Sunday, August 28, 2011

Abigail Faith

Abigail Faith Machel, born 8/28/11, 7 lb 11 oz.

She's awesome.

Family of 4.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learning to Like It

If you've paid the tiniest bit of attention to the Christian blogosphere or publishing world this year, you probably heard about Rob Bell's fancy new update of George MacDonald-style universalism (that 'hell' is temporary (in Bell's update, it's temporal as well) and restorative rather than punitive - it's God's redeeming/purifying fire rather than his wrathful punishment of sin). Hopefully if that book was even the slightest bit intriguing to you, you first (or better, instead) read Kevin DeYoung's outstanding critique affirming the Biblical doctrine of God's judgment.

But this isn't about any of that, per se.

One interesting phenomenon which arose from the discussion of hell was the tone of many of the defenses of the doctrine - "I may not like the idea of hell, but the Bible teaches it, so I guess I have to believe it". Now this is clearly superior to outright disobedience, but it's short of what Christian maturity requires. DeYoung recently posted two articles which deal with this issue, and these I also wholeheartedly commend to you.

It boils down to this: scripture teaches us the character and will of God. God is good, and everything He does is good. Our goal in sanctification is to become more like Christ, which involves renewal of our minds to love the things God loves. Now, begrudging acceptance is certainly better than rejection of any kind, but we can do better. Consider four possible responses to Biblical teachings, ranked from worst to best:

1) Hypocrisy/Sabotage. Someone who claims to believe, but actively works against the Biblical doctrine. Often accomplished by using familiar Biblical terms in new, unbiblical ways (any similarity between this description and Bell's entire modus operandi is totally not accidental). This is the lowest of the low, worse than outright atheism - these are the wolves, the false teachers that we are so frequently warned about.

2) Defiant rejection. Better than the first class, because at least it's honest. The Bible clearly teaches it, but we reject it because we don't like it. This is the default state of fallen humanity.

3) Begrudging acceptance. "I may not like or understand it, but scripture plainly teaches it, so I have to believe it." Clearly and unquestionably better than the previous, but still not where we need to be. It still trusts my own sense of goodness more than God's, and places myself as judge over him, which is obviously wrong. The acceptance at best comes from a commendable knowledge that God's Word is true, but lacks the conviction that God's way is good.

4) Conformed affection. This is where we need to get. Not only accepting the truth of God's Word, but being fully convinced of its goodness. We learn to love what God loves.

Now the big challenge is to identify areas where you, personally, are still stuck in group 3 and need to grow up, to mature to response 4 (if you're in response 1 or 2, your biggest need isn't maturity but repentance). In my experience, there are three big doctrinal areas where the Biblical teaching is abundantly clear, but acceptance for many is begrudging at best.

God's righteous judgment/hell. See the DeYoung articles. Far too many of us 'defend' the doctrine as if it's detestable. And the thought of any person willingly bearing God's wrath rather than repenting and believing in Jesus Christ is horrific. Yet scripture is clear that glorified saints in heaven will cry out for God's judgment on the wicked and rejoice when it happens. What do we need to understand about hell and judgment to bring our attitude closer to the perfected saints in heaven?

God's sovereign election. I spent a long time as a begrudging believer, after a long time trying to rationalize away the scriptural evidence. The big change for me came through a better understanding of our depraved nature as well as God's gracious display of his glory.

Complementarianism. I think I'm detecting more begrudgingness in defenses of God's created order. Not just with complementary roles for male and female, but also with sexuality in general. Why is it good that the genders are designed have different roles in the church and home? Why is it good that boys should like girls, and why is it good that boys should not like other boys? Maybe it's just my imagination, but I'm hearing a bit too much "Well, sorry you can't be a pastor, but rules are rules, ya know?" and "Gee, it sure would be great if you could indulge those sexual desires, but God says it's bad, so you have to resist, I guess", and not enough faithful proclamation of the glorious way God created us male and female.

What doctrines do you struggle to wholeheartedly accept? With what other doctrines do you too often see timid, begrudging acceptance?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Blessed Miracle of Utter Failure

Have you ever noticed how the mission Jesus initially gave to his first disciples is the same as the mission he gave the church right before his ascension? Jesus is all about making disciples, true worshipers of God throughout all the world. From the call of the sons of Jonah and Zebedee, to the last words he uttered on earth until his glorious return, the mission is unchanged.

So it seems fitting that one of Jesus' great miracles would be repeated at each end of his earthly ministry. Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14 contain the same basic story, although in different contexts. In one case he had just come on the scene and was starting to call people to himself, in the other his devoted followers were trying to figure out what the resurrection meant and answer the all-important question, "So, now what?" But both miracles were essentially the same: professional fishermen spent all night fishing in the Sea of Galilee without catching a single thing, Jesus told them to throw the nets out once more, and the catch was completely overwhelming. In both cases, the disciples immediately recognized this as nothing less than the power of God.

Until recently I was inclined to think of the miracle as the huge catch, and indeed I've often seen it referred to as the "miraculous catch" or something similar. But I think the miracle actually starts much earlier - how in the world could these guys fish all night in those waters and catch nothing?

I had the privilege to go to Israel a few years ago, and spent a little time around the Sea of Galilee (which is really not that big of a lake). The first thing that jumped out was the fish - literally, actually. This lake was absolutely teeming with fish everywhere. The first night walking close to the shore, they were jumping up from the water. They were so tightly packed in there that you could have thrust your hand in and had a decent chance of grabbing one. A child with a handheld net could swipe it through the water and have a pretty good catch rate.

I can't imagine professional fishermen casting a net measuring a couple hundred square feet into the water and pulling up nothing. Doing it once would be a real head-scratcher. Doing it again, and again, and again, and again, and again.... all through the night, all through the best fishing times, over and over and over and over... All this, all night, dozens of casts, throwing out bait, trying new spots, trying again and again until they were beyond exhausted, seeing fish by the thousands swimming down there, practically jumping into their boats - and not a single fish landed in their nets. Not even one.

This utter failure could not be natural. This was the setup for a miracle, but it could easily be classified as a miracle itself. The two parts go together: first the longest, most miserable and frustrating night of fishing ever, an epic fail if there ever was one. Then, a single cast into the same water brought more fish than they can handle. The combined effect was powerful - Jesus, who made it happen, must be divine. And not one fisherman involved could possibly have believed the result was due to his own mad skillz.

That last part is especially important to remember in light of what would happen merely weeks after the second event. Peter, who had been a recipient of both miracles, would deliver his first sermon. What was the result? "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls."

Peter had fished for men, and had enjoyed unimaginable success on the very first attempt. Could he possibly imagine that this tremendous work of God was due to his own skillz? Of course not. Rather, he could attribute all the success to the one who was truly deserving.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:10-11)

And I hope the lesson isn't lost on us. We could believe that success in ministry will be a result of our own awexomeness, and act like it, finding all sorts of ways to help the gospel out with our wisdom and clever tactics. Or we could believe that success is by Christ's power and blessing, and minister faithfully how he commanded.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

So apparently Mark Driscoll recently went on a rant that was just silly, ignorant, and flat-out stupid. Frank Turk as usual does a masterful job of dissecting the absurdity. It's worth a read. Pack a lunch.

Now, out of that whole mess, there's one particular argument I'd like to take a closer look at. The discussion regards the issue of cessationism, the idea that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the end of the apostolic period. After effectively calling the vast multitudes of Christians throughout the ages who've held this position the same as atheists and deists, Driscoll backs it up with this:

"So within that God's not really speaking, God's not really working and the supernatural gifts are not in operation; Healing, revelation, speaking in tongues, those kinds of things they are over in the God-used-to box. Even though I was reading this book that said he was the same yesterday, today and forever."

The 'book' he read that said that is of course Hebrews, specifically 13:8. His argument seems to be that based on this verse, if God has ever done something some way, He must forever keep doing the same thing the same way.

The book of Hebrews has 303 verses. This attempt to use this verse is so spectacularly awful, you have to wonder if he's ever read any of the other 302.

Honestly, if you were going to make this argument, is there a worse book you could possibly use than Hebrews? OK, maybe Revelation might be up there with it, but Hebrews is about as bad as it can get for this position. It's hard to find a portion of the book which doesn't fight against this silly argument. Consider:

Hebrews 8:13 - "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." Though God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, he apparently had no problem replacing the obsolete old covenant with a new, better one.

Hebrews 7:11ff - Remember the Levitical priesthood? The unchanging God gladly replaced it with the superior Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus.

Hebrews 10:1-18 - Based on Driscoll's argument, we should still be worthlessly sacrificing bulls and goats, and verses 9 and 18 are practically atheistic or deistic.

Hebrews 9:11ff - That old tabernacle and associated stuff? Gone. Buh bye. Replaced with the heavenly, better versions. But I thought God was the same yesterday, today, and forever...?

So yeah, the meat of the book is all about the old and obsolete being replaced with the new and better. What else do we find?

Hebrews 10:19-20 - "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh..." Whoa, wait a second, what's all this "new and living way" stuff? I thought God was unchanging!

Hebrews 3:7-11 - "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says..." What does he say? A long scripture quote! Interesting, isn't it? It's almost as if Driscoll's larger argument, that if you don't believe in perpetually ongoing fresh revelation you believe God is silent, is completely and utterly demolished by this single passage. But that would be a silly thought, that God speaks through scripture, AKA His Word.

Oh, how about one more? Let's look at the first couple verses of chapter 2, with my comments in brackets.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels [the Mosaic law, Acts 7:53] proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It [the gospel] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard [the apostles], while God also bore witness [to what? the gospel proclamation of 'those who heard' Jesus!] by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Folks, this is perhaps the #1 cessationist passage regarding the purpose of the miraculous gifts. It very explicitly ties them to the initial proclamation of the gospel by those who heard it directly from Jesus.

So this book, basically from beginning to end, is opposed to the point Driscoll tried to make from one poorly-applied verse. That leaves us with a couple options.

(1) He simply doesn't know any better. The pastor is so unfamiliar with this magnificent tome of Christology that he has no idea how contrary his point is to the central themes of the book.
(2) He knows better, but is fine with completely misusing scripture to make a minor rhetorical point.
(3) I'm so completely far off in my understanding of these fairly plain and straightforward passages from Hebrews that I should really just give up blogging, teaching, or even commenting on scripture until I get my mind right.
(4) ???? I dunno, help me out here.

I'm fairly sure it's not 3 - otherwise, I wouldn't have written this all. 1 and 2 are both simply ghastly options, completely unfitting for a pastor, and really could disqualify one from eldership at all. So someone please tell me it's 4, and figure out what that could possibly be. 'Coz I'm kinda stumped.