Gospel Irony

This was an address I delivered at the NSA Convocation, 15 August, 2014

You’ve no doubt heard the Bonhoeffer quote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That quote summarizes so succinctly a central theme throughout the epistles of Paul about the nature of the Christian life. Think of all the times that the Apostle points towards this truth.

He brags in Galatians “I have been crucified with Christ,” (Gal. 2:20a). And he tells the Colossians and the Romans that they were buried with Jesus in their baptisms (Col. 2:12). They have died (Col. 3:3). And not only that, but because they have died, they need to start putting to death their earthly members (Col. 3:5).

So Christ bids you come and die. Come and put to death what is earthly in you. In one sense, our hope for you as students at this college is that this is a year of earthly death for you. We would like to see you students put your flesh to death. So here are three areas in which you have an opportunity to die this year. Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Testing God

“Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents,” (1 Cor. 10:9). The Israelites tempted God when they found themselves in the desert without food or drink and they turned to God and said, “why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” They make this complaint several times during their journey through the desert. And this complaint caused God to give the command, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:16). Now it is interesting that it is this commandment that Jesus quotes back at Satan when Satan tempts him to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple and trust that the angels will save him. Jesus said, “It is written again, ‘you shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

So put those two stories alongside one another for a moment – the Israelites in wilderness without food or water, and the temptation of Jesus to throw himself from the top of the temple to see if God sends angels to catch him. What is it that we are being warned of in these stories? How did these two stories illustrate a testing of God that we must beware of? Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

The Trouble with Teachers . . .

At the sabbath dinner table a week or so ago, Grandpa Jim said something terribly insightful. We were talking about some ridiculous piece exegesis that we had heard recently, and Jim said, “the problem with teachers is that they always feel like they have to tell you something that you didn’t already know.”

Yep. Very true. Sometimes the text just says what we have already heard a thousand times before, what we need to hear another ten thousand times again.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with this promise – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 5:3). We all know what it means to be financially poor. But what does it mean to be poor in spirit? David gives us a good example of what this means in a number of his Psalms.

“But I am poor and needy; make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer, O Lord, do not delay” (Ps. 70:5).

“Bow down your ear, O Lord, hear me; for I am poor and needy” (Ps. 86:5).

“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:6).

“I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God” (Ps. 40:17).

To be spiritually poor, is to recognize your own helplessness. The poor man sees his own neediness and knows that salvation is beyond his grasp. He is the one who cries out to God, knowing that his own situation is hopeless.

To be poor in spirit requires a brutal honesty with yourself about your own sinful conditions. To be poor in spirit requires the humility to look away from yourself and to call out to God for deliverance. And to be poor in spirit carries with it this great promise – that God hears you, that God is your helper and deliverer, that God is hastening to save you. To be poor in spirit is to be an heir to the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, to be poor in spirit is to be wealthy beyond all imagination.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Which the Preacher Did Not Prove

“Death and eternity make men wise: we easily confess and repent of many things when we come to die, which no counsels or sermons could make us penitently confess before. Death will answer a thousand objections and temptations, and prove many vanities to be sins, which you thought the preacher did not prove . . .” Richard Baxter

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Principled Under Pressure

When you live in a principled world, which is a good thing, you are going to find that you regularly are put in a situation where big things depend on your principles. For instance, you can find yourself in a position where a job depends on you being able to sign a statement of faith or where a future marriage depends on your theological convictions. Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Hebraica Veritas

Here is a slightly random post. I’d like to explain why I think that biblical Hebrew was not the one pre-Babel language. If you’ve never heard this idea before, it might seem like a strange thing to spend time arguing about. But it’s actually a fairly commonly held position. You get varying versions of the argument. Usually it starts with claiming that all the languages were confused at Babel, except for the language of the descendents of Shem, which was the Hebrew language. They alone continued to speak this one, true, pre-Babel tongue, passing it on to their children (kind of like the Knights Templar in a National Treasure movie). This language goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and usually extends even to before the fall. In some versions, Hebrew is actually the divine language that God spoke at creation, or the heavenly language that God uses with the angels. Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Don’t Think Like Demons

Sometimes believing in God is not hard, but believing that he is on your side is. I noticed this in the widow of Zarephath, whose only son dies shortly after Elijah starts boarding with her. She says to Elijah, “’What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?’” (1 Kings 17:18). It’s not that she didn’t believe in God. She knows that God is real. But she is scared of him, convinced that he is out to get her. Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

The Problem of Worship

Doesn’t it seem like a truly pious action is an action which is performed because the action is worth doing in and of itself and not for the recognition that we will get for having done it? Think of what Jesus said to the Pharisees.

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sounds a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. . .” (Mat. 6:1-3).

He tells us when we pray, to do it privately so that no one sees (Mat. 6:5). He warns the people of the scribes who love to process in a way that gets attention and glory from men (Luk. 20:45-47).

But, given this principle, is it a problem that God is concerned that we worship him and give praise to him for what he has done? Is it egotistical for God to require worship from us? Think of how many Psalms are about listing God’s works, his creation and his salvation. We are constantly directed to give praise to God. But if the best deeds are those that are done in secret, with no eye towards praise from others, then is God in violation of this very important rule? If we are supposed to do our good deeds purely for the sake of the goodness of that deed alone and not for any external recognition, then doesn’t it seem like God’s concern that we worship him and praise him is a violation of this rule? Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Miscommunications

“England and America are two nations divided by a common language.” We regularly heard this quote during our time in England to explain the many instances of miscommunication that we had with our English friends. Often we would be in a conversation where we knew all the words, but for some reason we would still completely miss what was being said, and then we would realize that though we were speaking the same language, we were worlds apart in meaning.

For instance, at church on Sunday the pastor would regularly welcome us at the door of the church with the question, “Are you alright?” Now you understand the phrase perfectly. But it is just slightly off from “How are you doing?” And it has this very slight suggestion, to an American ear, that maybe things are not alright. It sounded like maybe I had just hit my head on something and he was thoughtfully checking up on me. Or maybe he had heard that earlier in the week one of my parents had died, and he wanted to see how I was doing. Of course, this was just his way of saying, “How’s it going?” The negative insinuation was being implied solely by my own mind. But each week he would say this as we walked through the door and I would start wondering if something bad had happened over the last week that the pastor knew about and was checking up on. After doing a quick inventory of the week’s events I could reassure him that no, contrary to his concerns, everything was actually just fine. Continue reading

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+