My Favorite Old Testament Figure is Jesus- A Reflection on Acts 28.23

August 30, 2008

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” -Acts 28.23

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” -Luke 24.44-45

This past week, when I was preparing for my Sunday school lesson over Acts chapters 27 and 28, I was reading through the material to get an initial overview of what was said and the above passage in Acts 28.23 really struck me. It didn’t strike me as unique or as some sort of new revelation, in fact, it was its familiarity which caught me. Not the familiarity to this passage in particular, but the familiarity of this same action being recorded as an action of Christ in the Gospel of Luke.

Upon deeper reflection I found that in Acts 28.23 and Luke 24.44, as well as Luke 24.27 and Acts 8.35, 24.14, and 26.22, this action of showing Christ in the Old Testament (the “Law and the Prophets”) was a common form of apologetic used by the apostles in the early church. Again, this wasn’t a new revelation to me, but for whatever reason it really spoke in my heart of the awesomeness of God’s supreme plan anew.

I think sometimes we become a victim of reading the Bible as “Old Testament = Stuff about God and the Jews” and “New Testament = Stuff about Jesus and Christians,” when clearly this should not be the case. What is started by Jesus and continued by Philip and Paul is a commentary to the fact that the whole Bible is about Christ and the plan of salvation which God had worked out for us from the beginning of Creation! It is easy to picture Christ as a backup plan which God came up with somewhere down the line when he realized that humans were just going to screw it all up (as groups such as the Mormons do) but this belies the fact that starting in Genesis 3 we see that God knew what he would do thousands of years later in a “rural little hick town” in Israel.

Mark Driscoll gave a list of 25 fulfilled prophecies of the Messiah which are recorded of Christ in the New Testament in his book Vintage Jesus. I copied these down into a Word document to share with my Sunday school class and I am also going to post them here. Being able to look at the sheer number of things which Christ did in accords with Old Testament scriptures (and these aren’t even half of them) is one of the great testimonies we have today to the authenticity of his life and ministry, and as such we should become familiar with them in the way that we see members of the early church being. They knew them well enough to spend “morning till evening” sharing them and making a defense for their hope in Christ (1 Peter 2.15). Do we know them well enough to spend 5 minutes on?

In closing up, I pray that we will stop for a moment and look at the glory of this seemingly innocuous statement. Paul showed them Christ in the Old Testament. Doesn’t sound like a big deal. But when viewed as calling us to the thread of seeing Jesus throughout the Bible, to moving him from the last third of the book into every page from cover to cover, the magnificence of what God has done is that much more magnified. Everything he has ordained, from the start of Creation to the coming end, he has done to show his power, display his glory, and make his name known among his people. That’s something that I am thankful to be a part of and is a praise which I will be glad to sing for all eternity long!

Impressions from the Word- Jeremiah 42 and 43

August 28, 2008

Then they said to Jeremiah, ‘May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the LORD your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.’” (42.5-6)

This needs to be an element of all of our requests. Obviously there is a desired answer when we come to God, but our end purpose should be in “obey[ing] the voice of the Lord,” regardless of what his will reveals. So much of our submission is feigned, so rarely do I find myself perfectly submitted to any response by God. Instead I develop my own man-made provisions and go to God asking for his blessing over them. And even when he withholds that blessing I find myself doing it anyway and just asking for forgiveness. This is no way to serve God.

If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down.” (42.10a)

What does this say to our isolationist Christian subculture? God has placed us here, in this society, under this government, and he had his reasons to do so. Yet Christian consensus today seems to be screaming its discontent with our circumstance and so moving away, out of society, in order to be “safe.” We avoid things that we judge to be wrong, denying interaction, resisting infiltration. We appear to know the right way better than God and seek our own means of correcting the flawed places he put us in. We withdraw into our fortress, safe from R-rated movies, public schools, and single parents. We know utopia. We can make it and we can go there. Still all along it must be that God knew what he was doing and in denying that, we are denying him and his good intentions for our lives.

If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.” (42.15b-17)

We find that choosing to flee and escape where God intended for you to be in hardships will not preserve us. God promises that the evil which we fled in Jerusalem will follow us to Egypt and get us there, even though we expected to be safe.

‘You are telling a lie.’” (43.2b)

The world is quick to reject what it doesn’t like.  So is the Church.  It is important to develop a will which does not bear up with pride whenever our world view or comforts are challenged by the command of God.  Just last chapter we saw the Israelites say they would heed God’s word through Jeremiah, whether good or bad (42.5-6), yet when it’s bad they decide to fight against it.  As Christians we need to analyze our reaction every time we feel ourselves disturbed by a teaching in order to make if it is the Spirit which unsettles us or our own sin-dwelt flesh.

Looking Back, Turning Back- An Apology for Previous Words on Dan Kimball

August 26, 2008

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” -James 1.19-20

A while back (January 4, 2008) I posted this which was a critique of some issues I had with a statement written by Dan Kimball in his book They Like Jesus but Not the Church. The excerpt in question dealt with Kimball’s personal feelings towards homosexuality and my post covered a few exceptions I took to the things he said. I attempted to do this with as much fairness as possible while still expressing my particular misgivings for what was in the quote.

However, several months removed from this, I have taken time to reevaluate what Kimball said and more importantly the larger body of what he was saying and would like to offer an apology for my quick judgment. Though I do believe that the critiques I had are valid issues with some people inside Christian circles, I no longer feel that they apply to Kimball and would like to admit this for future reference on my blog.

In all actuality, though I still have some uneasiness at the title of a few of his works, I am finding Kimball to be a welcome voice of reason inside the ranks of emerging Christianity. His boldness and devotion to teaching the Word of God over the philosophies of man are wonderful traits which God has graciously blessed him with and has led him to use in reaching Christians in the postmodern context. Unlike certain peers such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, I find Kimball to be committed to finding the truth in the Scriptures and sober-minded enough not to be swayed by the all powerful arm of culture and stardom which has gripped so many of these teachers.

I pray that this apology can be accepted by any who I have displaced by my comments and I thank God for leading me back into seeing the work that Kimball has done for the Church and how God is using him in our culture today. I would also like to recommend his book They Like Jesus but Not the Church to you guys because, even though I find the title to be less than desirable, the contents reveal a very necessary insight into emerging culture which all leaders of the church in America can benefit from reading.

Olympic Coverage: The Opiate of the Masses- A Reaction to the Media, China, and Christianity

August 25, 2008

In the wake of the 29th Olympiad and all of the wonderful story lines, there is one story which I am glad to be done telling, that being of the greatness of China. I do not mean this in a racist way or as a culturally ignorant Westerner, but I mean this in the way that so many news organizations seemed to focus in on the pageantry and precision of the execution while dreadfully neglecting the true state of things in that Communist nation. I guess as much is to be expected from the mainstream media, however, the article which really sent me over was one I found posted here on the Christianity Today blog.

The very first point of the article is laughable. The poster says that one of the “shifts” that he saw communicated in the Opening Ceremonies was China’s “[increasing] . . . open[ness] to the ‘barbarians’.” To anyone who knows about the severe lack of religious and individual freedoms for many of those living in China this is just absurd. Of course, he later explains himself by saying, “Sure, the doors may still be closed in many respects–human rights and religious freedoms are still lagging in China–but there seems to be a growing openness in the culture.” Oh, so as an excuse-me let’s mention the religious intolerance and human rights violations, yet what’s really important is the “openness in the culture.” I think if we stop kidding ourselves for a second we will see that the only openness exhibited by the Chinese government was an openness to Western money and a world legitimization of their oppressive political control. Where was the openness in the Chinese government revoking Joey Cheek’s visa because he planned to participate in protests during the games? Where was the openness in a government imposed shutdown of house churches in the 90-day period surrounding competition?

Of course, if one wants to talk about openness, why don’t we see if China could pass the Town Square Test as proposed by Natan Sharansky in his book The Case for Democracy:

If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a “fear society” has finally won their freedom.

Of course, testing this isn’t even necessary for China, just look at the number of people detained by China for non-violent protesting over the last several weeks. This test may be a little too extreme, but I think it gets to the point.

The second header in the article is almost as bad: “Skin color and racial stereotypes are becoming irrelevant.” The author states this while citing the fact that China collected representative children (cute ones, of course) from their 51 ethnic groups to parade in during the ceremonies. Yet doing this and saying that it makes these children capable of “becom[ing] all things to all men” takes on a different color when pictured up against the treatment of Taiwan and Tibet by the Chinese government. Sheer diversity of population alone does not make anyone more Christ-like.

So, to ask the author’s question, What does this mean for the church? Well, in his eyes this signifies “an ecclesiastical and theological shift . . . . com[ing] from outside Western cultures,” and it serves as a call for Americans to “experience what God is doing globally.”

While I agree that there is much need for Americans and other Westerners to open their eyes to the work God is doing all over the world, particularly in Korea, China, and the Global South, I think we need to be careful exactly what we’re emphasizing. The church is growing in China, through underground house churches and devoted missionaries who are risking their lives every day to see Chinese people reached for Christ. Check that again, risking their lives. This Chinese government which people have been hailing after watching the Olympics is the same government which is threatening the lives of every single Christian living inside China today. And the church, devoted and close-knit, is like this out of necessity. They do not have the freedom to construct megachurches and to put their sermons on Podcast. So, as much as we need to realize they are there, glorify God for their salvation and intercede for their well-being, we also need to realize that that is an environment that we just can’t, and shouldn’t want to, recreate.

Not just that, it is not ideal. Yes, they are very biblical in their obedience and faithfulness to God, but as I have argued previously, it is not God’s desire for us to be oppressed beyond our control. (Though if we are oppressed he can certainly use that the same way that he has for the church in China). We need to embrace the freedoms that we have been blessed with in the West and use them to give glory to God in the fullest way possible. It seems that so many inside the Emergent church are riddled with something akin to “middle-class guilt”; they feel guilty for being American. This certainly seems to be the case for guys like Rob Bell, and I believe it is wrong. We are blessed with the abilities to serve God in so many unique ways through the freedoms of America and the financial abundance we have, and to feel guilty for this instead of thanking God for it and turning it back to him in our spiritual worship is a sin.

I am very excited about the global work of God and I have no problem with the future of the Church being influenced by non-Western cultures, but I think we must be very careful while doing this not to celebrate a government which is persecuting Christians, jailing dissidents, and coercing abortion just because we feel bad about the condition we have let our own portion of the Church fall into.

Impressions from the Word- Jeremiah 36-40

August 24, 2008

Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today.” (36.2)

Again we see God’s decree to record his words.

[S]o you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the LORD’s house you shall read the words of the LORD from the scroll that you have written at my dictation.” (36.6a)

And here we see Jeremiah obeying God’s command of having the Word preached to the people.

For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.” (39.18 )

Here we have such a clear statement of what God demands to be saved from the coming judgment: ” . . . because you have put your trust in me.” Ebed-melech had faith that God would preserve the faithful, that God’s condemnation would be spared on the obedient, and God rewarded this. We need this. We need to see in this time of Christian religious ambiguity that what God says is that Ebed-melech was saved by faith. Not by good deeds. Not by seeing a poor, starving, mistreated member of society and helping him (Jeremiah 38.7-13). No. God surely saves him because he trusted in God.

Why should he take your [Gedaliah's] life, so that all the Judeans who are gathered about you would be scattered, and the remnant of Judah would perish?” (40.15b)

It is a great mistake to rest our hopes of peace or prosperity on any earthly leader. Here we see the Judeans placing the strength of gathering the remnant upon the presence of their governor and not on the promise of God. So do we do this. With politicians and pastors, we erect pedestals and cry that we cannot survive without some greatness of theirs. Yet the whole Bible speaks to the inability of man to sustain such hopes. We also stumble, fall, and let down whatever movement has built up around us. Instead, we should put the focus properly on God in Christ, who always remains faithful, and thus never fails us. Christ is Lord. This means over everything.

Jesus Got What He Had Coming- Understanding the Prophecy of Isaiah 53

August 23, 2008

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned-every one-to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
” -Isaiah 53.4-6

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” -Luke 24.44

Two thousand years after his death people still debate why it was that Jesus came to the earth. Was it to be a great teacher? To die for sins? To save Christians? To feed the poor? Just why did this “humble Galilean peasant” rise up from Nazareth (where surely nothing good comes from; John 1.46), go about performing miracles, enter into Jerusalem, and then, when at the height of popularity, subject himself to being executed on a Roman cross? And then, three days later, if you really by into this part, why did he raise out of the grave and reveal himself to his mourning followers? These questions are variously answered and debated everywhere, from churches to coffeehouses to blogs and even in the jungles of South America, and the convictions on such drive the lives of millions of people still today.

One place to search for answers to these questions is in the Old Testament scriptures. As it says in the Gospel of Luke, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to [the disciples on the road to Emmaus] in all the [Old Testament] the things concerning himself” (24.27). Similarly in Luke 24.44 and Acts 8.35.

Particularly with the Acts 8.35 verse we see that one key passage of prophecy which spoke of Christ was Isaiah 53. I personally refer to Isaiah 53 quite frequently when expounded on my feelings about the necessity of the cross, God’s intentions in it, and what was accomplished. I am not alone in this either, and so, because I don’t think I have nearly enough time myself to talk about the amazing contents of this passage, I thought I would point you guys to someone who I think does it better than I could anyways. That someone is John Piper and what I want to post is a series of three sermons which he delivered over Isaiah 53 some time ago in his church in Minneapolis. I hope that you can take the time to listen to them, each one is about 35 minutes in length, and that through listening to them you can further appreciate and understand what Christ came to this earth to accomplish, and that this accomplishment was the intention of the Father all along.

Please feel free to comment as well, as I think the discussions that can arise from Isaiah 53 are ones that really get to the heart of what it truly means to be a Christian and be saved and forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ.

John Piper- Jesus Christ in Isaiah 53, part 1, part 2, part 3

Avail Yourself!- Building a Biblical Perspective on Democracy

August 21, 2008

Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)” -1 Corinthians 7.21

“But if you can . . . avail yourself.” Are you a slave offered freedom? Take it. Are you in circumstances which oppress you, and it is within your power to be alleviated of them? Avail yourself of it.

What does this mean to us? It means don’t be oppressed beyond your power. It means don’t take hits at your freedoms when you don’t have to. Paul lived in a tyranny. The opportunities to avail oneself of freedoms were few, if any. But when they came around Paul said to take them. What about us as Americans, in a democracy?

We have the opportunity to avail ourselves of all sorts of freedoms. We have within our means the ability to both respect the authorities set over us (Romans 13.1) and seek all our freedoms in Christ without conflict. This should be important to us. We should praise God for this blessing of being able to worship him with greater freedom than any other peoples ever on earth. Moreover, if oppressions come upon our freedoms, if the government or anybody else weighs down our liberties, then we should move to avail ourselves of the opportunities present in our democracy (Note how Paul availed himself of the advantages of his Roman citizenship in Acts 22 and 25).

This is a wonderful blessing we’ve been given, and far from casting dishonor upon it in our churches and writings, we should rejoice that God put us in this place at this time with these liberties that we may serve him so freely.

Thankful!- A Perspective on Calvinism

August 20, 2008

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” -Romans 3.27-28

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2.8-9

I have mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. I am a Calvinist. I say this not to draw lines in the sand or to judge anyone who is not a Calvinist, but because I believe that this a great conviction that God has placed on my heart. The five points of Calvinism, explained and understood, I feel are such an amazing message of God’s grace that we should celebrate them and praise God all the more because of them.

Unfortunately, as I’ve also mentioned before, the one thing which Calvinism seems to be a breeding ground for is arrogance. Either actual arrogance on the part of people with Calvinist convictions, who believe their election is a special sign of favor on them or use their acknowledgment of depravity to proclaim a false piety, or accused arrogance on the part of non-Calvinists who feel that the doctrines of grace are at their core prideful beliefs. This blows me away. It amazes me how anyone could ever pervert their Calvinist convictions in a way that was anything but self-humbling and glorifying to God.

That is why I love the song “Thankful” by the band Caedmon’s Call. The whole song is a declaration of how thankful the singer is for the grace which has been shown to him in light of the Calvinist doctrines of salvation. It is a proclamation of how his salvation is solely of the Lord (Jonah 2.9) and how knowing this is a means for being thankful. Check out these few lyrics which really spoke to me:

‘Cause we’re all stillborn and dead in our transgressions
We’re shackled up to the sin we hold so dear
So what part can I play in the work of redemption
I can’t refuse, I cannot add a thing

These lyrics, the second verse of the song, are so penetrating, and so clearly biblical. We are stillborn, dead, completely entombed in the bondage of the sins which we willingly commit every day without the God’s regenerating work in our hearts (Ephesians 2.1-7). Then the question, “What part can I play in the work of redemption?” The answer: nothing. I can neither refuse salvation nor add to it. If the Lord has elected me to salvation then I will be saved and God will exercise all the power needed to accomplish that.

You know I had to laugh that the same old struggles
That plagued me then are plaguing me still

This is something that we all need to both realize and know. First, we must realize that salvation isn’t the completion of sanctification, it isn’t the perfect performance of your life. Salvation is a gift that cannot be given away, even if the struggles which hampered us before salvation continue to bite at our heels afterwards. It is also important to know that other people have this problem too. It is so easy to look at other Christians and think that they have it all together, that they never struggle with sin and temptation, and so your own sin and temptation cause you to doubt your faith. But that’s not the case. Salvation doesn’t make us perfect, it makes us desire God. We are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8.29), not transformed. It’s a process, sometimes a painful one (1 Peter 1.7), and is one we have little (read “no”) chance of ever finishing, at least in this life. We need to know this.

I am thankful that I’m incapable
Of doing any good on my own

This is the kicker. The habit of this day, as of all days past I’m sure, is to think that we can do good which leads to godliness without ever knowing God at all. This is the cry of social justice, of universal inclusion, of Oprah, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell theology. It even shows up in Billy Graham (as I showed a few weeks ago). Yet, the amount of popular support doesn’t make this view any less wrong. We cannot do good without God, apart from God, at least not good in God’s eyes. That’s who we are to worship and please. Not man. So we can’t be concerned with what pleases man’s definition of goodness, we must be focused on God’s. And this should make us thankful, because even if you do do a couple of good things, do any of us do enough of these to outweigh the yoke of moralism we would be under without this truth? Honestly, I don;t think any of us could claim this to be so.

Now that you have seen why I believe this song speaks right on to how a Calvinist should live out their convictions, take a listen to it yourself. Enjoy!

Caedmon’s Call- Thankful

The Vanity of Hope- A Pertinent Word from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

August 19, 2008

And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” -Revelation 21.5a

With the 2008 Presidential election bearing down on us, their is one candidate who has staked their campaign on a single word: Hope. They have even written books talking about hope in the title. And across the country millions of people are buying into this message of a hopeful future to be brought about by the election of this candidate to office.

But on New Year’s Day 1956, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, speaking from his pulpit at London’s Westminster Chapel, gave a warning about the human fondness for hope which is as relevant today as it was 52 years ago. He speaks of how hope is an admission of the failure of man in his evolution and advancement, how it belies an utter vanity and folly, and how what this persistence of hope is most readily attributed to is man’s refusal to recognize that the whole trouble lies within himself and not society or circumstances. Below I have placed links to this sermon (which is 45 minutes spread into two parts) and would highly encourage you to listen to it, regardless of which candidate you are considering supporting this November.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones – The Failure of Hope (part 1) (part 2)

The Places They Have Come to Fear the Most- Recap of the McCain/Obama Saddleback Forum

August 18, 2008

As many of you have probably heard (or even seen) John McCain and Barack Obama met with Pastor Rick Warren this past Saturday evening to hold a one-on-one forum over some key issues that are concerning evangelical voters in this election cycle. I could get very opinionated on this, but I have tried my best to keep the posts here as free of political polemics as possible, and so I just want to direct you guys to a site where you can recap the evening through online video and decide for yourself how you think each candidate did.

McCain/Obama Saddleback Forum

I would like also to link you guys to an article put out by the Barna Group which discusses how there might not be as many true evangelical votes up for grabs as people think. This is an interesting idea when you take into consideration how the Barna Group classifies “evangelicals.” To be classified as an “evangelical” in the Barna polling data, a person must “meet the born again criteria plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.” The “born again criteria” is a mark based upon a persons “answers to two questions. The first is ‘have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?’ If the respondent says ‘yes,’ then they are asked a follow-up question about life after death. One of the seven perspectives a respondent may choose is ‘when I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior.’ Individuals who answer “yes” to the first question and select this statement as their belief about their own salvation are then categorized as ‘born again.’”

Barna article about Evangelical Vote

Look forward to many more updates over the election season here. I am considering starting a second blog focused on my opinions about a Christians role in American and Global politics, which may be more polemical in nature, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time for this yet. Whatever happens I’ll let you guys know.