Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Links

The Christian Carnival is at at Mandi Kaye's site this week. I've got an piece there this time.

Peter Lumpkins has an interesting collection of quotes from Advice to a Young Scientist. Here's a sample:

"I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not."

Useful advice no matter what your field may be.

Diane at Crossroads has a Memo to various groups that is both funny and thought provoking.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Can you handle it?

You’ve heard it: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I’ve never actually seen this in the Bible. Probably because it’s not there. I figure this most likely began as a misinterpretation or misquoting of 1 Cor 10:13 – “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

The truth is that God will give you more than you can handle. Consider the words of Paul:

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:8-10).

What they experienced was “far beyond” what they could handle. But did you catch the end? This happened so that they would rely on God.

That is the secret: God will give you more than you can handle; He will not give you more than He can handle.

I think this way is better. We are not tempted beyond what we can bear, yet we still sin. We fail to do what is within our ability so many times. That’s why I’m glad God doesn’t leave it up to me to get through the trials of life – I’d probably screw that up too. As long as it’s in His hands, though, I have hope. You see “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (Rom 8:28-29).

That’s God’s goal, and I know His plans will be accomplished. To me, that’s far better than giving me something I can “handle.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Depart from me

Verses I wish weren't in the Bible: Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt 7:21-23)

This is probably one of the, if not the, passages in the Bible I like least.

If I recall correctly, a repeated name is like a term of endearment. Does that mean these people are saying, “My dearest Lord” or maybe, in modern terms, “My sweet Jesus?” Are these people who truly think they love Jesus?

These people did the work of the kingdom, and I’m not just talking about feeding the poor and preaching the gospel; they drove out demons and performed miracles! They did what we would think of as Spirit empowered things, and yet they do not belong to Jesus.

And so Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you.” What words would you want to hear less than those?

The one who will enter the kingdom is “he who does the will of my Father.” And that is not, apparently, loving Jesus or doing wonderful things in His name. That should send us searching furiously through the scriptures to find out exactly what those words mean.

I think most believers have the occasional moment when they wonder if they’re really saved. In those moments, this verse scares the life out of me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Was the cross just?

An argument for the deity of Christ from the nature of God

Arguments for the deity of Christ generally gather up some scriptural references that are interpreted to mean that Jesus or the apostles claimed that He was God. Instead of that approach, today I want to argue using the logical and moral filters that are built into us all. Such an argument for the deity of Christ can be made from the nature of God if the other person accepts that the death of Christ was an atoning sacrifice. (That both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term differently than orthodox Christianity is fortunately not an issue in this discussion, but this qualifier effectively eliminates Jews and Muslims from our list of potential uses.)

The basic argument is this: God is just. It is not just to require an innocent person to pay for another’s crime. Jesus’ death paid for our crimes. Therefore Jesus cannot be just “an innocent person” – He must be God.

God is Just. This shouldn’t be the source of much controversy – the moral perfection of God is a basic tenet of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (including cultic off-shoots). As Moses said, “His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut 32:4). We can trust that God will do what is right. The guilty will be punished for their sins; the innocent will not be punished (c.f. Ez 18).

We have rebelled against a holy God; His nature requires that we pay for our crimes. Unfortunately, paying for our crimes would destroy us.

Christ Paid for Our Sins. God’s justice should have been the end of us, but in His mercy He sent Christ to die in our place. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph 1:7).This is the key to the atonement. It also presents a sticky situation for those who see Christ as a lesser god or a special creature.

The Problem. If Jesus is not the same God whose law is offended by our sin, then God has asked an innocent being to pay for our crimes. This concept is at the heart of the increasingly common accusation that the atonement represents “divine child abuse.” The very idea is repugnant. Therefore, for God to be just in allowing Christ to atone for our sins, Christ must in fact be the same God whose law was violated.

An Illustration. There is an illustration that is often used to make the gospel message clearer:

A man accused of committing a crime came before a judge. After weighing the evidence, the judge had no choice but to find the man guilty even though he knew that the fine would be ruinous. As the judge read the sentence, his heart went out to him. So the judge banged the gavel then went to the clerk and paid the fine himself.

A criminal with an unpayable debt, a judge both merciful and just, this story illustrates the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ well.

Now imagine that the judge pronounced sentence and then instructed the bailiff to pay the fine. In showing the criminal mercy, the judge would have committed an injustice against the bailiff. Instead of a beautiful picture of mercy, this would be a mockery of justice.

Conclusion. That is precisely what the gospel is unless Jesus is God incarnate. If Jesus is an angel or spirit or even a lesser god – if He is not of one substance with the Father – then the gospel becomes a tale of a monstrous judge who sentenced an innocent person to death rather than a righteous king paying the penalty He himself was owed. But if Jesus is the God whose law we have broken, then the gospel is a story of love and grace from a holy but merciful God.

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You may also be interested in The Resurrection: A story no one would make up

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

He didn't die for "us;" He died for me

Generally when the NT talks about salvation, it speaks in corporate terms – we are saved, as a group, to be a people for God (e.g., Eph 1:3-4, 2:8-10, Rom 3:23-24, Rom 5:1, 1Pet 2:9, 1John 3:1). It’s popular to remind folks today that Christianity isn’t supposed to be individualistic, that we were created to be a community of faith, and I think that’s a message the American church needs to hear.

But then we read this: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20, emphasis mine).

Yes, Jesus died to redeem His bride and to form His church. But He also died to redeem me. It’s easy to get so caught up in the (post)modern push for community that we forget that it’s the hairs on my head that are numbered (1), that I am my beloved’s and He is mine.

I love the Church and the family of the Faith, but in the midst of remembering that we are a community, let’s not forget that we are each, individually, loved, that we were each called, by name, and that it was for my sins and for your sins, not “our” sins, that Christ endured the cross.

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(1) Though, sadly, that’s an increasingly easy task.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Never read a Bible verse

There is no God. The Bible says so in Psalm 14:1.

Oh, you say that it says, “The fool says … there is no God.” Does that make a difference? Of course it does. You can’t rip something out of context and make it say whatever you want it to say.

And yet Christians do it all the time.

Oh, they don’t rip phrases out of verses like I did above. What they usually do it rip verses out of passages, and the same kind of error can occur.

This one is a personal favorite. People like to quote Jesus’ saying, “I, when I am lifted up … will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). This is used to show that when we worship Jesus, it will draw people to Him. Singing can become evangelism! Only that’s not what Jesus was saying.


“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'?” (
John 12:32-34)
Clearly, Jesus is talking about His pending crucifixion, not worship, and yet even Charles Spurgeon took this verse, out of context, to refer to worship.

Skeptics do this frequently. When you come across a list of Bible “contradictions” or passages that “don’t make sense,” you can bet that 90% of them are simply taken out of context. Which leads me to my reason for bringing this up: Here are two rules for dealing with Bible verses.

First: When non-Christians throw a verse at you as a contradiction or other Bible difficulty, look at it in context. That will almost always clear things up.

Second: When Christians quote a verse to you (in text or verbally), look at it in context.

If those two rules sound similar, well, they are. So let’s boil it down into one simple rule:

Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph.

And if you catch your pastor misquoting a lot, bring it up – gently.

(Note: I’m not saying never quote a Bible verse. It’s just not practical to quote large chunks of Scripture when you only need a sentence. But take every care that you quote a verse consistent with its context, and expect your readers/audience to read it in context later.)


For more on this topic, Stand to Reason’s president Greg Koukl has written a good bit. Here’s a link to a free article on their website: Never read a Bible verse. They also have some more in-depth resources you can purchase.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Me and my Bible is all I need"

Last time I posted a review of Hendricks’ wonderful Living By the Book. When the topic of learning to study the Bible comes up, I occasionally hear someone say something to the effect that “me and my Bible is all I need.”

Some people think that the Holy Spirit will provide all they need to understand the Bible. This notion is apparently not new; St. Augustine dealt with these people in his day. He noted that we all learn language from other people – generally our parents.

“Now, then, suppose we advise all our brethren not to teach their children any of these things, because on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the apostles immediately began to speak the language of every race; and warn every one who has not had a like experience that he need not consider himself a Christian, or may at least doubt whether he has yet received the Holy Spirit? No, no; rather let us put away false pride and learn whatever can be learnt from man…” (On Christian Doctrine, preface)

He also mentions the story of a man given the ability to read miraculously; no one will refuse to teach his children to read because the Spirit did this one time. The fact that the Spirit can teach us whatever He wants doesn’t mean He will teach us what we want.

We should not presume and should take advantage of every opportunity to learn whatever we can from whomever may teach us. This is especially true in this area which is of such great importance. We must all work carefully to learn to properly understand the Bible that God has given us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Review: Living by the Book

If I could make all Christians to read only one book, it would not be the Bible. It would be Living By the Book.

Why? Because after reading this book, people would want to read the Bible, and they would be equipped to better understand and apply what is in it.

Living by the Book is a distillation of the Bible study class Howard Hendricks taught at Dallas Theological Seminary for decades (and may still teach). There are no tricks to get the most out of the Bible, and there are certainly no magic tricks. Bible study requires hard work to glean the treasures from scripture. But there are methods that make that task easier and clearer, and this book contains some very simple and yet useful ones.

The book is broken up into three basic sections representing the stages of Bible study: observation, interpretation, and application. In the first, Hendricks teaches you how to approach the text in new ways in “Ten Strategies to First-Rate Reading” and clues for finding the buried treasure in “Six Things to Look For.”

In the second section, Hendricks covers how to understand what you’ve seen in the text with his “Five Keys to Interpretation” and his hints on “Figuring Out the Figurative.” In the third section, he takes the reader through the oft neglected topic of applying the truths of scripture to your life. He offers nine questions to ask of the text and some important advice on deriving general principles from specific passages.

This book is not the be-all end-all of Bible study. It is an introductory text, and it is not the only good introductory text out there. But if all Christians read only this book, the Church and the world would be much better for it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The importance of a balanced diet

Man cannot live by broccoli alone.

A diet of nothing but broccoli would lead to malnutrition. A healthy body requires a variety of foods to get the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats that the body needs to operate properly.

A healthy mind and soul needs a variety as well.

Reading nothing but fiction might be compared to a junk food diet; reading nothing but apologetics might be akin to living off nothing but spinach. A healthy, well-balanced Christian will feed his mind some theology and apologetics while feeding his heart and soul some “Christian living” or devotional material – maybe some biography too.

I looked up a little while back and realized I had, because of school, lived off nothing but biblical studies books for a good year and a half. My mind and heart showed it, too. I’m now making a conscious effort to vary my reading, and I recommend that you do so too.

When you read a theology book, follow it up with a biography. Then maybe an apologetic work followed by something more devotional. If you have a need or special interest, that’s fine, focus on that, but still stick in something else every other book or two.

My interests and the nature of the people I interact with on a daily basis require me to read a lot of apologetics and theology, so I focus there, but I’m going to make sure I include more pastoral works (not how to teach/preach but healing my soul).

I just finished The Problem of Pain (my
review). I’m now reading Precious Remedies Against Satan's Deviceswhich will be followed by A Grief Observed and then Not For Sale. I’m studying the problem of evil right now, so I’ll probably bring in another book on that topic next, but after that, I’ll probably need to take a break, so my next apologetic book would probably be something about Islam or the reliability of the Bible. I’m going to throw some fiction in there somewhere too.

I’m not advocating being legalistic; I’m advocating being self-aware and attentive to your own soul. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?

Now, what about students – especially those in seminary? I understand that you can’t always control what you read, and time is short and precious. I’d suggest that you make a serious effort to read some very different material between semesters – maybe even something “light.”

And to those who say, “I’d rather burn out than rust out,” I’d like to offer this: those aren’t the only two choices.


(See also "You are what you eat...")

Thursday, August 9, 2007

You are what you eat...and hear, see, and read

As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.

Every minute your eyes are open, our culture is telling you how to act, how to think, or how to feel. We don't always realize just how much we are influenced, but occasionally something shows us how far off track we are.

A few years ago a friend pointed out that the Christians around him watching "Friends" thought nothing of the rampant sexual immorality and instead were hoping Ross was the father of Rachel's illegitimate child. It's not so much that it's bad to hope Ross was the father as it was sad that most of us didn't even pause to consider the act the made him the father. The show did not mock sexual mores so much as it simply discarded them, and we went right along with it.

This is just one example of the constant influx of non-, if not anti-, Christian views we allow into our minds – be it morality, privatization of faith, or naturalism.

How much tv do you watch? Two hours a day (less than the average US tv watcher) is fourteen hours a week of influence from the world. That doesn't count radio, billboards, magazines, non-Christian books, or the things your friends, family, and coworkers say. We are constantly inundated by things that try to instill in us ideas that are inconsistent with, or even opposed to, having the mind of Christ. And what goes in our eyes and ears will come out our mouths and hands.

How can we fight this corruption of the inside? Remember this? "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Notice that being conformed and being transformed are passive – it is something that is happening to you. Notice also that there are only two options. Either we will be transformed, or we will be conformed. St. Paul instructs us to choose transformation, and that is accomplished by renewing our minds – that is, filling them with the things of God (scripture and also other worthy works). Remember the fourteen hours a week of tv? Can we combat this with two hours a week of church? Fifteen minutes of daily Bible reading the rest of the week is only a marginal improvement.

Having a renewed mind, a mind that is becoming more and more the mind of Christ, requires time and work. Especially time. I’m not advocating cutting ourselves off completely from our culture, but most of what we spend our time on is simply waste. We need to triage our schedules, our tv watching habits, and our reading habits and make time to fill our minds with God’s word and related material. We cannot be different from the world if we think like the world.

(See my “useful links” on the side for some sources of good Christian listening. Make that commute a time to renew your mind.)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (
Prov 4:23)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Links

This week's Christian Carnival is at The Bible Archive

A brief comment on textual criticism at Tiger's Got My Back

Advice on using electronic book searches at The Shepherd's Scrapbook

An interesting look at Mark 8:22: Was Jesus too tired to heal? at Truth is Still Truth

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Are you discerning in your generosity?

There has been an increase in people wanting to do good abroad in recent years, and that is never bad. But the desire to do good can lead people down the wrong path if they're not careful -- they may do harm rather than good.

Of late people have been especially focusing on Africa, though it has gotten a certain amount of attention for a long time. We've been sending lots of money and equipment and staples (food, medicine) over there for some time. And it may be killing Africa.

Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati told Spiegel, "...for God's sake, please just stop." He says:

"[Western good intentions] have been damaging our continent for the past 40
years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should
finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most
development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the
billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor."
He says that aid money does not go where it is supposed to go, food shipments only deprive local farmers of their livelihood, and "[teaches Africans] to be beggars and not to be independent."

Of course, there are those who disagree with him. It's not my purpose to debate the topic of African aid here. What I want to discuss in discernment in our generosity. Jesus told us to give to whoever asks, but I don't think He meant for us to throw good money down a hole. When in doubt, give, and the Lord will deal with those who asked for money improperly. But "helping" people who don't need what you have robs those who do, and helping in the wrong way may harm the intended beneficiary.

We want to help, and we should, but before you give lots of money to a cause (any cause), you need to ask 1) whether they really need help and 2) whether they really need what you're offering.


Diane at Crossroads has been looking at this question as well.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Is God responsible for death?

See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deut 32:39)
This was already brewing, and now recent events have forced the topic to the forefront of my mind. When a man has a heart attack, when a child miscarries, when a bridge falls with dozens of people on it, is God responsible?

I think the only scriptural or intellectually honest answer is a qualified yes. You don’t have to believe God fatalistically determines our deaths (and everything else) to see that He is at least passively responsible for them.

Jesus said not even a sparrow falls without His Father’s notice, so surely the death of one made in His image is noticed. But if God knows that our death is at hand, surely He must make a choice – to permit it or not. God does not have to cause our deaths to be responsible for them.

If you watched my baby girl drown in the bathtub, you would not be the cause of her death. Your inaction, though, would make you partly responsible. The legal term would probably be criminal negligence: you didn’t do it, but you didn’t stop it.

In the same way, God becomes responsible for human death. He does not have to cause them; choosing not to act is choosing death. This doesn’t remove moral culpability from human agents when they actively cause deaths, but it does mean that God has a role to play.

Now, I’m not saying God is “criminal” or even wrong to allow death. 1) Everyone dies at some point. 2) We die because of sin. 3) We deserve to die long before we actually do. So it doesn’t make God “bad” to be responsible for our deaths; it just makes Him God.

Now some will say that God hates death. That’s right! In fact, He went to great lengths to conquer death. But the fact that He didn’t introduce death to humanity does not mean that, now that it’s here, He doesn’t control it.

For God to not be in any way responsible for death, at least one of two things would have to be true: Either God would have to not know a death was coming (and a lot of people today take this route), or God would have to be incapable of stopping it. But God knows the end from the beginning, and He can do all things, so God must choose not to act. And now we have very nearly restated the classic “problem of evil.”

God, for His own purposes and in His wisdom, chooses to permit death. Every sparrow that falls and every child that dies does so under the watchful eye of a wise and loving God who chooses to allow it. Personally, I feel better knowing the power of life and death is in His hands.

We know that God is loving and wise and good and just. We also know that He (in the person of Jesus) knows first hand what it means to watch someone you love die. He even knows what it is like to die. He has joined us in our pain. Who better to have the final say in the matter of life and death?

It does not protect God’s honor to suggest that He does not control death; it only makes Him out to be less than God.

Friday, August 3, 2007

It's only a little sin

I'm currently reading Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks (no relation that I'm aware of). One of Satan's devices, he says, is to tell us that it's only a little sin. Brooks responds with this:
"It is the greatest unkindness that can be showed to a friend, to adventure the complaining, bleeding, and grieving of his soul upon a light and a slight occasion. So it is the greatest unkindness that can be showed to God, Christ, and the Spirit, for a soul to put God upon complaining, Christ upon bleeding, and the Spirit upon grieving, by yielding to little sins. Therefore, when Satan says it is but a little one, do thou answer, that oftentimes there is the greatest unkindness showed to God's glorious majesty, in the acting of the least folly, and therefore thou wilt not displease they best and greatest friend, by yielding to his greatest enemy." (41)
I can't honestly say that there's anything for me to add to that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Christian Carnival 8/1/07

Christian Carnival CLXXXIII is at Crossroads this week.