Joy to the Whole World

My favorite Christmas Carol this year is Joy to the World.  (Please note that this changes each year.)  

This hymn stands out to me as the one song we sing at Christmas time that has a missions focus and a focus on end-times.  The lyrics, with commentary inserted, are below.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

This is a straight-forward request for us to receive the living Christ into our hearts by faith and repentance.  Every heart should prepare Him room.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns.
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods,
Rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

This is a call to unashamed praise to the Christ, the Savior of the world.

No more let sin and sorrow 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.

How far will the reign of Christ extend? As far as the curse is found.  That is everywhere on the earth.  Truly Christ will call to Himself people from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.  There will come a day when people from every family in the world will turn to Christ and His lordship and enter His spiritual kingdom.  Then He will come again to fully establish His rule on the earth.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove,
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders and wonders of his love.

At this point in the hymn, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever.  Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  The destiny of all people will prove either the righteousness of God in judgement or the wondrous love of God in His mercy.

At once a wonderful hymn of praise, a testimony of the reach of the gospel to all nations, and a somber warning that God will show His righteousness in judgement; this hymn is a wonderful testimony.  


He Has Spoken, Part 3

This is part three of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by The Colson Center.  This post discusses the second presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.  This lecture is titled “Being Biblical: How We Miss the Point of Scripture.”

John Stonestreet comments that we often hear misconceptions about the Bible’s authority, what the Bible is.  Two of these misconceptions could be called ‘the Bible as a rulebook’ or ‘the Bible as a collection of inspirational nuggets.’  But these misconceptions do not explain the Bible’s non-inspirational portions, which Stonestreet calls “scary."  Some describe the Bible as God’s love-letter to His people, but even that relatively accurate description does not account for the descriptions of God’s wrath and the stories of how that works out in history.  The Bible is also often seen as a book that tells stories about heroes of the faith, but these heroes are often flawed.  God is the hero, not men.

Stonestreet also describes miss-uses of the Bible.  We read books about the Bible instead of the Bible itself, or we “breaking it up into little fragments.”   This misses the context of the biblical passages.  We miss the over-arching story; and we also miss the immediate context, the verses that surround the section we segregate.

It reminds me of something Greg Koukl often says, “The basic unit of understanding of the Bible is the paragraph, not the sentence.”  We miss so many things with a fragmenting, atomistic approach (see here for a further explanation of atomism).  Stonestreet does a great job of explaining the controversy over atomism without using all the technical terms.

Stonestreet says, “The Bible doesn’t claim to be one story among many, but the story.”  He then gives an overview of the story of redemption, from creation through the fall of man in Adam’s sin, to God’s dealing with the nation of Israel, to the incarnation of God in Jesus, to the recreation of the world at the end of time.  These over-arching themes should inform our interpretation of the Bible.  The story centers on Jesus, and our lives should as well.

The discussion between Stonestreet and Moore that accompanies this lecture is very practical.  Basic tools and methods of Bible interpretation are described.

Moore says that a large part of our approach to understanding the Bible is shaped by the churches we have attended and the culture we live in.  The culture we live in is uncompromisingly relativistic, or dedicated to the idea that there is no absolute truth.  Moore mentions Francis Schaeffer’s phrase “true truth,” and applies it to the Bible as absolute truth that applies to all cultures, people, times and aspects of life.

Moore, aided by questions from Stonestreet, is very explicit.  The first question is not “What does this mean to me?”  The question is “What does this mean?”  What has the passage meant to Christians down through the ages?  He recommends a Study Bible, in a reliable translation, developed by a reputable panel of scholars that traces out the story line of the Bible.  A daily time of prayer and Bible study will help a person greatly.

The next lesson, “The Big Picture: Grasping the Purposes of Scripture,” will be our focus in the next article in this series.


A Christian View of Evil and Suffering, Part 3: A Christian View of Death and Dying

(This is an article written for our local paper.)

A Christian view of death and dying sounds very strange to the modern ear.  This is especially true because Christianity has long seen death as true and right in one sense and evil and wrong in another.  It is seen as not a part of God’s perfect will, but it is seen as a part of his decretive will.

God’s perfect will, or will of desire, is expressed in His commandments as contained in the Bible.  It does not contain sin or the consequences of sin.  God’s perfect will is what He would have, not what He would allow.

God’s decretive will contains those things which He does not desire in and of themselves, but those things which He allows.  This will includes all things that actually happen (Ephesians 1: 11).  God allows death in this sense, and He allows death for good reasons.

In Christianity, seen from God’s perfect will, death is an enemy to be destroyed, not an event to be accepted. Christ has “overcome death,” our enemy (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:16-20; 1 Pet. 1:3-5).  Death is wrong in the sense that death is not a part of God’s perfect will for the world. I know that intuitively.

Am I to adopt a worldview which would make death just an ordinary part of life? Should I just accept it as a part of the way the universe works?

No way! I want a worldview that accounts for the reality of death. I want it to be called evil, not just the absence of happiness that is a social construct of how people conceive that things should be. I want death to be wrong in some important sense. I need an absolute standard for right and wrong which calls death the enemy and triumphs over it (1 Cor. 15:25-28).

In Christianity, seen from the perspective of God’s will of decree, Christ’s resurrection guarantees the resurrection of those who place their faith in Him (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:12-23; Phil. 3:20-21).

Christ’s death has changed the very nature of death for those who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him (Ps. 49:7; John 5:24; Phil. 1:21-23; 1 Thess. 5:9-10).  Death is not a punishment for sin; it is a deliverance from sin. In death, Christ makes Christians into the kind of people they have longed to be: people who are perfect in what they think, speak, and do.

I will never forget about how this hope ‘played out’ in my life. My mother died in 2006.  I struggled to explain what had happened to my three-year-old daughter. My mother had been very sick for some time, and I had taken the chance to read several books and pamphlets on how to talk to children about death.

Many of those booklets told me to tell my daughter that death was final so that she would not be confused. In this theory, Granny Jones was not “asleep” or “living in heaven,” but gone forever. That is what death is to the world: final. 

When I stood over Mom’s casket with my daughter in my arms, I picked theology over psychology.  I said something like this: “Granny is dead, but one day she will live again. When Christ comes back, your Grandmother will come back to life because she placed her faith in Christ before she died. She will have a new body that is perfect and joy in her heart.”

I tried to help my daughter understand that Christians will come back to life after they die. In this, we have hope.

This is death transformed in the mystery of God’s decretive will.  


A Christian View of Evil and Suffering, Part 2: The Personal Problem of Evil

(This is an article written for our local paper.)

Our last article explored certain philosophical problems with the existence of evil.  I wanted to explore the personal side of evil’s presence it in this article.

Knowing that evil “is,” that it exists, is enough to convince me that there is a God. We cannot define evil without defining good. Evil is in some way good’s opposite, a falling short of the good. Knowing that evil “is” leads us relentlessly to a God who is the definition of the good. Without Him, we would not know evil when we see it.

Of course, Christianity does not stop there. It also offers hope for deliverance from evil. In the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ we find ultimate deliverance from “the last enemy,” death (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). In Christ, we find deliverance from the power of evil and the forces that bring it about (Colossians 2:8-15).

In my own life, many things have not worked out the way I had hoped. I have been quite disappointed at times. I have experienced childhood illness, watched my grandmother die of colon cancer when I was about 13, been through a divorce, endured a devastating car wreck that has left me permanently injured, watched my mother die a long and painful death, and wrestled with personal illness in adulthood. Above all, I have faced my own sins and failures with the pain that comes from regret and remorse.

Should my response to personal pain be hatred towards God? How could I possibly hate the only Being that anyone has ever conceptualized who could give meaning to all of this (Ephesians 1:3-10)? How could I hate the One who has a reason for all of the pain, even if He does not reveal that reason (Romans 8:28)?

But my suffering has not been particularly great compared to some, and for that I am thankful.

I have found the Christian faith to be a great comfort to me. The following quote from Steve Brown illustrates why.

In response to the problem of evil and pain, the Christian must always start with Jesus and the incarnation. Everything else is a dead end road. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). No other religious or philosophical system deals with the problem of pain in the unique way with which the Christian faith deals with it.

God enters time and space, and suffers with his people.

The infinite God says to us in our finiteness: If you could understand it, I would explain, but you can’t understand it. Instead, I will come to suffer and die, not to keep you from suffering but to suffer as you suffer … not to keep you from your loneliness but to be lonely as you are lonely … not to keep you from asking your questions, but to have mine, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus Christ has been there … and sometimes that is enough. He knows how much it hurts.

[“How Could He?” by Steve Brown, an article in “Key Life,” published by Key Life Network, Inc. Easter / Spring 2009, Volume 24, #1, p. 2-3, 8.]

God comes to earth as a man in the Person of Jesus Christ. He suffers with us and for us.

His pain brings forgiveness of sins to His people, a people bought with a price. A people purchased as His reward.

This reward for His suffering gives us hope that there will be reward for ours. He suffered for a purpose, and we can know there is a reason and purpose for our suffering, even when we can’t see it.

He rose from the grave as a victor over all of the sin and death and misery that infect the world. He won a battle with all of the dark forces that would torment us. He gave us hope for a glorious future, free from our sins and struggles.

Taking the message at face value, I can respect the God of the Christian faith.  He lays aside His privileged position to walk as one despised and rejected. He left behind His riches to become poor.  He enters the fray against the mightiest foes. He fights and wins. He brings hope and inspires strength.  He rescues us from the fate that we all so richly deserve, and gives us gratitude as a gift to help us persevere.  “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25). To whom indeed.


A Christian View of Evil and Suffering, Part 1: The Philosophical Problem of Evil

(This is an article written for our local paper.)

Much has been written about the philosophical problems the existence of evil poses for the Christian faith. The philosophical question is simple: how can God be both all-powerful and all-good while allowing evil and suffering?

I am not about to try to give a comprehensive explanation for how evil came to be. God created men with the ability to sin and the ability not to sin, but I cannot reason beyond that. I do not know the “how”; I just know the “is.” I know that evil exists. I know evil is present. I know evil is real.

What must exist in order for evil to be truly wrong? Does not the existence of evil itself 
require a standard of good?

Should I just accept evil as a part of the way the universe works? Should I accept a view of evil based on social convention, or the DNA encoded in my cells? These things vary from one person to the next, or one time to the next, but we do not find a definition of evil that changes greatly from person to person, place to place, or time to time. We always have a notion of the basic way things ought to be.

I want a worldview that accounts for the reality of evil and suffering. I want it to be called evil, not just the absence of happiness that is a social construct of mere men. I know that this standard of good and evil must be real.

Life makes no intuitive sense without that standard. The denial of it is impossible in view of the pain and suffering we see around us. I want cruelty to be profoundly wrong. For this, I need an absolute standard for what is right.

Christianity allows for this standard. It allows evil to be “evil.” Non-Christian views of the world do not allow for this. From Greg Bahnsen:

… it is crucial to the unbeliever's case against Christianity to be in a position to assert that there is evil in the world -- to point to something and have the right to evaluate it as an instance of evil … the problem of evil turns out to be, therefore, a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful -- which is precisely what his unbelieving worldview is unable to do.

Knowing that evil “is,” that it exists, is enough to convince me that there is a God. We cannot define evil without defining good. Evil is in some way good’s opposite, a falling short of the good. Knowing that evil “is” leads us relentlessly to a God who is the definition of the good. Without Him, we would not know evil when we see it.

Of course, Christianity does not stop there. It also offers hope for deliverance from evil. In the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ we find ultimate deliverance from “the last enemy,” death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). In Christ, we find deliverance from the power of evil and the forces that bring it about (Colossians 2:8-15). I have found Christ to be my life and my hope in the face of real, tangible evil I find all around me.

An article like this one can be poor comfort to the person who is actually suffering.  It is intended to be one answer to problems raised in philosophy.  Our next article will be more emotionally satisfying to the person who suffers.


He Has Spoken, Part 2

This is part two of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by The Colson Center.  This post discusses the first presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.

This lecture revolves around a simple set of sentences:

God is.  He exists.

God is Personal.

God has spoken, and therefore truth can be known.

And, God speaks in the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible.

These are very weighty statements that cannot be completely elaborated on and defended in a short lecture and discussion, but the curriculum does a nice job of emphasizing the importance of these propositions and pointing you to resources that back up these statements. 

The main resource cited is Stand to Reason, an apologetics ministry led by Greg Koukl.  This ministry has been of great help to me in my faith walk, and I am glad to see Stand to Reason endorsed by this curriculum.  As Stonestreet puts it in the lecture, “The work has been done.  The research has been put together.”  And www.str.org addresses the issues.

The Bible must be “the ground on which we stand,” according to Stonestreet.  He issues a clear call to us to let the Bible be our authority in matters of faith and life. 

Stonestreet strongly challenges us to live out our faith with the observation that, “Our claims don’t always match our behavior.”  The series will spur us on to love and good deeds, and I look forward to the rest of it. 
Each lecture in the five part series is accompanied by a discussion between John Stonestreet and T. M. Moore.  This discussion is particularly interesting. 

Moore points out that the Bible “has divine power that goes with it.”  This power helps to convince us of the truth and to transform our lives.  But there are problems to be avoided.
Stonestreet says that “We tend to take the Bible on our terms,” “taking what we want and leaving the rest.”  Contemporary religious thought tends to approach the Bible’s teachings as items in a buffet line that we can pick and choose from as we please, and I am glad to see this curriculum face that problem in religious thought head on. 

While I would have preferred to see the Reformation slogan of Sola Scriptura openly named and claimed, I do find the main tenants of that slogan affirmed in an easy to understand manner in one place of the curriculum or another.  This lecture affirms the veracity and authority of the Scriptures, and that goes a long way toward the full truth of Sola Scriptura

We will continue this series soon.


Missions: Some Guidance from the Canons of Dort

Christian mission work involves the sharing of the gospel in places where it has not been shared before, or at least where most people do not understand it.  We can get guidance for Christian Missions from what some would consider an unlikely source: The Canons of the Synod of Dort.

The Canons of Dort came out of the Synod of Dort, held from 1618-1619 in the Netherlands. Theologians wrote them in order to counter the teaching of James Arminius, and they outline the system of theology known by many today as the “five points of Calvinism.”  However, the Canons of Dort contain much more than five simple points (sometimes summarized by the acronym TULIP, or total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints).
Turning to the Canons:

This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world… Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. 

Christ’s death could pay for the sins of all people.  Therefore, when a missionary tells an unbeliever that he can go to heaven if he repents of his sins and has faith in Christ, he is making a real, sincere offer on God’s behalf.

This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

We trust that God can change even the most sin-hardened heart.  We share the good news of the kingdom everywhere we go, and we should make special trips to as many places as possible (Mathew 28:18-20).

All people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.

All of us would reject God’s command to repent and believe if God did not do a special work in our hearts (Ephesians 2:1-10). When we do not repent, we are responsible for our choice because we do exactly what we want to do. Since people are responsible, our love for others can be a true motivation for missions.

What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.

God’s saves the elect through the preaching of the word (Romans 10:14-15). The Holy Spirit does not act to give men new hearts without this preaching.  We must preach the gospel both in response to God’s command and because we desire others to be saved.

In this life believers cannot fully understand the way [God’s giving of a new heart] occurs… this divine grace of [God’s giving of a new heart] does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back.

God moves unbelievers to embrace the truth through the persuasion of His missionaries. God does not coerce the will from outside a person when He changes their heart. We cannot fully understand this, but it is true. 

[After God changes the heart] a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists.

God gives some people a new heart. Those people repent of their sins and believe the gospel. God can give a new heart to anyone He chooses, and we can therefore expect our missionary work to be successful, even in the most difficult of people and circumstances. 

The Calvinism expressed in the Canons of Dort is an encouragement to missions, and it always has been.  
We can learn much from the Canons about Christian missions.

(More information on The Canons of Dort and the Synod of Dort can be found here: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/canons-dordt/  and http://wscal.edu/about-wsc/welcome-to-wsc/doctrinal-standards/canons-of-dort/ .)


Christian Ministry: Or They Will Kill Us

The church has not faced this grave a situation in centuries. The newspapers scream at us: terrorism, mass murder, abortion, and many other ways that people made in God’s image are dehumanized and devalued. No person on this side of the Columbine High School shooting; the 9/11 attacks; the Virginia Tech. shooting, the Sandy Hook school attack; and Trevon Martin’s tragic death can deny this reality with intellectual integrity. We have rapidly become a society that can rightfully face the judgment of God for some of the values we hold most dear.

The way to get to the ‘heart of the matter’ is with Christian ministry efforts. We must reach the people who make up our society to ‘turn the tide.’  To tell one story from a few decades ago:

Early in the twentieth century, Baptist evangelists preached through rural Mississippi and Alabama with such effectiveness that moonshiners could no longer sell their whiskey: All their customers were getting converted! In desperation, the whiskey sellers hired two men to murder one of the leading Baptist preachers.

Pistols in their hands, the assassins waited in the dark outside a country church where their target was preaching. The evangelist spoke with burning intensity about heaven and hell, his voice ringing out into the night. When everyone had gone, he turned out the church lights and stepped outside. The killers approached him, pistols in hand.

But instead of shooting the evangelist, they handed him their guns. “We came here to kill you, but we couldn’t,” they said. “We heard your preaching and we believed it. We’re now on the same side.”

That story was told to me years ago by a pastor in Alabama. The Baptist evangelist was his grandfather. The story stayed with me. It is compelling drama and a parable of our position in an increasingly dangerous and demoralized world. Either we evangelize our generation with new power or its members are going to kill us. The bad guys are waiting for us ‘out there,’ and intend to do us in … We need an evangelism with enough strength to get the bad guys before they get us. (C. John Miller, Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1997, p. 1-2.)

We must reach those people who intend to harm us or they will kill us.  Evangelism and ministry are now a matter of life or death.

Our churches are not effectively reaching the culture outside our doors in our own neighborhoods. Our society and its values are bringing reproach on the gospel of Christ as missionaries try desperately to bring that message to the very part of the world that produces the most dangerous terrorist threats that we face. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts.

But how are we to do this? We are all in this together.  Once again, I turn to Miller:

…those of us who lead must modify the way we train believers to think of witnessing. I have in view the image of evangelism as fishing for the lost. Too often, we have only stressed the single fisherman with his pole. There is certainly a place for him, but there is a danger that the “lone angler” concept will place undue emphasis on witnessing skills, techniques, and special gifts, discouraging Christians who lack these distinctive features. It is clear that for the church in Acts, evangelism was something that involved everyone – and they were often involved together. We need to focus on the biblical metaphor of fishermen pulling together as a team on the same net. Our shared life as the company of Christ’s redeemed is at the very center of our gathering in of the lost. (Miller, p. 71.)

Miller also mentions “hospitality,” where “our material gifts and our gift of the gospel are accepted as we also offer ourselves to [non-Christians]” (Miller, p. 77).  It takes a church and all of its ministries, from hospitality to giving to the poor to evangelism, in order to reach our society. It is not too late.


God Has Spoken, Series Introduction

I have come across a review copy of a Bible study.  It was offered to me in return for a quick review of the material.  However, after looking at the study, I have concluded that one review would not quite do the series justice, so this is the first of a short series of posts on the material.  I am impressed with the materials in this series of lessons.

“He Has Spoken: The Worldview of Scripture” is a delightful study published by The Colson Center (A short summary of the study can be found here.).  The DVD-based study presents five video presentations presented by John Stonestreet.   The DVD also includes five discussions between Stonestreet and T. M. Moore on the materials.  There is an accompanying study guide written by Moore.  The basic idea is to use the study in a group format by working through the study guide individually, presenting the video lectures, discussing selected questions from the study guide, and then viewing the discussion between Stonestreet and Moore as a ‘wrap up.’

John Stonestreet is the co-host of BreakPoint radio and several other radio programs.  He is also a sought-after conference speaker

T. M. Moore has an impressive background.  He is currently dean of the Centurions Program. He served as President of Chesapeake Theological Seminary in Baltimore for nearly thirteen years.  Moore’s books include titles published by P & R

Please join me over the next several posts in this series as we journey through the ideas presented in “He Has Spoken” together.


God and Politics

(An article for my local paper.)

Politics is defined as “the theory and practice of government, especially the activities associated with governing, with obtaining legislative or executive power, or with forming and running organizations connected with government” (Bing Dictionary).

“Politics” is a ‘loaded word’ for some people.  One prominent pastor, Mark Driscoll, became so frustrated in an interview about Christian involvement in politics that he exclaimed, “If you want to influence politics, go have a bunch of kids and teach them how to vote.”  (The other extreme would be the activism of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority during the 80’s.)

We should be involved in politics in ways that reach way beyond our family.  This article will suggest three very important ways in which Christians should be involved in politics according to the Bible: submission, prayer, and moral activism.   

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Rom. 13:1–2)

We are required to submit, or follow the orders of, the civil authorities God has appointed over us except in matters where the Bible clearly says that we should do otherwise. If God has commanded us to do something that the government forbids or commanded us not to do something that the government requires, we cannot submit to the government’s authority.  However, that is not the case in many instances.  We should go the speed limit, buy a hunting license, and pay our taxes honestly, among other things.

Honey always attracts more files than vinegar, and, similarly, those who follow the laws have a greater say in government and politics.  Civil disobedience, where a citizen disobeys an unjust law and then submits to the government penalty for having done so, is most effective when those who disagree cannot readily criticize those who are disobedient.

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–4)

Secondly, we are required to pray for those in our government who have authority over us.  Prayer is a God-ordained means to bring about change.  God moves in response to the prayers of His people.  God can and will affect change. 

“Prayer is not protest. It is petition, which realizes that even the hearts of President Obama or Prime Minister David Cameron are not out of God’s control,” said Rev. David A. Robertson, minister of St. Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, Scotland.  (We might add President Bush to the list.)  After all, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
The last of the three areas is moral activism.

 “And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die ford his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:16-19)

This is a solemn warning for the Christian who will not speak up to those in authority when the moral commands of the Bible are broken.   Christians must be bold enough to speak out on the major moral issues of our day no matter how others perceive those issues in the political arena.  Abortion, the government’s printing of money leading to inflation, homosexual marriage; immigration and social justice are all areas where the Christian must bring the Bible’s moral injunctions to bear.  We have a duty to call our leaders to account, no matter what the outcome.

There are limits to what politics can do.  In all these involvements, we should follow Cal Thomas’ caution, “…followers of Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world, should not think that having the “right” person in office will somehow restore righteousness to a fallen and sin-infested world. How can a fallen leader repair a fallen society? He (or she) can’t. Only God can do that through changed lives. And lives can be changed only by the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it has always been so. As revivals of the past have shown us, the social impact was astounding. So if believers want to see a culture improved (fewer abortions, less drunkenness, fewer divorces, and so on), let their objective be to lead more people to Christ.” Politics should never be our primary means of bringing about change, but we must do what we can in the political arena.


Taking the Christian Worldview to Work

(An article for my local paper.)

I seem to spend most of my time at work.  I am not special.

A survey done in 2012 found that a typical employed adult spends an average of 46 hours per week at work.  That’s about 49% of our waking hours.  We should think carefully about anything that we do so much of the time.

We should develop an effective way to think about work. One’s overall thoughts about the world around him or her, one’s worldview, will ultimately decide his or her approach.

My way of thinking about the world is distinctly Christian, and my faith informs my outlook toward the work that I do. I see my work as a “vocation,” a distinct calling that God has extended to me, just as important as the ‘call to preach’ experienced by many pastors.   My work is not just something I do to make money so I can support my true interests and enjoyments; it is a “calling.”

The Bible, the primary influence on my worldview, commands us to work diligently if we can. God’s original command to people is “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over [it]” (Genesis 1:28). Working is the only way to have dominion, or rule. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “If anyone does not provide for his relatives … he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Some Christians belittle work for profit, but the Bible does no such thing. Abraham is cited as an example of a rich man (Genesis 13:5). King Solomon, another hero, impressed a prominent queen with his wealth (1 Kings 10:4-5). Jesus himself commended the accumulation of riches through entrepreneurial endeavors in a famous parable (Matthew 21:33-43). Of course, when we have done our best, we are told to “be content with what we have” (Hebrews 13:5), and we should always give 10% or our profits to the work of God’s kingdom.

Martin Luther, a leader of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, took an approach that destroys the distinction between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ vocations. Luther said, “Every kind of work, including what had heretofore been looked down upon – the work of peasants and craftsmen – is an occasion for priesthood.”  He said elsewhere, “An official who governs well pleases God. A mother who cares for her children, a father who goes to work, and a student who studies diligently are all servants of God.”

God works through us to serve others, even if the work we do does not seem like much in the eyes of the world.  Gene Edward Vieth, a Lutheran theologian and author, says:

God healed me. I was not feeling well, so I went to the doctor…in no time I was a lot better. But it was still God who healed me. He did it through the medical vocations…God fed me…with what the teenager working at the fast-food joint gave me…God clothed and sheltered me, with the help of my employer. God protected me, though I wish the highway patrolman hadn’t pulled me over. God gave me pleasure, thanks to the talents He gave that musician playing on my new CD.

All honest work done for the benefit of others is for God’s glory and for His pleasure.

God does not guarantee our success in business. Luther wrote, “God tells us to do the best we can and leave the rest to him. He didn’t promise that everything we do would be successful.” God is not a vending machine who automatically delivers to us the things we pay for. Our true benefits are only guaranteed in heaven (Matthew 25:40, 46).

My calling is to help people make things in the role of a Safety and Environmental Manager in a manufacturing plant. I prayed long and hard about what I should do after earning my degree in industrial engineering.  I had taken a course in industrial safety that I enjoyed. I had the financial means to go to graduate school, and I could take coursework that prepared me for the safety and environmental management.  It is a calling as real as any calling felt by any pastor. 

In summary, we are to engage in honest work for the benefit of others and in obedience to God’s commands, whether we feel a special calling or not. This ordinary work is honorable, and we are to be rewarded for our efforts. Profits earned through business that serves others are ours to enjoy, after we tithe our 10% of course.

May God grant us the eyes to see our jobs as true callings.  May He give us the chance to serve others in our work.


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Best Quote

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream,” August 28, 1963. Compare: Isaiah 40:4-5.


Conclusion: Bible Study – Read the Book in Question

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Our most recent series of articles for Soli Deo Gloria has looked at the basic rules of interpretation and some practical suggestions to help understand the Scriptures.  We will close the series with a brief exhortation to read the Bible more.

We have abundant evidence to prove that the Bible is God’s Word given to us.  The books of the New Testament were written by eyewitnesses of the events they describe and their message has been accurately communicated to us through the centuries of copying and translation.  (See: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham and The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce) 

Those eyewitness testimonies tell us about Jesus’ teaching that the Old Testament was true (Matthew 4:4, John 17:17) and His teaching that the New Testament would be true (John 14:25-30, 16:12-15).  They also tell of the many miracles Jesus worked, and those miracles testify to the truth of what He taught (John 10:38, 14:11). 

Above all, we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that the Bible is true.  He speaks to us in our hearts with the words of the Bible, and we are firmly convinced that the Bible is true by Him. 

The truths of the Bible ‘trump’ any opinions of the church.  They overcome the opinions of ancient writers.  They overwhelm the teachings of mere men.  They have authority over the intuitions and feelings men have in their hearts. 

Since these things are true, how can we ignore the Bible?  Why do we not pick up the book and read it?

Some people do not read the Bible because they ‘get bogged down’ in certain books that contain long genealogies and details for temple construction.  To those, I would recommend an abbreviated Bible reading plan from R. C. Sproul’s Knowing Scripture.  That plan alone is worth the purchase of Knowing Scripture, and you will also find most of the truths shared in this series in that book as well. 

Some people do not read the Bible because they have not tried a disciplined ‘plan of attack.’  For those people, I would recommend one of the Bible reading plans at http://www.esv.org/resources/reading-plans-devotions/.  These plans feature many different approaches for reading through the entire Bible.  Most people find that the most effective plans are those that mix in a little of the New Testament with the Old Testament in each reading. 

Others fail to read the Bible because they are afraid they won’t understand it.  John H. Gerstner, a noted Presbyterian theologian, taught that a person with a good knowledge of the Bible as a whole, gained through ordinary reading, could have a great understanding of what the Bible says.  We can understand the Bible because what we need to know is said in one part of the Scripture or another so clearly that even those of us who are not theologians or experts in biblical languages can understand it.

Please do not forget the power of teamwork.  Reading the Bible together with a small group or a church is important because other people can encourage us and hold us accountable.

Lastly, no discussion of reading the Bible would be complete without the exhortation found in James 1:22, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”  As we learn the commands of the Bible and try to follow them, we will see our lives transformed into Christ’s likeness (Romans 12:1-2). 
Thank you so much for joining us in this journey through the ways the Bible can be better understood and studied.  Join us for our future Soli Deo Gloria articles starting soon. 


Prophecy – End Times Madness: The Revelation of St. John

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all…” – WCF Chapter 1, Section 7

This phrase from the Westminster Confession of Faith has been a great comfort to me as I approach one of the most difficult areas of the Bible to interpret: predictive prophecy.  Predictive prophecy is about the claims that the Bible makes about what will happen in the future.  It especially focuses on eschatology, the study of the end times and what will transpire at the end of the world.  This brief article will discuss the ‘ground rules to use when confronting this difficult area.

R. C. Sproul made a classic understatement when he said, “We must approach prophecy very carefully with a sober attitude.”  Sproul makes some interesting points, either directly or indirectly:

First, avoid two extremes.  The first is the “skeptical, naturalistic approach” that does away with predictive prophecy.  If there is a God who created the world, it is virtually impossible to say He does not know the future.  On the other extreme, avoid the “wild, bizarre method that sees in every contemporary event a “clear” fulfillment of a biblical prophecy.”  There is a middle road.

Second, leave room for “symbolic predictions or predictions that have a broader scope of meaning.”  The New Testament itself interprets some prophecy as having a”fulfillment of the letter” (see the Bible’s prediction of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, in Bethlehem) and a “fulfillment in a broader scope” (see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah).  John the Baptist himself said he was not Elijah (John 1:19-28), while Jesus said he was (Matthew 11:13-15).  The answer to the dilemma is in Luke 1:17’s reference to John the Baptist as coming “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”  That is a clear example of a “broader fulfillment.”

Third, be extremely careful with the “apocalyptic form” of prophecy.  “Apocalyptic literature” is a special form of literature that was used in the time of the First Century.  This form of writing is laden with symbols and metaphors.  We will look at statements made by J. Scott Duval on this topic below.

Duval is the J. C. and Mae Fuller Professor of Biblical Studies at Ouachite Baptist University.    His keen interest in the book of Revelation yields several insights for dealing with apocalyptic literature such as what we find in Revelation.  We will look at some of his key insights next.

Revelation uses symbols, and Revelation 1:1 makes this clear when it says God sent the revelation “and signified it through His angel to His slave John.”  These symbols are a little like political cartoons used in our culture, where “pictures represent a reality.”  These pictures are not meant to be taken literally, “but they are taken as pointing to a reality.”  We don’t find a literal donkey and a literal elephant fighting in American politics, but the two major political parties are often portrayed in exactly this way in political cartoons.

Next, there is no rule against mixing metaphors in apocalyptic literature.  A ‘metaphor’ is a figure of speech that makes an implied comparison between two unlike things that actually have something in common.  A ‘mixed metaphor’ is when two or more metaphors are jumbled together, usually illogically.  The pictures of Revelation are often jumbled together in this way.
Last of the several principles we will look at: “don’t try to find a chronology of history in [Revelation’s] pages.”  The original audience would not have tried to, and neither should we.

Predictive prophecy, especially prophecies about things that have not occurred yet, must be handled carefully and prayerfully.  There are many pitfalls and problems with its interpretation.  We should all pray for greater understanding of the different approaches to the end times.
(Sources: Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul and Read the Bible for Life by George H. Guthrie)


Tools, Part 3: Study Bibles

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Our current series of Soli Deo Gloria articles is exploring Bible study.  This article will look at a very important tool used to understand the Bible: the Study Bible.

A Study Bible contains articles and notes that explain the meaning of particular verses and phrases in the Bible’s text.  I have used several of these Bibles over the years, and I have found them to be most helpful. 

The first Study Bible I ever used was the Thompson Chain Reference Bible in the King James translation.  This Bible contained listings of Bible verses that addressed particular subjects.  These lists could be easily followed because they were labeled in the margins of this Bible along with the next reference in the list.  The insights into theology I gained from studying the verse lists in this Study Bible have stayed with me for a long time.  Systematic Theology is the careful study of what the entire Bible says on any given subject, and the lists of verses by topic in the Thompson Chain Reference Bible are a great help. 

The NIV Study Bible was the next Bible I used with benefit.  This Study Bible had notes that attempted to capture the different ways different denominations and theological traditions understood particular verses.  For a young college student who wanted to be exposed to different conservative traditions, this was particularly useful.  It helped me to choose the tradition that best expressed the Bible’s true meaning.  The Concordia Study Bible is a revision of The NIV Study Bible with notes from a Lutheran perspective that I have also found to be helpful. 

The ESV Study Bible probably contains the most detailed notes and articles of any popular Study Bible.  It is written from an evangelical theological perspective, and people from many denominations find it helpful.  Its maps and charts are the best I can find. 

As a Christian who is a member of a Presbyterian Church, I find that The Reformation Study Bible most closely agrees with my understanding of Scripture.  I find that this book does an outstanding job of explaining the Scriptures from the best view-point that I have ever studied.  I will continue to study, learn and change my opinions in the future, but I think I have found the point of view that I will stay with for the rest of my life expressed in The Reformation Study Bible.

There are many useful Study Bibles on the market today.  Each has its own particular emphasis or point of view.  Read widely and often.  Your understanding of the Christian Faith will be expanded, and that understanding can lead to a changed life.

Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will take a look at one particular area of Bible study and interpretation that seems to cause the most trouble for serious Bible students.  That area is eschatology, or the study of the end times. 


Tools, Part 2: How to Find Help with the Bible

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

As promised in our last Soli Deo Gloria column, this article will take a look at three tools that are available to help us understand and study the Bible.  Any book that claims to be the very word of God to man is worth understanding, and we should take the time to carefully explore the Bible’s meaning.

Good Bible commentaries are essential.  A ‘commentary’ is exactly what it sounds like: a book that contains a person’s comments or thoughts on a part of the Bible.  No one person is an expert on everything the Bible says, and it helps to consult with scholars who have spent time studying the particular book or passage they are commenting on. 

Commentaries on the entire Bible are a good place to start.  These give an author’s or a team of author’s ideas on the entire Bible.  Examples are The New Bible Commentary published by Intervarsity Press and Eerdmans and the excellent Encountering the Old Testament and Encountering the New Testament published by Baker.

Commentaries that give one expert author’s interpretations and insights into a particular book are even more helpful.  It is difficult to beat Martin Luther on Galatians, Charles Hodge on 1 Corinthians, Derrick W.H. Thomas on Romans, or John Calvin or Douglas Moo on just about anything.   Commentaries allow us to tap into a lifetime of research and study on Bible texts by capable scholars and pastors.

Concordances are also useful.  A concordance is an alphabetical listing of words used in the Bible and their occurrences. The words are listed, and a phrase from the verses which use that word is given along with the Scripture reference.  If you can remember a phrase, such as “For God so loved the world,” you can look up the word ‘world’ in a good concordance and find John 3:16 cited.  I can remember phrases from many Bible verses that I have heard quoted in sermons over the years, and these tools help me to be able to read those phrases in context.  Good concordances have been written by authors such as Young, Strong, and Cruden.

Bible handbooks and atlases help us to understand the history of the Bible’s authors and their cultures.  Some good examples of these include Dictionary of the Bible by Hastings, The Oxford Bible Atlas by May, and The Crossway Bible Handbook. 

These tools belong in the libraries of everyone committed to Bible study.  Not everything in the Bible is easy to understand, and commentaries, concordances, handbooks and atlases can help. 

The importance of in-depth Bible study cannot be overestimated.  It helps transform us into the kind of people God wants us to be.  Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will look at another important tool for laymen like us: the Study Bible.


Tools, Part1: Which Translation of the Bible Should I Use?

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Our last Soli Deo Gloria article talked about the original languages of the Bible, and it promised a longer look at English translations.  This article will attempt to guide the reader toward a Bible translation that is just right for a given situation.  A book that gives us information on how to get to heaven and how to live our lives on Earth the way God wants us to is a book that should be translated carefully.

There are two basic approaches to Bible translation: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.  Formal equivalence attempts to translate each word in the original language by an English word whose meaning is very close.  This is a ‘word-for-word’ translation approach that places the importance on the meanings of each individual word. 

The dynamic equivalence approach attempts to translate the thoughts of the authors into English.  This ‘thought-for-thought’ approach attempts to understand the idea of the original author and express that idea in easy to understand terms.  This approach yields a Bible that is easy to understand, but the original author’s idea is interpreted by the method of translation.  The reader does not understand the words so much as the translator’s understanding of the words. 

Bible translations fall somewhere along a scale between these two approaches.  The New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version follow a more formal equivalence approach.  The King James and New King James fall somewhere in the middle.  The New International Version and the New Living Translation lean toward the dynamic equivalence approach. 

The ‘paraphrase’ is ultimate expression of the dynamic equivalence approach.  A paraphrase translates ‘idea-for-idea’ in such a way as to make the translator’s idea of the meaning easy to understand.  Famous paraphrases include The Living Bible and The Message.

These paraphrases have limited use.  They can mislead someone because there are not very precise.  Some ideas are difficult to translate, and a more ‘word-for-word’ translation will yield slight differences in meaning that a paraphrase will completely ‘gloss over.’ 

My favorite Bible for everyday use is a large-print English Standard Version translation.  It gives me the strengths of a formal equivalence approach without being as difficult to read as an even more ‘word for word’ translation like the New American Standard Version.  I have a reliable text that is great for in-depth study.  I heartily recommend this translation for your use.

Whichever version you select, there are many other tools available to help us understand the meaning of the Bible.  Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will look at some of these tools.


Let’s Get Practical, Part 2: It is in Hebrew and Greek, Right?

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

In our current series of Soli Deo Gloria articles, we have been examining the greatest of books, the Bible.  The Bible was originally written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  So the Scripture must be translated into our language in order for us to know what God has told us in its pages. 

This process can be a difficult task.  Aramaic is a ‘dead language,’ which means that it is no longer spoken.  The Hebrew of the Old Testament is very different from the Hebrew language spoken today because all languages change over time. In fact, the Old Testament text did not have vowels, and vowels had to be added in order to be able to read the passages of Scripture.

The same tendency for language to change over time applies to the New Testament, which was written in Greek.  This Greek is different from the language spoken today but also different from the Greek written in ancient times. This was the Greek commonly spoken by the people, different from the Classical Greek spoken by the upper class.

Some of the grammatical rules that applied to those languages are no longer in place today; some of the expressions of the time are no longer current, and some terms have changed their meaning.  It is a difficult task to translate any ancient book, and, since the Bible is the Word of God, there is a tremendous responsibility to be faithful to the original intent and wording of the authors.

Should a believer be able to read the original words of the Old and New Testaments, that is, the actual words of the prophets and apostles?  It would be of great benefit, but one scholar warns us not to ‘go half-way.’ 

At a recent Reformation Bible Conference at Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy, Jonathan T. Pennington, the Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Director of Research Doctoral Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recommended intensive study in New Testament Greek.  He said that a little knowledge of Greek can be a dangerous thing because mistakes are easy to make.  He recommended serious study.

It is a difficult task to try to read the ancient languages, but there is good news.  We have a wealth of resources and many experts that can help us.

This author does not know much about the Biblical languages, but he finds many resources that are written by scholars which can assist with Bible study.  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance contains a numbered system that allows a person to find the particular Greek or Hebrew word that was translated by many English words used in the Bible.  A brief definition is also given.  This word can then be researched with other tools. 

Where does one go to conduct that research?  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Kittle, is available in a both a multi-volume set and a single volume edition.  This book contains scholarly articles written by experts on most of the words of the New Testament.  These articles cover how the words were used in ancient common Greek in both the Bible and in other places in ancient writings.  The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament is also available.  (Please note that contributions to these two dictionaries are not always made by conservative Christian scholars.)

It would certainly benefit any believer to learn Hebrew and Greek, but you can be confident in the many excellent English translations, which God uses to communicate His truth in a reliable fashion today.  Our next article will look at two different approaches to Bible translation and present some recommendations from those approaches.


Knowing God, Chapter Nineteen: Sons of God, Part Two

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

In our last article, we looked at the reason for and the permanence of our adoption in Christ.  If we have true faith in Christ, God is our Father in heaven.  This week we will look briefly at some of what that means. 
As J. I. Packer says in Chapter Nineteen of Knowing God, The prospect before the adopted children of God is an eternity of love.”  Our adoption is permanent, and it depends on the love of God for us and the grace of God to save us.  God will not let us go.  We are his. 

We can also have hope.  Christianity is “a faith that looks forward.”  For Christians, “the best is always yet to be.”  We have the hope of an everlasting inheritance in Christ.  That was the reason children were adopted in the Roman Empire during Christ’s time: “to have an heir to whom one could bequeath one’s goods.”  In just that way, our adoption as God’s children guarantees our inheritance from him (Romans 8:16-17). 
God’s wealth is immeasurable.  We have so much to hope for.

Certain prominent atheists have ridiculed Christianity for being ‘pie in the sky by and by.’  Their idea is that Christianity is mere “wish fulfillment.”  We could ask them if they wish that there were no God who would judge them.  We could point out that their approach could be wish fulfillment just as they accuse ours of being.  The idea cuts both ways.  But Christianity is ‘pie in the sky by and by,’ and the ‘pie’ tastes great.
The Holy Spirit is given to us as “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15).  The Spirit comes into our lives at the moment we trust Jesus, and there is nothing more of his presence that we can expect to get in a later second blessing or acceptance of Christ as Lord. 

The Spirit makes us understand and learn about our relationship with God in Christ.  This realization leads to true holiness of life.  We have “an abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing [our] newfound Father.”  We joy in making our Father happy.
Packer tells us to think often of the facts: “I am a child of God.  God is my Father; Heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer.  My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too.”  Packer tells us to repeat these things to ourselves “over and over.”

What joy the Father has given to us!  We can be sons and daughters of God. 

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