Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why did Jesus die on the cross?

[The liberal theologian's] Jesus isn’t much different from a Gandhi or a Nelson Mandela, great leaders who inspired people to suffer and die for the sake of others, but he cannot take your sins away. I’m all for justice and helping the vulnerable, but I do that from the strength of the “sweet exchange” that Jesus made atonement for my sins, that I’m forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and justified. At Easter I don’t sing hymns that go:

On that cross condemned for died
By corporate forces who have lied
Called us to global protest
Jesus bids us to do our best

Rather I sing:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

-- Michael Bird, "Why Jesus Died on the Cross"

When our wickedness had reached its height...

"But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!"  (Ep Dio 9:2-5).

-- Epistle to Diognetus (second century A.D.)

How to Put Sin to Death

A very helpful 8-minute teaching video lab from John Piper.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Freedom of Conscience

"No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority." -- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Spirit Leads by the Word

"It seems so much more exciting to live with a freewheeling openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than practicing the laborious discipline of mastering His Word. This is exceedingly dangerous ground. If we want to do the will of the Father, we need to study the Word of the Father—and leave the magic to the astrologers." —R.C. Sproul

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Do you really have a God?

"For you do not have a god if you [just] call him God outwardly with your lips...but [only] if you trust him with heart and look to him for all good, grace and favor...."

"Such faith and confidence can be found only when it springs up and flows from the blood and wounds and death of Christ.  If you see in these that God is so kindly disposed toward you that he even gives his own Son for you then your heart in turn must grow sweet and disposed towards God and in this way your confidence must grow out of pure good will and love, God's toward you, and yours toward God." [lightly edited]

 -- Martin Luther

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Don't be a fool...

"Consider now, tempted one, which of his whispered promises to you the Devil has ever kept."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Christ's Gift of Peace

"Peace is Christ’s distinctive gift—not money, not worldly ease, not temporal prosperity. These are at best very questionable possessions. They often do more harm than good to the soul. They act as clogs and weights to our spiritual life. Inward peace of conscience, arising from a sense of pardoned sin and reconciliation with God, is a far greater blessing. This peace is the property of all believers, whether high or low, rich or poor."

— J. C. Ryle

Sunday, March 22, 2015

This world is passing away

"....the world with all its allurements is passing away..." (1 Jn. 2:17)

“You are surprised that the world is losing its grip, that the world is grown old? Think of a man: he is born, he grows up, he becomes old. Old age has its many complaints: coughing, shaking, failing eyesight, anxious, terribly tired. A man grows old; he is full of complaints. The world is old; it is full of pressing tribulations. . . . Do not hold onto the old man, the world; do not refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you, ‘The world is passing away, the world is losing its grip, the world is short of breath. Do not fear. Thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle.'”

-- Augustine, quoted in Peter Brown, "Augustine of Hippo" (Berkeley, 1967), pages 297-298.

Friday, March 20, 2015

This Seems Obvious

"Nothing seems more reasonable to me than that lasting joy will never be found by a person who ignores or opposes his Creator." -- John Piper

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What God Wants Us to Be

"When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy. Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted." -- C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Communing with the living Christ

"Meditating on Scripture can and should be a real-time experience of communion with the living Christ" (John Jefferson Davis).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Can a man ask a question God can't answer?

"Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask - half of our great theological and metaphysical problems - are like that."

-- C.S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Behind the Cultural Changes -- a War of World-views

The story of any society is the story of its primary beliefs and fundamental ideas about the nature of reality. For a long time in America and in the West, those primary beliefs were significantly shaped by Biblical (Judeo-Christian) teaching. Now, that is less and less true. A new fundamental belief system (virtually religious in the way it functions in society and culture) is becoming more and more dominant in the inevitable contest of ideas.

And so for example, the Old Wisdom said that man was fallen, and thus there was a strong current of evil and folly at the core of his nature that kept leading him to choose self-destroying and shalom-shattering ways. The "New" Way of Thinking teaches that human beings are basically good, and following one's own heart is the best course to take in the whole range of choices that one faces in life.

But even apart from divine revelation, how anyone, in light of the actual events of human history (including current events), and the honest assessment of one's own heart, and in light of the increasing manifestations of folly and vice in popular culture and media -- how anyone, defying all this evidence, can seriously maintain that human beings are essentially good is incomprehensible to me.

The "New" Beliefs may well prevail in the clash of the core ideas that shape the West; but the Old Reality will still play out too....we will reap what we have sown.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Key Biblical Words for Worship

The Key Biblical Words for Worship:

1. Worship as homage or grateful submission (proskynein)

  • kneeling, or prostrating oneself, bow down (cp. Gen. 24:26ff., “Then the man bowed down and worshiped [lit., fell on his face to] the Lord…..” Cp. Gen.42:6; Ex.4:31; 34:8; 1 Chron.29:20; 2 Chron.20:18; Ps.95:6; Isa.66:23; Matt.2:11; Phil.2:10
  • expression of awe and submission
  • falling on one’s face in reverence/prayer/petition/entreaty/supplication Cp. Num.20:6; Rev.7:11
  • offerings given to God (cp. Rom.12:1-2; Phil.2:1; 4:187; 2 Tim.4:6;)

2. Worship as service (latreuein) rendered to God

  • The service of a slave; cf. Deut.5:9; cp. Deut.10:12,20; Matt.4:8-10
  • Specifically, religious or priestly service (cp. Rom.12:1-2; Heb.12:28-29)
  • “The language of service implies that God is a great King, who requires faithfulness and obedience from those who belong to Him.” (D. Peterson, “Engaging with God” p.69), cp. 1 Cor.10:31

3. Worship as reverence or respect (sebomai)

  • · Cp. again Heb.12:28-29; Acts 9:31; 2 Cor.7:1; Phil.2:12-13

Friday, March 13, 2015

What is faith? (Keller)

"Faith is not primarily a function of how you feel. Faith is living out, trusting, and believing what truth is despite what you feel."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Way Up Is Down

“Why should we be surprised, then, asked Luther, that our lives are often filled with darkness and pain? Even God himself in Christ did not avoid that. But though God’s purposes are often every bit as hidden and obscure as they were to Job and to the observers at the foot of the cross, we— who have the teaching of the Bible and have grasped the message of the Bible— know that the way up is down. The way to power, freedom, and joy is through suffering, loss, and sorrow.”  -- Tim Keller

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Prayer and the Inscripturated Word

The Relation of Prayer and God's Inscripturated Word:
'What exactly is prayer, anyway? Most people might say it’s talking to God, mostly to ask for what we need. This is partially true, but there is a piece that is missing. As Tim Keller writes in his latest book, prayer is connected to God’s revelation:
'What is prayer, then, in the fullest sense? Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him. . . . The power of our prayers, then, lies not primarily in our effort and striving, or in any technique, but rather in our knowledge of God.
'This is why, as Donald Whitney says, “. . . of all the Spiritual Disciplines, prayer is second only to the intake of God’s Word in importance.” Prayer is second in importance because it relies on our knowledge of God, which comes from reading his Word. Engagement with Scripture is an essential—though often missing—component of prayer. Without this piece, prayer becomes problematic.
'If we include this missing piece we can craft what I believe is a robust definition of Biblical prayer:
'Prayer is an encounter with God that is initiated by him through his Word and that changes our hearts as we humbly communicate and worship the Lord, confess our sins and transgressions, and ask him to fulfill both our needs and the desires of our heart according to his will.
'Without engagement with Scripture, our prayers are like a phone conversation in which the other person can hear us but we can’t hear them. Fortunately, we have an easy solution to our prayer problem: To fully encounter God in prayer, encounter him first through his Word.'
-- Joe Carter, "The Gospel Coalition"

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Never without the Word

"Martin Luther was adamant that we must never get 'beyond' God’s words in the Bible or we can’t know whom we are conversing with . 'We must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our hearts; he works in the hearts of whom he will, and how he will, but never without the Word.'”

-- Tim Keller,  "Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God" (p. 57)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Dear Rules [Word of God], I Love You"

This post is from William Ross at the Gospel Coalition website:

If there were Seven Wonders of the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 119 would top the list. At 176 verses in length, it is the Mt. Everest of the Psalter. If you have ever unwittingly begun reading Psalm 119 and given up part way, don’t feel bad. No one has ever unwittingly climbed Mt. Everest, either. Poetry is tough going after all. So if you arrive at Psalm 119 unprepared to trek its mountainous four or five pages of parallelism, you might not make it in one go.

Biblical poetry is all the more demanding. It is, to change the metaphor, God’s Word simmered down, like a savory reduction sauce. Psalm 119 is no exception, so come hungry. The Puritan Thomas Manton wrote and preached 190 sermons on it (published in 3 vols.). So how do you navigate a poem of this scale? Especially one so dense and rich? I want to focus on some broad themes in the psalm to guide us through this scriptural monument.

How Do I Love You? Let Me Count the Verses

The first theme is rules. Psalm 119 is basically a love poem to the law (vv. 47, 48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 159, 163, 167). This theme might sound strange at first, but the psalmist finds the law so outrageously loveable because it belongs to God. Since the law is distinctly God’s law, and comes right from his mouth, it is better than anything else, including heaps of treasure (v. 72) and delicious honey (v. 103).

The notion of “law,” however, goes much further than just the Ten Commandments. “The law” is a big, multi-sided idea for the writer of Psalm 119. It is nearly impossible to read even a single verse of this psalm without bumping into it. That’s because the idea of “the law” is described by lots of different words in Psalm 119, including “commandments,” “precepts,” “testimonies,” “ordinances,” “judgments,” “statutes,” and—most popular of them all—“words.” Only seven verses in this whopper psalm don't mention this “law” idea in some way.

So basically the psalmist is writing about his incredible love for anything God says. Whether actual commandments, or blessings, or prophecies, or decisions, or stories—whatever God says to his people, it’s utterly loveable. Every last scrap of what God reveals in speech is priceless, including his rules. And words beget words, as God’s communication throws the psalmist into extended poetic rhapsody.

Rule-Keeping and Repentance

A second theme is repentance. Maybe you're a bit discouraged while you read through Psalm 119—and not just because it’s so long. After all, it can be spiritually distressing to read verse after verse basically about how much this psalmist loves rules. By the time you get to v. 164 and read “seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules” you might start thinking about the Pharisee in Luke 18 pretentiously “thanking” God for how absolutely fabulous he is at obeying all the rules. That kind of tone can be disheartening on an average weekday, particularly if you have not been particularly fabulous at rule-keeping lately.

Don’t let it get to you. The difference between that Pharisee and the psalmist is this: the psalmist knows he is in fact sinful and desperately needs God’s grace. Despite all the ways he goes on about loving the law, there is also petition and repentance. The psalmist pleads for God’s salvation (vv. 41, 81, 123, 166, 174), and desires mercy (vv. 77, 156). He knows that life—his life—is not perfect. In fact, the psalm ends in the key of repentance: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments” (v. 176a).

So acknowledging sin and loving the law are fully compatible according to this psalm.

Love Is a Many Splendored Affliction

The third theme of note is suffering. This repentant and rule-loving psalmist also faces grief (v. 28), struggles with covetousness (v. 37), endures afflictions (vv. 50, 141, 143), mocking (v. 51), threats and danger (vv. 61, 85, 87, 95, 110), and slander (vv. 69, 78, 86). In fact, that’s the exact reason for his love poem. The psalmist fully and lovingly depends on God’s words, especially in repentance and hardship. “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (v. 50). The psalmist is deeply aware of God’s promises (vv. 38, 41, 50, 58, 76, 82, 116, 123, 133, 140, 148, 154). He knows God’s covenant love (vv. 64, 76, 88, 124, 149, 159).

Most importantly, the psalmist knows he needs life (vv. 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159), and that life only comes from God according to his Word. He writes, “Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules” (v. 156), and “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (v. 25).

The psalmist knows that God’s speech does not just condemn sinners. God also redeems them through speech. While the words of God—his rules and commandments and statues—tirelessly remind us of our sin, they also reveal God's promise to fully redeem his people from sin.

That is why the psalmist can't stop writing. He knows that by the same speech of God he is both condemned and redeemed. Affliction under the law and love for the law operate on the same principle: God’s faithfulness to his own Word. God is unshakably faithful to himself, and therefore unshakably faithful to his people.

You’re a Sinner: Take Joy in the Words of God

In short, Psalm 119 teaches us that loving God’s rules is qualified and produced by knowledge of sin, grace, and the promises of God. The more you can relate to the psalmist’s repentance for sin, the more you will relate to his love for God’s rules as you endure the trials of life.

So on this average weekday, you may be like the writer of Psalm 119: suffering under temptation to sin, or afflicted by circumstances or people around you. Plead with God to deliver you on the basis of his promises (v. 170). Rest in his covenant faithfulness to his people (v. 76). Rejoice that God eternally keeps the terms of his own law, his own rules, perfectly (v. 65). Remember that he has given you life in himself according to his Word (v. 50). Let the true Word of God, Jesus Christ, abide in you richly today, and be filled with love for your Savior.

William Ross is a doctoral candidate in Old Testament at the University of Cambridge, where his research focuses on the book of Judges. He recently co-authored the Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek (Zondervan, 2014), and blogs regularly at williamaross.wordpress.com. You can follow him on twitter.