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.  

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