Wednesday, November 28, 2007
With all the talk about faith and film, and Christians influencing the world through entertainment, has anyone stopped to think about a TV movie that--perhaps more than any other--has provided a faithful pointer to Christ?
No, it's not high art. But I'm thankful that year after year, one of the big network three put this show on TV and some of God's Word--containing the essence of the incarnation event--is relayed each year to children and adults. No small thing.
From Josh Harris @ http://www.joshharris.com
I am often asked if I still agree with what I wrote in my first book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The answer is that I do, but I'm quick to state that I've never claimed that the ideas I share in it are for everyone, nor that my book is or should be the final word on Christian relationships. The book is simply me at 21-years-old sharing my personal journey of learning to honor God with romance and relationships.
I also add, that while I stand by what I wrote, I don't always like the way other people represent or champion the concepts I've written about. Sadly there have been many times that people have applied its principles in a very legalistic and heavy-handed way. Some people have had my book forced on them or have been treated as though agreeing with me is the only option for Christians. If you're one of those people, I apologize. That certainly wasn't my intention when I wrote it.
I share all this to tell you about a DVD that my publisher released this year that I hope will contribute to clearing up some of the misconceptions that exist about my writing on dating and courtship. The DVD is a combination of both old and new messages that I've given on the topic.
The original content on the DVD was produced back in 1999. It features drama, on-the-street interviews, personal testimonies, and segments of me teaching before a live audience. The focus of the messages is not "stop dating" but instead an encouragement to find your definition of love and purity from God's Word. They're a call to trust and honor God while genuinely caring for other people. The three original messages are:
• Love: What is true love, and how does its power make it possible for you to enjoy lifelong, meaningful friendships?
• Purity: In an age of compromise, how do we cultivate outward modesty and inward purity? What should our ultimate motivation be for living a life of purity, and why should it be a priority in your life?
• Trust: Singleness is not a time for watching life go by, but a chance to develop your gifts and use this season—however long it is—to serve the Lord, while trusting God for his good timing for romance.
The two more recent messages are on courtship and were done at my church in the past few years. The new messages gave me the chance to address some of the questions raised by my books, and some of the ways their principles have been misapplied. They are:
• Courtship Shmourtship: Addresses misconceptions people have about courtship, and takes a biblical look at relationships. I speak to singles who are so concerned with "guarding each others heart" that they're not talking to one another.These bonus messages don't have the same production quality of the first three (you're just sitting in on a Sunday meeting at our church) but we've gotten encouraging feedback on how they answer questions that my books have generated. (We refer to these two as the "bald Josh" messages. The original three messages are the "Josh with Elvis Hair" messages.)
• Courtship: A Community Project: Looks at how godly relationships can function in the context of the local church.
Each of the five messages are approximately 1 hour in length. The DVD is a good resource for youth groups or singles ministries, for sparking small group discussion, as well as personal viewing. You can buy it here.
And here's a little intro we put together for the new content of the DVD:
The sixth cause for evangelism entropy is an Ineffective Training Strategy.
Recently I discovered a athletic training principle called, momentary muscular failure, also known as the overload principle. This principle states that, "Only by stressing your muscles beyond their physical capacity can you compel them to produce an adaptive response and exact a change in your body. You will gradually increase intensity until you are training to momentary muscular failure. From a training perspective, failure equals success! When you first attempt to train to failure, it can be an enlightening experience, one that you might not be prepared to endure. While lifting a weight, most people are prone to give up mentally before their muscles truly give out. They may think they have induced muscular failure, yet their muscles are capable of completing several more repetitions. To obtain the best results, you must learn to differentiate between mental failure and physical failure. Remember the adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” Pushing yourself to the limit will show your internal and external strength and allow your body to achieve more than you ever could have imagined." (HT:Human Kinetics)
The take away of this principle is that for effective training to take place the participant must experience a certain level of discomfort. They must be pushed out of their comfort zone. Which begs the question: "How much of our training pushes people out of their comfort zones?" or "How much of our training is simply entertainment for the consumer?" Jesus in His great commission says, ''...and teach them to obey everything I have commanded." (Matthew 28:20) Obedience is a bending of our wills to another's will. A disciple of Jesus is one who bends his will to the commands of Jesus. In a day when mega churches are admittedly saying we don't know how to make disciples, this principle goes to the heart of the matter.
Here are Five Biblical Elements needed for an effective training strategy:
1. A Mature Influence: Jesus said, "A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40) Paul writes that fathers are to train their child (Ephesians 6:4) and the older women are to train younger women. (Titus 2:3-4) I am personally convinced that the goal of every church should be that every convert has a personal mentor, a mature influence that builds trust, sets the example and speaks specifically into their lives as they bend their will to Jesus' will.
2. A Common Goal: Paul wrote to a young leader he was mentoring, "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (I Timothy 4:7-8) Godliness is defined as, "character and conduct determined by the principle of love or fear of God in the heart." Another definition describes godliness as "a God-ward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him." HT:Godliness If the goal is to please ourselves or meet our own needs then every effort of training will always fall short.
3. A Common Source of Authority: Jesus said, "and teach them to obey everything I have commanded." (Matthew 28:20) Paul wrote, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3:16-17) Following the rules is essential to training, yet so often we all want to write our own rules or live by our interpretation of the rules and then we wonder why our efforts are so ineffective!
4. A Certain Level of Discomfort: Paul uniquely describes the training process when he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3:16-17) Teaching is giving us the knowledge needed to be thoroughly equipped. Rebuking is revealing behavior, attitudes and beliefs that keep us for being thoroughly equipped. Correcting involves those mid-course adjustments that are needed to be thoroughly equipped. Training in Righteousness is the discipline needed to stay the course and achieve the goal of godliness. In the book of Hebrews we see the value of discipline, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)
5. Constant Repetition: I think all of us would agree that the more we do something the better equipped we feel at handling a certain task. The author of the book of Hebrews writes, "But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:14) What level of repetition is represented in your training programs?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I write this article trying to explain what is happening in our culture, behind and below the headlines, at the deepest spiritual level. A case in point: we have all noticed that the word "Christmas" is avoided in public discourse-more or less. On my local "cool Jazz" radio station, the cool host wished us "happy Holidays," and then played "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Oops!
Surely sanity, fair play and the good old days of Christmas past will return! My sense is, though, if our social handlers and media moguls have anything to do with it, we are fast approaching the "last Noel." The "Give-A-Christmas" charity drive has become the "Holiday Fund." After Thanksgiving, we do our "holiday shopping," to fill our children's "holiday stockings," when we get back from the office "holiday party."
The sociologists saw this coming. "We used to be a Christian nation," said sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston University in 1998. "Recently we have become a nation tolerant of all religions" -except Christianity. Behind the diversity and tolerance lies the view all religions are ultimately the same. Since this is not the Christian message, Christmas will not bring us together, so Christmas must go. But not only Christmas.
Winter and Spring Break now replace Christmas and Easter. The Ten Commandments are banished from the public square. Academics no longer refer to history as BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini), but with the meaningless BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era), thereby eliminating Christ as the center of history. One apostate theologian predicts that in the future the world will begin redating history, replacing the year 2000 with GE 1, year one of the Global Era! At the street level, according to Barna, only 8% of Americans are evangelical. All this spells the end, not just of Christmas, but of Christendom.
The grinches who are stealing December 25 are filling the void with virtually anything. One town hosts a Polar Express Festival, replacing Christmas trees with polar bears! In schools, trees are kept but ideologically renamed Peace Trees, Cultural Trees, or Diversity Trees. With ornaments from the world's cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions, these trees celebrate in coded language the agenda of neo-pagan unity. A teacher explains: "By acknowledging the value of all cultures, we become cohesive and accepting of each other's diversity…we become successful at working toward the motto: 'Let there be peace on Earth.'" Obviously, featuring a Christmas tree and explaining the biblical meaning of peace is clearly not part of the "accepting of each other's diversity."
The new religion of human unity celebrates the season by turning the Christian Gospel on its head. Planned Parenthood is selling its "Choice on Earth" Christmas cards, celebrating "human rights," "equality," "women's health," and the murder of babies. One "interfaith" choir sings "Joy from the world," and a so-called "Christian" feminist theologian declares that at Christmastime "flesh became word." In this religion, there is no divine Word who takes on flesh and provides salvation to helpless sinners. We are not sinners. "Flesh" can help itself, thank you!
As we watch the cultural demise of the American Christmas, it is easy to become nostalgic, even discouraged. But, realistically, during the 20th century while the word "Christmas" was largely used, Xmas had lost most of its connection with the original event.
Our present situation reminds us that we will always be the church militant, struggling for the truth, as at the First Noel. When our Savior was being born, there was no Christmas music playing in the hotels, if you could get into one. The Romans were moving people around for social control, while celebrating the pagan feast of Saturnalia, the birthday of the sun and light. Herod, the half-Arab King of the Jews, in the name of "choice" (his), ordered a mass post-partum abortion of all the male Christmas babies. No one had a clue that it was Christmas, let alone used the word.
The First Noel also reminds us that the reality of Christmas really happened anyway. Into that idolatrous scene of phony "light" and unspeakable cruelty, shone a healing light from the outside. God the transcendent Creator had mercy on his creation, bringing help into a fallen, rebellious world, when we could not help ourselves. Eight centuries before Jesus' birth, Israel was comforted by the mere prophecy of its coming. Twenty-one centuries after Jesus' birth, all who put their trust in him, whether Jew, Arab or Asian, whether male or female, whether rich or poor-look back with joy on the fulfillment of that prophecy:
Comfort, comfort my people,…cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned,….And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40:1-4).
This is continued from last Tuesday’s series on the ”fad-driven” church. This article is adapted from the transcript to Phil’s 2005 Shepherds’ Conference seminar on this topic.
We left off, in the last post with this thought:
Scripture is better than any fad. Preaching the Word of God is more effective than any new methodology contemporary church experts have ever invented. I don’t care who thinks preaching is “broken.” If we would get back to the clear proclamation and exposition of God’s Word, everything that’s broken about contemporary preaching would be fixed.
The nature of God’s Word guarantees that. And that’s exactly what I want to do in the time we have remaining in this session. I want to preach to you about the superiority and the excellence of Scripture.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
That’s a rich text, full of meaning, but let me take a few minutes to try to isolate what seem to me the three main qualities of the Word of God that are highlighted in this text, and let’s carefully consider what they mean.
First of all, it teaches us that—
1. The Word of God is powerful.
The King James Version says, “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” Quick, of course, is the old English word for “living.” I was surprised in reading John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews that even though he wrote in the 1600s, he had to explain the word quick to his readers. He referred to the word quick as an improper translation, because, he said, “that word doth more ordinarily signify ‘speedy,’ than ‘living.’” So I don’t know when the word quick stopped meaning “alive,” but it was apparently before John Owen’s time.
I grew up in a church where we used to recite the traditional version of the Apostles’ Creed, which says, Christ “ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” And that made perfect sense to me. I figured “the quick” were those who made it through the crosswalk, and “the dead” were those who didn’t.
But, of course, quick in this kind of context just means “alive” or “living,” and that is what this text is saying. “The Word of God is living.” That’s the correct sense. It speaks of vitality, life, activity, energy. The Word of God has a life-force that is unlike any merely human book. It is not only alive; it has the power to impart life to those who are spiritually dead. Jesus said in John 6:63: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” First Peter 1:23: “[We are] born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” James 1:18: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” Psalm 119:50: “This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.” “Your word has given me life.”
You can take all the great books and all the great literature in the world combined, and they do not have this life-giving power. No book changes lives like the Word of God. You might occasionally hear a person say, “that self-help book transformed my life”; or “that diet book was revolutionary”; or “that book on philosophy changed the way I think.” Rick Warren makes a promise in the introduction to The Purpose Driven Life that his book will change your life.
But the life-giving and life-changing power of the Bible is something far deeper than any other book can legitimately claim. The Word of God renews the heart by giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead. It changes our character at an essential, fundamental level. It transforms our desires and impacts us at a moral level no human literature can touch. It brings a kind of cleansing and renewal and sanctification that no other book could ever claim to offer. It resurrects the soul. It has the same creative power in the command of God when He said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.”
The Word of God is inherently powerful. It has a kind of life and vitality that is unlike merely human words. Proverbs 6:22–23 says this about the Word of God: “When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” And a familiar passage, 2 Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
No other book has that effect. It rebukes us. It chastens us. It comforts us. It guides us and gives light to our path. It preaches to us. It restrains our foot from evil. It frowns on us when we sin. It warms our hearts with assurance. It encourages us with its promises. It stimulates our faith. It builds us up. It ministers to our every need. It is alive and dynamic.
And the vitality of Scripture is eternal and abiding. In John 6:68, Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” The eternality of divine life is perfectly embodied in the Word of God. Again, Jesus said (Mark 13:31), “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Psalm 119:89: “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.” First Peter 1:25: “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
Every page of the Bible has a life-changing power that is just as fresh as the day it was written. We don’t have to make it come alive; it is both alive and active. It is always relevant, eternally applicable, speaking to the heart with a power that is unlike even the greatest of human works. The thoughts and opinions of men come and go. They fall from fashion and fade from memory. But the Word of God remains “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”
And what is true of the whole is true of the parts. Every part of Scripture is alive and powerful. Proverbs 30:5: “Every word of God is pure.” Jesus said “Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” gives life and sustenance. That’s why Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”
I’m always amazed at the passages of Scripture that have been instrumental in bringing people to Christ. I’ve told you before how I came to saving faith in Christ by reading 1 Corinthians as a senior in high school. The passage that drew me to Christ is not one you would necessarily think of as an evangelistic text. First Corinthians 3:18: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.” But it rebuked my sin and turned me to Christ.
I have heard people tell how they were awakened to eternal life by verses from the gospels, the epistles, the psalms, and even some of the obscure parts of the Old Testament. I doubt there’s a page anywhere in Scripture that has not at some time or some place been used by the Spirit of God to convert a soul. None of it is superfluous. Second Timothy 3:16 again: “All scripture is . . . profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
My friend Joe Aleppo, who is here this week, introduced me to a man in Sicily who came to Christ during a severe paper shortage after World War II because of a single page of Scripture from a Bible someone had thrown away. Paper was almost impossible to come by, so merchants used old newspapers and other scrap paper to wrap whatever they sold in the marketplace. This man went to the fish market and bought a fish. When he unwrapped it at home, one of the papers used to make the package was a page from a discarded New Testament. He read it, and this man who had been a lifelong Roman Catholic and had never before read a verse of the Bible for himself became a believer. That man’s conversion was the beginning of the first significant Protestant movement on the island of Sicily.
The Word of God is powerful. The Greek word translated “powerful” in Hebrews 4:12 is energes, which is the source of our English word “energetic.” It’s translated “active” in some versions, and that’s a good translation. It speaks of something that is dynamic, operative, and effectual. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:13): “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
The Word of God always works effectually. It always accomplishes its intended purpose. In Isaiah 55:11, God says, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Sometimes God’s purpose is rebuke and correction; sometimes it is instruction and edification. Sometimes it is blessing; sometimes it is judgment. The gospel is “the savour of death unto death” for some; for others, it is “the savour of life unto life.” Either way, the Word of God is effectual, productive, powerful. It always produces the effect God intends.
That’s why preachers ought to preach the Word instead of telling stories and doing comedy. That’s where the power for ministry resides: in the Word. It’s not in our cleverness or our oratorical skills. The power is in the Word of God. And our task is simple: all we have to do is make the Bible’s meaning plain, proclaim it with accuracy and clarity. And the Spirit of God uses His Word to transform lives. The power is in the Word, not in any technique or program.
As we saw in the previous post, the first characteristic of the Word of God is that it is powerful. Here’s characteristic number 2:
2. The Word of God is penetrating.
Notice how vividly the writer of Hebrews portrays this idea: “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.”
The Word is like a sword—”a two-edged sword.” It has no blunt side. It cuts no matter which way you swing it. Not only that, but it also has a penetrating point. It is “piercing.” You can swing it like a saber or thrust with it like a rapier. You don’t have to be highly skilled to use it with effect. In the hands of an amateur, it will still work. And there’s nothing so hard or so deeply concealed that it can’t penetrate.
In fact, look at the verse again: the Word of God is “sharper than any twoedged sword.” No human instrument or worldly technique or psychological therapy is more effective than the Word of God to penetrate the human heart. It lays bare the true thoughts and intents of every heart.
I had a friend in college who was describing his efforts to evangelize a fellow student. My friend was convinced—quite incorrectly—that stealth evangelism is the best way to win people to Christ. So he was trying to be a subtle as possible and as delicate and indirect as possible while waiting for an opening to tell this non-Christian student about Christ.
He kept telling me about conversations he had with this guy, and how he was looking for some kind of “opening” to work the gospel in. This went on for months. And it seemed to me that he had already wasted several good “openings,” but he just lacked the boldness to bring up the subject of Christ. It seemed to me that he was waiting for the guy to be like the Philippian jailer and ask, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?” And I could see it wasn’t going to happen. So I said, “Why don’t you just bring up the subject, and tell him in the plainest possible language what the Bible says about Christ?”
And he said, “I just don’t think he’s really open yet.”
But you know what? We don’t have to be “open” for the Word of God to penetrate. It is “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and quite capable of opening even the hardest heart.
We need to have more confidence in the ability of the Word of God to penetrate people’s hearts. This is one of the real deficiencies in this generation of evangelicals. We don’t have enough faith in the power of God’s Word to penetrate a hardened heart. And so some Christians—and even lots of churches—actually back away from proclaiming the simple Word of God to unbelievers in plain language. They think it’s necessary to have music and drama and other forms of entertainment to soften people up and prepare them to receive the Word. And in many cases they never do get around to declaring the Word of God with any kind of boldness.
You hear people today talking about “pre-evangelism.” I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, but usually it refers to some activity or technique that entertains people and tries to make them friendly to Christianity while carefully avoiding the risk of confronting them with the truth of Scripture—as if something besides the Word of God might be more effective than Scripture at penetrating their hearts. That is sheer folly, and it is a waste of time. Nothing is more penetrating and more effective in reaching sin-hardened hearts than the pure and unadulterated Word of God. All our human techniques and ingenuity are like dull plastic butter knives compared to the Word of God, which is “sharper than any two-edged sword.”
There’s a story in the biography of George Whitefield about a man named Thorpe, who was a bitter opponent of everything that is holy. He and a group of his friends—all of them young, rebellious thugs—conspired together to mock and oppose George Whitefield’s evangelistic ministry while Whitefield was preaching in Bristol, England.
George Whitefield had severely crossed eyes, if you have ever seen a realistic likeness of him. And these guys used to refer to him as “Dr. Squintum.” They called their little gang “The Hell-Fire Club,” and they disrupted meetings, mocked Whitefield on the streets and in public places, and generally tried to make his ministry a reproach in their community. Whitefield’s preaching had already made a deep and lasting impact in Bristol, and these young ruffians hated him for it. So this guy Thorpe got one of Whitefield’s published sermons and took it to the local pub, where the “Hell-Fire Club” was gathered to drink together while they make a burlesque of Whitefield.
Thorpe was apparently pretty good at doing impressions, and he had all Whitefield’s mannerisms and gestures down pat. So he stood in the center of this pub and crossed his eyes and began to deliver a derisive rendition of Whitefield’s sermon. But in the middle of the sermon, the Word of God pierced his heart, and he suddenly stopped and sat down, trembling and broken-hearted. Right then and there, he confessed the truth of the gospel and gave his heart to Christ. His aim was to taunt and ridicule, but he accidentally converted himself! Or rather, the power of the Word of God penetrated his soul and cut him to the heart. He became a preacher himself and quite an effective evangelist, because he knew so well the power of the Word of God to penetrate hardened hearts.
Notice that the Word of God pierces to the very depths, “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It probes to the deepest recesses of the heart, no matter how hardened or how closed the heart might be. In fact, only Scripture can do that.
Notice how militant this language is. It sounds like the language of armed conflict—swords and cutting, and dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. It’s vivid, destructive-sounding language—the language of warfare and devastation. And it is true that sometimes the Word of God pierces hearts as a judgment, without remedy and without any healing.
But I don’t think that’s primarily what the writer of Hebrews has in mind. In this context, he is urging his readers to examine themselves, lest they fall away from Christ before they have truly embraced Him with saving faith. He is warning them that it is possible to come close to Christ and yet fall away without entering into His rest—the rest that comes with redemption and the forgiveness of sins.
Verse 11: “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” And our verse comes immediately after that admonition: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” He wants them to allow the Word of God to cut through their pretensions and their false professions and reveal the true thoughts and intents of their hearts.
And this is a reminder that there’s a painful process involved in regeneration. In Ezekiel 11:19, the Lord describes what is involved in this process, “I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:” Spiritual open-heart surgery.
This is the very thing that was pictured in the act of circumcision. According to Deuteronomy 10:16, it pictured the cutting away of the foreskin of the heart. Jeremiah 4:4 speaks of it too: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart.” That’s why the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2:28–29, “he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit.”
That’s the very imagery our verse in Hebrews 4 calls to mind. It’s the cutting away of that which defiles. Circumcision of the heart. The Word of God is the instrument that makes this possible.
Painful cutting is often the necessary prerequisite for true and thorough healing. That’s what surgery is all about. And that is precisely the ministry the Word of God has in the lives of those who genuinely know Christ. If you have never experienced that painful piercing of the two-edged sword, then you ought to examine yourself to see whether you are really in the faith. Because you cannot possibly know Christ in a true and saving way unless the Word of God has rebuked your sin and cut into your fallen heart and convicted and convinced you of your own desperate need of cleansing and spiritual heart surgery to deal with your sin.
And that, I believe, is the very thing the writer of Hebrews is speaking about here. It’s a wholly beneficial thing. Although the Word of God is like a sword that cuts deeply and penetrates to the very depths, it is a necessary and beneficial incision that ultimately is designed for our own good. And for those who submit to the Word of God rather than resisting it, the cutting and probing of the two-edged sword always results in salvation, rather than destruction.
Margaret Somerville, director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at
Recognizing the Youngest Victims of Crime
In the past three years, in
A Environics poll asking if killing or injuring a foetus should be a crime found that 75 per cent of Canadian women and 68 per cent of men would support a foetal protection law (the level of support among all Canadians was 72 per cent). The same poll found that, overall, 62 per cent of Canadians supported legal protection of the unborn child at some point before or at viability. (The Canadian Medical Association guidelines define foetal viability -- the possibility that the foetus can survive outside its mother’s womb -- to be 20 weeks gestation and/or 500 grams in weight.)
In short, many Canadians’ moral intuition is that "there ought to be a law" or laws protecting foetuses from some harms, although we don’t all agree on what those laws should be, especially in the context of abortion. Presently in
The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently ruled that under our current law the foetus does not exist as a protectable human being, and the Criminal Code legislates that a child becomes a human being for the purposes of a homicide offence only after it is born alive. This means that criminal liability specifically for the wrong of killing the foetus in the course of a criminal act cannot at present be imposed. Only the wrong to the mother is legally cognisable.
Proposals for an Unborn Victims of Crime Act are adamantly opposed by pro-choice abortion advocates, for fear that any legal recognition of the foetus will lead to the re-criminalisation of abortion. They accuse pro-life supporters of promoting such legislation as a backdoor way to prohibit abortion. It’s true that it could cause us to view the foetus and, therefore, abortion differently. But wilful blindness on our part as a society is not an ethical approach to dealing with abortion.
Seeing the foetus as an unborn victim of crime strips away the medical cloak that abortion places on the taking of its life, a cloak that dulls our moral intuitions as to what is involved. It causes us to see the foetus as what it is, an early human life. Those who support abortion must be able to square that fact with their belief that abortion is ethical in all or certain circumstances. Simply arguing for a woman’s right to choose and having no legal prohibitions on abortion does not make it so.
Paradoxically, in one sense, an "unborn victims of violence" law is consistent with a pro-choice stance: it is the other side of the choice coin. It would recognise that women have the "right to choose to bring their child to term in safety", the "right to choose life for their child". Killing or injuring the foetus without the woman’s consent, whether or not there was violence to her, would be an offence.
Pro-choice advocates who don't support this legislation are being inconsistent. If they really are pro-choice they should respect and promote any and all choices for the woman, not just the one to abort. To do otherwise, is not pro-choice, but pro-abortion.
Abortion is always a moral and ethical issue -- or it should always be. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reverend Rowan Williams, writing recently, in London, England’s The Observer, says however that we have lost our sense that abortion involves a "major moral choice" – it’s been "normalised" – "something has happened to our assumptions about the life of the unborn child, …when one third of pregnancies in Europe end in abortion".
That abortion is a moral and ethical issue does not mean, however, that it should always be a legal issue. But neither should it never be a legal issue.
As the legal void highlighted by the tragic murders of pregnant women show, we need to re-think our overall approach with respect to the law relating to pre-birth human life, including in the context of abortion. And we should do this within a context that includes women’s informed consent and the recognition of foetal pain.
Informed consent law requires that a woman must be given certain information if her consent to abortion is to be legally valid, in particular, information about the mental and physical health risks to her of abortion. These risks continue to be identified.
Whether the information should extend to a description of prenatal development, including ultrasound or other images of the foetus, abortion alternatives, and so on, before a physician may perform an abortion, is controversial.
A "Foetal Pain Awareness Act", similar to those some American states have enacted, could require a physician inform the woman before an abortion that scientific evidence suggests that after 20 weeks gestation the foetus can feel pain. Furthermore, she would have to be offered anaesthesia for the foetus, which it would be her choice to take or decline. This type of law does not prohibit abortion; rather its goal is to try to prevent the foetus from dying in excruciating pain. After all, even jurisdictions that allow capital punishment prohibit certain forms of it on the grounds they constitute cruel punishment, and we have criminal laws that protect animals from brutal treatment.
The foetus is new human life. That matters ethically and should matter legally. An Unborn Victims of Crime law would recognise that. What law should govern abortion is a separate, but important, issue that raises some different considerations, but having no law is not a neutral stance. It contravenes values that form part of the bedrock of Canadian society.
Margaret Somerville is director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at
Monday, November 26, 2007
By Abraham Piper@ www.desiringgod.org
My son Abraham, who speaks from the wisdom of experience and Scripture, has written the article that follows. I read it with tears and laughter. It is so compelling that I asked him immediately if I could share it with the church and the wider Christian community. There is no greater joy than to see your children walking in the truth--and expressing it so well. The rest is Abraham's untouched. -John Piper
Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I've never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.
1. Point them to Christ.
Your rebellious child's real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. The real problem is that they don't see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them--and the only reason to do any of the following suggestions--is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.
Only God can save your son or daughter, so keep on asking that he will display himself to them in a way they can't resist worshiping him for.
3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
If your daughter rejects Jesus, don't pretend everything is fine.
For every unbelieving child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is an unbeliever, don't ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won't be.
4. Don't expect them to be Christ-like.
If your son is not a Christian, he's not going to act like one.
You know that he has forsaken the faith, so don't expect him to live by the standards you raised him with. For example, you might be tempted to say, "I know you're struggling with believing in Jesus, but can't you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?"
If he's struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem--not partying. No matter how your child's unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart's sickness than its symptoms.
5. Welcome them home.
Because the deepest concern is not your child's actions, but his heart, don't create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: "Don't come to this house if you are..." But these will be rare. Don't lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.
If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she's pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you've been forgiven, don't give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn't been around for a week and a half because he's been staying at his girlfriend's--or boyfriend's--apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.
6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment.
What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she's breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows--especially if she was raised as a Christian--that what she's doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn't need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.
Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to.
7. Connect them to believers who have better access to them.
There are two kinds of access that you may not have to your child: geographical and relational. If your wayward son lives far away, try to find a solid believer in his area and ask him to contact your son. This may seem nosy or stupid or embarrassing to him, but it's worth it--especially if the believer you find can also relate to your son emotionally in a way you can't.
Relational distance will also be a side effect of your child leaving the faith, so your relationship will be tenuous and should be protected if at all possible. But hard rebuke is still necessary.
This is where another believer who has emotional access to your son may be very helpful. If there is a believer who your son trusts and perhaps even enjoys being around, then that believer has a platform to tell your son--in a way he may actually pay attention to--that he's being an idiot. This may sound harsh, but it's a news flash we all need from time to time, and people we trust are usually the only ones who can package a painful rebuke so that it is a gift to us.
A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they're being fools--and it is rare that this can helpfully be pointed out by their parents--so try to keep other Christians in your kids lives.
8. Respect their friends.
Honor your wayward child in the same way you'd honor any other unbeliever. They may run with crowds you'd never consider talking to or even looking at, but they are your child's friends. Respect that--even if the relationship is founded on sin. They're bad for your son, yes. But he's bad for them, too. Nothing will be solved by making it perfectly evident that you don't like who he's hanging around with.
When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend--one you've never seen before and probably won't see again--be hospitable. She's also someone's wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.
9. Email them.
Praise God for technology that lets you stay in your kids' lives so easily!
When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation for them is positive examples of Christ's joy in your own life.
Don't stress out when you're composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out one after another, and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child's inbox. God's word is never proclaimed in vain.
10. Take them to lunch.
If possible, don't let your only interaction with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it's far worse to be in the child's shoes--he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God, and use the opportunity.
It will feel almost hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but try to anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, pray that the Lord will give you the gumption to ask about his soul. You don't know how he'll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you're an idiot? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don't know until you risk asking.
(Here's a note to parents of younger children: Set up regular times to go out to eat with your kids. Not only will this be valuable for its own sake, but also, if they ever enter a season of rebellion, the tradition of meeting with them will already be in place and it won't feel weird to ask them out to lunch. If a son has been eating out on Saturdays with his dad since he was a tot, it will be much harder for him later in life to say no to his father's invitation--even as a surly nineteen-year-old.)
11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will probably disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was ten; what can you do now that she's twenty to show that you still really care about her interests?
Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he wasn't even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to that dank little nightclub where your daughter's CD release show is. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus' glory instead her own.
12. Point them to Christ.
This can't be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn't to help them know Jesus.
It's not so that they will be good kids again; it's not so that they'll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it's not so that they'll like classical music instead of deathcore; it's not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it's not so that they'll vote conservative again by the next election; it's not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they're not going to hell.
The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.
And not only is he the only point--he's the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself--captive, but satisfied.
He will do this for many. Be faithful and don't give up.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Dennis Prager spoke on his radio show Tuesday about how he has no idea what will happen in heaven because we can't know anything about it. But there is one thing we can know. The main thing. We will rejoice in seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and be in perfect fellowship with the one, true, beautiful, just, righteous, merciful, good God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--whom we will worship forever and ever.
That is the most important thing about the afterlife, and it's what will make heaven heaven. Every other detail is incidental.
This may sound like a terrible eternity to you. No one wants to spend eternity worshiping someone he doesn't love and honor, and no one will have to. Those who reject the offer of peace from the true God will be sent away. But I pray and work every day to tell you the truth about God's existence and character in hope that you will catch a glimpse of the God you're missing, want to be with Him, accept the forgiveness He offers through the payment Jesus made to completely remove the guilt that separates you from Him, and then join those of us who say now of the future, "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
It's no wonder that many of you do not want to worship, let alone be with, the kind of God you've assumed we're proclaiming. But seeing the truth about God changes everything, as David Brainerd (writing in the mid 1700s) describes:
Then, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. . . . [I]t was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before. . . . I stood still, wondered, and admired! I knew that I never had seen before anything comparable to it for excellency and beauty. . . . My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that He should be God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in Him. At least to that degree that I had no thought . . . at first, about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as I.
Thus God, I trust, brought me to a hearty disposition to exalt Him and set Him on the throne, and principally and ultimately to aim at His honor and glory, as King of the universe.
From Justin Taylor @ http://theologica.blogspot.com Based on 1 Cor. 11:17-34 Professor Peter Gentry sees six major themes in the Lord's Supper:
1. Saving Sacrifice (This is my body)
2. Covenant (This is my blood)
3. Commemoration (Do this in remembrance of me)
4. Participation (Community)
5. Expectation (Future hope)
6. Proclamation (Evangelism)
Read the whole article; these are helpful themes to meditate upon as we gather to eat the bread and drink the cup.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
2) Anxiety Is Unnecessary Because of Our Father (Matthew -30)
a) worry about food Matthew 6:26
B) worry about longevity Matthew 6:27
C) worry about clothing Matthew 6:28-30
1 Peter 5:6-7
3) Anxiety Is Unreasonable Because of Our Faith (Matthew -33)
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
4) Anxiety Is Unwise Because of Our Future (Matthew )
Friday, November 23, 2007
Whether you practice judgmental legalism or relativistic atheism you are practicing a form of religion that is opposed to the gospel of grace found in Jesus Christ.
This video clip was taken from the sermon 'The Rebel's Guide to Joy in Conflict' which can be found at http://www.marshillchurch.org/sermons...
Breaking News: Canadian Human Rights Commission employee told me: 'Canadian Human Rights Act is about censorship.'"
Friday, November 23, 2007
By Tristian Emmanuel @ www.noapologies.ca
Christian Heritage Party investigated for writings about homosexuality
Canada's Christian Heritage Party and its leader, Ron Gray, are being taken to the Canadian Human Rights Commission over commentary and opinion related to how the government and society should treat homosexuality. And Gray says he's been told directly by an employee of the Human Rights Commission that the Canadian Human Rights Act is "about censorship".
Complaint centres in part on re-posting of 5-year old WorldNetDaily.com news article
An Edmonton man, Rob Wells, has filed three complaints against Gray and his party. Two of them relate to the reposting of an item first published on WorldNetDaily.com back in April of 2002; an article written by Jon Dougherty entitled "Report: Pedophilia more common among 'gays' - Research purports to reveal 'dark side' of homosexual culture". The third complaint is against Ron Gray personally for several commentaries he wrote and distributed to party members. One of those commentaries, entitled "Sitcom prophet", likened the current climate of debate about homosexuality in Canada to the "Cone of Silence" in the 1960's-era television situation comedy "Get Smart", where the two leading characters would isolate themselves in a room where no-one c ould hear them, but they couldn't hear one another either. Gray wrote in the commentary that: "The problem with Canada's 'Cone of Silence' over the issue of homosexuality is that, like the security device in 'Get Smart', the inevitable result is that no one can communicate anything - and even the truth gets silenced."
In an exclusive interview with noapologies.ca, Ron Gray says the complaints filed against him and his party allege they are "motivated by hate, and defaming homosexual persons."
Ron Gray: "Commission employee told me: 'Canadian Human Rights Act is about censorship.'"
And, he says, when he had a conversation with a Commission employee, mediator Bob Fagan, about the specifics of the allegation, he was astonished at what he heard. "I told him that it seemed to be an abuse of the Human Rights Act for someone to try and use it as an instrument of censorship. And when I said that, on the phone, there was a pause and then he said, in a somewhat astonished tone: 'But the Human Rights Act is about censorship'. Then it was my turn to be silent on my end, because I found that breath-taking. For the Human Rights Commission's own mediator to acknowledge that censorship was the purpose of their Act."
Gray: "Charge me under the Criminal Code; I'm perfectly willing to risk going to jail."
And Gray says as fas as the "hate motivation" is concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. "I would contend", he says, "that Christians are the best friends homosexuals have because we want to see them delivered from an addiction that will shorten their lives." Gray also says he'd be much happier fighting this battle in a regular court rather than before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, where the usual rules of evidence don't apply. "If (Mr. Wells) truly believes I am motivated by hate, his complaint should not be before the Human Rights Commission. He should charge me under Section 319 of the Criminal Code (of Canada). That carries with is the possiblity of two years in jail, but in defence of the (free speech) rights of Canadians I am perfectly willing to risk going to jail."
We'll have the full interview with Ron Gray on our "week in review" program this weekend.
“Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:3-5 KJV)
The god of the natural man is self. Worship of self revolves around self-gratification. This idolatry is enhanced in a consumer driven economy such as in the United States. Today is Thanksgiving Day and tomorrow is called Black Friday because it is supposed to be the heaviest shopping day of the year as people hit the stores to buy Christmas gifts at supposedly lower prices. The day is called Black Friday because it is traditional that most retailer’s ledgers and balance sheets get into the black for the first time in the year. As a result we are inundated with sale papers and ads on TV about sales that begin before the Sun comes up.
This consumerism is the fruit of an economic system that is designed to manipulate people into buying things that they would not ordinarily buy. Christmas has become a commercial holiday that is all about buying gifts and spending money. The holiday was supposed to celebrate the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, however, that meaning has been relegated to the back burner or lost in the shuffle. Now, it is all about buying gifts and receiving gifts. To the retailer, it is a time for making money. No matter from what angle we approach Christmas, it seems that it is all about greed. God’s people are called to be different. Their focus should not be on self at all, but on serving their Lord in obedience and love.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-22 KJV)
When we look to what we possess as our “treasure” then that will be where our hearts are directed. Jesus tells us in this passage to not do this. As we saw in the passage from Proverbs at the top of this post, riches or possessions do not last. They are temporal and cannot be depended upon. However, the admonition from our Lord is to not place our hope in them or our trust. Instead, He tells us to lay up treasure in Heaven. This treasure is eternal, not temporal. Jesus tells us that if we place our hope in Him as our treasure then our hearts will be there instead of here. When that is the case, we will not be enslaved to self-gratification. Who does this? How can we do this? We must become Spirit-filled so that we will be guided and controlled by the Holy Spirit. When we do this, we will not be focused on how much wealth we have on earth, but we will be looking to follow our Lord as we carry our crosses in self-denial.
“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:22-24 KJV)
This statement by our Lord is an argument from the lesser to the greater. His analogy is very simple. If one’s eye is bad, no light can come in. This leaves him or her in darkness. This is speaking of external perception. However, it is much worse if there is internal corruption within one’s nature. From this corruption, darkness actually emanates from within. This affects that person’s whole being. If a person is in love with money and/or possessions then he or she is driven by self-gratification and is in darkness. Only the Spirit-filled believer is in the light. Only the Spirit-filled believer is genuinely humble. Only the Spirit-filled believer denies and dies to self as he or she follows their Lord in obedience. The self-oriented person is in darkness and serves mammon while the Spirit-filled believer serves God. Mammon refers to earthly, material treasures.
There is nothing wrong with having a job that pays a salary. There is nothing wrong with owning a business. Money is not evil. It is the love of money and things that is the root of all sorts of evil. Why? If our motive is to accumulate or get for self-gratification then we will also do things in an attempt to get more and not lose any in a way that is not ethical or what Christians should be doing. If God blesses us with earnings or gifts or things then we must hold them lightly and focus on Him and His will in how we manage those things.
Let us lay up our treasure in Heaven, not here on earth. If we do that, then our heart will be there. Our motives will be God’s glory, not mammon. This life is short and we have only one time through it to get it right. We must repent of our greed and self-focus and ask that God give us a heart that is filled with His Spirit as we obey Him as He leads and guides. All for His glory!
Be sure to check out Mike's web site, POSSESSING THE TREASURE.
I recently was directed to 1 John 4 where the Apostle directs Christians to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone into the world.” (v.1).
Well how are ‘we’ supposed to evaluate or test who we should believe? For these ‘false’ prophets are there and apparently pretty pervasive.
John gives us the answer in specific terms: their view of Christ (vv. 2,3). Those who were opposing the early church were undermining the biblical teaching of who Christ is. But how did they do this?
“Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” (1 John 4.6)
This is quite remarkable. The Apostle John is here drawing a line in the theological sand to distinguish between right and wrong revelation, or perhaps better demonic and biblical. John is appealing to the authoritative revelation that has come through the Apostles and the Prophets as the cornerstone of the church (Eph. 2.20).
As the early church was recognizing what God had determined to be canonical, they were continually straining out the theological germs of unbiblical teaching (i.e. attacks on Christ’s person). This appeal by the Apostle to the standard of truth is a refreshing keyhole into how the early church dealt with theological attacks. We see the Apostle Paul do the same thing in 2 Corinthians and Galatians, among other places.This is a helpful reminder to us today to follow the same pattern of submission that is modeled by the Apostle John. Christians need to find themselves submitting to what God has chosen to reveal through the Apostles and Prophets as the authoritative standard for evaluating not only false teaching but also everything else in life (2 Tim. 3.16-17).
I'm currently reading The Christian, His Conflict And His Armour by Charles Simeon. Simeon lived from 1759 - 1836 and was minister of Holy Trinity Church Cambridge for 54 years. He was a contemporary of William Wilberforce and, according to the end notes of the book, was instrumental in encouraging many to give themselves to missionary service.
In chapter two of the book Simeon deals with the wiles of the devil. He says that Satan always has two purposes, to lead men to sin and to keep men from God. He expounds on those two main themes throughout the chapter.
To Lead Men to Sin
- "Satan considers the weak part of every man, and directs his artillery where he may most easily make a breach." We must therefore be aware of our weaknesses in order to know his most likely place of attack.
- "Satan is sure to embrace an opportunity when we are alone, withdrawn from those whose eye would intimidate or whose council would restrain us." We should therefore remain connected to the Body of Christ and pursure discipling relationships that will prevent us from being isolated. Christianity is to to be a lone pursuit.
- "...in leading us to the commission of sin, he will use sometimes the authority of magistrates, of masters, or of parents, and sometimes the influence of our dearest friends or relatives." We must therefore be sure that our final authority is the Word of God and that we are willing to "obey God rather than men" when the council of men conflicts with the Word of God, even if that council is from someone we respect or to whom we are close.
- "He for a time conceals his full purpose: he pleads at first for nothing more than the gratification of the eye, the ear, the imagination." We must always realize that Satan's goal is our enslavement to sin. The attractiveness of sin to our senses is only the bait. If we take that bait and indulge our sensual nature, we are also taking the consequences that go along with that sin - things which are at first hidden from us.
To Keep Men from God
- "He will begin with misrepresenting to his captives their own nature." Simeon says Satan will either try to convince us that we are not that bad and therefore do not need a savior or that we are so bad Christ's work is not sufficient for us. Either way the result is the same.
- "...he will misrepresent to his captives the character of God." Again, Simeon says Satan pursures one of two extremes. He either paints God as too merciful to punish anyone eternally or as unwilling to forgive the most grevious sinners because of the demands of His justice.
I found much wisdom in Simeon's discussion of the wiles of the devil. I also found it interesting that the enemy's tactics have not changed much in the 150 or so years since Simeon wrote this or indeed in the several thousand years or so since he first deceived our first ancestors in the Garden. We would do well to continually remind ourselves of these tactics in order to be prepared for them when they come our way.
There has been much said about Jesus over the past few years in the media. All sorts of new discoveries have come down the pipeline that supposedly will give us the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. From the Gospel of Judas to the tomb of the family of Jesus, each of these discoveries has leveled some attack on the biblical understanding of Jesus.
In their new book, Dethroning Jesus, Darrell Bock and Daniel Wallace help the reader understand the focus of six of these recent attacks. They summarize these attacks as a movement called Jesusanity. “Jesusanity is a coined term for the alternative story about Jesus. Here the center of the story is still Jesus, but Jesus as either a prophet or a teacher of religious wisdom. (p. 4)” In other words, the recent attacks on Jesus seek to take something away from our understanding of Christ. In their own way, they each try to reduce Jesus from the incarnate Son of God who died to save sinners to a good teacher and moral example for mankind to follow. Bock and Wallace deal with six discoveries which if true, would drastically alter our picture of the biblical Christ. The opposite of Jesusanity is Christianity, which understands the true image of Christ to be one of the God-man anointed by God to restore the broken relationship between God and man.
Instead of chapters, Dethroning Jesus consists of 6 claims which have been made recently regarding Christ and the response of Bock and Wallace to each of these claims. They begin with the claim that the original New Testament has been corrupted so badly by copyists that we can’t even know what the original text said. They spend the bulk of this claim evaluating an incredibly popular book, Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. At one point, Misquoting Jesus reached #1 on the Amazon.com best seller list. In it Ehrman argues that we don’t have anyway of knowing what the original text said because of the state of the copies we possess. This claim assaults the very Word of God and argues that it is unknowable. Bock and Wallace deal with this claim thoroughly by exposing the fallacies in Ehrman’s reasoning and explaining the case for the New Testament as the inerrant Word of God.
They next move on to deal with the claim that the Gospel of Judas belongs alongside the other four gospels and provides proof that early Christianity was a diverse group with multiple systems of doctrine. In this claim they go into the detail of what the Gospel of Judas specifically teaches and contrast it with biblical Christianity.
Third, Dethroning Jesus tackles the claim that the Gospel of Thomas radically alters our understanding of the person of Christ. Again, Bock and Wallace walk us through specific examples from the Gospel of Thomas and prove that this ancient document offers us a different Christ from the one found in Scripture.
Next they discuss the claim that the message of Christ was fundamentally political and social in nature. This claim is specifically dealt with in the writings of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. They reinterpret sections of the Gospels to mean that Christ had as His goal the reform of political systems. He wanted justice and it was His passion for correcting social ills and political problems that eventually got Him killed.
The fifth claim dealt with in Dethroning Jesus is the claim that Paul took captive the original movement of Jesus and James and changed it from a Jewish reform effort to a religion that exalted Jesus and included Gentiles. This claim attacks the deity of Christ and the consistency of Scripture. James Tabor is the major proponent of this view and his work is dealt with in this section of the book.
Finally, the last claim discussed is that the tomb of Jesus has been found and thus He could not have risen from the dead. They examine the recent documentary the Discovery channel put together concerning the lost tomb of Jesus.
These six claims have covered a wide variety of topics and a massive amount of academic discussion over the past few years as each one has gained national attention in some fashion or another. Darrell Bock and Dan Wallace have done us a great service by explaining the danger of each claim and then providing ample evidence to refute the arguments of each.
Though it may sound intimidating to some, Dethroning Jesus is written in a flowing, easy to read style. This will prove to be a helpful and important book for understanding the current debate over the person and work of Christ. Bock and Wallace summarize by saying, “Each one of these claims has made an impact in the public square, having been articulated in books that have made the best seller list or in television specials that have attracted millions. These ideas legitimately have aroused the interest of those who have come into contact with them, but often in a one-sided way so that the ‘rest of the story’ was missing. We have endeavored to supply the missing pieces in this book” (p. 217).
Thursday, November 22, 2007
A few weeks ago a friend emailed me a warning about the new movie The Golden Compass starring Nicole Kidman. The film is based on the first book in a series of children's books by British agnostic Philip Pullman. My friend said that the books are Pullman's attempt to influence others, particularly children, with his own God-hating perspective. (I didn't think you were allowed to make movies these days unless that was your objective, but evidently this guy is particularly committed to the goal.)
Of course all this sounds like the making of a beautiful urban legend--the kind that Christians love to get totally freaked out about. The next thing you know Madalyn Murray O'Hair is starring in the movie and unless you forward this email to ten friends immediately, you will die in a week! It turns out, however, that the story about The Golden Compass is quite true. The website Snopes.com gives a summary about the movie and author. You can also read a review by Adam Holz from Plugged-In Online (HT: Shepherd's Scrapbook). Pullman is quoted as saying, "My books are about killing God."
The Holz review is interesting because it talks about Pullman's hatred for C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series. That struck me as funny because one of the first thoughts I had when I heard about this movie and the author's views was, "So is this how our secular neighbors feel about Narnia? Do they feel like some sneaky Christian movie producer is trying to cram their pro-God belief down the throats of their kids?" No wonder secular people are so ticked-off by evangelicals, it really is annoying to feel like someone is messing with your kids. (Is this the new stage of the culture war? Forget politics, let's make movies for children!)
Obviously, it's important to be informed about the views and intentions of an author like Pullman. As parents we should be careful and cautious about the influence of a film or book that is based on a godless view of the world. But I only hope that Christian parents won't make "sneaky atheists" their only category of concern when it comes to media. A lot of supposedly faith-friendly, family-friendly media content these days can lead to a spiritual numbness that is just as concerning as an outright attack on faith. In some ways, I'm more concerned about the potential for our kids to be seduced into compromise by the sweet, steady allure of worldliness than I am that they'll be kidnapped by an atheist in a polar bear suit. Of course, I don't want either to happen.