 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him--

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye

Last night I watched much of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye science debate. I thought I'd weigh in with a few comments.

1. It seemed to me that the debate quickly got off topic. The topic was "Is creation a viable model of origins?" but it quickly became a referendum on Ken Ham's view of creation. So Bill Nye directed a large part of his attention to refuting young earth creationism and yet defeating young earth creationism was not the issue of the stated topic. I think Ken Ham is also partly to blame here too in that he simply defended young earth creationism.

2. I'm all for taking the authority of the Bible seriously. Bill Nye kept harping on "the Bible translated into English" which I didn't quite understand. That side, the field of the debate became too wide. At points you just felt like the men were shotgunning examples not really making arguments.

3. Both guys had appeals to authority. Ken Ham kept saying "read our website" which I didn't find overly helpful. Quite frankly it got a little annoying to me.

4. One of the biggest problems is my view is that the issue of epistemology was not addressed. Both Ken Ham and Bill Nye seemed rather naive about how we know things. This philosophical weakness seems to be to be a frequent weakness of scientist, like Richard Dawkins, who step outside their realm.

5. I found it frustrating that Bill Nye kept appealing to natural laws. He tried to pin Ken Ham down saying "you can't predict anything." Yet Christians, no matter what their view on the age of earth & means of God's creation, all believe in natural law. In fact, Nye seemed naive. The talk of natural law begs the question. In fact, here I believe Hume was the most consistent when he argued that just because billiard balls reacted a certain way one time, we have no guarantee they will do it again the next time.

6. I wish someone would have asked Bill Nye to distinguish evolution as a theory vs. scientifically testable and ask why we don't see macro evolution repeating today. Equally, not all evolutionists are the same. You have views of a long slow process vs. views with highly accelerated periods (forgive me, I don't remember the scientific terms). 

7. I think Bill Nye was naive about "if scientist had one fossil to verify Ham we'd change our view." Given the political ways that the scientific community has quashed any scientific debate about intelligent design they often have motives to protect themselves and silence dissent. 

8. It was a little frustrating how Bill Nye appealed to mystery and the excitement of discovering creation and the unknown. Ken Ham, in my opinion didn't handle this well. Plenty of Christian scientists past and present have this same joy, mystery and wonder at discovering and exploring God's creation.

9. Repeat after me: Christians support science. Christians SUPPORT science. Christians support SCIENCE. --read a little history and Christians often pioneered scientific advancement.

10. Clearly Bill Nye doesn't even have a rudimentary knowledge of how Christians read their Bible. This came out in how he responded to the question to Ken Ham about "literal" and Levitcal laws and poetry. This is a constant frustration I have when non-Christians attack what they see as Christian "fundamentalism"--though don't actually know how Christians seek to handle their Bible.

11. Bill Nye kept appealing to lots of Christians who find their religion fulfilling. This was a good attempt to appeal to those who might be outside his camp. It was a good move. But he should have been pressed on this. In fact many of these Christian would believe some/many of his scientific views AND find a species of creationism viable. This again, got the debate thesis off the real stated topic. 

Bill Nye also seemed to relegate religion to personal experience and fulfillment not actually truth. Which gets back to the issue of epistemology. There is more to knowing then scientific experimentation.

My conclusion: I really wish Bill Nye would have an opportunity to sit down with some Christians and talk about compelling reasons to believe in God. I really wish they would address with him his agnosticism and talk about God being knowable through revelation. Quite frankly, talking to a theistic evolutionist who is a believer or an old earth creationists might actually be more helpful. In this debate, it was too easy for Bill Nye to throw out scientific examples and watch Ken Ham try to shoot them down and vice versa. It didn't, to me get to the heart of the matter: is creation viable.

The debate should have focused more on Bill Nye's materialist assumptions behind his evolutionary theory. Why is that justified? Say for argument that evolution, big bang, etc is true, this does not and cannot by itself justify materialist naturalism.

Of course, it is easy to Monday morning quarterback.

That said, my wife wisely had this great conclusion to the matter:
I have no problem with Bill saying we need scientists and engineers, etc for our future. Absolutely we need them for the advancements we do have in technology, curing illnesses and the such. Yet, without the foundations of the gospel and the knowledge of God's love and power, then we only seek out of selfish and wrong desires. (ex. abortions) Glad to hear Ham give the gospel message several times throughout the night.

The funniest moment in the debate for me, was watching my daughter cringe when Bill Nye talked about sex & bacteria. Thank you Bill, I no longer have to teach her that boys have cooties, my job is finished.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sermon: Romans 1:1-7

At my church, Pocono Mountain Bible Fellowship Church, we are starting a series on Romans. This month we will be working through Romans 1. Here is this past Sunday's sermon:

Romans has always been one of my favorite books. I have always enjoyed Pauline theology. It is only in recent years that Romans fell from my personal top favorite book of the Bible and was replaced by Hebrews. There is however no denying that Romans is essential to the Christian faith and our walk with Christ.

Ironically, February 2nd was also my birthday, so start Romans 1 was sort of a birthday present for me.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...