Monday, November 30, 2015

P1 Bullet proofing your Christian faith - Book of Hebrews

Hebrews 2:1-4 "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."

The writer of Hebrews is writing out under Divine inspiration what appears to have been a sermon or series of messages to Jewish Christian converts who were tempted to leave Jesus and go back to Judaism. The key theme to the book of Hebrews is showing to us the superiority of Jesus Christ. 

An equally important emphasis in the letter to the Hebrews is that of warning: namely, warning readers who perhaps have only made a profession of faith but have no possession of genuine faith. Even for people who do possess genuine saving faith, the temptation to "walk away" from Jesus is just as real as to those who pretend to follow Him or for those who make no such claims. The only difference between the "professors of false faith" and "possessors of genuine faith" is that the latter will endure to the end because of the fact they are in Christ and that Christ is in them. 

I know in my own life as a Christ-follower, there have been those times where I smelled, tasted and felt the pull and tug of this world so much as to entertain what it would be like to walk away. I can tell you that only by God's keeping grace am I able to still say "I'm in" and "remaining in". 

Today's post is aimed to equip the reader to avoid walking away from Jesus. I want to list in short order three truths from the book of Hebrews that can equip us to avoid the temptation spoken of in Hebrews 2:1-4 and throughout the Book of Hebrews. Notice...

1. Center on the greatness of Jesus Christ.
The writer of Hebrews has extended sections in his letter that spell out some of the most amazing words you will ever read about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. As we noted earlier, one of the major themes of Hebrews is the greatness of Jesus Christ. The urgency to focus on His greatness is seen in explicit commands to do such as well as statements affirming the reality of Jesus' greatness. Hebrews 12:1-3 commands the reader: "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

One of the repeated statements found throughout the letter is that "Jesus is greater" or "Jesus is better". For brevity's sake, I will simply list those references which make mention of Jesus Christ being "greater":

Hebrews 1:4 "having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."

Hebrews 3:3 "For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house."

Hebrews 7:7 "But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater."

Hebrews 7:22  "so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant."

Hebrews 12:24 "and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel."

So, if we are going to have a bullet-proof faith, we must first of all focus on the greatness of Jesus Christ. Then notice the second thing the writer of Hebrews urges readers to do in his letter...

2. Cling to the greatness of Jesus Christ (by heeding the warnings)
As we noted earlier, the writer of Hebrews punctuates this amazing letter with warning sections that urge readers to not walk away from Jesus. Many Christians have struggled over the five warning sections in Hebrews (2:1-4; 3:6-4:7; 6:1-8; 10:26-39 and 10:25-39). Are these warnings written to true Christians in danger of losing their salvation? Are these warnings hypothetical, or do they represent true realities that could result if not heeded? 

To answer these two questions, let me begin with a question: whenever you see a warning label on a medicine bottle, do you ignore it? Do you take offense and wonder why the company is insulting your intelligence? Or do you heed the warning? Much like the parent telling the little child not to touch the hot stove, the writer here is exercising good pastoral ministry in warning all of his readers (make-believers and true believers) of the dangers of focusing on anything else but Jesus. 

These warnings are addressed primarily to those who are pretending to be Christians. How do we know? In most of the warnings, we notice that the writer will first sound the warning to those who have outward pretend faith but not the inward reality (compare Hebrews 4:1-3; 6:1-8; 10:26-31; 12:18-21). Then the writer will switch gears and address those who are genuinely converted (see Hebrews 4:4; 6:9-10; 10:32-39; 12:22-29). 

It is clear that in order to awaken those truly converted persons who may be slumbering and tempted in their faith and to equally serve warning to those who are playing church, the author issues the warning to the entire congregation (see Hebrews 2:1-4 and the other warning sections. So to answer the first question then, the warnings in Hebrews serve warning to those who are playing church, make believing to be Christians and, if not careful, will slip into worse forms of unbelief. When we see the contrasting tone the writer uses in addressing those who are genuinely converted, we can conclude that Hebrews does not teach loss of salvation.

So then, are these warnings hypothetical or real? The fact we find these warnings repeated five times indicates they are not hypothetical in nature - but represent genuine negative spiritual consequences if not heeded. God is not mincing words. Even for those who are genuinely saved and yet fall into grevious sins, God in His mercy can exercise early discipline which in effect may even lead to that person's sudden exit out of this world (see Proverbs 29:1-3; 1 Corinthians 11:30). Dr. Adrian Rogers has named this dangerous predicament that can be experienced by genuine Christians caught in prolonged carnality as "crossing the line with God". So yes, these warnings are real warnings. 

So why the extreme language? Unless you have ever parented small children or pastored a church, you will not find the writer of Hebrews being over-the-top. He is pleading, urging his congregation to cling to Jesus, and not walk away. A loving parent will issue a firm warning to a small child not to touch the hot stove. The child maybe startled and even begin to cry at what sounds like a harsh tone. Nonetheless, the parent is being loving and merciful. So, if you and I are going to bullet-proof our Christian faith, we must center on the greatness of Christ, cling to His greatness and thirdly...

More tomorrow....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The first mention of the Gospel in the Bible - Genesis 3:15

Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

What makes Genesis 3:15 such a remarkable passage? Consider the fact that it contains the Bible's first promise and first prophecy.  The promise within Genesis 3:15 is about the Gospel.  Theologians and Christians of ages-past have nick-named Genesis 3:15 the proto-evangelium (pro-to-e-van-gel-eeum), which translated means: "the first announcement of the Gospel". Truly Genesis 3:15 is an acorn that contains the Biblical oaks of redemption and eschatology (study of last things, prophecy).

In today's post we want to consider Genesis 3:15 and the attending verses of Genesis 3:16-21 with regards to redemptive history, salvation and last things.  Consider the following ideas:

Conflict.  Genesis 3:15a
Genesis 3:15a records - And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed..".  Following the rebellion in the garden of Eden, God pronounced a curse upon Satan the serpent; Adam and Eve and the rest of creation.  In Genesis 3:15 we see portrayed the personal, historic and cosmic conflict that would ensue between God's Kingdom and Satan's lesser kingdom of darkness.  We note firstly the personal conflict between Eve and Satan.  God made it clear: Satan and Eve were to be enemies.  God's promise and plan of salvation that was to be revealed in the Covenant of Grace issued forth to Eve would run counter to Satan's agenda. 

God drew the battle lines that would not only characterize the personal animosity between humanity and Satan, but secondly the historic conflict.  We see the historic conflict in the words "his seed" and "your seed".  What is meant by those terms "seed"? "Seed" refers to two bloodlines, two groups of people, two spiritual categories of people that would exist throughout human history.  The seed of Satan refers to unbelievers, and the seed of the woman would refer to believers.  For example, Jesus perfectly summarizes this point in Matthew 13:36-40 -
36 Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37 And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 

Many other passage reveal the two different types of seed as referring to believers and unbelievers. (John 8:44; Ephesians 2:1-2) The historic conflict would entail Israel and her enemies, the apostles and their foes, and of course all subsequent generations of Christian people and unbelievers.  So we see conflict in this text of Genesis 3:15.  How will the conflict be resolved?  Where is such a conflict going to lead? That leads us to the second thought in this grand passage of Genesis 3:15, namely...

Coming Redeemer 3:15b
The Holy Ghost says in Genesis 3:15b - "He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”  The text goes from personal conflict between Eve and Satan, to historic conflict between unbelievers following satan and believers saved by grace through faith in Christ to the Cosmic conflict of the Coming Redeemer and Satan.  The fact that the text says "He" tells us that God has not only got a plan of salvation, but a Person who will accomplish salvation.  The Coming Redeemer was the entire focus of Old Testament revelation.  The "Seed" of Eve revealed in this verse would be the "Seed" promised later to Abraham. (Genesis 12,15,17,22)  Furthermore, this coming Redeemer would be progressively revealed over the centuries in greater and greater clarity.  

King David was told that He would have a descendant sitting on the Throne of Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 7:13-16) In-as -much as David was going to have royal descendants sitting on the throne of Jerusalem; God had also in mind One Ultimate Ruler, the Coming Redeemer.  Psalm 132:11 states - "The Lord has sworn to David A truth from which He will not turn back: Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne."  

We know by the time of the New Testament, Jesus Christ would end up fulfilling the promises made to Abraham and David.  Through Israel the nation the redeemer would come.  Once the Redeemer came, he would live, die on the cross and be raised from the dead.  After Christ's ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He inaugurated His reign on David's throne to rule over His church. (Acts 2:33-36)  This Redeemer who came is coming again.  Passages such as Romans 11:25-26 and Revelation 19-20 unfold the glorious Second Coming of this Redeemer.  When He returns, Christ will restore the nation of Israel as a nation and His church will reign with Him for 1,000 years.   

Now did Eve and Adam know all of these details? No.  Their level of understanding was in seed form, whereas our understanding is comparitively speaking a mature oak.  God progressively revealed His prophetic truth to each generation.  And so we see a conflict and a coming redeemer, but notice a third idea revealed in Genesis 3:16-21, namely....

Conquest.  Genesis 3:16-21
When you compare Genesis 3:16-21 to the last two chapters of Revelation, you find some amazing contrasts.  In fact, the darkness of Genesis 3 was pre-known by God.  God knew man was going to sin, it was no suprise.  God willed to permit the fall so as to show in ways we don't grasp the glories of His grace as well as to let man exercise his capacity as a responsible, moral being. 

So did the fall jeopardize God's plan for creation?  When you compare Genesis 3:16-21 to Revelation 21-22, you discover God's purpose in conquering satan, sin and death..

Genesis 3:16-21                         vs                     Revelation 21-22
-God & man separate                                  -God & believers together
-Death & Pain                                              -No Death & Pain
-Exile                                                            -A New Home
-Curse                                                          -No Curse
-Night is setting in                                        -No more night
-Long History ahead                                    -History alomost over
-Paradise lost                                              -Paradise rescued
-Blood of animals                                        -Based on Christ's blood
-Old Adam & Eve                                        -New Adam & Bride

Truly God's purposes and plans are not thwarted.  The glorious truth is that in the end God wins! All who by grace through faith believe will be saved.  Right now is the time of salvation, the perfect time to escape the wrath to come.  This is the wonder of prophecy and redemption, centered in the chief work of salvation and the chief end of God's glory in Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The twin-pillars of a solid prayer-life - James 1:5-8

Twin pillars - St. Vincent de Paul | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
James 1:5-8 "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

The Epistle or Letter of James is invaluable for several reasons. For starters, the author of the letter is none other than the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh - namely "James" (Mark 6:3). Secondly, we know that James' letter was the earliest of the New Testament books - predating the four Gospels by at least five years. This is particularly important being that we have insight into what the earliest Christians believed. Such observations serve to show that Christianity had retained its core doctrinal and life-practical identity following the days of Jesus through the end of the first century. The third important value of the book of James is that his teachings mirror that of Jesus. 

It is on this third observation that I want to spring board into the subject of today's post: prayer. We know that Jesus taught often on prayer and practiced it, as for example in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 6:14; 7:7; 18:34-35; 21:13, 21). James too wrote on prayer in his short letter, echoing similar sentiments to that of Jesus (see James 1:5-8; 3:14; 4:2). To bring further focus to the post, I want us to look briefly at what James has to say regarding: praying in faith and not doubting.

Prayer is born and thrives amidst trials
Let the reader zero-in on James 1:6 "But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind." Prayer never begins without some type of tension or pressing need in the background. Prayer doesn't thrive in ivory halls or plush lifestyles. When you look at James 1:3-5, there we see the place of trials in the Christian life. James tells us we ought not be surprised when we are beset by various trials. In an epistle that speaks often on trials, James begins it by saying "count it all joy". Why? The process itself is not the cause for joy, but rather the intended outcome. Notice the process and the intended outcome of James 1:3-4: Testings-->endurance-->spiritual maturity and health. The process is designed to "work out" each step from the previous. Hence, under the pressures of testing God works out of me those qualities which may tend to make me not endure (selfishness, pride, anger, resentment) to yield forth selflessness, humility, joy and thankfulness. As I then in turn exercise myself in such Spirit-driven virtues, I will grow up in them and thus be made more Christ-like. 

As we move forward to verses 5-6 of James, we find of course the urgency to pray and not doubt. Both before and after these verses we find further exposition on the place of trials. As I said earlier, prayer is never born in a vacuum, but issues forth whenever there is a perceived need for God. 

The reality of a prayer-life with God explodes when we realize we're not being real with God
The surrounding context of James 1:5-6 explains why there would be the possibility of wavering and being double-minded. It is easy to pray with all the confidence in God whenever we are sitting on a padded pew on a Sunday morning. However, when the wind blows, will our prayer-life go with the wind or will it change the course of it?  The late great author of the devotional: "My Utmost for His Highest",  Oswald Chambers, notes in the June 9th entry: "There is nothing more difficult than asking. We will have yearnings and desires for certain things, and even suffer as a result of their going unfulfilled, but not until we are at the limit of desperation will we ask. It is the sense of not being spiritually real that causes us to ask." Chambers later notes: "You cannot bring yourself to the point of spiritual reality anytime you choose. The best thing to do, once you realize you are not spiritually real, is to ask God for the Holy Spirit, basing your request on the promise of Jesus Christ (see Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit is the One who makes everything that Jesus did for you real in your life."

What are the twin-pillars of a solid prayer-life with God?
We know that prayer is born and thrives in the context of testing. We also have learned that by being real with God, the Holy Spirit enables us to soar in our prayer lives. James 1:5-8 instructs us on what not-to-do when it comes to prayer. Such instructions expressed in the negative can also be restated postively to encourage us in confident prayer. Notice the following twin-pillars of a solid prayer-life...

Pillar # 1. Begin your prayer by asking for wisdom. James 1:5
We see a perfect example of the application of such prayer in the life of King Solomon. At the beginning of his reign, Solomon was made keenly aware of his own short-comings in the natural realm. God had given Him a task - to rule the nation of Israel. Such a task required not natural - but supernatural wisdom. Notice the exchange between Solomon and God in 1 Kings 3:9-12 "So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” 10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, 12 behold,I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you." I find when I begin to pray, wisdom ought to be the first thing to ask for. Why? Even if I don't sense how far short I may fall in light of a given situation, in prayer, that natural inability is heightened. I need the power of the Holy Spirit in me to bring to bear the power of the risen Christ to address and meet whatever task God has placed in front of me. Such a consistent request for wisdom underscores how dependant we are on God for everything in our lives. 

Pillar #2. Ask in faith with a unified mindset towards God. James 1:6-8
We begin with the request for wisdom in our prayer life. But now what is the second pillar necessary for a solid prayer-life with God. Simply put - a unified mindset. James repeatedly warns of not being a "double-minded man". Quite literally, James is warning about being a "double-souled man" or functioning spiritually like a split-personality. Paul writes of the double-minded Christian, or what he terms "carnal" in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" The only way in which we can be unified within our minds and souls is by daily focusing upon and bearing up the cross of Christ. 

The unity of mindset towards God that is desperately needed in prayer is acquired in "having the same mindset that is in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:1-4). The late A.W Tozer describes what it is like when we are "double-minded", and the cure to such a state. He writes in his book: "The Pursuit of God", page 52 -"(W)hy do they know so little of that habitual communion with God which the Scriptures seem to offer? The answer is our chronic unbelief. Faith enables our spiritual sense to function. Where faith is defective the result will be inward insensibility and numbness toward spiritual things. This is the condition of vast numbers of Christians today. No proof is necessary to support the statement. We have but to converse with the first Christian we meet or enter the first church we open to acquire all the proof we need. A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing is, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His Presence. The eternal world will come alive the moment we begin to reckon upon this reality."

The reckoning of the reality of God's presence is the unity of mindset's function in prayer. As the Holy Spirit works through us and in us in our prayer-lives - He raises us to truly experience His experience of Jesus the Son. If we will but install these twin-pillars in our prayer-life: asking for wisdom and a unified-mindset towards God; we will then have a solid prayer life per James' instructions in James 1:5-8. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why God is Great - Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Hebrews 1:1-2 "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to usin His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things,through whom also He made the world."

Hebrews 2:1-4 "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty,3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,4 God also testifying with them, both bysigns and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."

When I think of great things in creation, one of the objects that come to mind are the great California Red Woods. It is my own personal dream to someday visit these giants of the plant world. I'm sure pictures don't do justice. The size, scope and age of these trees enable me to consider an uncontested example of greatness in the natural, created order. However, the distance between the greatness of all things in the created order versus the God of revealed scripture is infinite. Hebrews 1:1-2:4 will be the bridge we will cross in answering the question: why God is so great?

Understanding God's greatness in the book of Hebrews
In the opening verses above we see four distinctly great truths that provide Biblical reasons behind the greatness of God. Before I mention what those truths are, it must first be noted that the book of Hebrews is an appeal - most likely a sermon - written to persuade former Jews converted to Jesus to not go back to their former Jewish lifestyle. The Book of Hebrews is all about unfolding the greatness of Jesus Christ, and why it is He is "greater than" anything. If one were to peruse Hebrews 1:1-2:4 (the focus of today's post), the theme of "greater than" or "better than" would emerge (compare Hebrews 1:4; 2:3). The opening seciton of Hebrews underscores the greatness of our God and more particularly - the greatness of Jesus Christ in relationship to the Father with whom He shares the same, eternal, undivided nature (along with the Person of the Spirit).

With that very short introduction - we now turn to the main point of today's post - four reasons why God is great. Notice that God is great because....

1. God is great. Hebrews 1:1
2. God is greatly revealed by the scriptures. Hebrews 1:1
3. God is revealed by the greatness of Christ Jesus. Hebrews 1:2-14
4. God has engineered Great salvation
Hebrews 2:1-4

So lets look at these in short order. Firstly, God is great because.....

God is Great. Hebrews 1:1
This may sound like a stutter - however when it comes to God, greatness is not just an attribute of God - greatness is what God is. God's greatness is synonymous with His glory - that is - the display of His goodness and holiness to His creatures (Exodus 33:18-19). So much Biblical material could be cited about God's greatness as to easily fill dozens of posts. For brevity's sake we will only mention a few premium references. Psalm 99:1-3 extols God's greatness as the King reigning over His people and possessing a marvelous name. Or how about New Testament examples such as Ephesians 2:4 and 1 Peter 1:3 that speak of the greatness of God's love. We read in Jude 1:24-25 that God is so great that He dwells in unapproachable light which no man has seen nor can see. Psalm 147:5 sums up completely our first point here on why God is great - namely because God is great: "Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite." So now let us move on to the second reason why God is so great, not only because He is great, but....

God is greatly revealed by the scriptures. Hebrews 1:1
Hebrews 1:1 states - "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways". Per the time of the writer of Hebrews, the reference to "many portions and many ways" defined the Old Testament scriptures. God's revealed and inspired word was certified by attendant miracles, word-pictures and illustrations through various institutions, personages and events. By extension we could include the New Testament (even though at the writing of Hebrews not all of the New Testament Bible books had been written). For sake of simplicity, God's greatness is specified in the collection of inspired Old and New Testament documents we call "The Bible" - i.e "The Book". 

Like the first point, we could go on and on what makes the books of scripture unique. To think that the infinite great God, who dwells in eternity (Isaiah 57:15; Jude 1:24-25) has stooped down so-to-speak and chosen to communicate via words is truly remarkable. 

Passages such as Exodus 24:4; Jeremiah 1:1-5; Habakkuk 2:3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:21 describe the character of scripture as "the voice of God". When the scriptures are unpacked and preached (much like would had been the Epistle to the Hebrews), the Spirit of God speaks through them. The scriptures as written words were composed by the Prophets and Apostles under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). As these books were originally given, they are God's words (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). The church is built upon the foundation of the scripture - which is described as the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). 

No other book in the world can attest nor demonstrate satisfactorily that it is Divinely revealed - save the Bible. Why? The scriptures alone possess two unique qualities: fulfilled prophecy and the unique focus on Jesus Christ. In books such as the Quran or Book of Mormon, their versions of Jesus is but a footnote or appears near the end. In both of those volumes we find no fulfilled prophecy. 

Whenever we consider the Bible - the fact of the matter is that hundreds of fulfilled prophecies exist and Jesus Christ dominates the prophetic anticipation of the Old Testament and the pages of the New Testament. God is the dominate figure of the Bible and is greatly revealed by it. God is great because He is great. Since we have already been talking about Jesus, lets talk briefly about the third reason God is great, namely....

God is revealed by the greatness of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:2-14
This particular point is the main point of this opening section of Hebrews. In one of the most robust statements concerning the Deity and humanity of Jesus - we discover that because Jesus is great, we see God's greatness. By definition - God exists in the Three Persons of the Father, Son and Spirit. Of the Three Persons - the Son operates as the Executive branch representative of the Trinity. Whenever we see the Son, we see the full-orbed revelation of the Father. Though both are to be distinguished for sure regarding their respective identities - nevertheless the Son makes visible and accessible the very essence of God by way of the veil of his flesh (see John 1:14; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 10:19).

So much could be said on how we see God's greatness through the Son. Perhaps an illustration is in order, along with a short outline of Hebrews 1:2-14 in unfolding this truth. Whenever I worked at a production plant years ago, I tried learning how to weld. I never got into it too much due to other committments, however, whenever I watched others weld, I would look through a welder's helmet. I could witness the master welder and his torch at work through that helmet. The welder and the torch operated together - with the light of the torch illuminating the welder, and the welder being able to be such by means of the torch. Moreover, because of the helmet, I could watch all of this occur. Now the illustration is of course meant to convey that without the Son assuming humanity, we could never behold the unapproachable light of His Deity. Moreover, you cannot have the Son without the Father, not the Father without the Son. 

The Son greatly reveals God because He is God. He is God in human flesh.
The writer of Hebrews brings this out in Hebrews 1:2-14,

1. Person of the Son 1:2-4
2. Pre-immenence of the Son 1:5-7
3. Pre-existence of the Son 1:8-12
4. Power of the Son 1:13-14

So much more could be said, but we must hasten. God is great because God is great (1:1); greatly revealed by scripture (1:1) and revealed by the greatness of the Son (1:2-14). Now let's consider one more reason why God is great...

God engineered great salvation. Hebrews 2:1-4
Hebrews 2:3 states - "how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard." Here is a question? What makes salvation so great? Without a doubt there are great benefits (forgiveness Ephesians 1:7; peace Romans 5:1; reconciliation 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; hope Ephesians 2:12-13; Romans 5:5). Furthermore, salvation is great due to the change wrought in our hearts (2 Cor 5:17) and the promise of an eternal home (John 14:1-3). Yet, unless our salvation brings us to God - it is not so great. The whole point of the opening of Hebrews is to show that God is the "point A" of salvation, with us being at "point B" and Jesus Christ being the only line that connects the two. Lest we "connect points 'A' and 'B' with Jesus, there is no great salvation. Salvation's greatness is due to the great God that engineered it. The Father planned it; the Son provided it and the Spirit applies it. God is involved from eternity past in the choosing of the believer to the sending of the Son to achieve it on the cross in history. The present reality of salvation is applied by the Spirit to all who believe as a result of responding to His calling in saving faith. 

1 Peter 3:18 states - "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to deathin the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." So many other texts speak of the greatness of God revealed through the greatness of salvation. Salvation is not only viewed as referring to the salvation and reconciliation of believers to God, but the restoration and transformation of the created order (Romans 8:21-25). This of course does not mean that there will be universal salvation, but what it does entail is the bringing about of a New Heavens and Earth at Christ's appearing (2 Peter 3:13) as well as all those who by grace through faith believed on Him.

I feel like today's post was a thumbnail sketch as to why God is so great. Nonetheless, I hope the reader comes away in awe of God. God is great because....

1. God is great. Hebrews 1:1
2. God is greatly revealed by the scriptures. Hebrews 1:1
3. God is revealed by the greatness of Christ Jesus. Hebrews 1:2-14
4. God has engineered Great salvation
Hebrews 2:1-4

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The importance of thankfulness in the Christian walk

Colossians 3:16-17 "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymnsand spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, doall in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."

We ought to be thankful not just once a year, but every day of our lives. As a Christian, I find that when I am giving thanks to the Lord, there is more than enough contentment with Him no matter what is happening in my life. Today's post features the importance of giving thanks to God in all things. 

To begin, I find it interesting that Paul mentions thankfulness twice in these two verses. Notice the contexts in which we find this vital expression. In Colossians 3:16 we see thankfulness as a vital part of the corporate life of the local body of saints. When a church is exercising thankfulness, rather than grumbling, there will be a church that consistently experiences fulfillment. But then notice where else we find thankfulness - in activities outside the local church. In Colossians 3:17 Paul expands the Christian's life of thanksgiving to include "all things" do in the name of Jesus. Why? Because the greatest way in which we can be effective Christian witnesses is when we are demonstrating our fulfillment in Jesus Christ. 

Why is it that Paul mentions thankfulness twice? Could it be because we live in a thankless world that refuses to acknowledge the Creator of this universe who sent His co-equal Son to live, die, raise from the dead and ascend on behalf of it, and especially those who by grace through faith believe on Him? Romans 1:21 notes: "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened."

Giving thanks like Jesus
When we give thanks as followers of Jesus Christ, we are directly positioning ourselves to glean from the sufficiency that is only found in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we find that in scanning through the four Gospels, Jesus Himself was often found giving thanks:

Matthew 15:36 "and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people."

Matthew 26:27 "And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you."

Mark 8:6 "And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people."

Mark 14:23 "And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it."

Luke 22:17 "And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves."

Luke 22:19 "And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

John 6:11 "Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted."

John 6:23 "There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks."

Giving thanks is the outcome of surrender to Christ's Lordship, being Spirit-filled and filled with the Word
As you journey throughout the rest of the New Testament, wherever emphasis is placed upon Christ's Lordship, the Spirit-filled life or taking in the scriptures - there you will find some reference to being thankful. For example, 1 Timothy 2:1 states - "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men." Or consider what we read in Philippians 4:6 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Other scriptures too speak on the importance of thanksgiving as marking those who are surrendered to Christ's Lordship, filled with the Spirit and filled with the Word. (1 Corinthians 10:31) If you want to ensure that you are in the known will of God and are experiencing fulfillment, give thanks to God. 

I close with the following clear instruction from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 "in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." May all readers of this post have a blessed Thanksgiving day and let us all be thankful to the Lord every day of our lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

P4 - Aiming to better understand the existence of God in a world of evil and suffering - God's glory

Habakkuk 3:2 "Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear.O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy."

Introduction and Review:
These past few posts have been dedicated to offering a Christian understanding of evil and suffering in the world.  Dr. William Lane Craig's reformulation of the classic moral argument for God's existence has been used as a basis for our posts:

If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist

Evil exists

Objective moral values and duties exist

Therefore God exists

In ways we can never fully comprehend but nonetheless must acknowledge - evil's existence does not negate the reality of God's existence. The whole contention has been that God, though not being the author of evil, has morally sufficient reasons for will to permit such. 

We have proposed four key Biblical themes to aid in our exploration of this difficult subject:

1. Providence
2. Evil
3. The Cross
4. Glory

Thus far we have explored the first three, with "the cross" shedding light on how there is no conflict between the understanding of a world governed by the Sovereign God of Providence and the presence and persistence of evil in this world.  Today's post is going to conclude this series by showing the purpose for which evil and suffering are included in God's Sovereign purposes: God's glory.  As we consider this theme of God's glory, we will once more consider the prophet who faced the problem of evil head-on - Habakkuk.

God's ultimate will is to demonstrate His glory
So what is the highest good? How one answers that question determines how one will approach the problem of evil and suffering in this world. According to Habakkuk, and so many other Biblical authors, the highest good, and thus the chief purpose as to why God would will to permit evil in the world is His glory.  Habakkuk's book is about a discouraged and disgruntled prophet complaining to God about the sinfulness of his nation. God's answer surprises, initially confounds and even a times causes great fear in the prophet.  

However we see Habakkuk not holding bitterness against God. Why? Because He sees that though we may not understand all of God's ways, the character of God and the purposes for which He does thing are never in conflict.  God's glory is found thoughout Habakkuk's book:

1. Habakkuk 1:12 "Are You not from everlasting,O Lord, my God, my Holy One?
We will not die. You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct."

2. Habakkuk 2:14 “For the earth will be filledWith the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea."

3. Habakkuk 3:18-19 "Yet I will exult in the Lord,I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places."

God's glory, through the cross, is the greatest way we can get through pain and suffering
Just as we saw how the cross enables us to make sense as to why God in His Providence would will to allow evil and suffering in this world, the cross also enables us to find great comfort in the glory of God.  Chuck Swindoll notes: "The Sovereignty of God may not answer all of my questions, but it does relieve me of all my fears."  Saints of God in the pages of holy scripture found such comfort in knowing that all of the suffering we go through and the injustice that pervades our world will ultimately be dealt with and that God as a purpose. 

Perhaps no book outside the Bible has made the strong case for God's glory being the grand purpose for creation, salvation and thus answering the question: "why evil" as Jonathan Edwards' book: "A dissertation concerning the end for which God created the world." Note this excerpt from what he writes: "The glory of God is spoken of in Holy Scripture as the last end for which those parts of the moral world that are good were made."

Whenever you consider the fact that there is no greater good than God's glory, then you realize how it could be God would choose to use evil and suffering to somehow accomplish such a purpose.  Again the glory of His love shown through the cross is the clearest evidence for this hard to understand truth.  Habakkuk was able to cope and navigate through his struggle over God's usage of the Babylonians to punish Judah and Jerusalem. 

Again consider what he writes in Habakkuk 3:16-19 "I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble.  Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us.  17 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments."

Closing thoughts and summary
Habakkuk saw the Providence of God at work in the life of his nation, and God's choice to use the ruthless Babylonian empire certain caused Habakkuk to struggle.  Yet he saw what we would know to be a prophetic glimpse of the cross, as seen in Habakkuk 2:4.  In understanding through God's redemptive purposes could bring about a better understanding of how God's providence and evil could be at work in the same world without cancelling out God's existence or evil's reality, what was needed was the purpose for it all.  Habakkuk concludes by rejoicing over the glory of God. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

P3 Aiming to better understand God's existence in a world of evil and suffering - the cross

Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

Introduction and Review:
These past couple of days have been dedicated to developing a Christian response to evil and suffering. We saw a couple of days ago that when we reformulate the problem of evil into what has been the moral argument for God's existence, we discover that unless there is an all-powerful, all good God, evil cannot be considered a "problem". That is to say, unless there is such a thing as objective moral values, then on Atheism and worldviews like it, evil and good have no way of being distinguished. Only Christian theism can consistently address this issue - even though no one claims to have comprehensive understanding of God's moral sufficient reasons for allow evil to persist in our world. 

We have proposed four key ideas that aid us in navigating this very difficult issue: Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory.  So far we have looked at the first two of those ideas.  Normally when one reads a typical treatment on this subject of offering a response to evil and suffering, very few spend a whole lot of time on the cross.  Yet without the cross, not only can't a Christian view be developed, but making any sense of why there is evil and suffering in a world ruled by a Sovereign, Good and All-powerful God cannot be achieved. 

Why God's Providence and the existence of evil can only make sense when we consider the cross of Jesus
Tim Keller in his book: "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering", page 119-120, notes: "The book of Job rightly points to human unworthiness and finitude, and calls for complete surrender to the Sovereignty of God. But taken by itself the call might seem more than the sufferer could bear.  Then the New Testament comes filled with an unimaginable comfort for those who are trusting in God's Sovereignty. The sovereign God himself has come down into this world and has experienced its darkness. He has personally drunk the cup of its suffering down to the dregs. And he did it not to justify himself but to justify us, to bear the suffering, death and curse for sin that we have earned."

As you study the pages of scripture, you discover that before the creation of the world, God had already planned the cross.  It is this author's contention that if we are to truly make any sense of the presence of evil and suffering, we must begin and end with the cross.  The cross all at once was the most unimaginable demonstration of the evil of men and the most magnificent demonstration of the love of God.  Further thought would contend that the whole of creation revolves around the revelation of God in human flesh and the particular events of the cross and resurrection. 

Mapping out God's plan for redemption, then creation, and ultimately recreation.
Where do we find evidence in the Bible that the cross was planned before creation? Consider the following verses:

1). John 1:29 "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

2). Luke 22:22 "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

3). Acts 2:23 "this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."

4). Acts 3:18 "But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled."

5). Acts 4:28 "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."

6). 1 Peter 1:20 "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you."

7). Revelation 13:8 "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

From surveying other scripture, we understand that the cross was an agreed upon plan or covenant of redemption between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Passages such as Ephesians 1:1-14; 1 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 indicate that the Father planned redemption, the Son agreed to purchase it by becoming a man and shedding blood and the Holy Spirit agreed to apply it to all Whom He calls according to the Father purposes of grace, repents and believes.

The cross shaped what particular kind of history was going to come forth once God said: "let there be light" in Genesis 1.  With creation underway, God made beings who could choose.  Those beings chose against Him.  Despite willing to permit the fall, God already had in mind to graciously redeem our fallen parents and thus begin the process of redeeming fallen human beings who by His grace trust in Jesus.

The goal of creation, and its subsequent fall, includes there being a point when God will restore the creation that was lost.  All who have by grace through faith believed on Christ will be included in the glorious recreation - called in Revelation 21-22 the "New Heavens and the New Earth."

The black cloth that is evil and suffering is used by God to show forth His glorious redemptive purposes.  Two passages in Romans bear out this marvelous truth of how the cross gives us clarity to navigate through this difficult issue of evil and suffering.
Romans 3:24-26 "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

Then we see Romans 8:20-21 "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Personally I think this passage brings us the closest we will ever get to answering the big "why question" (i.e. "why evil"). The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the redemptive purposes of God are at the heart of this answer. 

Again Tim Keller in his book: "Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering", page 121, notes: See what this means? Yes, we do not know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what reason it is not. It cannot be that he does not love us. It cannot be that he does not care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths  of suffering. He understands us, he has been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually wipe away every tear. Someone might say, "but that's only half an answer to the question why? Yes, but it is the half we need."

Closing out with the prophet Habakkuk's central statement of "The Just shall live by faith"
The verse we quoted at the beginning of this post shows us how Habakkuk began coping with all that God was revealing to Him.  Habakkuk 2:4 is among the most frequently quoted passages in the New Testament.  When that verse is quoted, it is quoted in the context of the unfolding of saving faith in the gospel. Consider two examples: Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11 "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” In the Gospel we find the only solution to our sin and the only solution we can offer to a hurting world that is suffering.  The very God Whom unbelieving man rails against and accuses is the very One who sent His Son to suffer and provide the only grounds upon which the believing sinner can be declared innocent of all accusation.