Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Reformation Day 2017

Romans 4:1-3 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Note to Readers: You are invited to listen to a podcast on Reformation Day at the Growing Christian Resources Podcast site: For those wanting to know more about the Reformation, read a review of an excellent book by Erwin Lutzer on the subject at


October 31 is a landmark day for Christians throughout the world. This particular year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, wherein he was airing his grievances against the Roman Catholic Church's system of indulgences. With the then newly invented printing press, Luther's document spread like wildfire throughout Germany, sparking a sociological, theological and spiritual revival. All Bible believing groups, including Southern Baptists, are deeply indebted to what God did through the Protestant Reformation that began on October 31st, 1517. 

In a 2007 sermon, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Dr. Paige Patterson noted the following about Reformation Day for Southern Baptists link:

“If you want to be faithful to the Book, and if you want to be faithful to that part of the Reformation that died on every hand (for teaching believer’s baptism) … then stop being ashamed of being a New Testament Christian and a Baptist,” Patterson said. “You are not judging anybody else’s eternity. Many other folks who are not a part of our movement are born-again believers. Praise God for that. All we are saying is that the best way to be faithful to the Lord Jesus is to keep the whole of the Great Commission.”

Today's post is aimed at issuing forth two direct challenges to Southern Baptists and all other Bible believing groups about Reformation Day, October 31st: A rejoicing challenge and a take back challenge. 

The Rejoicing Challenge: 3 reasons to rejoice on Reformation Day, October 31st 
So why rejoice over Reformation day, October 31st? 

1. First of all, the root or formal cause of Luther's call for Reform had to do with ultimate authority in the Christian life and church.  The big question Luther needed to answer was: is the Pope and his statements concerning who went to heaven and who did not the ultimate authority for the church, or is it sacred scripture that God alone revealed to communicate matters pertaining to this life and the one to come? As Martin Luther wrestled over such questions, his conclusion was - Scripture alone! 

2. The second reason to rejoice over October 31st and Reformation Day is due to the fact that the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone was recovered. In contrast to the man-made traditions of the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, Luther and those after him re-asserted the Biblical truth that faith alone is both the necessary and sufficient means of receiving the gift of salvation.  Thus Justification by Faith Alone became the central doctrine or material cause driving the vehicle of the Protestant Reformation.  The doctrine of scripture alone (sola scriptura) was Luther's fuel in the engine that drove His call for reform - Justification by faith alone (sola fide).  Luther himself noted that Justification by Faith is the one article upon which the church rises or falls.

3. Then the third reason to celebrate Reformation Day, October 31st, is because the Biblical concept of the church was recovered. As Martin Luther denounced the Catholic Church's system of indulgences, a second question emerged: how is a man or woman made right with God? A church that does not derive its authority from the scriptures nor teaches the Biblical concept of the Gospel - justification by faith alone, cannot be deemed a true church. 

Roman Catholicism of 16th century Europe, as well as today, communicates faith to be necessary for salvation - however it teaches that faith by itself is not sufficient.  According to Rome, one must participate in the Roman Catholic church system of baptism, confession, penance and Mass to be deemed right by God and to stay right.  

The Gospel in the Reformation's recovery of the church shined forth not as a candle but as a brilliant sun, outshining all other would be contenders. If God had not raised up men like Martin Luther to spark the Reformation movement, then perhaps I nor you would be here celebrating the revival of Biblical authority, justification by faith in the Gospel and the necessary truth of the local church committed to both those truths. The church today still needs to heed the cry of reform uttered back in 1517. Moreover, the Word of God is the standard by which all churches need to yield, thus requiring each church to check its practice and theology against that standard. 

So we need to answer the challenge to celebrate Reformation day due to what God did in calling us back to the Bible, the Gospel and the Church. But now let me issue a second challenge, a take back challenge if you will...

The Take Back Challenge: Let's take back October 31st and celebrate God's Word, the Gospel and Jesus' mission for His church
It is time to take back October 31, and use this day to proclaim the truth of scripture and the reformation, sparked on October 31, 1517. Truly the message of the Reformation is a message about "after darkness, light" (post tenebras lux).  Gospel Light, not darkness, should characterize our lives as Christians.  October 31st has been for years by Wiccans and people of the Pagan/Witchcraft worldview to observe one of the so-called "spirit nights" on their yearly calendar. Christians need to take a God-centered event like the Reformation and remind themselves of how God led His church back to the Bible and salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. 

Closing thoughts:The Reformation was about calling forth people from spiritual darkness into the light of Jesus Christ.  Someone once said: "It is more effective to light a candle than merely curse the darkness".  Let's light the Gospel light and shine the glory of the Gospel.  As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 - “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

Monday, October 30, 2017

God's Power And Revelation In Jesus Christ In Romans 11:33-36

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Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!


This year I have been preaching through the Paul's letter to the Romans. It has been said that there are certain books of the Bible that can make mediocre preachers into good preachers and good preachers into great preachers. Certainly the same can be said if we apply this comparison to persons in the pew. The Book of Romans is one of those tomes in the Book of God. When meditated upon verse by verse, it deepens the faith, widens the focus and lifts one's eyes up to Jesus. Romans 11:33-36 is a veritable Mount Everest of Divine revelation.

Like most letters that we find in the New Testament, the Book of Romans has a doctrinal section (1-11) and a life-practical portion (12-16). The Apostle Paul closes out his supreme doctrinal exposition of the Gospel in Romans with the explosion of praise we find in Romans 11:33-36. As one studies over this explosion of praise that is called a "doxology", the clear message is this: God is worthy of praise. This stretch of verses represents one of the most amazing statements about God found anywhere in the Bible. 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes the following about God with respect to worship: "To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience."

Today we want to begin considering why God is worthy of praise by taking that word p.r.a.i.s.e and spelling out six reasons why God is worthy of our praise. We will draw mainly from Romans 1-11, since the doxology occurs following Paul's masterful exposition and prior to his practical section of Romans 12-16. In today's post we will focus particularly upon God's power and revelation in Jesus Christ.  

So why is God worthy of p.r.a.i.s.e? Let's consider firstly the...

Power of God. 

God's power is the first reason we can give as to why God is worthy of our praise. Romans 1:20 describes how God's power is known to all people: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen,being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." God's power is the source behind the Gospel (Romans 1:16). The power of God is described in scripture is displayed in the heavens (Psalm 19:1-6) and is responsible for the beginning of the universe (Psalm 33:6). God's power amazes the angelic hosts, prompting them to exclaim how God is worthy of all praise in Revelation 4-5. 

God's power is displayed in creation and in the many miracles recorded throughout the scripture. God's deliverance of the Israelites across the Red Sea is testified throughout the Old Testament as God's supreme Old Testament display of redemptive power in the Old Testament. 

In the New Testament we find God's power being most supremely displayed through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Acts 1:1-2; Romans 1:1-3). Is it no wonder that Paul writes what he does in Romans 11:33? God's power is the first reason for explaining why God is worthy of praise. 

Now lets consider one more reason before concluding our post today.........

Revelation of God in Jesus Christ

Again we refocus our attention on Paul's words in Romans 11:33 "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" Think about what Paul has been writing about: God's revelation of salvation in Jesus Christ. We find the praise-worthiness of God explained most fully in what some have termed the "four-number-ones" of the New Testament: John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:13-16; Hebrews 1:1-3; Revelation 1. In these "four-number-ones" we discover masterful expositions about the Lord Jesus Christ. 

We could add Romans 1:1-7 as that "fifth-number-one", since the Person and work of Christ is shown to be the center-piece of the Gospel. As Paul carries on through Romans 1-11, we find the Lord Jesus Christ as the cause for praise. The desperation of all human beings separated from God in old Adam is contrasted with the hope believers find in Jesus - the New Adam (see Romans 5). 

In Romans 9:4-5, we discover: "who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen." 

Jesus' unparalleled life, substitutionary death and glorious resurrection are great cause of praise to God. Jesus Christ is God-incarnate. To praise Jesus is to praise God. God's power and revelation in Jesus Christ are two reasons for saying that God is worthy of p.r.a.i.s.e. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Soothing Your Troubled Heart - John 13:36-14:4

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John 14:1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me."


Whenever we enter into John 13-17, one of the major themes we find throughout those chapters is that of "trouble". Christians often think that following Jesus will mean exemption from distress. Whenever we turn to the pages of the Old or New Testaments, we find troubles and trials unwelcome companions in the life of faith. Jesus knew that the hearts of his disciples were roiling waves of anxiety. He had announced to them that one of them was going to betray Him. As the eyes of each disciple darted from one of their fellow-disciples to another, such a thought as betrayal brought instant pain. Only one found it to his benefit - Judas. 

In today's post we want to explore Jesus' prescriptions for soothing our hearts when troubles arise. Let's briefly look at four of them found in John 13:36-14:4.

1. Prayers of Jesus. Luke 22:31-32; John 13:36-38

We know from early on in Jesus' ministry that prayer was a priority (see Mark 1:35). The comforting thought for the Christian today has to do with Jesus' current ministry on their behalf. Whenever we turn to the letters of the New Testament, we find spelled out the High Priestly office of the Lord Jesus Christ as He occupies at the Father's right hand. Hebrews 4:14-15 states -  "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." The comfort found in the high priestly ministry or "session" of Jesus is that it not only persists at this present moment, but will continue on into eternity. Hebrews 7:24-25 reminds us -  "(B)ut Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." To know that Jesus prays for His people in their defense is further stated in 1 John 2:1 - "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

Now as we return to the scene of the upper room on the eve of Christ's crucifixion, we find the disciples troubled over the announcement of someone betraying Jesus. The Apostle Peter speaks up and says He will never betray Jesus, with Jesus informing him that Peter will betray him before the rooster crows (John 13:36-38). In Luke's Gospel we find the same incident with the added caveat of Jesus stating to Peter that He is interceding for Peter not to fall away in Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 

The same Lord Jesus that interceded for Peter's faith not to fail (and it didn't) is the same One that prays on behalf of believers today. At times I feel like life is going to cave-in on me. Yet, I know Jesus is praying for me and thus - my heart is soothed. 

2. Presence of God John 14:1

Not only do Jesus' prayers soothe the troubled heart, but notice also the presence of God. Jesus asserts His equality with the Father in John 14:1-6. By asserting His co-equality with the Father, Christ is saying that His presence is God's presence; His promises are God's promises and therefore - the disciples can find comfort. As we noted before, the theme of trouble weaves its way through these verses. However, let me hasten to note that the presence of God meets these troubles every step of the way. 

We read for example of “Jesus troubled in spirit” in John 13:21, yet, He knew at the beginning of the chapter that all things were in the Father's hands (John 13:1-4). Whenever Jesus states in John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, He backs this up with the statement "you believe in God, you believe also in me". In John 14:27, Jesus asserts His ability to give the God-kind of peace in the following way -  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you”. John 16:33 is perhaps the most helpful of these passages - "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” 

In all these instances, we see the presence of God incarnate. One writer notes: “Christ is God standing forth as separate but not essentially different from the Father.”

3. Place called Heaven.  John 14:2-3

As Jesus speaks on in John 14, we find Him making reference to the believer's heavenly home. What makes "Heaven, Heaven?" Is it the streets of gold? The mansions? As wonderful as these things are, there is only One Person that makes Heaven Heaven - Jesus Himself. Heaven is described in quite literal and physical terms. Jesus uses the word "place". The text of John 14:1-3 can be taken to refer to what Jesus is going to do when He returns. In one respect John 14:1-3 is describing the Lord's promise to take with Him believers who are alive and those who are in the grave (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). 

However there is a second sense in which these passages speak - namely the current place of residence for the saints who go on ahead in death. 
2 Corinthians 5:6-7 notes -  "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight." I can recall when my father passed away years ago. One of the most comforting texts was not only John 14:1-3, but also Hebrews 12:22-24 "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight." When I have done funerals for those whose Christian loved-ones have passed away, I love sharing 2 Peter 1:10-11 "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."

The place called "Heaven" is the third heaven referred to by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. As wonderful as that place is, it won't compare to what will be the "New Heavens and New Earth" of which Peter and John write of respectively in their letters and books (see 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21-22). John MacArthur notes in a fairly recent sermon on this text:

"Yes, He will come again and rapture the church, 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, gather the church to Himself. Yes, the rapture of the church is the next eschatological prophetic event. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. But in the meantime whenever a believer dies, the picture here is of the Lord standing to receive him. And that’s what he says: “I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also. What is heaven? It is the place where Christ is and where He receives a believer to Himself. It is where we will all be related to Him in a perfect relationship, personally receiving each believer."

4. Personal return of Jesus.  John 14:4-5

So we have seen three prescriptions for soothing the troubled heart thus far: prayers of Jesus for His people; presence of God and the place called Heaven. Let's consider one more prescription - the personal return of Jesus. Now we alluded to this in the last thought. Jesus was thinking in terms of what happens to Christians after death as well as what will occur at the end of this age. The realities of Heaven, though subtly distinguished in the scriptures (third heaven now, new heavens later), yet there is still a lot about heaven that we will yet to behold once we get there. 

Thankfully, Christ's return and promise in bringing all those who have trusted in Him by faith need not remain an abstract thought. This promise brings with it concrete hope. 1 John 3:1-3 notes - "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." As Jesus was talking to His disciples, there is implicit the prospect of He being alive and well - referring of course to His resurrection, ascension and what will be His second coming. 

Closing thoughts:

Today we have considered four prescriptions to sooth the soul:

1. Prayers of Jesus
2. Presence of God
3. Place called Heaven
4. Personal return of Jesus

May these four truths bring peace to us in times such as these. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Principles For Waiting On God

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Daniel 6:4 "Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him."


Have you already experienced frustration this week? What happens when you and I are suddenly faced with a stressful situation? What is our knee-jerk response? The realm of our responses to life's difficulties tells us how much we are trusting God. What tends to be the default response of you and me. Panic? We try-to-fix-it? Run-to-others? Isn’t it interesting that we often try everything first before praying about our situation? 

One of the major themes of walking with God is that of learning to wait on Him. Isaiah 40:31 states - "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." When we read the account of Daniel and the lion's den, we see the remarkable resolve of Daniel to wait on God. In today's post we aim to glean some principles of what it means to wait on God. What does waiting on God look like? Let's note some principles.

Remain faithful to God. Daniel 6:4 

Charles Stanley one time noted that the only kind of the faith that is reliable faith is tested faith. Whenever we come to Daniel 6, we find Daniel in his mid-eighties. For seventy years he occupied Babylon. Daniel's career as God's prophet began when he was but fifteen. Whenever King Nebuchadnezzar and his forces took the Jews away into Babylon, Daniel was among them. Daniel was tempted with a different food, culture and religion. Despite the Babylonian's best attempts, Daniel never abandoned his faith in God. 

It was then after nearly seventy years that the Babylonians were taken over by the Persians. The kingdom changed hands, yet Daniel's faith never wavered. Though the thrones of men change, God's Sovereign rule never changes.  Through seven decades of living in not one, but two pagan cultures - Daniel remained faithful. 

I find this to be the purpose of times of waiting on God. When I'm under a deadline or am caught between a rock and a hard place - it is in those moments I find myself seeking God. At the time I may not completely understand the presence of trials in my life. The only thing I can say is that in the aftermath of having to wait on God, I find the resolve to remain faithful ever strengthened.  

Retain focus on God. Daniel 6:10

Whenever you and I have to wait on God, what is the one thing we find to be the case - sharpening of focus. When all our activities come to a stop - we are brought to a point of decision. Either I will get better or bitter. Either I will focus on the seeming lack of resources, funds or forward movement in my life or I will focus on God. Whenever we are in a holding pattern, we will focus on something. 

Think about Daniel. There he was, a man in his mid-eighties. He had been praying three times a day for seven decades. The word comes to him that unless he gives into the demands of the king - his life will be on the line. What does he do? He goes to God in prayer. He does not alter his routine. Daniel had cultivated such a focus on God that nothing could stop him - no matter what. Waiting on God teaches us to retain our focus on God.  

Restrain yourself in God.  Daniel 6:11-20

Do you know one of the most remarkable features of this account of Daniel and the lion's den? It is what is missing after we read of Daniel going to God in prayer. From the time Daniel is taken away and thrown into the lion's den until the next day when the king yells down to see whether or not he is still alive - we find no words issuing from Daniel's lips. A man called by God to deal in the words of God was silent. Daniel restrained himself by not complaining, by not panicking nor accosting his opponents. It was not easy. How do we make sense of this?  

I find here a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Daniel remained silent - like a sheep led to slaughter. Isaiah 53:7 predicts what would be Jesus' journey to the cross - "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth." Peter quotes this same text in Acts 8:32-33. Daniel is foreshadowing a Christ-like attitude. 

Whenever you and I are placed in a holding pattern - are we inclined to hold our tongues or guard ourselves from cursing God, the circumstances or exercising ourselves in self-abasement? We are told to "have this same attitude which was found in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-4). Daniel models here incredible restraint. He knew who was truly in charge - God.  

Regain strength because of God.  Daniel 6:25-28 

You and I oftentimes think if we could get out of our holding pattern - we could surely be stronger. However, it could be the case that God is having us to wait so that we can be strengthened for whatever He has us to do next. Furthermore, our life may very well be evidence to others of God's greatness in our lives - even if we cannot readily see it. Cyrus the king was moved by Daniel's courageous faith. We read his response and Daniel's outcome in Daniel 6:26-28 

26 "I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. 27 “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth,
Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Daniel enjoyed success. What is success? Certainly Daniel retained a place of honor in the king's court. Undoubtedly Daniel was finally in peace and safety. As wonderful as those things can be - they are but circumstantial in nature. Daniel's success in the truest sense did not lay in his occupying fine positions nor wearing fine clothing but in faithfulness. The test was passed. Daniel had waited on his God. Hebrews 11:33 notes - "who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions."

These principles gives us a good picture of the importance of waiting on God. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Long Reach Of God - Romans 11:16-32

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Romans 11:16-21 "If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 


I can recall as a child the many games of kickball that my sister and I would play. We would occasionally kick the ball high in the air, resulting in it becoming lodged in a tree. We could call upon my dad to come out and helps us get the ball. He would take a long board or pole and tap the ball to get it down on the ground for us to resume our game. As a child, I marveled at how my dad could do such things, it seemed nothing was to distant or too difficult for him to reach. 

As we turn to Paul's analogy of the olive tree in Romans 11:16-32, we are introduced to His redemptive program to save all kinds of people out of the nations and Israel. Olive trees were valuable in Israel. They came to signify Israel and its land (Judges 9:8-9; 2 Kings 18:32; Psalm 52:8; Psalm 128:3; Isaiah 24:13; Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:6; Zechariah 4:11-12). Jesus preached on a Mountain side known as the "Mount of Olives" due to its copious amount of these trees (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:3; Luke 9:29,37; 21:37). 

Olive leaves are first mentioned in Genesis 8:11 to refer to the dove that brought back an olive branch in its beak to Noah. The bringing of this olive branch signified that God's wrath was done. The ark of safety designed by God had protected Noah, his family and the animals. Henceforth olives would come to represent God's favor, redemption and grace. It is no wonder that the olive was cultivate for its uses in ceremonial anointing of priests, prophets kings; oil for lamps; baking and a host of other uses. 

Whenever olive trees became unfruitful, the people came to discover that by cutting off branches from wild olives trees and grafting them onto cultivated trees, the wild branches would help the cultivated tree become fruitful again. Once the sap from the cultivated tree worked its way through the branches, both branches and tree functioned together. It is this imagery and backdrop that Paul uses in conveying how God's redemptive program is working to redeem the distant and difficult to reach. Let's briefly consider what we find in Romans 11:16-32.

God can reach the most distant.   Rom 11:16-21

Let’s play a game of: “who am I”. In this game, I will mention a pre-conversion testimony from the Bible and see if you the reader can guess the identity of the person in question.

1).  I was a pagan that lived over half my life in a very secular city, committed to the darkness, until God found me. 

2). I was wanted for 1st degree murder and went into hiding, lived a double life, nearly forgotten, until God found me and changed my life. 

So who are these two mystery people? The first was Abraham, who originally a gentile, was called by God out of ancient Babylonia and then became circumcised. He became the patriarch of the Jewish nation (Joshua 24:2-3) Now what about the second mystery person?  If you guessed Moses, you were right. Moses was raised in Pharaoh's household. Though Jewish by birth he was raised to be Egyptian in thought. God would call him to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt  (Exodus 2:11-15; 3:1-6).

Now to put this on a personal level: Do you have a son, daughter, relative that is far away from God? As long as they have life within them, they are still prime candidates for being reached by God. If God can reach people who were seemingly distant like Abraham and Moses, He can reach anyone. God is reaching out to the nations. But now notice secondly....

God can reach the most difficult.   Rom 11:22-29

Let's try one more round of "who am I". 

1). I endorsed the sacrificial killing of my own son and became addicted to murder, detested God and engaged in the occult. I became a powerful man, and then was found out, locked in prison and hit rock-bottom. I should had died, but God found me. This first mystery person was none other than Manassah, a Jewish King, in 2 Chronicles 33.

2). I was a troubled soul, possessed by seven demons. The day was no different than night to me, then He called my name and turned my life around. Believe it or not, this is the testimony of Mary Magdalene, the first person to see Jesus post-resurrection.  (Mary, Lk 8:2).

3). I was most devoted to my religion, and yet made it my life’s purpose to wipe out Christianity. I was a cynical and skeptical. Then Jesus came to me and turned my life inside out. If you guest the Apostle Paul, you were right! (Acts 9). 

As we summarize Paul's point in these verses, we find it in Romans 11:22, 25-26  For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

When we look at Israel today, though some are converting to Jesus the Messiah, it seems that, by-and-large, there are very few Jewish people coming to the Lord. Yet scripture testifies again and again that God will save the multitude of Jewish people at the end of this age. Take for instance a glimpse of this truth in Revelation 7:4 "And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel." The consequence of this world-wide evangelistic effort during the Great Tribulation will be the conversion of many people. We read on in Revelation 7:9 "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands." In this prophetic vision captures only a small portion of Jewish people whom God will touch by His grace at the end of history. At the end of this tribulation period, Christ will return to earth and many more multitudes of the Jewish nation will become converted (see Romans 11:25-26). 

What do we glean from these verses?  The application is this: never judge ability to save a person tomorrow by seemingly impossible circumstances today. So now notice the closing thought of today's post...

God can reach you. Your response?  Rom 11:30-32 

In Romans 11:30-32, God reminds us through the pen of Paul that His calling to His people Israel as the chosen nation of his inheritance has not been revoked. God doesn't lie (Titus 1:2) nor break promises. It is then in Romans 11:32 we find two classes of people: believers and unbelievers. Those who by God's gracious call have responded versus those who have freely and knowing rejected God's well-meant-offer of forgiveness. This same sort of arrangement is found in Romans 5:18 "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men."

These verses are not speaking of some crass universalism in which all men will be saved. Instead, this refers to all those who willingly reject Christ of their own accord because they loved darkness rather than light (John 3:17; 3:36) and all of those who, because of God's grace calling them, freely respond to the Gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9). God's long reach extends to the most distant and difficult. If you but trust in Him who is reaching out to you, you too can be graved into that wondrous tree, that vine, the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 15).  

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Better Way To Define Miracles - Building An Argument For God's Existence From Consideration Of Christ's Resurrection And Miracles

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Acts 1:3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. 


In the last couple of posts, we have considered an improved definition of miracles over against the standard definition of: "violation of nature's laws". We have proposed two traits for the miraculous thus far:

1. Infrequently or irregular events done  by God

2. Such events are naturally impossible, which is to say, they cannot be brought about by natural processes inherent within themselves. 

In today's posting we are going to offer a third important piece to our definition: the religio-historical context. This third element is crucial in our attempt to improve upon the standard definition of miracles. Skeptics (thinking of philosophers such as David Hume) will often charge that even if miracles are possible in our world, we nevertheless cannot hope to know when such things occur. 

Context is key in determining whether a given event or phenomena is a miracle or a simple anomaly not yet explained by current scientific theory. Philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig has written extensively on this subject of miracles and the need for a religio-historical context. In using Dr. Craig's discussions on miracles and their place in the course of naturally occurring events, as well as some other observations, we can propose a sample argument for God's existence that involves our discussion on miracles.

What is meant by "religio-historical" context? Why is this crucial in defining the miraculous?

When we talk about a "religio-historical" context, we refer to the particular spiritual ideas that inform a given people group and their given historical situation in which such ideas and practices occur. When we talk about the person and work of Jesus, we are dealing with a first-century historical context that includes the lives and practices of Jews involved in 2nd Temple, Palestinian Judaism. Jesus was a Jewish male that interacted with Jews, as well as Greeks and Romans. The given beliefs of both his contemporary Jews (with their various sects) and the Greco-Roman thought and government of the first century must be included when talking about the historical context of the Four Gospels. 

Jewish beliefs about the after-life, including the belief that the resurrection would not take place until the end of history, were deep convictions. A survey of the Jewish literature outside the Old Testament (such as the Apocrypha, Pseudapigrapha, Josephus "Antiquities of the Jews") as well as the Old Testament books themselves will yield this observation's accuracy. 

Furthermore, a survey the New Testament books (particular the four gospels) will reveal that none of Jesus' disciples were expecting their Messiah to rise from the dead. 

The strong religious context and historical situation of Jesus' day reinforced these expectations. Yet despite every expectation to the contrary, the disciples came to the conclusion that Jesus raised from the dead. This begs the question: "what prompted the disciples to affirm Jesus' resurrection from the dead"? Unless Jesus physically raised from the dead and appeared to His disciples in a physical, bodily manner - then there is no adequate naturalistic explanation for the facts. What are those facts? the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances and the disciple's sudden switch from skepticism to robust faith. 

As Dr. Craig has noted on more than one occasion, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead befits His remarkable life and unprecedented sense of Divine authority which He carried in His words, His actions and His life. This is but a sample of what we mean when we talk about a given "religio-historical context". By knowing such things, we are prepared to better identify a miracle when it occurs.

Applying what we have learned thus far about miracles to the subject of Jesus' resurrection

We once more consider Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Known physical laws and processes describe for us a physical reality in which we should not expect dead men to rise from the dead. Having identified a miracle as an "infrequent act of God", certainly the claim of resurrection would qualify. With respect to this miracle being a naturally impossible event, again, the key assumption behind Christ's resurrection is that "God raised Jesus from the dead". 

Now what about the religio-historical context? In having already discussed what the disciples would had been expecting, given the background information of their Jewish beliefs, what is the probability of them proclaiming Jesus as resurrected if in fact He did not raise from the dead? The answer: nearly zero or zero period. How one explains this sudden switch of the disciples from skepticism to robust faith over this matter is a burden that no skeptical, naturalistic hypothesis on the empty tomb can fully bear. Given the religio-historical context of the resurrection event, it makes the most sense to conclude that this greatest of all miracles did occur. 

Offering an argument for God's existence from what we have discussed about miracles

Thus in noting the historical reality of Jesus' resurrection, we can only conclude that it is a miracle that did occur. Furthermore, in being a miracle, a non-natural, albeit a "Supernatural" cause is behind Jesus' resurrection- namely God Himself. In using the tools of historical inquiry and our proposed definition of miracle in establishing Jesus' resurrection from the dead, we can construct a theistic argument for God's existence based on miracles. The logic for this line of thinking may go something like this:

#1 Miracles are infrequent events done by God that are naturally impossible and identified within a particular religio-historical context.

#2 History's task is to explore all events that occur and give the most probable explanation (including frequent naturally-possible events, infrequent-naturally-possible events & infrequent- naturally-impossible events)

#3 History's task is to explore and interpret the contexts of all events that occur (whether the context is religiously significant or religiously benign).

#4 The Gospel records are taken (even by the majority of skeptical historians) as, primary source documents that deliver first-hand information about the life and ministry of Jesus, hence making them historical documents.

#5 The facts of Jesus resurrection agreed upon by the majority of historians (empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, switch from skepticism to faith by the disciple's) are best explained by the hypothesis: "God raised Jesus from the dead". Such a hypothesis entails God's existence.

#6 Jesus' resurrection was an infrequent, naturally impossible event that occurred in a religio-historic context, thus making it possible to identify it as a Divine miracle. This entails the activity of God as the Direct Agent behind the resurrection

#7  Therefore, God exists

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Better Way To Define Miracles - Irregular Acts Done By God That Are Naturally Impossible

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Acts 10:38-40 "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible."

In our last post we began considering a better way of defining miracles. Much of the objections raised against the miracles upon which Christianity is based attempt to shut-down apologetic attempts to defend and communicate the Christian faith. 

The opening passage above summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. To exclude miracles from any discussion of Jesus Christ is to miss out on rightly identifying the Jesus of History Who is the Christ of Faith. Objections to the reality of miracles as proper subjects of study and conversation have been handled by able Christian thinkers. This author would contend that such objections are far from conversation stoppers. Much of their weakness lies in the standard definition of "miracles" as "violations of nature's laws". This definition is simply inadequate.  

What exactly are natural laws?

Whenever scientists study the physical world, the cause/effect relationships between forces and the objects upon which they act are noted. Certain physical constants (such as the force of gravity or the speed of light) are factored into what one sees in the physical world. Other arbitrary quantities such as the amount of decline of usable energy in a given system (called "entropy" or the second law of thermodynamics) are also includes in the scientific description of the world. 

Scientists express such descriptions in terms of mathematical equations. We won't list those here, however, we will observe that in describing the regular patterns we observe in the physical world, we call such descriptions "natural laws". 

Natural laws do not "prescribe" how things ought to be, but instead "describe" how things are. For example, if I have a baseball dropped from my hand, the "law of gravity" describes the rate at which that ball will fall and its end result. Such a "law" describes the course of things apart from an intervening agent. Whenever we talk about physical laws of nature, we will use the phrase "all things being equal" to describe the state of affairs that cause and effect events happen without the intervention of an agent. 

But what happens whenever an agent or intervening force alters the processes of nature? Case in point: if I play catch with someone, and that person catches the ball - has the entire course of nature been disrupted? Not at all. Rather, the altering of the ball's trajectory can easily be described as the intervention of an agent (in this case, a catcher). 

So what about miracles? Miracles can be said to explain the course of our physical world acted upon by an invisible, maximally great, omni-powerful, all-good God. God's normal method of maintaining our world by way of nature's constants and quantities is what we call His "ordinary providence". Whenever God chooses to directly act upon a physical part of His creation, we call such activities "miracles" or "extraordinary providence". 

Miracles then describe what occurs when God chooses to directly act in our world 

We noted in our last post how one component for effectively defining a miracle is in its relative infrequency or rarity. Such a trait is an important starting point, since natural laws "describe" and than "prescribe" what are typical state of affairs in the absence of intervening forces such as intelligent agents. Today we look once again to building onto improving our understanding of what constitutes a miracle.

Adding To Our Improved Definition Of Miracle: A Miracle Rarely Occurs And Is A Naturally Impossible Event

Christian apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig, refers to miracles as "naturally impossible events", meaning that no natural processes can bring about what is otherwise a miracle. On Craig's discussion of miracles, the natural laws and processes that are observed in the natural world contain inherent properties that cause certain effects. 

As we mentioned in the last post, a miracle is an extremely irregular event. Dr. Craig's definition specifies the source of miracles - namely an event that cannot be explained by naturalistic methods and thus can only be of supernatural origin. His definition of miracles being "naturally impossible" events identifies the source of the said miracle. 

Therefore, we have strengthened our new and improved definition of miracles over against the old definition that defined miracles as: "naturally impossible events". We can now define miracles as "infrequent naturally impossible events". This additional description describes for us what we ought to expect when suspecting a miracle (namely, it's infrequency) and its source ("naturally impossible" or "supernatural" - i.e Divine).  

Closing thoughts

As we close out today's post, we can evaluate what we have concluded on the subject of miracles. First, we have defined a miracle as an event that "infrequently occurs". Secondly, per arguments marshaled by authors such as Dr. William Lane Craig, we can express the source of a miracle as "naturally impossible" whenever naturalistic explanations are less improbable than the notion that God is acting in the event. 

In the next post we will add one final component to our attempt to offer a better definition of the miraculous. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Better Way To Define Miracles - Irregular Events Worked By God

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Hebrews 2:3-4 "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."


How do we define the word "miracle"? The subject of miracles becomes relevant when talking to skeptics and opponents of Christianity. Whenever one considers major Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, the apologetic discussion of miracles is appropriate. Why? Both Christmas and Easter celebrate two of the three most important miracles recorded in the Bible: the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus and His resurrection from the dead (the other most important miracle being creation). 

Rethinking the typical definition of "miracles" 

In an age where we hear so many people rejecting the possibility of miracles due to perceived advances in science or the so-called triumph of reason over religion - should miracles factor into modern discussions of Christianity? This author will submit that much of the problem is in the typical definition of miracle that is commonplace in both the culture and the church. 

I recall one-time talking to a devout Christian about the subject of miracles. When I asked her what she thought a miracle was, her response was: "a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature". Such a popular definition  derives from the writings of 18th century skeptics like David Hume. Hume penned a series of essays called: "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion". 

The purpose of this particular book was to show how miracles violate nature's laws and that such events could not be identified. Hume's overall conclusion was that given the natural courses of events, the likelihood of miracles or their identity was highly improbable. 

As noted philosopher Timothy McGrew of Western Michigan State University has noted: Hume's argument against miracles ends up being a circular argument, which in the end defeats itself. Why? To say that miracles are violations of nature's laws and are impossible in nature due to the fact that they violate nature's laws is a viciously circular argument - proving nothing. Unfortunately, we have inherited this standard definition of a miracle from what has been the increasing secularization of our Western world for the last two and one-half centuries. 

What if we offer a better definition of a miracle? If one can be offered and grounded upon firm footings, then the subject of miracles can have a definite place in contemporary discussion.

Miracles are irregular events, worked forth by God

Christian theism looks to the Bible when it comes to expressing its understanding of the miraculous. The study of well-reasoned arguments from natural theology (systematic reflections on God's general revelation in creation or the conscience) provides another source for offering valid reasons for including the miraculous in contemporary discussion. Each source, though distinct, can work together in providing a well-grounded Christian account of miracles.

In the opening verse of today's post, we find that the message of salvation testified to by the writer of Hebrews is a message that had built-in evidence of confirmation by what is described by three kinds of miracles: miracles (that is, "workings"), signs and wonders. The author of Hebrews describes how miracles functioned to confirm the message of the Gospel and those who preached it in the first century. But before we go any further, what does the Bible have to teach us about the meaning of the word "miracle"?

When we search the Old Testament's teaching on miracles, we find the main Hebrew word translated "miracle" in some 70 places. Further word studies describe the Old Testament word for "miracle" as that which is difficult to do, beyond one's ability or treated as a distinguished and separate activity. We could summarize this idea of "miracle" by noting that it is an extremely irregular event. Another way of translating this word "miracle" would be "workings" or more simply: "work". Thus, a miracle, in the proper sense of the term, is an irregular event that is worked forth by God.

Whenever we survey the remainder of scripture, we find that miraculous events cluster around strategic points in history. In the Old Testament we see many of the miraculous events situated around the ministries of Moses/Joshua (1445-1375b.c); Samuel (1100 b.c); and Elijah/Elisha (roughly 900b.c). 

In the New Testament we find Jesus and the Apostles being the main agents through whom miracles occur. The writer of Hebrews uses three main Greek words associated with miracles in the New Testament: workings of God (miracles proper); "signs" (or visible miracles) and "wonders" (or miracles associated with changes in the physical environment). 

These observations serve to show that in approaching a definition of the miraculous, one needs to think first of the event being "extremely irregular" in terms of infrequency of occurrence or the event being unusual in comparison to regular events. Apologist Dr. Norman Geisler notes in his "Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics", page 472: 

"a true miracle also produces results; always bring glory to God, bring good to the natural world" and "true miracles never fail." 

So then, when defining a miracle - whether we talk about creation, something like the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus - the relative infrequency of the event must be included in our description. Other important components must also be considered, which will be looked at in future postings.