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.