Friday, August 25, 2006

Readings in History

I've been reading various works in history for seminars and colloquium, and so I thought I'd share some of it with you.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life is George Marsden's biographical work on Jonathan Edwards. His thesis is that Edwards was a "conservative revolutionary." Edwards was conservative in that he sought to uphold the old heirarchical structures of clerical authority, patriarchy, and even slavery. But, he was a revolutionary in that his strong theology of conversion moved religious authority to the experience of the individual, making an individual's experience of grace what determines his status in God's kingdom. The way of salvation through a conversion experience is required for for clergy and parishoners, men and women, and slaveholders and slaves, which meant that the lower classes could question the conversion of the upper classes. Practically speaking, though it's a minor point in the biography, Edward's sermons on justification by faith alone are what God used to spark the fire of awakening. Edwards preached the law and the gospel, emphasizing the grace of God in Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation. May the Lord grant us such an awakening today!

Eighteenth-Century Philosophy by Lewis White Beck traces the intellectual developments of the 1700's. Ironically, this century was consumed with rationalism and confidence in human reason because of the unifying thoughts of Newton and Locke, but it also produced the great thinkers that ultimately set the stage for post-modernism and undermined all confidence in reason, including Hume and Kant. What happened? Newton and Locke were theists who presupposed the existence of a personal designer, who causes all things to function in an orderly way. Hume and Kant, while not denying God's existence, rejected God's existence as a necessary precondition of intelligibility; therefore, skepticism developed. The Bible teaches us that all wisdom and knowledge is found in Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus Christ reveals truth to us and expects us to understand it, showing us that God created our minds in such a way that they are capable of understanding the world around us.

Basil's work On the Holy Spirit was critical in combating the "binitarian" error advanced by Eustathios, who was at one time Basil's theological mentor. Basil, one of the Cappadocian fathers, a bishop of the same region, sought to correct the oversight in the original Nicene creed in 325, which neglected to affirm the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. Basil believed that "the greatest proof that the Spirit is one with the Father and the Son is that He is said to have the same relationship to God as the spirit within us has to us: 'For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comperhends the thoughts of God except the Spirt of God.' He also argues that both Christ and the Spirit do what only God can do, according to the Scriptures; therefore, if those acts are a proof of Christ's divinity, then they are also a proof of the Spirit's divinity. Basil stresses the fact that the way we come to know Christ, the Word, is "in" the Holy Spirit. He taught that we draw near to the Spirit by holiness and purification from sin, but also taught that the Holy Spirit is the one who calls us and draws us to Himself. May the Lord draw us to Himself by the Spirit through faithful holiness.

Hungering for Christ

Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”

The sense that we are empty of all personal goodness and unable to be righteous in ourselves drives us out of ourselves and makes us hunger for Christ’s righteousness. There are two kinds of righteousness that we must hunger for. First, we must hunger for the righteousness of Christ that is outside of us (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9). This is a hunger to be right with God and acceptable in His sight. It’s a desire for God’s grace and forgiveness. Second, we hunger for Christ’s righteousness worked in us. This is the main point of the passage. Internal righteousness is a loving heart that is filled with the Spirit and with the fruit of the Spirit. It is a desire to be like Christ out of love for Him.

The only cost of being filled with Christ’s righteousness is hunger and thirst for it. There is no other cost. Isaiah 55:1 says, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” All you have to do is bring an appetite! A friend invites a guest to his table but does not require him to pay for dinner, only that he come ready to eat! The meal is free. In the same way God odes not require anything of us to get righteousness, except our hunger. If you want Christ's righteousness, then it’s yours!

Someone might ask, “If it’s free, then why don’t more people hunger for it?” The answer is that some are so full of their own righteousness that they don’t feel empty. A stomach full of air feels full, even though there is nothing in it. Some don’t hunger and thirst because they are more drowsy than hungry. Sometimes when we’re really sleepy, we lose our appetites. In the same way, some Christians become so sleepy in their faith that they no longer hunger for Christ and his righteousness. Some are hungrier for play than for the food of Christ. Sometimes children get so wrapped up in playing outside that they forget to come home for supper. Are you so occupied with recreations and play that you’ve forgotten to hunger for Christ? Perhaps you say, I can remember being hungry for Christ, but I’m not anymore. I can hardly feel anything but emptiness. Then you should thank God you know what hunger is! It means you did hunger once, and you will hunger again. Wait on God. Trust that He will do as He has promised.

Maybe you're asking, “How do I develop a hunger for Christ?” The first thing is stay away from things that will spoil your appetite. Just as sweets and candies will spoil your appetite for dinner, so also will the pleasures promised by sin spoil your appetite for Christ. Just as sweets and candies can never fill you up and nourish you, so neither can sin satisfy your soul in any lasting way. So, starve your sinful nature, and feed your redeemed nature. In the physical world, when you eat, you feel full and your hunger goes away. But in the spiritual world, the more you feed, the hungrier you become. So, fill your life with the things God has designed to cause your hunger to increase. Read the Word of God faithfully. Discipline yourself to pray as often as possible. Come to church, and be encouraged by the assembly of believers. Set your mind on Christ, fill your mind with thoughts of the cross and resurrection and His love for you.

According to this passage, everyone who hungers will be filled (v. 6)! God is a fountain, who is full of blessing and joy, and He will fill all who want to be filled. Why does He do this? Because He is a God of tender compassion and delights in doing good to sinners. Because He will fulfill His Word and He promises in this very text to satisfy the hungry. Because when the hungry soul is filled, it is most thankful, and a thankful soul gives glory to God.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jesus Christ is the Same

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We can learn from these words that Christ does not change even though our world may change.

Change is everywhere in the world news.

A couple of weeks ago the airlines changed the rules about who can get on airplanes so that we can no longer take liquids on board because terrorists were caught trying to use liquid bombs to destroy passenger planes. But, even though the world seems less secure, Christ is every bit as much on his throne this week as He has always been. Though the nations rage, Jesus is King and He defends and protects His own for their good and His glory.

We’re still seeing the effects of natural disasters that happened last year. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc on the Gulf coast, destroying thousands of homes and buildings, flooding New Orleans, and displacing tens of thousands of people. But though we may lose our homes and every other earthly possession, nothing can take Christ from us, and nothing can strip His inheritance away from us, which is settled forever in the heavens, where moth and dust cannot corrupt and thieves cannot break in and steal.

Change is a part of each of our individual lives.

If we live long enough, we all move through various seasons of life: from childhood, to youth, to adulthood, to elderly life. Some changes that happen in each of these seasons are very difficult.

Sometimes children have to suffer through tragic circumstances. Your parents may have gotten divorced, and so you feel angry with them and with God. Don’t they love me enough to stay together? Is this my fault? Maybe if I were a better child, they wouldn’t fight so much. But, beloved, Christ never changes. His love for you is fixed and unchanging. He will never leave you or forsake you, and will forgive all of your sins if you just trust in Him. You should not feel guilty for the sins of your parents. You are responsible to trust in Jesus, and to love and forgive your parents, no matter what anyone else does. Jesus will never disappoint you.

Young people experience the change of losing friends. Perhaps you’ve lost a friend: a dear friend may have moved away or may have died in a car accident. The Bible says that Jesus Christ calls us friends, "I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Jesus Christ is an unchanging friend who sticks closer than a brother. The Bible says, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus is the friend that never leaves and never changes.

Young married couples experience changes. When you became old enough, maybe you have gotten married and experienced changes in having to learn to live with a fellow sinner. You find out that you have to change in dealing with the sins of the other person. As you get to know one another, you find out things about each other’s character that you never knew before. Some of what you find out is good, but some of what you find out may be disheartening and difficult. But, Jesus Christ is the perfect and changeless bridegroom. He knew all your sins before marrying you and chose to marry you anyway. No matter how you sin, He is never shocked or surprised and His love for you remains constant and everlasting, and it will never wax cold or grow dull over time.

Adults experience the change of losing a job. One of the most difficult changes a man or woman has to deal with in life is when the man in the family loses a job, whether it’s because his company has gone out of business or because of the politics at work. Whatever the reason, if a man finds himself without a job, he experiences a loss of purpose in life and feels the tremendous weight and responsibility of providing for his family. If a woman’s husband loses his job, her heart can be filled with fear for the future and worry about finances. But Jesus Christ owns cattle on a thousand hills, wealthy beyond imagination, and the Bible says that He provides for the sparrows and so will provide for you. To this date, you have always found food to eat and a shelter over your head. That will never change. Also, your worth and relationship with Christ is not dependent on his need for your working skills or your usefulness, like it is at work. Rather, your relationship with Christ is based on His unchanging righteousness and eternal love for you. He will never cast you off or turn you away from Him. And you are useful to Christ as you trust and obey Him and reflect His glory to all creation. That is what you were designed to do and that is why you are useful, whether you have a job or not.

Older people experience the changes of sickness and death. As people get older, many hard changes take place. Older people have to watch their friends, relatives, and spouses pass away, and they find themselves attending funeral after funeral. They experience the growing weakness of their own bodies and failing health. But, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, showing that physical death is not the end of all things. He promises new resurrection bodies and everlasting life in heaven to everyone who trusts in Him for salvation. Heaven is real and it will be a world of delight forever and ever. Jesus has experienced death and knows how to give you the grace to die when your time comes. You may rest in Him and hope in the life to come because His promises are as sure as the sunrise and He will bring you through ALL of this life and into the next where death can no longer touch you and disease can no longer threaten you. Because of Jesus, death is your entrance into glory, so take comfort dear saint in Jesus. There is nothing to fear in His arms.

So, even though this world is filled with changes that bring about sorrows and suffering, Jesus Christ is a rock of hope and a steadfast, immovable Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the same toward all kinds of people.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gospel Centered Labor

Sometimes Christians are tempted to think of occupational labor as something that is, in itself, somewhat un-spiritual. We might think of it as a necessary means to providing for family and material needs, and for carving out lives for ourselves in this world. Because of the nitty gritty, practical and "this worldly" nature of work, we can sometimes forget labor itself is Christian, spiritual, and most pleasing to God. The biblical picture is that God created Adam and Eve to work the garden (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15) and in so doing to live out the image and likeness of God Himself (Genesis 1:26-27). Occupational labor, vocation, and labor are the function of our "imageness." Work is the task for which we were created, to work in God's creation, organizing it and ordering it for God's glory, and doing so as God Himself would do it, with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, for the purpose of glorifying God. Work is not the result of the fall. Rather, the fall brought about the pains and difficulties that now accompany labor. And if the fall and sin are the chief reason for work's difficulty, then the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only means by which work can be redeemed, even on this side of heaven. But, how does the gospel redeem our work, motivate us to work hard in spite of its difficulty, and enable us to delight in the labor itself?

First, think of Jesus Christ, who worked as a carpenter and endured all the difficulties of carpentry, including the difficulties of making a product for other sinful people and the intellectual problems that attend fashioning something from wood as well as the physical exhuastion that comes from woodwork. So, Christ sympathizes with the emotional, mental, and physical difficulties of your work. He knows the pain of your labors in every dimension and suffered under the very same curse you are suffering under. He genuinely understands your hardship and is a high priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses, and therefore is a fitting priest for you.

Second, when you feel the pain of work, it’s an opportunity to think of the cross and of the pains Christ felt. It is an opportunity to think on the sufferings of hell, which is God's judgment for sin, and to remember Christ's sufferings on the cross, which He endured for everyone who trusts in Him. Your endurance in the pains of work is a present display of the gospel of the cross. As you persevere in work, though it pains you, you are a living example of the cross of Jesus Christ, and serve as an embodiment of the gospel to yourself and to all around you.

Third, Christ has not left you with no help in your work. He is a tender hearted Savior and is deeply interested in the occupational labors of His disciples. Remember how the disciples, who were fishermen, had failed to catch fish after a long night of fishing? Christ came and caused their nets to be filled with so many fish that they could hardly bring them all in, which demonstrated that Christ is the sovereign Messiah, who has authority over all things, even the fish. If Christ helped His disciples in their work then, why do you act as though there is no help for you now? He gives help to His "disciples." If you immerse yourself in His Word and pray to Him daily, remaining close to Him in communion and devotion and discipleship, then your spirit will be sweetly prepared to do the work before you. He will enable you to cheerfully pursue your calling and will certainly help you accomplish all He desires for you to accomplish by His sovereign authority.

Fourth, Christ died for the sins of imperfect workers, for both laziness and workaholism. Even though your sins pertaining to work might have caused you to lose your job, or to lose a promotion, or your relationships, or peace, or joy, your sins cannot cause you to lose Christ if you trust in Him because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So, rest satisfied, content, and happy in His acceptance and do not be deceived into thinking that any particular kind of work or idleness can bring you the firm and lasting happiness that is in Christ alone and through communion of life with Him.

Fifth, Christ is the great worker. His work is to perform the messianic offices of prophet, priest, and king. Those activities are His official vocation. They are His occupational labor. The greatest truth in the Bible is that Jesus Christ works for (on behalf of; instead of) sinners. In His prophetic ministry, He reveals the gospel to us by His Word and Spirit. In His priestly ministry, He was the perfect worker in His earthly life and bloody death for poor sinners, and even now He always lives to pray for us on the basis of His atonement, asking the Father that our sins and their curses will not defeat us who believe. The good news is that every one of His prayers is always answered.

So, labor, thinking of Christ's labors, and of the gospel of His grace. Work diligently knowing that in so doing, you are manifesting the image of God and the message of redemption to yourself, to others, and to God Himself for His glory.