Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Near the Cross

Posted: April 19, 2014 by philmartin4 in Book Recommendation, Book reviews, Gospel, Reading, Theology

“The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble.  If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble.  Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills it.” – Martin Luther, Adapted from his “Easter Book,” quoted from “Jesus, keep me near the Cross”


 

In the lead up to Easter, it is good to once again turn our gaze to the Cross and the empty tomb.  The whole event, however, has become so familiar that is easy to miss the richness, depth of beauty, and power of the cross.  I am thankful, therefore, for the small book edited by Nancy Guthrie.  “Jesus, Keep me near the Cross” is a collection of invaluable sermon and book excerpts written by 25 preachers from Saint Augustine to Tim Keller.  The short (max of 8 pages) messages each pack a powerful punch.  From the events leading to the Cross to the specific words Christ said while giving up his life, every aspect of this defining moment in history is dissected and preached piercingly right to the heart.

I am humbled to say that I’ve gone through many Easters since being a Christian without truly contemplating the Cross of Christ.  If there is any moment in our Savior’s life that we should seek to understand, it is this one moment.  I encourage you to buy this book and benefit from its boundless wisdom and insight.

 

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I have been enjoying reading and studying through John Frame’s, Doctrine of God. I highly recommend this book to those who want to dive into the deep end of the theological pool. Here is an excerpt from this book from a chapter of the Name of God.

“There is an identity between God and his name, as between God and his word. As we sing praise to God, we sing praise to his name(e.g., Pss. 7:17; 9:2; 18:49); we give to him the flory due his name(29:2); we exalt his name(34:3) and fear it (61:5). God’s name is an object of worship. SInce in Scripture God alone is the proper object of worship, this language equates the Lord’s name and the Lord himself.

Similarly, the name of God defends us(Ps. 20:1) and saves us(54:1). We trust in his name for deliverance(33:21). His name endures forever(72:17; 135:13). It ‘reaches to the ends of the earth’ (48:10). It is holy and awesome (111:9). God guides us ‘for his name sake’ (23:3). In Isaiah 30:27, it is ‘the name of the Lord’ itself that comes to bring judgment on the nations and blessings on his people. So God’s name has divine attributes and performs divine acts. In short, Scripture says about the name of God virtually everything it says about God.

One of the most remarkable proofs of the deity of Christ, then, is that the New Testament uses his name just as the Old Testament uses the name Yahweh. When the Jewish rulers ask Peter and John, ‘By what power or what name’ they healed the crippled man, Peter replies, ‘It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth’ (Acts 4:7-10). He concludes, ‘Salvations is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved'(v. 12; cf. v. 17). In Acts 5:41 we read, ‘The apostles let the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name'(cf. 9:21; 22:16). We see that name can be used as a substitute for Jesus, just as it substitutes for yahweh in the Old Testament, and the name of Jesus has the same powers as the name of Yahweh. In Isaiah 45:23, Yahweh says, ‘Before me every knee shall bow: by me every tongue shall swear’. In Romans 14:11, Paul applies this passage to God (theos), but in Philippians 2:10-11 he applies it to Christ.

…. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

David Platt recently wrote a book titled Follow Me where he expands on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Platt being committed to the Bible, looks at every instance in which Jesus calls someone to follow Him as a disciple and draws implications for us today. I began to rethink of what I committed to when I became a follower of Jesus and thought I would read his book and study those passages myself. I hope to be able to not only share what I have found, but also encourage you to count the cost of what it means to follow Jesus and to live in light of His call.

As I read these passages and put myself in the feet of all those who hear Jesus say, “Follow me”, I began to feel a lot like Bilbo Baggins did when he received a contract from Ballin, a dwarf who is part of Thorin Oakenshield’s company. Thorin Oakenshield is on a journey to take back a mountain that was once his grandfathers. The journey is dangerous and it comes with great risk. We are all being handed a contract. We don’t get to set the terms either. Jesus sets the conditions of what it means to be His follower.

At times when we think of being a follower of Jesus some of us think of changing who we are. Others think of how we can become better people. Some of us even think of doing things for Jesus in our spare time and giving whatever money we can to help the poor. Through this series I hope and pray that we get a more robust understanding of what Jesus means when he says, “follow me”. I believe that we, as Christians, can be sucked into and have given ourselves to a culture that feels the freedom to take Jesus on our own terms rather than taking Jesus on his terms. We live in a consumeristic culture that makes us believe that if we don’t like something we can simply move on to something else that we would much prefer or feel more comfortable with. With Jesus we don’t have that freedom. He sets the terms and he tells us what it means to be his follower. When Jesus says follow me, He gives us a contract and the terms of agreement are drafted up by him and not by us.

I pray that many would carefully consider what it means to follow Jesus. I also pray that God uses this series of posts to create risk taking Christians that will move towards area’s that have little to no access of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Posted: May 13, 2013 by thoughtsfrommyshelf in Book reviews, Theology, Thoughts

        There are mostly two ways that people try to dissuade others of a particular point.  One would be to show the cons or negative points of something or someone. The second would be to make an object or person look like the lesser in comparison to something else. Chalmers argues that the latter is the most effective way in his article, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.

        For example, my brother is a nutrition freak. His idea of a cheat day is adding croutons to his lifeless salad.  He has tried to tell me time and time again why I should stop eating burgers, fries, and all things good. All I gather from that is no calories, no fat, and no sugar equals no good. (Side note: I have yet to be convinced that I should let go of eating half a dozen doughnuts for breakfast)

        But I have been able to drop 25 pounds within a month. Now how do you get a food-lover at heart to let go of everything considered unhealthy? The way Chalmers would go about it is by persuading me of a greater desire.

        I remember training for a fight and wanting to win my bout. The last thing I wanted was to lose a fight. I didn’t want to show up unprepared. I definitely didn’t want the fight to be canceled because I wasn’t disciplined enough to make weight.

        This led me to give up foods that would stop me from reaching my goal. I not only gave up fried food, but on certain days closer to the fight, I gave up eating carbs, meats, and only ate vegetables. One day before the fight, needing to lose 3 more pounds, I crash dieted and worked out on an empty stomach. Now that I think about it, and ask myself why, Chalmers makes perfect sense- I had a desire for something that was greater than my desire for food.

        The only way we will give up ungodly desires for godliness is if we have a growing desire to be conformed into the image of Christ. Position can only be given up when we see the status we have in our union with Christ. Rejection seems a small price when we are aware of the acceptance and adoption of our heavenly Father. Resources are no longer hoarded when we see all of the riches we have received from a generous king. How can anyone really threaten a believer with loss, suffering, and death when Jesus has won on our behalf, promised unfading glory, and eternal life in which death is no more?

        Chalmers provides Christians with a template and blueprint for any impulse we want to expel. I don’t know of any other way of removing impulses that seek gratification better than introducing a greater desire. God is the ultimate satisfaction and satisfier of our souls. The promise of everything we desire finds its root in Him. This article would make great material in helping anyone struggling with a particular sin that seems greater than the promises of God.

If you would like to read this article by Chalmers you can download the PDF Chalmers, Thomas – The Exlpulsive Power of a New Affection.

Contextualization Pt 2 The Bible and the Incarnation

Posted: March 7, 2013 by thoughtsfrommyshelf in Theology, Thoughts

Tim Keller an author and pastor in New York speaks of persuasion and contextualization as the gospel for dummies. Today you can walk into any store and find books on anything for dummies. What these books try to do is communicate any subject from Philosophy, Theology, Science, Business, in terms that the average person could understand. These books are great and serve as a great introduction to any field or topic. The authors work hard at getting it right, and getting it across. They understand that certain words are hard to understand unless you know the shorthand and verbiage that subject requires. Tim Keller takes this concept and applies it to evangelism. He says that our work as Christians is to do the hard work of listening to a person, entering their worldview, challenging their worldview, and completing the worldview with the gospel in terms that they understand. Our gospel presentations should be gospel for dummies. People with little to no clue about justification, expiation, and propitiation, should be told about Jesus. They should know of His sinless life. His perfect payment for all of our rebellion. They should be invited to live in the power that raised Jesus from the dead so that we could be united to the God that we have been separated from

Now I know that some of you are probably thinking “ok, Angel, I am sort of tracking with you but I am not sure that this passage alone will give me warrant to change the way I approach sharing the gospel. Is there any more evidence for why I should contextualize?” I would say, yes.  God gives us two forms of revelation that would lead me to believe that God contextualized His message to us as well.  The first reason is short and sweet. The BIble…Here is why.

The Bible is God’s written Word to us. When God decided to reveal Himself, He revealed Himself in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. God chose to reveal himself in propositional words. He used language that we could identify with. He didn’t chose a heavenly language or heavenly grammatical structures. He used what we understood as a way of communicating with us.

It is crazy to think that God spoke to us. I mean, just let that sink in. The God who not only made you and sustains you decided to reveal Himself to you, that you may known Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him! He wrote 39 books through about 41 authors over a span of 1,400 years in order to give you the Old Testament . It is even more unbelievable to think that He would dwell among us!!

But God’s Word is a story of redemption. He doesn’t just reveal His judgement, power, and wisdom in creation. He also reveals a plan of salvation. The written Word points to the Visible Word that we find in John. God was preparing everything for His Word to become flesh. It is in the incarnation that we see the clearest picture of how God feels, acts, reacts, and speaks. God had already revealed a lot about who he was, but in the Incarnation we see something amazingly beautiful.

It is not an easy thing to think about. I mean, just think of how awesome the incarnation is. How mind boggling it is. God who is outside of time, and created time, steps into time, space, history! The immaterial God who is spirit becomes physical. I love how a a rapper puts it. “God put on the uniform of the human form”. As if describing Himself through Scripture wasn’t clear enough God sent His Son to make the Father known.

Jesus our Exegete

Lets look at a passage that would make this concept a bit clearer. In John 1 we are introduced to the Word. This Word was with God and is God. He creates everything and without him there is nothing that has been created. Not even Himself. As Creator He could not have been a created agent to assist in creation. In vs 14 this Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Isn’t that amazing!!! God, dwells among us. He lives among us, he feels what we feel, he sympathizes with us and identifies himself with us!!! But that isn’t it! In verse 18 we find an amazing verse, and one that has been rocking me for the last couple of months. Verse 18 in the NIV says

18. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

The phrase I want us to focus on is the phrase, “has made him known”. This phrase comes from the word exegesis, which is a term theologians use for a right interpretation of a passage. This passage is telling us that Jesus explains God, He interprets, and clearly demonstrates God for us. He is, in fact, deity for dummies. You want to know how God loves sinners, look at Jesus on mission with tax collectors, prostitutes, and the religious outcast. Do you want to see God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness, look at the cross and the call of God to come to HIm for salvation. If you have ever wanted to know how frightening the wrath of God is, look at the cross. Do you understand the compassion of God? No, then look at Christ as he weeps over Israel, the tomb of Lazarus, and moves toward them. What does God think about the religious people who seek their righteousness in their work. Well, how does Jesus address them in the gospels? God is made known to us not only in Scripture but in the Incarnation.

Contextualization Pt 1

Posted: March 6, 2013 by thoughtsfrommyshelf in Theology, Thoughts

What does it look like to talk about Jesus to people who are far from knowing Christ? How do you adapt the the message of the gospel without adjusting it? How much of our presentation can be changed without changing what we present? In theological terms, how do we contextualize the gospel? 
 

If you are thinking, “contextualla what?” Let me give you a brief definition of the word. Contextualization is taking the simplicity of the gospel and teaching that unchanging truth to a group of people in a way that would make sense to them. It is when we bridge the gap between the ancient world and ancient times with modern cultures. For the next couple of posts I want to look at 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and see what Paul says about gospel communication. As we study this passage, I want to make a case for why we should be presenting the gospel in a way that fits the context of our audience. As messengers of God, our goal is to communicate to people what God says in a way that would stir something in them for God, His people, and the world.
 
Here is the passage.
 

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
 
1) Contextualization- faithful to Scripture, but relevant to the culture

If you notice what Paul is saying there are a lot of questions that should be going off in your head. Paul is saying that there is a way in which we can package the gospel so that other cultural contexts can be more receptive to the message. So what does it look like to communicate the message in a different way without compromising it? What does it look like to be faithful to Scripture?


Faithful to Scripture

I think that it is important that we make a distinction between good contextualization and bad contextualization. I mean how far can you go with this? What do you mean “become all things to all people”? Of course, there is a way that you can take this too far. Do we become an adulterer to the adulterer? A thief to win the thief? A drunkard to the drunk?

Look at the passage again. There is a way to export the message without compromising the message. Notice first, that Paul says he “became” all things. The hard work of removing the stumbling blocks and hindrances are on him. Paul took it upon himself to know the people, culture, and community he was reaching in order to preach to them. But Paul never was ruled by anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ. Paul remained faithful not only to the message, but to God. At times he uses the Law, “though not being under the law”, in order to win those under the Law. At other times he becomes as someone outside of the Law, though not “being outside of the law of Christ” in order to reach those outside of the law. Paul’s goal is to see people from these different groups or communities encountering the saving message of Jesus by embodying the message. Paul proclaimed the message of the kingdom without surrendering his allegiance to any other king.

 
The issue is not becoming all things. Paul made sure that though he became like them, he was able to draw the line. He wasn’t under the law. But he wasn’t outside of the law of Christ either. So, without giving up who he was in Christ, Paul became what he was not in order to win those he was identifying with. He is faithful to preach and faithful to the One he is preaching about. His message and method were faithful to God. His message and method came across in a way that was culturally understood. Paul’s message was true to the Bible and meaningful to the hearer. He didn’t just get it right, he got it across. 

Relevant to the culture

Paul shows us that the goal is not only about getting it right. It’s also about getting it across. He wanted to make the message he was preaching easy to understand. Paul seems to give himself to people. It’s a love for people that move him to study them. Look at verse 23 where he says that his goal is to “share with them in its blessing”. He is not only concerned with having his doctrine put together. He is also concerned about people who have yet to “share in its blessing”. He is wanting to win more of them. He wants people from all sort of backgrounds to come face to face with the gospel of Jesus. Paul wasn’t in anyway watering the message down. But he wasn’t keeping that all satisfying, living water to himself either.

 
There are many examples of how Paul sought to share the gospel with many different groups in Acts. We wont go too into it tonight but if you want, look at Acts 13 and then look compare it to chapter 17. Tonight we will only look at Acts 17. Let’s turn our Bibles to Act’s 17.
 
Paul was on mission with Silas and stops at Athens. There he begins to speak to people in the marketplace and reasons with them as much as he could. He then addresses them and affirms them for being religious. Even though they were a city full of idols, he encourages them for their spirituality. He connects Jesus to a statue labeled the unknown god. He quotes pagan philosophers. More than likely Epimendes of Crete and Aratus. He doesn’t quote Scripture or talk about Jesus as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. In this story, Paul preaches a truth centered message in a culture oriented way. His message is faithful to what God has revealed, and it is culture specific. 

Paul teaches us exactly what it means to “become all things” that by all means we “might win more of them”. We need to take our cues from what this passage is communicating about our gospel presentations. Are they addressing the heart felt needs and intellectual objections of the hearer? Do we know what those needs, heart issues, and objections are? Or are we presenting the gospel in a structured way? 

Now, I don’t have a problem with tracks, structures, tools, and principles for evangelism. I thank God for many of them. But do the structures and tools in sharing the gospel become the substance of our message? Or do they serve as guidelines or categories to think through? Do we ponder about how to make the gospel shine? Are we constantly thinking of how our message is being received? Paul would exhort us to make this our job. An ambassador of Jesus should not only know the message of his King, he should also know how to communicate it to those he is addressing. Sometimes people don’t have a problem with the message, it is just that they have a hard time with the method we use. Let’s do the hard work of not making the method the problem. 

 

Am I suffering because God doesn’t care about me?

Posted: February 23, 2013 by thoughtsfrommyshelf in Theology, Thoughts

I was talking to someone recently who felt as though everything was crumbling. They felt as though God did not care about them. This person was saying that the next couple of months are going to be stressful and it seems as though it is going to be difficult to get through.

How should we respond to circumstances that seem to bring the weight of the world on our shoulders? What does the Bible have to say about suffering? Is suffering judgment from God?

First, I think it is necessary to address the starting point. That is, having a right understanding of who God is. God is the sovereign orchestrator who rules and reigns over every sphere of life. The Bible is clear that God is working all things for the good of those who believe in Him (Romans 8:28). He works all things according to the council of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He is even sovereign over the evil men do, and uses it for His purpose (Gen 50:20).  God is all good, all knowing, all wise, and all powerful. This means that there is no greater choice that could have been made, no plan could be wiser, and no plan could be more good or meaningful than the one God chooses for us. But this still doesn’t answer the question of why suffering.

Why suffering then? I believe that the Bible nowhere states that suffering is always an act of judgment. I do see it used as a form of judgment, but it is not the only reason for suffering. In James chapter 1 we see it as the means by which God builds character and perseverance in believers. In 2 Timothy 3:12 we see that those who want to live a godly life will be go through some form of persecution. We will be heirs with Christ provided we suffer with Him (Romans 8:17) This leads me to agree with John Piper who says that “wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians”. When suffering comes– and I promise you, it will come– we don’t need a small view of suffering. What we need is a bigger, and more biblical view of who God is. A robust understanding of God will keep us grounded when the storms come in.

God upholds the universe by the power of His word (Heb 1:3). He calms storms and cast out demons and has His disciples saying “Who is this, that even the winds obey Him?” Christ is God in the flesh (John1:14) and through faith and repentance we can cry out to him who is interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34). He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5)

Even more, Jesus doesn’t tell us to suffer alone. Isolation in suffering will only lead to more questions. In fact, he calls us to enter the “fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil 3:10). In a mysterious way suffering brings us that much closer to a sympathetic Savior who is for us and understands us (Heb 4:15). Don’t let suffering make you feel alone. It is in the midst of your weakness that God makes his power made known (2 Cor 12:9).

I have one last thought that I hope encourages you to find your hope in Jesus. We find in Philippians 4:13 a verse that is usually misused in so many ways. It says “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” and many people, forgetting the context in the surrounding passages, cling to this verse as a fuel to get up and get it done. Almost like a, “He promises to get me through everything type of mindset”. This text is so much more than, “Jesus is my self-centered strength to do everything.” It is more like, “Jesus is the foundation by which nothing else matters but Him.”

In the context Paul is talking about being content and knowing what it is like to face plenty, to have little, to have in abundance, and be in need.  In light of this I believe the point of this verse is this: Situations and circumstances change, yet the only thing that does not change is my standing in Christ who is my strength by which I can endure all things! Christ has taken the biggest suffering we can face away, namely, the wrath of God . Those who have placed faith in Christ have no fear of the greatest suffering and are promised eternal rest. He has made us heirs provided we suffer with Him, and is interceding for us. We can make it through temporal suffering because Christ has conquered eternal suffering for us. We can walk through suffering with hope knowing that we are entering a specific kind of fellowship with Jesus.