Monday, September 1, 2014

What is the Gospel?


Is the gospel justification by grace through faith?


The gospel IS salvation from God's wrath against sin, by grace through Spirit-wrought faith in the finished work of Jesus' perfect life, his substitutionary and atoning death upon the cross, and his victorious resurrection from among the dead. But, the gospel IS NOT limited to justification by grace through faith in Jesus. (Justification may very well be the decisive and principle action whereby we experience the benefits of the gospel, but it is not by itself the good news of the kingdom.)

To understand the good news of Jesus rightly one must first understand what bad news the good news of his kingdom purports to correct.

What is the bad news?

The bad news IS that, in Adam, we are enslaved to disobedience, we are a fallen people, utterly incapable of rightly imaging God and obeying his moral law; and because of that improper imaging and failure to keep his commands, the warrant of eternal death looms grimly over all humanity. But, the bad news IS NOT limited to damnation for sin.

To understand the bad news rightly one must go back to that moment in history when the first law was broken, when sin entered the world through Adam. What was lost in that first seditious act? The answer to that question is the bad news that the good news of Jesus corrects. Expulsion from paradise; separation from God, from the Tree of Life, from shalom, perfect health, safety, purpose, work without toil, ease in childbearing, and relational and marital harmony. That is the bad news. The bad news of death through sin is, of course, part of the curse through sin, but it is not the sum total of the bad news.

If that is true, that the bad news is not limited to salvation from death through sin, then the good news cannot be limited to eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is certainly not less than eternal life, but it cannot be limited to eternal life alone. Eternal life with God is good news, to be sure, but the gospel of Jesus and his kingdom is much bigger news than mere forever-life after death.

This is the Good News!

The gospel IS the good news that Jesus is King and his kingdom is come — and is yet to come; that he's the long awaited serpent's-head-crushing-bruised-heel seed of the woman and seed of Abraham, through whom all the world is now blessed and the curse is broken; that he’s disarmed the cherubim guarding the Garden's gate, that we may eat freely from the Tree of Life; that he’s soon coming to purge the Land and eject all wickedness, evildoers, Satan, sin, death, and Hell into eternal perdition; that he's going to recreate the heavens and the earth into an edenic heavenly city flowing with milk and honey, where there is no need of the sun because Jesus is our light; that he’s reconciled us to our Father, restored shalom, perfect health, safety, purpose, work without toil, and relational harmony among his people; that the lamb will lie down with the wolf, that weapons of war will be beaten into plowshares, that the last will be first, that the marginalized will be brought to the center, that the downtrodden and outcast are invited to feast at the table of our great King; that he's given us a new forever family in the church; and, that he's given us a mission of delighting in him to such a degree that our hearts overflow our lips and we proclaim the good news of Jesus and his kingdom come, with our hands and feet following suit.

The gospel is the good news that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus. However, the gospel is also the good news that through King Jesus, by King Jesus, and because of King Jesus, everything that was lost by Adam through sin is now suddenly all becoming untrue!

You're not just being saved from wrath, Beloved, you've also been saved into a family and unto the mission of covering the earth with the knowledge of God by discipling the nations!

"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations..." Matt 24:14



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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Is Anxiety a Sin?


Below you will find the contents of a letter that I recently sent to the members of my small community. Perhaps you will find some value in it as well.

Is Anxiety a Sin?

There have been a couple questions about this topic since I made the proposition this past Thursday. So, give me a second of your time and I'll explain why I believe it is indeed a sin to worry.

Defining our terms:

Anxiety — is an ongoing feeling of fear, unease, and worry, whether rationally or irrationally induced. 
Stress — is the natural physical hormonal response to life’s circumstances. 

Sin — is breaking God's commandments and/or violating one’s conscience, whether by action or by affection (doing a right thing with a wrong motive is sin), whether intentionally or unintentionally committed.

Fear — there are two types of fear, natural fear and sinful fear, otherwise known as fret (both types of fear will be discussed below).

Worry — is concern gone wild. It is giving way to anxiety or unease; allowing one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.


What does God command?

Fear (Fret) — Do not fear men or life’s circumstances. Instead, fear God; trust in Him.

Worry — Do not be anxious for anything. What you will eat, drink, or wear.
(I can provide additional references, but much of this can be found in Matt 6)
   

If God commands that we not fear or worry, at what point does natural fear and concern become sinful?

Natural Fear (that gut level emotional response that emerges from life’s tough situations) only becomes sinful once it exceeds our trust that God is faithful to keep His promises to protect and provide for His children. It all comes down to unbelief in the trustworthiness of God, you see. So, your anxiety (your visceral unbelief in God’s faithfulness) is tantamount to believing that God is either impotent or lying about what He said He would do for you.

Think about that definition of worry for a moment, “...allowing one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.” That’s key! Worry is meditating upon your difficulty and troubles rather than meditating upon God’s goodness and steadfast love. It’s obsessing about your belief that God’s love holds less power than your circumstances. And if you don’t believe God can help you, then you are going to try to solve your problems without faith and apart from the Spirit’s indwelling power.


Anxiety ≠ Stress

When you are faced with a problem in life it is perfectly natural to undergo stress. In fact, God designed us to experience it! The evidence of this is found in the two adrenal glads that he placed on the top of each of your kidneys. Experiencing stress is not a sin. However, the moment that stress eclipses your faith in God’s faithfulness, it becomes sin. We often unwittingly move from natural and acceptable God-designed-stress into unbelief. Unbelief leads to mistrust, and mistrust to transgression against God’s command to trust and obey.


Repenting of Anxiety


Repentance means to turn, to change one’s mind about something. But, remember, repentance has less to do with what we are turning away from — anxiety in this case — and much more to do with the One to Whom we are turning. It is turning toward and trusting in God, through faith, and turning away from sinful unbelief and self-dependence.

If anxiety can be rightly defined as unbelief in God’s trustworthiness, then repenting of anxiety simply means abandoning your current way of wrong belief and aligning your heart with the truth of God’s Word. Moreover, if worrying means that you are meditating upon your circumstances and not upon God’s steadfast love, then repenting of worry means meditating upon the gospel — the good news that God has provided everything we need in the person and work of Jesus the King.


Crack that whip!


So then, so there is no confusion about what I’ve shared, let me beat this dead horse one more time. It is not a sin to experience stress; whether induced by fear, sadness, or concern for the provision and protection of your family or others. Stress only becomes sin when it morphs into fret and worry; when it metastasizes from your head to your heart; and when you fear your circumstances more than you trust in your God.



Don’t lay your head on your pillow tonight, beloved, as though you were people who have no God.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. — 1 Peter 5:7

If you are looking for a resource that addresses this topic in greater detail, check out Anxiety, available from Wretched Radio.
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Friday, August 1, 2014

Putting our Christian Money where our Christian Mouths are on the Border Crisis.

For those who are not satisfied having the inefficient machinery of government take on the responsibility of caring for the immigrant orphans and widows that Christ is now delivering to the American church, you might consider sacrificing some of what God has blessed you with to the Texas Baptist Men. They are a great group of guys who are selflessly serving the immigrants and the churches on the border. They could use your help. — http://texasbaptistmen.org/GiveNow

Whether you give to the Texas Baptist Men, to some other organization, or put your own boots on the ground, let's not be caught pontificating on the internet to one another about how compassionate we are and how bad everyone else is, when all we are actually interested in doing is paying our taxes so the Border Patrol and FEMA can do mercy ministry.

To my liberal friends: If you believe the United States should grant amnesty to illegal immigrants and open her borders, then start taking care of the souls you're happy to receive. Don't say, "Let 'em in!" only to discharge your responsibility to a tax funded government bureaucracy — How well is that working out for our veterans at the VA?

To my conservative friends: If you think the United States is being overrun by immigrants and our government should not be taking care of illegals, then start doing the work yourself until the border is sealed. Don't complain about BIG and e-x-p-a-n-d-i-n-g government when you're unwilling to do what you think the government should not — That's functional socialism.

So then, no matter which side of solving this crisis you land on, enough with the memes, propaganda, and race-baiting. Put your treasure, your hands, your feet, and your prayers where your key strokes are. 


I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches. You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. — Saint Paul


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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Give me more fire, LORD!

This article is written in response to Lyndon Unger’s — Burning away misconceptions about “holy fire” — posted at The Cripplegate on January 24, 2014.




“Get on fire for God and men will come and see you burn.” — John Wesley

I don’t use the word fire regularly in my private worship, nor does my local church family. However, I’ve been around plenty of charismatics who do, and I think I get it. I think I know why they use the term and from whence they derive its usage from Scripture (the latter having failed to be properly identified by Lyndon). And while the usage of the word fire is hardly worth spending my time to defend, Lyndon has written a number of things that need to be addressed.

First, I think he makes a fine point about using right words rightly. Fire, like many evangelical catchall phrases, is used so broadly and carelessly in charismatic churches, that whatever its intended usage in any given situation may be, the intended meaning is often lost in the ambiguity of the other dozen or so possible applications of the word. So, I agree with Lyndon, “If you want more love for God, how about you just ask for more love for God? If you want more passion, how about you just ask for more passion? If you want more experiences of tongues, how about you just ask for tongues?” If you teach or pray publicly for something (passion, revival, power, or gifts), teach and pray more precisely, so to avoid miscommunication and/or confusion. Isn’t this the wise and loving thing to do?

Second, as much as I agree with Lyndon’s admonition to use right words rightly, I do not gather from his article that he actually tried to interact with charismatics to understand why they use the word fire in their worship — this, in spite of his prior experience in a charismatic church (people, across the board, do not often know why they say what they say, nor do they understand the etymology of every pop-evangelical buzzword that they may use).  



As I said, fire is not part of my religious jargon, but if I were to defend its usage, I would point to four passages:


 

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

 — Acts 2:1—4
 

If you read this passage on the surface, without considering the historical and symbolic significance of what happens in Acts 2, you’ll merely note that cloven tongues of fire were present when the Spirit came upon the Church. However, if the passage is pressed through a Biblical Theological grid, the appearance of fire showing up here takes on a whole new significance.

More on that in a second.



Lyndon, in ‘point 2’ of his lexical analysis of the words אֵשׁ and πῦρ, provides his readers with a good head start on understanding why the word fire has attained such elevated use in charismatic parlance — though Lyndon, himself, failed to make the connection. I direct you back to his article because fire, being applied as symbolically representative of God’s presence is, I believe, at the heart of the word’s charismatic usage. I’ll highlight a few passages (including a few missed by Lyndon) that I believe are the most helpful in establishing this point. [It will be beneficial to also note the other manifestations associated with God’s presence in addition to fire (wind, earthquakes, God’s thunderings/voice, clouds/smoke) that are also found in these passages]:
  1. At Mount Sinai to Moses / Israel (Ex 3:2, 19:16—19, 24:17)
  2. In the wilderness to Israel (Ex 13:21, 40:38) 
  3. At Mount Sinai to Elijah (1 Kgs 19:11—13; cf. Acts 4:31)
  4. To Ezekiel (Ez 1:1, 4, 26—28)
  5. To the 120 priests at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr 5:11—14; cf. Ex 19:18)
  6. To Peter, James, and John on the mount with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28—36, cf. Ex 19:18; 2 Chr 5:11—14)
  7. To the 120 kingdom priests in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1—11)1
When considering the theme that emerges from these passages, it would appear, that by the time we get to Luke/Acts, that Luke is building his case for Jesus‘ divinity and the divine indwelling of the Spirit’s presence in God’s people, in part, by directing his audience back to the manifestations of God’s appearing in the Old Testament.  

And that is the significance of fire appearing above the heads of the disciples on Pentecost.2

In the same way that the fire, which appeared above the wandering Hebrews' heads at Sinai designated the presence of God near his people on Pentecost, so too the fire which appeared above the heads of each member of the Church in Jerusalem designated the presence of God with his people on Pentecost.

With that in mind, I do believe that there exists a case for an appropriate use of fire in our prayer and our preaching — if, by its use, we are imploring God for his presence and power to be manifest in our gathering; for our corporate edification and/or for our boldness in gospel proclamation.

Do not quench the Spirit. — 1 Thessalonians 5:19

While fire does not show up here in this verse, the language does have burning in view. The root word, translated as quench in the ESV — σβέννυμι, may mean extinguish, or put out, or quench, or suppress, or stifle, depending upon the words surrounding context. If Paul intended σβέννυμι to be understood in the same way as it is translated in Mark 9:48, Eph 6:16, and Heb 11:34, then 1 Thes 5:19 may properly, though paraphrastically, translated as, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (ISV).

Therefore, if the Spirit’s power is associated with fire, and the referent of that fire is the manifestation of power in charismata (see 1 Thes 5:20, cf. Acts 2:3—4), then it is not inappropriate for charismatics to pray for the fire of the Spirit to come nor to increase.

Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? — Luke 24:32

The disciples who met Jesus on their trek to Emmaus had their hearts lit aflame when their Rabbi expounded the christotelic nature of the OT scriptures to them.

Is it an inappropriate request to ask that God would send the illuminating fire of his Spirit to burn in our hearts as we meditate upon his word?  


If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. — Jeremiah 20:9

No commentary required.

Third, Lyndon writes,
If you pray for God’s “fire” in your life and experience suffering, God’s giving you exactly what you asked for...If you think God’s not faithfully answering your prayers just because you don’t have an increase in passion or you don’t speak in tongues, you’re sadly mistaken.

Until now, you may have been misinformed and speaking out of an assumed tradition or ignorance, asking God for something you didn’t mean to ask for, and then responded in confusion when he didn’t give you what you meant to ask for (but didn’t actually request)...Don’t ask for more “holy fire” in your life; you might get cancer when God answers your prayers.
Poppycock!

Is God not able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart praying for fire?

If by uttering the word fire, a charismatic means to pray for fervor for courageous gospel proclamation; an increase in their religious affections toward God; or for greater power to manifest the charismata for the up-building of the local assembly, are we supposed to believe that God is going to afflict that person with Stage IV Lymphoma? Does Lyndon actually believe that God is so capricious that he might just make charismatics suffer for using the word fire wrongly — in spite of their proper motivation? Or, does he believe that God is confused by a charismatic’s improper use of the word fire, mistakenly giving them the fire of his judgment when, in fact, they are crying out for the fire of increased intimacy? 



Neither of these describe the nature of our God. 

“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” — Luke 11:10—13


If your son asked you to pass him some Chicken of the Sea, when what he actually wanted was some tunafish, are you going to pass him a rattlesnake instead of the tuna for using a metaphor that’s never been used in your home?

In closing, while Lyndon’s observation that the Bible never uses the word fire as a metaphor “for the cultivation of spiritual renewal/fervor/conviction” stands, there does appear to be clear exegetical warrant for using the word fire in worship. And that is true whether or not the majority of charismatics using the word fire could articulate why they use it as carefully as I have outlined it here. Unfortunately, whatever benefit might have come from the article and Lyndon's admonition to use right words rightly, it was lost upon charismatics because of his lamentable argumentation and the stumbling block—rhetoric found throughout.

Frankly, I expected more from my brothers at Cripplegate.

1. Surrounding God’s throne [tongues of fire] (1 Enoch 14:8—25, 71:5) — 1 Enoch was extant in the NT age and quoted in Jude.
2. Consider also the significance of the sound of the rushing wind, the languages and dialects spoken, the translation of the message that was heard, the number of disciples who were gathered to pray, the feast days. Also the earthquake in Acts 4:31


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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pregnant?

Since it's the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I just wanna tell you guys that we thought Dana might be pregnant a few days back. 

Turns out she's not. 

Anyone who knows our situation knows that it would've been an incredibly inconvenient time to have another child (not to mention I'm in my 40s now). We don't have much, we live in a 2 bdrm 1 bath rental, we have a bit of debt we are still trying to lose, and I'm in the middle of transitioning careers. All that and Dana had very difficult pregnancies with both Noah and Eve.

But you know what? As hard as that process might have been for us, no matter how strapped we might've become, we'd not have killed our precious baby for the sake of convenience. 

If you've done that, if you've killed your unborn child, there is grace for you! If you want to know how much God hated the murder of your child, look at what the Father did to Jesus on the cross. But, praise be to God, if you want to know how far Jesus was willing to go to forgive and absolve you of your sin, look at what Jesus willingly did for you by going to the cross! Run to him. 

Love Life! 

The photograph above is of Noah. It was his very first picture, taken Dec 28, 2005


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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wretched Cessationist Logic

The following is written in response to Todd Friel's comments on his Friday's broadcast of Wretched Radio — Wretched Clip of the Day

Five Observations and Responses

1. Regarding Luther's view of dreams and visions — If Luther can be wrong on baptism, he can be wrong on revelatory gifts. We love Luther, but he does not speak ex cathedra.

2. Regarding the '400 years of silence', between Malachi and Matthew — There were certainly no 'national prophets' speaking on behalf of the Lord to the nations of Judah or Israel, between Malachi's ministry and John the Baptizer's. There we agree. But that does not mean that no one was experiencing prophetic revelation during those 400 years. Simeon and Anna, for instance, both had prophetic ministries, for many years, before the birth of John (see, Luke 2). That alone should cause Todd to reconsider his position. But more importantly than Simeon and Anna is the Book of Daniel, which was written about 200 years after Malachi's ministry had concluded. How might've that been accomplished if God had silenced his speaking? So, based on this, I don't think Todd has rightly understood how those '400 years of silence' are said to be silent. Besides, what was normative for Israel's experience under the Old Covenant is not normative for the Spirit-filled Church under the New.

3. Regarding Todd's question, "Why do we think it would be normative for today?" — Well, because unlike the prophets of the OT, who were very few and anointed by the Spirit to hold their office, every person who's born again into Jesus' Church and baptized with his Spirit has been anointed with power. Everyone, not just a few! "...in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy... For [this] promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:17—18, 39 ESV)

4. Regarding the Church having "a more sure word" — see http://joshuaelsom.blogspot.com/2013/09/confronting-common-arguments-and_28.html

5. Regarding the imperspicuity of dreams — If imperspicuous dreams and visions are a problem for us today, then they were also a problem for the people in the New and Old Testaments. In Numbers 12:6—8 the Lord says to Miriam and Aaron "If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord." Punchline, the dreams and visions that God gave to the prophets, who were lesser prophets than Moses, were imperspicuous dreams and visions. Not only were the messages of their revelations unclear, they were compared to riddles. Do you suppose those dreams and visions required interpretation? Do you suppose that any of those dreams or visions were ever interpreted and/or delivered wrongly? 


On the other hand, if Todd doesn't believe that imperspicuous dreams and visions were a problem for the people living during the time when the Old and New Testaments were being written, then he has no legitimate reason to believe that they exist as a problem for the Spirit-filled Church today.
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Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Community of Light

You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

What does it mean to be the light of the world and to shine the light of our works before an unbelieving world?

Find out by listening to this message that I delivered to the Mission Church this Sunday past.

Listen here — http://livethemission.org/sermons/a-community-of-light/84/
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