Saturday, December 26, 2009

Applying The Gospel In Our Praying

I’ve heard from more than one source a quote that goes something like this: every struggle in the life of a believer comes from a failure to understand or apply the gospel. I’ve meditated on this idea continually ever since and I really do believe it’s true. It’s so easy to take the gospel for granted and begin to assume it—privately and in our Christian circles (which is absurd considering that this is what we'll be singing of for eternity, Revelation 5:9-10). But I have discovered that I don’t know the gospel well enough and I don’t apply it to my life as much as I ought to. So I am daily trying to fight the inclination of my heart to assume the gospel and take it for granted. Instead, I’m seeking to grow in my understanding of the gospel and to apply it more fully in every area of my life.

One place it might be easy for us to assume the gospel or take it for granted is in praying. Prayer, in a sense, must assume the gospel since we can’t draw near to God and God won’t listen to us apart from the person and work of our Great High Priest Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). But how much are we really applying the gospel in our praying if, in the act of drawing near, we bring to God various petitions and even thanksgivings without ever making explicit reference to the gospel? Yes, we are applying it but not as much as we could be.

So how can we apply the gospel more fully in our praying? A couple of weeks ago as I began trying to memorize one of David’s psalms, I encountered what, to me, seemed like really strange logic:
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
Psalms 25:18
The thought process here doesn’t immediately make sense. David is obviously suffering. And He is praying to God in the midst of his suffering. If you only gave me the first half of this verse and told me to finish it, my logic would go something like this:

Consider my affliction and my trouble…and deliver me

Or: Consider my affliction and my trouble…and take them away.

This is typically how I am inclined to pray when I am bringing my requests to God. But that’s not how David prays. This prayer of David reveals his strange, yet biblically inspired logic.

In short, David lets his affliction and his trouble cause him to remember that he is a sinner (and to remind God as well!). In a sense, many of David’s sufferings came as a result of his adultery and murder. So part of the reason he is suffering is because he has sinned. But David experienced suffering even before the incident with Bathsheba (as Saul pursued him). So his suffering isn’t all a consequence of his sinning. His suffering is the consequence of living in a fallen world. So I think David reasons something like this: I can’t escape the suffering of a world that is under the curse of sin, but I can escape the wrath of God and experience the care of God in and through my affliction—as His loving Fatherly discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11)—if I have God’s forgiveness. So what I really need is God’s forgiveness. Yes, I want deliverance and I will pray for that too (Psalm 25:19-22), but the greatest need I have, my first priority, is to seek God’s forgiveness and to know that I am forgiven.

So it is with us. Our greatest need is, our first priority should be, to seek God’s forgiveness and to know that we are forgiven. The source of David’s forgiveness and the source of our forgiveness is the same: the cross of Christ (Romans 3:23-26). David (unknowingly) looked forward to the cross. We look back to the cross. And we have so much more light than David! We have so much more reason to be certain of our forgiveness! But we must explicitly remind ourselves of our need to be forgiven, the certainty of our forgiveness, and the source of our forgiveness.

I encountered the same strange, biblical logic when within the past few days I began trying to memorize another one of David’s psalms:
For evils have encompassed me beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
Psalm 40:12
Again, David is suffering and seeking deliverance. And he prays for deliverance (Psalm 40:13-17). But he doesn’t do so without first reminding himself (and apparently he sees the need to remind God again) of how sinful he is. David knows how sinful his heart is. And that’s what causes him to pray the way he does. Perhaps the reason we don’t pray the way David does is because we aren’t in touch with the sin in our hearts the way David—the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)—so intimately was throughout his entire life (Psalm 51:5). And the only remedy for the sinfulness of our hearts is the righteousness of Christ that we are covered with and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit that we are filled with through the gospel. If we are mindful of how great our sinfulness is as we pray, we will inevitably rejoice in that great gospel as we pray.

The evidence that not only David but those who live in closest fellowship with God pray this way can be seen in an example from the life of Moses:
I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.
Numbers 11:14-15
Once again, strange, strange logic. Kill me if I find favor in your sight? Who prays like that? Only a man whose terminal sin disease is so painful to him that to kill him would put him out of his sinful misery. Moses seeks deliverance from the burden that is placed upon him by the people of Israel, whose demand for meat to eat is crushing him. But he knows that the main problem in his affliction isn’t with God or even the people. The main problem is him—his own wretchedly sinful heart. And the gospel, again, is the only thing that will strengthen, cheer, or deliver the heart burdened by sin.

In fact, I have found that sometimes the pain of an affliction in my life is in direct correlation to the power of a sin in my life. For example, if I covet the praise of man, then the pain is overwhelming when others put me down or don’t give me the compliments I desire. So if the power of that sin in my life would be broken, which the gospel alone can do (Romans 1:16), then the pain of the affliction would be gone. Therefore, another way I should apply the gospel in my praying is by praying for God to use the power of the gospel to break the power of the sin in my life that causes the affliction and not by primarily praying for the affliction to be removed.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think God is displeased with our praying if we pray to Him without making explicit reference to the gospel or if we pray primarily for our afflictions to be removed. But the reason I think it’s important to consider how much we are applying the gospel in our praying is because:

1) It brings more glory to God as we proclaim and tell of His wondrous deeds in the gospel through our praying both privately and publicly (Psalm 40:5).

2) It often attacks the root of our affliction rather than merely the fruit.

3) It will strengthen our faith and the faith of those who hear us as we bring to explicit remembrance through our praying that which is of first importance: the gospel of grace in which we stand.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Simon Peter], then to the twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:1-5
So, for God’s glory and for our joy, may our prayers be filled with strange but biblical logic as we seek to bring the gospel more fully to bear on our lives through our praying.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Mindset Of Christmas

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean." When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John 13:3-17
A meditation on Paul's description of the incarnation in Philippians 2:5-11 through the illustrative lens of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples in John 13:3-17. The harmony of these two passages is simply breathtaking. And it's overwhelming in its implications. To imitate Jesus is completely impossible in our own capacities. And yet the mindset of Christmas, or the mindset of Christ in the incarnation, is nothing more than the mindset of a missionary, which is what we are all called to be as followers of Jesus, whether we are in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, or going to the ends of the earth.

Call to imitation (a command!):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5)…
1) Entitlement
...who, though he was in the form of God (Philippians 2:6a)...
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (John 13:3)…
2) Abandonment
…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6b)...
...rose from supper (John 13:4a)…
3) Willing Choice
…but made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7a, emphasis added)…
He laid aside his outer garments (John 13:4b, emphasis added)…
4) Embracing of a new identity
…taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7b,c)…
…and taking a towel, tied it around his waist… (John 13:4c)…
5) Humiliation
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8)…
…Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:5)…
6) Exaltation
…Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
…When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them… (John 13:12)
Call to imitation (a command!):
Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:12-17).
Thank You, Jesus, for becoming the first ever missionary 2,000 years ago when You relocated to the earth. Enable us by Your grace, and by the power of Your Holy Spirit, to have and live out of Your missionary mindset in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. For Your great name I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Goodness And Glory Of God In The Suffering Of His People

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers wand all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens.
Exodus 1:1-11
Why did this happen to the Israelites?
Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!…Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And the LORD made his people very fruitful and made them stronger than their foes. He turned their hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.
Psalm 105:1-2,23-25
God did it. God multiplied the number of Israelites. And God made the Egyptians to hate them. These were God’s deeds. These were God’s wondrous works!
Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
Genesis 15:13-14
The ultimate cause of the suffering of the Israelites wasn’t the evil of the Egyptians but the goodness of God. Through their suffering, God was fulfilling His loving purpose for them according to His gracious promise to Abraham planned from eternity past.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…
Genesis 50:20

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28
Why does God do things this way?

So that, overflowing with the joy of admiration for the only One who in infinite wisdom thinks and acts nothing like us, we would sing praises to Him and tell of all His wondrous works:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! ... the LORD made his people very fruitful and made them stronger than their foes. He turned their hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants … Then he brought out Israel with silver and gold, and there was none among his tribes who stumbled …. For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. And he gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples' toil, that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 105:1-2, 24-25, 37, 42-45
In other words, for His greatest glory and our deepest joy.

Monday, December 07, 2009

He's Enough

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake...
Philippians 1:29

Friday, December 04, 2009

Glory Road: Black, Reformed, But Foremost Christian

[W]e are first and last children of God. It means that when you see one of us, you see a black man. But when you hear one of us, you hear a Christian man. It means that Christ is our Lord. It means we are daily seeking to understand our African-American [or African] experience in light of the lordship of Christ. It means that we are nothing apart from the grace of God, and that God has created us who we are--to live during the times in which we live that we might show forth his mercies, while he is daily conforming us to the image of his dear Son. It means that our service--yes, our worship and allegiance--is not first to the black cause, though noble it may be at times. It is not first to the Reformed cause, though grand it may appear to be. It means that our service is to Christ first and last, now and at all times. If we can serve Christ while sincerely serving an African-American [or African] cause, then let us do it. If we can serve Christ while promoting a Reformed agenda, then by all means let us do so. But if Christ is in conflict with the black clause or the Reformed agenda at any point or at any time, then may we have the courage to say, "Away with the blackness and away with Reformedness--give us Jesus and Jesus only." It means that we must understand that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life that we might vote, but Christ gave his life that we might live. Frederick Douglas gave his life that we might be free from slavery, but Christ gave his life that we might be set free from slavery to sin and death.

We are black; there is no mistaking that. We are Reformed, and make no mistake about that. But these two distinctions have relevance only insofar as they are understood in light of the fact that we are Christian. C.H. Spurgeon said, "I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what my creed is, I reply, 'It is Jesus Christ.'"

We are proud to be Americans. We are equally proud to be African-Americans. We even more thank God that our theology is the biblically grounded, historically consistent theology of the Reformation. But if you ask us our faith, if you ask us our creed, if you want the sum of our lives: It is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ.

We pray that it would be yours as well.

Soli Deo Gloria!

--Anthony J. Carter (editor), Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity,p. 174-175
Heavenly Father, I thank You again for each of these dear brothers. For how different their stories are and yet how similar. For how I can see something of my own journey on this road of glory in each of their own. Thank You for the tears. Thank You for the laughter. Above all, thank You that in infinite and undeserved mercy You have opened the eyes of our hearts through many pains and sorrows to see the infinitely brightly shining light of the gospel of the glory of the majestic and sovereign God in the mesmerizingly beautiful face of Jesus Christ. For the sake of Your name, I pray that You would bring many more to walk the glory road, American, African-American, African, from all peoples, far as the curse is found, unto the ends of the earth. For Jesus' beautiful name I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Are You Emergent?

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Acts 20:28-30

[An overseer/elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Titus 1:9
You might be an emergent Christian if: you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash's Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evening, and always use a Mac; if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N.T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention [Brian] McLaren, [Doug] Pagitt, [Rob] Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D.A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem; if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don't like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warning, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren't sure it can be found; if you've ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn't count); if you loath words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one's business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living in the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word "story" in all your propositions about postmodernism--if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian.

...though our approach is critical, don't assume we dislike all things emergent. The long sentence describes Ted and me in some ways too...We too are wary of marketing gimmicks, how-to sermons, watered-down megachurches, and the effects of modernism. We fully recognize that the Bible has been abused and no one understands it exhaustively. We agree that there is more to Christianity than doctrinal orthodoxy. We welcome the emergent critique of reductionistic methods of "becoming Christian" (sign a card, raise your hand, say a prayer, etc.). We are glad for the emergent correction reminding us that heaven is not a cloud up above for disembodied souls in the sky, but the re-creation of the entire cosmos. We further agree that we ought to be concerned with bringing heaven to earth, not just getting ourselves to heaven. In short, we affrim a number of the emergent diagnoses. It's their prescribed remedies that trouble us most.

--Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), p.20-23.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Lamb's Little Lambs

It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
Revelation 14:4
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee, 

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee. 

He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee

--William Blake
HT: Desiring God Blog

Friday, November 27, 2009

Faith Wages War Against Self-Sufficiency

The LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'
Judges 7:2
All nations strengthen themselves by increasing their armories, their defense budget, and their international alliances. But Israel's ideal king limits these well-known sources of national strength (Deut. 17:16-20).

True faith works. As the stories of Rahab and Achan illustrate, faithful obedience is the prerequisite for success in [salvation history]. As instructed, Rahab gathers her household into her house and hangs the scarlet cord from the window, but Achan dishonors the Warrior by keeping some plunder for himself. The moral Governor of the universe will not place greedy people at the head of the nations. He blesses the Israelites only as they sanctify the earth in keeping with the covenant obligations he imposes on them.

I AM aims through holy war not only to judge his enemies, but to train his king and his people to fight the fight of faith (Judg. 3:1-4). David proves to be that ideal king as his psalms teach. When David counts his troops, God disciplines his son, and David repents in his song for the dedication of Solomon's temple (Ps. 30).

Deuteronomy calls for restraint in the king's accumulation of power, a principle shared by Agur who is well aware that he cannot handle much wealth without denying I AM as the true Reality (Prov. 30:7-9). The Bible does not specify how much is too much, because it is a matter of the heart--the inner witness of conscience--not of legislated percentages. Living by faith, however, is an alien notion in the world--almost as bizarre as running circles around the walls of Jericho.

In the economy of God's kingdom, one must be weak to be strong (2 Cor. 4; 12:10). Israel misses seeing the Messiah because they are looking in the wrong direction. They expect a Messiah that will rival Rome in pomp and power, not a crucified Messiah hanging on a Roman cross. They want human wealth and power for their security and significance, not the heavenly wealth and power that come from martyrdom and that alone endures and ultimately triumphs over evil.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 397.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Ultimate Thanksgiving

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...
Romans 1:21 (emphasis added)

John Piper writes that "missions exist because worship doesn't." On this Thanksgiving day, I think it would be appropriate to say that missions exist because true thanksgiving doesn't. Missions exists so that more and more peoples might say with the psalmist: Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all of his benefits (Psalm 103:1,2)...
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Psalm 67:4,5

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pastor As Prophet-Shepherd

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel...
Galatians 1:6 little children, for who I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
Galatians 4:19
A ministry that is all prophetic all the time will wear down a congregation. It will eventually defeat a congregation. A ministry that is all sympathetic all the time will coddle the congregation straight into the deadly pastures of unwarranted self-assurance and the false pastures of self-security. A pastor who would be a theologian knows when and how to be both convicting prophet and comforting good shepherd.

--Stephen J. Nichols, "Proclaiming the Image: Theology and Preaching," Gheens Lectures at Southern Seminary
HT: PureChurch

Friday, November 20, 2009

Then God Went Up From Him

God appeared to Jacob...and blessed him...Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him.
Genesis 35:9, 13
One moment Jacob is in direct communion with the living God. And then the next moment God is gone. No, in a sense God is not gone because God is with Jacob wherever he goes (Genesis 35:3). But there is a sense in which God is gone. After meeting with Jacob to speak directly to him, God goes up from that place.

I wonder what Jacob must have felt like in that moment directly after God went up from that place. Lonely? Wishing that more of his life was lived consumed by majesty in the direct presence of God? That's how I would feel.

In fact, that's how I often feel.

Some mornings my communion with God makes me feel as though I'm standing in front of a burning bush. And yet on many mornings--most mornings--it feels like even though God had been right there in my room with me the day before, today God has gone up from me in this very place where he had spoken with me.

And often times it's discouraging. I wonder if Jacob felt discouraged in that moment. I wonder if he said or wanted to say, "LORD, where are you going? Wait LORD! Come back!"

Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. We don't know. The Scriptures don't tell us what he felt or said after God went up from him. But they tell us what he did: he set up a memorial in that location so that he would always remember that God really did appear to him in that place and he worshipped God by making an offering.

And that's how we must live our lives. We must, as it were, set up pillars to remember the God who has so powerfully manifested Himself to us because otherwise we forget. Our sinful nature will tomorrow tempt us to forget today's grace. And we must offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, this our daily act of worship, regardless of how we feel.

Because the reality of the life of Jacob is that those moments where God appeared to him were few and far between. Jacob lived most of his life with God having gone up from him, in the seemingly mundane lifestyle of "trust and obey"... day...after day...after day.

It was only into that life of discipline and faithfulness, continually clinging to the promises of God, that God was pleased in infinite grace to more manifestly reveal Himself to Jacob in what for him must have been cherished moments of grandeur and majesty. But Jacob couldn't initiate those especially holy moments no matter what he did. It was for God to initiate where and when He would appear to Jacob.

This greatly encourages me. When it seems like God has gone up from me, this is not abnormal. This is the norm. And, learning from Jacob, I can take heart, set up my pillars, and offer my worship to the Lord, knowing that even though He may have gone up from this place, He always answers me and really is with me wherever I go (Genesis 35:3). I do so eagerly looking forward to those days when God in His mercy will once again more manifestly, intimately, and powerfully reveal Himself to me and always ultimately anticipating that glorious day when God will fully and finally appear, never again to go up from us in this place.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One Way We Are Conformed To The Image Of Jesus

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:29
Romans 8:29-30 paints God's purposes in redemption from beginning to end on the canvas of history. In eternity past, God set His love upon a people [foreknew them] because He wanted them to fulfill a purpose, to have a particular destiny [predestined them]. This purpose is clear. In all that God does in the lives of the people He has chosen from eternity past, He is working toward the ultimate goal of conforming them into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is God's ultimate reason for everything He brings into the lives of His people.

So, as those who are sons and daughters of God, nothing should be more important to us than that we be conformed to the image of Jesus. God's ultimate goal for our lives should be our ultimate goal for our lives.

Believing this should cause us to pray for God to conform us to the image of Jesus. And it should cause us to think about how it is that we ourselves pursue, or work out (Philippians 2:12, 13), being conformed to the image of Jesus.

What does it mean to be conformed to the image of Jesus? One way we might answer this question is to say that to be perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus is to be a perfect mirror reflection of who Jesus is in the way He thinks, speaks, and lives.
He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God... He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell...
Colossians 1:15,18, 19 (emphasis added)
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. And we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Our destiny is to be a perfect image of the perfect image of God.

How is it that Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God? Because all the fullness of God dwells in Him. Everything that God is, Jesus also is, fully and perfectly. All of the attributes of God are found in Jesus.

And when Jesus rose from the dead, He became the firstborn of a new race that would resemble Him and make Him to be preeminent in all things because everything about His people would point to Him. Through the parallel ideas of Jesus being the firstborn, it's clear that Romans 8:29 is Paul's way of saying to the the Romans the exact same thing he says to the Colossians in Colossians 1:18b. God's ultimate goal in the lives of His people is to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ so that in all things Jesus Christ will be preeminent. In other words, God's ultimate goal in the lives of His people is the glory of His name through Jesus Christ.

If God's ultimate goal for our lives is to make us a perfect reflection of Jesus, and all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, then another way to say it is that God's ultimate goal for our lives is for all the fullness of God to dwell in us just like it dwells in Jesus.

So now the question becomes, how do I become filled with more and more of the fullness of God? Paul tells us through one of his prayers exactly how it is that we come to be filled with the fullness of God:
I bow my knees before the Father...that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19 (emphasis added)
This prayer is packed with rich petition. But there are a couple of things that are particularly relevant. Paul's ultimate goal in this prayer is that the people he is praying for be filled with all the fullness of God, which essentially means that they be conformed to the image of Jesus. There is a line of progression in his prayer that builds up to this goal of being conformed to the image of Jesus and something in particular that he directly connects to our being conformed to the image of Jesus: our knowledge of God's love for us. Paul prays that the Ephesians grow in their understanding and experiential grasp of God's love for them because there is a direct connection between their experiential knowledge of God's love for them and their being filled with all the fullness of God (same phrase used to describe Jesus in Colossians 1:19!). The more they are growing in experiencing God's love for them, the more they will grow in being filled with the fullness of God. Or, to say it another way, we can only grow in being conformed to the image of Christ to the extent that we are growing in our experience of God's love for us.

Jesus knew that His father loved him (John 5:20, John 17:24). He knew this perfectly. That's why He is filled with all the fullness of God. He's not like us. So often when we say we know that God loves us we are speaking about something we know intellectually rather than something we know experientially. Jesus experientially knew that His father loved Him and He knew this perfectly. None of us experientially knows Gods' love for us perfectly and I would argue that it is this failure to know God's love for us perfectly that is the root of all of our sin. If we had perfect experiential knowledge of Gods' love for us, we wouldn't sin. That's why Paul and Jesus (John 17:26) pray for us to have perfect experiential knowledge of God's love for us.

Yes, as God's children, for most of us the knowledge that God loves us is more than just intellectual. It is intensely experiential. But no matter how high our experiential knowledge of God's love for us is, God's love for us is still higher. No matter how long, God's love is still longer. No matter how deep, God's love is still deeper. No matter how broad, God's love is still broader.

And so we must labor to know ourselves loved by God more than we currently know. Oh, how He loves us! And as we grow in our experiential knowledge of God's love for us, we will at the same time be becoming more and more conformed to the image of Jesus. This is one way (and perhaps the main way) we grow in being conformed to the image of Jesus: by growing in our grasp of God's love for us. We must continually grow in our grasp of God's love for us because we will never grasp it fully enough in this life.

But one day, we will know that love perfectly, we will be filled with the fullness of God, we will be conformed to the image of Christ, and we will no longer sin. In other words, we'll be glorified.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Romans 8:29-30
So please grant us, Father, according to the riches of Your glory to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in our inner beings, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith--that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God, that we might be conformed more and more into the image of Your Son, who perfectly knew from eternity past Your love for Him that cannot even be described by dimensions because it transcends every dimension. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Christian Husband's Painful Pleasure

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...
Ephesians 5:25 (emphasis added)
The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the church—read on—and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25).

This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least lovable. For the church has no beauty but what the bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.

The chrism [anointing, consecration] of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man's marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of the bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence.

As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labors to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.

--C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p.105-106.
Jesus...for the joy [pleasure] that was set before him endured the cross [pain].
Hebrews 12:2

Out of the anguish of his soul [pain] he shall see and be satisfied [pleasure].
Isaiah 53:11
Like Jesus, the sweetness of a husband's pleasure in marriage emerges from the depths of the pain he endures for the sake of his bride. It doesn't get weightier than that.

HT: Desiring God Blog

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Doctrines Of Grace

It was these beliefs which were the source of his zeal.

The doctrines of our election, and free justification in Christ Jesus are daily more and more pressed upon my heart. They fill my soul with holy fire and afford me great confidence in God my Saviour.

I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this. All others leave freewill in man and make him, in part at least, a Saviour to himself. My soul, come not thou near the secret of those who teach such things...I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Oh, the excellency of the doctrine of election and of the saints' final perseverance! I am persuaded, till a man comes to believe and feel these important truths, he cannot come out of himself, but when convinced of these, and assured of their application to his own heart, he then walks by faith indeed!...Love, not fear, constrains him to obedience.

To Whitefield the doctrines of grace were not separate tenets, to be accepted or rejected one by one, but a series of truths so joined together as to compose a great system of theology.


Though he sometimes used the word Calvinism, he did not give great place to it. He made much more of the fact that the views he held were those he had discovered in the Bible and he more frequently referred to them as the doctrines of grace.

Such strong and solemn convictions must perforce have their part in Whitfield's public ministry. As long as he had held to these doctrines with lesser understanding of their importance, the policy of 'Silence on both sides,' which he had suggested for John Wesley [who abhorred the doctrines of grace] and himself, seemed advisable, but now that he saw them to be so essential to the whole Christian revelation, he had no choice but to preach them. 'Henceforth, I hope I shall speak boldly and plainly,' he wrote, 'and not fail to declare the whole counsel of God.' This might entail conflict with some of his dearest friends, but he was quick to assert that his part therein would be only on the basis of presenting the Scriptures: 'Election, free grace, free justification...I intend to exalt and contend for more and more; not with carnal weapons -- that be far from me -- but with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God! No sword like that!'

--Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Biography: Volume 1, p.407, 409
No sword like that. Amen, brother.

Friday, November 13, 2009

God Cares About Your Body

After Rob and I began discussing the healing of the soul and the healing of the body last week (see comments), Piper weighs in:

So whose side does he take? Rob's? Mine? Both?

(Not that there are any sides as long as we trust Jesus =P )

(And not that his opinion is the right one...)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Than Sufficient...

But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" He said, "But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.
Exodus 3:11, 12 (emphasis added)
Significantly, God does not answer Moses' surface question by reassuring him of his educational background, leadership potential, or other talents that might qualify him for this job. To Moses' question, "Who am I?" God responds with, "I will be with you." The promise of divine presence is more than sufficient for all challenges and obstacles. Moses' qualifications are irrelevant--God will make it happen. The promise of divine presence signifies the transfer of the holy, consuming fire from the bush to Moses and his people.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 364.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Election and Embracing Suffering

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
John 15:18, 19 (emphasis added)
In addition to trusting and worshiping the covenant-keeping God, the beneficiaries have to embrace the darkness attendant to their election. In [the case of Old Testament Israel they had] to embrace the hardness of Pharaoh's heart just as the people of God later embraced the hardness of the Roman Empire and of the Holy Roman Empire, even to death, and as the Mennonites embraced the hardness of Stalin. Christ warns, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). The chosen have to embrace that truth in order to participate in God's salvific work.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 359.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Lord, Please Have Mercy On My People...

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.
Exodus 2:11

By faith, Moses when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter [an Egyptian], choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God [his people, the Hebrews] than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
Hebrews 11:24-27

HT: PureChurch

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Urban Church Planting: All Things For Him

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:15-20

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What Would Jesus Do?

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Mark 1:14, 15

I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.
Luke 4:43
Within the past couple of months, I just finished reading When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor...And Yourself. Here are a couple of the main takeaways I got from the book:
  • When we talk about poverty alleviation, what do we mean? Getting medical care to those who are in need? Feeding the hungry? Finding housing for the homeless? This book taught me that my definition of poverty alleviation isn't clear or comprehensive enough. Out of all the things I learned from this book, nothing was more significant for me than coming away with a biblically comprehensive definition of poverty alleviation. This definition is the foundation upon which this book builds and the banner that flies over everything else that the authors write so everything else depends on it. In my own words, to alleviate poverty is to enable men and women to glorify God and enjoy Him forever by working with them to restore in them (and ourselves) four relationships that were destroyed by the Fall: relationship with God, relationship with self, relationship with creation, and relationship with others. Failing to take into account any of these relationships as we attempt to alleviate poverty will inevitably lead to us hurting rather than helping the poor...and ourselves.
  • All attempts in poverty alleviation essentially fall into one of three categories: relief, rehabilitation, or development. One of the biggest problems with the way we do poverty alleviation in the West is that the majority of our attempts to alleviate poverty fall into the category of relief. The reason this is a problem is because the majority of the poverty alleviation that the world needs is not relief. Relief should be immediate, temporary, and seldom, usually in response to an emergency or crisis. That means that the majority of our poverty alleviation should be rehabilitation or development. And even when we do engage in poverty alleviation by relief, we should do so developmentally.
  • Avoid paternalism. In poverty alleviation, never, never, never do something for others that they can do for themselves because in so doing we treat them as inferior and hinder them from fully embracing and living in the reality that they are created in the image of God. In so doing, we damage rather than restore their their relationship with God, relationship with self, and relationship with us.
  • In poverty alleviation, don't begin by asking people what they need. This implies that they are broken and we are not and that we have what they need to fix them, creating that inferiority/superiority dynamic that prevents them from being able to fully walk in being those who are created in the image of God. Instead of beginning by asking what they don't have, begin by asking what they do have to give in order for them to recognize they dignity, abilities, and gifts that they have to offer as men and women who are created in the image of God.
  • In all poverty alleviation, the focus is people and processes, not products!
  • In poverty alleviation, don't create blueprints to apply to people but take the time to develop processes suitable for them in their contexts and based on their knowledge, though this will definitely take longer than just developing a generalized blueprint for poverty relief that applies to all the poor. This requires time and relationship investment, which is really hard work!
This book is phenomenal. I was challenged page after page as I realized how little I've thought through what it means to love and care for the poor in a holistic sense. And even though this book is written specifically to address poverty alleviation, the theological foundations the authors lay--in defining poverty alleviation as restoring the four key relationships that were broken by the Fall--gave me a deeper grasp of the gospel and has been transforming the way I see the world in general and not just as I think about poverty alleviation. The reality, as the authors state, is that, according to this definition of poverty alleviation, every person in the world is poor and in need of poverty alleviation, though in different ways and in differing degrees as relating to each of the four relationships. Therefore, we don't do poverty alleviation to others or for others, but rather we engage in poverty alleviation alongside with others.

That being said, I believe this book would be tremendously beneficial for anyone to read. It's thoroughly biblical, experiential, and balanced. In a day where the church so often finds itself split with some Christians focused on the here and now of the kingdom and other Christians focused on the yet to come of the kingdom, this book will challenge both sides to pursue the both/and of the gospel of the kingdom in its fullness. Jesus came for nothing less and He calls us to nothing less:
The mission of Jesus was and is to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, to say to one and all, "I am the King of kings and Lord of lords, and I am using My power to fix everything that sin has ruined"...

[Some seek] the King without the kingdom [those focused on the afterlife]...[Others seek] the kingdom without the King [those focused on the here and now]. The church needs a Christ-centered, fully-orbed, kingdom perspective to answer the question: "What would Jesus do?"

--Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor...And Yourself, p.32, 38

Friday, October 30, 2009

Image And Likeness

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."
Genesis 1:26
A human being is not said to have or to bear the image of God, such as God's immaterial essence, but each is said to be in his or her entirety be the image of God.


"In the image of God" implies that adam (male and female) is theomorphic (i.e., having the form of God), but since God is spirit, not flesh and blood, "in the image of God" entails that the human species in his or her entire being faithfully and adequately represents God. To emphasize the distance and difference between God and mortals, "according to his likeness" is added.

We must employ two metaphorical mirrors to understand this imaging of God. On the one hand, when we look at ourselves in a mirror, we see the image of God. Anthony Hoekema puts it this way: "Man[kind] as ... created was to mirror God and to represent God." On the other hand, since we are only God's likeness and not identical to him, we need to validate our analogies between ourselves and God by considering his reflection in Scripture to see to what extent the images comport with one another...

First, the human physical form reflects God. "Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see?" (Ps. 94:9). When we look into a mirror, we see a certain reflection of God: eyes to see, ears to hear, a mouth to communicate. The biblical mirror of God validates this inference by such anthropomorphisms (i.e., having the form of adam) as "the eyes of God" and "the ears of God." Yet God is spirit, not corporeal, and so in his substance differs from us. In sum, our human structure faithfully and adequately shows that God, though spirit, sees the needy and hears the cry of the suffering.


"Likeness" distinguishes the image from its Creator or begetter (cf. Gen. 5:3), underscores the notion that the image is only a faithful and adequate representation of God, and safeguards against any pagan notion that equates the image as deity and worthy of worship. In short, contrary to New Age Thinking, human beings are not gods and are not to be confounded with God in heaven. "Likeness"defines and limits the meaning of [image] (Paul Humbert, James Barr), and one must look into the mirror of Scripture to determine those boundaries.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p.215-219

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Genesis 1 and 2: Who and Why, NOT How and When

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 2:4
Genesis 1 and 2...tell us who without giving many answers about how. Some today may think this is a defect; but in the long perspective of history our present-day "scientific" preoccupation with how rather than who looks very odd in itself. Rather than criticize these chapters for not feeding our secular interest, we should take from them a needed rebuke for our perverse passion for knowing Nature without regard for what matters most; namely, knowing Nature's creator.

The message of these two chapters is: "You have seen the sea? the sky? sun, moon, and stars? You have watched the birds and the fish? You have observed the landscape, the vegetation, the animals, the insects, all the big things and little things together? You have marveled at the wonderful complexity of human beings, with all their powers and skills, and the deep feelings of fascination, attraction and affection that men and women arouse in each other? Fantastic, isn't it? Well now, meet the one who is behind it all!" As if to say: now that you have enjoyed these works of art, you must shake hands with the artist; since you were thrilled by the music, we will introduce you to the composer. It was to show us the Creator rather than the creation and to teach us knowledge of God rather than physical science, that Genesis 1 and 2, along with celebrations as Psalm 104 and Job 38-41, were written.

--J.I. Packer as quoted by Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 194-195.

Friday, October 23, 2009

God's Kingdom: A Divinely Conducted Orchestra

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion [reign] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."... And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion [as kings and queens] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
Genesis 1:26, 28 (emphasis added)

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my tresured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Exodus 19:5,6 (emphasis added)
In brief, the Primary History [Genesis - 2 Kings] presents God as creating a people, citizens for the kingdom. To them he give his law -- that is, their constitution that reflects their distinctive values and beliefs. He provides them with a land, a special place for their sustenance, rest, and security. And he gifts them with a king, a leader who will enforce the constitution and protect the land from invasion. But this kingdom does not prosper. Israel rebels against God's law, and her kings have regard for themselves, not for God. As punishment for their sin, God banishes the people from their land and drives them and their king into exile. But the story does not end there. The people of God are left with a future hope -- one day, someone will restore the kingdom.

The Garden of Eden story typifies [foreshadows] this conspicuous metanarrative of the Primary History...In that type of the greater antitype, God also creates a people (Adam and Eve), gives them a garden as the land to sustain and refresh them, hands down the law not to eat the forbidden fruit, and makes them kings to keep his garden. But they rebel against God and disobey him, and as a result, they are banished from the garden, exiled from their home. Yet in the punishment comes a promise and a hope; a "seed of the woman" will triumph over the Serpent on humanity's behalf.

These narratives are related by concepts, not by key terms such as law, covenant, exile, and king, and there are no citations linking the two accounts. This lack of explicit connection should keep an exegete from being dogmatic. But even with this in mind, one cannot help but be struck by the placement and the conceptual similarities in the two narratives. In musical terms, the Adam and Eve narrative is the opening violin solo. Through a single instrument, the virtuoso deftly touches upon the musical refrains, previewing what is ahead. With the narrative of the full Primary History, Israel joins the soloist as the full orchestra. With the full force of a multitude of strings, the dark tones of the woodwinds, the shrill of the brass, the beat of the percussion instruments, and the clash of the cymbals, the harmonies, the undertones, and the dissonances expound and interpret the major refrains previewed by the solo. In other words, the opening scene is the introduction of the fugal subject, which will be put in counterpoint with other melodies and fully restated.

The Adam and Eve narrative not only foreshadows Israel's history, but also creates the world in which the narrative of Israel takes place. Because of Adam and Eve, original sin mars humanity. Because of Adam and Eve, humankind lives banished from its true home and is afflicted with conflict, sickness, and death. Thus, the characters in the narrative of Israel live with consequences effected by their parents. Furthermore, not only does the Adam and Eve narrative create the world for the second narrative, it also implies its outcome. If Adam and Eve, created in the image of God, do not keep the single command in a paradise, how can the Israelites, marred by original sin, expect to keep a host of commandments in the moral cesspool of Canaan? The answer should be obvious: "Apart from reliance upon a trustworthy God, they cannot!" The enterprise of creating the physical kingdom of Israel is doomed from the beginning because people, apart from reliance upon God's empowering, cannot keep covenant with God. In other words, the Old Testament is a masterpiece of indirection.

Thus, the two stories overlap. As the Old Testament concludes, judgment of sin and exile become the signature dilemma for both narratives, and both stories await resolution. Who will crush the serpent, the embodiment of Satan, and restore humanity to its true home, the Garden of Eden? Who will cleanse the heart of God's people and restore the kingdom of Israel? The "way of Judaism" piled on more laws; "the Way of the New Testament" provides the empowering presence of God in Jesus Christ and his Spirit.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p.150-151.
And [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
Matthew 4:23 (emphasis added)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9 (emphasis added)

[In the new heaven and new earth] They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign [as kings and queens] forever and ever.
Revelation 22:5 (emphasis added)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Greatest Commendation

To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born.
Genesis 10:21
It is very notable that Moses, when he doth come to Shem, he mentions him with this commendation: Gen. 10.21, ‘These were born of Shem, the father of all the children of Eber;’ that is, the father of the Hebrews which worship God and acknowledge God. This is his prerogative above all his brethren, above Japheth, and above Ham, his brethren, that he was the father of the children of Eber. Eber was not his immediate son, but one that was to come of his loins, of whom the people of God were to come. Shem was the father of many mighty nations: the father of the Syrians, Lydians, Persians, Armenians, the Elamites, all these came from Shem; but because these were ignorant of the true God, and did not worship the true God, therefore he doth not take his title from them, but is called ‘the father of the children of Eber.’ This was his great prerogative, that Abraham came from him [Genesis 11: 14-16, 26], and all Isreal, the people whom God had chosen to himself, among whom he would record his name, and in the midst of whom he would be worshipped while all the rest of the world lay in darkness. One would have thought Moses when he commended Shem would have commended him otherwise, and have taken notice of his long life. This is that Shem that lived 600 years, the last of the long-lived patriarchs; or this is that Shem that saw both worlds, before the flood and after; this was one of the heirs of Noah; this was one of the three great princes of the world; this was one that obtained Asia for his inheritance, the paradise of the earth; a land that was rich in jewels, gold, silver, spices of all kinds, fell to his lot and share. One would have thought Moses would have reckoned the mighty kings and princes which had descended from his loins, the great nations—Assyrians, Persians, &c. Nations that were famous for power, art, greatness of their empire and monarchy, all these came of Shem. No; Moses puts by all this; here is his commendation, Shem, ‘the father of the children of Eber,’ of a contemptible nation, that was shut within the precincts of a little spot of land; but ‘to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the promises, Rom. 9.4. This was the honour of Shem. Oh, then, how should we strive to continue religion in our families, that so we may be the fathers of the children of the covenant, the fathers of the race of those that owned and acknowledged God. This is a great honour, and God expects it from you: Gen. 18.19, ‘I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his household, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do judgment and justice.’ This is that which God expects from you, that you should teach them the worship of the Lord, and charge them to worship the true God, that when you are dead and gone, there may be some of your line and race to call upon God.

--Thomas Manton, The Works of Thomas Manton, Volume 14, p. 385-386.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Transcendent and Immanent

In the beginning, God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1 (emphasis added)

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God [Yahweh Elohim] made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 2:4 (emphasis added)

Genesis 1 and 2 may indeed reflect different sources at the preliterary level. The change of divine names from "God" [Elohim] in the first account (Gen. 1:1-2:3) to "I AM God" [Yahweh Elohim] in the second (Gen. 2:4-4:26) is a textbook example of showing different sources. The change of names, however, is not a product of a redactor who is sloppy or one who felt bound by tradition not to tamper with the text. Instead, he allowed the discontinuity to remain, because in chapter 1, [Elohim] refers to God's transcendence, while in chapters 2 and 3 [Yahweh] ("He Is") speaks to God's immanence. The different names of God express different aspects of his divine attributes. In fact, the author put both names together [in chapter 2], [Yahweh Elohim], to give the message that the God [Elohim] who made the majestic cosmos [Genesis 1] is the same God [Yahweh] who initiates and rules over human history [Genesis 2]. This juxtaposition asserts that history is under God's sovereign command and that history will not end in a cul-de-sac or return to chaos. The same God who gave order to creation is the same God who will give order in history. The discontinuity between the two divine names, though perhaps attesting to different sources, significantly elevates both God and human kind.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p.116.
God's Word. Inspired? Inerrant? Infallible? No question.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Where Faith Is Lacking, Sin Is Waiting (Part 2)

This is the second of a two part post. You can read the first here.
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Genesis 5:21-24
If you read through the account of all the descendants of Adam in Genesis 5, there is a pattern that emerges. During each generation, the life of one of Adam’s descendants is described. And the narrator breaks his life into two distinct periods: the period before he had any children and the period after he had his first child. And then the narrator tells us that he died.

But there’s one exception to the pattern. One of Adam’s descendants is a man named Enoch. And the description of his life differs from the description of the rest of Adam’s descendants described in this chapter? What makes it different? The most obvious answer to this question is that Enoch didn’t die. For every other man, it tells us that he lived X number of years and then he died. But the Scriptures tell us that Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:24).

But that’s not the only difference between the description of Enoch’s life and the description of Adam’s other descendants. There’s another subtle yet, in my opinion, huge difference between the description of Enoch’s life and all the rest. For every man, including Enoch, the verb that’s used to describe the years before he had children is that he lived. For every man, except Enoch, that same verb is used to describe the years after he had his first child. He lived. But not Enoch. That second period isn’t primarily defined by the fact that he lived. That verb that’s used to describe this period of his life is that he walked with God. I had always known that Enoch walked with God. But I had never seen this contrast before until today. Those years for Enoch weren’t mainly about living. They were about walking with God. To me, there’s a big difference. And it’s absolutely huge.

This would probably require an entirely separate post (perhaps in the future), but I’m always a little bothered when I hear talk about "loving life". Have you ever heard someone exhort you to “love life” or describe himself/herself as one who “loves life”? Now I believe with all my heart that life is a gift from God that we all are to be thankful for and I don’t want to belittle that. But I can’t think of anywhere in the Bible where we are exhorted to “love life”? In fact, I can think of many places in the New Testament where it is commanded or implied that we do the very opposite: lose our life (Mark 8:35), hate our life (Luke 14:26), love not our life (Revelation 12:11), not account our lives of any value (Acts 20:24). I accept that I don’t know my Bible well enough and stand to be corrected if I could be pointed to a counterexample. But the overwhelming thrust of the New Testament definitely calls us to the opposite of "loving life".

Why do I make this point? Because I think I will have a fundamentally different approach to everything if what I am concerned with above all is walking with God as opposed to simply living. When I think of the former, and what Enoch’s life must have been like, the following line from the Sovereign Grace song “O Great God” comes to mind:
You are worthy to be praised with my every thought and deed.
That’s a challenging line to sing. Do I really believe it? Every thought? Every deed? I think this was the banner that flew over Enoch’s life. Walking with God meant his every thought and deed, waking or sleeping, was wholly consumed with God so that it didn’t matter whether he was healthy or sick, strong or weak, young or old, rich or poor, gain or loss, happy or sad, or even alive. He was walking with God.

The author of Hebrews says that he did this by faith. Faith in what? Faith in the reality that God is more real than anything he could touch, see, taste, hear, or smell in life. And this faith pleased God (Hebrews 11:5). Enoch did well. And he was accepted by God. Because of his faith. Just like Abel. And unlike Cain.

Cain was mastered by sin because he didn’t rule over sin. Enoch was not mastered but instead he ruled over sin. How did he do it? By walking with God. Every waking thought and deed, he was actively consumed with God and in so doing it left no opportunity for him to passively walk into a dark room where sin would shut and lock the door behind him in order to eat his lunch.
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.
Genesis 4:7
Enoch is evidence that there is biblical merit to the saying: “The greatest defense is a good offense.” If sin will not rule over us, but instead we will rule over it, we must go hard after God. This is the essence of faith and sheds light on Paul’s conclusion to chapter 14 of Romans.
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Romans 14:23
I close with words from the Sovereign Grace song, “O Great God” as my concluding prayer:
O great God of highest heaven
Occupy my lowly heart
Own it all and reign supreme
Conquer every rebel power
Let no vice or sin remain
That resists Your holy war
You have loved and purchased me
Make me yours forever more

Help me now to live a life
That’s dependent on Your grace
Keep my heart and guard my soul
From the evils that I face
You are worthy to be praised
With my every thought and deed
O great God of highest heaven
Glorify Your name through me
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where Faith Is Lacking, Sin Is Waiting (Part 1)

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you [to rule over you], but you must rule over it.”
Genesis 4:6, 7
If Cain did well, he would have been accepted by God. If he didn’t do well, he would be mastered by sin. Reading the rest of Genesis 4 after God presents Cain with these two options makes it clear whether or not he did well. He didn’t. How do we know? He was mastered by sin. Sin, as it were, absolutely ate his lunch. It made him into a murderer and a liar. Cain didn’t do well.

But what exactly does it mean that Cain didn’t do well? Or what would it have looked like for Cain to do well? What does God mean when He says to Cain, “If you do well….”? How do I do well for a holy God? How can anything I do make me acceptable to God?

The answer is found in the book of Hebrews where, in chapter 11, the author tells us that Abel’s gifts were accepted by God (Hebrews 11:4). Just like Cain, Abel would be accepted if he did well. And the text shows us that even though Cain wasn’t accepted, Abel was. Why? In the words of Genesis 4, Abel did well. Cain didn’t.

So what was the difference between Cain and Abel? How come Abel did well but Cain didn’t? In the words of Hebrews 11, the answer is that Abel had faith and Cain didn’t. To do well, in the sense that God is speaking of in Genesis 4, isn’t based primarily on the quality of an action like we’re used to thinking. To do well, in this sense, is to demonstrate faith. When we act in faith, even though it may be small faith or weak faith, we are doing well in the eyes of God and we are always acceptable to Him.

To not do well, on the other hand, is no small thing as seen in how the story of Cain plays out. Why? Because God says that if we don’t do well, sin is waiting to pounce on us and devour us.
And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you [to rule over you], but you must rule over it.
Genesis 4:7
As I’ve been meditating on this verse for the past day, this phrase keeps coming into my mind: Where faith is lacking, sin is waiting [to kill me].

That scares me. I read what happened to Cain. I don’t want that to happen to me. So this is an extremely important warning for me to heed. It makes temporary lapses of faith to become a bigger deal than I might usually consider them to be because it shows that even the smallest lapse of faith makes us vulnerable to the ruthless enemy of sin. If I fail to act out of faith, I’m basically walking into a room where sin is waiting to close the door and turn off the lights behind me, an arena where the outcome is certain and I will not emerge victorious.

So how do we keep from ending up in that arena where I will always be defeated? How do I heed this warning? God’s answer: I must rule over sin. Instead of passively walking into a place where sin will rule over me, I must actively seek to rule over sin, moment by moment, day by day.

How do I rule over sin? By faith. In the next post, we’ll get help from someone in the next chapter of Genesis who, I think, shows us how to rule over sin by faith.