Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Preach the Word" at Christmas Too

“Preach the Word….”  (2 Tim. 4:2).  That exhortation to Timothy (and to the Church) from the apostle Paul applies just as much at Christmas time too – in fact in some ways, the joyfully serious task of proclaiming the true Gospel applies especially to Christmas.  For it is possible that, during the very time when unbelievers are most likely to show up at church for our special concerts and programs, Christians (for a whole host of reasons) might be tempted to hollow out the very heart of the greatest story every told.

Make no mistake – the early chapters of the Gospels, echoing the ancient prophets, are very clear what is really going on with the birth of the ‘Christ child’.  For that world ‘Christ’ means – ‘God’s end-time King’ (e.g., Psalm 2 and Isaiah 9:6f.).   Christmas means this rebellious, prodigal planet’s rightful Ruler has come to re-assert the reign of God, for the glory of God.  And yes, wondrously, the kingdom of God will mean salvation and peace for all those who repent and believe, but it will mean judgment and wrath for those who refuse (compare John 3:16 with John 3:36).

The Christmas Story includes exultant angels and kneeling shepherds, yes; but it also includes a murderous king and ‘Rachel weeping for her children.’

Christmas is all about an unavoidable choice; we must all choose sides.  Will we repent and bow the knee to the gracious King who saves, or will we persist in our rebellion, even if our unbelief bears all the trappings of religiousness that marked the Pharisees and Sadducees before us?

“Glory to the newborn King” we sing, and we are right to do so.  But when this newborn grows up to be a man, he begins his ministry by preaching:  “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven has come near”  (Matt. 4:19).  Is THIS the message that non-believers will hear clearly proclaimed from our churches when they gather with us for our programs and pageants, concerts and services this Christmas season?

Will we faithfully “preach the Word” – teaching them that, indeed “in the  town of David a Savior has been born to you”, but telling them too that this Savior is the “Christ  (God’s end-time King), the Lord” who summons all people everywhere to repentance, and to a whole-souled obedience.   (Luke 2:11;  Matt. 28:18ff.; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 10:9)?   God help us to be faithful heralds of the true and saving message of our glorious and gracious King.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Divine Providence versus Our Fears

"We are superstitiously timid...if whenever creatures [some created thing] threaten us or forcibly terrorize us we become as fearful as if they had some intrinsic power to harm us, or might wound us inadvertently and accidentally, or [as if] there were not enough help in God against their harmful acts."

-- John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion" (I, XVI, 4)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lincoln on Thanksgiving

From Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
"...The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People."

God's Good and Perfect Will

"The Lord is the master of the jigsaw puzzle of our lives.  The pieces may be strangely shaped; often we cannot see how they fit together; but eventually when the big picture is complete we sill see that each piece as perfectly shaped.  He leads us by ways we could not have guessed, into situations we never expected, to fulfill purposes we never could have imagined."

-- Sinclair Ferguson, "Devoted to God" p. 52

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Gospel and the Kingdom

The Gospel is just as much about how to enter into and live in the kingdom of God before you die as it is about how to get into the kingdom of heaven after you die.
(adapted from a statement by Dallas Willard)

The Word of God Already Spoken (and Written Down)

This is so important, and is in opposition to the perspective and practices related to a book like 'Jesus Calling': “If we don’t like Joshua 1:7-8 [quoted below], we still have to face Psalm 1:2, which describes what should be true of every godly believer (i.e. ‘but his delight is in Yahweh’s torah, and in his torah he meditates day and night’). There is no escape! Indeed, the torah should be our delight. Life in the kingdom of God must be lived out of the Word of God.
"Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 alike tell us that a life pleasing to God does not arise from mystical experiences or warm feelings or from a new gimmick advocated in a current release from one of our evangelical publishers; no, it comes from the word God has already spoken and from obedience to that word.”
"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." -- Joshua 1:7-8
-- Ralph Davis in “Joshua—No Falling Words”

Monday, September 5, 2016

The More Scriptural, the More Spiritual

Crucial principle for life and ministry: the more Scriptural something (a belief, a practice, a method or way of doing ministry) is, the more spiritual and God-pleasing it is. (And the reverse is therefore true too.)
Elaboration: If something is Scriptural it is spiritual and God-pleasing (because 'Scriptural' = defined by God Himself through His Word). If it is unscriptural it is unspiritual and dis-pleasing to God.
The more Scriptural something is the more spiritual and pleasing to God it is.
The more unscriptural something is the more unspiritual and displeasing to God it is. I'm not saying 'more strict' I'm saying more Scriptural. (The Pharisees were stricter than Jesus, but not more spiritual and God-pleasing.)
Paul says he prays that the Colossian believers will be filled with the knowledge of God's will or purpose (Col. 1:9ff.). Well, that knowledge comes through God's inscripturated word.
So if we really want to live a God-pleasing life and carry out God-pleasing ministry, we will live a life, and do ministry, shaped by the fullness of the knowledge of God's will and the knowledge of God himself -- realizing that comes through God's word and that God’s Word is available to us through Scripture.
And what is the Biblical basis for all this? ...the fact that God gave us the Bible.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Word of God and the Hand of God

We live our lives constantly addressed by the Word of God (via Scripture) and continually guided by the hand of God (via Providence).  Our part is to say 'yes' to both.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Learning from the Venerable Dead

“The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.” -Samuel Davies

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A True Friendship with God

A right and good and vital relationship with God (in all its many dimensions) is the primary point/purpose of true Christianity (the Gospel, salvation).  That means a right and good and vital way of habitually relating to God in trust, repentance, dependence, allegiance, love and obedience.

John 14:21, 23-24a; 15:14

"Christ is our best friend, and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with him." -- John Owen

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Christian and His Hope (and Hoping)

'Christian hope cuts against the twin temptations of distraction and despair by grounding us in another time and place.

'Take, for example, Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. These letters show how the gospel of hope can enable us to live as an alternative society, a contrasting community that stands out by living according to the values grounded in God’s work of redemption. Christian hope lifts our eyes, not as an excuse for passivity or fatalistic resignation, but rather as an exhortation toward pursuing the day when the Lord will come. Christian hope helps us fight evil without the fear of ultimate failure.

'Oliver O’Donovan describes hope as a willingness to wait attentively “. . . attending wholly and with concentration focused on what is not yet happening, so that whatever is happening is handled with a mind supremely bent on something else.”...'

-- excerpt from Trevin Wax's post, "Can We Hope Again?"

Only One Way to Shalom

Here's what every human being needs to realize: we only find rest for our souls (true peace/shalom) when we are living under the 'easy yoke' (authoritative teaching) of Jesus Christ -- a life that puts God first, living for His glory, trusting Him for our true good. There is simply no other way to peace.

The Loss of a Transcendent, Great and Glorious Deity

And here is what I think, in many ways, is our fundamental problem: in the past human beings, for a number of reasons, had a profound sense that there was a transcendent Deity (or deities) to which, one way or another, we were accountable. Philosophers had their names for it (e.g., the numinous) -- the Bible calls it "the fear of God' -- a powerfully profound awareness (often almost sub-conscious and nearly always suppressed) that God was indeed the Supreme Being, the One "with whom we have to do."

But now, in the West at least, in the 'first world', secularizing influences have gained such a momentum and have had such a pervasive effect, that this sense of the divine and transcendent seems all but extinguished (publicly, at least) -- and the result: a hollowed out, hopeless society of men and women who spend almost all their time in superficial strategies of strenuously hiding from the hopelessness (and calling it play or entertainment) and self-medicating the meaninglessness (including via our self-styled spiritualities, aka, idolatries). Claiming to be wise, we've become miserable fools.

And, worst of all, even when we occasionally still talk about 'God', we no longer seem to have a clue as to the great and terrible and awe-ful Being of whom we speak.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Conversion is...

"However this relationship [with God, through Christ] is initiated -- quietly or dramatically, over a long or over a short period of time -- it inaugurates a life devoted to serving God.

"Conversion is not an isolated event but is related to the entire life of faith that follows from it. It is the moment of birth into a new life. It is like a doorway into a room. A person is born to live, not to linger on the edge of the womb in a time limbo. A person opens a door not for the pleasure of standing forever on the threshold but to enter the room. The evangelical worlds has strangely perverted this truth.

"Evangelicals often make the test of spiritual life one's willingness to testify about the moment of birth. Describing one's sensations in passing through the doorway is considered proof that one is in the room! This shifts the focus from where it ought to be -- the evidence of the Spirit's renewing work in producing a God-centered life, a God-fearing heart, and God-honoring character and witness -- and places it on a person's autobiographical account of the conversion crisis.

"The only real proof of conversion is an obedient and fruitful life."

-- David Wells, "Turning to God" (cp. Matt. 7:21-23; 28:18-19; John 8:31; 14:15; Acts 20:21; 26:20; Rom. 6:4,17ff.; Eph. 4:17-24; 5:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9; Titus 2:11-14; James 2:14-26; 1 Pet. 1:2,22; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; 1 Jn. 2:3-6)

Monday, July 11, 2016

What does 'believe' mean in the Gospel of John?

Consider John 8:31-32 (and the context of vv. 30-37).

“Some ‘believe in Jesus’: whether or not their faith is genuine cannot be determined by the linguistic expression selected by the Evangelist [John].  But Jesus now lays down exactly what it is that separates spurious [bogus] faith from true faith, fickle disciples from genuine disciples:  “If you hold to my teaching, [NASB:  “If you continue in my word….”] you are really my disciples” (NIV) .   The verb rendered ‘hold’ means to abide, to remain – a theme of critical importance that returns in a concentrated way in ch. 15.  In short, perseverance is the mark of true faith, of real disciples.  A genuine believer remains in Jesus’ ‘word’, his teaching…:  such a person obeys it, seeks to understand it better, and finds it more precious, more controlling, precisely when other forces flatly oppose it.  It is the person who continues in the teaching who has both the Father and the Son (2 John 9; cp. Heb. 3:14; Rev. 2:26).”

– D.A. Carson, commentary on John in the “Pillar New Testament Commentary” series  (lightly re-worded)

Friday, July 8, 2016

"Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming security; but when their earthly comforts are endangered or withdrawn, it lays them under a kind of necessity to seek for something better in their place. Men must have comfort from one quarter or another. When earthly things are in a pleasing and promising condition, too many are apt to find their rest, and be satisfied with them as their only portion. But when the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable. What therefore, can be more to the praise of God, than that when a whole people have forgotten their resting place, when they have abused their privileges, and despised their mercies, they should by distress and suffering be made to hearken to the rod, and return to their duty?"

-- John Witherspoon

Are men basically good?

' Men of lax and corrupt principles, take great delight in speaking to the praise of human nature, and extolling its dignity, without distinguishing what it was, at its first creation, from what it is in its present fallen state. These fine speculations are very grateful to a worldly mind. They are also much more pernicious to uncautious and unthinking youth, than even the temptations to a dissolute and sensual life, against which they are fortified by the dictates of natural conscience, and a sense of public shame. But I appeal from these visionary reasonings to the history of all ages, and the inflexible testimony of daily experience. These will tell us what men have been in their practice, and from thence you may judge what they are by nature, while unrenewed. If I am not mistaken, a cool and candid attention, either to the past history, or present state of the world, but above all, to the ravages of lawless power, ought to humble us in the dust. It should at once lead us to acknowlege the just view given us in scripture of our  lost state; to desire the happy influence of renewing grace each for ourselves; and to long for the dominion of righteousness and peace, when “men shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks; when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”* * Mic iv. 3.-

-- John Witherspoon  "The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men" (sermon)

The Unsearchable Depths of God's Providence

'There is an unsearchable depth in the divine counsels, which it is impossible for us to penetrate. It is the duty of every good man to place the most unlimited confidence in divine wisdom, and to believe that those measures of providence that are most unintelligible to him, are yet planned with the same skill, and directed to the same great purposes as others, the reason and tendency of which he can explain in the clearest manner." -- John Witherspoon  "The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men"

Core Beliefs of Our Founding Fathers

A majority of today's cultural elites in American may not believe in these realities, but the founding fathers and brave patriots who launched 'the American Experiment' most certainly did:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...
.. .appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions...
...with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence..."

-- excerpts from the Declaration of Independence

The Best Kind of Ministry

"The best kinds of ministry are, more often than not, long term and low key." -- Christopher Ash

Foundational Realities

The God of the Bible is the only real and living God. He has spoken to human beings, and we are all accountable for how we respond. If we respond in repentance and trust, we will be graciously saved through the redeeming work of Christ. If we respond in persistent defiance and unbelief, we will be justly condemned. Deep, deep down in our souls we know these realities are true, no matter how hard we try to repress them. Our American/Western culture is in love with its follies and the increasing decadence that accompanies our ridiculousness, but God is not mocked or fooled. If we actually loved ourselves wisely and well, we would profoundly repent.

Interpreting God's Dealings with You

"Have good thoughts of God and make good interpretations of his dealings toward you. It is very hard to live comfortably and cheerfully among friends when one makes harsh interpretations of the words and actions of another. The only way to keep sweet contentment and comfort in Christian societies is to make the best interpretations of things we can. Likewise, a primary way to help keep comfort and contentment in our hearts is to make good interpretations of God’s dealings with us."

-- Jeremiah Burroughs

Loving God Should Be Over the Top!

“To love God, then, with all your heart and with all your soul, means with your whole self, including your rationality, mental capacity, moral choices and will, inner feelings and desires, and the deepest roots of your life.  To this profound pair the Shema adds a third, remarkable item: (literally) ‘and with all your very-muchness’….   This word is everywhere else used adverbially, meaning ‘greatly,’ ‘exceedingly.’….  It may even be that this third word is simply intensifying the other two as a climax.  ‘Love the Lord our God with total commitment (heart), with your total self (soul), to total excess!’   Loving God should be ‘over the top!’ “ 

– Christopher J.H. Wright  “Deuteronomy:  Understanding the Bible Commentary Series” p. 99 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Crushed Beneath His Foot

"On the back of Satan's neck is a nail-scarred footprint." -- C.S Lewis

The Biblical Language for Conversion

I think it would be very wise and helpful if we would primarily stick to the Biblical language for what happens when a person truly is converted/saved. Here are two examples: " turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God..." (1 Thess. 1:9). "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance." (Rom. 6:17). (Compare also Paul's phrase: "the obedience of faith" in Rom 1:5 and 16:26.) The language of 'accepting Christ' is unhelpfully vague, and only loosely connected to a few Biblical references (e.g., John 1:12).

Conversion and Repentance

“Conversion applies to all people, demanding a complete commitment that seeks forgiveness in full trust and surrender. Faith is its positive aspect (cp. Mk.1:15). It is God’s gift, but as such a binding requirement. By the baptism of the Spirit Jesus imparts the divine power that creates those who are subject to the divine rule, i.e., converted people. In all its severity, then the message is one of joy. ‘Repentance’ is not law, but gospel." -- Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

Divided Loyalty Is Idolatry

“A man may work for two employers; but since ‘single ownership and full-time service are the essence of slavery’ (Tasker), he cannot serve two slave-owners. Either God is served with a single-eyed devotion, or he is not served at all. Attempts at divided loyalty betray, not partial commitment to discipleship, but deep-seated commitment to idolatry.” -- D.A. Carson (on Matt. 6:24)

J.I. Packer on 'Faith'

"What did the apostolic writers have in mind when they spoke of faith? Nothing less than what they took to be the distinctive essence of Christianity: namely, a belief-and-behavior commitment to Jesus Christ, the divine-human Lord, who came to earth, died for sins, rose from death, returned to heaven, reigns now over the cosmos as his Father’s nominated vice-regent, and will reappear to judge everyone and to take his own people into glory, where they will be with him in unimaginable joy forever." -- J.I. Packer

Love and practice humility...

"Love humility in all its instances. practice it in all its parts, for it is the noblest state of the soul of man; it will set your heart and affections right towards God, and fill you with every temper that is tender and affectionate towards men. Let every day therefore be a day of humility; condescend to all the weakness and infirmities of your fellow-creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, be compassionate in their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and condescend to do the lowest offices to the lowest of mankind... Have no desire to put any of your equals below you, nor any anger at those that would put themselves above you. If they are proud, they are ill of a very bad distemper, let them therefore have your tender pity ; and perhaps your meekness may prove an occa,eoa of their cure. But if your humility should do them no good, it will however be the greatest good that you can do to yourself. Remember that there is but one man in the world, with whom you are to have perpetual contention, and be always striving to exceed him, and that is yourself. "

-- William Law

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mr. Baldwin

I got the news Wednesday that Mr. Richard Baldwin went to be with the Lord (due to some recent serious health issues). His daughter, Margaret,and son, Bill, have posted about what a good and godly man he was, by God's grace. His other son, Jim, was my best friend in high school and roommate at Cedarville. The Lord alone knows how helpful, generous, hospitable and encouraging Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin were to me when I first became a Christian in high school, and in helping me grow in my faith in my college years. Mr. Baldwin was a joyful, devoted, servant-hearted believer who loved his dear wife and children (and then grandchildren and great-grandchildren) because he loved his Lord and Savior first. He will be missed by many, many friends who I'm sure are thankful, like I am, for how God touched our lives through him and through Mrs. Baldwin too. So I'm praying God's comfort for the whole family, in our shared hope of resurrection and reunion. 1 Thess. 4:13-18

Friday, May 20, 2016

Do You Welcome Correction and Rebuke?

"'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness....' (2 Tim. 3:16). From what Paul writes here (and in many other places) we are reminded that a key aspect of healthy spiritual development is the willingness to be rebuked and corrected. Challenging as that is, the Bible makes clear that such correction is something the truly devoted Christ-follower will welcome (just like a kid who really wants to get good at a sport is glad to have a coach who is 'tough'). The last thing we should do is resent or retaliate when authentically Bible-based correction or reproof comes our way. It is a sad mark of immaturity to turn that into an occasion for fishing around for other 'spiritual leaders' in our lives." -- Jon G. Baldwin

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What Does It Mean to Truly Believe?

“We don't believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.”

― Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers Day and the Fifth Commandment

“Honor your father and your mother….” My pastoral mentor, James Grier, used to remind us that at the heart of the meaning of the Fifth Commandment was the crucial concern of passing on faith and devotion towards God from one generation to another. For the old covenant people of Israel, the father and mother, as signficant 'societal leaders' were to be truly devoted to God themselves, living by His Word and will. And so, for that same religious commitment to be handed down, and indeed, enriched, from one generation to another, it was critical that parents were regarded and responded to with profound respect, as those embodying the ‘fear of the Lord’ themselves (along with the rest of the 'elders' in the community).

Now, in the new covenant situation, the family is still crucial, but there is, in the New Testament, the realization that devotion to God in Christ transcends even devotion to parents and family members (e.g., Matt. 10:34-37). And so we read the account of what must have seemed like a fairly shocking reply from Jesus in that time and culture: “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:45-50)

And so on a day like today we remember that what matters most of all is love and devotion towards God -- and that parents and pastors, children and church members, all work together to embrace and enrich the heritage of faith and faithfulness passed down from one generation to the next, understanding that the family ties that matter the most are the ones that bind us together in our love and devotion to Christ.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How Trump vs. Clinton Helps to Prove There Is a God

I don’t offer that caption lightly, and here’s why:  in my opinion, the fact that a free society of independent persons, privileged with the opportunity to choose, make the choice that Donald  Trump and Hillary Clinton (and the policies they espouse, and the people that they are) are the best options available to lead that society, then surely something supernatural is at work – specifically something supernaturally bad.  For folly (in the sense of that word found in the Book of Proverbs) that is that deep and that perverse must surely be diabolical.  (Reflect on Ephesians 4:17-19).  And the only world-view that takes seriously the reality of the Devil is the world-view and way of thinking that believes that there is a God – the true and living God, the Judge of men and nations, who will certainly have the last word.  (Romans 1:18-32;  Acts 17:30-31).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Christ as Savior, First and Foremost

“People think a Christian is one who follows Christ's teaching and example, but Jesus is not primarily a teacher. He's a rescuer.” -- Tim Keller

The Conquest of Canaan and Yahweh's Worth

"The nature of the conquest—the inhabitants of Canaan being placed entirely under the ban— forcefully communicates the glory of God in salvation through judgment. The total destruction of the inhabitants of the land is just only if the deity who calls for such a measure is worthy of all honor. If Yahweh’s worth is not so great that those who reject him have committed a crime that cries out for infinite justice, then the zero-tolerance policy against the people of the land is a brutal, unjust, egomaniacal atrocity.

"But Yahweh’s policies are not like those of mere men, whose importance does not warrant the slaughter of their opponents. Nor is this a kind of immature self-centered phase that Yahweh eventually grows out of when he decides to be nice and send his Son, Jesus. Rather, the ban on the Canaanites heralds the infinite majesty of the justice of Yahweh, whose holiness demands perfect loyalty, whose worth is such that anything less than absolute allegiance defiles unto death. The conquest of Canaan enacts the glory of God’s justice against those who look to worthless things to be for them what only God can be for them."

-- James M. Hamilton Jr., "God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology" (Kindle Locations 3203-3211). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"The Dead End of Sexual Sin"

An article from Rosaria Butterfield on the Desiring God website:

Unbelievers don’t “struggle” with same-sex attraction. I didn’t. My love for women came with nary a struggle at all.

I had not always been a lesbian, but in my late twenties, I met my first lesbian-lover. I was hooked and believed that I had found my real self. Sex with women was part of my life and identity, but it was not the only part — and not always the biggest part.

I simply preferred everything about women: their company, their conversation, their companionship, and the contours of their/our body. I favored the nesting, the setting up of house and home, and the building of lesbian community.

As an unbelieving professor of English, an advocate of postmodernism and poststructuralism, and an opponent of all totalizing meta-narratives (like Christianity, I would have added back in the day), I found peace and purpose in my life as a lesbian and the queer community I helped to create.

Conversion and Confusion

It was only after I met my risen Lord that I ever felt shame in my sin, with my sexual attractions, and with my sexual history.

Conversion brought with it a train wreck of contradictory feelings, ranging from liberty to shame. Conversion also left me confused. While it was clear that God forbade sex outside of biblical marriage, it was not clear to me what I should do with the complex matrix of desires and attractions, sensibilities and senses of self that churned within and still defined me.

What is the sin of sexual transgression? The sex? The identity? How deep was repentance to go?

Meeting John Owen

In these newfound struggles, a friend recommended that I read an old, seventeenth-century theologian named John Owen, in a trio of his books (now brought together under the title Overcoming Sin and Temptation).

At first, I was offended to realize that what I called “who I am,” John Owen called “indwelling sin.” But I hung in there with him. Owen taught me that sin in the life of a believer manifests itself in three ways: distortion by original sin, distraction of actual day-to-day sin, and discouragement by the daily residence of indwelling sin.

Eventually, the concept of indwelling sin provided a window to see how God intended to replace my shame with hope. Indeed, John Owen’s understanding of indwelling sin is the missing link in our current cultural confusion about what sexual sin is — and what to do about it.

As believers, we lament with the apostle Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:19–20). But after we lament, what should we do? How should we think about sin that has become a daily part of our identity?

Owen explained with four responses.

1. Starve It

Indwelling sin is a parasite, and it eats what you do. God’s word is poison to sin when embraced by a heart made new by the Holy Spirit. You starve indwelling sin by feeding yourself deeply on his word. Sin cannot abide in his word. So, fill your hearts and minds with Scripture.

One way that I do that is singing the Psalms. Psalm-singing, for me, is a powerful devotional practice as it helps me to melt my will into God’s and memorize his word in the process. We starve our indwelling sin by reading Scripture comprehensively, in big chunks, and by whole books at a time. This allows us to see God’s providence at work in big-picture ways.

2. Call Sin What It Is

Now that it is in the house, don’t buy it a collar and a leash and give it a sweet name. Don’t “admit” sin as a harmless (but un-housebroken) pet. Instead, confess it as an evil offense and put it out! Even if you love it! You can’t domesticate sin by welcoming it into your home.

Don’t make a false peace. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get sentimental about sin. Don’t play the victim. Don’t live by excuse-righteousness. If you bring the baby tiger into your house and name it Fluffy, don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and Fluffy is eating you alive. That is how sin works, and Fluffy knows her job. Sometimes sin lurks and festers for decades, deceiving the sinner that he really has it all under control, until it unleashes itself on everything you built, cherished, and loved.

Be wise about your choice sins and don’t coddle them. And remember that sin is not ever “who you are” if you are in Christ. In Christ, you are a son or daughter of the King; you are royalty. You do battle with sin because it distorts your real identity; you do not define yourself by these sins that are original with your consciousness and daily present in your life.

3. Extinguish Indwelling Sin by Killing It

Sin is not only an enemy, says Owen. Sin is at enmity with God. Enemies can be reconciled, but there is no hope for reconciliation for anything at enmity with God. Anything at enmity with God must be put to death. Our battles with sin draw us closer in union with Christ. Repentance is a new doorway into God’s presence and joy.

Indeed, our identity comes from being crucified and resurrected with Christ:

We have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. (Romans 6:4–6)
Satan will use our indwelling sin as blackmail, declaring that we cannot be in Christ and sin in heart or body like this. In those moments, we remind him that he is right about one thing only: our sin is indeed sin. It is indeed transgression against God and nothing else.

But Satan is dead wrong about the most important matter. In repentance, we stand in the risen Christ. And the sin that we have committed (and will commit) is covered by his righteousness. But fight we must. To leave sin alone, says Owen, is to let sin grow — “not to conquer it is to be conquered by it.”

4. Daily Cultivate Your New Life in Christ

God does not leave us alone to fight the battle in shame and isolation. Instead, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the soul of each believer is “vivified.” “To vivicate” means to animate, or to give life to. Vivification complements mortification (to put to death), and by so doing, it allows us to see the wide angle of sanctification, which includes two aspects:

1) Deliverance from the desire of those choice sins, experienced when the grace of obedience gives us the “expulsive power of a new affection” (to quote Thomas Chalmers).

2) Humility over the fact that we daily need God’s constant flow of grace from heaven, and that no matter how sin tries to delude us, hiding our sin is never the answer. Indeed, the desire to be strong enough in ourselves, so that we can live independently of God, is the first sin, the essence of sin, and the mother of all sin.

Owen’s missing link is for believers only. He says, “Unless a man be regenerate (born again), unless he be a believer, all attempts that he can make for mortification [of sin] . . . are to no purpose. In vain he shall use many remedies, [but] he shall not be healed.”

What then should an unbeliever do? Cry out to God for the Holy Spirit to give him a new heart and convert his soul: “mortification [of sin] is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work — the conversion of the whole soul — not the mortification of this or that particular lust.”

Freed for Joy

In the writings of John Owen, I was shown how and why the promises of sexual fulfillment on my own terms were the antithesis of what I had once fervently believed. Instead of liberty, my sexual sin was enslavement. This seventeenth-century Puritan revealed to me how my lesbian desires and sensibilities were dead-end joy-killers.

Today, I now stand in a long line of godly women — the Mary Magdalene line. The gospel came with grace, but demanded irreconcilable war. Somewhere on this bloody battlefield, God gave me an uncanny desire to become a godly woman, covered by God, hedged in by his word and his will. This desire bled into another one: to become, if the Lord willed, the godly wife of a godly husband.

And then I noticed it.

Union with the risen Christ meant that everything else was nailed to the cross. I couldn’t get my former life back if I wanted it. At first, this was terrifying, but when I peered deep into the abyss of my terror, I found peace.

With peace, I found that the gospel is always ahead of you. Home is forward. Today, by God’s amazing grace alone, I am a chosen part of God’s family, where God cares about the details of my day, the math lessons and the spilled macaroni and cheese, and most of all, for the people, the image-bearers of his precious grace, the man who calls me beloved, and the children who call me mother.

-- Rosaria Butterfield (on the Desiring God website)

Rosaria has written a book on this theme, titled Openness, Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Crown and Covenant).

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Gracious Comforts, Holy Commands

“Corporate [gathered] worship is designed to focus our wandering hearts on the gracious comforts and holy commands of our sovereign Savior-King.” – Paul David Tripp

Treating God as God

Treating God as God  – “Therefore, …whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” -- 1 Cor. 10:31  (Rom. 1:1-4,5; Ps. 96:8-10)

If you truly believe in a Being/Person who is supremely/perfectly authoritative, and supremely/perfectly sovereign (in control) and supremely perfectly good, then you ought to live in complete submission and complete trust towards that Being/Person, to wisely rule you for your true good and to graciously bring you to perfect happiness (salvation) in the end.

'Luther’s definition of a “god” is helpful here: “A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart.... Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that really is your God.”

This Person/Being would certainly deserve (your/every person’s) supreme devotion (love), and that is exactly what is expected/commanded (Deut. 6:4-5f.; Matt. 22:37; cp. Matt. 6:24; 10:37; Eph. 6:24; 1 Cor. 16:22; 2 Tim. 3:4; Rom. 1:30 {8:6-7})

Treating God as God means relating to God, as the Supreme Being/Person, supreme in authority (to submit to Him), saviorhood (to trust in Him for His justification/acceptance, that grants your identity and security) and sovereign control (Providence) (to trust in Him experientially, including in the midst of hardship and trials).

This way of living that is habitually submitting, trusting and depending towards God is what Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; cp. 6:17ff.;  15:18; 16:19; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; Rom. 12:1-2;  Matt. 28:18ff.   It is allegiance/obedience that arises out of faith/belief in God.

So the way to strengthen your obedience is to strengthen your faith/belief and our faith/belief is strengthened through the Word of God – via preaching, authentic worship, personal study/devotions.  (Rom. 10:17; Col. 1:28; 2 Tim. 3:16-17;  1 Pet. 2:-23)

Realizing that God is the Supreme Authority also includes the truth that He will be the Judge of all people, reviewing, recompensing and rewarding people for everything they’ve said or done, vindicating and rewarding the godly, and condemning and punishing the ungodly.  (2 Cor. 5:10; Ps. 96:10; Rev. 22:12)

·       There is no way it can be right to love such a Supreme/Perfect Being partially.
·       There is no way it can be right to trust such a Supreme/Perfect Being partially.
·       There is no way it can be right to obey such a Supreme/Perfect Being partially.
·       There is no way it can be right to serve such a Supreme/Perfect Being partially.

Of course, as fallen sinners, with our weakness, folly and sin, we will do all these things partially and imperfectly, and that is why we need daily forgiveness (1 John 1:9).   But our aspiration and goal and desire will always be to love and trust and obey God – this Supremely Good and Perfect Being – perfectly.  (Matt. 22:37; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 1:9)

In practical (practiceable) terms, this all plays out in relation to God’s Word to us – knowing Him through His Word (and thus knowing the perfections of His character and ways and will) and then responding to glorify Him in accordance with His revealed will in His Word also.  Where is this all-important Word from God to be found?  In our Bibles.  We will live by every inscripturated (written-down) Word of God, in the power of the Spirit, in the fellowship of His people (the church, including its pastor-teachers).

“Corporate/gathered worship is designed to focus our wandering hearts on the gracious comforts and holy commands of our sovereign Savior-King.” – Paul David Tripp

Recommended reading: 
“Right Side Up (Life as God Meant It to Be)” – Paul Grimmond

“Easter Uncut – What Really Happened and Why It Really Matters”  -- Carl Laferton

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spurgeon on a Mother's Agreement with God's Judgment on Her Children

Charles Spurgeon tells the story of  a mother who dreamed about the Day of God's Final Judgment of her children...

'She thought the judgment day was come. The great books were opened. They all stood before God. And Jesus Christ said, “Separate the chaff from the wheat; put the goats on the left hand, and the sheep on the right.” The mother dreamed that she and her children were standing just in the middle of the great assembly. And the angel came, and said, “I must take the mother, she is a sheep: she must go to the right hand. The children are goats: they must go on the left.”

'She thought as she went, her children clutched her, and said, “Mother, can we part? Must we be separated?” She then put her arms around them, and seemed to say, “My children, I would, if possible, take you with me.”

'But in a moment the angel touched her; her cheeks were dried, and now, overcoming natural affection, being rendered supernatural and sublime, resigned to God’s will, she said, “My children, I taught you well, I trained you up, and you forsook the ways of God; and now all I have to say is, Amen to your condemnation.”'

-- Tom Nettles, "Living by Revealed Truth"

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Jesus, the King, Re-established Human Rule...

“Jesus as King…re-established human rule over the angelic and natural orders. He lived out everything that it means to be human, establishing himself as a wise ruler with dominion over his own appetites, with a will, affections, and conscience guided by the direction of his Father – and not by that of Satan. He walked through human suffering, temptation, and, ultimately, the curse of death itself – standing in the place of wrath itself – to wrest humanity from the Accuser’s fingers.”

-- Russell Moore

The Present Phase of God's Kingdom

"In its present phase, the kingdom is like its King before he was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. It can only appear weak and foolish to the world, even though this kingdom is more extensive in its global reach and more intensive in its redemptive power than any earthly empire in history." — Michael Horton

Who/What is your Supreme Authority?

I'm more convinced than ever that the crucial question every person faces is identifying the actual, functioning supreme authority in one's life and 'world-view' (the way you look at the world) -- the supreme authority when it comes to what you think and believe, value and do. (Compare Romans 10:9; Colossian 1:16-18)

No Such Thing as Religious Neutrality

'Augustine knew there was no such thing as spiritual or religious neutrality. People are for or against the Bible’s God. All humanity, he observed, belongs to one of two societies— one city that “lifts up its head in its own glory” and “loves its own strength as displayed in its mighty men,” and another city that “says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory and the lifter up of mine head’” and “‘ I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.’”

-- Jonathan Leeman, "Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ's Rule (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture)" InterVarsity Press

Luther on God and 'gods' (Idolatry)

'Luther’s definition of a “god” is also helpful here: “A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart.... Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that really is your God.”

'By this definition, everybody has a god— something that they worship, something that justifies them, something that claims the firstfruits of their income and that commands all their obedience.'

-- Jonathan Leeman

God's Sovereignty, Our Responsibility and Political Elections

Whatever candidate you support, you must not use the truth/reality of divine sovereignty to cancel out the truth/reality of human responsibility. Specifically, we are surely obligated to choose leaders who we have good reason to believe will govern with wisdom, integrity and justice, as those virtues are defined by God's Word and God-given reason. We are most certainly not allowed to abdicate that responsibility to choose wisely out of a mistaken notion that God's sovereignty and providence cancel out our God-given duty and responsibility.

God's Word Is a Living Seed

"God's word is a living seed, by which the spiritually dead hearts of men are made living and fruitful." - Hedinger (John Lange's Commentary).

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

ANTINOMY: an 'appearance' of contradiction. A key example: Divine sovereignty and human responsibilty....

"The particular antinomy which concerns us here is the apparent opposition between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, or (putting it more biblically) between what God does as King and what he does as Judge.

"Scripture teaches that, as King, he orders and controls all things, human actions among them, in accordance with his own eternal purpose (see Gen 14:8; 50:20; Prov 16:9; 21:1; Mt 10:29; Acts 9:27-28; Rom 9:20-21; Eph 1:11, etc.). Scripture also teaches that, as Judge, he holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and the courses of action he pursues (see Mt 25; Rom 2:1-16; Rev 20:11-13, etc.). [Acts 4:27-28]

"God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught to us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text. Both are thus guaranteed to us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true." -- J.I. Packer

Repentance (defined by J.I. Packer)

"Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged."

--J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, pg 87.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What will we do with our liberty?

“The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.”
— Edmund Burke

Jesus Re-established Human Rule...

“Jesus as King…re-established human rule over the angelic and natural orders. He lived out everything that it means to be human, establishing himself as a wise ruler with dominion over his own appetites, with a will, affections, and conscience guided by the direction of his Father – and not by that of Satan. He walked through human suffering, temptation, and, ultimately, the curse of death itself – standing in the place of wrath itself – to wrest humanity from the Accuser’s fingers.”

-- Russell Moore

The Present Phase of the Kingdom

"In its present phase, the kingdom is like its King before he was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. It can only appear weak and foolish to the world, even though this kingdom is more extensive in its global reach and more intensive in its redemptive power than any earthly empire in history." — Michael Horton

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Jesus, the Resurrection and Trusting the Bible

"The main reason that I believe the Bible is true is precisely because I believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Now whether or not you agree with me about the resurrection, you can probably see why believing that would quickly and strongly lead me to trust the Bible. If Jesus really was raised from the dead, then the only possible, intellectually honest conclusion one can reach is that he really is who he claimed to be. If Jesus actually got up from the grave in the way the Bible says he did, then he really is the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the Wisdom of God, just like he said. And if that’s true, then it makes sense (doesn’t it?) that he probably knows what he’s talking about, and therefore, we ought to listen to him.

"Now, one thing that is beyond any reasonable doubt is that Jesus believed the Bible. When it comes to the Old Testament, the point is very straightforward; over and over in his teaching, Jesus authenticated and endorsed it as the Word of God. And as for the New Testament, even though it was written years after his days on earth, it too rests ultimately on Jesus’s own authority, and the early Christians knew it. In fact, the two main criteria they used to recognize authoritative books were (1) that those documents had to be authorized by one of Jesus’s apostles and (2) that they had to agree in every particular with Jesus’s own teaching. We’ll talk more about all that later, but the point is pretty clear. Once you decide that Jesus really did rise from the dead, the truth and authority of the Bible follow quickly, naturally, and powerfully."

-- Greg Gilbert, "Why Trust the Bible?" (9Marks) Crossway

How to Truly Receive God's Word

"The whole Bible is for the whole church. We have good Scriptural warrant to come to God’s words expecting them to be understandable and applicable. We should make good on Puritan preacher Thomas Watson’s counsel,

"Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied."
(quoted by Donald S. Whitney in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life)

"Yes, take every word as spoken to yourself, with this essential anchor in place: seek to understand first how God’s words fell on the original hearers, and how it relates to Jesus’s person and work, and then bring them home to yourself. Expect application to your life as God speaks to us today through the Spirit-illumined understanding of what the inspired human author said to his original readers in the biblical text...."

-- David Mathis, "Habits of Grace"

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Biblical Realism About Life and Suffering

Remember that the same apostle who was inspired by God to write a passage like Philippians 4:4ff. "Rejoice in the Lord not be anxious about anything....." also candidly wrote, under the same divine inspiration, "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death...." (2 Cor. 1:8b-9a). It takes a deep wisdom and reality-tempered spiritual maturity to come to see how both perspectives are part of the life of faith.

Biblical Wisdom for Living

"We must be so immersed in God's written Word and truth that we are trained to choose rightly even in cases to which the Bible doesn't speak directly." -- Timothy Keller

A Radical Life Is the Only Life That Is Worthy...

"Given who Jesus is, what he has done, is doing, and will do, it is unquestionably right and fitting to live a life that is entirely centered in and devoted to him. And every act of service for him, every hour spent in worship, every moment in the Word and prayer are great privileges and gracious gifts. Don't let anyone tell you that such a life is extreme. Do not listen or give way to the 'nominals'. For given who he is, what he has done, is doing and will do, such a life is the only way to walk worthy of him and the salvation he gives." -- Jon G. Baldwin

Monday, February 8, 2016

Why Trust the Bible?

An excerpt from Greg Gilbert's "Why Trust the Bible?"

One American tabloid recently said this about the Bible:

No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.

First of all, it’s not true we’re dealing with “a translation of translations of translations,” as if the original Greek first went into Chinese which went into German which went into Polish and finally we got around to putting it into English. No, we’re able to translate directly from the original Greek and Hebrew, so at worst we’re dealing with a translation, full stop. But what should we say about that that idea, the charge that all we have available to us are “hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies”?

Copypock. Er, I mean, poppycock. That’s what we should say.

The Elephant in the Room

Let’s think for a moment about the question of transmission—that is, can we be confident the original text of Scripture was transmitted accurately to us through the centuries? As we begin to consider that question, we should just right off the bat acknowledge the gigantic elephant in the room: We don’t have the originals.

Whatever pieces of paper Luke, John, or Paul used to write Luke, John, or Romans have been lost to history, and it’s unlikely we’ll ever find a biblical manuscript about which we can say, “We are 100 percent certain this is the original piece of paper on which the author wrote.”

But here’s the thing. Is having The Original Piece of Paper really the only way we can have confidence that what we do have is in fact what was written? Are we forever doomed to saying we don’t really have any idea what Homer or Plato wrote since we don’t have the pieces of paper on which they wrote The Odyssey or The Republic? Certainly not, and to say so would be ridiculously pedantic. So what about the documents of the Bible? Are we left simply to give up and admit that all we have are a bunch of useless copies of copies of copies of copies, and that we’ll never have confidence what we have is what the authors actually wrote?

Well, no. In fact, even though we don’t have the Bible’s Original Pieces of Paper, we can be highly confident we know what those original pieces of paper said. Now how can that be?

The key to answering that question lies in the fact that even though we don’t have the originals, we do have thousands of other pieces of paper that contain original-language text from each book of the Bible—about 5,400 when it comes to the New Testament. These go back to the third, or second, or even (perhaps?) to the first century. Some of those pieces of paper contain whole copies of biblical books; others have been destroyed to varying degrees so all they contain now are just portions of books. Still others are literally just fragments of what were once much larger manuscripts.

Now what makes all these manuscripts and fragments interesting, or problematic depending on how you look at it, is that at certain places they differ from each other, even when they’re supposed to be copies of the same portion of the Bible.

“No way,” some respond. “There’s no way we can know what the originals said.” That conclusion, though, goes way too far. For one thing, the problems often cited as arising from all this—that the manuscripts we have are too far removed in time from the originals; that they’re absolutely riddled with variations—aren’t nearly so bad as some make them out to be. And for another thing, it turns out it’s precisely the existence of those thousands of copies, from all over the Roman Empire and with all their variations, that allows us to reconstruct with a huge degree of confidence what the originals said.

Let me try to explain, one step at a time.

Mind the Gap!

The charge is often made that the documents we have are so far removed in time from the originals that we might as well give up trying to figure out what the originals said. After all, the New Testament was written in the mid-to-late first century, and the earliest copies we have are from about the years 125–200. At best, then, there’s a gap of some 45 to 75 years between the originals and our earliest copies.

Now, that sounds fairly problematic to most of us because for some reason we imagine 75 years is a lot of time—enough time in fact for copies of copies of copies to be made and subsequently lost so that we have no idea what the originals actually looked like. But actually, that’s not a fair assumption at all, especially when you realize books in general were far more valuable to ancient people than they are to us today, and so they probably kept better care of them than we do.

One fascinating example is what’s called the “Codex Vaticanus,” a copy of the New Testament originally made in the fourth century, but which was re-inked in the tenth century so it could continue to be used. Do you see what that means? Codex Vaticanus was still in use 600 years after it was originally made! Therefore the claim that all we have are “copies of copies of copies of copies” of the originals is far overwrought. Indeed, it’s very well within the realm of possibility that we have in our museums today copies of the originals, full stop.

Also, when you consider the gap between the originals and first copies of other ancient works, you can see just how small this “gap” for the New Testament really is. For example, for Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, we have exactly eight surviving manuscripts, the earliest of which is 1,300 years removed from the original! For Julius Caesar’s Gallic War, we have a total of nine or ten readable copies, the earliest of which is 900 years older than the original. For Tacitus’s Histories and Annals, it’s two manuscripts, one dating from the 9th century and the other from the 11th. The original was written in the first century—800 and 1,000 years earlier. You can easily see the point here: No one screams “Mind the gap!” when it comes to other ancient literature.

On to the second charge, then, which is that the manuscripts we do have are so riddled with differences, or “variants,” that it’s hopeless to think we can ever have any confidence about what they said. One scholar has asserted there are, astonishingly, up to 400,000 variants in the New Testament! There are several things to say about this charge.

First, the manuscripts are not in fact riddled with variants, and that 400,000 number isn’t nearly as scary as it seems, even if it’s accurate. The scholar who used that number wasn’t just looking at the 5,000 pre-printing-press, original-Greek manuscripts we have, but also at 10,000 other manuscripts in other languages, and then on top of that another 10,000 or so instances where people quoted the New Testament during the first six hundred years of church history! Put it all together, and what you’re really talking about is 400,000ish variants across some 25,000 manuscripts and quotations covering 600 years. But at the far upper end, this comes out to . . . only about 16 variants per manuscript. To put it nicely, that’s really not very many.

Second, keep in mind that “400,000 variants” here doesn’t mean 400,000 unique readings. What it means is that if one manuscript says, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” and ten others say, “I am innocent of this righteous blood,” then you get to count all eleven as “variants.” Factor that in, and that scary 400,000 number becomes nearly meaningless.

Finally, it’s not as if the variants in all those 25,000 manuscripts just show up everywhere; rather, they tend to cluster around the same few places in the text over and over again, which means the number of actual places in the New Testament really at issue is surprisingly small.

The point is that when you think about it beyond the soundbites, you don’t get a picture here of a mountain of copies with so many variants that we can’t make heads or tails of it. Not even close. On the contrary, you get a picture of a remarkably stable transmission history for the vast majority of the New Testament, and a few isolated places where some genuine doubt about the original text has given rise to a relatively large number of variations.

In short, the copy-monks did a remarkably good job.

An Exercise in Biblical Transmission

But there’s one more critically important thing to discuss here: In the places of the New Testament where we are faced with variants, it is precisely the existence of those variants which allows us to piece together what the original document probably said. Let me show you what I mean.

The whole process is a lot like solving a logic puzzle. It rests on the fact that when there are variants, we can usually identify not only that a scribe introduced a variation, but also why. There are all kinds of reasons for why scribes introduced variants. Sometimes it was purely accidental. For example, 1etters that looked similar miqht be switcheb out for each other; one word might be substituted for another won that sounded the same when read; words might skipped; words or letters might be be doubled; even whole sections might be skipped when the same word was used a few lines apart. (Go ahead, read that sentence again . . . there be Easter eggs hidden there!)

At other times, the changes introduced were very deliberate. So a scribe might decide that a word or name was misspelled and act to “correct” it; he might change something in one passage so it would agree with another passage, or even “fix” a word or two to clear up “problems” he perceived; or he might even add something to “clarify” what the reader should take from it.

Now here’s where the fun starts, because once you can identify why a scribe made a certain change as he copied, you can get a very good idea of what the original said before he changed it. Here’s a very simple example: Imagine all you have is a fragment of a copy of a lost manuscript that reads, “Roses are read, violets are blue. . . .” It’s not hard to see what happened as the original was copied, is it? If we can give the original author the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t write the nonsense phrase “Roses are read,” then we can pretty confidently say the copying scribe simply misspelled the word “red,” and that the original said “Roses are red, violets are blue.”

Here’s a slightly more complicated example. Let’s say you have two fragments, both copies of a long-lost original. One of the copies (we’ll call it Fragment A) reads:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

The other copy (Fragment B) reads:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives so that the nation of which we speak might live.

Alright. Go ahead and give a minute or two to figuring out the variations that are at issue here. There are two of them. Then read on.

Let’s start with the first variation, the omitted phrase about meeting on a great battlefield of the war. Is there any good reason to think a copyist would add all those words to an original that didn’t include them? Not really; at least I can’t think of any. So if not, is there anything that might explain why he would omit them? Yes. See how the word “war” shows up twice in Fragment B? In fact, those two occurrences kind of bracket the words that were omitted in Fragment A. If that word “war” was there twice in the original as well (especially if both were, say, at the end or beginning of a line), then that would provide a natural and easy place for the copyist’s eye to “skip” accidentally from one to the other, and would explain why he would’ve inadvertently omitted the words between them. Given that, we can pretty confidently say the longer reading, in Fragment B, is more likely to reflect the original.

And what about the second variation? Is there any good reason why a copyist would amend an original that said “so that the nation of which we speak might live” to “so that that nation might live”? Probably not. After all, the phrase “that that nation” is just awkward. Therefore, it’s more likely a copyist would act to “correct” the doubled “that that” to something less grating to the ear and eye. For that reason, we should probably conclude that the harder, ess grammatical reading in Fragment A reflects the original.

Given all this, we can come to good conclusions that Fragment B probably reflects the original on the first variation (because of the probability the copyist’s eye skipped from “war” to “war”), and that Fragment A reflects the original on the second variation (because a copyist wouldn’t “correct” the original to say “that that.”) Therefore, we should reconstruct the original like this:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

Do you see? Just by reasoning through why copyists might make certain changes, we’re able to arrive at a confident conclusion about what the original document actually said, even though our final version is not entirely reflected in either of the fragments we actually have. Neat, huh?

Well, that’s exactly the kind of work scholars have done for centuries on the fragments and manuscripts of the New Testament available to us. The puzzles they face, of course, are far more complicated than these simple examples, but you get the idea. By comparing the ancient copies we have, and thinking carefully about why certain changes or errors might have been made by copyists, scholars are able to reach highly confident conclusions about what the original documents said. It’s not a matter of guesswork or magic, much less of assumption or simply “making things up,” but rather of careful deductive reasoning.

Patently and Utterly False

Before we conclude, we should make another point or two. First, it’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of the textual variants with which we’re faced are just utterly uninteresting and non-dramatic. They have to do with plural versus singular pronouns, inverted word order, subjunctive versus indicative mood, aorist versus perfect tense, and on and on and on. The vast majority don’t include anything that affects how we ultimately understand the meaning of the Bible.

Second, Christian scholars have been exceedingly careful to document—in actual books that you can buy, if you’re willing to shell out the money—the most significant variants along with an analysis of each one like the kind we’ve done here. Of course you’re free to disagree with any one of the conclusions those scholars reach; Christians have fun arguing about this kind of thing all the time. But the point is that, again, there’s no conspiracy to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Where there are variants to be reckoned with, Christians are wide open about that fact, precisely because we believe those variants—and the reasons behind why they exist in the first place—can help us determine to a decisively high degree of probability what the original New Testament documents really said.

Do you see the point? The charge that we cannot know what the originals said is patently and utterly false. The gap between the originals and our first copies of them is—in the grand scheme of things—not that long at all. And far from diminishing our ability to identify what the originals said, the vast number of existing copies actually allows us to deductively reason out, to a very high degree of historical confidence, what John, Luke, Paul, and the other writers actually wrote.

-- Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Greg Gilbert’s book Why Trust the Bible? (Crossway, 2015) [review]. It originally appeared at 9Marks.

Greg Gilbert is the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of What Is the Gospel? (Crossway, 2010) and co-author of What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Crossway, 2011), Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Crossway, 2012), and The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Zondervan, 2014).

Why Did God Create the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Why did God keep back just one thing from the people he made? Why would he make people in his image, then give them one prohibition? What was the purpose in that tricky Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Sinclair Ferguson addresses this in "The Whole Christ." -- Tim Challies

"I am giving you everything in this garden. Go and enjoy yourselves. But just before you head off, I have given you all of this because I love you. I want you to grow and develop in your understanding and in your love for me. So this is the plan:  There is a tree here, “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Don’t eat its fruit.  I know—you want to know why, don’t you?

"Well, I have made you as my image. I have given you instincts to enjoy what I enjoy. So in one sense you naturally do what pleases me and simultaneously gives you pleasure too.

"But I want you to grow in trusting and loving me just for myself, because I am who I am.

"You can only really do that if you are willing to obey me, not because you are wired to, but because you want to show me that you trust and love me.

"If you do that you will find that you grow stronger and that your love for me deepens.

"Trust me, I know.

"That’s why I have put that tree there. I so want you to be blessed that I am commanding you to eat and enjoy the fruit of all these trees. That’s a command! But I have another command. What I want you to do is one simple thing: don’t eat the fruit of that one tree.

"I am not asking you to do that because the tree is ugly—actually it is just as attractive as the other trees. I don’t create ugly, ever! You won’t be able to look at the fruit and think, That must taste horrible. It is a fine-looking tree. So it’s simple. Trust me, obey me, and love me because of who I am and because you are enjoying what I have given to you. Trust me, obey me, and you will grow."

-- Sinclair Ferguson, in an excerpt from "The Whole Christ"

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Whole Bible

It takes the whole Bible to make a Christian whole.

Pride -- the fundamental vice

"The essential vice, the utmost evil is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison; it was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state." - C.S. Lewis

Grieving God

"The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him, is not to believe that he loves you." -- John Owen

When Jesus Is Your King

"Three ways to make Jesus your king: trust him, obey him, and expect great things from him." -- Tim Keller

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Deciding on the Questionable Matters

“Mature and maturing Christians, when making a decision about a matter that might seem ethically uncertain, don’t fail to take into account that, according to the New Testament, their ultimate decision must be guided by a number of principles, including, 1) the effect it will have on others -- might it trip another believer up, causing them to fall (back?) into sin?), and, 2)whether they can in good conscience say that they are doing the action out of conviction and faith that this is a good way to please their Lord. These are principles taught in a passage like Romans 14, which ends with, ‘But whoever doubts stands condemned if he [does the questionable action], because his eating is not from a conviction (or ‘from faith’), and everything that is not from a conviction is sin.’ (v. 23, HCSB). These principles are especially relevant for those who have been entrusted with leadership and influence in Christ’s church (and who have accepted that special stewardship -- see James 3:1).”

-- Jon G. Baldwin

Friday, January 8, 2016

Living with the Mystery of Providence

“Your rest is not to be found in figuring your life out, but in trusting the One who has it all figured out for your good and his glory.”

-- Paul David Tripp

"Be Still My Soul"

"Be Still, My Soul"
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897

1. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2. Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

3. Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

4. Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Hymn #651 
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Psalm 46:10
Author: Catharine Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel, 1752, cento
Translated by: Jane Borthwick, 1855
Titled: "Stille, mein Wille"
Composer: Jean Sibelius, b. 1865, arr.
Tune: "Finlandia"

Jesus and Romans 8:28

Remember that Romans 8:28 was at work in the experience of Jesus (who "loved God" and was "called according to His purpose") from Gethsemane to Golgotha -- with all the horrors He "endured" for the "joy set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2, cp. the "good" of Rom. 8:28) -- the joy/good of accomplishing God's redeeming work for God's glory and our true good. His enduring obedience was the path to His being exalted and glorified by God (Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 53:10-12). My understanding of Rom. 8:28 has to 'fit' with this kind of experience.