Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

For those of you who are reading this, I wish you a Merry Christmas, even if it is belated. My family and I will be traveling this week to Alabama, to Sand Mountain to be precise, to celebrate the holidays there. It is my sincere prayer that the King of Glory, Jesus Christ, will overcome us all with His grace and love this season. God bless you, and I hope to "see" you next week!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Where's the Power?

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1:8)

In chapter 1 of Acts, Jesus Christ promised His disciples that they would receive power when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. In chapter 2, the promise was fulfilled. The Spirit of God descended upon the disciples in a show of fiery tongues accompanied by the sound of rushing wind. Not one disciple was excluded.

A little more investigation will reveal why it is that Christ gave the disciples this power. This is probably the most important thing to find out in the context of the power of the Holy Spirit. If not, we get side-tracked with the manifestation of tongue speaking and other miraculous gifts. I believe every gift given to the disciples of Jesus Christ, from Pentecost until now, has the same foundational goal: You shall be my witnesses.

This is the power that I long for. This is the power that I crave. I want to be a faithful witness to the glory of Jesus Christ. By that, I do not simply mean that I want the courage to be fearless, door to door witness. A Jehovah's Witness can work up the courage to peddle a false gospel at a stranger's door; that's not Holy Spirit power. That's fleshly willpower, and I believe that the Christian witness can operate in the same power that they do. I have, and I often do.

I am also not interested in the power to heal the sick or raise the dead or to speak in unknown tongues. I simply want the power of the Spirit to be in my life and in my words when I speak the gospel; to the end that people will be gripped by the beauty and glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

And I want my motivation to be pure. I want all the selfish reasons that may motivate one to witness to be forever purged from my heart. I don't want to be a witness to stroke my ego, my self-importance, or to be "a good pastor." The subtle nature of selfish pride in witness is awful. I see it lurking in my heart. It is an eagerness to see myself as a superior Christian to those who don't witness like I do, or they don't have the perceived boldness and confidence that I have. Such carnality is not worthy of the humble messenger of Christ, and I want it gone by God's grace. Does it live in your heart as well?

I do not want guilt to be my motivation either. Too often, I am propelled by a sense of evangelical guilt that I'm not "doing enough." It is another trick of pride to think that I could do more. The type of guilt I'm talking about points me only back to me. It comes from an errant view that "I" could do more if only I spoke more. It propels me forward in the flesh and not in the Spirit. God purge me from selfish guilt and the pride that causes it.

I want to be motivated by love for God and man. I want the power of God's love to fill my heart and life. If I am guilty of witnessing, it is perhaps that I do not love the glory of God enough, or that I do not believe that His gospel can truly save "the least of these." Perhaps I have forgotten where I was when God gripped me by the power of His love and terrified me by the truth of His justice. He killed the old man by the iron hands of justice and love, and I could not turn away from the glory of it all.

My love for God includes a love of His justice. Without His justice, there is no gospel. So, my witness includes the warning of hell, and my heart must come to grip with the fact that man is so sinful that he deserves an eternity there. Can you believe that if no one had been saved that it would have been good for all of mankind to burn in hell? It is true, and only a heart that has seen the ugliness of sin can begin to comprehend this. So the power of God necessitates a clear call to repentance. Isn't it a marvelous truth that if the most wretched of us repent and believe, we will be spared from this wrath?

The power I long for is a love from God that overcomes my pride and selfishness so that I may more clearly behold the wonder of the gospel. I want to feel its power in my sinful heart keenly, and know that if it works in that cesspool, it can work in others as well. I want to feel the truth of Paul's eloquent confession, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15). I want others to be gripped by this truth as well, and I believe that this is the beginning of being a powerful witness for Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's Potty Time!

I know that this isn't theologically deep like Hebrews or as controversial as the UFC, but my son has poo-pooed in the potty for two days in a row. I never thought I'd be so thrilled to see poop in the potty. That's a big step towards manhood from my two-year old. I'm very proud.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Some Concerns About the UFC

A couple of years ago I went on a mission trip to India and came home with some sort of horrible illness. I wound up in the hospital with a 105 temperature, vomiting, and the general feeling that I was going to die. But I got better; after a day or so, I felt like a million bucks when my temperature dipped below 102. I had just enough strength to watch hospital TV and make the occassional trip to the bathroom.

Hospital TV is pretty terrible. There are three channels, and two of them show Bonanza all day. The other channel had the UFC, and I watched it. I like seeing guys beat up other guys, but I'm not so sure that it's something I should like, promote, or even condone.

The early church was adamant that gladiatorial combat was wicked, and certainly any Christian with any spiritual discernment would agree. The UFC is not a no-holds-barred kill fest, but it pushes the envelope of the law and it is brutal, and it is certainly not spiritually edifying, contrary to its popularity amongst many Christians today. I believe that it is a manly flesh fest, and most who watch it indulge in the fantasy that they could whip some tail like the dudes on TV. Of course, some claim that they watch it for strategy or something of that nature, but if you want strategy watch a chess match. It's the blood we like, and the gratuitous beatings.

Some may object that the UFC is simply training for personal self-defense. That's not true. The object of those matches is not to teach self-defense; it's to beat the other guy up worse than he beats you. Some will object and say that this is not the goal of the match, and perhaps they might be right in the first round or so. But if a guy gets behind points wise, he only has one choice in the last round: knock the guy out or put him into such terrific pain that he yields. What is the spiritual value in this? Self-defense can be learned without such sheer brutality, as is evidenced everyday in our military training and in martial arts dojos across the United States.

Just for you pastor/elders out there, I wonder how you equate this savagery with the command for an elder not to be a violent man in 1 Timothy 3:3? Is this the sort of attitude or behavior that we see in Jesus Christ or the Apostles? (I can forsee people trying to equate Jesus' temple cleansing with this behavior. My advice, don't go there; it won't work.) I confess to being perplexed over how such a brutal blood fest has been so easily accepted into the Christian community without much protest. I'd like to hear some opinions on this.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

And the Church Voted "No!"

It is a rare thing for me to blog about anything specific that goes on in my Church. In fact, this will be the first quasi-specific thing that I have blogged on since the beginning of my blogging. I only mention it here because I think that it is indicative of where we are as evangelicals, indeed, you may share the opinion of those I polled during Sunday School.

During one Sunday School lesson in the not too distant past, I asked this simple question:

"If it were up to you, and Jesus asked you if you'd like Him to return today, what would you say?"

The answer to this, I believe, is a good measuring stick to see how effectively I am teaching the glory of Jesus Christ. I will tell you now that the answer should be an immediate, unequivocal, "Yes! Come, Lord Jesus!" The overwhelming answer in that group, however, was a squirmy "No, Lord. Not today." Before you begin to think that I pastor a church filled with pagans and half-hearted Christians, let me give you the reason that most of them want Jesus to tarry: They worry about their lost loved ones.

On the surface, that seems to be a good reason to put off the Lord's return. But it isn't. Not by a long shot. Imagine if, which thank God this isn't the case, it required a Church vote for Jesus' return in glory. Can you imagine the majority of the Church voting No? It could happen, and it probably would at your church, and the reasons may not be so noble. Don't believe me? Poll your Sunday School class.

I have loved ones who, if Christ returned to judge the world tonight, would spend the rest of eternity in hell. Yet, I would be thrilled for Christ to appear in the Eastern sky. Why? Because I understand the reason for hell and the rightness of it. The Lord God will not punish anyone more than they deserve, and when we see His righteous judgment, we will marvel and agree that we could not have done better ourselves. Indeed, we will believe that any judgement other than hell would be utterly repulsive. So this excuse will not do. Hell is the proper place for the unrepentant. Come, Lord Jesus.

Others may object to Christ's return because they want to experience things in this life such as marriage, children, grandchildren, or a new Corvette. These things are only dim shadows of the joys of heaven. One moment in the presece of God will forever drive such flitting fancies away. This reason to vote no is only given because we have a poor image of the wonder and joy of being in Christ and of being in His presence and of sharing in His joy.

The good news is that Christ will never poll us as to when He can return. He will come just at the right time, and He will come when it pleases Him to do so. It is my desire as a pastor that everyone in my local church will live for this day, and that when it comes, they will meet the Lord with no regrets.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Look at Apostasy Through the Lens of Hebrews

Here's something I promised a few weeks ago. If anyone actually finishes this mammoth thing, I'd like some input...or at least an "I made it" in the comments.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, apostasy is defined as follows: “abandonment of one's religious faith, a political party, one's principles, or a cause.” To the committed Christian, the very idea of abandoning one’s faith in Jesus Christ is at first outrageous, and then frightening. The inevitable question that begins to bounce around in the mind is whether or not a “true” believer could ever turn his back on Christ, and then if one could, what shall safeguard our own soul from this faithless peril? Such thoughts cause soul-probing thoughts, and a measure of fear and humility; all of which are needful in the Christian life.

The horrible reality is that there are those who abandon the Christian faith. Certainly, as long as the Church exists in the world, there will be those who join in fellowship with her members and then leave. Some will vanish from the ranks without a sound and others will go out loudly and with great fuss. If one of the Twelve forsook his place and calling, then it is inevitable that others will follow that path of anguish. In the end, Judas the Betrayer was a miserable man who hanged himself; his bloated body hung until his guts burst out onto the field purchased with the money he was paid to surrender his claim to eternal life. Judas’ despair is a hard picture of the end of an apostate, and it serves as a warning to those who would tread that path after him.

If such is the fate of the apostate, then the Church must labor to understand exactly what apostasy entails. She must not be fuzzy in her definition, and for charity’s sake, she must be accurate in whom she labels to be on that path. Apostasy is to be spoken with grief and dread, and it must be handled like a deadly spider.

Historically, no book has received greater scrutiny over the nature and danger of apostasy than the book of Hebrews. At least five passages contain specific warnings against apostasy: 2:1-4; 3:12-4:13; 6:4-12; 10:26-31, and 12:14-29. These passages represent some of the most difficult verses in the Bible, especially for many evangelical Christians. Before honest inquiry into the text can be made, certain biases of the reader should be recognized.

For the average Southern Baptist, the immediate theological doctrine that these passages or any discussion of apostasy challenge is that of “eternal security.” Popularly, it is called the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. If a person believes that a “truly saved” person will inevitably and assuredly persevere to the end, then how should one respond to a warning against apostasy? Most handle such passages as being hypothetical scenarios or warnings directed at people who only seem to be believers. In either case, the warnings do not truly apply to those of genuine conviction and faith. An examination of the text is in order to determine whether or not these conceptions are faithful to the intention of the author.
Three questions must be answered from the context of these passages in order to come to a satisfactory conclusion regarding these passages:
1. To whom is the author addressing his comments?
2. Does the passage in question deal with apostasy at all?
3. What is the consequence of not heeding the warning?
These three questions will guide this reflection on each of the aforementioned passages.

A Look at the Relevant Passages in Hebrews

In the first passage, 2:1-4, the author warns that “we must give more earnest heed to the things we have heard.” This answers the first question as to whom the author addresses. Evidently, he speaks to a group in which he includes himself. Certainly, the pronoun “we” excludes the idea that he is only speaking to false converts.

The second question is not so easy to answer in this passage, but there are certainly clues for guidance. The warning is that the inevitable result of ignoring what we have learned is that we will drift away or that something will pass us by. Is it blessing that will pass us by, or is it salvation itself?

It has been suggested that the thing that passes beyond the hope of those who fail to give heed to the teaching is much like the blessing that passed the Israelites by when they refused to enter the Promised Land. The context of the passage, however, argues against such an interpretation. First, it is difficult to imagine that the neglect of the doctrine of the Deity and Lordship of Jesus Christ is such that one would only miss out on temporal blessings. This is the explicit teaching that immediately precedes 2:1-4. Secondly, the author frames the inevitable judgment in light of the breaking of the commandments of God given at Mt. Sinai; it is not immediately obvious or necessary that he refers to the refusal to cross Jordan. Finally, the warning is not to reject “so great a salvation,” not such an opportune blessing. The better understanding is that the author is warning the church against abandoning the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ.

The consequence of neglecting this warning is that the believer will drift away from the truth of the faith and be subject to severe judgment. By comparison, the one who loses these key doctrines will face a more terrible judgment than those who received the law from Mt. Sinai. The news received by the Church was heralded by Christ, the apostles, and by the signs and gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is a far greater privilege than Israel received at Sinai, and consequently, ignoring such revelation will have a greater penalty.

The second passage under consideration is 3:12-19. Once again, it is evident that the author means the warning to be carefully received by all when he warns the “brethren” to beware. Possibly, the author simply refers to his Jewish brethren but not the entire Church, but this would make the warning nearly inapplicable to a modern Gentile audience. The better understanding then is to take the warning as meant for all the brothers and sisters of the author, and not just limit the understanding to early ethnic Israel.

The second question is easier to answer in this passage. Explicitly, the warning is against departing from the Living God, which is in itself the essence of apostasy. Each believer is to examine himself in order to be certain that an evil heart of unbelief does not disqualify them from entering God’s rest.

The consequence of ignoring this warning is that one will fail to enter into God’s rest. The example of not entering God’s rest is drawn from Israel’s failure to cross the Jordan. Is it, then, that the Christian will fail to enter a life of abundance if they fail to believe, as did Israel? After all, it is certainly possible, if not probable, that those who refused to cross into Canaan still went to heaven when they died.

There are several difficulties with understanding this section to speak of only missing out on an abundant Christian life. First, the author has consistently argued from the lesser to the greater throughout the book of Hebrews. Here, the promised rest that Israel missed is of a lesser importance than the rest that Christians will miss if they depart from God. The rest of God that is applicable to Christians lies in partaking of Christ through faith (3:14). Further, the great fault of Israel did not lie in their refusal to cross the Jordan; it was in their unbelief (3:19). The failure to move into the Promised Land was symptomatic of an underlying faith problem. Therefore the warning applies to those who will not abide in Christ by faith, and by such faithlessness they demonstrate that they have not become partakers in Him. This passage calls for sober reflection from everyone who believes themselves to be Christians to see whether or not they yet believe in Christ as their rest in God.

Hebrews 6:4-12 is the most famous, if not the most difficult, of all the warning passages in Scripture for those who hold to eternal security. In this section, the author stacks up words that could seemingly only be true of a genuinely converted individual. He speaks of those who have been “enlightened,” who have “tasted the heavenly gift,” and who “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” Southern Baptists who have not been troubled by this passage are those who have not troubled to read it!

Significantly, this is the first warning passage that does not include the use of a first person pronoun. The author does not include himself in this group as he did in the previous passages. Implicitly, it seems that the writer knows that he is not included in the group described, and if it is possible for him, then it would certainly be possible for those who have a similar faith.

As comforting as that may seem, it still does not nullify the strong language of this passage nor answer the question of whom the author speaks. Whoever these people are, they have certainly partaken of the Holy Spirit. This statement alone urges the reader to carefully consider that they could be in the group that may “fall away.” The term “falling away” is only used in this passage in the New Testament, but some uses in the Septuagint help to shed light on how the word was used. It is found in Ezekiel 14:13; 18:24, and 20:27. Each time it is a marked and purposeful unfaithfulness to God. It seems then that the English term “falling away” is somewhat misleading, as it indicates something that may happen by accident. Instead, this word describes a sort of rebellious unfaithfulness that could not be accomplished without high-handed defiance.

The one in danger of committing this apostasy is one who has partaken of the Holy Spirit and yet neglected the doctrines of the faith. This passage immediately follows a discussion that begins in 5:11 concerning the hardness of heart and laziness concerning the studiousness of his readers. A lazy disciple may become a faithless disciple.

The consequences of such apostasy are horrendous. Such a one cannot be restored to repentance and put the Son of God to open shame. There is no more gospel for such a person. Thankfully, it is evident that such a person is already so hardened that no warning would pierce their apathy and faithlessness. If one is worried that they may fall into this category that is hope enough that one has not.

Though chapter six may get the most attention, 10:26-31 may be the most difficult. The author returns to the usage of the first person. Unless he uses the first person rhetorically, then it is nearly impossible to regard this passage as applying only to false believers. Further, the ones being warned are those who have been sanctified by the blood of the covenant. Such language can only be understood as referring to a true believer.

To hold to the idea that the author uses “we” rhetorically, one can appeal to 10:39 in which the author expresses confidence that “we” are not such people that draw back to perdition. Secondly, one must understand the blood of the covenant as being that which sanctified Jesus, not each believer in this context. While possible, the immediate context mitigates against this latter interpretation. In 10:19, it is the believer that is able to enter “the Holiest” by the blood of Jesus. It is awkward at best to regard the blood of Jesus as being the instrument of His own sanctification.

The sin of this passage is one of willful and deliberate sinning. Apostasy certainly falls into this category. Though apostasy may not be the only possible understanding here, the sinning spoken of is not accidental or done with remorse. It is purposeful, and seemingly spiteful faithlessness to the demands of Jesus Christ.

The repercussion for such obstinate sinning is experiencing God’s vengeance. The picture painted by the author is one of impending doom and utmost horror. Such a one will “fall into the hands of the living God,” a more terrifying image could hardly have been conjured by the author. If mere temporal punishment were in mind, it would not be cause for such awful language.

The final passage, 12:14-29, compares the one who forsakes the admonishment of the gospel to the godless and profane Esau, who lost the blessing of God for a bowl of soup. Again, the writer does not use the 1st person pronoun, but the warning applies to “anyone” who might fall short of God’s grace. There is no reason for this warning to be dismissed by any believer as “non-applicable.”

In this passage, the warning is against coming short of God’s grace by refusal to live according to the holiness brought about by faith. Such a life will inevitably produce quarrelsome behavior and bitterness of heart. This is, again, obstinate behavior and no accidental occurance.

The punishment for not heeding the warning is a little more suspect in this passage than in previous ones. Here, the author uses Esau as an example. Did Esau miss out on eternal life because of his carnality, or did he simply lose the right of the firstborn? The language used to describe Esau, unfortunately for him, seems to describe the former. He is called “profane” and a “fornicator.” Much like chapter six, the loss the apostate experiences is beyond recall.

Personal Reaction and Conclusion

To anyone who holds to the understanding of “eternal security,” the book of Hebrews is a challenge. The text indicates that apostasy is a frightening possibility, and that once one becomes apostate, there is no hope of return to the faith. This condition of hardness of heart will not be overcome.

The burning question that must be answered is whether or not a true believer can lose their salvation. The answer, according to Hebrews, is that they certainly can if they lose faith and cease to be a believer. Though this proposition is true, it is still the case that none of the elect of God will ever ultimately lose faith and become apostate, and oddly enough, it seems that the warning passages ensure this very result.

Most evangelicals agree that the preaching of the gospel is absolutely necessary for someone to come to Christ. One must read the Bible, hear a radio broadcast, or hear a witness concerning the truth of the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. This is the driving force behind the Great Commission.

Yet, the Bible is equally clear that there will be a certain number of people in heaven, for John saw them there in the revelation that God gave him (Revelation 5:8-14). Further, Jesus assured His disciples that He would certainly raise up all that the Father gave to Him on the last day (John 6:39). So how is it that this certain number of people, whose salvation is contingent on hearing the gospel, will certainly be saved through hearing it?

God ordained that all should be saved through the hearing of the gospel, that is held by many without question. Could it not be true then that the means of keeping them in the faith is by warning them not to abandon what they heard? An illustration may help to draw the parallel.

We know that the Apostle John was given a vision of heaven by God, and in that vision He saw a multitude of the redeemed worshipping Christ. Now let’s say in that crowd he saw a man named Joe India. Joe India, in the future, will assuredly be in heaven because John saw him there. Yet right now, Joe India is living in a slum in Bombay and he has never heard the gospel. In fact, Joe is currently a happy Hindu. Without John’s vision, most would conclude that Joe is heading for hell separated from God. But the John’s vision tells us that he will be in heaven. Therefore, we conclude that Joe will definitely hear the gospel and that he will believe it. But he must hear it; he will not be in heaven otherwise.

After Joe hears the gospel and believes, he begins to get lazy concerning the faith. He even begins seeing a woman who is not his wife, and he is sorely tempted to return to idol worship. How will Joe be rescued from apostasy? Someone must give him a stern and genuine warning. Even though John saw him in heaven, and even though he is a believer, if Joe is not warned he is doomed, just as he would have been doomed if he had never heard the gospel at all.

In the end, then, the warnings of the passages in Hebrews are a means to keep the believer in the faith just as the gospel was the means to bring the believer to the faith. Therefore, the warnings are real, they are directed to the believer, but they will inevitably work for his or her good just as they are designed to do. The warnings, for the believer, are an irresistible grace. This explanation takes seriously the warnings, and indeed it makes them absolute necessities. It is also faithful to the doctrine of eternal security in that the warnings will succeed in every believer to keep them in the faith.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Look at Hebrews

Just to let you know that I haven't died, I thought I'd post something on here that I've been working on for about a year. It's a verse by verse "Sunday School" study of the book of Hebrews. I started this because I didn't like much of what was out there, but I'm not certain that mine is terribly better. Here's last week's lesson. You be the judge.

Hebrews 12:3-11
The Privilege of Discipline


Must of us have witnessed behavior in other people’s children that has caused us to roll our eyes. Perhaps you have even watched with a small measure of satisfaction as a parent corrected such bad behavior. But most likely, unless you are a close friend of the family, you do not discipline other people’s children.

Neither does the Lord. He only chastens those whom He loves as children, and if one is a child of God, then he or she will, without doubt, be disciplined by God. Even the Only-Begotten Son endured the discipline of the Father, as we have previously seen (see Heb. 2:10.

For what reason, then, does the Father discipline His children? The context of this section is crucial to the understanding of heavenly discipline. If not understood correctly, this text could distort our image of God into a rigid Being, always looking to punish for the slightest infraction. This is not what is pictured in this section. Rather, God brings difficulty into the lives of His children in order to teach them to depend upon Him.

Verse 3 - 6
Looking to Jesus

In the context of discipline, why would the author of Hebrews encourage us to look to Christ? Did the Father have to chasten Jesus? Much of how we understand this section depends upon how we understand the term “chastening” and “discipline.”

It is true that Jesus endured discipline if you consider the sufferings that perfected Christ as such. The Holy Spirit sent Christ out into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan, He allowed Christ to be rejected and scorned by men, and beyond this, who knows how many trials that Jesus had to endure? Each of these trials were designed by God to make Jesus the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.

Note closely that our “striving against sin” is closely connected here with our looking to Jesus as our example. This does not mean that Jesus strove against His own sin. Jesus never sinned. Rather, this refers to Jesus, and our, striving against a sinful world. In our case, this does entail overcoming our own sin by faith. As we rub against the world, and as we fight temptation by faith, we are slowly molded into the image of Christ that God desires. The discipline that God brings into our life is not punitive, but corrective and formative.

Verses 7 – 11
God’s Purpose in Discipline

In our age, it is quite often the case that children are raised without a father in the home, and in many homes, the father does not discipline his children as he ought. Certainly, no father is perfect, but a consistent, godly discipline is exceedingly rare. This being the case, verses 7-11 need to be carefully explained lest the reader think that the Heavenly Father disciplines like their earthly one.

Unfortunately, when we think of fatherly discipline we all too often think of some time of corporal punishment. This makes the discussion of God’s discipline far more difficult for people who come from abusive homes. While godly discipline will at times include such discipline, this should not be the most common, and it is probably not even the most effective.

For example, many of us had fathers who forced us to work. They made certain that we made our beds, picked up after ourselves, mowed the lawn, and took out the trash. Some fathers even force their children to get a job to help earn money towards a car and education. This is discipline, and a father does this to prepare his children for life. A father teaches his children that certain behaviors, such as laziness, are unacceptable, and they teach their children an ethic to overcome this natural human tendency.

The goal of this type of discipline is to turn dependant children into functional adults. God’s discipline functions in the same way. Notice verse 10 teaches that God disciplines us “for our profit.” It is not capricious, and it is not to “give us what we deserve.” Christ already bore the punishment for our sins. It is to impart a new character in us.

Hopefully, all of us have asked the Father to make us more like Christ. It is His delight to answer that prayer. To that end, God examines our heart to find places that are not conformed to His image, things of which we may not be aware. He then places us in situations that will rub that place out and sanctify it. He brings conviction to cleanse so that we may have the thing which delights His heart and ours. If someone desires to be a virtuoso on the violin, it is not going to happen without thorough practice and tremendous discipline. And most likely, it will not happen without encouragement. God is making masterpieces out of us, and He disciplines us to bring us to this glorious end.


1. What does this section do to the saying that we are “all God’s children”? Are we? Explain.
2. What is the encouragement God gives us to endure discipline? What is the goal?
3. Why would God have to discipline every child He has? What are the dangers of misunderstanding this text? How do you view discipline?
4. Are there are self-disciplines that you practice that are not fun while you are doing them? Why do you continue? What is the point?

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Hope of Joy

As I prepared the Sunday School lesson for the Adult Sunday School class this week, something struck me that has greatly encouraged me, and I thought I'd share it with you. It comes from Hebrews 12:2. Most of you will probably recognize this verse when you read it.

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The phrase that struck me is italicized. Notice carefully the wording. It says that Christ Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame for the hope of a future joy. In other words, it was the simple anticipation of a future joy, and not the presence of that joy, that gave Christ the strength to endure. The thought of this joy was so great that the thought itself brought strength to endure.

The importance of this is critical at this point in my life. This anticipated joy of our Lord is given as our example for perserverance. This has changed my thinking in a significant way of late, and it has brought tremendous encouragement.

The thing that struck me first is that I have often heard it said that it was love that kept Christ on the cross. In other words, the thought that sustained Him in His agony was the love of Christ for His Father and for His people. Do not misunderstand me here; I believe that to be true. But hear me out and listen to the text; strictly speaking, only joy is mentioned in this verse, and that nuance makes all the difference for me.

What was the joy that was set before Jesus Christ? What was so wonderful that the mere anticipation of it made Him scorn the shame of the cross and endure the mocking of a sinful people? What made Him pray for His Father to forgive His tormenters? What stayed His hand when He could have struck down the whole of the Roman army with one righteous move? It was a vision of a proud Father, and the thought of escorting a perfect, spotless bride to her throne. It was the thought of a trembling centurion clothed in glory, and of a demon-possessed slave girl being perfectly clean, and the granduer of a countless multitude of angels marveling over the grace of God towards sinners. Is this love? Is this joy? I'm not certain what it is, but when I think on it this morning I can taste it.

I must be honest with you here, and this is the cause of my problems in ministry and life, I simply do not love as Christ loved. I do not love the Father as He loved Him, and I certainly do not love people like He loved them. Even the saints aggravate me...perhaps the saints especially. Often they do not listen, they are slothful and worldly and just...people. But I'm no better than they are! I don't even like myself most of the time. I get aggrevated with me as much as with them, and that's the honest truth. My own sinfulness is enough to make me despair. But we are the church, and one day we will be a glorious spotless body enveloped in the radiance of God's glory; it isn't who we are now that excites me and keeps me going in ministry; it is who we will be if we persevere. Was this not the hope of Paul when he wrote, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" (1 Thess. 2:9).

For now, my love is fickle, my walk is often a crawl, and my best efforts are corrupted by an innate selfishness I cannot shake. But I have a hope, a real, life changing hope that one day I'll be right, and not only me but also the Church. That's the hope of joy, and that's what keeps me running the race that is set before me this Monday morning.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's the End of the World!

The Democrats have taken control of the House of Representative, and possibly the Senate. James Dobson has conditioned me to believe that this is the end of the world. Evangelicals have failed to make a Christian nation via politics. *sigh*

Whatever. I have no idea why people who apparently voted Republican a few years ago decided to vote Democratic. I have no idea why you vote the way you vote or even if you vote, but I'm about to sum up what I perceive to be the voting mentality of most Americans. At least, this is the mentality in the circles I'm in.

First, people I know, for the most part, are clueless about economics. I daresay that the average American can't even balance the few dollars that he has in his checkbook. The average American is in debt up to his eyeballs in credit card debt, paying out 20% interest because he's too greedy and ignorant to save for what he wants. Think of it; the average voter can't balance his own checkbook. Do you really think they understand a national economy? Not on your life. That means that the candidate with the best spin on the economy wins.

So, it's not the economy, stupid. It's the spin on the economy. And for you who worry about bull or bear markets because of your could have made wads more cash in real estate...maybe.

Here's what the average Christian voter looks at: Does this candidate support abortion or not? If they are pro-abortion, they lose the vote. It's simple. It's an issue the average Christian understands. It's far easier than following econonic chart graphs and projected budget deficits.

So here's the bottom line for me: The War on Terror is not my main concern. My main heartbreak is that another 1.25 million children will die in the womb this year because our nation is fanatically selfish and sinful.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Islam is Easier than Christianity

Last week at seminary, several missionaries from the International Mission Board were on campus. Some of them are currently working in the fields of North Africa and the Middle East. As most of you who read here probably know, North Africa used to be a bastion of Christianity, and so did much of the Middle East. Especially grievous to me is the fact that perhaps the most eloquent preacher of all time, John Chrysostom, used to preach in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in one of the most magnificent structures ever made by man, The Hagia Sophia. (The Church of Holy Wisdom.) Today, that magnificent structure is a mosque, and that once proud Christian city in a one time Christian country is mostly a Muslim city in a mostly Muslim country. What happened? Did the word of Muhammed triumph over the word of Jesus? Numbers of followers in that area would certainly indicate that it did.

So how did it triumph? It triumphed because Islam is easier than Christianity. Indeed, being properly converted to Islam is fairly simple. Conversion to Christianity, on the other hand, is impossible without a miracle.

Here are some things to chew on as to why Islam is easier than Christianity:

1. It is theologically simple. There is no Trinity and no incarnation to worry about. Jesus is only a man, and so was Muhammed. Much mystery is eliminated, and that makes it appealing.

2. It is morally appealing. Justice and eternity are judged in light of human works in following the pillars of Islam such as prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms. Do good, and Allah will reward you. If you don't, Allah will destroy you.

3. Conformity is to be enforced. It's easy to make prayer times when your neighbors will talk about you and perhaps take action if you don't. Heresy and blasphemy are punishable by death. Conversion at gunpoint is legitimate, as is endurance through fear of penalty. I once had an Egyptian friend who converted to Christianity through the influence of a penpal. He was arrested and interrogated in prison. At gunpoint, they reasoned with him and said, "If Christianity is true, then why is all of Egypt now Muslim?" My friend said, "Sir, the answer is in your hand." Of course, the interrogater had an AK-47 leveled at him when he made the inquiry. Outward conformity is far easier than internal reformation. One is humanly possible, the other is not.

So the Muslims have an advantage in the flesh that Christians do not have. They can force true conversion and their salvation is maintained through works. It is morally appealing and humanly possible. It's theology is comparatively simple and easily grasped.

Christianity is hard by comparison. The Christian missionary must rely on God's Spirit to raise a dead heart to life. He cannot coerce conversion through the force of gun or logic. He can no more conjure faith for a listener than he can make gold from lead. The missionary and the listener are at the mercy of God for salvation. Without divine intervention, the Christian life is impossible.

Salvation for the Christian is not gained by fleshly works. All our hope and life hangs on the merits of Jesus Christ. Eternal life comes by faith alone in Christ alone, and our works will add nothing to our justification. No matter how many little old ladies we help across the street, no matter how many alms we give to the poor, we will not add one thing towards our righteousness before God by them. The flip-side of this is that we cannot "make-up" for evil deeds by offsetting them with good ones. We must utterly cast ourselves upon the tendermercies of God in Christ.

The theology of Christianity is difficult and mysterious. We worship One God who is Three Persons. This is beyond human understanding and sounds contradictory. Instead of enjoying God's uniqueness, the fleshly mind rebels against the seeming irrationality of God's revelation. We worship a man who is God in the flesh. The eternal God is found most expressly in the man from Nazareth, Jesus the son of Mary, the son of the carpenter Joseph. He dies ignobly on a cross for insurrection and is abandoned by His followers. How does God in man experience death? How does the God-Man experience temptation? How are the natures joined? Such perplexing and wonderful questions are neatly avoided by fleshly denial of the incarnation.

So, dear Christian, do not be surprised at the gains of Islam. It is an easy religion in comparison. It appeals to the flesh. Rather, be amazed at the conversions of people to Christ. When men and women are converted to Jesus, it is because God is merciful and compassionate to bring forth life where there was only death, and He does this by opening the eyes of the heart to behold the risen Christ. Pray for miracles, brothers and sisters. Pray earnestly that our missionaries and friends will combat the forces of Islam, not with weapons crafted by men, whether they be word or sword, but by the power of God's Spirit. We will not win North Africa and the Middle East with the weapons of this world, but by the might and will of the Almighty.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Glorious, Mysterious God

“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” so said Mary to Jesus through tears of grief. Her brother Lazarus had passed away, and she knew that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would live still. They had sent word; they had watched for his coming; they had watched Lazarus die. Jesus had not come.

And so Mary cried. I understand Mary’s reaction. I have wept at the loss of loved ones, too. I have seen grief on a hundred faces, and I have felt the emptiness that it brings. I understand Mary. Jesus, I do not understand.

“Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”

“Jesus wept.”

When Mary saw Jesus she collapsed at His feet. Through tears, she told Him that her brother, His friend, had died. And Jesus wept, too. He grieved in His spirit and was troubled. The reason I find this surprising is because Jesus already knew that Lazarus had died. I find this strange because Jesus tarried so that this very event might come to pass. Jesus had come, not to heal a sick man, but to raise a dead one.

So why does He grieve? Why does Jesus mourn Lazarus? Why does the sight of Mary’s tears and grief move Him so deeply. The magician does not panic when the rabbit vanishes, nor does he gasp when he saws a man in half. Surely, if Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus, He should not have been so disturbed. Yet, His grief was real and apparent to all who attended the funeral that day. The people said, “See how He loved him!”

I freely and happily confess that despite my studies I do not understand everything. Not even close. I also confess that this ignorance does not discourage me; it grips me. I see a mystery in John 11, and it thrills my soul. For a moment, the curtain that divides the mystery of God from the eye of man is drawn aside, and I see the heart of God.

Jesus weeps at the tomb of His friend because death is real and ugly. Jesus weeps at the sight of Mary because He loves her and knows her anguish. Jesus weeps because Lazarus’ stinking corpse is no cosmic magic show. It is the result of sin, and it brings misery and emptiness and hopeless. Jesus weeps because God hates death, and He hates it with a passion. Jesus came to put an end to it. Jesus came so that no one who loves Him ever need fear it. He came to conquer it once and for all.

It is so easy to reason a scene like this away. It’s the natural tendency of the human mind, I think. The reasoning goes something like this:

Jesus knows everything.
He knew that Lazarus would die.
He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.
Therefore, He couldn’t really have been mourning at that tomb.

Or how about:
God is holy.
God hates sin.
I am a sinner.
Therefore, God couldn’t love me.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. And that is the beauty of the mystery of God. We have a holy God who loves sinners, and we have a Savior who wept over pain and trouble, even when He had all the answers.

So, beloved of God, whatever thing you have in your life that you feel that God cannot possibly understand, whatever sin you believe is beyond forgiveness, or whatever hurt you have that you believe the Savior cannot feel or heal; know that you are wonderfully and completely wrong. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Psalm 34:8.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Best Day of My LIfe

I thought I'd offer up a deep thought here on Friday while I'm trying to catch up from vacation. Next week, I'll get back to Hebrews, eschatology, and whatever.

I remember having a conversation once with a couple of guys who were not-so-committed believers. I was sort of a silent listener on the conversation. They were talking about life and such, and I was looking for an opportunity to encourage them in the gospel.

The course of the conversation turned to the speculative, "What do you think will be the best day of your life." At the time, we were all single and penniless, so that pretty much meant we hadn't yet seen some of the greater joys God graciously gifts us with.

I believe that after much discussion, one of the fellows decided that his marriage day would be the greatest day of his life. I thought that was a noble sentiment, and so I nodded in agreement that, if God willed, marrying someone would truly be a great day. The other decided that, if God allowed, he believed that having a child might be the most joyful experience that God might give. Again, it's hard to argue with that sort of statement. I again nodded thoughtfully.

They then asked me what I believed would be the greatest day of my life. Honestly, I hadn't really thought about it much before that day, but I knew that my answer would reflect my values, and ultimately, my allegiance and love for my Lord.

I thought about saying the day that God saved me, but that seemed too cliche. I wanted an answer that would provoke a little more thought. They would expect that answer. Even though it would be a fantastic answer, I decided against it.

Finally, I had it. I told them that I hoped with all my heart that my greatest day would be the day that I died. They looked a bit perplexed, and so I offered my explanantion. It went something like this.

"They say that when you die, your entire life passes before your eyes. I don't know if that's true, but if it is, I don't want that vision can be beautiful, or it can be a nightmare. I hope that someday God will allow me to be married, for that would truly be a longing in my heart that God would fulfill. And having children would be a wonderful gift from God, and I have no doubt that such joy would be deep beyond expression. I also thought about the day that I was saved. That was certainly a day of joy, and an event whose ramifications I am still learning to love more.

I chose the day of my death to be my finest day for several reasons. If God should choose to give me one of His daughters to be my wife, then I pray that on the day that I day, I may look back and see that God kept me faithful to her. And if God should grant me children, I pray that on the day of my passing I will see them grown strong in the service of the Lord. And most of all, I pray that on the day I die I will look back over my life and find that God has kept me faithful to the calling that He placed on my life, that I will have served Him without disgrace, and that I will be confident that I will meet Him unashamed. If my life ends with such assurance, then it will truly be the greatest day of my life."

I still stand by that answer. I pray that the best day of my life will be the day that the Lord brings me home. May God grant me such a joyful day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why I Am Still Premillenial

I'll admit that I am a premillenial guy mainly because of Revelation 20, but there are other factors as well. But that passage is the clincher. Here's why:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomles pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand yers; and he cast him in to the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

Let's cut straing to the chase, shall we? For amillenialism to be true, then what is quoted above in Revelation 20:1-3 must be true at this very moment. That is, Satan must be "bound," "shut up," and "sealed" in the bottomless pit. That's pretty strong language for someone Peter depicts as currently stalking about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

The amil position appeals to Jesus' parable of the binding of the strong man in Matthew 12: 29-30 and Mark 3:27. Here, they teach, Jesus clearly teaches that His ministry will bind the strong man, Satan, and take away his powers. In principle, I agree. Jesus has taken from Satan the power of death and sin (Hebrews 2:14). However, believe that the Revelation passage teaches a little more than this.

Specifically, Revelation 20:3 teaches that during this imprisonment, Satan will not have the power to decieve the nations. If Satan is currently decieving the nations, then we cannot possibly be in the millenial kingdom as the Amilleniallists claim. Well, I submit that there are nations who are decieved by Satan. If not, how do we explain the conduct of N. Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Sudan, Indonesia, and others in their conduct towards name a few!

Furthermore, Revelation 20 does not say that John saw Satan bound by Jesus. An angel binds Satan in Revelation 20. Certainly, Satan is bound by Jesus' authority, but this does not seem parallel with the accounts of Matthew and Mark. I believe that the "strong man" argument is rather weak. I cannot conceive of how Satan can be bound and sealed in a bottomless pit and yet roam the world seeking people to destroy.

Of course, the amil guy can counter that Revelation 20 should not be taken "literalistically". That is, John did see Satan thrown into a "literal" bottomless pit. That's absurd. He's just communicating that Satan was merely limited in what he could do since Jesus' resurrection.

Well, I don't buy it. Satan has always been limited in what he can do. (See Job's story.) And if John wanted to say that Satan was restricted, he could have done so. But he purposesly piled up the imagery of chains, bondage, deep, dark holes and sealed over pits. If John had wanted to say that Satan couldn't get away, how much more strongly could he have put it?

Further, if it is the work of Jesus in the world that guarantees Satan's bondage, then what happens to let him loose? Is the gospel message going to cease to be preached? What, exactly, must occur for him to be "loosed" for a little while? A period of apostasy in the Church? That's possible, but we know one thing about the Church for certain: She can never totally fail. Though things may get atrociously horrible, the Church will never fail. And as long as Christ's work is being done on earth, then Satan must be bound, according to the Amil position as I understand it. So, I cannot believe that we are currently in the millenium.

So that, in a nutshell, is the "seal" for me of the Premil position. Now as for a pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib position....forget it. I'm still working on the millenium. For now I'm default pre-trib. And as for dispensational...barely. I'm barely dispensational. I see a distinction between Israel and the Church, though both are the elect of God. I see it like this:

Israel is the elect.
The Church is the elect.

Israel is not the Church.

Just like:

Cats are animals.
Dogs are animals.

Cats are not dogs.

We are related, and no one is superior to the other. We are as equal and complementary as we can be, just as male and female are. But while we are the same, yet we are different. And wonderfully so, as I understand it.

But I do not deny the Covenant of Works/Law and the Covenant of Grace. I see that clearly. So what does that mean? Well, it means I'm saying yes and leaning towards no. It means I'm doing the best I can to work this thing out. So, bare with me.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Skipping Rocks

It's not Thursday, and I'm still on vacation. Currently, I'm close the middle of nowhere, and yet I have a satelltie connection to the internet. It's rainy, so I can't fish. My son is napping, so I can't watch the DVD player. I'm forced to think, but since it's vacation I'm not going to think too deeply.

Right now, I'm reading a copy of Kim Riddlebarger's A Case for Amillennnialism: Understanding the End Time. This is like reading patent heresy for a pre-trib, pre-millennial Baptist like me, so don't spread the word too much. So far, I'm enjoying the read. My eschatology could certainly use the tune-up.
Actually, I'm hardly pre-trib and barely premil. I don't even like a pre-trib rapture. It raises too many questions.

Since I'm skipping rocks here, and since you've already promises not to tell everyone what I'm reading, let me tell you my hang-ups on the Pre-trib rapture scheme. (If you asked me if I was a pre-trib, premil guy, I'd say, "Yes, but I'm leaning towards "No.") Here are my present quandries that probably have little hope of being solved in the near future.

1. The 'secret' rapture of the Church before the tribulation is strange. Most people who hold to this believe that people, many people, will be saved after the rapture. My question: So why don't they get to be raptured as they believe? If God always delivers His people from His wrath, why don't these people get delivered from his wrath?

2. If the marriage feast of the Lamb is occuring in heaven while the tribulation is happening on earth, do those who are saved during the tribulation miss the celebration? If they are martyred during the tribulation, do they get to come late to the feast?

These two points may seem nit-picky to some, but to me they are tremendously important. If the Church is not present for the tribulation, then what is being formed during the tribulation when all of those people are being saved? If we say "Church," then part of the Church is absent from the marriage celebration, and that makes no sense at all. If we say, "Israel", then how are these Gentile converts becoming "Israel"? By faith alone? Then why isn't the current Church also a part of Israel?

Also, part of the justification for the "secret" rapture lies in the idea that God always delivers His people from His wrath, like Noah from the flood and Lot from Sodom. So why aren't the saved folks "Left Behind" going to be spared? Because they didn't believe "in time"? That seems preposterous to me. Faith is faith and salvation is salvation. If the faithful are always delivered from the wrath of God, then these folks should surely be taken out as well.

So, you ask, why am I still a Premillennial guy? Frankly Revelation 20 keeps me there. Maybe tomorrow I'll tell you what keeps me from being an Amillenial guy. If it doesn't rain and my son takes a nap. I promise to continue the Hebrews thing when I get back...God willing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

I'm On Vacation!!

That's right folks, I'm going on vacation starting this morning. I'm packing up the family and heading off to an undisclosed location to relax, read, and fish with my son. We will also be flying kites, throwing balls around, looking at bugs, and riding horses. See you next Thursday.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Rock that was Too Big to Lift, Part 1

Western culture is absolutely enamoured with its own ability to reason. Reason, we believe, is the tool with which the greatest mysteries may be solved. Coupled with science, reason has allowed man to probe the secrets of the genetic code, travel in space, cure disease, fly, develope internal combustion engines, make nuclear bombs, and, the penultimate example of human reason, "We think, therefore we blog."

Reason is a powerful tool, but I believe that it has its limits. That is no excuse to quit the field when faced with difficulty, but it is good to realize that our thoughts and the scientific method has limitations. The Scripture teaches that "as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). And again, "The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). This is not a "time-bound" observation, meaning that even though man has made great strides in learning, he has not yet touched the surface of God's knowledge, and he never will in this life.

There is an old quandry that pretends to be logical when it isn't. See if you've heard this one before. It begins with this statement being regarded as true:

1. God is omnipotent (all-powerful).

If God is all-powerful and can do anything, is it possible for God to make a rock too big for Him to lift?

If you answer that God cannot make a rock that big, then you seem to deny His omnipotence. But if you affirm that God can make a rock too big for Him to lift, then you are again denying His omnipotence. You have yourself an absurd situation and are seemingly caught between the proverbial "rock and a hard place." This question, while absurd, should eventually provoke a better question than the above. Specifically, "What does it mean for God to be all-powerful?" Much better question! The answer is . . . I ultimately have no idea what that entails. I await that revelation with much anticipation. I affirm God's omnipotence as far as I can imagine without being absurd, but the extent of God's power is not known to me. It is a grand mystery which I look forward to seeing in eternity.

The book of Hebrews brings up some seeming absurdities that Christians have wrestled with througout antiquity. Here is the first, though not the greatest. It begins with this Biblical (I believe) statement:

1. If a person is truly born-again, then they will certainly persevere to the end.

The quandry comes because the book of Hebrews seems to warn at least five times that a believer may abandon the faith and ultimately suffer damnation. The passages are: 2:1-4; 3:12-19; 6:4-12; 10:26-31; 12:25-29. Read without a "Baptistic" or "Presbyterian" bias, and these passages seem to teach that a believer can ultimately go apostate and lose their salvation.

I will argue that, no matter your current "state", if you abandon the faith, you will be damned. Period. I will argue that these warnings are genuinely directed at believers, the regenerate, and the elect. I will then argue that no elect, regenerate believer will ever be lost. Sound strange? I believe it is both logical and important to grasp this. Should be fun to work through anyway.

The second difficulty I want to touch on concerns Jesus in His humanity. Specifically, we will examine these passages:

"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (4:15).

"Although He was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (5:9).

Jesus tempted? I thought that James said that God cannot be tempted? (cf. James 1:13). Jesus is God, right? And if Jesus is God, then He cannot be what's up with James or Hebrews? And what of Jesus learning? And suffering? And being made can you perfect perfection?

Hard questions every one, and every one of them good questions. I do not believe that it is coincidence that Jesus' struggles is so clearly portrayed within the same book that urges those to persevere who will ultimately do so anyway.

This post has gone on long enough, and so I will try to continue this tomorrow. We will begin by disussing what I believe to be the difference between things that are "possible" and things that are certain to happen. Stay tuned.

Hebrews: A Lesson in Intellectual Humility, the Limit of Human Reason, and the Glory of the Crucified God

Everything about the book of Hebrews is difficult. For starters, it is difficult to determine who wrote the epistle. Actually, it's not difficult; it's impossible. The letter is anonymous. This, of course, has not stopped the speculation as to who "really" wrote the letter. Suggestions on its authorship have ranged from the Apostle Paul to Barnabas to Priscilla to Luke to name a few. I have no idea who wrote this great letter, and I am perfectly comfortable with that.

Did you notice that we call the Epistle "Hebrews"? Well, that's an addition as well. It is a sensible one, but we don't know exactly for whom this letter was originally intended. Will that color our understanding? I believe it does. I do not believe that this Epistle was only written to wishy-washy Jews on the edge of quitting the faith. Au contraire! These people had already undergone and held fast under intense persecution. Rather, this letter is written to warn anyone from abandoning the faith for any reason. Leaving Christ for anything else is not only damning, it is intensely foolhardy.

The Greek of Hebrews is difficult as well. It is a challenge to translate. It uses words rarely used in the New Testament, the verbs are in wacky places, and my friends the definite articles are often distant from the words they modify. For a guy who is openly addicted to BibleWorks and three years removed from his last Greek class, it is quite an exercise to get through this magnificent letter.

These three difficulties are only the beginnings of my exegetical tribulations. Once I have it translated, I now have to figure out what to do with the text. That's the hardest part. Issues pop up in Hebrews that are beyond the tether of reason. That is, I am not convinced that we are able to figure out the greater mysteries of this epistle. Some mysteries are meant to be enjoyed and wondered at, not dissected at the bar of human reason.

So it is with this attitude that I will begin looking at the book of Hebrews. Specifically, I want to center on these things:
1. The difficulty of the warning passages.
2. The mystery of the Incarnation.
3. Reasons abrupt halt at the edge of wonderous mystery.

I will not solve the problems of the warning passages satisfactorily for everyone...perhaps anyone. Indeed, it is not even my intention to do so, though it may be a happy by-product that some who read this will be helped by my thoughts. It is my intention to wrestle with the text and to hold it until it blesses me. My highest joy in life is not found in simple answers, but in striving to understand that which is holy and being shaped by the process. Tomorrow, God willing, I will begin by discussing what I mean by the limit of reason and the beauty of mystery and how that will work in the text and my hermeneutic. I hope that it will be of benefit to others besides myself.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday Foto!

"A joyful heart is good medicine" (Proverbs 17:22). The ability to occasionally act silly is probably tied to a stable sanity.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Where I Am Now

I know that the "Where I am Now" post is supposed to be a no-no, but since both Daniel and Jim are kind enough to wonder at my absence, I thought I'd feel everyone in on my lack of posting. (By the way, I feel a bit like Sally Fields...."You love me! You really love me!")

Here's the deal. I am currently enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in hopes of one day being "Dr. Brad." Currently, that means 4 hours of extra driving three times a week. This week, I had mid-terms, and one of those was in my Greek Exegesis class of the book of Hebrews. The test consisted of translating sections of Hebrews, parsing the verbs and nouns, and also exegeting the text. (The emphasis was on the warning passages.) It has been over three years since my last Greek class...and I've actually only had one class. So, I feel slightly behind the curve. I've had to buckle down and refresh...which has been positively wonderful.

I am also leading the singing at the Church, teaching Sunday school, writing Sunday School material, and in general attempting to be the sort of Pastor that is pleasing to my Lord. Add in that mix a son who will turn 2 in December, my wife's Great-grandmother who just passed away at 103, and I'd say I've been a bit busy lately.

The preceding is not complaint; it is praise. I truly thank God for each of these opportunities, including the honor of speaking at Gigi's funeral. She left a godly legacy that I hope to post on soon. All of this has led to a significant loss of creativity to write on the blog. I miss writing, and I especially miss the freedom I have to write here, and I hope that after another week or so, I will have more time to contribute something to help others in my blogworld. Thanks for the concern everyone!

Monday, September 18, 2006

More on the Pope and Islam

You can find the latest article on the ongoing saga between the Pope and Islam here. Here are some of the quotes that I find disturbing:
We shall break the cross and spill the wine ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome ... (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen. let me get this straight. The Pope criticizes Islam because he sees elements in it that lead to radical violence, and they protest by asking their god to give them the ability to "slit their throats."

Further, the comments made by the Pope pale in comparision to the ridicule of the Muslim reaction. They want to "break the cross" and "spill the wine," besides the fact that they want our stuff for their own.

Remember, the Pope claims to be a direct successor to Peter the Apostle. Now, when Peter or Paul or an early disciple stirred up a pagan crowd, did they immediately begin to apologize that they had offended the sensibilities of the worshippers of false gods? Did they call their religion respectable and worthy in any way? This capitulation to the demands of Muslims is saddening. If Islam were a respectable religion, then they could take the heat of criticism without resorting to murdering nuns and dreaming of slitting the throats of their critics.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Pope, Angry Muslims, and the Age of Terror

I shook my head in disbelief yesterday when I read this article on Yahoo News. I was in disbelief because the title of the story did not prepare me for its content. (I was wondering how the Pope mangaed to unite the Iraqis!) Secondly, I was surprised at the seeming ignorance of Muslims over the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity.

This quote in particular had me shaking my head:
The pope and Vatican proved to be Zionists and that they are far from Christianity, which does not differ from Islam. Both religions call for forgiveness, love and brotherhood.

This stunning statement was delivered courtesy of Shiite cleric Sheik Abdul-Kareem al-Ghazi. Now, the normal ranting about how Muhammed had been slandered and how such insolence will not be tolerated did not surprise me. The first surprise comes from the first line of the quote. That is, the cleric declared that the Pope and the Vatican are far from Christianity. Now, as a good Baptist, I might even shout, "Here! Here!" to such a statement. However, I am a Christian, and it would seem to me that I may have a little space to criticize other Christians if I think we are moving beyond the rim of orthodoxy. But are Muslims now dictating to the Vatican what it means to be a "Christian"? How absurd is that? And then to even attempt to maintain the slanderous accusation that Islam does not differ from Christianity? I can't believe that angry mobs of Christians haven't already stormed some Muslim embassy somewhere and set it on fire <----insert sarcasm here.

Then, I read this. I was in for my second shock in two days. It firmly entrenched my suspicion that I am living in the weirdest day in the history of the world. Here I quote the Pope's representative:
the pope "sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful...
Actually, I was in the midst of quoting the most absurd statement found in the article, and it disappeared from the story. Wow. Shock number 3, I suppose. The quote said something to the effect that the Vatican esteemed Muslims because they worship the one glorious God. The latter part of the statement was left out. Maybe the reporter got that part wrong, I certainly hope so. Muslims do not worship the one glorious God, and the Emperor that the Pope quoted was right that the teachings of Muhammed are "evil and inhumane" and he ought not to apologize for that. He should clarify what exactly is evil and inhumane about Islam, not apologize and pretend like the problems don't exist. The last thought that I want to leave with you is this: Perhaps the Muslims are dictating to Christians what a the Christian faith ought to be, and the real terror that the West has, besides being blown up by sensitive Muslims, is that they will offend someone. What say you?

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Lesson of the Lord's Supper

What does it mean when we partake of the Lord's Supper? To most, I believe it is only a visible reminder that Jesus Christ suffered and died for sin. While not incorrect, and certainly not the least thing that happens at the Lord's Table, this is not the sum total of the remembrance of Jesus Christ during the Eucharist. There are other implications to be considered beyond the sacrificial death of our Lord, namely, what led up to this sacrifice and what that sacrifice means to us beyond our personal sins being atoned for.

I will begin with a simple reminder of what it means to remember someone. At the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). Meditate on that for a moment. Christ our Lord commanded us to remember Him during the Lord's Supper. Do you think that He meant only that we ought to remember how He died for us, or should we also call to remembrance how He lived for us as well?

Think of it this way, does the cross of Jesus Christ mean anything detached from His life leading up to calvary? If we do not know His background, His teachings, His examples, and even His miracles, Jesus of Nazareth becomes another person executed for sedition against Rome. To an ignorant passerby, Jesus would have appeared no more significant on the cross than the two thieves. It is the person and life of Jesus Christ that makes the crucifixion so outrageous and horrifying.

If you know that Jesus died because of His absolute devotion to goodness, to wicked persons, to truth, and ulitmately for His love of the Father, then you know why it is a horror for Him to die on the cross. If you further know that He groans there for your sake, then the grief is personal. That He died for you has extreme personal implications in how you ought to live, and to learn how to live you must remember how He lived and what He taught.

For example, do you remember during the Lord's Supper that Jesus taught His disciples to love as He loved? Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you , that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). The implications of this are staggering. As you chew the flesh of Christ, remember that His love for you put Him on the cross. If you are commanded to have a similar love for me, or the person in the pew next to you, or your fellow Sunday school member, then you must realize that by partaking you are committing yourself to die for your neighbor. You are committing yourself to give up all your worldly possessions and claims in order to benefit the body of Jesus Christ. If that makes the Supper tough to swallow, then you are beginning to be a real disciple.

Without the generous gift of God's Holy Spirit, such a life would be impossible. This Sunday, as I lifted the cup of Christ's blood to drink it, I had in mind the 100+ beloved children of God that the Father has entrusted to my care. The question entered my mind, "Would you lay down your life for these sheep?" The answer: By God's grace. The next question is harder, "Are you laying down your life for these sheep?" The answer: God knows.

These are only a few things that the suffering and teaching of our Lord should bring to mind as we partake of the Lord's Supper. I have only skimmed the surface in hopes that this will get your mind moving in the right direction this Monday morning. Live the gospel today, and make good your confession of faith. Lay down your life for your brothers and sisters today, for the sake of the gospel, and for the sake of those rebels who by God's grace will see the light through your testimony. Live the life by dying today to self. Do this in remembrance of Him.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Recommended Dead Brothers

I recently received a wonderful email asking me to recommend some of the works by the "dead guys" I get so excited about. How wonderful! Here is my response to that wonderful seeker of wisdom. May God grant them grace to persevere when it gets a little dry. Please feel free to pan or praise my picks, and to add some you find helpful as well. But tell us why you like them or don't bother, that way we'll know you actually read them and didn't steal them from another list.

You've asked a hard question. It's sort of like asking someone what their favorite food is; the answer often depends on the mood. That is, do you want dessert, main course, appetizer, or midnight snack? But since you've asked such a great question, I'll do my best to get you started.

As with any great meal, you should always begin with an excellent appetizer. To that end, I would recommend two most excellent books. They aren't theologically dense, and yet they are profoundly Biblical and encouraging. These aren't necessarily in order of greatness:

1. The Autobiography of George Muller. You can pick this one up in paperback for a song. George Muller was a man of the early 19th century, born in 1805 I believe. His heart was burdened for the orphaned children of his country, which was epidemic at the time. He had no money, and he never asked for any. Yet, through the power of prayer God granted him the ability to care for thousands of orphaned children. His autobiography is a testimony to God's faithfulness to him. What a book!

2. The Life of God in the Soul of Man, Henry Scougal. Henry Scougal was a man of God who passed away at twenty-eight, but by that time, he was already a pastor and a professor at King's College in Aberdeen. He lived from 1650-1678. This book is absolutely wonderful. Buy it even if you have to sell your car to have it. (You won't, I believe you can pick it up at Amazon for around $12.00). This little devotional was instrumental in leading George Whitefield to saving faith.

Those two will get you started. What comes next is much more difficult, and I have a recommendation to make to you: find someone else who wants to read good, deep, theological books. In fact, I'd start a "Dead Theologians Society" or something to help. Some of these are difficult to read, but if you mine in rock, you may strike gold!

1. Martin Luther's Three Treatises. I always recommend Luther early and often. One, he isn't boring. Two, why not read the man whom God used to begin the Reformation? Start with the Treatise on "The Bondage of the Will." It will change your life. (Be careful in your book search, they sell "The Bondage of the Will" seperately. What you want is the Three Treatises. You can get all three cheaper than buying one at a time.)

2. Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom. Find a friend to help you through this treatise on the work of God's law in the life of the believer. Great thought-provoking read. You may never mow your yard on Sunday again.

3. Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World. If your friends made it through Bolton's work, recruit them for this one. Be sure an get the version that John Piper edited. He basically put cliff notes in this to help folks understand Edwards, who can be rather...dry. But the payload at the end is worth the trouble. The one you want is God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards.

4. Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed. Written for the Christian who has known the pain of suffering and depression. This is a good read, and it has been a balm to many "burn-out" souls over the last 400 years.

If you have made it through any of these four main dishes, then you are ready for dessert. I have a perfect one in mind, and it will introduce you to yet another fine author.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress. John Bunyan was a Baptist pastor who spent many years in prison for his faith. During that time he wrote this wonderful little allegory call The Pilgrim's Progress. You won't need your friends to help you with this one. Read this to your children. If you don't have any, read it to your neighbor's children.

God bless with these! Hopefully some wise person will add to this already wonderful list.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Survivor, Tribalism, and the Problem of Being Whitey

I must confess that I am totally weirded out now that the reality series Survivor, is going to divide up along racial lines this season. (HT to The Good Brownie) I've never been a big fan of the show, and I'm not much of a TV watcher, but I may have to tune in and watch this show just to expose myself to the moral dilemma of being white.

I must admit up front that I am a white guy. Mostly. My paternal grandfather's name was Nokomis, and his father's name was Powhatan. Yes, I am famously descended from the tribe of Pocahantas fame on my father's side. My grandpaw was an Injun, and so was my great-grandmother on my mom's side. She was a Cherokee, and was apparently kidnapped from her tribe by my great-grandpaw, as the story goes. Regardless, my name was going to be Powhatan John until my mom threw a fit and named me John Bradley. I got the shaft on that one.

Regardless of this storied background I always check 'white' on all my applications. Though I almost inherited the name, I did, in fact inherit pasty white skin and blue eyes. That's not very Indian-like, and so I must concede that I am more "John Bradley" than "Powhatan". But alas, I digress.

Since the race that I identify with is "white," and because I grew up in Alabama, I have inherited some sort of uneasy feeling about my "race." That is, we did some fairly awful things to blacks and indians and others in the past, and now we must, as a race, do contrition for it by constantly apologizing and by giving the country to Mexico.

So now, on TV no less, I am faced with a dilemma. Should I pull for the "white tribe" solely based on my ethnic identity with them? Is it wrong for me to root for whitey? If I do, does this mean that I have some latent hatred for other races? If the white tribe comes to dominate the other tribes, will CBS raise the standards for the white people to win?

For example, if a white guy wants to go to Medical School, he has to practically ace the MCAT to get in. A black female, on the other hand, can probably make up to 8 points lower and still have a fine shot at getting accepted. If we treated professional running backs this way, pokey white guys would be carrying the ball in Tampa Bay and Atlanta while Tiki Barber would have to run with his shoelaces tied together. Of course, most running backs in the NFL could still spot white guys a full second in the 40 and still comfortably keep their jobs. Or they could spot them a foot in the vertical and still start in the NBA.

So to make things fair, I suppose in the maggot eating contest, or whatever disgusting critter they serve in competition, the white tribe should have to eat a pound and a half to every other tribe's pound.

In football, I can cheer for my alma mater without worry. I pull for them by virtue of sheer identification and the fact that I dropped upwards of $20,000 there in the course of four years. It doesn't matter if they are a team full of thugs. They're my team, and I want them to pound the other guys because they wear my colors and sing my fight songs and live on my old campus. I can't do that with race, can I?

In the end, I am glad that I have written this post; it has helped me to work through my dilemma about who to cheer for in the upcoming series. The only choice that I feel that I have is to legally change my name to Powhatan John. I'm going to get my tribal card, start checking "Native American" on my applications, and complain all season that Native Americans are not represented on the show.

*This post is supposed to be funny. If it isn't funny to you, then you are probably white. If you aren't white, and this isn't funny, then I apologize and feel appropriately guilty for my insensitivity.*

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Fate of Joe Pagan

As our Church journeys through the book of Acts, I had the distinct privilege of preaching from Acts 4:1-12 this Sunday. I spent a good deal of time developing verse 12, which says this:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

This verse, coupled with Romans 10:14-15, is a pretty air-tight case that unless someone hears and believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are doomed to spend eternity seperated from God in hell. There is certainly more evidence for such a position than this, but it's a good starting place.

The reason that I spent such a great deal of time emphasizing the exclusivity of gospel is twofold. First, it demonstrates the glory of Christ. Secondly, it unveils the absolute wickedness and depravity of man. I find this teaching especially helpful to illustrate the latter.

Typically, when I preach this point, I tell the listeners about "Joe Pagan." Joe Pagan is a guy who lives in India who has never heard the gospel. Despite our efforts, he has managed to be gospel ignorant for his entire life. I then inform the listeners that when Joe Pagan dies, he spends his eternity in hell.

Most of the time, this statement is met with a sense of indignation in the hearers, if not outright horror. I have found that Christians strenously object to this verdict. Typically, the objection centers on the "unfairness" of such a verdict. That is, it is unfair to Joe Pagan because he never had a "chance" to hear and believe the gospel.

This is an excellent objection and a grand opportunity for teaching. The objection reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of human sinfulness and God's grace. The objection assumes that because God saves some, He owes everyone an opportunity for salvation. The problem with this is that if God owes someone something, then it is not, by definition, grace! You cannot have the gospel be a gracious offer while simultaneously being an offer that He is indebted to give. God owes no one any "chance" of salvation.

It demonstrates a lack of knowledge about human sinfulness in that it simply ignores the Scriptural teaching about how bad we really are. I believe that Romans 3:10-18 by itself underscores this truth. I quote it here for our humility:

There is no one righteous, not even one: there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are sweift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.

What this means is that Joe Pagan is evil. He hates God, and he lives unrighteously. Indeed, Paul spends the better part of Romans 1-3 binding the entire world under the condemnation of sin. All men suppress the knowledge of God, refuse the light of God, and hate God with all of their might unless God does a miraculous intervention.

So, if Joe Pagan goes to hell without hearing the gospel, it is because he deserves to there. Period. Just like you did. And it is not luck that seperates you from Joe Pagan; it is grace. For some mysterious reason, God's pleasure was moved to share with you the life-giving truth about the forgiveness of sins through His only-begotten Son. Woe be to us if we neglect so great a salvation that some ears never hear!

The thing that I want my Church to think about through this teaching is the utter depravity and sinfulness of mankind. If they can leave this section of Scripture knowing that Joe Pagan deserves hell, then they have a better understanding of the grace of God in their lives. There is much more that can be added to this, such as the necessity for fulfilling the Great Comission.

I shudder to think that there are Christians who deny the fundamental truths discussed here. It is detrimental to the Great Commission, and it is an insult to Jesus Christ and His church.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Friday Foto

This is my son and I. He has an excellent set of lungs. This may be my new avatar pic if I get five minutes to change it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Church, The King, and National Identity

I had a very depressing thought today in Church History class. We were reviewing the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 that marked the end of the Thirty Years War. After this 'peace,' it was agreed that a state's ruler would decide if the area would be Reformed, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran. Many historians use this point in history as the beginning of the "Modern Era."

I began to think that at this time in history, religion pretty much dictated the identity of the people. Almost every nation in history has been a sort of theocracy in which the ruler was either a god, or was mandated to rule by God. This functioned to keep the people loyal, and to give the nation a sense of identity. After the Reformation, the loyalties and nationalistic pride tended to center around the particular country's monarchy.

With the rise of the secular world and the disenfranchisement of the Western monarchs, a sort of democratic form of government stepped in to fill the void in most places. Implicitly, these countries were morally held together by the Christian fabric woven into the society by previous generations.

This was predominantly true in the United States. Though many of the founders of the United States were "Deists," Christian morals and a common descent held the society together.

My quandry today in class was that I could see nothing currently holding the cultural fabric of the United States together. Christianity has been, for the most part, eclipsed by a secular worldview. We have no real moral authority that is agreed upon by the citizens of our country. Further, we have a revolving door President. That is, we have a new President at least every eight years, if not sooner, and one President may be Democrat and the next Republican. Between those two parties there is rarely any sort of agreement upon any issue.

We can't agree on what "freedom" means, the role of government, the religion of the society, the morals that should govern life, nor even if one religion is better than another. We have no king to rally behind, and no religion to dictate our morality. We have a beautiful flag, but what does it symbolize? Truth? Freedom? The American Way? Can we even tell what these things mean anymore?

How can the United States wage war, any war, against a foe if we cannot reach a consensus on what it is that we are fighting for, and the things that are worth killing folks over? I heard a joke on the radio the other day that stated that after "hundreds of years of shootin' and killin'", the United States has decided to give the Southwest to Mexico. They're just trying to make a living, right? Why mess with a man trying to provide for his family? It is a strange world in which we a living, and the fragmentation of our society into a plethra of sub-cultures is the strangest thing of all. (Hello, blogworld!)

My deep thought in all of this is to wonder how in the world a nation without an identity can continue to exist. What is the glue that holds us together? Religion? Politics? Leadership? Or is it our mutual skepticism of the world? That is, we know that this system is flawed, but we cling together out of fear of "something else."

Finally, I will end with this final question. When planes slammed into the World Trade center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, we went to war with Afghanistan. We, exactly, did we go to war to protect? Democracy? Our citizens? Or was it simply a reflexive jab because someone hit us in the mouth? I don't know, but if history is any guide, some of these questions need an answer and soon. And if the church is not actively involved in providing some of these answers, then we may be headed for a new tyranny of the "Big Brother" sort.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Repentance...What's It Good For?

This Sunday, the Lord willing, I will be preaching from the text of Acts 3:17-26. It is the latter half of Peter's impromptu sermon after the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. (Who can forget the, "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!"). From this text, and with an eye to the one preceding it, I am approaching this text as a clear word on what must take place for "revival," or as Peter says, "Refreshing."

Peter says to those gathered in ESV English, "Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you." It looks like at least three promises are contingent on repentance from this text, we should unpack what those are.

Before we do that, let me be a typical theologian and backtrack a tad. I do not want this repentance to be a faithless type of sorrow. Such a repentance, I believe, is possible. The repentance that Peter speaks of here is connected to what he has said in verses 15-16, namely, that "you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name--by faith in his name--has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all." Note, they killed the Author of life. If they believe this, then the need for repentance becomes obvious.

Now, back to the promises. The first is the most controversial in the minds of some. That is, in order to have one's sins "blotted out," one must repent. That's what the man said. If you want forgiveness, then you must repent. This is problematic for some because they believe that salvation comes "sola fide", by faith alone, that means no repentance required. They teach that if one adds repentance to the equation of salvation as a necessity, then we have denied the rule of salvation by faith alone. For repentance, they say, is a work.

I affirm, with Peter, that where there is no repentance there is no salvation. The concept of believing oneself to be a murderer of the author of life, and yet still feel no shame at such a dispicable act, is absurd. I further argue that repentance is no more a fleshly work than spiritual living is a spiritual work. Repentance, saith the apostle, is granted from God as a gift to men (see 2 Timothy 2:25). We may no more boast about such a gift than we may boast about faith itself. Both are God's gracious gifts to men. If repentance be a work, then faith be a work, and if faith be a work, then I am theologically skewered.

Now that I have dealt with that, I feel better about telling the first promise attached to repentace: the blotting out of our sins. What a wonderful promise it is! If only we could feel the weight of our wickedness for a moment, then we would be inclined to throw it off immediately! May God, in His mercy, grant us to see the depth of our sin that we may know the greatness of His grace.

The second promise of repentance is that we will be refreshed from the Lord. Specifically, Peter teaches that this refreshing comes from the presence of the Lord. Since I believe "the Lord" refers to Jesus, I can only imagine that Peter means the refreshment sent will be our Wonderful Comforter, the Holy Spirit Himself. At the cross, the Lord Jesus paid for our sins, at regeneration the Spirit washes us clean. The Spirit is the agent of our cleansing, as I understand it. He applies what our Savior bought for us.

The third promise is that repentance will usher in our Savior. But who must repent? Should we read the previous verses in context of only Israel and yet not the third? Is it the repentance of Israel, physical Israel, that must occur before the Messiah will return? It is a tricky question, and much hinges upon our answer of it. Do we need to turn to "already" and "not yet" eschatology to understand this promise? Being the cautious, semi-dispensationalist that I am, I venture to say that the promise is peculiar to Israel. God will, I believe, work the restoration of all things when He has finished His work in this world, and I believe that the final act will revolve heavily around Israel. I believe this for two reasons from this text:

1. Peter is obviously talking to Jewish people in this sermon. The first two promises are universal to all who repent, the third seems special and particular to God's working with Israel. The first two promises are repeated to Gentile audiences, the third seems to be peculiar to this text.

2. Peter mentions Gentiles in this section. After talking about this promise that comes with repentance, he says that through them the blessing of God will come to all the "families" of earth, meaning the Gentiles.

So how does this third promise relate to universally? We are bound to preach this gospel to every nation, tribe, and tongue. When this gospel is preached in all the world as a witness, then the end will come. At the last, when repentance has come to the last child of God, then I believe that Jesus Christ will be revealed from heaven. That seems to be the third promise of repentance.*

*If you disagree with this, please let me know why, I have to preach it Sunday and God will judge me on the sermon's content.