Saturday, July 28, 2012

God is pleased to give us the Kingdom!

In Luke 12:31, we read that Jesus commands his followers to “Seek his kingdom.” To seek Christ’s kingdom is to seek the rule and reign of God in all spheres of life. The kingdom of God is the blessed reign and presence of God in the universe, where sin, death and decay are pushed back and where light, love, truth, mercy and power are put on display. We are to seek this kingdom in our lives and in the world around us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just get a small taste of a kingdom like this? But the very next verse (Luke 12:32) says something startling: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” O, the depth of joy that springs forth to know that God is pleased to bring His kingdom into our lives and world. We are not abandoned sheep but participants in God’s flock. Our heavenly Father loves us as His own, and He delights to give us His kingdom.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

John Paton through the eyes of a four year old...

John Paton was a Scottish missionary who risked his life to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the South Pacific in the late 19th and early 20th century. Paton's ministry was among a very violent, aggressive, and cannibalistic people. He loved these lost people and wanted them to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

And now the rest of the story...

Our oldest son heard about John Paton last week at his 5-Day Bible Club. Here are a few items that you might not have known (only through the lips of a 4-year old):

Dad: "Sam, tell us what happened today in the missionary story?"
Sam: "John was being attacked by a bunch of rich doctors, and these rich doctors went and found other rich doctors to get John."
Commentary: It appears that the The 1% also dwelt on the New Hebrides Islands long ago. These rich doctors also opposed the missionary efforts of John Patton. If only John Paton could have called on Occupy Wall Street so that his ministry could have flourished.
Solution: Or the "rich doctors" were actually "witch doctors" and the 4-year old needs to learn a new phrase.

A few days later...Dad overhearing the telling of the missionary story.
5-Day Leader: "And then John Paton was surrounded by natives who were wanting to kill him and eat him..." [Sam raising his hand]..."Yes Sam."
Sam: "I think John should stop and pray to God and ask Him to give him a gun to kill all the bad guys."
5-Day Leader: "Uh...well...uh...John loved these people so he didn't want to kill them."
Sam: "Oh."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Psalm 82: You are gods!

Due to time limitations, I will not have time to go into great detail on a difficult textual issue that arises in Psalm 82. But before we can understand the purpose of Psalm 82 we have to deal with a perplexing issue that comes up in v. 1, 5, and 6. The perplexing issue is in regards to the identity of “the gods.” 

NIV  Psalm 82:1 God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the "gods."
NIV  Psalm 82:5 "The 'gods' know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
NIV  Psalm 82:6 "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.'

Who are the “gods” that the Psalmist has God address? The difficulty in making a decision is that the term "gods" comes from the Hebrew word elohim. The word elohim is almost always put in a plural form (the -im indicates a plural ending like the common addition of an "s" in English). But the term elohim can also refer to the singular God of the Old Testament. So you can have elohim gods or the elohim God. And yet there are a few different times in Scripture when elohim doesn't necessarily refer to pagan gods or the one true God at all. I think that is the situation we have here in Psalm 82. Let me explain.

There are 4 possibilities for the meaning of the gods. I’ll share these interpretations in the order from what I believe to be least likely to most likely:
1)      The first is that the “gods” are God’s angels. Psalm 8:5 says that humans were created just a bit below “the gods” (elohoim). Later Psalm 8:5 is quoted in Hebrews 2. Interestingly, the inspired New Testament author translates the Hebrew term “gods” into the Greek language with the term angels. Thus, it appears that the gods (elohim) of Psalm 8 were actually angels, and therefore, humans were created just a bit lower than the angelic host in some aspect of glory. With this interpretation for Psalm 82, however, you would have to think the Psalmist of chapter 82 believes the angelic beings were failing in their responsibilities as God’s servants and were soon to be judged. There is no place in Scripture to suggest God’s angels have ever failed.
2)      The second meaning suggested by some scholars is that “gods” could be the children of Israel. Verse 6 says that these gods are sons of the Most High and in Exodus 4:22 and a few other places in the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as God’s son. If you take this interpretation, the point is that Israel (God’s Son) is going to be held to account for how they govern and rule as God’s representative people. The problem is that v. 1 says that God is presiding in the great assembly. The great assembly is God’s gathered and worshipping community. It seems unlikely that the same assembly to receive God’s praise will at the same time receive his judgment.
3)      A third interpretation down the years is to see the term “gods” as referring to the heathen gods of the ancient near east. These gods (like Baal or Ashtoreth or Chemosh and later Zeus, Saturn, etc.) were impostor gods, leading people away from the true God. These gods (though demonically created) really were man-made statues, without knowledge or understanding. The main strength of this interpretation is that gods means gods and on several occasions in the Old Testament God (elohim) speaks to the supposed “gods” (elohim) of the nations. The weakness of the interpretation is understanding why gods that don’t really exist will ever face judgment. The OT spends a great deal of time speaking of the vanity of worshipping false gods, because they don’t really exist.
4)      The final interpretation is that the term “gods” refers to earthly rulers put in a place of high position and authority. The book of Exodus refers to its human judges as “gods” (Ex. 21:6; 22:8, 9, 28). These people are supposed to represent the true God in their words and actions. At a very real level, they hold the power of God on earth. This is why they will be held to severe judgment. To be put in a high place of privilege and power demands stricter expectations of impartiality and justice. The weakness of this interpretation is that humans are rarely equated with God in the Bible. The major strength of this interpretation is that it makes the most sense of an incident in the life of Jesus when he mentioned Psalm 82. Read John 10 below:

 NIV  John 10:31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" 33 "We are not stoning you for any good work," they replied, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." 34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are "gods"'? 35 If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came--and Scripture cannot be set aside-- 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." 

Notice in verse 34, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6. Then he says, if humans (earthly judges and mighty rulers expected to govern according to God's Word) can be called gods because of their eminent position, so too can the Son of God. In fact, if those who exercise justice and perform great works can be called gods, how much more so can God’s Son be deserving of the title. Jesus is the true judge who judges rightly. Jesus is the true leader who acts without partiality. The reason is not that he’s like these “earthly gods” who hold a high earthly title, but He is God Himself. Clearly, Jesus thinks Ps. 82 was about human leaders, and that is why I will use that interpretation in my sermon on Psalm 82.

Additional note:
            There are a few cultic religious groups who have used the expression “you are gods” to justify belief in the idea that humans are or will one day be gods (this is the functional belief of the Church of Latter Day Saints, a.k.a. Mormons). This is the danger of reading the Bible too literally. We must interpret the Bible with the whole of Scripture. God says time and time again that He alone is the Divine God. No one else can share His glory. Holding to any erroneous idea that we are or will ever be divinity is to grossly misunderstand the creature/Creator distinction.
            In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to take the fruit to be like God. Any religion that offers a similar temptation should be seen as demonic. There is One God and there is not and will never be any other.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Air Your Doubts Carefully -- Psalm 73:15

In my recent sermon from Psalm 73 ("Billboard Christianity"), I chose not to spend a great deal of time on verse 15. But it is worthy of comment here.

After a series of doubts and expressions of despair, the Psalmist writes, "If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children" (NIV).

If you read verse 1-14, verse 15 sounds like double talk. If you had spoken out like that???....YOU JUST DID! You just spent fourteen verses doubting whether the worship of God and the pursuit of holiness is worth our time and effort. So, what are you saying when you say "if I had"? Why even throw out a sentence like that? 

I believe the Psalmist lets us know that we need to be careful where and when, and with whom we share our doubts. The Psalmist knows that at the end of the day, each believer has a tremendous influence on other believers. The Psalmist knows that if s/he would have spoken too loudly of his/her doubts among the wrong people, s/he could have betrayed others and possibly encouraged them to leave the faith. 

Psalm 73 as a whole shows us that it is ok to have doubts. It is ok to question the ways of God (with humility). God can handle our spiritual interrogations. But that does not give us free reign to spew vitriol upon  the Divine. Young ears are listening. Weak hearts are weighing in. Please air your doubts. Please don't lock yourself up in turmoil. But be wise with whom you engage in such conversations. You just might betray the children of God.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Should you take communion if you are not a baptized believer?

(Note: this is the working out of my personal belief, not necessarily the expressed view of any local church I serve or have served.)

Should you take communion if you are not a baptized believer? Is it ok for parents/churches to allow their unbaptized but professing Christian children take communion?

My take: I think the Bible does not allow any unbaptized person to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

Here are my reasons:

1) Baptism is the sign of entering into the covenant community. Whereas under the Old Covenant circumcision was necessary to be marked as a covenant member, now the Bible expects believers to be marked by baptism when entering the Christian community (that is a believer's baptism after personal faith in Jesus).

Peter did not tell new converts to "believe and take communion," but rather "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..." (Acts 2:38). Baptism is the outward expression of an inward reality. So too, baptism is the mark of being a truly circumcised member (not of the flesh) of God's people of faith (see Deut. 30:6). Colossians 2:11-12 put it this way, "In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (NIV).

The New Testament has no concept of an unbaptized believer. Believers are to be baptized. In fact, if a believer refuses to be baptized, they are disobeying a command of God. And, if someone is knowingly disobeying any of God's commands, they shouldn't be allowed to take communion. We must examine ourselves in order to celebrate the Lord's Supper. If upon examining ourselves we realize we are ignoring any of God's commands, we must repent. This would include not obeying the Lord's command to be baptized.

2) The Lord's Supper/Communion is the covenant sign of ongoing participation in the covenant community. During the Jewish Passover meal on the night of his betrayal, Jesus explained the meal's deeper meaning. The Passover was a meal pointing ahead to the true Passover Lamb (Jesus Christ). The meal finds its fulfillment in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Now, all who are members of the New Covenant People of God are supposed to regularly take this meal in remembrance of the Messiah who has come (Lk 22:19-20).

One of the main reasons I think communion should be for those marked by baptism is that the Old Testament Passover meal was reserved for those who had been marked by circumcision. I quote a large section from Exodus 12 for your meditation:

NIV Exodus 12:43 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover meal: "No foreigner may eat it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. 46 "It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. 48 "A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you."

3) One common and legitimate argument against this view would be something like this, "I think my child is too young to be baptized. I really want them to remember it. It is an important step, and I don't want them to be baptized without being ready." I think there is merit in this approach to baptism. It is good parenting and church shepherding to assess if there is a legitimate conversion before allowing anyone to be baptized. My only question then would be, "Is the taking of the Lord's Supper any less significant for your child?" Why would we let our children participate in the sacred ordinance of Communion and not be baptized? If a child is ready to take communion, I think they are ready to be baptized. If they are not ready to be baptized, they are not ready to take communion.

4) What should I do if I am out of line with this biblical model?

First, recognize that the Bible has separate categories for sins of omission (unintentional) and commission (intentional). Don't beat yourself up. If you understand the Gospel, you already knew you were more sinful than you could ever comprehend. There are layers and layers of sin in your life. God doesn't expose all of our sin to us at once. But as the Holy Spirit reveals sin, we repent and then press on in holiness. Christ's blood forgives both sins of omission and commission. Receive His grace.

Second, if you are personally guilty of taking the Lord's Supper without obeying the Lord's command to be baptized, repent. Go to your church leaders and request to be baptized as soon as possible. Until you are baptized, I would encourage you to not celebrate the Lord's Supper. Use the times in the worship service to pray, meditate, and look forward to the future times of celebrating this covenant meal. (Note: this is what I would encourage parents to do with their professing, but unbaptized children as well). If anyone asks why you are not taking the bread and wine, explain to them the importance of following Biblical precedent.

Third, if you are a parent, help guide your children in the ways of the LORD with the help of your local church. It is probably wise that there is no age restriction on being baptized or taking communion. For some 5 year olds, baptism and communion should not be withheld. For other five year olds, we may need to say no. And yet, churches and parents need to be careful in what they communicate to young children regarding the Gospel, conversion, and the Christian life. It is ok to faithfully test the professed faith of young children before allowing them to be baptized and celebrate the Lord's Supper. Those who believe in justification by faith don't think these practices are necessary for salvation. Your child will not go to hell if they have to wait 12-36 months before celebrating the ordinances.

All that to say, if your child has expressed faith and there are no doubts to true conversion, why withhold the ordinances? Worst case scenario is that the child and you are both wrong. At the point you think the conversion is not legitimate, you simply tell your child to quit taking communion and let them know that their "immersion into water" was not really a believer's baptism. Later, upon true conversion they should be baptized properly and begin taking communion as a believer in Christ.

I'm still working through these ideas. As such, comments, other Scripture references, and critiques would be warmly accepted.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Books Finished in June

"Generous Justice" by Tim Keller (fabulous; must read for both those who believe the church should be engaged in justice ministries as well as those who argue against it)

"The Innocence of Father Brown" by Chesterton: fun detective stories with some useful commentary on life and faith along the way (free on Kindle)

"Two Towers" by Tolkien

"The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism" by Carl Henry (more of a historic work, documenting the state of the evangelical church in 1947)

"Gospel-Centered Discipleship" by Jonathan Dodson (helpful, clear, useful)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Best Kind of Anniversary

I (Carrie) realize that it is already July, but I'm still reflecting on a major milestone that took place for me in June.  It was the best kind of anniversary.  (No, not my wedding anniversary, but yes, I do love my husband dearly.)  June marks 15 years since I began walking with Jesus.  It was a Monday evening at Summer Games camp when I, for the first time, understood that I was hopelessly lost in the blackness of my own heart (and the confusion of a very dark world) and that there was a Savior who could pull me out.  It was then that I commenced a new life, under the tender authority of the great God of the universe.  The reason this struck me as such a huge milestone is because I have now lived more than half my life following (sometimes unsuccessfully, usually poorly, but attempting to follow nonetheless) Jesus.  Whereas I was once dead - floundering emotionally, unable to be the "good person" I desperately wanted to be, with gaping heart wounds, a dead woman walking - I am now alive in Christ.

That God has had the rights, so to speak, to my life for more than half of it symbolizes to me the ever increasing nature of my surrender of my own agenda, my own flawed ways of thinking, my own failing efforts to "be good".  This is the movement of my life away from self-trust toward trust in the only One who is trustworthy. It tells the story that I have not arrived at spiritual (or any other kind of) maturity, but that I am on the journey with the One who is Himself both the guide and the destination.  This good news is summed up in a verse I've been praying often lately: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  (Philippians 1:6)  I'm thanking God this month for the good work He did 15 years ago in my life, the good work He has done each day since then, and the promise that He will one day bring it to completion.

Today's Half Marathon Training Team (Go Daddy!)