Thursday, October 23, 2014

A review of "A Conservative Christian Declaration"

When I first set out to read this short declaration (it’s only 98 pages), I wasn’t particularly excited about it.  It was for me, a freebie – and who doesn’t love a free book!  In addition, having heard a number of the authors give messages, I expected a solid message.  So I did expect to agree, with it and thereby enjoy it, to that extent.  However, it was another declaration and I wasn’t exactly sure that we needed still another declaration on the horizon.  Too many have been written in our day, I think.  When men of old took time to formulate such documents it was taken upon with such gravity, and took so much time, literally years, the outcome of such was a solid theological statement – which many could subscribe to. 

In our day, we find everyone and their dog making declarations – frequently ecumenical in nature (which is not always bad – many of the aforementioned confessions or creeds were ecumenically driven) the net result is a cheapening of the work.   The individual is king in the culture of the day, and few declarations have meaning which the majority could or would be compelled to subscribe to.  So I was not too excited about the exercise.  I took it on, out of a respect of the men who were party to the making.

I also expected to find some rather difficult to grasp and thereby to ascribe to statements which I would be critiquing.  This I was delighted to find was not the case.  In fact as I was reading through, I became more excited.  You see the style of the piece is plain, even ordinary, but not flat.  The language, though at times novel to my eyes, was edifying to my soul and lifted my spirit.  It actually began to teach me.  Let me clarify, because one can learn in many ways.  What I mean to say is not that I was learning new prescribed doctrinal points (although that is one of the express goals and that did happen with me).  Rather the very use of the language added to the declaration.  It was sweet to my soul.  It communicated eloquently, simply, and at times powerfully ideas which have at times been fleeting around my little brain so fast I never quite got them down out of the ether and into words!  A wonderful statement.  And all this to say that it was engaging to the core.  Never overbearing in the point, most articles were only 2 or 3 pages in length. 

While there are a total of 15 articles – The theme is to address today’s excesses without creating much which might be construed as new.  Pointedly this is only an addendum to what has already been written creedal-ly and confessional-ly (sp.?) over the centuries.  So it is not a new catechism as it were.  Just a fine-tuning of what we already know, particularly dealing with what our modern or even post-modern minds have been grappling with over the last 100 years. 

I don’t want my own review to end up being more than a page so I will end with a few choice quotes and strongly urge you to get a copy and read it over and over – it’s that good!

In the preamble, “We object to this religious reductionism and desire to reclaim the entire heritage of Christian doctrine, obedience, and adoration.

Speaking of the gospel, “To deny the historicity of the events of the gospel is to deny the gospel.  To deny the biblical interpretation of those events is also to deny the gospel.

Speaking of harmony and variety in ordinate expression, “[T]his delightful variety must not be exploited as a rational for aesthetic agnosticism.  Both ordinate and inordinate expressions exist in great variety. Truth can be communicated in hundreds of languages, but so can lies.” 

Speaking of the works of popular culture, “Their ephemeral nature precludes them from reflecting the weighty, the profound, the transcendent, and the enduring. ...Immediate gratification cannot cultivate profundity”

Speaking of Christian tradition, “We insist that a Christianity that must change with each wind of fashion is confessing that it has nothing permanent to say.”

Didn’t I say it was that good?!

Friday, August 29, 2014

A tale of two Uncle Dave's

...or When technology goes awry

Yesterday, on my last day of vacation camping in northern Wisconsin as we traveled we stopped in Wausau.  After getting gas, we went to a large local park to have a picnic lunch and stretch.  Julie thought we should try and contact Sami or Scott, my niece & Nephew who live in Wausau.  Not having Scotty's number I texted Sami, "We are visiting Wausau"  22 minutes later she asked, "Who is this?" and I replied about 7 minutes later "Uncle Dave"

Here is the transcript of our texting...

Sami - Awesome! When?
Dave - We are here in the park
Dave - Fern Island
Dave - Now
Sami - You gonna be there for a while.....carter and I will walk down?
Dave - We can.. How long?
Sami - Be there in 20
Dave - The whole family is waiting!
Dave - We're by the clubhouse (I guess that's what it's called)
Sami - Ok see you in a bit


24 minutes later...
Dave - Near the skate park

5 more minutes...
Sami - Almost there

4 minutes later...
Sami - where you at?
Dave - We have the blue van with the car top carrier

At this point I am noticing a fellow pushing a baby carriage looking around and slowly walk by our van.  I was wondering if perhaps Carter was her boyfriend and that maybe they walked from 2 separate directions to meet us, so I asked him is he was looking for someone.  He said he was looking for Dave and I thrust out my hand, "I'm Dave, is Sami on the way?" At least I think that's what I said... 

Carter said (that's who I thought he was) "I have an Uncle Dave in Aurora" and suddenly we both realized - Sami wasn't Sami.  She had let her cell number go and I was texting a random guy, named Rich, with his baby, Carter!  Oops!

After some further exploratory statements we went our way.  I gave him a coke and a granola bar for his trouble, though the walk out to the park was probably a good thing! 

Moral of the story - If you haven't texted someone for a while, you might want to verify who you're chatting with!!!!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Our Great Commission

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
In many respects this is the final teaching which Christ gave to his disciples. They went to the mountain in Galilee where they had frequently been taught, and waited for Him.

All Authority
And He begins with 'All authority'.  Why?

Wasn't Christ the God-man before the cross?  Did He not have this authority before the cross?  Yes, He did - but before the cross sin was not yet defeated.  Death was not yet defeated. Satan was not yet defeated.  Though it was a certainty and would without question be the fact, it had not yet passed, until the cross.  And Satan still had something of an authoritative place in this world. 
Consider Mathew 4:8-9 where he tempts Christ to worship him...  And look at what he says to Christ in Luke 4:6, "All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish."  Yet Satan's authority extended to all the kingdoms of this world.  Nothing is said of heaven.

Christ is here telling us that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on the earth.  He won this authority by the cross.  Satan has been defeated.  May we never forget this!
We keep Satan aware of this fact, as we live in the light and under the command of our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has not told us to take dominion over the devil or to take dominion in this world.

By the trickery of Eve in the garden Satan usurped Man's authority.  And when men yield not to the Lord, it is the default position that we yield to Satan.  So there is even a sense in which his authority was not even legitimate to begin with.  No, we are told by Christ to make disciples, not to take dominion. 

And how are we to make disciples?  We preach Christ. We preach His victory over sin.  Why then do we see suffering?  Is this now the evidence of Satan's authority? No!  To think like this is evidence of a faulty understanding of God's sovereignty.
Remember Job?  How that Satan had to gain permission of God to do those wicked things? (Job 1:6-12; 2:4-6)  Remember Joseph & his brothers?  Joseph tells us, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." (Gen 50:20)

Go!
From the Authority question, let us delve into the commission itself.  First we see that we are to go.  Our evangelism is not to be passive.  Friendship evangelism ought not to be the primary place in the life of the Christian.  It may have its place, but we are to be actively engaging those around us.  This is a challenge to me and I suspect to you also.

Make disciples of all nations.
I believe the import is not nations as we think, but rather all the various people groups.  The word ‘all’ is not meant to be understood as in all people everywhere, but rather in all KINDS of people everywhere.  How can this be? 

The Scripture is plain and clear, that not all will believe.  Universalism may have nice sentiment on its face, but it is anti-biblical and ends up making God into an unrighteous judge who cares not for justice. (If this bothers you, think of Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan,& Attila the Hun and ask yourself if it is right for God to justify the sins of such unrepentant people).
‘All’ does not mean all in totality, but all as in every kind and in every place.  We are to be promiscuous in our evangelism.  No one is outside the sphere of our commission!

Teaching them
What of the content of our evangelism?  Christ!  His teachings are central, however I would remind you that it is not Christ's teachings alone which are at hand.  He Himself is our peace and it is by His stripes we are healed - so we see that it is more than the moral teachings and commands of Christ.  How?  In the statement, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  It is Him we preach and as Paul mentioned, Christ crucified! (1 Cor. 1:23)

Baptizing them
One thing I have left to discuss is baptism.  I left it to the end deliberately.  It is the first step of obedience in the life of the believer, yet by the first step I do not mean the door into salvation, which is repentance & faith, I mean that it is the command given to us to do upon repentance and faith.  It is a thing which is of an outward act reflecting such inward faith as made the Christian.  It is a public act.  It is a confessional act.  It is a declarative act that one stands by repentant faith in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, holding on to His gracious loving act by Christ of redemption.

By grace you have been saved... Praise the Lord!!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Peter & David

Recently as I read the account of Peter's denial of Christ, I was struck a similarity between him and David.  Often we forget that these great men of the faith were but men, after all.  We read of David as King, as a mighty man of war, and as a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22).  We read of Peter as the chief among Christ’s apostles, even of the 3, Peter, James & John; Peter is also the one on whom Christ will build His Church.  Yet we sometime elevate them too far, beyond the Scriptural descriptors.  Soon they are more than men to us.  Yet both Peter and David had as great a series of failures as they had successes.  David in his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba; Peter in his denial of Christ and of the truth of the Gospel in Galatians 2:11-14.

These great men were of the same cloth as I am.  In a moment I may be found in grave sin - even to the denying of my Lord.  Yet He knows our frame, that we are but dust (Psalm 10-3:14).  And Christ indeed knows the danger we face - Look at what He tells Peter in Luke’s Gospel, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail" (Luke 22:32) In the same verse where He predicts Peters failure, Christ offers encouragement to Peter, beforehand, that he will be of use to his Lord when he does return to Him, to be an encouragement to his brothers.
Finally, an oft quoted verse of Scripture in 1 Peter is made all the more incredible, and encouraging - when we consider it in light of what we've been discussing here.  Recall that it was through this very trial Peter writes us an encouraging note, "casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you".  Peter, saying this to us, upon the furnace of such trials as his very denial of Christ, reminds us that God indeed cares for us.  Peter's faith having been strengthened, now strengthens us and many others throughout the millennia since his letter was sent.  Verse 75 (of Matthew chapter 26) tells us that he went out and "wept bitterly".  I am reminded of the Psalm 126:5-6,
Those who sow in tears, shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
bringing his sheaves with him.
 
Lord - Help us to love you always and obey - but when we fail - help us to be brought back again to You and to encourage our brethren.
Amen

Friday, June 13, 2014

Three proofs of Jesus being the Messiah

As I was studying Matthew 26:57-6, the trial before Caiaphas the High Priest, I was faced with a verse that has always left me unsatisfied.  Yet after thinking about it, I was tremendously blessed.  Here is that verse:

'Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”'

As all good translations do, the first sentence is shown to be only 2 words, You say or you said, as the other words are in italics, and therefore supplied by the translators to make the meaning clearer.  Sometimes this works, but sometimes it is really not necessary, as I think in this case.
But here is what has troubled me.  Christ has an ideal opportunity to answer the High Priest with a direct and irrefutable answer, given the particularity of the question, "I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God?"  Why does Christ squander such an obvious opportunity? 

Because it was no opportunity!  Over and over throughout the 3 years of His ministry they had already been shown the truth and rejected it.  Consider the following 3 proofs...

Proof #1  Christ's Healing ministry

John the Baptist, in a moment of weakness while in prison, sent his disciples to ask, Are you the One, or should we look for another?  Christ told them go and tell John what you see and hear, the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Matt. 11:4-5) Luke records in chapter 4, when Christ read Isaiah 61:1-2a while he was in his home synagogue in Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" He stated, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (4:21). They could not accept this and wanted to cast Him off a cliff. 

Proof #2  He is the great "I AM"

In John chapter 4, the witness of Christ to the woman of Samaria is bold and teaches us.  In verse 25 the woman brings up a suggestion that the Messiah would answer all their questions. Christ answers her, "I who speak to you am he" with the last word He, being again a supplied word in italics.  Christ is effectively claiming the divine phrase, I AM (Ex 3:13-15), for His own.  In fact this was not the only time he did so.  In John 8:48-59 the Jews were accusing Him of possession by a demon and He responds in verse 58, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” For that they tried to stone Him.

The point of this is that over and over Christ does plainly say who He is and what He came for.  So His answer in Matthew 26:64, "You say" is clear enough.

Proof #3  Even the dead being raised will not persuade the unbeliever.

They will not believe Him, even if one is raised from the dead as we learn from the parable of the Rich man & Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31, as well as from Mary & Martha's brother Lazarus who was dead for 4 whole days and then raised up.  Christ even tells us plainly through His prayer to the Father before He raised Lazarus, that it was for our belief that He is the Christ. “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:41b-42)

Amazingly Christ, having broken His silence thus far, now gives them another true statement, but this one enough to convict on(vs. 64) - and the High priest stops the proceedings.  They had their testimony, and it would stick.

Lord - It is amazing to think of how much you put up with to save some of this wicked bunch.  Thank you for your great love!

Amen.

Monday, May 26, 2014

30 Pieces


14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. 16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him. (Matthew 26:14-16)

It really bugs me. To read of the matter of fact way Judas went after Christ....

I want to find in him some wicked way not found in me, yet what charge can I make against him which does not, at some point suit me as well?!

Sometimes a question, all by itself is a committal, or perhaps in this case it may be better to say a betrayal, to a fact not yet apparent to the one asking.

Asking forces one to form an idea in the mind, an idea which may not be such a good one.  (On a side note, I am always the one asking questions in classes I attend... Yikes!)

And a question can be answered in ways that reveal the hand of both the questioner and the questioned.  In this case, the Pharisee's 'could' have rebuked Judas for such a wicked request.

Instead they played right into it.  Counting out the silver revealed that they were on Judas' side, against Christ.

Had they rebuked him, I wonder how he might have acted?  Perhaps he'd have played the hypocrite for a while longer and returned to Christ & the Apostles to see what more he might pilfer.

But now he returns, not to pilfer more - he's got 30 pieces of silver burning in his soul... To do nothing would be stealing, but to betray Christ...?!  What a dilemma he had... Yet he asked the question, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" betrayed to the Pharisee's (and to Judas, if he would admit it) that he knew from the start what he planned to do.  He was waiting for the price to be right.

Would the Pharisee's have paid anything for such a betrayal, if Judas had made such a request a year earlier?

And 30 pieces of silver - how did the Pharisee's come to such a price?  In Zechariah 11:4-17 there is the prophecy of the shepherds.  Most certainly the Lord, in His providential care established such a price.  John MacArthur says it was God's sarcasm which had this fulfilled in such a manner.

In the prophecy the shepherd asks what his wages are and the price offered was equal to that given in Exodus 21 for a slave who was gored by an ox.  Again MacArthur, "The Jews of Jesus day, who offered that amount, were saying He was worth no more than a common slave."

"Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.  And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter." (Zech 11:12-13)

All this from a simple question.

We have a saying - be careful what you ask, you might just get it...  

Indeed.

 
Lord - help me to be true with you and your people.  Amen.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The parable of the Stewards: Moral Lessons & Conclusions

From the beginning I asserted that verse 15, with the phrase, "to each according to his own ability" was key to grasping this parable.  The parable is set towards the end of Matthew at the end of Christ's earthly ministry, right before His passion.  It is one of 3 or 4 parables He delivers in regards to the question in 24:3, "Tell us when these things will be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?"  Immediately after this parable Christ plainly tells us in 25:31-46 of that coming Day of Judgment.

It is in this context that we find such a parable.  And at the end of this parable we see verse 29, "For to everyone who has more will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away."
What do we learn?  Our Lord does entrust to us a stewardship - and we have a response - ability to manage it aright.  What we do with the stewardship will differ from person to person - both as we are obedient & faithful to the work, or as we are not!

Our Lord is not capricious - to each according to his own ability.  We read in Luke 12:48b, "...For everyone to whom much has been given much will be required; and to whom much has been committed of him they will ask the more."

In another place Augustine of Hippo said, "Give what you command, and then command whatever you will."  We are to work - but only as a response to the Lord.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
So why does God take the one talent from the unprofitable servant and grant it to the one who has ten?  Is this fair?  In our key verse we are reminded that to each according to his own ability, and that is of God.  Since the unprofitable servant had the ability to manage 1 talent, but neglected his responsibility to manage it we can easily reason that it was fair to take it from him.  Yet one might question why the talent taken from him was granted to the one with ten, and not the one with four.  What was the rational? Was this fair?

Of course to ask such a question we plunge ourselves right into Paul’s argument in Romans 9.  Paul asks the very same question of God - Is He fair in what He is doing?  Then Paul shows us the folly of such a question. (Rom 9:14-24)  And the fact that our passage is only a parable does not mean we ask these questions in irrelevance.  The Spiritual truths are why Christ is teaching.  The argument in Romans 9 continues through chapter 11 in a great doxology (11:33-36).  Deep waters indeed.
Is it wrong to ask such questions? Not at all.  Christ teaches us because He knows we will and do ask such.  Paul asks in as plain and clear language as one can use.  What is wrong, would be to make conclusions which demonstrate God to not be what we know He is, as He is already revealed in His Holy Word.

Sometimes this leaves in our mouth an unsatisfying taste.  We want complete understanding as to the mechanics of HOW God is just, granting the man with ten talents one more and not giving it to the man with four.

And we even surmise, that since He is God and He is the giver of all things, even the ability to manage talents, why then, does He grant some more than others?

But we fall for the lie to travel this line of reasoning too far.  We are not gods or as God, knowing good & evil.  In fact we are even worse than we suppose.
Recently Brannon Howse introduced to me a doctrine which beforehand had not been known to me.  The doctrine of concurrence. And I think it a wise matter to consider at this point.

There are times we see 2 apparently contradictory truths & reconciliation looks impossible, without more understanding or compromise.  As compromise is not acceptable we have to admit to our limited understanding of the truths and move on, for a time to other places, in Scripture, until greater understanding is acquired.  But do come back.
Concurrence is the recognition of our inherent inabilities to grasp all that we know of certainty, of God & His Works, and keep them balanced.

But we should not use it as an excuse or tool for laziness.  Do come back to those hard to understand teachings.  It may be that God will grant, due to greater life experience and Scriptural study time, new frameworks from which your contradiction may be reconciled.
Or He may not.  Just be prepared.  He is not One to trifle with.  Jacob wrestled with God all night for a blessing.  We ought to grapple with God and His Word, yet in reverence and awe - for we are only men & women, creature not creator.

Lord, grant us humility & yet help us to tenaciously strive to understand You better.

Amen