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!