Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Serpent’s Bane

The Advent of Jesus Christ: Son of Eve

Most folks figure humanity fell from grace shortly after it was created (though we don’t really know). What we do know for sure is that almost immediately after they fell, God gave them a glimpse of His plan to fix things:

“I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15).

What they didn’t know, couldn’t know, is that it would be thousands of years before the fulfillment of that promise.

But it was fulfilled. One did come to destroy the devil and his work. He came to drive out the prince of this world and disarm the powers and authorities and make a public spectacle of them.

In this season we celebrate more than the birth of a baby. We celebrate a promise kept. God Almighty promised to act, and act He did. In a way that almost no one expected, the Seed of Eve was sent to strike the serpent and free us from sin and death and restore to us the communion mankind was meant to have with our Creator.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Thank you, Lord,

For the food and the roof I am able to provide my family,
For the health we enjoy today,
For the promise of your care tomorrow,

For the grace you showed us at Calvary,
For the mercy you show us every day,
For the hope we have for the future,

For the word by which we may know you,
For the Son by whom we may love you,
For the Spirit by whom we may be like you,

For the forgiveness of sins,
For the adoption as sons,
For the promise of glory,

For the privilege of prayer,
For the honor of worship,
For the gift of the covenant,

For all that you’ve given us,
For all that you’ve forgiven us,
For all that you’ve promised us.

To you be the kingdom and the power and the glory
Forever and ever

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Resource Spotlight: Biblical

One of my goals here is to encourage you to learn more about "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." There are countless fine books to choose from, but a lot of people have little time to read. banner

Biblical helps you in that endeavour by making audio of Christian teachers available on the web for free.

Classes on a variety of topics (including biblical studies, theology, church history, apologetics, Greek, ethics, and ministry) are taught by respected teachers (including John Piper, Craig Blomberg, and the late Ronald Nash) at levels appropriate for new believers, laymen, and leaders.

Free registration will give you access to hours and hours of Christian instruction to help you grow in your knowledge of the Faith.

Whether you take advantage of their classes or not, you might find their recommended reading lists useful. These can be found at Support

Also, that site has referral buttons that will take you to Amazon or Christian By visiting your favorite online bookseller through these links, you can support the work of these folks without paying an extra cent yourself.

Once again, the holiday shopping season is upon us, and if you're going to order books online, may I suggest that they are well worth your (free) support.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Party With Purpose

Reflections on Leviticus
Everyone loves a holiday, and Leviticus 23 has 6 of them. These are real holy days – days to stop the normal pace of life and celebrate and reflect on the goodness of God as opposed to just skipping work for the beach.

Not that there’s anything wrong with going to the beach, but there’s real value in setting aside special days to reflect on what God has done. If that sounds ominous, realize that, with the exception of the Day of Atonement, these are feast days, not fasts. They weren’t somber church services; they were parties.

But they were parties with a purpose, and I think we need more days like that in our lives.

Christians are supposed to celebrate what God has done every Sunday, and Israel had its Sabbath too, but a weekly service can become just another part of the routine. Breaking away from the normal patterns of life can help us focus on important things.

Low church protestants really only have Christmas and Easter. Americans and Canadians do have Thanksgiving Days that, though largely secular, can be employed for religious purposes, but I wonder if big holidays – with worry about guests, travel, and gifts – prevent us from focusing on God.

Roman Catholics and some others have various “days of obligation” where the faithful are expected to go to church, but is asking people to squeeze an extra church service into their normal busy schedules really what we need?

The feasts in Leviticus contain special sabbaths – days where regular work could not be done. The idea was to stop everything and focus on God.

Can we do that? Could we weave such days into our lives? What if we set aside certain days that were just ours – just as Jews today observe Rosh Hashanah without the rest of the country paying attention.

Even if we can’t take off work, what if we canceled baseball practice, turned off the TV, and had special meals with our families while reflecting on God’s provision and works in our lives and in the history of the Church – celebrations for the Ascension of Christ or the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost or the translation of the Bible into common tongues or the great cloud of witnesses that show us and encourage us on the way?

However it might work out, finding ways to stop and reflect on the work of God can only be good for us. Finding ways to make our faith more tangible for our families can only be good for them.

So is worthwhile? How might it be accomplished?

In the meantime, let’s try to make the best use we can of the days we have – “holy” or not.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fireproofing Your Marriage

This weekend I finally saw the movie Fireproof. It was okay as chick-flicks go – it certainly had more action than the average “relationship” movie.

One thing I can say: I’m happy to see more Christians trying to prevent/fix bad marriages rather than just decrying divorce.

At one point in the movie we learn that our hero’s wife has been unhappy far longer than he realizes. This is a theme I keep seeing on the topic of divorce – one person, almost always the woman, is very unhappy for a long time and then asks for a divorce, catching the other off-guard.

I’ve sat through a lot of sermons and lessons at church about making a marriage work, but I’ve never heard this addressed. I think it should be.

Pastors need to say from the pulpit that, if you’re so unhappy the “d-word” has entered your mind, you have a responsibility to address it with your spouse now rather than letting it fester for another year or two.

Be Direct
Now, let me admit that men can be exceptionally dense at relationship issues. My own density approaches that of a neutron star. Sometimes a woman can tell a man in no uncertain terms exactly how she feels and he still won’t get it.

But a lot of times she tries to communicate in code.

Ladies, don’t use code. Don’t talk about “the number between 1 and 3;” just say “2.” Don’t say “I’d like you to be more sensitive” when you mean “You only touch me when you want to have sex.”

Be direct. Anything less than direct is just asking for trouble. Pretend we barely speak English; spell it out carefully.

Get Help
Sometimes we’re so dense that even the most direct attempts at communication are ineffective. Jesus’ instructions regarding conflict apply in marriage too – if talking to your mate doesn’t help, get a third party.

This has to be carefully done – most people, especially men, don’t want outsiders sticking their noses into our marriages. But if we’re talking about a marriage disintegrating, we have to be a little bold.

If you can involve a friend or relative of your spouse, do so. Again, do it carefully; the last thing you want is for your spouse to think you’re messing around with their friend. If you can’t involve a friend or relative, go to your pastor or other respected authority figure from church.

(Now, at this point someone might be thinking, “If I go to them, everyone will know we’re having problems.” Well if you get a divorce, the secret’s going to get out, so let’s set pride aside and deal with the problem at hand.)

The last thing we want is for your spouse to go on the defensive (though this is unavoidable to an extent), so ask them to think carefully about the words they’re going to use to approach this.

“Your wife says you’re a jerk” probably won’t be very effective. “Your wife’s unhappy” is better. “Your wife feels like she’s having trouble communicating to you just how unhappy she is” sounds better still. (I’m no marriage counselor. On this matter, it might be good to consult experts.)

Don’t Give Up Without a Fight
I know this sounds hard, scary, awkward, and a little painful. Do it anyway. Or do something else. Whatever you do, however you do it, just do something.

The whole premise of Fireproof is fighting for your marriage when your spouse wants out. I’m asking you to go one step farther: Fight for your marriage before you want out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just Be Good, Whatever That Means

Have you seen this in the news? The American Humanist Association has launched an ad campaign encouraging nontheists to be good for the sake of being good. (See picture.)
AHA ad
This goes back to the argument theists hate having with atheists on morality. The atheists consistently misunderstand our position, and it makes theists want to beat our heads against a wall. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s why they do this.)

Can atheists be good? Yes. Can they live exemplary moral lives? Yes. Can they live like better Christians than Christians sometimes? Yes.

They just can’t tell you why.

The theistic position is this: Without a transcendent moral standard, morality is nothing but pragmatism. It’s the categorical imperative without the imperative.

Why is murder wrong? If there is not an absolute moral standard, murder is not wrong; it’s just a counterproductive thing for society to permit.

Why is stealing wrong? Who says you have a right to your property? If there is no transcendent morality, no one; society can’t function if everyone steals – but what’s so bad if I do it?

You possess no right to life, much less liberty, privacy, or dignity unless there is something endowing you with those rights that is higher than the people with power over you.

For all their talk about atheists and humanists living lives just as moral as theists, when societies are run under these philosophies, they always produce horrific abuses.

Apart from God, morality becomes whatever works, and might makes right. If you have sufficient power you can get away with whatever you deem is “best” for your goals – even if it’s summary execution of millions of political dissidents or starving the masses while providing leaders with luxuries.

The problem with humanistic philosophy is that it actually produces the “progressive, dynamic values” the AHA claims it promotes. The values become very dynamic, conforming to the plans of the powerful with an ends justify the means mentality.

So to those who say, “Be good for goodness’ sake,” I ask, “What is good?”

The answer will speak volumes.

You might also be interested in:
What's Wrong with Naturalism
Another Problem with Naturalism

Thursday, November 13, 2008

2 Bad Arguments Against Substitutionary Atonement

Last time we looked at a terrible prooftext that’s been used to argue against substitutionary atonement. This time I want to examine two arguments that are levied against this concept.

Divine Child Abuse
It’s not uncommon to hear someone say that God sacrificing His Son to appease His wrath and save humans is divine child abuse.

I think that view is best described as a really sloppy Christology.

When we talk about God sending Jesus to the cross, we’re not saying anything the Bible doesn’t say, but we’re missing a big part of the picture the Bible paints. Yes, the Father sent the Son, but more to the point God sent God.

Though there are three persons to the Trinity, there is only one God. God created us, God gave us a moral law, we rebelled against God, and God rescued us.

Not only that, we can reasonably insert the Son into that and say Christ created us, we rebelled against Christ, and Christ rescued us.

The plan of salvation was conceived by the Godhead and enacted by the Godhead. We shouldn’t let the Father/Son language obscure that fact.

God Won’t Forgive (But Wants You To)
A second argument against substitutionary atonement sees God as inconsistent. Here’s an example:
“The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you - Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.” (via Caffeinated Thoughts)
The point they miss here is that God can ask us to forgive people because we have been forgiven. (And, of course, it falls prey to sloppy Christology mentioned above.)

From God’s perspective, a law has been broken, a debt has to be paid, and God is willing to pay that debt. If you have been forgiven because He has paid your debt, you’d better be willing to do the same for someone else.

Not Just Substitutionary Atonement
I don’t think that substitutionary atonement is the only facet of the jewel that is the cross of Christ. I honestly think we’ll be mining the wonders of that event until Christ returns (and possibly even after). But we should never be afraid to tell the story that God in His grace paid our debt.

Why the Cross 1
Why the Cross 2
Emerging Heretics?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mercy vs Sacrifice

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). These words give us an important glimpse into the heart of God. Jesus even quoted them on two occasions. Unfortunately, some have used them as “proof” that substitutionary atonement is false, that this notion is “just what Christ resisted.”

Our first rule in biblical interpretation is “Never read a Bible verse.” We have to look at the verse in its context. In this case, you only have to read the rest of the verse to start getting the idea:

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

In the parallelism of this verse, we see mercy equated to the acknowledgment of God. Look farther out and we see God complain that their love is as fleeting as “the morning mist” (v4), they have broken the covenant (v7), and they have become wicked and defiled (v8ff).

Like in Isaiah 58, God is complaining that the people of Israel perform religious rituals without concerning themselves with those matters that are important to God – loving people and obeying God in every matter.

This is how Jesus applied this passage in Matthew 12. The Pharisees were more concerned with rules than with feeding the hungry, and Jesus showed them that even God’s law could bend to show kindness to people.

Jesus was not telling us to ignore God’s laws but warning us that sacrifices, tithes, and fasting are no substitute for “the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23).

If in everything we do we seek to love God and love people we’re going to be ok because “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

2 Bad Arguments Against Substitutionary Atonement
All for Good?
Will God Give You What You Desire?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It’s All About Me

The core of sin can be summed up in one little phrase: It’s all about me.

Lying boils down to the desire to get what I want or keep myself out of trouble. Stealing comes from the notion that what I want is more important than the fact that it doesn’t belong to me. Sexual sin is all about what makes me feel good. The first sin happened because they wanted something – to be like God – and the pattern has continued ever since.

Sin reigned until one finally came along who didn’t say “it’s all about me” but “Father, glorify your name.” Now through the blood of Christ, the Spirit gives us the power to do the same.

Unfortunately, it’s a power we sometimes forget we have, and it’s one we have to choose to use, but growing in Christ requires learning to do just that. The cross requires that we die daily to ourselves, to the idea that it’s all about me.

God, help us. And glorify your name.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thoughts on Election Day

Now Hear This
The game’s been played, the scores are being tallied, and the season’s over. For the next 18 months we are all officially on the same team (not that that means we won't still disagree).

May I suggest that rather than spending today taking in the exit polls and endless speculation, we take the day off from politics.

Tomorrow morning we’ll all turn on the tv and find out who won, who lost, and who’s suing. Today, take a deep breath, vote, and marvel at the miracle of American democracy where the most powerful man in the world walks away from the job without the spilling of a drop of blood to be replaced by the one we have chosen.

Today is a good day to spend praying for our country and our leaders and contemplating the sovereignty of God. Actually, every day is a good day for that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Can I Be Christian and Conservative?

Can Christians be conservatives? It sounds like a silly question to some, but to others it's very serious. Aren't we supposed to be concerned about the poor and the sick? Shouldn't we oppose war and the death penalty? Isn't that the way Christians are supposed to vote?

Or could it be that there are good, biblical, sound reasons that Christian conservatives take the stances they do?

That's the question I seek to answer in the following articles. Hopefully soon I'll be able to turn it all into one pdf, but for now, please share this with anyone you know who is dealing with these questions.

On Christians and Politics
Politics, Religion, and Brotherly Love
Voting for Candidates You Disagree With

The Bible and the Ballot Box
Helping the Poor Biblically
The Bible and Capital Punishment
Moral Bankruptcy of the Modified Pro-Choice Position
The Christian Voter and War
What's a Deal Breaker?

Why Do They Do That?
The Case for Limited Government
Why Keep Taxes Low? - Tax Policy
Conservatives and the Least of These - Poverty
Physician Heal Thyself - Health Care Reform
Loving Your Neighbor 7000 Miles Away - Global Poverty
Judicial Philosophy

Answering Objections
Do Nothing Republicans? - The Conservative Record on Abortion

The Problem of Parties

Hearts and Minds

Other articles related to political issues:
Immigration Reform and Christianity
Christianity and the Environment: 7 Principles
7 Principles and 1 Hot Topic
Another Problem with Naturalism
Faith and Politics: Economy vs Morality
Capital Punishment Reform