Colossians 1:1-2

April 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

ColossiansAs I blog through the Bible chapter by chapter, I wanted to mix in some New Testament letters as we work through the book of Genesis. Paul’s letter to the Colossian church has been ministering to my soul since I started studying it in the second year of my Christian life. Paul writes to this church as they struggle with heresy that stifles their joy in Christ and the effectiveness of their Christian life. It is difficult to pinpoint what the exact heresy is, but it seems to be a mixture of Gnosticism, Jewish Legalism, and Pagan Mysticism. Paul answers the difficulties they face by pointing to the reality of who Jesus is. The hymn in 1:15-20 displays Jesus in all his glory and majesty. Then he moves on to show who Christians are in Christ and what the Christian life looks like when it is lived in light of this overwhelming reality. We begin by looking at 1:1-2.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

Saints
This letter begins the way all Pauline letters begin. He identifies himself and his traveling companions. They he directly addresses his readers and offers them a greeting. How Paul describes his readers teaches us something about identity of Christians. He calls them “saints” and “faithful brothers.” While the language of “saints” has typically been reserved in our culture for those who seem to go above and beyond in their service to the Lord, the Bible does not use the word this way. A “saint” is a person who has trusted in Jesus, been forgiven of his sin, and been given the gift of Jesus’ righteousness. “Saint” means “holy one,” so we see that “saint” is simply a synonym for “Christian.” Every Christian is a saint. We cannot divide Christians into “ordinary Christians” and “saints.” We must see that all of us who trust in Christ are born again, indwelt with God’s Spirit, adopted as God’s child, reconciled to God, justified before God, and the recipient of God’s promises in Christ.

Faithful Brothers
Paul also calls them “faithful brothers.” This designation shows the effect of the Gospel in the lives of God’s people. After trusting in Christ, the person who is a Christian is different. They have been wholly changed from the inside out. This will begin to evidence itself in everyday life. Christians follow Jesus, not perfectly, but following after characterizes the direction of our lives.

Grace and Peace
He closes with a word of greeting to them. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” “Peace” was a typical Jewish greeting and Paul adds a deeper Christian understanding of this with the word “grace.” He prays that God’s grace and peace will be upon them and that their lives will be dominated by it.

God Our Father
This grace and peace come from “God our Father.” The New Testament consistently refers to God with qualifiers. He is not a generic “god,” but the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only that, for those who trust in Christ, we call Him Father too. We belong to Him by creation, redemption, and adoption. He brought us into His family and has given us full rights and privileges of His first-born Son.

There are two questions Christians must ask in light of the opening verses of Colossians. Do we realize the privileges and glory of being in Christ? Do those propel us to faithfully follow Christ?

For Further Reading:
The Hope of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Colossians by Sam Storms

photo credit: Untitled blue via photopin cc

photo credit: Untitled blue via photopin cc.

Sometimes we make mistakes for all the right reasons. Christians in the Reformed tradition want people to understand that their hope of acceptance before God lies not in the good things they have done, but through faith in Jesus alone. To remind people of this, we point them to Jesus’ death, and so we should. Jesus, in His death on the cross, bore our sins in His own body. He died, not for any sins He had committed, but for ours. He died a death He did not deserve to die so God’s justice might be fully satisfied and our sins might be fully covered. The New Testament teaching on Jesus’ substitutionary death for us is clear and we dare not downplay it for one moment

In our passion for people to understand Jesus’ death for them, we tend to tack the resurrection on quickly at the end as if it a postscript. We preach in detail about Jesus’ death, compelling people to understand what Jesus has done on their behalf. Then it seems as if at the end we say, “oh yeah, He was raised from the dead too.”

Well-meaning errors are still errors. We shouldn’t downplay or cease preaching and emphasizing the work of Jesus on the cross, but we must give the resurrection of Jesus it’s due place in the life of our church. Hear these descriptions of Apostles’ teaching from Acts.

“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (4:1-2)

“And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (4:33)

“Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” (17:18)

Then when you read the sermons in the book of Acts, the preaching of Jesus’ resurrection occupies a central place.

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (2:29-32)

“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (3:14-15)

“let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” (4:10)

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (5:30-32)

“And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (10:39-41)

“And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. (13:29-31)

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (17:30-31)

As you see from these passages in Acts, the Apostles proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as an essential part of the Gospel message. We believe this intellectually, but is this the way we talk about the Christian message? Do we show the centrality of the resurrection for the Christian message and for Christian living, or do we leave it in the background?

For Further Reading:Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson
Scandalous by D.A. Carson

A Few Good Reads

April 13, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Hollywood, Movies, and the Bible: Should We Rewind How We View?
This post from Darrell Bock in light of the discussion around the Noah movie helps us think about the relationship between faith and entertainment. “Can my take on the film be nuanced? Is my choice only to love or hate the movie and let the world know in 140 characters on Twitter? Can I look at it for things I both like and dislike? Can I ask myself if the thrust of the account raises real life issues worth pondering, thus making it a worthy catalyst for meaningful discussion about God, Scripture, and life?”

The Bible, Slavery, and Gay Marriage
Many believe we cannot trust what the Bible says about sexuality because the Bible was used to justify slavery. Alan Cross wrestles with this issues and gives solid answers. “Many have said that what caused them to change their mind on the issue of Gay Marriage was reflection on how the Bible was used in the past to justify slavery and racism. The question goes, “If the Bible was wrong (or was interpreted wrongly on slavery/racism, then perhaps it could also be wrong or is being interpreted wrongly on homosexuality being a sin or gay marriage being wrong?” This is a powerful question that boils down to: If Christians were wrong on what the Bible said in the past, then how do we know that they are not wrong now?”

Taking God at His Word
Kevin DeYoung’s new book asks if we can trust the Bible and if it is sufficient to help us with the struggles we face in life. Lord willing I’ll be posting a review soon. In the meantime, here is what John MacArthur says about this important work, “This is a brilliant, succinct, yet thorough study of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, based on what Scripture says about itself. Clarity and passion are the distinguishing marks of Kevin DeYoung’s writing, and this may be his finest, most important work yet.”

A Meal with Jesus

April 8, 2014 — 1 Comment

chesterI was raised and reared in program-driven Southern churches. This should not be seen as a slight because this is simply an accurate description of the church’s life. Mission was going out on a set night to visit people or inviting people to a big program at church. Both of these have their places, but they feel abstracted from everyday life.

Tim Chester helps us gain an understanding for how to do mission and Christian community in everyday life in his book, A Meal with Jesus. Jesus said about Himself that He came, “eating and drinking,” so Chester examines some of Jesus’ meals in the Gospel of Luke to show “meals should be an integral and significant part of our shared life.” Each chapter focuses on one of Jesus meals, walking through the passage expositionally. He guides us in understanding what we should gain from the passage theologically, especially looking at what we learn about Jesus and grace from each passage. He also reflects on how each passage helps us understand how mission and Christian community can happen around the table.

A Meal with Jesus bleeds grace. Tim Chester opens up Luke’s Gospel to help us see the Son of Man who came to give His life as a ransom for many and who came to seek and to save that which is lost. He shows how Jesus came to save those who were far away from God and in great need of grace. We see Jesus as God’s welcoming Son who longs for the prodigal to come home. Chester also encourages Christians to show the grace they have received. Reflecting on Jesus’ grace towards us should produce grace in our own lives and a longing to see other people experience this grace.

When I finished this book, I sat back in my chair and thought, “how on earth have I missed this all these years?” The church has been trying for decades to come up with effective strategies to help Christians understand how to share their faith, and we have forgotten one that is simple, biblical, and effective- eat with people. The table creates conversation and shared experiences. Maybe welcoming our neighbors as Christ has welcomed us is the thing we should have been doing all along.

Below are the quotes I highlighted as I read A Meal with Jesus:

“Few acts are more expressive of companionship than the shared meal. . . . Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our friend, or well on the way to becoming one.” Quote from Carol Steele’s book Food City.

American Christians spend more on dieting than on world missions.

We spend more curing our overconsumption than we do feeding the physically and spiritually hungry of the world.

His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.

This is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners. His “excess” of food and “excess” of grace are linked. In the ministry of Jesus, meals were enacted grace, community, and mission.

I don’t want to reduce church and mission to meals, but I do want to argue that meals should be an integral and significant part of our shared life. They represent the meaning of mission, but they more than represent it: they embody and enact our mission. Community and mission are more than meals, but it’s hard to conceive of them without meals.

Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity.

But we can’t condemn these things at a distance. That’s legalism. We must come alongside, proclaiming and demonstrating the transforming grace of God.

Jesus welcomes the enemies of God. Surely this makes any claims that Jesus might be from God nonsense. Can you see how their position makes good sense? Unless . . . Unless God is doing something new—so new it doesn’t fit any of the old categories. Unless God is doing something so gracious it takes us completely by surprise.

I sometimes look around my congregation and see a bunch of dysfunctional people thrown together, somehow managing to be family. And I smile at the ridiculous grace of God.

Just before this story Luke recounts the accusation that Jesus is “a friend of sinners.” How is Luke going to defend Jesus against this accusation? He doesn’t. In fact he tells a story that shows that it’s true. Jesus is the friend of sinners. He links his identity to ours to reveal himself as the gracious Savior. He comes “eating and drinking” to show that sinners can be part of his kingdom. The glorious Son of Man described in Daniel 7 is the gracious dinner companion of Luke 7.

But the real shock is this: Jesus sees the heart of this woman and he sees the heart of Simon—and he’s more disgusted by what he sees in Simon’s heart than by what he sees in the woman’s heart.

Many homes no longer even have a dining room. We protect ourselves from outsiders, but our security systems and garden gates are our prisons, cutting us off from community. Instead we get our community vicariously through soap operas. Friends is a television program or a Facebook number, not people with whom we eat and laugh and cry.

There’s nothing wrong with eating out or hosting a special meal— indeed there’s a lot right with it. But somewhere along the line the commercialization of meals has cost us something precious. Hospitality has become performance art, and we’ve lost the creation of intimacy around a meal.

Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.

Whatever it looks like, your own table is a sacred place and one just as implicated by the lavish nature of God’s grace as any other.

People often complain that they lack time for mission. But we all have to eat. Three meals a day, seven days a week. That’s twenty-one opportunities for mission and community without adding anything to your schedule.

“Don’t start with a big program. Don’t suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community. . . . You don’t need a big program. You don’t have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home.” (Quote from Francis Schaffer)

Both very dirty houses and very tidy houses make me feel uncomfortable. In the case of very tidy homes, I’m always afraid I’m going to pollute the show-home perfection. If your house is somewhere in between, then I’ll feel at home!

In the new covenant Jesus represents both God and humanity. He is God’s Son and the faithful representative of God’s people. Therefore this covenant is eternal and secure, because it rests on Christ’s perfect faithfulness.

WilsonWhen we have read passages of Scripture many times, it’s possible for us to become numb to their message and lose our wonder at the glories they contain. Jared Wilson aims to break this numbness in our reading of Jesus’ parables in his new book The Storytelling God. Parables “function in Jesus’s ministry as representative stories about the kingdom of God.” (29) The announcement of the Kingdom’s arrival was central in Jesus’ ministry and Wilson defines “the gospel of the kingdom” as “the announcement that Jesus the Messiah has arrived and has begun restoring God’s will on earth in and through himself. The fulcrum upon which this restoration turns is Christ’s substitutionary work in his sinless temptation, suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave.” (19) He emphasizes this understanding of the parables against the view that they are morality tales like Aesop’s fables or the ancient forerunner to modern-day sermon illustrations.

Most of the book works through common parables of Jesus. Some parables get whole chapters while others are combined with other sharing a similar theme.  Two of the later chapters approach some parables we don’t commonly think of. Wilson turns our attention to some of the parables in the Old Testament, showing how they point to Jesus and His coming Kingdom. He also unpacks the “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, showing how they point to Jesus’ person and work.

In every one of Jared Wilson’s books there are sharp and thoughtful barbs about contemporary church thought and practice. Some have appealed to the parables as a reason to add various creative elements to the worship gathering. Others adopt a storytelling model of preaching versus an expositional approach to preaching. Most of this is done with a reference to Jesus’ stories. Wilson dismantles this reasoning in a couple of sentences. He reminds us that the parables do help illustrate and illumine the truth, but the stark reality is that most of Jesus’ original audience did not understand the point he was making in the parables. “But if the parables are really analogous to what we today call ‘sermon illustrations,’ then Jesus was a terrible teacher, because the disciples kept saying they didn’t understand them. If you have to explain your illustration—to decode it, as it were—it’s not a very good illustration. Or at least, it’s not functioning the way a sermon illustration is typically supposed to function. As we will soon see, the parables are designed to obscure as much as to clarify. This is not what preachers and teachers aim to do with illustrations.” (28)

The treatment of the individual parables in The Storytelling God involves commentary, theological summary, and application. For example, the fourth chapter covers the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in Luke 15. He begins the chapter by addressing the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees which occasioned the parables. Then he moves into his discussion of the three parables themselves. He addresses questions like the meaning of ”ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” This leads into a discussion about the heart of our shepherd God who indicted the shepherds of Israel and promised to send the True Shepherd. He also points out misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the parables which are prevalent in our day. Just to use one example, he reminds readers that the parable of the lost son is more about the older brother than it is about the younger brother. Jesus gave few details about the sin of the younger brother while sparing no detail about the behavior of the older brother. The chapter closes with an exposition about the lavish generosity of God and an appeal to hear remember the good news of the Gospel.

Jared Wilson anchors The Storytelling God in the biblical text and the glorious riches of the Gospel it reveals. Those who give close attention to this work will walk away with a greater understand of Jesus’ Kingdom and His Gospel through His parables. In this book, Jesus is the King, God is gracious, and we are the recipients of His overwhelming love towards us. The application in The Storytelling God challenges our misconceptions about life and the Gospel while encouraging us in the Good News of who God is for us in Christ.

You can view see all of my book reviews here.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

photo credit: Ella's Dad via photopin cc

photo credit: Ella’s Dad via photopin cc

The New Testament does not say a lot about marriage. Jesus talks about the permanence of marriage in the Gospels.  Paul addresses married couples in 1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5, and Colossians 2. Peter and the writer of Hebrews speak of marriage in 1 Peter 3 and Hebrews 13.  Marriage is good and should be permanent since it is a one flesh union picturing the relationship between Christ and the church.  The marriage bed must be held in honor.  Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and not speak harshly to them.  Wives should submit themselves to their husbands even if they are disobedient so their husbands might be won without a word by their behavior. That is almost everything the New Testament said about marriage.

There were times I wondered why more wasn’t said about marriage, but most of the passages of Scripture that were helping me grow as a husband weren’t about marriage anyway. Then I ran across a quote which said something like this, “the New Testament doesn’t say more about marriage because most of marriage is basic Christian discipleship.” (I wish I could remember the origin of the quote.) This is correct. Most of marriage is following Jesus and living out what it means to follow Him. There are three basic components of following Jesus that shape and change our marriages.

Perseverance
From the early pages of the Bible, the biblical writers teach that marriage lasts for a lifetime. Two people join together as one and they remain committed to each other for the rest of their lives. Couples who want a happy, thriving, God-glorifying marriage must embrace this truth. This is especially true for couples who are walking through difficulty. Remaining committed to your marriage gives you a foundation for working through your problems together. You are way more likely to be willing to work on your marriage when you are committed to staying for the rest of your life. The results are joy-giving and God-glorifying. Tim Keller shares some wonderful news about this in the book he coauthored with his wife Kathy, The Meaning of Marriage. Most couples going through difficulty will be happy in three to five years if they will remain married. While the this time frame doesn’t suit our instant gratification society, it is encouraging to know that there is benefit to remaining committed to each other.

As a quick aside, if you are married and you’re walking through a difficult season, go talk to someone. There is no shame in getting outside help. It does not have to be a Pastor or counselor. You could find a couple whose marriage you respect and invite them in to talk with you about what you are experiencing. Don’t let pride keep you from seeking how someone who could really help you in the long run.

Kindness
Paul instructed believers in Ephesians 4:32 to be “kind to one another.” Obeying this simple passage of Scripture makes a tremendous impact in our marriages. Our default mode is to be kind to those who are outside of our homes and treat those in our homes based on our mood that day. Days, months, and years of unkind words and bad attitudes take their toll on a marriage.  Instead, we do well to remember God’s kindness to us, and to remember how that kindness shapes the way we treat other people. What if we began to see our spouse and our closest neighbor and treated them with consistent kindness? “D.A. Carson recently said the great aphrodisiac in marriage in kindness. These are wise words, as simple kindness can be effective in showing love to our spouses.

Forgiveness
At its best, marriage unites two sinners who are saved by God’s grace. Two sinners are going to sin against each other. When your spouse has sinned against you, you have two choices. You can marinate in their sin against you or you can forgive them and let it go. The first choice kills a marriage. Consistent unforgiveness turns into bitterness, anger, and hostility. It can take two people who love each other and make them despise each other.  On the other hand, forgiveness grows love in a marriage. Let’s say a husband speaks harshly to his wife out of frustration and realizes he has sinned. He tells her that he is wrong and asks for her forgiveness.  Then she forgives him and refuses to hold it against him. They have just preached the Gospel to each other. The husband has done so with his repentance and she has by forgiving as she has been forgiven. Approaching marriage this way helps a couple take their sin and harmful behavior towards each other seriously and helps them walk in freedom and love rather than bitterness and anger.

Related Posts:
How I Learned about Forgiveness
What Happens When Your Marriage Doesn’t Have an Eject Button

For Further Reading:
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

inmatescover-724x1024Sometimes you forget how strange the Christian subculture can be.  The Amish Romance genre is alive and well.  Some Christians think NFL scouts are persecuting Tim Tebow because they believe he has a poor throwing motion. What do we do with these phenomena?  Stephen Altrogge wades into the discussion with his new book The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Thoughts On Following Jesus, Amish Romance, the Daniel Plan, the Tebow Effect, and the Odds of Finding Your Soul Mate. From here on out I will refer to the book as a collection of essays because that best describes it. The chapters are not connected to each other and there is not an overarching thesis he is arguing for. Do not take this as a criticism because I love this genre.  Each essay can be read in ten to fifteen minutes and Stephen’s writing style is enjoyable, humorous, and thought-provoking.

Stephen accomplishes a couple of good things in these essays.  He forces us to stop and think about things.  American evangelicals buy into trends and fads with great zeal.  Unfortunately our zeal is rarely accompanied by biblical, theological, practical, or moral reasoning and thought.  Stephen takes issues people are talking about, like Tim Tebow, takes a step back, and reasons through the situation without misguided passion or hype.  This will sound strange, but Stephen works through these with a dose of sanity, but if you read the internet and social media you know sanity is exactly what we need.

Stephen also connects everything to the Gospel.  This message of how God changes the lives or sinners through the work of Jesus Christ is what every single one of us need to hear.  Too often we assume this message should be proclaimed to those who are not Christians and people who are already Christian’s don’t need it.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as Christians stand in daily need of this message to continually transform us and give us hope.  Stephen accomplishes this not by “Jesus-juking” us, but by stepping back and assessing issues in light of the Gospel’s message.

The Inmates are Running the Asylum makes for great reading when you don’t have a lot of time to read.  Work through one of the short essays during a work break or to wind down before you go to bed.  You will laugh, think, and find yourself refreshed by the message of the Gospel.

You can read more book reviews and notes here.

(I received a copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest review.)

 

The Flood

March 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

floodAs I blog through the Bible chapter by chapter, there are going to be occasions where it is necessary to stop and work through several chapters together before looking at them individually.  The flood in Genesis 6-9 begs for a larger consideration before working through the details in each individual chapter.

Often when we think of the flood, our minds turn to Sunday School images of animals climbing on two by two. As we get older, we start to think about the horrible suffering which took place in the flood.  If you are the Bible nerd type, you wonder what on earth is going on with the “sons of God” and “daughters of men.”  None of these details are the main point of the flood narrative.

The narrative of the flood begins in Genesis 6:10 and concludes at 9:19.  Commentators have detected a chiastic structure in writer’s presentation of the flood.  This type of structure presents topics in order and reverses the order in the second half of the passage.  When this takes place, whatever is in the center of the structure is the writer’s main point.  You can see the structure of the flood narrative below.  (This structure is slightly adapted from Kenneth Mathews’ commentary on Genesis 1:1-11:26.)

Introduction (6:9–10)
A Violence in Creation (6:11–12)
B Resolution to Destroy (6:13–22)
C Command to enter the ark (7:1–10)
D Beginning of the flood (7:11–16)
E The rising flood waters (7:17–24)
God Remembers Noah (8:1a)
E’ The receding flood waters (8:1b–5)
D’ The drying of the earth (8:6–14)
C’ Command to leave the ark (8:15–19)
B’ Resolution to preserve order (8:20–22)
A’ Blessing and Peace (9:1–17)
Conclusion (9:18–19)

Notice the center of the flood narrative.  “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.”  The word “remember” in the Bible does not mean God had forgotten about Noah and the animals on the ark.  The word is covenantal and has overtones of calling a promise back to memory.  God promised Noah at the beginning of the narrative that He would bring his family safely through the flood.  Now the earth is flooded and God “remembers” His promise to Noah.  Notice the very next thing that happens. “And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.”  God remembers Noah and those on the ark, so He causes a wind to blow over the earth so that the waters subside.  God remembers His promise and acts to fulfill it.

The flood narrative teaches us that God is faithful to His promises.  God makes promises, remembers them, and acts on behalf of His people to fulfill them.  This truth carries tremendous implications for Christians.  The Christians stands on the receiving end of many tremendous promises.  God will not remember our sins.  He grants us an inheritance in Christ.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  These promises form a bedrock for confident Christian living.  Living as a Christian means walking by faith in these promises throughout everything life throws at us.  When we are tempted to believe God has abandoned us, we remember He will never leave us.  Those who are pulled to love this present world and all it offers can remind themselves of the massive inheritance awaiting those who are in Christ.  Men and women struggling with chronic guilt draw encouragement from God’s promise to forgive when we confess our sins.

Related Posts:
Genesis 4
Genesis 5

Eternity Changes Everything

February 27, 2014 — 1 Comment

eternitychangeseverythingStephen Witmer’s burden in his new book Eternity Changes Everything is to help Christians understand how their future should change their present.  His opening illustration resonates with all of us.  He talks about how relaxed he is in the days leading up to a vacation.  Things tend to roll off his back and he is a genuinely nicer guy.  This is true because he knows it will be great when he gets there and nothing can stop him from getting there.  His pre vacation mindset bears a great analogy to the way Christians should live in this world.  Christians live with certainty concerning their future destination and know it will be great when we get there.  But do we really know this?  Tim Keller tells the story of his brother-in-law who did not wear his seat belt. Those around him chided him for his refusal, but to no avail.  Then one day Keller arrived at the airport and his brother-in-law picked him up wearing his seat belt.  A friend of his had a wreck a needed over two hundred stitches in his face.  Seeing his friend in the the hospital brought home the reality of what can happen when you don’t wear your seat belt.  He gained no new information that day, but what he already knew became real to him.  Witmer writes this way about eternity and the present.  Some Christians are ignorant about their future and need to hear about the promise of what belongs to them in Christ. Many Christians know the truth about the future, but fail to live in light of its reality.  Witmer wants Christians to know the truth and to see the truth change them in the here and now.

Chapters two and three explore the new heavens and the new earth.  These chapters don’t contain typical Christian niceties about “heaven,” but a real look at the new heavens and new earth.  Witmer shares what will remain in the new heavens and new earth as well as what will be removed and what will return.  The picture is of a renewed creation that is not stained by the failure and futility which currently exist because of our sin.  Most importantly, God will be there. He will dwell with his people and they will experience the fullness of His love.  God is with us now, but Christians will experience His presence in a way they never have before.

In the fourth and fifth chapters Witmer explains why this future is certain.  First the future is certain because this is what Jesus is bringing about in His Kingdom. Jesus has already experienced victory over Satan and obtained the inheritance for His people, but this ultimate future must be realized.  It will only be brought about when Jesus returns.  Since Jesus has died, been resurrected from the dead, and will come again, the future of the world is certain.  This certainty also exists for the Christian.  The person who has trusted in Christ experiences the reality of hope in the here and now.  The Father has planned the Christian’s salvation, the Son has purchased it, and the Spirit has applied it.  Therefore, the Christian can look confidently towards the future because he knows what awaits him when Christ returns.

The final half of the book demonstrates how the coming future changes the Christian’s life in the here and now.  Witmer introduces the illustration of a tightrope.  The Christian walks a tightrope in this world balanced by his future hope.  For example, the Christian is content in this world.  He knows what awaits him in the future and this helps him to face everything coming at him in the present.  At the same time, the Christian is restless because he knows things are not as they should be.  He knows what the future holds and is labors to see current reality align with the reality of what is to come.  He develops this illustration further in later chapters with how the Christian relates to this present world.

Eternity Changes Everything is a short book, and those who approach it need to realize that this is not an extended treatise on all issues related to heaven, hell, the new heavens, and the new earth.  This is a book intended to help Christians recognize the reality of their future hope and see how this hope should shape and change their lives now.  Knowing that is the purpose, Witmer accomplishes his intended purpose.  Eternity Changes Everything stirred my heart for Jesus’ coming Kingdom, and guided me in thinking through how my future hope should change me as I live in this world now.

(I received a copy of this book through the Cross Focused Review Program in exchange for an honest review.)

You can read more book reviews and notes here.

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Living in Alabama can sometimes be a strange thing.  Every election cycle, commercials air for political candidates that you probably would not see in any other state.  Judicial candidates list teaching Sunday School as one of their qualifications for office.  Men running for State Senate show video of their families walking out of church with a Bible under their arm.  Even though Alabama is becoming increasingly unchurched, the state is still quite conservative and candidates know that showing their religious side will benefit them.  This is why three recent events in the Alabama politics have perplexed, saddened, and infuriated me.

The Ten Commandments
Thursday morning Representative DuWayne Bridges, a Republican from Valley, introduced a bill which would allow the citizens of Alabama to vote to allow the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings in the state.  This is no new issue for Alabamians, as this issue has come up from time to time since Judge Roy Moore displayed the Ten Commandments in his courtroom in the late 1990’s and later in the Supreme Court building when he was the Chief Justice.  Representative Bridges bill led to a long debate on the floor of the House of Representatives.  The debate, which Kyle Whitmire summarized, was bizarre and revealed that many of our Representatives do not know the Bible as well as they would have us think they do.

My issue with this debate is that I’m not sure what our Representatives hope to accomplish by displaying the Ten Commandments in our public buildings.  There are several options.  The first is that they are pandering to conservative Christians in the state and this just happens to be an election year.  I hope this is not the case, but we are a cynical people and many will believe that this is the motivation.  It is also possible that our Representatives want to pay homage to the Christian roots of our nation. (This is a huge debate too.  We are on pretty safe ground though if we acknowledge that our nation has foundations that were borrowed from both Christianity and the Enlightenment.)  If this is the motivation, it is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t make sense to take up the House’s time when there are some really pressing matters facing our State.  The final possibility for their motivation is their desire to fight back at the perceived alienation of religious people in our culture.  There are too many examples of this phenomenon to list, so we know what they could be pushing back against.  Again, if this is the motivation, our Representatives spent precious time trying to make a point in the culture war instead of working on some systemic issues in our State.

What could be accomplished by the public display of the Ten Commandments?  The answer is nothing that is the role of the State Government.  Some people will read the Ten Commandments and resolve to be more moral.  This sounds nice, but the Bible is clear that no one can keep the commandments apart from the work of the Spirit in their lives.  The person reading the Ten Commandments and resolving to be more moral will be greeted with frustration and despair.  There will be others who will read these commandments and have the opposite reaction.  The Apostle Paul said he did not know what coveting was until he read “do not covet,” and reading these words produced all types of coveting in his life.  Therefore it is possible that reading the Ten Commandments could make some people worse.  The best case scenario would be if people read the Ten Commandments, realize how they fail at them, and recognize their need for Jesus.  This is one of the Law’s chief functions.  We see how we have failed to live up to God’s standard, feel deep inward remorse, and trust in Jesus who gave His life for our sins.  That would be a fantastic thing to happen, but that is not the role of the government.

By the way, the House of Representatives approved the measure by a vote of 77-19, and Alabama voters will have the final say.  You can read more about this debate here and here.

Payday Loans
Last week, a House of Representatives Committee entertained a bill that would cap the amount of interest on Payday Loans at thirty-six percent.  Currently, Payday loans can charge interest up to four-hundred fifty-six percent  and Title loans can charge up to three-hundred percent. Typically these establishments are found in poor communities where residents are more likely to need short term loans.  However, once they receive them they have to pay interest rates that would make the mob jealous.  The result is the most vulnerable among us are trapped by a system that the House had an opportunity to put an end to. (Yes, I realize people should know not to get one of these loans, but some people do and our government should protect vulnerable citizens from businesses who are entrapping people in a difficult position.)

The committee considering this bill consisted of nine people who are part of the same body that spend several hours discussing the Ten Commandments.  This committee would have done well to think about another passage in the Bible.  While Nehemiah was rebuilding the Wall around Jerusalem, some concerned members of the Jewish community visited him. Some had to mortgage their fields because of a famine and others needed to do so to pay the King’s tax. Some of their children were being forced into slavery as a result and they had no means to do anything because other men now had their fields. He brought together the nobles and officials. He confronted them for exacting interest from their brothers.  They had just returned from exile and now the nobles were making their fellow citizens into slaves again.  He commanded them to abandon the exacting of interest and to restore the lands they had taken away.  In this, He also charged them with failing to fear the God of Israel.

What did the House Committee do with the bill to limit the interest on Payday loans?  They did not let the bill out of committee.  That action is inexcusable in and of itself, but a report in The Montgomery Advertiser reveals something more sinister which could have been in play.  Seven of the nine committee members received campaign contributions from these businesses.  Some of the contributions were as high as $4,500.  Instead of protecting the vulnerable, it appears that some of our Representatives sacrificed them to the highest bidder.  Thankfully Senator Scott Beason is introducing a form of this bill in the Senate and we pray for it to pass.  At the same time, it is hard to take seriously a body that one day votes to display the Ten Commandments and another day refuses to protect the poor from their campaign contributors.

Tutwiler Prison
TRIGGER WARNING: The following section deals with content that may be difficult for some readers.

Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka has been the subject of Federal attention in recent months.  In fact, the Justice Department sent a letter to the Governor last month detailing problems and abuses.  You can read the entire letter here, but this is the most disturbing paragraph and summarizes one of the main issues there.

“For nearly two decades, Tutwiler staff have harmed women in their care with impunity by sexually abusing and sexually harassing them. Staff have raped, sodomized, fondled, and exposed themselves to prisoners. They have coerced prisoners to engage in oral sex. Staff engage in voyeurism, forcing women to disrobe and watching them while they use the shower and use the toilet.”

Those words should send shivers down the spine of every person reading them. Thankfully, some members of the Alabama Legislature, like Senator Cam Ward, have advocated for changes at the Prison.  Can I ask a question on behalf of all Alabama citizens- Why on earth are we not hearing about this every single day?  Why would our House of Representatives discuss any other issue, much less displays in buildings, when men in positions of authority are abusing female prisoners?

Since our Representatives like talking about the Bible, lets talk about the words of Jesus in Matthew 25.  Jesus discusses the Day of Judgment, when the sheep are on Jesus’ right hand and the goats on his left.  What is one of the things that distinguishes the sheep from the goats?  It is their mercy and compassion for prisoners, knowing that what is done for the least of these has been done to Jesus himself. Our Representatives want us to believe they really believe the Bible, and these issues put them to the test.  Instead of showing us how much they believe the Bible by displaying it in public places, they have the opportunity to obey it by putting an end to predatory lending and prison rape.

These issues will demonstrate whether Christians in Alabama have genuinely believed the Gospel or have bought into a superficial facade of religion.  Are we going to choose Representatives who will display the Ten Commandments but ignore prison rape and the exacting of four-hundred percent interest?  Or will we begin to ask people to be our leaders who will not line their pockets at the expense of the poor and who will make serious strides to reform our prisons even though it won’t garner a lot of votes.  Then again, if Christians take their Bibles seriously, maybe we will consider Prison reform and protecting the poor to be more important than displays in public buildings.