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A Look at the Unity of Isaiah: God’s Case Against the Idols

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 09:30

Until the late eighteenth-century A.D., the overwhelming majority of Jewish and Christian interpreters believed that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who ministered in Jerusalem during the eighth century B.C., authored the entire book that bears his name. However, German historical-critical scholars Julius Döderlein (1789), Johann Eichhorn (1783), and Wilhelm Gesenius (1819) began to conjecture that Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 were two separate works written by two different authors about 150 years apart.[1] These scholars did not believe in the supernatural claims of the Bible because they had been influenced by the Enlightenment. Due to their anti-supernatural presuppositions, they rejected the biblical teaching that Scripture was inspired by God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). As a result, many proponents of this view claimed that Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 had to be from two separate authors because 1) the internal evidence appeared to show that chapters 40-66 was written in the Babylonian exile, 2) the style between both sections appear to be different (i.e., the writing in chapters 1-39 is terse and solemn while chapters 40-66 are more developed and its ethos warm and passionate), and 3) the theological viewpoints appear to be different in both sections.[2]

Each of the reasons for propagating that an alleged “Deutero-Isaiah” anonymously wrote chapters 40-66 during the exile, however, is unconvincing.[3] The internal evidence actually supports the view that Isaiah received the entire contents of the book as a direct revelation from God and had prophesied of the coming Babylonian exile in Isaiah 1-39 such as in 1:7-9; 5:13; 14:1-4; and 35:1-4, just as it is in chapters 40-55. Moreover, the argument alleging different writing styles falsely assumes that a writer may not change his writing style when he addresses a different subject or that a writer’s style may not change over time, especially since Isaiah prophesied for over 40 years. And finally, the theological argument is completely subjective because the purpose of chapters 1-39 deal mostly with God’s judgment against Judah and the nations, whereas chapters 40-66 emphasized God’s consolation. Therefore, the differences between the two sections with respect to their theological themes are plainly related to the book’s overall argument and not to a hypothetical second author.

One of the main reasons that critical scholars denied that Isaiah wrote chapters 40-66 is because Cyrus is mentioned about 150 years before he came on the scene. Again, they made this claim because they disallowed supernatural miracles and divine intervention, as well as alleging that prophecy did not function that way because prophets always addressed their contemporaries. Instead, they drew upon the principle of vaticinium ex eventu (Latin: “prophecy from the event”) because it explains how Cyrus’ name could be recorded in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 without resorting to divine inspiration.[4] The principle conveniently circumvents any talk of divine intervention and, ultimately, makes biblical prophecy fraudulent since it was written after the prophesied event had already taken place which would make it a deceitful, blatant lie.

This wrong-headed assertion, however, does not satisfy all of the prophetic data contained in the book. It does not account for the fact that the Suffering Servant is none other than Jesus Christ, who fulfilled Isaiah 52:13-53:12 to the letter—not to mention many other messianic prophecies that He fulfilled from the book of Isaiah, such as in 7:14; 9:6; 11:1-2; 49:6; and 61:1-3. Furthermore, Isaiah prophesied of the millennial reign of Christ as well as the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth in passages such as 2:1-5; 4:2-6; 9:7; 60:10-22; and 65:17-25. These passages have their counterparts in other prophetic texts such as the book of Revelation. For example, compare Isaiah 60:10-22 with Revelation 21:22-27. The Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle John saw the same vision regarding the New Jerusalem. Therefore, the fact that Cyrus is mentioned by name is not the only prophecy in Isaiah that the critics have to deal with. They must also explain why the prophecies related to Christ as the Suffering Servant (as confirmed in Acts 8:26-36) and the New Jerusalem are also in the book. What is patently clear is that their explanations are reductionistic and woefully insufficient because they do not fully account for the entire prophetic data nor their future fulfillment.

A better way to understand the data is to see the argument contained in chapters 40-66. Passages such as Isaiah 40:18-28; 41:21-25; 42:8-9; 43:10; 44:6-45:7; and 46:18-22, all address the LORD, as the sovereign God over the nations and their idols. In these key texts, God challenges the false gods/idols to a contest. For example, in Isaiah 41:21-29, the LORD demands that the idols tell the future. They cannot because they are less than nothing, but He alone can tell the future and of the coming of Cyrus:

“Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.

“Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable. So I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes [i.e., Cyrus of Persia]—one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. Who told of this from the beginning so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news [i.e., Isaiah]. I look but there is no one—no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.”

After Isaiah prophesied of the Persian king, Cyrus, by name in 44:28 and 45:1, 13 regarding what His “anointed” will do in rebuilding Jerusalem (44:26, 28; 45:13), the temple (44:28), and restoring His people to Judah (45:13), the LORD once again challenged the false gods/idols:

“Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations!

They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.”

Thus, it is evident that within the argument of the book that chapters 40-66 address the future exiles in Babylon in order to declare to them hope and comfort because the LORD had forecasted for them a coming “anointed one,” named Cyrus, who will release them from their captivity and assist them in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. God also declares that only He can prophesy of future events and people—naming them by name (!)—because there are no other gods, but Him alone.[5] The sovereign LORD, however, does not stop there. He goes on to foretell of the coming “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 who will be a substitutionary atonement for us as well as describing the forthcoming New Jerusalem and the New Heavens and New Earth in Isaiah 60:10-22 and 65:17-25. The context of the book, thus, matches the superscription of Isaiah 1:1 and the single call narrative in the entire book which appears in Isaiah 6. There was only one prophet that God called in the book of Isaiah, and he alone saw the vision recorded in the book that the LORD had given him during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

[1]Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 367.
[2] Ibid., 368.
[3] Ibid., 369-70. The arguments for this section are from Mark Rooker in the pages noted.
[4]The Latin phrase is translated “prophecy from the event,” meaning that the prophecy was written after the event had already occurred.
[5]Note that the man of God in 1 Kings 13 also prophesied of King Josiah by name and gave specific details regarding what he would do centuries before he came on the scene (cf. 2 Kings 23:16-18).

Categories: Seminary Blog

Fatherhood – The Least Understood Profession

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 09:30

Most humans seem to perceive fatherhood as having exhausted itself at the end of a moment of intimacy with a member of the opposite gender. The male member of the species bows out since the conception inside the woman’s womb is thought to be “part of her body” and therefore of no consequence to him. Little difference is made for the man if the conceived baby is terminated in the womb or born into a fatherless existence. In fact “sperm banks” now make even his presence in conception totally unnecessary. How different the picture of fatherhood is in the Scriptures! And this loss of the concept of fatherhood introduces pandemonium into the entire human system, including an accurate comprehension of God as Father.  For purposes of this blog, the idea of fatherhood encompasses four unique perspectives. Fatherhood includes provision, protection, prudence, and the precepts of God. As anyone can see, this is a long-term assignment more challenging than climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. What do these assignments imply?

•    Provision suggests a job, an income to purchase food and clothing with hopefully something small left over to buy a ticket to March Madness or to take a vacation. Medical bills, taxes, and college will require the remainder and the man will have provided. Undoubtedly, that is all a part of provision – but only a part. Provision also includes passing on to children how to subsist in a difficult and expensive world. Each child must be taught a trade or develop a talent needed by others as provision for his own life. The teen must learn to walk with God who alone can provide for him in all circumstances. And he must see all of these attitudes and actions modeled by his father.

•    Protection is something about which men like to boast. That is why I keep an arsenal at home in the gun safe. No one is about to hurt my family. This I do not denigrate. The assignment from God to fathers is to protect the physical well-being of the family. But many a father lives his whole life without having to engage a physical threat to the personal lives of his family. Nevertheless, he must protect!  On his knees he earnestly intercedes with God for his family. His instruction includes the ways of peace and conflict avoidance. And when peace is not possible and conflict is unavoidable, then he must teach his children how to protect themselves and how to look to God for his intervention.

Protection includes assisting vulnerable young minds in grasping the real enemies who would destroy them: sex outside of God’s boundaries, pharmacological misuse, alcohol, slavery to money, and selfishness. A predilection for entertainment and addiction to electronics must not only be met with “no” but with substitutes that provide better substance for life.

•    Prudence is wisdom in all things relating to God and to life. Many attitudes are learned by children from their mothers. But wisdom or prudence is a virtue specifically delegated to fathers and grandfathers. Proverbs 1:1-7 clarifies the responsibilities of fathers. Wisdom or virtue underscores the development of justice, judgment, and equity on the part of the simple who need prudence. And if a child is wise, he will increase learning.

•    Finally, the precepts of God are to be modeled and taught. The work of priest and prophet is important as would be the role of pastor in the present age, but the primary responsibility for spiritual instruction outlined in Deuteronomy 6 falls completely to fathers and grandfathers. Ostensibly, they have more time with the children. Therefore, they are assigned the task of teaching the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments. They are told how to pursue this task and the extent of the instruction to be given.

A child with a father who meets these criteria grows up with a healthy view of the fatherhood of God, and he also enjoys a relationship with his earthly father that assists him in becoming a natural leader in his world. If you have a father who leads his family in this way, you have every reason to express gratitude to God on this Father’s Day. And work to be sure your son grows up understanding the responsibilities he will have on the day he fathers a child.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Remembering the Value of the Individual

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 10:42

The Southern Baptist Convention begins meeting today (June 13). During the next two days, messengers representing 46,793 churches with 15.3 million members[1] will make important decisions, hear reports about our work, worship together, and fellowship. These two days remind us of the greatness of the task before us and the responsibility that we share to impact the world with the message of the Gospel. In the midst of the complexities of our work, may we also be careful not to forget the value God places on individuals.

The Lord reminded His people, Israel, of this truth in Numbers 3, which tells the story of the redemption of the firstborn. Theologically, this passage teaches three important truths about faith: ownership, redemption, and value. The Bible teaches that while God owns everything, He has specifically designated that the first things are to be dedicated to Him. That includes both resources (animals, income, etc.) and people.

Numbers 3 addresses the redemption of the firstborn of the Israelites. The census determined that the number of the firstborn males was 22,273. Rather than have every family commit their firstborn to the Lord, God stipulated that He would take the tribe of Levi in their place. The math worked out exactly—almost. According to the census, the population of the tribe of Levi was 22,000. Thus, while the Levites were taken in the place of the firstborn of Israel,[2] that left a difference of 273. For these 273, the Lord commanded that five shekels be taken for each individual (1,365 shekels total) and given to Aaron and his sons as a “ransom.”

The number 273 is very specific and stands out from the other seemingly rounded numbers in the chapter. I am not a numerologist, but I am curious about that number. Not surprisingly, there have been quite a few interesting speculations about that number. For example,

  1. Some have found significance in the fact that 273 is the conversion of Celsius to kelvin (273.15), making -273 the lowest limit of the thermodynamic temperature scale, or absolute zero.
  2. One of my favorite explanations for the significance of the number 273 is that it represents the sum total of the 153 fish in John 21:11 and the 120 in the upper room in Acts 1:15.
  3. 273 is the number of people on the boat with Paul in Acts 27:37 (if you subtract Paul, Luke and Aristarchus).
  4. Finally, one might find significance in the 273rd word of Hebrew Bible (yes, I counted!), which is found in Genesis 1:22. That particular word is actually the (untranslated) sign of the direct object of the sentence. Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure of the theological implications of that.

But perhaps the significance is not necessarily in the number, but in the people the number represents. The 22,000 Levites were taken in the place of all but 273 of the firstborn. But what of those 273? They were the extras; the leftovers. Certainly, there’s something more here than simply precision of numbers. God could have just said, “We’ll call it even”; or, “That’s good enough.” But instead, God demanded redemption even for the 273.

I believe there are several lessons that Southern Baptists can learn from the 273. The lessons center on the same three fundamental truths of the passage: ownership, redemption, and value.

  • First, the 273 remind us that God owns all. Indeed, everything we have and all that we are belongs to Him. My prayer for Southern Baptists is that we never forget that our ministry is all about Him, not us. It’s His work; and those whom we are called to serve are His people.
  • Second, the 273 remind us that redemption costs. Every time someone from Israel saw the Levites, they were to remember that they were taken “in our place.” The price for our redemption must be paid; and the inclusion of the 273 emphasizes that the full price had been paid. Today, as believers in Christ, we understand that we are not redeemed with silver or gold, but with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). His sacrifice covered our sin. Southern Baptists must remember that our message is about the One who was sacrificed in our place, and the victory we proclaim is that the full price has been paid.
  • Third, the 273 remind us that all are important to God. It is His desire for all to be redeemed and that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). This must be our focus. We cannot sit idly by as those for whom Christ died are lost, overlooked, or aborted away. They must be counted because they matter to Him.

So, my prayer for this year’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is that our decisions, business and worship would reflect the God who came in our place; the God who ransoms and redeems; the God who sees the big picture and yet values the individual. May this always drive our methods and our message.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Confronting the World with Christian Affections

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 09:30

Jonathan Edwards, the extraordinary evangelist of the Great Awakening, wrote the classic book A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in 1746. This amazing manuscript instructs how the presence of “True Christian Affections” in the life of a Christian will lead him to do God’s work and live holy. This lifestyle is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who enables the believer to love the things of God. Edwards describes “Christian Affection” as the love true believers have for God. Essentially, Christian affections are necessary characteristics for effectiveness in the ministry. This can be observed in the gifts of teaching, preaching and evangelism, which are all designed to work against sinful issues in society.

Thus, Christians cannot be ashamed or fearful to address all sinful issues with the Word of God. For in Scripture is the power to influence change in a hostile world. In 2017, Christians are better equipped to present the Gospel than any time in history. The scholarly training in our seminaries and the availability of the Gospel on the information highway makes this possible.

The apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1-3, exemplifies his Christian affections by beseeching other Christians to surrender all to God. For example, he pleads for Christians who love the Lord to present their bodies as living sacrifices. He begs them to be transformed from this world by renewing their minds. He entreats them to try God’s will for their lives so they will know His good and right plan. Each of the above invitations is present in every believer’s pursuit for Christian affections. Loving God and mankind is the highest aspect of having Christian affections. In serving humanity, Christians show their love for God, and the Lord responds by strengthening His followers to live holy among sinful people. While living amid worldly chaos, Christians are called to live by the moral standards set by God as a witness to our fallen society.

When considering all the troubles and evil in this world, the Christian has his work cut out. Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a recent interview on a popular cable news station, said, “I have never seen the world so messed up.” Her statement was in response to the political climate and its residuals across this country. Followers of Christ also find it challenging to remain committed to godly principles in this world’s system. John, the beloved disciple, reminds us to love God enough that we let go of the things of this world:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

In other words, John is saying we must renew our minds with Christian affections and live with a Christian worldview. Make Jesus the reason for all your commitments, or you will soon find yourself out on a tree limb with it being cut off behind. Why is the world impacting the church more than the church is influencing the world?

Marvin Gaye, a popular rhythm and blues and soul singer from the 1960s through the ‘80s, asked this question in a song: “What’s going on?” The answer to his question was the problematic social issues of 1971. In 2017, the world is a very confusing and evil place. This irreligious society, at times, takes us through things we will never understand. For example, officiating funerals for 15- and 16-year-old Christian boys killed by gun violence on consecutive weekends. They were so young, and now they are gone—too quickly. In tragedies like these, Christian affections are important for healing. The power of love can heal and sustain amidst every emotional trauma created by a hostile culture.

What will happen next, no one knows but God. The warning is given by our Lord to watch for an increase in worldly troubles during the last days. In each of life’s disappointments, Christians have a teacher and comforter in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Spirit must give the Christian wisdom to overcome the perplexing social issues of our world, such as:

  • The depraved nature of humanity in world events creating wars of terrorism.
  • Our police killing people for trivial reasons, and people killing the police in fear and anger.
  • Too few ministries to reach the lost for Christ behind prison doors.
  • Racism hidden in the hearts of confessing “Christians” across America on Sunday mornings in segregated churches.
  • The LGBTQ agenda defended by almost every industry in America, which has opened the doors for gender-neutral bathrooms.
  • Mothers aborting their babies in the womb at an all-time high.

Where is the impact of Christianity amid these issues? There is something missing when the world is so far removed from living by Christian principles.

This generation is watching the church and world go in the wrong direction. In like manner, many Christian believers have put their Bibles in the top drawer and embraced the ways of the world in despair. Others have lost their love for God and the principles of His Word. Nevertheless, Christian affections in churches can change the pulpit and the pew, which has become inundated with Christians who are not living by the Word of God. A love for God to stand against sin will bring revival to Christianity, which seems to have lost its purpose and witness. The Lord Jesus would have the church function in love and as a called-out body of baptized believers with the mission of evangelizing lost sinners for Christ. The objective is for Christian conversions to deliver new converts and the Holy Spirit to keep mature believers from the sinful issues that trouble their lives. In this age, we are observing too many Christians who live as if they are not free from sin.

What is the problem? Is the difficulty in converting lives with the message or the messenger? Maybe the issue is in the unsaved hearts and ears of those listening in the pew? Perhaps the problem is in the heart of the preacher who has a fear of delivering a fire and brimstone message that convicts of sin? Is it feasible the solution can be found in both the preacher and the pew, which must be in touch with the Holy Spirit by loving God enough to do His will?

One job of the Holy Spirit is to keep God’s people from failure in sin and ministry. The Bible promises the Holy Spirit will keep believers until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30); the Spirit now lives in our hearts. If God does not keep us, we cannot keep ourselves. So, let us cry:

Come, Holy Spirit. Fall afresh on us. Fill us with your power. Satisfy our need. Pour it out, Lord. Pour it out, Lord, that we might have Christian affections and we will say, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Confronting the World with Christian Affections

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 09:30

Jonathan Edwards, the extraordinary evangelist of the Great Awakening, wrote the classic book A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in 1746. This amazing manuscript instructs how the presence of “True Christian Affections” in the life of a Christian will lead him to do God’s work and live holy. This lifestyle is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who enables the believer to love the things of God. Edwards describes “Christian Affection” as the love true believers have for God. Essentially, Christian affections are necessary characteristics for effectiveness in the ministry. This can be observed in the gifts of teaching, preaching and evangelism, which are all designed to work against sinful issues in society.

Thus, Christians cannot be ashamed or fearful to address all sinful issues with the Word of God. For in Scripture is the power to influence change in a hostile world. In 2017, Christians are better equipped to present the Gospel than any time in history. The scholarly training in our seminaries and the availability of the Gospel on the information highway makes this possible.

The apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1-3, exemplifies his Christian affections by beseeching other Christians to surrender all to God. For example, he pleads for Christians who love the Lord to present their bodies as living sacrifices. He begs them to be transformed from this world by renewing their minds. He entreats them to try God’s will for their lives so they will know His good and right plan. Each of the above invitations is present in every believer’s pursuit for Christian affections. Loving God and mankind is the highest aspect of having Christian affections. In serving humanity, Christians show their love for God, and the Lord responds by strengthening His followers to live holy among sinful people. While living amid worldly chaos, Christians are called to live by the moral standards set by God as a witness to our fallen society.

When considering all the troubles and evil in this world, the Christian has his work cut out. Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a recent interview on a popular cable news station, said, “I have never seen the world so messed up.” Her statement was in response to the political climate and its residuals across this country. Followers of Christ also find it challenging to remain committed to godly principles in this world’s system. John, the beloved disciple, reminds us to love God enough that we let go of the things of this world:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

In other words, John is saying we must renew our minds with Christian affections and live with a Christian worldview. Make Jesus the reason for all your commitments, or you will soon find yourself out on a tree limb with it being cut off behind. Why is the world impacting the church more than the church is influencing the world?

Marvin Gaye, a popular rhythm and blues and soul singer from the 1960s through the ‘80s, asked this question in a song: “What’s going on?” The answer to his question was the problematic social issues of 1971. In 2017, the world is a very confusing and evil place. This irreligious society, at times, takes us through things we will never understand. For example, officiating funerals for 15- and 16-year-old Christian boys killed by gun violence on consecutive weekends. They were so young, and now they are gone—too quickly. In tragedies like these, Christian affections are important for healing. The power of love can heal and sustain amidst every emotional trauma created by a hostile culture.

What will happen next, no one knows but God. The warning is given by our Lord to watch for an increase in worldly troubles during the last days. In each of life’s disappointments, Christians have a teacher and comforter in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Spirit must give the Christian wisdom to overcome the perplexing social issues of our world, such as:

  • The depraved nature of humanity in world events creating wars of terrorism.
  • Our police killing people for trivial reasons, and people killing the police in fear and anger.
  • Too few ministries to reach the lost for Christ behind prison doors.
  • Racism hidden in the hearts of confessing “Christians” across America on Sunday mornings in segregated churches.
  • The LGBTQ agenda defended by almost every industry in America, which has opened the doors for gender-neutral bathrooms.
  • Mothers aborting their babies in the womb at an all-time high.

Where is the impact of Christianity amid these issues? There is something missing when the world is so far removed from living by Christian principles.

This generation is watching the church and world go in the wrong direction. In like manner, many Christian believers have put their Bibles in the top drawer and embraced the ways of the world in despair. Others have lost their love for God and the principles of His Word. Nevertheless, Christian affections in churches can change the pulpit and the pew, which has become inundated with Christians who are not living by the Word of God. A love for God to stand against sin will bring revival to Christianity, which seems to have lost its purpose and witness. The Lord Jesus would have the church function in love and as a called-out body of baptized believers with the mission of evangelizing lost sinners for Christ. The objective is for Christian conversions to deliver new converts and the Holy Spirit to keep mature believers from the sinful issues that trouble their lives. In this age, we are observing too many Christians who live as if they are not free from sin.

What is the problem? Is the difficulty in converting lives with the message or the messenger? Maybe the issue is in the unsaved hearts and ears of those listening in the pew? Perhaps the problem is in the heart of the preacher who has a fear of delivering a fire and brimstone message that convicts of sin? Is it feasible the solution can be found in both the preacher and the pew, which must be in touch with the Holy Spirit by loving God enough to do His will?

One job of the Holy Spirit is to keep God’s people from failure in sin and ministry. The Bible promises the Holy Spirit will keep believers until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30); the Spirit now lives in our hearts. If God does not keep us, we cannot keep ourselves. So, let us cry:

Come, Holy Spirit. Fall afresh on us. Fill us with your power. Satisfy our need. Pour it out, Lord. Pour it out, Lord, that we might have Christian affections and we will say, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Teenagers, Competitions and the Sabbath

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 09:25

A youth pastor told me he was missing some of his core teenagers on Easter Sunday morning. They were playing in a school volleyball tournament. How did our culture come to this?

Plenty of parents take zero interest in their children and their activities. Youth leaders celebrate good parents who support their kids’ endeavors, hoping that worthwhile activities will give their offspring a boost in life. But for believing families, all such decisions fall under the command, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Our crumbling culture increasingly will call teenagers to give their Sunday mornings to academic, artistic and athletic competitions and activities. For the moment, traveling sports teams are a special concern, often pulling teenagers out of church for six or more Sundays. Managers pressuring teenagers to work Sunday mornings also are an issue. All this should concern believing parents for at least three reasons.

Inconsistent with God’s Commands

The same God who said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Believers do not get to cherry-pick the commandments. Is sending a teenager to a tournament on Sunday morning any different from sending a teenage couple to a motel on prom night?

God created the Jewish Sabbath (and its Christian equivalent) to give mankind a weekly way to remember and honor Him. “If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it … then you will take delight in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

One of the central ways God chooses to be honored on His day is through the coming together of the church to worship, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Sunday worship is God’s plan for all nations through all generations.

Jesus pushed back on the Pharisees and their legalism concerning the Sabbath. They had lost the fact that Sabbath observance was to give honor to His Father and provide occasion for His people to worship Him. Today, He likely would resist with equal intensity anything that takes eyes off of the Godhead and precludes the weekly assembling of the body of Christ.

Inconsistent with the Goal of Parenting

Believing parents have no higher goal than this: To see their children leave home to live lives that bring great glory to King Jesus. Children exist for the glory of God, so every parenting action and decision should directly support that purpose.

Parents know that college athletic scouts are more likely to study prospects on a traveling sports team than a school team. For lukewarm church parents, the fact that a traveling team plays on Sunday is less important than the prospect of a scholarship.

Transformed parents work toward and celebrate the accomplishments of their children. But when choices have to be made, they always come down on the side of decisions that glorify Christ now and into the future.

Wise parents explain their decisions to their children. But instead of saying, “Our family always keeps the rules, and going to church is a rule,” discipling parents say, “Our family loves and adores King Jesus, and keeping His day sacred is our way to show that.”

Of course, parents have to set the example with their own choices. For example, after a Saturday night meeting out of town, Dad may have to decide between:

  1. Catching a 7:00 a.m. flight home in order to worship with the family, or
  2. Leisurely grazing the hotel breakfast buffet and then flying at 10:30 a.m.

Kids absorb and pursue what they perceive to be a parent’s priority. Actions always speak louder than words.

Inconsistent with the Life of a Young Disciple

As with all believers, teenagers need their hearts connected to the heart of Christ by a double helix. They need a strand of intimate, warm love intertwined with a strand of adoration and awe (almost holy fear).

Godly parents nurture the “love” strand so that someday a 25-year-old would rather spend Sunday morning with his Beloved than anyone else. And parents nurture the “awe” strand so future young adults so honor God that skipping church never seems like an option.

Teenage disciples are called to “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). “All things” means all things—including a scholarship given by a college scout on a Sunday morning; or moving from JV to Varsity because coach saw a player working hard in the weight room on Sunday morning; or making first chair in the state orchestra performing on Sunday morning. All those things are good, but Jesus is better.

Teenage behavior patterns tend to last a lifetime. The boy who misses some Sundays becomes the dad who leaves his family at home while he hunts on Sunday mornings. Parents who allow their children to be inconsistent on Sundays need to look ahead. They may grieve when they try to call their future grandchildren, Sunday at noon, and discover they still are in bed.

Church parents sometimes look for excuses to help explain inconsistent respect for God and His fourth commandment. I have heard parents say, “I realize the girls are out five Sundays in a row, but you need to know the coach always reads John 3:16 before Sunday games.” God instructs His children to give Him their attention for a day, not for three minutes. He desires hearts united in worship, not a tip of the hat.

Such reasoning only appeals to those who assume church-going is a religious rule—and therefore any ritual performed satisfies that rule. This is similar to the church member who will not tithe, but drops a dollar in the plate. On Easter.

Parents who deeply desire to see lifetime disciples come from their home will instill love and awe toward King Jesus, toward His day, and toward the weekly gathering of His people.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Teenagers, Competitions and the Sabbath

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 09:25

A youth pastor told me he was missing some of his core teenagers on Easter Sunday morning. They were playing in a school volleyball tournament. How did our culture come to this?

Plenty of parents take zero interest in their children and their activities. Youth leaders celebrate good parents who support their kids’ endeavors, hoping that worthwhile activities will give their offspring a boost in life. But for believing families, all such decisions fall under the command, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Our crumbling culture increasingly will call teenagers to give their Sunday mornings to academic, artistic and athletic competitions and activities. For the moment, traveling sports teams are a special concern, often pulling teenagers out of church for six or more Sundays. Managers pressuring teenagers to work Sunday mornings also are an issue. All this should concern believing parents for at least three reasons.

Inconsistent with God’s Commands

The same God who said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Believers do not get to cherry-pick the commandments. Is sending a teenager to a tournament on Sunday morning any different from sending a teenage couple to a motel on prom night?

God created the Jewish Sabbath (and its Christian equivalent) to give mankind a weekly way to remember and honor Him. “If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it … then you will take delight in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

One of the central ways God chooses to be honored on His day is through the coming together of the church to worship, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Sunday worship is God’s plan for all nations through all generations.

Jesus pushed back on the Pharisees and their legalism concerning the Sabbath. They had lost the fact that Sabbath observance was to give honor to His Father and provide occasion for His people to worship Him. Today, He likely would resist with equal intensity anything that takes eyes off of the Godhead and precludes the weekly assembling of the body of Christ.

Inconsistent with the Goal of Parenting

Believing parents have no higher goal than this: To see their children leave home to live lives that bring great glory to King Jesus. Children exist for the glory of God, so every parenting action and decision should directly support that purpose.

Parents know that college athletic scouts are more likely to study prospects on a traveling sports team than a school team. For lukewarm church parents, the fact that a traveling team plays on Sunday is less important than the prospect of a scholarship.

Transformed parents work toward and celebrate the accomplishments of their children. But when choices have to be made, they always come down on the side of decisions that glorify Christ now and into the future.

Wise parents explain their decisions to their children. But instead of saying, “Our family always keeps the rules, and going to church is a rule,” discipling parents say, “Our family loves and adores King Jesus, and keeping His day sacred is our way to show that.”

Of course, parents have to set the example with their own choices. For example, after a Saturday night meeting out of town, Dad may have to decide between:

  1. Catching a 7:00 a.m. flight home in order to worship with the family, or
  2. Leisurely grazing the hotel breakfast buffet and then flying at 10:30 a.m.

Kids absorb and pursue what they perceive to be a parent’s priority. Actions always speak louder than words.

Inconsistent with the Life of a Young Disciple

As with all believers, teenagers need their hearts connected to the heart of Christ by a double helix. They need a strand of intimate, warm love intertwined with a strand of adoration and awe (almost holy fear).

Godly parents nurture the “love” strand so that someday a 25-year-old would rather spend Sunday morning with his Beloved than anyone else. And parents nurture the “awe” strand so future young adults so honor God that skipping church never seems like an option.

Teenage disciples are called to “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). “All things” means all things—including a scholarship given by a college scout on a Sunday morning; or moving from JV to Varsity because coach saw a player working hard in the weight room on Sunday morning; or making first chair in the state orchestra performing on Sunday morning. All those things are good, but Jesus is better.

Teenage behavior patterns tend to last a lifetime. The boy who misses some Sundays becomes the dad who leaves his family at home while he hunts on Sunday mornings. Parents who allow their children to be inconsistent on Sundays need to look ahead. They may grieve when they try to call their future grandchildren, Sunday at noon, and discover they still are in bed.

Church parents sometimes look for excuses to help explain inconsistent respect for God and His fourth commandment. I have heard parents say, “I realize the girls are out five Sundays in a row, but you need to know the coach always reads John 3:16 before Sunday games.” God instructs His children to give Him their attention for a day, not for three minutes. He desires hearts united in worship, not a tip of the hat.

Such reasoning only appeals to those who assume church-going is a religious rule—and therefore any ritual performed satisfies that rule. This is similar to the church member who will not tithe, but drops a dollar in the plate. On Easter.

Parents who deeply desire to see lifetime disciples come from their home will instill love and awe toward King Jesus, toward His day, and toward the weekly gathering of His people.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Don’t Judge Me!

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 09:44

Standing for biblical truth elicits many negative responses from those outside the church as well as from some within. This is not surprising since Jesus told His disciples that they would be hated on account of Him (John 15:18-19, 1 John 3:13). While we may simply shrug this off as part of the reality of life, what is more challenging to navigate is the suggestion that by using the word “sin” for certain activities, we violate Jesus’ command not to judge. In popular sentiment, “do not judge” means that one cannot say any behavior is wrong. This understanding is pervasive, but it is severely flawed.[1]

There are pitfalls of judging that we must avoid, but doing so does not mean we cannot call sin what God has called sin. In fact, if we refuse to do so, we act as God’s judge, claiming that our perspective on the situation trumps His own. Similar to the rejection of God’s testimony in 1 John 1:10 and 5:10, this is tantamount to calling God a liar. We must call sin, sin, but we must also remember that God knows all of the details of the situation. We never will, and we often lack key information. As John 7:24 notes, we must not judge by mere appearances but must make a just judgment. If we wish to do so, we are wise to listen well and listen long, remembering the folly of giving an answer too quickly (Proverbs 18:13).

Jesus frequently identified sins, and Paul did the same. Jesus gave instructions for how to deal with a brother who has sinned against you (Matthew 18), and Paul told the Corinthians that he had already judged the brother who was engaged in sexual sin with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5). Even the Matthew 7 passage most commonly used to prohibit judging includes parameters for identifying sin in someone else’s life.[2] None of these required activities would be possible if identifying something as sin were not permitted. Furthermore, if you cannot rebuke someone else who has wronged you, there is no room even to say, “Don’t judge me.”

In addition to identifying certain behaviors as sinful, believers must judge in at least three other senses: evaluating the merits of a dispute between fellow Christians, evaluating the character of ministry candidates, and evaluating the teachings of those who claim to speak in the name of the Lord.[3] With respect to the first, Paul chides the Corinthians for failing to do so (1 Corinthians 6). Rather than turning to fellow believers to settle a dispute, some went to the courts. In doing so, they guaranteed defeat regardless of the outcome. In the pastoral epistles, Paul lists many qualifications for ministry candidates, primarily focused on character (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).[4] The evaluation of these qualifications requires wise judgment. Third, believers are commanded not to believe every spirit but to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). In addition to the content of the message, understanding the character of the speaker is quite important in this evaluation.

While many activities commonly associated with judging are actually required Christian duties, there are some pitfalls that we must avoid, the first of which is hypocrisy. In Matthew 7, Jesus refers to a person concerned with the speck in a brother’s eye instead of being concerned with the log in his own eye. In Romans 2:1-3, Paul rebukes those who pass judgment on others while they themselves do the same things. Before focusing on others, we must deal with the sin in our own lives. Whether it is the same sin we see in others or something completely different, let the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s conviction address us first. This does not mean that we cannot speak to others about sin until we are completely done with sin (that will never happen), but rather that we have dealt significantly and in an ongoing manner with our own sin.

Another pitfall associated with judging is a condemning attitude.[5] I recently saw a friend who was called out for a mistake. Such was fine, but what came with it was not. In addition to calling out the error, I saw broad-brush insults and an attitude of arrogant superiority. If we are tempted to think that someone is beyond hope or that we are far superior to them, let us remember that most of the heroes in the Bible made extreme mistakes. What is more, all of us are just one bad decision away from a radically different life. Our role is not to condemn. That must be left to God. This, of course, is part of the reason that we must warn about sin. Since sin and the wrath of God are real, we must warn others about the coming judgment. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”

Just as condemnation is not our role, there are times when we are tempted to address a situation that is none of our business. Romans 14-15 help us here. If the matter is something of a preference rather than a biblical mandate, we are told to keep our perspective to ourselves. Two questions may provide assistance. Are we trying to enforce a law that no longer has authority based on the finished work of Christ (clean and unclean foods, for example)? Are we trying to enforce a law that never had biblical authority in the first place? Determining the difference can be challenging, but it is a task that believers can accomplish by the power of the Spirit.

There are contexts in which Christians must judge, but we must judge justly. As we do so, may we remember the manifold grace and mercy of God in our lives and respond to others in a way that affirms not only the seriousness of sin but also the love and forgiveness that God offers through Christ Jesus.

[1]David Croteau addresses misunderstandings about judging in chapter 7 of his helpful book, Urban Legends of the New Testament.
[2]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 38.
[3]In the future, the disciples will take part in judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), and believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
[4]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 183.
[5]Croteau affirms the same with respect to Matthew 7:1-2.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Don’t Judge Me!

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 09:44

Standing for biblical truth elicits many negative responses from those outside the church as well as from some within. This is not surprising since Jesus told His disciples that they would be hated on account of Him (John 15:18-19, 1 John 3:13). While we may simply shrug this off as part of the reality of life, what is more challenging to navigate is the suggestion that by using the word “sin” for certain activities, we violate Jesus’ command not to judge. In popular sentiment, “do not judge” means that one cannot say any behavior is wrong. This understanding is pervasive, but it is severely flawed.[1]

There are pitfalls of judging that we must avoid, but doing so does not mean we cannot call sin what God has called sin. In fact, if we refuse to do so, we act as God’s judge, claiming that our perspective on the situation trumps His own. Similar to the rejection of God’s testimony in 1 John 1:10 and 5:10, this is tantamount to calling God a liar. We must call sin, sin, but we must also remember that God knows all of the details of the situation. We never will, and we often lack key information. As John 7:24 notes, we must not judge by mere appearances but must make a just judgment. If we wish to do so, we are wise to listen well and listen long, remembering the folly of giving an answer too quickly (Proverbs 18:13).

Jesus frequently identified sins, and Paul did the same. Jesus gave instructions for how to deal with a brother who has sinned against you (Matthew 18), and Paul told the Corinthians that he had already judged the brother who was engaged in sexual sin with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5). Even the Matthew 7 passage most commonly used to prohibit judging includes parameters for identifying sin in someone else’s life.[2] None of these required activities would be possible if identifying something as sin were not permitted. Furthermore, if you cannot rebuke someone else who has wronged you, there is no room even to say, “Don’t judge me.”

In addition to identifying certain behaviors as sinful, believers must judge in at least three other senses: evaluating the merits of a dispute between fellow Christians, evaluating the character of ministry candidates, and evaluating the teachings of those who claim to speak in the name of the Lord.[3] With respect to the first, Paul chides the Corinthians for failing to do so (1 Corinthians 6). Rather than turning to fellow believers to settle a dispute, some went to the courts. In doing so, they guaranteed defeat regardless of the outcome. In the pastoral epistles, Paul lists many qualifications for ministry candidates, primarily focused on character (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).[4] The evaluation of these qualifications requires wise judgment. Third, believers are commanded not to believe every spirit but to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). In addition to the content of the message, understanding the character of the speaker is quite important in this evaluation.

While many activities commonly associated with judging are actually required Christian duties, there are some pitfalls that we must avoid, the first of which is hypocrisy. In Matthew 7, Jesus refers to a person concerned with the speck in a brother’s eye instead of being concerned with the log in his own eye. In Romans 2:1-3, Paul rebukes those who pass judgment on others while they themselves do the same things. Before focusing on others, we must deal with the sin in our own lives. Whether it is the same sin we see in others or something completely different, let the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s conviction address us first. This does not mean that we cannot speak to others about sin until we are completely done with sin (that will never happen), but rather that we have dealt significantly and in an ongoing manner with our own sin.

Another pitfall associated with judging is a condemning attitude.[5] I recently saw a friend who was called out for a mistake. Such was fine, but what came with it was not. In addition to calling out the error, I saw broad-brush insults and an attitude of arrogant superiority. If we are tempted to think that someone is beyond hope or that we are far superior to them, let us remember that most of the heroes in the Bible made extreme mistakes. What is more, all of us are just one bad decision away from a radically different life. Our role is not to condemn. That must be left to God. This, of course, is part of the reason that we must warn about sin. Since sin and the wrath of God are real, we must warn others about the coming judgment. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”

Just as condemnation is not our role, there are times when we are tempted to address a situation that is none of our business. Romans 14-15 help us here. If the matter is something of a preference rather than a biblical mandate, we are told to keep our perspective to ourselves. Two questions may provide assistance. Are we trying to enforce a law that no longer has authority based on the finished work of Christ (clean and unclean foods, for example)? Are we trying to enforce a law that never had biblical authority in the first place? Determining the difference can be challenging, but it is a task that believers can accomplish by the power of the Spirit.

There are contexts in which Christians must judge, but we must judge justly. As we do so, may we remember the manifold grace and mercy of God in our lives and respond to others in a way that affirms not only the seriousness of sin but also the love and forgiveness that God offers through Christ Jesus.

[1]David Croteau addresses misunderstandings about judging in chapter 7 of his helpful book, Urban Legends of the New Testament.
[2]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 38.
[3]In the future, the disciples will take part in judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), and believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
[4]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 183.
[5]Croteau affirms the same with respect to Matthew 7:1-2.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Death at Work in Us

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 09:30

Grief in the Shadows

Recently, I visited my childhood home to attend the funeral of my dear aunt, a quiet and meek servant of Christ. She passed away at 53. You know the questions that come after such a parting, the ones that race in your mind without a checkered flag. Night and day, the soul is in anguish, longing for some relief, some answers, some comfort. The shadow cast by death veils the sun. Those shadows are more noticeable when death claims someone close.

By all appearances, the sun is not even there, but we who believe know better. The fixed attribute of shadows is that they shift. We are not to be deceived by that which is seen, but to trust what God has revealed to be true of the unseen. The comfort of God is that He does not shift like shadows (James 1:17). The light has not moved. He is constant, but the darkness of the shadows of death produce a grief that is real. The grief that accompanies death does not have to be sinful. To grieve is to acknowledge the reality of death, that the relationship lost was deep, and that humanity has a true enemy.

A Real Enemy

Suffering is a normal part of our post-Fall human condition, and chief among those sufferings is death. The skirmishes of human suffering are the drum beats of battle, and death is the enemy’s call to charge. Death invaded the garden paradise to stake claim and pronounce judgment for sin committed. But, this enemy stands opposite the armies of God and has lost the war ever since Christ arose victorious (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Death reveals our human frailty. Weakness is uncomfortable and is not an enviable state for our flesh. Emotional instability in the form of fear and worry are more pervasive when we are aware of our own mortality. Sadness makes a preemptive bid to take up residence so deep within that numbness seems preferable. Death is a reminder that we are still at war, and combat is always accompanied by agony. Yet, in the gruesome aches of war, we must know that the Lord is using suffering to work in us for our good and His glory.

Death is at work to…

Reveal the nearness of our Lord

Death is one of many contributors to a broken heart. Since death is our enemy, and death breeds brokenness, we falsely identify our despair as an enemy. A broken heart is not our enemy. God does not despise a broken heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:2). Rather, He heals the brokenhearted, binding their wounds with the salve of His promises (Psalm 147:3). The Lord is near in death because death crushes. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He has promised to be with us always, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He demonstrated His willingness to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death by being obedient to the point of death on the cross. Although death intends to crush our spirit, it works instead to produce a brokenness that beckons the nearness of our Great Shepherd. His nearness is our good, for in Him we find our refuge (Psalm 73:28).

Produce Patience

For me, to die is gain, because death has lost its sting. But when we lose a loved one, the loss still stings. We do not grieve like those who are without hope, but we still grieve. Through that pain, we are more vigilant to pray that the Lord come quickly and rid us of this life filled with pain and suffering. At those intense moments of pain, we cry out with urgency for Jesus to come and make all things new. There is nothing at all wrong with that prayer and desire, but we must wait patiently for the Lord, as the farmer waits for the harvest (James 5:7-8). There is difficulty in waiting, but suffering produces a patient endurance that builds a hope that will not lead us to shame. So we do not lose heart, but we wait with confident expectation for the coming of the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14). We know that in His coming, He will wipe away every tear and make all things broken whole again (Revelation 21:4-5). So death works in us a patient but eager longing for the return of Christ, the victor over our great enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Recalibrate

Circumstances can be an enemy of faith or its primary builder. Our fallen human nature yearns to believe by sight. We are continually tempted to believe reality is made of only that which is seen because painful circumstances make a strong and convincing case for reality. When our senses are bound to seen things, we see but do not see, and hear but do not hear. Circumstances are like a puzzle box that is half full. When the pieces are put together, they help to form a picture, but because several key parts are missing, we cannot make sense of the whole.

Our minds tend to contemplate eternal things when death is near. Those temporary pursuits slide a few notches down on the priority list. Thoughts of death’s finality act as a probe searching the soul for any transitory hopes that cannot bear the eternal weight of glory. We lose heart when reminded that our outer man is decaying if our inner man is not being renewed. However, the inner man can only be renewed as we focus on the unseen to make sense of what is seen. Now death is at work to sturdy my heart upon a hope that will not disappoint. These blows to the soul fracture the fragile jars of clay that we are so that light will shine out from the darkness of our inner affliction. We are struck down, but not destroyed by the circumstance. So death is at work in us to make evident the light of Christ through our mortal life.

Death at Work in You

Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? Or better yet, have you looked at an old photo of yourself from a decade ago? While home for my aunt’s funeral, I was reminded that this summer marks 20 years since I completed high school. The 20-year-old graduation photo on the wall of my parents’ home looked more like my eldest son than me. Our bodies really are decaying. For many of us, that thought is too morbid a territory for our sanitary minds. Since life’s allotment is but a vapor, we must consider the ways that death is at work in us.

There is no need to fear the facts revealed from our old photos. While death remains a consequence of our sin, Christ can bring beauty from the ashes of those who are His (Isaiah 61:3). He has made death His subject to work in us courage, strength, endurance, character, and a patient hope that is more sure than death itself. So we let death work in us to produce steadfastness, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, because our trust is firm in His promises. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Death at Work in Us

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 09:30

Grief in the Shadows

Recently, I visited my childhood home to attend the funeral of my dear aunt, a quiet and meek servant of Christ. She passed away at 53. You know the questions that come after such a parting, the ones that race in your mind without a checkered flag. Night and day, the soul is in anguish, longing for some relief, some answers, some comfort. The shadow cast by death veils the sun. Those shadows are more noticeable when death claims someone close.

By all appearances, the sun is not even there, but we who believe know better. The fixed attribute of shadows is that they shift. We are not to be deceived by that which is seen, but to trust what God has revealed to be true of the unseen. The comfort of God is that He does not shift like shadows (James 1:17). The light has not moved. He is constant, but the darkness of the shadows of death produce a grief that is real. The grief that accompanies death does not have to be sinful. To grieve is to acknowledge the reality of death, that the relationship lost was deep, and that humanity has a true enemy.

A Real Enemy

Suffering is a normal part of our post-Fall human condition, and chief among those sufferings is death. The skirmishes of human suffering are the drum beats of battle, and death is the enemy’s call to charge. Death invaded the garden paradise to stake claim and pronounce judgment for sin committed. But, this enemy stands opposite the armies of God and has lost the war ever since Christ arose victorious (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Death reveals our human frailty. Weakness is uncomfortable and is not an enviable state for our flesh. Emotional instability in the form of fear and worry are more pervasive when we are aware of our own mortality. Sadness makes a preemptive bid to take up residence so deep within that numbness seems preferable. Death is a reminder that we are still at war, and combat is always accompanied by agony. Yet, in the gruesome aches of war, we must know that the Lord is using suffering to work in us for our good and His glory.

Death is at work to…

Reveal the nearness of our Lord

Death is one of many contributors to a broken heart. Since death is our enemy, and death breeds brokenness, we falsely identify our despair as an enemy. A broken heart is not our enemy. God does not despise a broken heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:2). Rather, He heals the brokenhearted, binding their wounds with the salve of His promises (Psalm 147:3). The Lord is near in death because death crushes. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He has promised to be with us always, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He demonstrated His willingness to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death by being obedient to the point of death on the cross. Although death intends to crush our spirit, it works instead to produce a brokenness that beckons the nearness of our Great Shepherd. His nearness is our good, for in Him we find our refuge (Psalm 73:28).

Produce Patience

For me, to die is gain, because death has lost its sting. But when we lose a loved one, the loss still stings. We do not grieve like those who are without hope, but we still grieve. Through that pain, we are more vigilant to pray that the Lord come quickly and rid us of this life filled with pain and suffering. At those intense moments of pain, we cry out with urgency for Jesus to come and make all things new. There is nothing at all wrong with that prayer and desire, but we must wait patiently for the Lord, as the farmer waits for the harvest (James 5:7-8). There is difficulty in waiting, but suffering produces a patient endurance that builds a hope that will not lead us to shame. So we do not lose heart, but we wait with confident expectation for the coming of the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14). We know that in His coming, He will wipe away every tear and make all things broken whole again (Revelation 21:4-5). So death works in us a patient but eager longing for the return of Christ, the victor over our great enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Recalibrate

Circumstances can be an enemy of faith or its primary builder. Our fallen human nature yearns to believe by sight. We are continually tempted to believe reality is made of only that which is seen because painful circumstances make a strong and convincing case for reality. When our senses are bound to seen things, we see but do not see, and hear but do not hear. Circumstances are like a puzzle box that is half full. When the pieces are put together, they help to form a picture, but because several key parts are missing, we cannot make sense of the whole.

Our minds tend to contemplate eternal things when death is near. Those temporary pursuits slide a few notches down on the priority list. Thoughts of death’s finality act as a probe searching the soul for any transitory hopes that cannot bear the eternal weight of glory. We lose heart when reminded that our outer man is decaying if our inner man is not being renewed. However, the inner man can only be renewed as we focus on the unseen to make sense of what is seen. Now death is at work to sturdy my heart upon a hope that will not disappoint. These blows to the soul fracture the fragile jars of clay that we are so that light will shine out from the darkness of our inner affliction. We are struck down, but not destroyed by the circumstance. So death is at work in us to make evident the light of Christ through our mortal life.

Death at Work in You

Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? Or better yet, have you looked at an old photo of yourself from a decade ago? While home for my aunt’s funeral, I was reminded that this summer marks 20 years since I completed high school. The 20-year-old graduation photo on the wall of my parents’ home looked more like my eldest son than me. Our bodies really are decaying. For many of us, that thought is too morbid a territory for our sanitary minds. Since life’s allotment is but a vapor, we must consider the ways that death is at work in us.

There is no need to fear the facts revealed from our old photos. While death remains a consequence of our sin, Christ can bring beauty from the ashes of those who are His (Isaiah 61:3). He has made death His subject to work in us courage, strength, endurance, character, and a patient hope that is more sure than death itself. So we let death work in us to produce steadfastness, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, because our trust is firm in His promises. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Mother’s Day – Ownership or Stewardship

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 09:30

One of the challenges in raising children from a biblical perspective is to navigate the difference between ownership and stewardship. I am the eldest of four boys, and my mother told us of a crisis of faith she faced when we all began to express a call to the mission field. Our family was led to faith and discipled by missionaries, and so we had this influence and inspiration from a young age. At the time, we were unaware of it, but our mother struggled with where a call to missions would take us and what the challenges would be.

We have always been a very close family, and the evening dinner table in our home was one of laughter, debate, passion and bonding. We lived life together, and in our ideal world, we would marry, have children and continue to live in this way. A call to the mission field, however, would throw all of this into disarray.

The reality we had to work through is that the ideal world we wanted would come one day in heaven, but that while we are still on earth, there is a mission to complete. In the face of all of this, my mother had to work through letting us go. She reached this point one Sunday morning, and so, unknown to us, she went to the altar during the Sunday service and laid her claim to ownership of our lives before the Lord. She reached a place where she could recognize that God had ownership of our lives and that He had entrusted us to her as a stewardship.

This change in paradigm led to a position that encouraged us to follow God’s will unconditionally rather than follow what seemed best to her. One of the stand-out characteristics of her stewardship has been a commitment to prayer so that my brothers and I know that wherever our call takes us, she is lifting us up in prayer.

I am now a father of four boys, and I am so tempted to want them to follow God’s will my way. I want big family meals on Sundays, to be able to pop in for a visit anytime, to go on vacation together, and especially to see grandchildren without much effort. I like the idea that I have some ownership of my sons, that God would share this with me.

In 1 Samuel 1, we read of God’s blessing on Hannah in giving her a son. It must have been very tempting for her to claim Samuel as her own—she had waited and prayed for so long. But, Hannah understood the difference between stewardship and ownership, and we have a beautiful picture of how she is a careful steward of young Samuel under the ownership of God.

We like to think of attributes of God like all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present; but what about all-owning? If He created everything and we hold that it is only in Him that we live and move and have our being, then our children must belong to Him. This belonging is not partial so that we share it with Him; it is a complete and total belonging so that, for my sons, God is their complete and eternal Father. He gives my wife and me the privilege and responsibility of being earthly parents whose primary role is to steward them into a relationship with the heavenly Father through the person and work of Jesus. The result is that while they can turn to me for help at any time, they are able to turn to a heavenly Father who is infinitely more capable of meeting every need.

We have a lost world that is in desperate need to know God as Father. As Christian parents, we have a stewardship before the God to raise children who will step out and follow God wherever that takes them. Godly parents who yield ownership of their children to God and then take the stewardship of those children seriously will lead to Christians who change the world for God’s Kingdom. May there be many more parents like Hannah and the amazing lady that I call my mother!

Categories: Seminary Blog

Mother’s Day – Ownership or Stewardship

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 09:30

One of the challenges in raising children from a biblical perspective is to navigate the difference between ownership and stewardship. I am the eldest of four boys, and my mother told us of a crisis of faith she faced when we all began to express a call to the mission field. Our family was led to faith and discipled by missionaries, and so we had this influence and inspiration from a young age. At the time, we were unaware of it, but our mother struggled with where a call to missions would take us and what the challenges would be.

We have always been a very close family, and the evening dinner table in our home was one of laughter, debate, passion and bonding. We lived life together, and in our ideal world, we would marry, have children and continue to live in this way. A call to the mission field, however, would throw all of this into disarray.

The reality we had to work through is that the ideal world we wanted would come one day in heaven, but that while we are still on earth, there is a mission to complete. In the face of all of this, my mother had to work through letting us go. She reached this point one Sunday morning, and so, unknown to us, she went to the altar during the Sunday service and laid her claim to ownership of our lives before the Lord. She reached a place where she could recognize that God had ownership of our lives and that He had entrusted us to her as a stewardship.

This change in paradigm led to a position that encouraged us to follow God’s will unconditionally rather than follow what seemed best to her. One of the stand-out characteristics of her stewardship has been a commitment to prayer so that my brothers and I know that wherever our call takes us, she is lifting us up in prayer.

I am now a father of four boys, and I am so tempted to want them to follow God’s will my way. I want big family meals on Sundays, to be able to pop in for a visit anytime, to go on vacation together, and especially to see grandchildren without much effort. I like the idea that I have some ownership of my sons, that God would share this with me.

In 1 Samuel 1, we read of God’s blessing on Hannah in giving her a son. It must have been very tempting for her to claim Samuel as her own—she had waited and prayed for so long. But, Hannah understood the difference between stewardship and ownership, and we have a beautiful picture of how she is a careful steward of young Samuel under the ownership of God.

We like to think of attributes of God like all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present; but what about all-owning? If He created everything and we hold that it is only in Him that we live and move and have our being, then our children must belong to Him. This belonging is not partial so that we share it with Him; it is a complete and total belonging so that, for my sons, God is their complete and eternal Father. He gives my wife and me the privilege and responsibility of being earthly parents whose primary role is to steward them into a relationship with the heavenly Father through the person and work of Jesus. The result is that while they can turn to me for help at any time, they are able to turn to a heavenly Father who is infinitely more capable of meeting every need.

We have a lost world that is in desperate need to know God as Father. As Christian parents, we have a stewardship before the God to raise children who will step out and follow God wherever that takes them. Godly parents who yield ownership of their children to God and then take the stewardship of those children seriously will lead to Christians who change the world for God’s Kingdom. May there be many more parents like Hannah and the amazing lady that I call my mother!

Categories: Seminary Blog

Apologetics in Service of the Gospel

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 09:30

It is sometimes said that apologetics is a waste of time because no one comes to Christ through apologetics. You can’t, after all, argue someone into the Kingdom.

Now, it may come as a bit of a shock, but I (being a professor of apologetics) actually agree that no one comes to Christ through apologetics. No one is won to Christ on the basis of apologetics since that’s simply not the basis upon which one is won to Christ. One comes to Christ on the basis of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.

But does that mean apologetics is a waste of time?

Well no, definitely not. Let’s tease out some of the confusions here. But first it may be helpful to define Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is the discipline of commending and defending the truth claims of Christianity without making assumptions an unbeliever cannot make (e.g., we do not merely cite Scripture in giving the defense).

The first confusion here is thinking of apologetics as merely one way to do evangelism (perhaps for the nerdy few!). I’d like to suggest that apologetics is not merely evangelism to the more cerebral among us. In fact, it is best to understand apologetics as importantly related to evangelism, but a substantively different pursuit.

This is perhaps easiest to see given the different (but, again, related) aims of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics aims to provide intellectual reasons for assenting to the claims of the Gospel and removing any intellectual roadblocks to faith. Evangelism aims to bring people to faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the sharing of the Gospel.

How are apologetics and evangelism related, then? When it comes to outreach, apologetics is not, in my view, necessary for evangelism, but it is often incredibly helpful. Apologetics is often characterized as pre-evangelism. Sometimes, hearing a straightforward Gospel message is all some people need. Other times, people must journey a long road in order to arrive at a place where they surrender to Christ in faith. On this road, there are often questions of an apologetic nature, some of which can be quite pressing. These questions often act as a kind of intellectual roadblock for faith. And, for many, these questions require a thoughtful answer.

Moreover, by all accounts, our country and culture is trending away from its Christian influences. It seems there are times when people do not even have the basic categories in order to grasp the content of the Gospel, given the lack of a Christian background. More and more, apologetics does the work equivalent to what Bible translators do for an unreached people group. The Bible translator must get the content of the Gospel into the vernacular of the people for an individual to even grasp this content. Could the Holy Spirit miraculously allow the tribesman to understand the Gospel in a foreign language? Absolutely. However, it typically takes the hard work of translation. Likewise, God can bring conviction if He wants, but it often takes the hard work of engaging in apologetic discussion for someone to be able to grasp the content of the Gospel.

But let me stress that we have to get to the Gospel. It is entirely possible to get mired in endless discussions about technical issues and never get to sharing the Gospel. This is a big mistake. It is not our job to argue someone right up to the steps of the Kingdom before we ever share the Gospel. We should be agile enough to move into an apologetics discussion, and as we are able to address someone’s questions, we should move into an evangelistic mode. But perhaps one hits upon another question that seems to stand in front of faith. As we address this question, then we look once again to share the Gospel. And remember, in all of this, it is all about being faithful to Christ.

The second confusion is thinking that if apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, then it doesn’t have value at all. Even if, despite what we’ve said above, one concedes that apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, it doesn’t follow that there is no value at all.

Don’t get me wrong. This is in no way to lessen the call for evangelism. Anyone who thinks sharing the Gospel is not crucially important for each and every Christian simply doesn’t understand what it is to be a Christian. But that’s not all of what it is to be Christian. An important part of growth and an important part of discipleship is asking the deep and difficult questions and growing in our worldview. When we don’t ask the deep and difficult questions, then our worldview tends to be only thinly Christian. In fact, Jesus commands us to love God with all of who we are, including our minds (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love God with our minds? I think we love God with our minds when we embrace an intellectual pursuit of God and the understanding of our faith as an important part of our discipleship.

Part of doing this (though certainly not all of what this means) is thinking about issues of apologetics. So it is not merely getting prepped to hit the streets to answer every question that may come from unbelievers. And it is not suddenly asking questions because some hostile unbeliever is giving us trouble. It is genuinely and honestly asking these questions for ourselves out of curiosity and the desire to know God more fully.

What we should notice is that when we seek God intellectually by asking the deep and difficult questions, we will find ourselves well-equipped to encounter unbelievers when they do ask us those questions. In fact, our answers will likely be much more thoughtful since we have genuinely asked the questions for ourselves.

In sum, apologetics has value (along with our other Christian pursuits) in that it makes for more powerful evangelism and helps us to pursue and love God with our minds.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Apologetics in Service of the Gospel

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 09:30

It is sometimes said that apologetics is a waste of time because no one comes to Christ through apologetics. You can’t, after all, argue someone into the Kingdom.

Now, it may come as a bit of a shock, but I (being a professor of apologetics) actually agree that no one comes to Christ through apologetics. No one is won to Christ on the basis of apologetics since that’s simply not the basis upon which one is won to Christ. One comes to Christ on the basis of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.

But does that mean apologetics is a waste of time?

Well no, definitely not. Let’s tease out some of the confusions here. But first it may be helpful to define Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is the discipline of commending and defending the truth claims of Christianity without making assumptions an unbeliever cannot make (e.g., we do not merely cite Scripture in giving the defense).

The first confusion here is thinking of apologetics as merely one way to do evangelism (perhaps for the nerdy few!). I’d like to suggest that apologetics is not merely evangelism to the more cerebral among us. In fact, it is best to understand apologetics as importantly related to evangelism, but a substantively different pursuit.

This is perhaps easiest to see given the different (but, again, related) aims of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics aims to provide intellectual reasons for assenting to the claims of the Gospel and removing any intellectual roadblocks to faith. Evangelism aims to bring people to faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the sharing of the Gospel.

How are apologetics and evangelism related, then? When it comes to outreach, apologetics is not, in my view, necessary for evangelism, but it is often incredibly helpful. Apologetics is often characterized as pre-evangelism. Sometimes, hearing a straightforward Gospel message is all some people need. Other times, people must journey a long road in order to arrive at a place where they surrender to Christ in faith. On this road, there are often questions of an apologetic nature, some of which can be quite pressing. These questions often act as a kind of intellectual roadblock for faith. And, for many, these questions require a thoughtful answer.

Moreover, by all accounts, our country and culture is trending away from its Christian influences. It seems there are times when people do not even have the basic categories in order to grasp the content of the Gospel, given the lack of a Christian background. More and more, apologetics does the work equivalent to what Bible translators do for an unreached people group. The Bible translator must get the content of the Gospel into the vernacular of the people for an individual to even grasp this content. Could the Holy Spirit miraculously allow the tribesman to understand the Gospel in a foreign language? Absolutely. However, it typically takes the hard work of translation. Likewise, God can bring conviction if He wants, but it often takes the hard work of engaging in apologetic discussion for someone to be able to grasp the content of the Gospel.

But let me stress that we have to get to the Gospel. It is entirely possible to get mired in endless discussions about technical issues and never get to sharing the Gospel. This is a big mistake. It is not our job to argue someone right up to the steps of the Kingdom before we ever share the Gospel. We should be agile enough to move into an apologetics discussion, and as we are able to address someone’s questions, we should move into an evangelistic mode. But perhaps one hits upon another question that seems to stand in front of faith. As we address this question, then we look once again to share the Gospel. And remember, in all of this, it is all about being faithful to Christ.

The second confusion is thinking that if apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, then it doesn’t have value at all. Even if, despite what we’ve said above, one concedes that apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, it doesn’t follow that there is no value at all.

Don’t get me wrong. This is in no way to lessen the call for evangelism. Anyone who thinks sharing the Gospel is not crucially important for each and every Christian simply doesn’t understand what it is to be a Christian. But that’s not all of what it is to be Christian. An important part of growth and an important part of discipleship is asking the deep and difficult questions and growing in our worldview. When we don’t ask the deep and difficult questions, then our worldview tends to be only thinly Christian. In fact, Jesus commands us to love God with all of who we are, including our minds (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love God with our minds? I think we love God with our minds when we embrace an intellectual pursuit of God and the understanding of our faith as an important part of our discipleship.

Part of doing this (though certainly not all of what this means) is thinking about issues of apologetics. So it is not merely getting prepped to hit the streets to answer every question that may come from unbelievers. And it is not suddenly asking questions because some hostile unbeliever is giving us trouble. It is genuinely and honestly asking these questions for ourselves out of curiosity and the desire to know God more fully.

What we should notice is that when we seek God intellectually by asking the deep and difficult questions, we will find ourselves well-equipped to encounter unbelievers when they do ask us those questions. In fact, our answers will likely be much more thoughtful since we have genuinely asked the questions for ourselves.

In sum, apologetics has value (along with our other Christian pursuits) in that it makes for more powerful evangelism and helps us to pursue and love God with our minds.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 09:30

Last week, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. Between work, school, church, sports practices, and countless other activities, it can be difficult to slow down and enjoy being in the presence of our children. However, my oldest daughter’s letter and my second daughter’s joy demonstrate that we often forget the value of time. They simply enjoyed being with me and having my attention.

In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, we read, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” How can we teach our children the words of the Lord if we do not take the time to have conversations with them and listen to their hearts?

For our family, the cure for slowing down is baseball. We love watching the games and acting as if we know the players well. However, watching the sport live gives us an opportunity we rarely get with other activities—uninterrupted time talking. We can sit and watch the game while also having a three-hour conversation.

For you, the activity may be different. You may enjoy gardening, working in the yard, hunting, fishing, or another activity. Why not involve your children in those activities so that you can spend invaluable time with them and hear what is on their hearts?

We see that training children in the ways of God is an essential part of parenting. At least 11 times in the opening eight chapters of Proverbs, Solomon stops to remind his son to listen to his instructions (Proverbs 1:8; 2:1–2; 3:1¬–2; 4:1–2, 10, 20; 5:1–2; 6:20–21; 7:1–3, 24; 8:32–34). In our fast-paced world, we lose sight of the fact that we need to slow down to teach our children. We need to put our cellphones away (in this, I am, as Paul says, “the chief” of sinners), turn off the television, and invest time in our children’s lives. One of these days, they will no longer be in our homes and that valuable time will be gone. Let us not waste it.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 09:30

Last week, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. Between work, school, church, sports practices, and countless other activities, it can be difficult to slow down and enjoy being in the presence of our children. However, my oldest daughter’s letter and my second daughter’s joy demonstrate that we often forget the value of time. They simply enjoyed being with me and having my attention.

In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, we read, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” How can we teach our children the words of the Lord if we do not take the time to have conversations with them and listen to their hearts?

For our family, the cure for slowing down is baseball. We love watching the games and acting as if we know the players well. However, watching the sport live gives us an opportunity we rarely get with other activities—uninterrupted time talking. We can sit and watch the game while also having a three-hour conversation.

For you, the activity may be different. You may enjoy gardening, working in the yard, hunting, fishing, or another activity. Why not involve your children in those activities so that you can spend invaluable time with them and hear what is on their hearts?

We see that training children in the ways of God is an essential part of parenting. At least 11 times in the opening eight chapters of Proverbs, Solomon stops to remind his son to listen to his instructions (Proverbs 1:8; 2:1–2; 3:1¬–2; 4:1–2, 10, 20; 5:1–2; 6:20–21; 7:1–3, 24; 8:32–34). In our fast-paced world, we lose sight of the fact that we need to slow down to teach our children. We need to put our cellphones away (in this, I am, as Paul says, “the chief” of sinners), turn off the television, and invest time in our children’s lives. One of these days, they will no longer be in our homes and that valuable time will be gone. Let us not waste it.

Categories: Seminary Blog

“Archaeology and Biblical Studies: Though Different Disciplines, They Are Friends”

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 10:00

Archaeologists study antiquity, or ancient things.[1]  Archaeology is considered a science, though “not an exact or exclusive discipline,” in that by necessity it interacts and merges with many other disciplines, like geography, history, ceramics, numismatics, language, etc.[2]  This kind of study is able to retrieve “significant aspects of the past, which can greatly enhance our understanding of history and culture.”[3]

Archaeology is beneficial to biblical studies in several ways. To name a few, the discipline can help to verify biblical history,[4] provide background information, and even inform biblical interpretation. Archaeology can illumine, or put simply, “bring the Bible to life,” so to speak. Though archaeology and biblical studies are different disciplines, they are friends. To illustrate this point, I will provide below just a few of my favorite examples of archaeology’s intersection with the New Testament.

A Second-Century Inscription Found at Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:6, 8)

                                     

The first example shows how archaeology can help to verify biblical history. The Greek inscription above, now inside the British Museum in London, England, was discovered at Thessalonica and dates to the second century A.D. The inscription lists six “politarchs” among other officials. In the first century, Luke correctly used the same word in Acts 17:6, 8 to refer to city officials in Thessalonica, though for years many scholars claimed that he was wrong in referring to politarchs. However, this Greek inscription found at Thessalonica helped to correct the misconception that Luke was mistaken.

A Jerusalem Temple Warning Inscription (cf. Ephesians 2:14; Acts 21:27-30)

                    

The next example shows how archaeology can provide background information and help to inform biblical interpretation. The temple warning inscription above is located inside the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. This stone marker was located in the outer court of the Jerusalem temple platform and warned Gentiles not to enter the inner court area of the temple on penalty of death. The inscription dates from the first century and would have been present in Jesus’ day. Compare Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:14—“For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility” (NET; italics mine).[5]

Paul talked about peace between Jews and Gentiles at the same time he talked about reconciliation to God (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10). A literal barrier existed between Jews and Gentiles. In the Jerusalem temple was a series of concentric courts. The outer court was called the Court of the Gentiles. The Gentiles were allowed to go no further than that. Within it was the Court of Israel, and around that court a barrier included warnings that forbade Gentiles to cross the boundary and enter the temple proper. The rigid centuries-old distinction between Jews and Gentiles was symbolized by this barrier. When Paul talked about the wall in Ephesians 2:14, he might well have had in mind this real physical picture of separation. At one point in his ministry, Paul got into trouble in Jerusalem for supposedly bringing a Gentile across the barrier into the forbidden area (cf. Acts 21:27–30). However, though a solid physical barrier, it only symbolized the real barrier, which was the Jewish law with its many rules and regulations (Ephesians 2:15)—things that people had to keep if they wanted to belong to God’s people. Now, Paul wrote, Christ has broken that barrier down (Ephesians 2:14)! So, no longer is there an exclusive part of the temple. No longer does a law discriminate between Jews and Gentiles. God has made both groups into one new people. Through Christ, His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace (Ephesians 2:15).

The Roman Triumph (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Colossians 2:15)

   

[Photos 1 and 2]

[Photo 3]

Roman triumphs were spectacular parades decreed by the city of Rome to celebrate great conquests; to honor the emperors, generals or consuls who achieved those victories; and to give thanks to the deity who bestowed them.[6] The triumph’s central focus in the procession was the person being honored as victor and savior (sōtēr as “one who brings good fortune”).[7] He rode in a chariot, typically pulled by four horses (called a quadrigo; see Photos 1 and 2[8]). The triumphator was “dressed in a purple gown, wore a tunic stitched with gold motifs and had a crown upon his head.”[9] The victor’s face “would be painted red and he carried an eagle-crowned scepter in his hand,” which elements were “taken from Jupiter’s depiction” in Rome’s most important temple, the Jupiter Capitolinus, where the parade ended with sacrifices and thanksgiving offered on behalf of Rome.[10] The honoree in the triumph would be surrounded by soldiers and displays of the spoils of war (see Photo 3[11]), with subjugated captives being mockingly paraded as slaves, many of whom would be put to death. Paul used the imagery of the Roman triumph metaphorically in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Colossians 2:15 to portray God as “the sole, divine ruler and sovereign victor over his enemies.”[12] Consider the words of Colossians 2:15, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (NASB).

The Great Theater at Ephesus, the Goddess Artemis and Her Temple (cf. Acts 19:23-41)

   

   

[Photos 1 and 2]

The two pictures above are of the Great Theater at Ephesus; the one on the right was taken from the very top. The theater seated about 25,000 people and has fantastic acoustics. The ruin is located opposite the harbor street near the city’s south entrance. The theater is mentioned in Acts 19:23-41, which gives the account of a riot against Paul.

Ephesian craftsmen and silversmiths who made silver shrine replicas of Artemis and her temple opposed Paul and the Gospel. During this time in Ephesus, Demetrius became infuriated over dwindling shrine trade, undoubtedly affecting his livelihood, and incited a crowd to drag away Paul’s Macedonian traveling companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, before an assembly of Ephesians in the city’s theater (Acts 19:24-29). Paul wanted to appear before the assembly in the theater as well, no doubt in an effort to help, “but the disciples would not let him” do so (Acts 19:30). When it looked like Gaius and Aristarchus would be killed, the city clerk urged the assembly not to do anything rash because the men had neither robbed temples nor blasphemed Artemis (Acts 19:37). He advised the crowd that if Demetrius and the craftsmen had complaints or charges, then they should follow due process on those matters through the available judicial means (Acts 19:38-39). To do otherwise, he warned, ran the risk of being charged with rioting and inviting Roman reprisal since they had no reason to justify their disorderly gathering (Acts 19:40). After speaking, “he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:41).

During the height of the uproar over Paul and his associates, the Jews pushed forward Alexander, one of their own, to give a defense before the assembly in the theater (Acts 19:33). Their motive was apparently to distance themselves from the tumult caused by the Christians. However, when Alexander sought to make his defense, the mob would have none of it. The crowd knew that Jews opposed Artemis, and when they recognized Alexander as a Jew, they all shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” in the Great Theater (Photos 1 and 2 above) for about two hours (Acts 19:34).

Roman coins are helpful in providing background information about this first-century cultural context. For example, “Claudius issued a series of silver cistophorii in A.D. 50-51 to celebrate his marriage to Agrippina the Younger. These coins reflect on their reverse evocative portrayals of the temple of Diana [Artemis] in Ephesus, including the cultic statue of the goddess.”[13] As seen at the beginning of this section, disputes over replicas of Artemis’ statute and her temple, reflected on the coin’s reverse (Photo 3 below[14]), are what led to Paul’s conflict with Demetrius and the silversmiths.

                                                        

[Photo 3]

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is a great place to learn not only the New Testament and biblical archaeology but any of the disciplines to help you become a more effective steward of the Gospel with which God has entrusted us. The seminary is intentionally evangelistic, committed to text-driven preaching, and emphasizes Baptist distinctives. Join us and allow us the joy and privilege of helping prepare you for a lifetime of ministry.

[1]J.R. McRay, “Archaeology and the New Testament.” Pages 93–100 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 93.
[2]Ibid.
[3]Ibid.
[4]By this, I do not mean definitively prove or disprove our theological assertions.
[5]Unless indicated otherwise, translations are my own.
[6]S.J. Hafemann, “Roman Triumph.” Pages 1004–1008 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 1004.
[7]Ibid., 1005.
[8]Coins and relief panels provide tremendous insights into ancient history and culture. The photo of the gold coin called an aureus (Photo 1, left) with Titus Caesar’s image on the front and shown on the reverse in triumphal quadriga was borrowed from http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ric/titus/RIC_0370[vesp].jpg; accessed April 18, 2017. The photo of the relief panel (Photo 2, right) is from the Arch of Titus, dedicated in A.D. 81 to celebrate the emperor’s victory in the Jewish War of A.D. 66–74, which featured the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. The image was borrowed from http://www.ancient.eu/uploads/images/1286.jpg?v=1485680457; accessed April 18, 2017.
[9]Hafemann, “Roman Triumph,” 1005.
[10]Ibid.
[11]In this relief panel scan from the Arch of Titus (Photo 3), Roman soldiers parade the Jerusalem Temple’s spoils of war in the Roman triumph. The image is part of the Yeshiva University Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project and was found at http://cdn.biblicalarchaeology.org/wp-content/uploads/imperial-city-3.jpg?x10423; accessed April 18, 2017.
[12]Hafemann, “Roman Triumph,” 1005.
[13]L.J. Kreitzer, “Coinage: Greco-Roman.” Pages 220–22 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 221. The insert is mine; Diana is the Roman name for Artemis.
[14]The silver cistophorus has Claudius’ image with the coin reverse showing the temple of Diana (Artemis), which includes her cultic statue (Photo 3); coin photo borrowed from https://www.acsearch.info/media/images/archive/93/2617/2710672.s.jpg; accessed April 19, 2017.

Categories: Seminary Blog

“Archaeology and Biblical Studies: Though Different Disciplines, They Are Friends”

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 10:00

Archaeologists study antiquity, or ancient things.[1]  Archaeology is considered a science, though “not an exact or exclusive discipline,” in that by necessity it interacts and merges with many other disciplines, like geography, history, ceramics, numismatics, language, etc.[2]  This kind of study is able to retrieve “significant aspects of the past, which can greatly enhance our understanding of history and culture.”[3]

Archaeology is beneficial to biblical studies in several ways. To name a few, the discipline can help to verify biblical history,[4] provide background information, and even inform biblical interpretation. Archaeology can illumine, or put simply, “bring the Bible to life,” so to speak. Though archaeology and biblical studies are different disciplines, they are friends. To illustrate this point, I will provide below just a few of my favorite examples of archaeology’s intersection with the New Testament.

A Second-Century Inscription Found at Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:6, 8)

                                     

The first example shows how archaeology can help to verify biblical history. The Greek inscription above, now inside the British Museum in London, England, was discovered at Thessalonica and dates to the second century A.D. The inscription lists six “politarchs” among other officials. In the first century, Luke correctly used the same word in Acts 17:6, 8 to refer to city officials in Thessalonica, though for years many scholars claimed that he was wrong in referring to politarchs. However, this Greek inscription found at Thessalonica helped to correct the misconception that Luke was mistaken.

A Jerusalem Temple Warning Inscription (cf. Ephesians 2:14; Acts 21:27-30)

                    

The next example shows how archaeology can provide background information and help to inform biblical interpretation. The temple warning inscription above is located inside the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. This stone marker was located in the outer court of the Jerusalem temple platform and warned Gentiles not to enter the inner court area of the temple on penalty of death. The inscription dates from the first century and would have been present in Jesus’ day. Compare Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:14—“For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility” (NET; italics mine).[5]

Paul talked about peace between Jews and Gentiles at the same time he talked about reconciliation to God (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10). A literal barrier existed between Jews and Gentiles. In the Jerusalem temple was a series of concentric courts. The outer court was called the Court of the Gentiles. The Gentiles were allowed to go no further than that. Within it was the Court of Israel, and around that court a barrier included warnings that forbade Gentiles to cross the boundary and enter the temple proper. The rigid centuries-old distinction between Jews and Gentiles was symbolized by this barrier. When Paul talked about the wall in Ephesians 2:14, he might well have had in mind this real physical picture of separation. At one point in his ministry, Paul got into trouble in Jerusalem for supposedly bringing a Gentile across the barrier into the forbidden area (cf. Acts 21:27–30). However, though a solid physical barrier, it only symbolized the real barrier, which was the Jewish law with its many rules and regulations (Ephesians 2:15)—things that people had to keep if they wanted to belong to God’s people. Now, Paul wrote, Christ has broken that barrier down (Ephesians 2:14)! So, no longer is there an exclusive part of the temple. No longer does a law discriminate between Jews and Gentiles. God has made both groups into one new people. Through Christ, His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace (Ephesians 2:15).

The Roman Triumph (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Colossians 2:15)

   

[Photos 1 and 2]

[Photo 3]

Roman triumphs were spectacular parades decreed by the city of Rome to celebrate great conquests; to honor the emperors, generals or consuls who achieved those victories; and to give thanks to the deity who bestowed them.[6] The triumph’s central focus in the procession was the person being honored as victor and savior (sōtēr as “one who brings good fortune”).[7] He rode in a chariot, typically pulled by four horses (called a quadrigo; see Photos 1 and 2[8]). The triumphator was “dressed in a purple gown, wore a tunic stitched with gold motifs and had a crown upon his head.”[9] The victor’s face “would be painted red and he carried an eagle-crowned scepter in his hand,” which elements were “taken from Jupiter’s depiction” in Rome’s most important temple, the Jupiter Capitolinus, where the parade ended with sacrifices and thanksgiving offered on behalf of Rome.[10] The honoree in the triumph would be surrounded by soldiers and displays of the spoils of war (see Photo 3[11]), with subjugated captives being mockingly paraded as slaves, many of whom would be put to death. Paul used the imagery of the Roman triumph metaphorically in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Colossians 2:15 to portray God as “the sole, divine ruler and sovereign victor over his enemies.”[12] Consider the words of Colossians 2:15, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (NASB).

The Great Theater at Ephesus, the Goddess Artemis and Her Temple (cf. Acts 19:23-41)

   

   

[Photos 1 and 2]

The two pictures above are of the Great Theater at Ephesus; the one on the right was taken from the very top. The theater seated about 25,000 people and has fantastic acoustics. The ruin is located opposite the harbor street near the city’s south entrance. The theater is mentioned in Acts 19:23-41, which gives the account of a riot against Paul.

Ephesian craftsmen and silversmiths who made silver shrine replicas of Artemis and her temple opposed Paul and the Gospel. During this time in Ephesus, Demetrius became infuriated over dwindling shrine trade, undoubtedly affecting his livelihood, and incited a crowd to drag away Paul’s Macedonian traveling companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, before an assembly of Ephesians in the city’s theater (Acts 19:24-29). Paul wanted to appear before the assembly in the theater as well, no doubt in an effort to help, “but the disciples would not let him” do so (Acts 19:30). When it looked like Gaius and Aristarchus would be killed, the city clerk urged the assembly not to do anything rash because the men had neither robbed temples nor blasphemed Artemis (Acts 19:37). He advised the crowd that if Demetrius and the craftsmen had complaints or charges, then they should follow due process on those matters through the available judicial means (Acts 19:38-39). To do otherwise, he warned, ran the risk of being charged with rioting and inviting Roman reprisal since they had no reason to justify their disorderly gathering (Acts 19:40). After speaking, “he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:41).

During the height of the uproar over Paul and his associates, the Jews pushed forward Alexander, one of their own, to give a defense before the assembly in the theater (Acts 19:33). Their motive was apparently to distance themselves from the tumult caused by the Christians. However, when Alexander sought to make his defense, the mob would have none of it. The crowd knew that Jews opposed Artemis, and when they recognized Alexander as a Jew, they all shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” in the Great Theater (Photos 1 and 2 above) for about two hours (Acts 19:34).

Roman coins are helpful in providing background information about this first-century cultural context. For example, “Claudius issued a series of silver cistophorii in A.D. 50-51 to celebrate his marriage to Agrippina the Younger. These coins reflect on their reverse evocative portrayals of the temple of Diana [Artemis] in Ephesus, including the cultic statue of the goddess.”[13] As seen at the beginning of this section, disputes over replicas of Artemis’ statute and her temple, reflected on the coin’s reverse (Photo 3 below[14]), are what led to Paul’s conflict with Demetrius and the silversmiths.

                                                        

[Photo 3]

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is a great place to learn not only the New Testament and biblical archaeology but any of the disciplines to help you become a more effective steward of the Gospel with which God has entrusted us. The seminary is intentionally evangelistic, committed to text-driven preaching, and emphasizes Baptist distinctives. Join us and allow us the joy and privilege of helping prepare you for a lifetime of ministry.

[1]J.R. McRay, “Archaeology and the New Testament.” Pages 93–100 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 93.
[2]Ibid.
[3]Ibid.
[4]By this, I do not mean definitively prove or disprove our theological assertions.
[5]Unless indicated otherwise, translations are my own.
[6]S.J. Hafemann, “Roman Triumph.” Pages 1004–1008 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 1004.
[7]Ibid., 1005.
[8]Coins and relief panels provide tremendous insights into ancient history and culture. The photo of the gold coin called an aureus (Photo 1, left) with Titus Caesar’s image on the front and shown on the reverse in triumphal quadriga was borrowed from http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ric/titus/RIC_0370[vesp].jpg; accessed April 18, 2017. The photo of the relief panel (Photo 2, right) is from the Arch of Titus, dedicated in A.D. 81 to celebrate the emperor’s victory in the Jewish War of A.D. 66–74, which featured the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. The image was borrowed from http://www.ancient.eu/uploads/images/1286.jpg?v=1485680457; accessed April 18, 2017.
[9]Hafemann, “Roman Triumph,” 1005.
[10]Ibid.
[11]In this relief panel scan from the Arch of Titus (Photo 3), Roman soldiers parade the Jerusalem Temple’s spoils of war in the Roman triumph. The image is part of the Yeshiva University Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project and was found at http://cdn.biblicalarchaeology.org/wp-content/uploads/imperial-city-3.jpg?x10423; accessed April 18, 2017.
[12]Hafemann, “Roman Triumph,” 1005.
[13]L.J. Kreitzer, “Coinage: Greco-Roman.” Pages 220–22 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 221. The insert is mine; Diana is the Roman name for Artemis.
[14]The silver cistophorus has Claudius’ image with the coin reverse showing the temple of Diana (Artemis), which includes her cultic statue (Photo 3); coin photo borrowed from https://www.acsearch.info/media/images/archive/93/2617/2710672.s.jpg; accessed April 19, 2017.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Peril of Entertaining Our Youth

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 09:30

As a parent of teens, I long for my kids to mature into faithful followers of Christ who put others before themselves, live for a greater purpose, and embody Christian virtues. I long for them to be surrounded by a community of Christ-following peers and mentors who spur, encourage and challenge them to be find their identity at the foot of the cross.

Much of the responsibility for their formation in Christ falls to us as parents. We also look to the church to support us in these efforts.

The church today finds itself in a bit of a pickle, however. In order to keep kids interested and engaged in spiritual things, a high value is placed on entertainment. Unfortunately, this high value on entertainment can, and often does, undercut the process of spiritual formation. In his book You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith goes for the jugular:

What passes as youth ministry is often not serious modes of Christian formation but instead pragmatic, last-ditch efforts to keep young people as card-carrying members of our evangelical club.[1]

I’m not sure. I don’t think many youth ministries are merely trying to keep folks in the club, nor do I think the focus on entertainment represents a last-ditch effort. The intent, I think, is to create an environment where our youth feel loved, accepted and built-up in the faith. The wide-spread belief (at least anecdotally) seems to be that the best way to lead kids unto the green pasture of spiritual vitality is through the door of entertainment.

I believe this is a mistake. Smith puts his finger on the problem when he notes that a high value on entertainment reinforces the “secular liturgies” (that is, formative practices structured around a secular vision of the good life), which in turn undercuts Christian spiritual formation:

So while young people might be present in our youth ministry events, in fact what they are participating in is something that is surreptitiously indexed to rival visions of the good life. The very form of the entertainment practices that are central to these events reinforces a deep narcissism and egoism that are the antithesis of learning to deny yourself and pick up your cross (Mark 8:34-36).[2]

Do I think we should stop entertaining our youth? Absolutely not. Make it fun. But there are more ways to have “fun” than throwing another video game or pool party.

Help our youth see the “fun” of sharing the Gospel with others. Help them see the “fun” of praying for each other or meeting the needs of the less fortunate. Help them see the “fun” of going deep into God’s Word. Help them see the “fun” of learning theology and apologetics. Better, challenge them to aspire to greatness and show them that true greatness is not found in being the most popular or athletic or best looking person, but in following Jesus.

The Gospel story is the best story ever told. It is the only story that truly satisfies, and it beckons us—and our kids—to find our meaning and purpose in loving and following Jesus. As we structure our youth ministry around the Gospel story instead of mindless entertainment, our kids will become lovers of all that is good, true and beautiful.

Chubby Bunny fills the mouth (for the uninitiated: with as many marshmallows as you can shove in), but teaching our kids the spiritual disciplines characteristic of authentic Christian community feeds and shapes the soul.

[1]James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016), 145–6.
[2]Ibid., 146.

Categories: Seminary Blog

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