Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christianity, Judaism and the Marketplace of Religions

In the book Rediscovering Paul the authors explain why Christianity, although flowing from Judaism, broke away from it's "Jewish moorings".

"It should not surprise us that Judaism could not contain the splinter group whose members were known as Christians. Even though Jewish members of "the way" may have seen their zeal for the gospel as part and parcel of their Jewish heritage, eventually their kinsmen found their message and their ways blasphemous. The temple, the Torah, circumcision, the dietary code, even the sabbath-everything distinctively Jewish was compromised by early Christianity. It is no wonder, then, that the Jesus movement eventually broke away from its Jewish moorings (Paul made sure of that). So,with the influx of Gentile Christians and the steady eroision of Jewish traditions, imagine how hard it was for early Christians to distinguish themselves in the marketplace of religions. Christians had no temple, no sacred space. That must have put them at a disadvantage in attracting devotees. Where does one go to worship the Christian God? What are the holy days of sacrifice? Which animals must be slaughtered for divine purpose? Among pagans it was common for temples to host sacred meals. Christians had sacred meals without temples. Was it possible to have sacred meals in an ordinary house? Christians read Jewish Scripture but did not observe the Jewish law. They had no prayer houses, only house churches. In certain respects, these people had no definable, distinctive features other than the fact that they proclaimed the resurrection of their leader, baptized their novitiates in his name, shared a common table and gathered on the first day of the week to sing, pray, prophesy and occasionaly listen to the reading of letter written by a man whose name was Paul"(pgs. 52-53).

It is amazing that Christianity grew the way it did when one consideres the religious and political climate of the first century. The gospel truly "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith" (Romans 1:16).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tullian on the Great Reversal

Tullian quotes C.S. Lewis on the 'reverse of the curse' in this post:

"All of Jesus’ ministry—the words he spoke, the miracles he performed—showed that there was a new order in town: God’s order. When Jesus healed the diseased, raised the dead, and forgave the desperate, he did so to show that with the arrival of God in the flesh came the restoration of the way God intended things to be. New life was given, health was restored; God was reversing the curse of death, disease, and discomfort. The incarnation of Christ began the “great reversal.”

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dead and Alive in Christ

This past week I have trying to read through Paul's letter to the Colossians in one sitting once per day. I am looking forward to receiving Michael Bird's new commentary on the letter for Christmas so I am preparing myself beforehand.

In chapter 3 Paul uses the image of dying and rising with Christ in order to promote right living in relation to God, each other, and the world. This is a frequent theme outside this letter as well (i.e. Galatians). He tells the Christians to seek things that are above, where Christ is seated. This isn't simply a way of saying, "think nice thoughts about heaven and don't think about the world." It means that the Colossians are to live as new creations in a world that is hostile to God. They are being transformed into the image of their creator and they are to seek the things that promote growth in this direction. This means that they will have to consider certain things to be true. It is tempting for Christians to think that they have two natures battling within and sometimes the bad nature wins and sometimes the good nature wins. This isn't how Paul thinks. He teaches that Christians are already new men and women in Christ. They have been redeemed in Christ as a foretaste of the things to come. Therefore when temptation comes don't say things like, "I can't overcome this unless you do something God!" because God has already done something. He has made us new in Christ and given us his Spirit so that we can, unlike before, be obedient to him.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Four Books, One Gospel

On this blog I enjoy asking the question, "What is the gospel?" I do so because I believe it is one of the most important questions one could ask or reflect on. Some answers focus on the kingdom while others focus on the atoning death of Christ; one group quotes the words of Jesus, "The Kingdom of God has drawn near!" the other quotes Paul, "Christ Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was risen on the third day." While I think these discussions are helpful there is a point that is often missed. In the Scriptures we are given four books in the Bible with the title, "The Gospel" stamped right on them. I was reminded of this fact in a lecture by D.A. Carson. Jesus going to John for Baptism, healing the sick, proclaiming the kingdom of God, going to the cross, rising from the dead, this is all under one title,"The Gospel". I found this quote by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld helpful:

We speak typically of gospels (plural). The superscriptions should remind us that the evangelists (i.e., the writers of the gospels) and those who preserved their writings and added the superscriptions would have been happier if we spoke of a "fourfold gospel". They would have insisted that they were each in their own way telling the one story, the one gospel. They recognized that the only gospel that counts is that "of" Jesus Christ, both in the sense that Jesus is the center of the good news, but also in that he is the ultimate proclaimer of the euangelion that God's kingdom is becoming reality. With that in mind, and over their protestations, we will follow common practice and refer to their writings as gospels. (quoted from Recovering Jesus)

The gospel can be summarized, sometimes very precisely, in many ways (always with a focus on the death and resurrection) but we must always remember that it took the evangelists more than a few sentences to tell the full-orbed gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is a quote from Acts 10:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and h does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Evangelism Experience

On Saturday I went out with my friend Paul MacDonald to share the gospel of the Kingdom. I had a very interesting conversation with a woman and I thought I would post it here. Please note that the conversation recorded here is from memory and I tried my best to record it faithfully. You can also find it here at Paul's blog:

While Paul was assisting a man with finding the appropriate bus stop I decided to go across the street and speak to a woman who was sitting on the step outside a church. The woman was listening to her MP3 player so as I approached her I made it obvious that I wanted to talk to her by making eye contact, reaching out to hand her a 10 commandments penny, and smiling. She took off her headphones and greeted me with a, “hello”. I introduced myself to her and told her what Paul and I were doing. I asked her if I could talk to her about Jesus and she agreed. I began by asking if she knew anything about Christianity. She responded by saying, “Well, my parents are Christian; I am too, I think…” I said, “That’s great” and then asked her if she could tell me what Christianity was all about. She said, “It’s really about values; you know, as a Christian you value the things that the Bible says.” I said, “That’s great. Yes, the Bible tells God’s people what they ought to value; many of those things are different than the values of the world. However, the core of Christianity isn’t just about values; it’s about what God has done in and through Jesus Christ.” I asked another question, “When you look at the world around you do you think that there is something wrong?” She answered in the affirmative. I said, “There is tragedy all around us. There is suffering and death. We just heard on the news about Michael Jackson who lived a tragic life and died a tragic death!” She responded, “You’re right. Our world is messed up.” Then I asked, “So what do you think is wrong with our world? Why do you think our world is like this?” She said that she didn’t really know. I told her, “I want to tell you what the Bible says about our problem and what God has done to save us.” So I explained, “From the beginning God originally created our world good. God made man to live in fellowship with himself, to enjoy his good creation and experience great blessing in God’s presence.” I asked, “Have you ever heard of Adam and Eve.” She laughed and said, “Yes!” “Well” I said, “God created Adam and Eve to live in fellowship with him but they rebelled against him. Because of this God cursed our world; this is why our world is the way it is; our sin caused it.” She seemed to be taking it in. I continued, “God did not desire to leave us in his curse. He called a man named Abraham and promised him that he would create a people who would experience his blessing instead of his curse.” I asked, “When Jesus came to earth do you know what his message was?” She said, “Jesus was all about teaching people to love one another. By doing this people can find life.” I responded, “Jesus did teach his followers to love one another. In fact, that was a very important part of his mission. But Jesus’ ministry was about something much more than just that. Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God.” I asked, “Do you know what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God?” She said she didn’t so I explained, “The kingdom of God basically means ‘the reverse of the curse’. Although man deserves to be under God’s curse he sent Jesus to bring his blessing. Whenever Jesus healed someone, made the blind see, cast out demons, or raised the dead he was showing that his mission was to reverse the curse that had rightly fallen on us.” I asked, “Does this sound like good news?” She laughed and said, “Yes!” I told her that there was more, “One day Jesus is going to return to judge the living and the dead. He will come to defeat all evil once and for all. But this raises a problem for you and me. If the world was filled with people just like me and just like you would the world be a better place?” She thought about it for a second and then said no. “That’s right. We are evil. You are evil. And if Jesus is coming to judge all evil then we ourselves need to be done away with. We don’t deserve God’s blessing, we deserve his eternal curse in hell. But Jesus did something so that we could become a part of his kingdom. He went to the cross. He was our substitute. He entered into darkness so that we wouldn’t have to. He, even though he wasn’t a sinner, was treated like a sinner on our behalf. He bore the curse that we deserve so that we could go free and enter into his kingdom community. Jesus died as our ransom; then, Jesus rose from the dead. He broke the curse once and for all. The Bible says, “He loosed the pangs of death”. All this was done so that people just like us could experience God’s blessing instead of his curse; so that we could have fellowship with God, receive his Spirit, and have the hope of a world to come without any pain or sorrow.” I handed her a bible and I told her to read the gospel of Mark. I told that God commands her to repent. I emphasized that this was not an option but that she needs to pledge her allegiance to Jesus so that she could be forgiven.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chris Brauns on Gossip

Blogger Chris Brauns has a helpful post on gossip. I left a comment on his blog asking him for a biblical definition of gossip; here is his response and my follow up:


Nick, it’s such a good question. My first thought is that you are a guy who is attempting to think biblically. And, that is 80% of the battle.

Of course, it is a matter of discernment. So, as we grow in wisdom we will be able to spot gossip. It’s like the old Supreme Court line about pornography, something to the effect of, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Having said that, several questions could be asked: (1) Does it betray a confidence? 20:19 (2) Does it need to be said to glorify God and build relationships? (3) Is Matthew 18:15-17 being violated? In other words, should someone either be confronted or should the matter just be let go (Prov 19:11, 17:14). (4) Is the person who is hearing the information part of the solution? Often talking to a pastor is necessary. But, talking to someone who isn’t a leader in the church isn’t.

Sometimes Proverbs calls it “whispering” (ESV) – - Is it “whispering”, and I’m thinking about the way it is said?

Sloppy answer on my part. I’m talking around it. But, I think it’s worth doing. Just you asking helped sharpen my thinking.

Gossip: the unnecessary spread of information (often sensational) when that information may damage another or the cause of Christ or help a party avoid confrontation that should take place.

Nick — can you tweak that and make it better?


Hey Chris,

Your answer was extremely helpful. Would you mind if I posted it on my blog? I don’t have much to add to what you said except that I guess a good test to ask ourselves before we share information comes from Mark 12.30-31: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” If we ask ourselves “Am I loving God?” and then “Am I loving my neighbor?” it might cause us to think twice before sharing information about that neighbor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

N.T. Wright on the Parable of the Sower

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55.10-13)

The sowing of seed, resulting in a crop that defies the thorns and briers, is a picture of YHWH's sowing of his word, and the result is the return from exile and, indeed, the consequent renewal of all creation. At the heart of the story is the cryptic announcement that the time foretold by the prophets is at last coming to birth...Israel's God is acting, sowing his prophetic word with a view to restoring his people, but much of the seed will go to waste, will remain in the 'exilic' condition, being eaten by the birds, or lost among the rocks and thorns of the exilic wilderness. The eventual harvest, though, will be great. We are here no far from Jesus' story about the great banquet. The party will go ahead and the house will be full, but the original guests will not be there. Judgement and mercy are taking place simultaneously.
(Jesus and the Victory of God, 233-234)

Not only does Jesus tell us about the different reactions to the word that is being sown but he also, by reaching back to the Old Testament, tells us what the word is and what it is accomplishing. Jesus was announcing God's kingdom in a radically new way. God was becoming king and, as a result, was accomplishing the great restoration. God's purpose is to have a 'returned' people who are saved from the great curse. What a great blessing it is to be a part of this people. What a great savior we have who took this curse upon himself, going down into exile so that we might emerge clean. What can be said but 'Praise be to God'.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

10 Favorites for Helping You Understand the New Testament

10: "For Everyone Series" by N.T. Wright
09: "A Community Called Atonement" by Scot Mcknight
08: "Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright
07: "A Bird's Eye View of Paul/Introducing Paul" by Michael Bird
06: "The Cross of Christ" by John Stott
05: "ESV Study Bible" by Crossway Books
04: "New Testament Thelogy" by Thomas Schreiner
03: "Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament" edited by D.A. Carson and Greg Beale
02: "Christian Origin Series (Especially Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God" by N.T. Wright
01: "Theology of the New Testament" by Frank Thielman

I find myself going back to these books again and again. I was telling a friend today that if I could have one book, besides the bible, it would be Frank Thielman's NT Theology. Nothing has aided my study of the books of the NT like this volume. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

1 Clement 1: A Healthy Christian Community

I have started to read through 1 Clement with my wife. Some people in the early church really cherished these letters from these great men of God so I thought I should too. I haven't read the whole letter yet, and haven't done extensive research on it either, but I have started to make some notes and study questions for the first chapter. You can read the letter here and you can read a bit about Clement here. I would also highly suggest purchasing this book.

1 Clement 1

The members of the Christian community are:

1) marked by a faith that is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. They are constantly looking to him because they know that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him and he is returning to judge the living and the dead.
2) genuinely pious. Their piety consists of showing generosity and love to their ‘neighbors’; in other words, they do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith.
3) openly hospitable. They open up their home to all because Christ is Lord of all. When Christians share what they have with others, regardless of sex, race, or class, it is a powerful testimony to the world that Jesus is building his worldwide kingdom community.
4) sound in their knowledge. They will know their Bibles and will not be tossed to and fro by false teaching. They will know the fundamentals of the faith: that the Messiah was revealed, justified by the Spirit; seen by angels, proclaimed to the nations; believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
5) they submit to the leadership and honor those who are ‘aged’ in the faith. God has ordained that local churches have established authorities. Their role is to teach and shepherd the flock. To demonstrate the unity of God’s family members must submit to godly leadership. Another blessing of local churches are ‘experienced’ Christians. There is much wisdom to be gleaned from these people.

The leadership of the Christian community instruct:

1) the young people how to think. Minds wander, especially young ones. They need to learn wisdom because it doesn’t come naturally. Young people need to be trained to use their minds in a way that honors Christ as Lord.
2) the women to have a blameless, reverent and pure conscience. Women should have a heart for their husbands and their home. They need to be instructed on how to remain obedient to their husbands and manage their households in a godly manner.

Questions for Reflection:

1) If a godly person were to look at your life would they be able to say that you have a faith that is steadfast? What best describes you: Are you constantly worrying or getting in ‘bad moods’? or do you find that when you enter into hardship your thoughts turn to the crucified, risen and reigning Messiah?

2) Are you generous with your possessions? When you go to work and get a paycheck are you focused on, “how can I use this money for myself” or are you thinking, “how can I use this money to bless others?”

3) Do you seek to open up your home to others? If not, why? Do people feel “stand-offish” around you or do you make people feel welcome?

4) Are you actively reading God’s word? Many Christians in the early church didn’t have any Scriptures available to them and would consider it a huge blessing to have their own copy of God’s word. Do you read the Bible daily or do you just casually read it ‘here and there’?

5) What do you think it means to submit to church leadership? Do you seek out the wisdom of those in authority and from those who have been Christians for a long time?

6) What do you focus your attention on? Christ Jesus said that we ought to, “Seek first the kingdom of God and it’s righteousness”. Do you set your mind on how you can honor Christ as Lord in all things?

7) How is your home life? If you are a husband, are you leading and loving your wife as Christ does the church? If you are a wife, are you humbly submitting to the guidance and counsel of your husband?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Kingdom: The Really Really Old Perspective on Paul

"Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Ephesians 2.11-22).

Some observations:
1) There is peace between Jews, Gentiles, and God; it's not a vertical or horizontal thing, it's both. Let's not be platonic.
2) Gentiles are no longer separated from the 'commonwealth' of Israel and the 'covenants of promise'; we shouldn't be scared of using words like 'covenant' because Paul wasn't.
3) The law is the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. It is okay to say that Jews wore the law as a 'badge' which identified them as those who inherited the covenants and promises of God. However, it can become very difficult to distinguish nationalism and legalism (and I don't think we should).
4) The main purpose of the cross is that it creates a worldwide family that is at peace with one another and with God. The church is not secondary.
5) Both Jew and Gentile need the message of the cross.
6) The church is the worldwide family that is indwelt by the Spirit.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Kingdom: Scot Mcknight Presents the Gospel

"God loves you and everyone else and has a plan for us: the kingdom community.

But you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.

The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you - so you all can live as the beloved community.

If you enter into Jesus' story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.

Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God's community and will find themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.

Those who preach this gospel will not deconstruct the church. Instead, they will participate in what God is doing: constructing the kingdom community even now."

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Kingdom: Christ and Job Loss

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3.17-21).

There can be nothing more shocking, or numbing, than being called into your bosses office to find out that you are being laid off. At this point your whole life changes. All those plans for the future come to a halt and all hope for a stable life seem to vanish; worry sets in and the question, "what will happen next?" is constantly running through your mind. This is a situation that is being faced more and more today as companies lose money and can no longer afford their employees.

What does the Bible have to say about all this? I believe that true comfort can come in these troubled times by recognizing the truth that Jesus, the Messiah, has come. A good way to describe this world is 'chaos'. Sometimes there is good but other times it seems that everything is wrong with this world; people suffer from hunger, some face injustice by the governing authorities, while others lose their jobs and can no longer afford the 'cost of living'. When man first sinned against the creator God it brought on the curse and chaos ensued. But God's plan is not to leave the world the way it is. His plan is to save it and he has acted to save us from the evil in ourselves and the world at large.

When God's people were suffering because of their sin God made a promise to his people that one day he would make this world right (see Isaiah 35). All these promises have been made good in Jesus. He has come to take the curse of sin upon himself so that we, the ones who justly suffer for it, would go free, "But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out." For those who come to Jesus we can have our sin problem dealt with when we repent and believe. Moreover, we can be confident that we will experience 'times of refreshing' at Jesus' second coming. Jesus is coming to restore all things. He is coming to make all things right. He has entered into our chaos so that we might be freed from it. Turn to Christ and be saved.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Word: Mere Avoidance

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of a liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4. 1-5).

It is easy to be like a clock; since the Bible tells us that Christ's kingdom is already here we can swing to one side and act as though we are going to solve all the world's problems in the here and now. Other times we can act as though Christ is not sitting at God's right hand, swing to the other end, and act as though there is nothing more to the Christian life than a lot of waiting.

When Christ ascended to the right hand of God he brought with him times of great joy. The spirit has arrived and people from every tongue and nation are coming to Christ in repentance and faith. Nevertheless, these 'last days' bring danger as well as great blessing. One of the threats that the church constantly faces is false teachers/teaching. There is such a thing as 'damning doctrine' and the god of this age loves when God's church fails to be discerning.

False teaching can be easy to detect at times. When we are told that it is okay to indulge in immoral sexual activity, tell lies, or anything else contrary to the will of God we know that we are to have no part in it. However, the devil and his demons are often more crafty than the 'in your face' kind of false teaching. Many times he fools Christians into thinking that the way to holiness is the way of 'mere avoidance'. After all, God's word tells us not to be worldly so, perhaps, the way we might do this is to avoid anything that brings pleasure. The craftiness behind this deception is the fact that it totally by-passes the heart of the matter. It is easy to avoid things and then look at ourselves and think, "I'm doing pretty well; not like those people over there".

Jesus is the creator of all things and through his death he is working to reconcile all things whether in heaven or on earth. Jesus is exercising his Lordship over all creation. So the way forward is not mere avoidance. It is doing everything in life in a way that reflects the truth that Jesus is Lord. Take sex for example: Pornography is a terrible misuse of God's good gift of sex. As a response Christians should not avoid sex all together. Rather, married couples should express the truth, through prayer and thanksgiving, that God made man and woman for each other and that together they reflect the image of a wise, generous, and loving creator. In this way Jesus is taking sex back.

The fact that Christ is Lord is not an excuse to indulge in sinful activities; nor does it mean that Christians become holy by the avoidance of things that God created for our good. Rather, we should live in a way that truly bears witness to the fact that Jesus is king and is working for the glory of God in all things.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Everything Else: The Transfiguration by Sufjan Stevens

When he took the three disciples
to the mountainside to pray,
his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came;
they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word
of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them,
the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death,
was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

-From the album Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Word: The Mystery of Godliness

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory
(1 Tim. 3.16 ESV).

The Bible has no hesitations about linking Christian godliness with biblical orthodoxy. In order to be godly Christians we must be confessional. If someone were to ask us, "How might I become more like Christ?" how might we respond? It seems clear that the way the apostle Paul would respond would be, "Let essential Christian truths shape your life; this is the mystery of godliness."

What are these essential truths? First of all, Jesus Christ identified with us and died for our sins. When Jesus appeared in the flesh he lived the life that his people Israel, and the whole world, could not. He was completely faithful to the Father and did his will in all things, even as he went to the gruesome Roman cross. It was at the cross that Jesus reconciled God and man making peace by his blood; Jesus was vindicated at his resurrection showing that he was God's anointed one.

Second, Jesus has gone to heaven, the place where God and his angels dwell. We will see him again when he returns but this doesn't mean that Jesus is not actively reigning. In fact, because Jesus has entered into heaven the time has come for the great promise made to Abraham to become a reality (i.e. that the gentiles would come to him).

Third, Jesus is the true Lord of the world. This is good news because of the kind of Lord that Jesus is, namely, the one who brings peace, justice, and will fill the earth with righteousness. Now Jesus, through his Holy Spirit and by the will of the Father, is calling people to allegiance to himself.

These are the central beliefs of the Christian faith that can cause a person to be transformed into the image of Christ. As the church prayerfully mediates on these doctrines then the world will see what it looks like when people have their sins forgiven and are subject to the rule of the world's true Lord. This is what happens when Jesus becomes King.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Kingdom: N.T. Wright on Building for God's Kingdom

We are not building the kingdom by our own efforts, no. The Kingdom remains God's gift, new creation, sheer grace. But, as part of that grace already poured out in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit, we are building for the kingdom. I use the image of the eleventh-century stonemason, probably illiterate, working away on one or two blocks of stone according to the orders given to him. He isn't building the Cathedral; he is building for the Cathedral. When the master mason/architect gathers up all the small pieces of stone at which people have been working away, he will put them into the great edifice which he's had in mind all along and which he alone can build—but for which we can and must build in the present time. Note 1 Corinthians 3, the Temple-building picture, and the way it relates directly to 1 Cor 15.58: what you do in the Lord is not in vain, because of the resurrection.

I have absolutely no idea how it might be that a great symphony or painting, or the small act of love and gentleness shown to an elderly patient dying in hospital, or Wilberforce campaigning to end the slave trade, or the sudden generosity which makes a street beggar happy all day—how any or all of those find a place in God's eventual kingdom. He's the architect, not me. He has given us instructions on the little bits of stone we are meant to be carving. How he puts them together is his business.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Kingdom: Do You Have the Spirit?

Suppose you lived in a neighborhood full of single-mothers who could barely afford to purchase their children food. Or perhaps you lived in a country where children went days without a clean glass of water. How would you respond? Well you might say, “These are people who desperately need the gospel” and you would be right. All people, no matter what condition they are in, need to hear the good news that Jesus, the promised messiah and King of Israel, died for our sins and has been risen from the dead; that he now reigns from his throne and will one day return and do away with sin, evil and death forever. But what would you think of someone who said that that is the only thing they need. You would be right to say, in my estimation, that they haven’t fully understood the vocation of the messiah.

Jesus the messiah came to John the Baptist to undergo baptism. Russell D. Moore says, “Jesus is anointed through the baptism of John, pronounced the Son of God by a voice from heaven, and then, just as His father David, immediately sent in the power of the Spirit to confront the enemy of His covenant God (Mark 1:9-12; Luke 3:21-4:14; 1 Samuel 17).” Jesus received the Spirit and then went to proclaim and enact the Kingdom of God. Whenever Jesus healed a leper, healed a blind person or cast out demons he was confronting the enemy of God and bringing his kingdom to bear on the present.

After Jesus was crucified and risen Jesus told his disciples to wait for the gift of the Spirit (Acts 1:4, 5). When they received the Spirit they were given the ability to speak in tongues, prophecy, and some were given the ability to heal. These are all signs that we are living in the days of the reigning King (see Acts 2: 17-21). The church began to spread rapidly because of the gospel proclamation and the miracles that were being done in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The miracles performed were not mere magic tricks used to impress an audience. They met the physical needs of those suffering due to the fallen world in which we are living. The apostles didn’t say, “One day Jesus will come and destroy this world and make a new one so come on board so that one day you will be made well”. No, they healed them by the power of the reigning King (see Acts 3:1-10).

In his conversation with a lame man Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6). I don’t know any Christians who have the power to heal but I know plenty of Christians (and all Christians have the Spirit). This means that we, just normal Christians, can, by the power of the Spirit, bring Jesus’ lordship to bear on the present. Sadly, there are many Christians who think that we must solely focus on preaching the gospel (which is an absolute necessity if anyone is going to be saved) and wait for the consummation of the Kingdom for anything physical to happen (which in some cases is true since not all of us have the gift of healing). But the early church knew that Christ is already Lord and is working through his church.

Many of us don’t have the gift of healing. Does that mean that we’re useless? No. “What we do have we will give”. We can help purchase food for our neighbor’s children. We can build wells in the name of Jesus. And when people ask us why or by what power we do these things we can answer, “It is through the power of Jesus, the crucified, risen and reigning Messiah that we do these things; repent, therefore, for the forgiveness of sins and receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Library: The Kingdom of Christ

"The Kingdom concept is a mystery older than the creation itself – a mystery that points to God’s cosmic purpose to sum up the entire cosmos under the rule of one human King, Jesus of Nazareth (Eph. 1:10)…Evangelical theology will remind Christians that the call to Christ is no a call ‘to go to heaven when you die’, but instead a call to be ‘joint-heirs’ (KJV) with the Messiah who will inherit an all-encompassing Kingdom… A renewed Kingdom theology can remind evangelical churches that they are the rulers of the universe – but not yet (1 Cor. 6:3). This means evangelicals can see the Kingdom of God as something more than the terminus point on the prophecy chart; something more than a crocheted sentiment hanging on the kitchen wall. It means that evangelicals can confront the Caesars of this age with a truth that once caused riots in the streets – there is ‘another king’ (Acts 17:7). It means that we can remind ourselves that the only perspective on the Kingdom of Christ that matters ultimately is quite old. And that perspective has already been addressed over the waters of the Jordan and in the caverns of a garden tomb, and will be repeated once more before a watching cosmos: ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Phil. 2:9-11)."

- Russell D. Moore, The Kingdom of Christ pp. 11-12

Twittering the Gospel

Here's my shot at it:

Jesus, the Messiah and true King promised in the Scriptures, died for our sins and, being raised up by God, has been appointed Lord of all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Destroying Idols

I am at the Gospel Coalition this week and have been having a great time. Yesterday there was a great line up of speakers and we were greatly fed. The conference started off with Tim Keller speaking on confronting and destroying the idols of our culture.

A reason that many people have false conversions is because their idols were not confronted. The apostle Paul would go into the places of influence and confront their idols and seek to destroy them. This is so important because every culture looks to something to rescue it whether it be money, morality or human reason. If it is not dominated by the glory of God then it is dominated by the worship of some sort of idols(s). Jesus Christ faced opposition, just as the apostle Paul would later, when he confronted the idols. In fact, all the idol worshippers came against Jesus and crucified him. Every single human being is guilty of idol worship and needs the atonement of Jesus so that they can rightly worship the one and true God.

That is just a little taste but I highly recommend listening to this entire message online.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Believe in the Faithfulness of Christ Pt. 2

Last week I suggested that a valid interpretation of the phrase ‘pistis Christou’ is to read it as ‘the faithfulness of Christ’; in fact, I believe that this is the correct translation based on the context in which the phrase is found in the Scriptures. Now I want to suggest a couple benefits of this reading:

1) Although some fear that this reading is a threat to the doctrine of justification I would say that it actually reinforces what is sometimes referred to as ‘imputation’. When the Bible refers to the faithfulness of Jesus it does not speak of a ‘treasury of merit’ that is then placed into our account that God looks at and is satisfied. Rather, it refers to Jesus’ absolute obedience to the Father culminating in the cross. Whereas Adam, the original representative of the human race, failed Christ remained obedient. Likewise, whereas Israel failed to trust in God and worship him alone Jesus remained completely faithful to him in the wilderness. Jesus is God’s unique son and he joyfully submitted himself to his Father’s will, even when that meant that the nations would rise against him and crucify him like a criminal. Since Jesus is the Messiah, the true king of the world, he is the representative of all those who believe in him. Those who confess that Jesus is Lord are in Christ so that what is true of him is true of them. Even though we are sinner’s deserving of God’s holy wrath Jesus is the representative of every Christian so God can look at us and declare “Righteous!” He is our faithful Messiah. Christians are righteous because they are incorporated into Christ and all Jesus’ obedience is seen as being true for them; this is true of Jesus faithfulness to the Father in his earthly life, his death and his resurrection where God vindicated him.

2) The other day I was listening to a discussion concerning Tom Wright’s response to John Piper’s book. The panelist’s were Thomas Schreiner, Brian Vickers and Mark Seifrid. One of the issues that was addressed was Wright’s view that present justification is based on faith whereas future justification is based on works. Now, it should be noted, that a fair reading of Wright does not give the idea that we in anyway contribute to our own justification. I believe that Wright is saying something to the traditional reformed view that sees works as being the evidence that one was made right with God but does using poor wording. Thomas Schreiner, who is one of my favorite theologians, made the observation that our is justification is not based on works or faith but on Jesus. Many people place a target on Wright because he says, “Justification on the last day will be based on works” but then go around saying “Justification is always based on faith”. I know what they are saying but the wording is misleading.

All that to say that translating pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Jesus can help solve this issue. Our righteousness is not based on our faith but on the faithfulness of Jesus. Here’s Phillipians 3:9 in two different translations:

“…not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness” (NET).

“…not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (NASB).

Notice that one translation says that the righteousness we receive a righteousness based on Christ’s faithfulness whereas the other one says that it is based on faith. All that this demonstrates is that translating pistis Christou is one possible way of avoiding this error and reminds us that we don’t look to ourselves in any way for our status of righteousness but look to Christ alone, the faithful man and faithful Israelite.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Believe in the Faithfulness of Christ

I believe in the faithfulness of the Messiah. I am referring to the way a particular phrase is often translated as “faith in Christ” in our modern English bibles. There is significant debate about this of which I would like to make several points.

1) Sometimes certain scholars make it seem like the translation of pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Christ is nothing more than wishful thinking. In reality this is a very natural translation of the phrase. This isn’t to say that any other translation is un-natural but those who think this is the proper translation don’t necessarily have some sort of hidden agenda. There are many other genitives in the book of Romans, for example, that we translate “of” not “in” (i.e. the faithfulness of God). The faithfulness of Christ is a very legitimate translation of pistis Christou and those of us who think so aren’t heretical weirdos with no appreciation for the Reformation.

2) It is easy to shrug something like this off thinking, “Most modern translators interpret this phrase as ‘faith in Christ’ so they’re probably right; how much do I know any way?” Though it is true that most modern translators take pistis Christou to mean faith in Christ that does not mean they’re right. There has not been unanimous agreement among translators what this phrase means in the present or in the past. Examples from Romans 3:22:

The NET Bible: “…the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe”.

KJV: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”.

Tyndale: “The rightewesnes no dout which is good before God cometh by ye fayth of Iesus Christ vnto all and vpon all that believe”.

Wycliffe: “And the riytwisnesse of God is bi the feith of Jhesu Crist in to alle men and on alle men that bileuen in hym”. (all emphases mine).

Now I know that most of these are translated faith of Christ not faithfulness but one thing to note is that those are the same word in Greek.

3) One big thing that determines the way things are translated is the immediate context of the passage. When Paul breaks out with his “But now” in chapter three we should look at what goes before and what comes after to see if our translation of pistis Christou makes sense in this particular context. To our surprise it makes perfect sense! Here’s what Paul says:

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (Rom. 3.1-3 ESV).

Even though the Jewish people did not live up to the covenant God would remain faithful. But how would he do that? Well if we go to verse 22 and translate pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Jesus Christ then we have our answer. Jesus is the faithful Israelite! That is how God remains faithful. To translate the phrase this way makes perfect sense of the context.

Sometimes we can be scared of things we aren’t used to. That is why next week I will offer a couple reasons why we should welcome this translation with open arms. It does not minimize the doctrine of imputation, as is often thought, but rather reinforces it. It also shows us that our justification is based on Christ and not anything or anyone else.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kirk Wellum on Propitiation

Kirk Wellum, principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary, makes an interesting point about the word "propitiation" in our English bibles. You should also check out the comments on that post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Declaration of Membership

Over the past month or so I have been devotionally reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Two tools that have been helping me greatly are the ESV Study Bible and N.T. Wright’s little book, “Paul for Everyone”. Using these resources have been giving me a fuller idea of what Paul means when he talks about being, “Justified” or “Declared righteous in Christ.”

The ESV SB has reinforced my strong conviction that Justification is a declaration whereby God declares sinners to be in a right relationship with himself. This is crucial. The greatest gift of the gospel is God himself and justification makes a relationship with him possible. If it weren’t for this doctrine we would all be enemies of God.

Paul for Everyone has helped me to appreciate the covenantal aspects of Justification. One of the greatest ways to see this theme in Romans is to read the letter all the way through in one sitting. Paul talks a great deal about Abraham and Israel in relation to Justification and if we’re not careful these can be sidelined. But for Paul, when God called Abraham it was all about God graciously acting within creation to deal with the problem of sin. Humanity had become evil through and through but God was determined to make a new humanity through which his grace and justice would be manifest.

When Abraham trusted God, God declared him to be righteous. This means that Abraham entered into a right relationship, a covenantal relationship. His sins were forgiven and he was given the glorious promise of inheriting the land of Canaan. God gave him the sign of circumcision after he declared Abraham to be in the right as a sign of the relationship that had come into being. Romans 4.11 says, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Genesis 17.11 says, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.”

So Paul says that circumcision was a sign of the “righteousness he had by faith” whereas Genesis says that it is a sign of the covenant relationship. God is passionate about creating a world without sin. As N.T. Wright says, “He will put the world to rights”. The way he does this in the present is by calling wicked sinners to himself, forgiving their sins through the atoning work of Christ, declaring them righteous, and by giving them all the promises that come along with being a member of the new covenant people. There is much more that could be said. Justification is truly a glorious doctrine; it gives hope to sinner’s and displays God’s great desire to put the world to rights.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keeping the Messiah at the Center

In John Piper's book God is the Gospel he says, "The glory spoken of in 2 Corinthians 4:4 is not a vague, impersonal glory, like the glory of sunshine. It is the glory of a person. Paul speaks of 'the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.' The treasure in this text is not glory per se. It is Christ in his glory. It is the glorious Christ. He is the ultimate gift and treasure of the gospel. All other words and deeds are means to this: seeing Jesus Christ-the kind of seeing that is seeing and savoring simultaneously" (p. 65).

At the very heart of the gospel is the declaration that the Messiah is Jesus. The death of Christ accomplished what needs to be done so we can enter into the family of the Messiah and the resurrection is God's declaration of Jesus' status as God's 'anointed-one'. The point of the gospel is that we might come to Jesus and enjoy him as the crucified and risen Christ. We ought to always seek to deepen our understanding of what exactly it means that Jesus is the Messiah so that our hearts might rejoice in him for his glory and our good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Toronto Baptist Pastor and My Spiritual Condition

My family owned a Christian bookstore that was pretty much like your average Christian book shop. The first thing you saw when you walked in wasn’t anything really deep but was the usual Max Lucado coffee table book (or at least something like it). Some people get annoyed with this aspect of Christian bookstores thinking, "We need deeper theology!" but a question I’ve been thinking about is, “How annoyed should we be?”

R.G. Mitchell Family Books was the largest Christian retailer and distributor in Canada so it was quite a shock to some when it went bankrupt. If you search “Mitchell Family Books Bankruptcy” you will get a variety of responses. One that interested me was by a guy named Toronto Baptist Pastor. The author’s real name is Pastor H. Schonhaar; he is the pastor of Toronto Baptist Church, a fundamentalist KJV-only church in Toronto, Ontario. The heart of his post was that Mitchell Family Books went bankrupt because the Mitchell family is spiritually bankrupt. I thought it strange that such a judgment should be made before I even met this man but it got me thinking about something, namely, “What kinds of products should a Christian retailer be selling?”

My grandfather, Robert Gordon Mitchell, was a conservative brethren lay-man who had a passion for the written word. He loved Jesus and served him with all his energy. His desire was to get good books into the hands of Christians. 75 years later Mitchell Family Books was quite a different store. It sold more general products under the broad heading “Christian”. These products varied from paintings, music, books, bibles, and a whole lot of trinkets.

Throughout the time I worked there I got to know many of the authors and titles we sold. Some were good and some were bad, some had all truth (i.e. the Bible itself), some had no truth, and some had a good amount of truth. So what should Christian retailers sell? Should they sell only Bibles? Should they sell any books by liberal authors? Should they only sell books that are faithful (keeping in mind that no book, other than the bible, is perfect) to God’s word? Is there a difference between a ‘theological’ bookstore and a ‘Christian’ bookstore? Is Pastor H. Schonhaar right that a person is spiritually bankrupt by virtue of the books they sell? These are all questions I have been pondering.

I am more inclined to think that there is a difference between a 'theological' bookstore and a 'Christian' bookstore. The first is aimed towards academics who are looking to study whether it be liberal or conservative (like the theological bookstore at the University of Toronto). The second, on the other hand, is aimed more towards the average Christian reader. It is important for Christian bookstores to carry the truth because many new Christians will pick up anything they can get their hands on. The question that I would ask before carrying a book in a Christian bookstore is, "Is it faithful to the gospel?" Is the book faithful to the message that Jesus, the crucified and risen messiah, is the Lord of the world and through his death forgiveness is available to all people? This allows for grace in the area of deciding which books to carry.

Any thoughts?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Know Your Audience

I love to preach. There aren’t very many things that get me more excited than studying the Bible and then figuring out, through the Spirit of God, how I am going to communicate my findings. Sometimes I get so excited that I just have to let it out. (I have a gracious wife who is often patient as I ramble on about the apostle Paul and the gospel that he proclaimed; but I don’t think she minds too much.)

A lesson that I have been recently learning is the importance of knowing your audience. I have had several opportunities to teach and they have all been to diverse groups of people. The grace kids that I taught for a couple years were aged 3-6, I lectured on the doctrine of justification to Grace Fellowship Church (my home) to a whole bunch of people, and my continuing ministry at the nursing home where I teach the seniors. Again and again I have to remind myself that different audiences require different methods, otherwise I may be preaching in vain.

I received some great advice from my friend, who is in his 80’s, who told me that I need to teach the seniors in a similar way as the grace kids. The folks at the nursing home aren’t just retirees, they are dying. Most of them can no longer walk and many cannot even speak. I have to keep things real simple and I can’t take anything for granted (e.g. I have to explain who Adam and Eve are).

At our church the elders often address the children during their sermons. This keeps them awake and, at least, helps them get something out of the sermon. I have put this into practice with the seniors and I’m finding that it is a very effective way of keeping people involved, both mentally and emotionally. I’m still learning but I’m always looking for ways that I could improve so that I can serve our king and his kingdom better.

P.S. I found a job…..and I am writing this on my lunch break ;-)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Jesus, the Son of God

Here is the sermon I am preaching tomorrow at the nursing home. Take a look!

Jesus, the Son of God
Mark 1.9-11; 10:45

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1.9-11)

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.45)

In life there are many important questions that we may ask ourselves. When we are younger some of us ask, “What will I do with myself or what career path will I choose?” This is an important question because depending on what we want to do with our life will determine what we will do with our time or what college/university we will attend. When we’re a little older another important question is, “Who will I marry?” For those people who want to get married this is a crucial matter. Obviously we won’t go out and marry anyone. We want to choose someone who is compatible with us, whom we love, and, in the case of a Christian, someone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps a question that older people have to deal with is, “What will happen to all my things after I die?” Some things we own are very precious to us and we want them to go to particular loved ones. This is why we have things like wills so that we can determine beforehand where our possessions will go after we die.

But although all these questions are important and necessary there is one question that rises above them all. There is one question that is most important. This question is, “Who is Jesus Christ?” This question is so important because it determines your relationship to God. Your confession of Jesus Christ will determine the outcome of your life. It is the “Sum” of your entire life.

When Jesus was on earth he did many mighty things. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and even exercised control over nature. Because of these things people asked, “Who is this man?” The Bible Says:

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4. 35-41)

Jesus, talking with his disciples says:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8. 27-29)

Today, in this nursing home, Jesus asks each and every one of us, “But who do you say that I am?” And that’s what I want to speak with you about. I want to look to the Bible, God’s word, and see what it says about Jesus and who he is. There are many opinions today about Jesus Christ. Some say he was a good man, an inspiring teacher or a good example. But, ultimately, all of these fall short and we must ask, “what does God have to say about Jesus?” And that’s what we will find out today.

1. Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and the world’s true King

Where can we find hope? Our world is a broken world. Wherever we look there is sickness, poverty and death. We see it on the news and we see it in our own lives. Of course, there are wonderful things in this world. Things we can enjoy and things we can love. Some of us have families who we very much get along with and love to fellowship with. But then what happens when a family member suddenly dies in a car accident or develops a drug addiction? Or what about when a family is split up because of an adulteress relationship? It forces us to confess, “There is something deeply wrong with our world.”

Or perhaps we can think of our justice system. We can give thanks to God that we have police officers to protect us and judges who can execute justice. We can feel safe in our communities, in our homes, and know that people will be punished for their crimes. But what happens when one day we look out the window and see police cars and ambulances only to find out that our neighbors’ 5 year old girl was murdered while she slept. And worse, what happens when the murderer gets away with it? Again, we must confess, “There is something deeply wrong with our world.”

In Canada we are very blessed. We have healthcare, we have a government that values equality, we can get jobs, and we can buy homes. But then what happens when we wander through the streets of Toronto and see that there are many left without homes, people who sleep out in the cold and sometimes freeze to death. There are some women who cannot feed their children so they stand on street corners and sell their bodies to make a living. Again all of these things cause us to confess, “There is something deeply wrong with our world.”

So where do we find our hope? Do we find it in our families? NO! Do we find it in our government? NO! Do we find it in our money? NO! None of these things can give us ultimate hope!

The only true hope for this world is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the Old Testament God looked on his oppressed people and promised times of blessing, time of refreshment; it would be a time when there would be a new King who would make all things right. All evil would be judged and the earth would be filled with righteousness. There would be a new earth where there would be no more pain or tears and the lion would lie down with the lamb. The King would come with his kingdom and all evil would be judged.

In our passage, Jesus comes to John the Baptist and is baptized. As he comes up from the water there is a voice heard from heaven. It is God! And he says that Jesus is his Son. In Psalm 2:7 God says to King David, “You are my Son”. This points to Jesus. Jesus is the true king. Jesus is the Messiah who would put all things right.

He is the one who gives hope of a world, a new creation, where there will be no more sin and death. No more will there be any phone calls or knocks on the door reporting that a dear family member has just died in a tragedy. The world will no longer be plagued with injustice where guilty people get away free. There will be no more oppression. There will be peace. People won’t go hungry, they won’t be homeless and they won’t freeze to death.

People were expecting a Messiah to put things right. But they didn’t expect that the Messiah would die and rise again. They didn’t think that God’s king would be hung on a cross.

2. Jesus is the King who Dies for Sinners

Jesus was a humble king. He wasn’t born in a palace but he was born in a stable that probably smelled of animal dung. People rejected him. Even his own people sought to kill him. But Jesus’ death was no accident. Although men handed him over to be crucified, it was part of God’s age old plan to rescue sinners just like you and me.

So why did Jesus die? The answer is quite simple really. Jesus came as the Messiah to put the world right and to judge all evil. But what happens when we are all sinners? What happens when we are all evil? Well the fact of the matter is that if God is going to judge all wickedness he will have to judge you and me too. We are sinner’s who have rejected God. We have chosen our own way and have gone astray. Just like God’s people were carted off to exile because of their sin, we are all sinners and are in the exile of death.

You need to hear this. Your fundamental problem is not that your neighbor is a sinner. Your fundamental problem is that you yourself are a sinner and deserve the judgment of God. But when Jesus Christ came he showed what kind of king he really was. He was a humble king who would take upon himself the punishment that we deserve. Our passage says this, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus would pay the price that our sinned deserved. He would bear God’s awful wrath so that we, sinners, could go free. Jesus died so that we could enter into the kingdom. He died so that we could come under his gracious rule and could experience life when Jesus puts all things right.

But Jesus was the King. He could not stay dead. The Bible says, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2.29-33). It also says, “[God promised the gospel] beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 1.1-4).”

Jesus was the suffering servant who bore our sins on the cross so that we might be forgiven. And through the resurrection of Jesus he was declared to be the true King of the entire world. He is the one who will make all things right, will take away all pain and all suffering.

Trust in him. Confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved.

New City Baptist Church and the Unexpected Messiah

The church where I am a member, Grace Fellowship Church (in Toronto), is taking part in a new church plant downtown, New City Baptist Church. I was just listening to the first sermon preached at this new church and was greatly edified. Pastor John Bell presents Jesus as the unexpected messiah who dies for the sins of his people. Be in prayer for this work as there is a great need in Toronto for solid evangelical churches.

New City Baptist Church Website

Click Here to listen to the Sermon

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Doing Things Well for the Kingdom of God

Our Lord was not a lazy man. He was busy doing kingdom work. Sometimes things got so crazy that the crowds pressed all around him and he had to escape to a quiet place. Of course not all of us will be involved in ministries that will invite large crowds. Nevertheless, we ought to work for the kingdom with all our might.

Last night I read Don Carson’s, “Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor” and I was greatly touched with the endurance of Tom Carson. Whatever he was doing, whether it was full-time ministry, being a civil servant, preaching, or taking care of his wife, he did it well, without complaining, except maybe about his own sinfulness. When his wife was sick he dropped mostly everything and dedicated most of his time to be there for his bride. He is an example for all husbands: “External ministry just about evaporated: Dad’s ministry was looking after Mum. And not once, not once, did any of his children hear a single note of self-pity or a muttered ‘This isn’t the woman I married’ or any such thing. We cannot recall a single time when he lost patience with her” (133).

This was true in every way he served the Lord. Yet, in my life, there have been many times that I have felt self-pity, have not done my job well or complained about my circumstances. But we ought to reflect Christ. We ought to do what God has given us to do for his Kingdom and do it well. Tom is helpful when he recounts the saying, “I am but one, but I am one; I cannot do everything, but I can do something; what I can do, I ought to do; and what I ought to do, God helping me, I will do” (143). Of course, we always need the cross and resurrection so that we remember that our acceptance with God is not to be found in ourselves but in King Jesus.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Do You Do?

So what do you do when you have a wife to support and no job? Remember that Jesus is the risen King and you have been bought with his blood.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Looking For a Job

I will be taking a break from blogging as I look for a new job! See you when I see you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was [designated] to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1.1-4).

For the apostle Paul a central facet of the gospel proclamation was the fact that through Jesus’ resurrection he was designated to be the Son of God (cf. Psalm 2.7), the world’s true Lord. For some of us we have trouble seeing what is so good about this news. Is this just the scary part of the gospel and then the good part is that we can have our sins forgiven? I don’t believe so. I think that the declaration of Jesus’ lordship and his substitutionary atonement are equally ‘gospel’! The gospel of Jesus’ lordship is good news because of the sort of king that Jesus is. He is the king that brings salvation. He is the king that rules justly. He is the king that bore the wrath of the father. Jesus’ lordship is terrifying if you reject him but when we see the kind of kingdom that Jesus’ brings it ought to make us want to ‘sell everything just to buy this treasure’. Read through Mark 5 and rejoice in the kind of King that we have as Christians. Here are some lyrics by The Welcome Wagon that can help us find great joy in the gospel of God’s Son:

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, Great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on Earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free,
To take away transgression, and rule in equity.

He comes with succour speedy, to those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong;
To give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light,
Whose souls, condemned and dying, were precious in His sight

He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth;
Love, joy, and hope like flowers, spring in His path to birth;
Before Him on the mountains shall peace the herald go;
And righteousness, in fountains, from hill to valley flow.

To Him shall prayer unceasing and daily vows ascend;
His kingdom still increasing, a kingdom without end;
The tide of time shall never His covenant remove;
His name shall stand forever, His name to us is Love”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Romans 1. 16, 17: The Righteousness of God

The next passage in Romans that I am studying includes the controversial verses 16 and 17. Since I had some time this weekend, I wanted to do a little mini-study on these verses before I continued.

So what is the “Righteousness of God”? There are many answers to this question. Three possibilities are:

1) God’s faithfulness to his covenant (an attribute of God)
2) A gift of righteousness (a genitive of origin)
3) God’s saving activity (subjective genitive)

It is hard to make a choice because there seems to be good reasons for either one of these. One thing that we have to remember is that we must not anathematize people because they disagree with what we think it means. People can become quite passionate over this word, rightly so, but it can sometimes get ugly.

Perhaps I’m taking the easy way out but I think that when Paul speaks of ‘the righteousness of God” he has all three, or something close, in his mind. Frank Thielman says, “The most satisfying understanding of the phrase recognizes, however, that Paul uses it in more than one way”1. Doug Moo asks the question, “Do we have to choose between theology (God’s acting) and anthropology (the human being who receives) – as some have stated the dilemma? Could we not take ‘righteousness of God” here to include both God’s activity of ‘making right’ – saving, vindicating – and the status of those who are so made right, in a relational sense that bridges the divine and the human?”2.

There is good reason to think the phrase means something close to ‘God’s saving activity’. After all, it is frequently used in the OT in this way: “I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory” (Is. 46.13). In this passage “righteousness” and “salvation” seemed to be used synonymously. God’s righteous is his powerful saving activity that will be displayed when God rescues his people from sin and exile.

However, we also need to note, the context that the term is used. In Romans “God’s righteousness” stands in close proximity to the righteousness that humans receive as a gift. Paul says, “…the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5.16, 17). Moreover, in Romans 1.16, 17, the idea of the gospel revealing God’s righteousness suggests the subjective genitive whereas the quote from Habakkuk stresses that it is a status received by faith. The two go together.

Others see Paul’s use of ‘the righteousness of God’ as referring to God’s covenant faithfulness. Psalm 98 gives us insight:

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous thing! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

When God acts in salvation, or righteousness, he is being faithful to his covenant with Israel. Through the good news of Jesus’ reign and the salvation it brings God is fulfilling the promise made to Abraham, namely, that he would be the father of many nations.

In Romans 1 the stress seems to be on God’s saving activity which, as a result, reveals his covenant faithfulness. Frank Thielman says, “[God’s righteousness and salvation] reveal his faithfulness to the covenant he made with his people”3. Michael Bird expresses the same thought, “In saving Israel, God is faithful to his covenant…”4.

So in light of these insights what would be a simple definition? Our decision should take into account all three possibilities. God’s righteousness is his powerful act of salvation to bring people into a right relationship with himself which, in turn, displays that he is faithful to his covenant with his people. This act of salvation includes the gift of a new status (see Phil 3:9) so that all those in Christ can be declared ‘righteous’ by faith in the crucified and risen Lord of the world. In short, we might say that God’s righteousness is his ‘righteous-ing”.


1. Thielman, Frank. Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 346.
2. Moo, Douglas. J. The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 74.
3. Thielman, 346.
4. Bird, Michael. F. A Bird’s Eye View of Paul (Nottingham: IVP, 2008), 94.

Friday, January 16, 2009

R.G. Mitchell Family Books

Here is a brief overview of my family's company that recently went bankrupt. Mitchell Family Books was a Christian book distributor and retail store that was in business for over 70 years. My grandfather was a godly man with a heart for Christ and his word. Perhaps, if my parents let me, I can post some of my grandfather's memoirs. He was a man who loved business, evangelism, the proclamation of God's word and, most of all, his Savior.

Douglas J. Moo on Google Books

For those of you who don't know, Google Books offers great previews of a variety of books. You can actually read quite a large chunk of Douglas J. Moo's commentary on Romans. Click here.

Romans 1.8-12: Paul’s Longing

I just realized that I barely commented on verse 7 in my previous post. What is interesting there is that Paul refers to the Christians as ‘beloved of God’. This was a way of referring to God’s chosen people, Israel. In light of the Christ event Paul feels quite free to speak of God’s new covenant people in the same way. I think that’s pretty interesting!

Well I’m a pretty indecisive person so I have changed my mind on the whole NET bible thing. Instead I will be using the ESV. However, later on I might go a little King James on you. I don’t know; we’ll just have to see. If you’re reading this just remember that these are my personal ‘devos’ so I won’t be dealing with everything in the text.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Rom. 1.8-12)

Paul is always thanking God for other Christians because of the fact…well, that they are Christians. God’s is doing his work through his gospel. As we will see in v.16, the gospel is God’s power. Through this gospel God had saved, and was saving, people from Rome and people were talking about it. Paul doesn’t just thank God for their faith when he prays but he asks God for an opportunity to see these Christians.

He wants his reader’s, for whatever reason, to know that he is very serious about this so he calls God as his witness (the God whom he serves in spreading the good news of Jesus’ reign). Paul was a missionary and he was passionate about those who had come under the lordship of Jesus. Christianity isn’t about ‘I’; it’s about Jesus and the ‘us’ that he is creating. We ought to long for the fellowship of other believer’s just as the apostle does himself. Why did Paul long to see these Christians? His desire is that he may impart to them some spiritual gift so that they might be strengthened. How would they be strengthened? By being mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Paul probably didn’t know what sort of spiritual gift he would impart to them; he would have to wait to see what their needs were. But what we can learn from the apostle is that we ought to constantly be seeking to bless other Christians. Perhaps we can practice this exercise by choosing a particular member from our congregation, praying for them, and then telling them how you’ve been praying for them. In this way we can bless others and encourage them, just like Paul.


Last night I was reading Doug Moo on Romans; in reference to the spiritual gift in this passage he comments, "...we should think...of an insight or ability, given Paul by the Spirit, that Paul hopes to 'share' with the Romans. What gift Paul may want to share with the Romans cannot be specified until he sees what their needs may be." In light of that, Tim Challies has a helpful post on spiritual gifts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Trevin Wax on His Interview with Wright

A few days ago Trevin Wax posted an interview he conducted with N.T. Wright. There is some great discussion going on over at the Kingdom People blog. Here is a comment that Trevin made in response to some questions and comments that I find helpful:

"First, responding to BJ…

Your question about Wright and Piper’s view on the “grounds for salvation” is actually not what this discussion is about. Keep in mind that Wright and Piper are using the same terms in different ways.

Wright is using the term “justification” in an ecclesiological sense. That is… he is saying that what marks us out as being part of the kingdom of God is our faith - not circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, etc. In other words, justification is concerned with “who is in the covenant.” He seeks to uphold this definition by putting passages like Ephesians 2 in context (after the “by grace you are saved through faith” section follows an extended passage on God bringing together Jew and Gentile). Also key for Wright is Galatians 2. When Paul confronts Peter, what is it over? Ecclesiology. Peter won’t sit with the Gentiles. He is waffling on “the mark” of the covenant, which is now faith in Jesus - not the Jewish Law.

So when Wright says one is justified on the Last Day by works, he is NOT saying that one is saved by works. He is not using “salvation” and “justification” as synonyms. In fact, he caught me doing this in my first interview with him (Nov. ‘07). I asked a question about justification by works, switched over to talking about salvation, and he said I was equating them… He was right. I was. But he’s not and he wants to be emphatic about that. Salvation is by grace alone.

So part of this discussion is about how to frame the doctrine of justification. Is it merely an ecclesiological doctrine (that is, it speaks to who is part of God’s people) or is it also a soteriological doctrine (that is, it solves the problem of how one gets to be part of God’s people)? Piper and many in the Reformed tradition see it as the latter. Wright and others in the Reformed tradition (including Baxter and a few others it can be argued - Michael Bird is the expert on this) see it as the former.

In answer to Tim, who wants me to peek my head up and give a verdict… I enjoy the works of Piper and Wright and have benefited greatly from both. I feel indebted to Wright for his work on the historical Jesus, which helped me to see how Jesus actually fit his historical context. I am indebted to Piper for his God-centered theology that focuses on the glory of Christ.

To see where I line up, take a look at my extensive commentary on “The Future of Justification” and also a series I did about a year ago called “New Perspective Positives,” where I demonstrate a few places that the New Perspective provides a healthy corrective to evangelical theology. I believe there are some key points made by the NP that can be incorporated into a conservative theological framework that leaves intact the traditional categories of historic Protestant theology.

Regarding the debate over justification… Think of Wright’s theology as a movie camera that focuses in on the background instead of the foreground. (You’ve seen movies or TV shows where the background is brought into focus and the foreground is fuzzy.) I think Wright is correct to see the ecclesiological ramifications of justification that are often absent from Reformed expositions. The ecclesiological question is bigger than we’ve made it out to be in the past. So in that sense, I think it is a help to look at the ecclesiological background.

But when we take Wright’s approach, the foreground gets fuzzy. The foreground is the soteriological dimension of justification that (agreeing with Piper) I believe is part of Paul’s view. In other words, Wright is helpful in focusing our attention on the ecclesiological dimension of justification and unhelpful in that he too often reduces it to that dimension alone.

But let me again say… I enjoy the works of both these men. And though I would be more aligned with Piper on the issue of justification, I would actually be more aligned with Wright & Goldsworthy (and others) on Paul’s definition of “the gospel.” So… I’m one of these guys who is grateful for the opportunity to read and learn from both these men.

Wright is not as dangerous as Piper makes him out to be; Piper is not as bad as Wright makes him out to be. Once you keep that in mind, you can read both these guys and appreciate their collective strengths and weaknesses.

That’s my two cents."