Archive for May, 2010

Free in Christ

Here’s a section from this morning’s sermon on John 8: and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Christ, having paid our penalty on the cross, has swung open the door of our prison cell, has loosed our chains, has released us from the power of sin, has freed us from the authority of the devil, and has lead us triumphantly out of the prison of sin and death into a new domain of freedom and righteousness in Christ. In light of this truth, why do we travel back up that familiar pathway, stained with the stench of our former sins, all the way back to the prison cell where we once wallowed in servitude without view of the light of Christ? Why do we swing the door back open and return once again to our former chains of bondage, preferring the shackles of sin and the brutal master that compels us to do that which destroys us, over the freedom that the Savior has purchased for us? We’ve been freed from the power of sin by the Son Himself; the rest of our Christian existence is learning to live as a freedman.

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“I Don’t Have Peace About It”

A friend and I were recently voicing our frustration with the pseudo-spiritual mysticism that masquerades as I just don’t have peace about it as it relates to our decision making as Christians. Just last week, I was given a copy of Biblical Manhood: Masculinity, Leadership, and Decision-Making by Stuart Scott. In a chapter on biblical decision making, he identifies “inner peace” as a means of subjectivity that should be avoided or handled with caution. He writes,

This is interpreting a sense of peace or an unrest in your soul as direction from God. This is also a feeling. We are commanded to be at peace with God (salvation). We are also commanded to be at peace in our mind (free from anxiety). We are even commanded to be at peace with one another (as much as depends on us). If we are truly not at peace, we are in sin. If someone is using the phrase ‘I don’t have peace about it’ to mean they have a gut feeling that they shouldn’t do something or to mean that God is letting them know that they shouldn’t do something — this is subjective and totally unreliable. If they mean, ‘I feel troubled about making that choice because I am thinking about certain things that concern me’ or ‘because I don’t have enough information to make a wise (or holy) decision,’ this is a matter of wisdom and discernment which involves factual data, God’s wisdom, and the thinking process — not just feelings.

It would be better to say, ‘I can’t be sure that this is a wise decision yet.’ This is exactly the case with Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:13. He had ‘no rest in his spirit’ because he did not think it was wise to go to Troas without Titus. Paul was not saying that his unrest was a message from God. Nine times out of ten a person is ‘not at peace’ about a decision because of something they are thinking and they mistakenly attribute their feelings to a mystical message from God. If their feeling is not from their thinking, it could be from any number of physical or personal reasons (desires). Whether or not a person has inner peace is never used for decision-making in the Bible…Brother, sometimes what you feel worst about is the most right thing to do.

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Helpful Reading Tools

My wife and I were out at dinner the other night when I saw a mechanic on his evening break, reading a book while using one of these, a Page Boy Adjustable Bookholder (although don’t follow that link for actual purchase; they run for only $5.99 at Barnes & Noble). Since that time, I’ve purchased a Page Boy as well as a Fellowes Wire Study Stand (which go for about $7.99). These excellent tools hold books open and upright on the surface of your desk, allowing you to type, jot notes, etc. while simultaneously keeping your place in the book.

Page Boy:

  • Pro’s: Great for bigger books, moderate ease of page turning, cheaper of the two.
  • Con’s: Works terribly for paper backs, metallic bottom does not slide smoothly on the surface of a desk.

Study Stand:

  • Pro’s: Works for bigger books as well as paper backs, rubber tips allow ease of sliding on a desk, slightly more durable build.
  • Con’s: Eliminates usage of some larger textbooks, slightly more expensive.

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Review of Collision: Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson

This week my wife and I spent an evening watching Collision, a documentary on the debates between Christopher Hitchens (one of the proponents of the new atheism) and Douglas Wilson (a Reformed pastor). We were quite enthralled with the dialogue and found the whole experience stretching and strengthening for the most part. While we enjoyed Wilson’s general defense of the existence of God, we had a few issues with both the manner and content of his defense of the Christian Worldview specifically.

He succeeded greatly at demonstrating the incoherence of Hitchens’ assertion that Christianity is bad for the world. Hitchens argues that since the Old Testament contains the slaying of the Amalekites, the biblical worldview is severely compromised and therefore not good for the world. Wilson counters that the Darwinian model, which Hitchens espouses, contains no logical catalyst for caring about the Amelekites at all. After all, if they are the weakest, their survival is of no concern anyway. Wilson explained  fairly cogently that in order to invoke a frame of reference which calls for moral objectivity and the judgment of what is good or bad, Hitchens has to borrow from the Theistic worldview!

His eschatological view, i.e. preterism (the view that most or all of the Bible’s eschatological promises were fulfilled in the 1st century) was painfully obvious at numerous instances. Further, he was quite willing to use some language that I would call inappropriate, especially for a Christian.

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One Minute Apologist

This is a great web/video resource that is causing me to scratch my head and wonder exactly how I’ve missed it all along. It’s called the One Minute Apologist.  Bobby Conway’s ministry is conservative theologically and simple in vision; they simply want to help every day Christians simply but clearly defend the truths of Christianity. The One Minute Apologist has a YouTube channel as well, which presents brief answers to some difficult questions that you may encounter from friends, family, or coworkers.

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On Meaning and Application

I strongly believe that preaching should not stop at the level of what this text means, but that it must proceed to the realm of real-life application. However, there is a caution that must accompany this conviction. We must always communicate a clear “line of demarcation” between the meaning of a Biblical text and applications which flow from that same text. I think there’s some great reasons for this.*

  • Our applications may not accurately flow from the text; the Scriptures are inspired, not my applications of it. When my applications are communicated as being on the same level as meaning, and when those applications turn out to be wrong, then the authority of the Scriptures is unintentionally done damage in my local church. People can say “no,” “I’m not sure about that,” or “let me think about it” to my applications without necessarily saying “no” to God’s Word. I should not communicate otherwise.
  • If our people get the idea that a given application of the text is actually the meaning of the text, that portion of Scripture is potentially limited from saying all that it really says. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:19 (your body is the temple…) does not mean, “Do not do drugs.” That is an application. When the text is reduced to “Do not do drugs,” the actual meaning of the text is eclipsed by a seemingly solid application. Good intentions, bad result.
  • When personal application from a text becomes the meaning of that same text, soul liberty is potentially truncated. In other words, if “Abstain from all appearance of evil” now means “Do not go to the movie theater under any circumstances because someone may see you and think the worst..” we are not only guilty of bad exegesis, but we have also unintentionally armed people to do some real damage in our local church. Now, in light of what was wrongly communicated, those who go to the theater are not simply applying the Scriptures differently in their personal lives, they are actually disobeying the Scriptures themselves!
  • Confusing the text and the application potentially undermines the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination by placing the onus on the pastor to do the Spirit’s Job.
  • Confusing the text and the application provides a potential cop-out for our people. They may lose their own sense of responsibility for applying scripture by relying almost exclusively on the pastor or teacher to do so for them.

*Thanks to Jeremy Horneck for his collaboration on this list.

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Theology of Suffering

The following is a devotional essay written by Austin Hoffman, a friend of mine, who is preparing for church-planting ministry. Austin has an open invitation to post his writings here any time.

When trials come, why do we always feel as if God was taken by surprise? Why do we think of God as an idle being until trouble comes our way? Why do we believe that God will spring into action to save us from all trouble as if He was caught off guard by it? We think of God this way because we want Him to be concerned with our comfort. However, we know that God is not taken by surprise by any amount of suffering that we go through.

We suppress this knowledge because we are uncomfortable with the notion that God does not care about our mere comfort; He is committed to something far greater. God is committed to saving souls. God is committed to sanctifying His saints. God is committed to shaping and molding worshippers for His own glory. But this unseen purpose of God scares us. We don’t want to believe that God permits and even orchestrates the gut-wrenching agonies that we feel, for a purpose we may never see. We want God to be constantly committed to our pleasure. He is not. However, He always works in a transcendent and sovereign way to bring about good to the praise of His own glory (Rom 8:28; Gen 50:20; 1 Pet 1:7).

This can be a reassuring thought, for we know that God’s unseen will transcends our own constant comfort. So if God must break me in order to save another, so be it. I will not be broken without cause. If God must cause me to stagger and fall beneath an unbearable load, so be it. I will not bear the burden alone. If God allows or even orchestrates a heart-scarring pain into my life, simply to make me more Christ-like, so be it. Whatever unspeakable agony I bear, I can bear it through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).

Why do we revolt against the sovereignty of God when troubles come our way? Is it because we are far too consumed with our own comfort or pleasure? A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted. A faith that is tested through unspeakable agony is more precious that gold refined through fire (1 Pet 1:7). God desires that we trust in Him completely, rely on Him fully, and seek no other refuge or confidence than the Son of God. He desires that the life we live be lived completely by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2:20). When we face our fiery trial, we ought to rejoice in the Lord that He is sovereignly working towards His perfect will. God’s will cannot ever be improved upon; it is perfect.

So when our hearts are scarred so deeply that words cannot describe the pain we feel, we ought to be driven to worship. We ought to praise God because He is committed to a greater goal and purpose than our mere comfort. We ought to rejoice, because we are in the center of God’s sovereign purpose. We finally ought to lean on Christ, and lean hard – we do not bear our burden alone. Run to Christ. Find in Him the most secure refuge. Commit your future to the keeper and guardian of your soul.

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