Saturday, October 31, 2009

I Peter, part 1

I've been inconsistent at this whole blogging thing for the past few weeks. It's not that I don't have anything to write, but I guess I lack some motivation when every piece that I write is isolated. For some reason I feel like I need something to start and finish instead of just put random thoughts down. So I decided I am going to blog through I Peter. This is for two simple reasons: First, I love the books of I and II Peter. Secondly, I have been working my way through the New Testament for a while and just started I Peter a few days ago... yes, it's really that simple. The blogs will honestly be more for me than for anyone reading them (if anyone does). I want it to be theological and devotional at the same time. I think it will be beneficial in my walk with the Lord to have a place to put my thoughts in paragraph form (I have a notebook I jot stuff down it but it's bits and pieces of what I think about). So, let's get to work.

I Peter 1:1-5

Peter starts off by naming himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He knows who he is and what he has been called to do by the Lord. As soon as Jesus had ascended back into heaven, he took on his role and was instrumental at Pentecost and in Acts 10 when the Holy Spirit came in power to Gentiles as well. He was not without his faults even in this role - one such example is the racism he showed against Gentiles, which is mentioned in Galatians 2 and for which it seems he repented of. Paul is writing to Christians all over the place. This seems important because it does not get specific like Paul normally did when he wrote to a person (like Timothy) or a church with issues that he addressed (like Galatians, Corinthians, etc.). One thing I was not aware of, which my ESV study Bible points out, is that Peter is writing primarily to Gentiles. This is peculiar because he uses the word "dispersion", which was a normal reference to scattered Jews in the Old Testament, as well as the dispersion of Jewish Christians due to persecution in Acts. But the cities he references are Gentile (to the Jews, Gentile means any non-Jew) and point therefore to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to spread the news about Jesus far beyond Jewish borders. Peter has a pastoral heart to encourage these Christians and teach them the Gospel.

Verse 2 blows me away. Few verses have as clear a witness to the Trinity as this verse does. God the Father is mentioned as the One with foreknowledge of his elect people, God the Holy Spirit is said to be sanctifying the believers, and God the Son is the One we are to obey (as the Spirit sanctifies/matures us to do so) and the one who has sprinkled us with his blood. The sprinkling with blood is a reference to the new covenant we have with God through Jesus Christ. In the old covenant, blood was shed and sprinkled in several places around the altar, and even on the people, symbolizing their union with God as His people. Now, the new covenant has been inaugurated, the Lamb of God has come to make a permanent sacrifice, and we are symbolically sprinkled with his blood through faith in Christ, thus becoming God's people. Again, the fact that this is a Jewish guy (Peter) writing to a non-Jewish audience is critical because Peter uses a Jewish reference point (sprinkling with blood) to describe what has happened to them. Here he is clearly indicating that we are all God's people through Jesus Christ, and this is not a primarily Jewish privilege any longer.

The Trinity seriously hurts my mind to even think about. But as a quick side note I did hear a very interesting thought on the Trinity from Tim Keller. He was giving Augustine's take on the Trinity and basically said Augustine is the one from whom most well known arguments about the Trinity have come from throughout history (Augustine lived in the 5th century). Not that Augustine had everything right, but this may be helpful. Here's how the thought goes: if there is no God at all, then chaos rules the universe. If there is a uni-personal God, all by Himself, then power dominates the universe over love because love cannot exist outside of relationship. But if there is a Triune God, each being distinct yet still one God, then loving community is the basis of everything in the universe, for it existed before humans ever came into the world. Interesting idea to me.

Verses 3-5 include an opening statement of praise to God then one long run-on sentence about what God has done. I love long run-on sentences because I'm not allowed to do them in our grammar system, but they show one complete thought in the Scriptures. Verse numbers sometimes get in the way of this and even do damage to the over-arching thought because people will start from a verse that is not the beginning of the sentence, and thus may get an incomplete picture of what is being said. One thing that strikes me here is that the cross is not mentioned here directly - the death of Christ briefly is but the main focal point is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ has accomplished for us. It seems to me that Christians, myself included, spend a great deal of time understanding the cross - why Christ went to it, what was accomplished on it, and so on (which is very, very important to understand) - yet they don't think much about the resurrection. But as Paul said in I Corinthians 15, the whole message of Christianity falls apart if Christ isn't alive. Peter says in verse 3 that we are "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". It is not the death of Christ that gives us this hope, but the FACT that Christ is alive! We have a living hope because our Savior is a living Savior. We have an eternal hope because our God is eternally alive. A dead Savior is no Savior at all. We are also promised an inheritance that will never fade, be defiled, or perish under any circumstances. It is "kept in Heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (v. 5). How sweet is that! It's not our faith that guards our inheritance in Heaven (as if it were up to us to keep or lose it!), but it is guarded by God's power. Faith is important because this happens through faith, but it seems to me here that even this faith is held by God's power.

The opening thoughts of Peter describe the glorious Gospel through which we are saved. It is not only for Jews but for the whole world, as God is the one, true God of the universe. Salvation is a triune effort from beginning to end, and we are also held by God's power through faith, by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit for all eternity. This will all be finally revealed "in the last time". At the end of history, God will fully unveil his sovereign plan and bring us into eternal dwelling with Him. It will be unlike and exceedingly better than anything we could possibly imagine!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Hate The Fall

I hate the fall. And no, I don't mean the fall that we are entering into right now. I don't hate the leaves changing colors and the air cooling down. I don't hate the rain or the wind or any of that. In fact I very much love the fall season. I love the crisp air, I love how hot drinks make you feel on a cool day, I love turning on the fire place (I have a gas fire place, unfortunately), and I love hearing the pitter-patter of the rain on the roof and the street. Yes, all of that is great. But, I really do hate the FALL.

To alleviate any confusion, I'm talking about the fall of mankind. That's the fall I hate. I woke up this morning thinking about it because I woke up with a sore throat. And I knew it was coming is the worst part. Yesterday morning I woke up with just a little something "extra", if you will, in my throat and I knew what was coming. To be sure, people are suffering much more than me at this moment, but getting even a little bit sick reminds me that my body is decaying. I'm 25 years old, which puts me squarely in the generation who still avoids thinking about death and acts like they aren't getting older. But I am thinking about it. How did we get here?

We got here because mankind has perverted our created intent, rebelled against our glorious Creator, and have been put under a curse as a result. This is commonly called "the fall" and we need to learn to attribute much more to it than we do. Yet most people, including many in the academic sphere, avoid admitting we are all fallen and the world is under a curse. We want to believe mankind can fix themselves, that if we just get more education we will be o.k., or if we get more funding in the ghettos to clean up the streets, or more cops in bad neighborhoods, and so on, that we can save the world. But if we look at history just for a few moments, we will see nothing we have tried has worked. The truth is, we need a Savior. We need Someone who can change us, Someone who can identify with our troubles, temptations, and humanity and yet Someone who is altogether different from us.

The Someone we need is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who came from Heaven, came to a fallen and broken world, and died for it. He died and rose so that we might die to sin and live with and for Him forever. He didn't become fallen, but He came for the fallen world. For some crazy reason, the God of the universe, the very God who has laid a curse on this world (because He is just and must punish sin), has also loved it so much that He sent His Son (because He is merciful), Jesus, to bear the weight of the curse so that we would could come to know Him, love Him, and start returning to our created intent and be in relationship with Him (redemption). The story continues... the fall is still upon us, the consequences of our sin (sickness and death especially) are all around us, and yet our hearts and minds are changed because God has revealed His truth to us. We can now live as lights in the world as a witness to his love and truth, even in the midst of this fallen world. And we are promised that the world will, ultimately, be "re-created" - renewed by its Maker to its perfect, original place to be enjoyed by all those who know and love Him. No, we will not be chubby angels on clouds, nor will we just "sing of His love forever". I'm sure we will sing - but we will eat, dance, drink, love, laugh, and enjoy eternity with God and experience indescribable glory forever.

Yes, I hate the fall. I really hate sore throats, disease, cancer, death, accidents where children get killed, the fact that mental and physical disabilities exist (though God can, and does, redeem people with them and use them mightily for his glory), and so much more. Yet when I am reminded that the fall is not final, it is temporary and will be removed, and the curse will be lifted, I am filled with hope and joy. Christ is my Savior, my Lord, my King, my Friend, my Advocate, and so much more. The Holy Spirit lives in me to point me to Christ, teaches me about my fallen state but also about His transforming power, and works through me. The Father and all His perfection is my future.

For the record, I didn't think about ALL of this at 5:30 a.m. today... it sort of just came to me as I wrote.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can verses become "too familiar"?

I've been thinking lately about some of the most well known verses in the Bible, and wondering whether or not some of them become too familiar to us and therefore lose significance. Many verses could be mentioned, but the one that comes to mind is Proverbs 3:5-6. In case you don't have it memorized (shame on you! Just kidding), it says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths." This is one of the verses we will be using tomorrow night for youth group, particularly trying to answer the question "how do I know when I'm actually spending time with God?" My thesis if you will is that simply activities such as reading the Bible, going to church, going to youth group, and other activities do not guarantee that you are spending time with God. Basically, the simple formula "reading the Bible = spending time with God" is not always true.

For me, Proverbs 3:5-6 is helpful in answering the question about spending time with God. I believe it sheds some light on the issue, namely that if reading the Bible doesn't always equate to time spent with God, trusting in God with all my heart and acknowledging him in all of my life does indicate I'm spending time with him. And if that is the case, then it can often be that the "less spiritual" things like going to school, doing homework, going to work, eating a meal, exercising, and so on can indeed be times spent with the Lord. It seems to me that Christians do a great disservice when we believe (or teach!) that the spiritual things are prayer, solitude, studying the Bible, and church attendance and other things mentioned above are not-so-spiritual. In the end, God is with us at all times by the Holy Spirit living in us, and therefore we are always spending time with God; or, at the very least every activity can be spending time with God if we are trusting in him and acknowledging him in our lives.

What other verses are "all too common" verses for us today? How can another look at them help us grow in our walk with Christ?

Friday, October 9, 2009

seminary and free $??? Oh ya!

I've been going to seminary since January of this year. Seminary is something I've wanted to complete for quite some time, but it was a difficult process figuring out where to attend. Most seminaries have a distance learning program, so it took a while to figure out which one was best for me. In the end I chose Western Seminary and have been very happy with that choice. I'm in my third class, which is interpreting Genesis - Song of Solomon. This portion of Scripture is either something I know little about, or know something about but am gaining a much better understanding because of this class. I am able to watch DVD lectures throughout the week, participate in forums with people taking the same class all around the country, and turn in papers online. While it doesn't quite have the effect of being in class with people, it is still able to provide a good measure of depth and learning.

As you might imagine, funding your master's degree can be difficult. Noelle and I are following a budgeting plan to pay for each class in full (usually around $1600 per class), but it certainly has been a stretch. In the end it is a matter of faith and "putting my money where my mouth is" quite literally. I believe I am called to teach and preach, and thus believe I have a responsibility to do everything I can to be equipped to teach faithfully and truthfully from God's Word. One way to do this to go to seminary. While I have heard some criticize seminaries by renaming it "semi-taries" (a little play on words I do find humorous), I am yet to encounter any air of dead religion from my professors or the experience over all. Just recently I came across a seminary scholarship that provides $1000 to a seminary student. The scholarship is being provided by Logos Bible Software company. They provide incredible Bible software that ranges from $150 - $1400. My pastor and I have one of their programs and I have benefited greatly from the resources in it. Scholarships for master's programs like the one I'm in can be hard to come by, so I quickly jumped at the chance to apply - the scholarship would fund over 1/2 of my next class!

God has been incredibly faithful throughout this year financially. There have been several unexpected financial burdens, but we are seeing his provision in every way, and this would be no exception. A seminary scholarship at this point would, quite honestly, free us up to be more prepared for the holiday season that is fast approaching. We very much love the chance to be generous around Christmas to our close friends and family, as well as those in need, and an extra $1000 unexpectedly sticking around in our bank account would certainly help do that. If you know someone in seminary, make them aware of the scholarship! No matter who receives it, I am sure it will be a tremendous blessing, one that will not soon be forgotten.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The two men of James 1:12-15

James 1:12-15:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

I've been working my way through the New Testament over the past year or so, and just started perhaps my favorite short book of the Bible, James. Martin Luther is said to have criticized this book, saying that it didn't have anything about the gospel in it. Truth be told, it doesn't - nothing is said about Christ dying for our sins, about Christ as God, about the resurrection, and so on. It does talk about faith in chapter 2 but even that part (faith without works is dead, etc.) can be tough to understand. But, as great as Luther was, he was wrong to say James shouldn't be in the Bible. It's almost a Proverbs in the New Testament, and I love the Proverbs. Sure you may need to look elsewhere for the outright doctrine of justification or penal substitution, but James has a great deal to say to Christians who are suffering, struggling with sin, or need to mature in areas such as partiality, using their tongue wisely, and so on.

All that to say, the passage in James 1 struck me as a "compare and contrast" passage between the two men presented, sort of like Proverbs does over and over. First we have the blessed man, the one who "stands fast" under trial - meaning he successfully navigates life's difficulties, sudden crises, sicknesses, rebellious children, hard times financially - he is the man who loves God through it all and is promised the crown of life after he dies. This is beautiful imagery of the mature Christian who takes to heart James 1:2-3 - "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Here is a steadfast man, already blessed on account of his walk with God, his love for God, and his steadfast character. He is not perfect, but he is blessed.

The second man is completely different from the first. This man is not only lured and enticed by his own desires, he is audacious enough to blame God for his temptation! James corrects this view by rightly declaring that God is neither tempted to sin nor does he tempt anyone to sin (by allowing difficulty to come into our lives God is NOT tempting us to worry, for example - the difficulty only exposes our heart's inclination to worry and not trust God). The second man gives into his desires because he is weak, immature, and ultimately not living out of love for God but love for himself. The fruit of this kind of living is ultimately death, for sin comes from such desires and death follows as the result of sin.

Here's the point: I am the second man! I read the contrast between the two and desperately want to say "I'm becoming more the first man every day!" and yet I don't know if that is true. Sure there are glimpses of hope, rays of light that shine through when I refuse temptation, trust God, and love Him more than sin. And while Christ is my Savior and Lord, whom I seek to follow with all of my heart, this passage helped me see just how far I still have to go. It is a glorious truth that we are saved by grace through faith, not through works of righteousness... because I don't have any! My hope every day comes from clinging to the cross, putting all my hope in the grace of God who I have offended with my sin and deserve eternal punishment from. Yet I have received grace and mercy, have trusted Him, and each day strive to love and trust Him more. So, while the first man is who I am, by the grace of God I will become more and more like the second, blessed, man and will be with him forever wearing the crown of life. Amen.