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Donald Whitney: 10 Questions

57967-ask-questions-quotes

Good questions make us think. Creating good questions that strike at the heart of a matter are difficult to write. Dr. Donald Whitney has a very helpful post on 10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year. Pondering these questions can help one reflect on one’s present spiritual condition and press on into growth for the new year.

 

 

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Athanasius: On the Incarnation

An old post:

Reading through St. Athanasius’ book, On the Incarnation, is a great help during Advent and Christmas just as reading through Martin Hengel’s Crucifixion is helpful for Lent. For Athanasius, the study of theology always leads to worship and wonder – or maybe it is better said that for him theology and worship are intertwined.  His words are in bold italics below.

Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word will also be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.  For it is a fact that the more unbelievers pour scorn on Him, so much the more does He make His Godhead evident (page 25).

A placard in Olympia, WA, placed next to Christmas displays at the capitol: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds.”

That is nothing compared to the current, horrible persecution of Christians in various countries.

Does not our handling and reaction to suffering, persecution, foolishness of the world, etc. reveal who we really are, just as Christ’s sufferings reveal his nature?  Is not the world’s hatred of us believers an affirmation of our faithfulness to Christ?  The Son could only reveal himself in fullness by taking human form – there needed to be something physical, touchable, to abuse, so that the world could see how a perfect man reacts and so that man’s sinful hatred of God could be even further exposed.  In a similar fashion, our handling of suffering reveals our level of sanctification – which is a measure of how like Christ we are.

He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men (page 26).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).  The Word took on flesh due to a mission, and that mission was to save souls.  That mission originated in and was motivated by the love of God the Father for the world.  Yes, God takes sin seriously – his Son had to take on a body so that he could die in our place – but love drives the whole enterprise. To ignore such love is utter foolishness and great affront to God.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning.  There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same same Word Who made it in the beginning (page 26).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made…. And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14, ESV).

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
(Joy to the World, verse 4).

The Son, the Word, was co-creator in the beginning.  And he is the One through whom the New Creation comes, both in our experience presently of regeneration and in the new heavens and new earth at his second coming.  No act of creation, whether physical or spiritual is apart from the Word. The creator takes on what He created in the beginning, humanity, to redeem humankind.  He uses the vessel, humanity, though which sin entered the world, to redeem it. Talk about reversals! Amazing! Athanasius points out that before the Fall, Adam and Eve were in fellowship with the Word, but with the Fall left its life-giving embrace.  God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word (page 38). So the Word came to man to give life again to all who would respond. The responders are embraced. With just a few sentences, Athanasius connects the beginning of the Bible to its end, showing the Word to be central figure in all of history.

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Why Is Christmas on December 25?

 

Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? Two conflicting positions:

One: To “commandeer the date [that pagans used for their festivals] and introduce a new festival.” Is this a bad thing? No, “for the church has generally viewed efforts to reshape culture—including holidays—positively.”  So says Elesha Coffman.

Two: “Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to  create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.” So says William J. Tighe.

So who is correct, if either?

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Classic Catechism at General Conference on Wednesday

On Wednesday, July 15, at 7 a.m. I will give a seminar on the Classic Catechism at General Conference in room Boca IV. Come hear about its origin and join in brainstorming about using it for discipleship and more. 

 

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Joshua Duggar and Mistakes vs. Sins

Yesterday it came out that Joshua Duggar, eldest son of the “19 Kids and Counting” show, now married with three of his own kids, molested several of his sisters when he was fifteen years old. The media loves dirt and scandal, especially on conservative Christians, so the story has spread like wildfire. Both Joshua, his parents, and his wife have issued statements, in which responsibility was taken for Joshua’s actions. Always helpful, Russell Moore has offered a good reflection on the issue.

But what Jim Bob and said in their statement interests me in particular on a biblical/theological level.  I certainly do not want to study their statement as though it was written by a professional theologian, but the choice of a particular word has caught my eye. It did because I hear it out of the mouths of Christians a lot. That word is “mistake.” Here is short bit of what they wrote:

“Back 12 years ago our family went through one of the most difficult times of our lives. When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes and we were shocked.”

Certainly they had to be careful with their statement and they do have experience with wording things for media consumption. But that word “mistake” is the wrong word to use, at least in terms of a biblical worldview. It is the wrong word because Joshua did not make mistakes but committed sins. The difference is significant. When one makes a mistake one errs. Think of your checkbook register. You make a mistake when you make a math error or forget to record a check and thus screw up the balance in your register. You intended to get the balance correct but you accidentally got it wrong. But a sin is different, properly understood. A sin is intentional. You know an action is wrong and you do it anyway. That is a sin.

Joshua Duggar had to know that molesting his sisters was a sin. He had been raised in a Christian family with conservative values and boundaries. He also has a God-given conscience. So to call what he did a “mistake” is woefully inaccurate.

Too often I hear Christian people refer to the sins of their children or their own as “mistakes.” I suspect that it often is an attempt to minimize what was done. But sometimes it is simply the influence of the world on the thinking of Christians. Our grasp on a truly biblical worldview is so weak at times that we do not stand apart in our speech.

A Christian’s grasp of a biblical worldview and deliberate employment of it takes work. But it is worth it because without it we often do not look at things in the way God has revealed that we should. And when we do not look at things the way God intends us to, we cannot live for him as fully as we should. God deserves our best.

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Bad Theology at Funerals

When good, biblical theology is pushed aside or is simply unknown, the void is not left unfilled. Other thinking takes its place, and the results are often sentimental drivel or some vaguely Christian sounding thought that is profoundly misleading. Human beings are inherently religious, and thus it is normal for us to look outside ourselves for some kind of meaning and way to make sense of life.

One occasion that such thinking is expressed at is the funeral. We have heard comments like this about the deceased: “God needed another angel in heaven,” or that “God could not wait to have” the deceased. These comments reflect the erroneous ideas that human beings are transformed into angels when they die, and that God is impatient. The former does not understand that humans and angels are different beings altogether, and the latter is an unintentional assault on the character of God.

One sad example that shows up at funerals is a saying that is written on some type of stone material  and often delivered by a local florist. The idea is that grieving family can take that stone and set it up in their yard somewhere after the funeral. The saying goes like this:  tears and heaven 2

If tears could build a stairway

and memories a lane,

I’d walk right up to heaven

and bring you back home again.

Why is this so sad, terrible, and unbiblical? As an expression of grief and love for the deceased, it is truly heartfelt. But the theology is horrific. Heaven is where believers go at death, the place where God is, and this is often called the “Intermediate State.” Believers go be “with Christ” (Phil. 2:3, 2 Cor. 5:8) if they die before His return, and there they await the coming resurrection in blissful joy. So, if that is the case, why in the world would any of us want to yank a  Christian from heaven and bring him or her back here to this world that is full of sin and suffering, away from the immediate presence of the Savior?!? One would have to be tremendously selfish to want to remove a person out of a blissful existence just to have their company. Instead, at the death of a true believer we should grieve over the temporary separation and consequent pain from the believer by death, but we should NOT feel bad for the deceased believer – he or she is now doing better than we are! We should rejoice that he or she is now with the Lord and make sure that eternity with Jesus is our destination as well. Our wish should not be a reunion in this life, but our hope should be in a reunion at Christ’s second coming: “and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Don’t exchange biblical truth for sentimental drivel or bad theology. Learn the Scriptures and expel unbiblical thinking that you may know the true hope of the Lord.

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Despising the Handiwork of God: the Weather

100_2280A few years ago I was reviewing the results of an exam with a specialist physician I hd been seeing. He was showing me pictures that he had taken of my guts to which I responded, “Yuk.” He quickly shifted his gaze from the pictures to me and said, “Hey – this the handiwork of God.” Then he went back to studying the pictures.
It is a sad thing when pastor has to be reminded to marvel at God’s creation. What we can observe about our bodies and the world around us is an expression of our creator, who is the ultimate designer, artist, and wise Lord of all.
But what about the weather? Here in Indiana and Illinois we get many gray sky days year round and snow and cold in the winter. And each time there is new snow or another run of cold weather, many people freely despise the weather. From folks I talk to at the gym, to people at church, to people in the store, I hear people vent their hatred for cold and snow. What I am talking about is not voicing the annoyance that we all have over cold and snow as it frustrates our driving and gives us the shivers when we go out for the mail. Rather, what I am talking about is a real venting of hatred and anger at the weather. Until recently, the reaction in my mind has always been, “So move! If you don’t like the mid-west, leave!” But since my visit with the doctor and his pictures of my guts, I am more inclined to think, “This cold and snow is the handiwork of God. He created it. He sovereignly chose it for today. Yes, it is cold and sometimes inconveniences us, but God chose it for us, and despising what God does is to question his design, disparage his art, reject his wisdom, and rebel against his lordship over creation.”

Consider the following verses about snow (all from the ESV).

God controls it:
Psalm 14:15-18: “He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. 16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. 17 He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? 18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.”

Job 3:6: “For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.”
Psalm 147:7-8: “Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, 8 fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!”
It symbolizes purity and holiness:
Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Daniel 7:9: “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.”
Revelation 1:14: “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire,”

It reminds us of the unfailing effectiveness of God’s Word:
Isaiah 55:10-11: “‘For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.'”

Let us all be careful about how we speak of the weather that God chooses to give. Despising his choices is to call into question his judgement, love, authority. We all have our preferences for weather, but holding nasty attitudes about weather we do not like is a horrible witness.

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