Archive for January, 2012

January 31, 2012

“The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race.”

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Rom. 3:29-30
Full Text: Esth. 8; Rom. 3

Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God,
who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Romans 3:29-30

I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
Revelation 7:9

Bloodlines by John Piper
(an excerpt)

“God’s concern to include all the ethnic peoples of the world in his saving purposes – in his final, eternal family – is unbreakably linked with the two greatest realities in the universe: God’s very being as one God and the way God has ordained to put sinners in the right with himself through justification in Christ. Ethnic diversity is not connected to God marginally. It’s connected at the center – his infinite being and his single, glorious way of justifying sinners.

“As this sinks into our minds and hearts, the effect it should have is to change the way we think and feel about racial and ethnic diversity of the world and the church. We are constantly in danger of feeling (even when we are not thinking this way) that God is partial to our tribe – that he has a special liking for our ethnicity and cultural norms.

“This danger is especially present and unseen among majority cultures and majority ethnic groups. When we are in a very large majority, we do not even operate with the category of our own ethnicity. We are just human, so we are prone to think. Others have ethnicity. This makes us very vulnerable to the assumption that God is our God in a way that minimizes his being the God of other ethnic groups.

“May the astonishing way that Paul speaks in Romans 3:29-30 of justification by faith alone awaken us from this deadly assumption. And may it fill us with a sense of amazement at God’s passion in the pursuit of all ethnic groups of the world. May we never forget that this pursuit is rooted in God’s being one infinite God and in his justifying sinners in one glorious way through faith alone in the blood and righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

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Special Note

In Bloodlines (PDF – forward by Tim Keller), not only does Piper candidly confess that he was “manifestly” a racist as a teenager, he also repeatedly reminds his readers that he is not a model multiethnic urban pastor today. This is why, he says, he must cherish and cling to the cross – for it has defeated his ethnocentrism and offered manifold forgiveness to his formerly racist heart: “The Lord will be my judge someday. I will give an account to him of how I served him. I expect that as he goes down the list of the choices I have made, none will have a perfectly pure motivation, and many will appear as unwise in the bright light of his holiness. I hope I have been a good steward of my gifts and time. But my confidence in the judgment is not in that. It’s in the perfection of Jesus that God has credited to me through faith and in the punishment Jesus endured for me. And I believe there will be in my overall ministry sufficient, imperfect fruits of love that witness that my union with Jesus by faith was real.”


January 30, 2012

Sin Is a Parasite

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Rom. 2:5
Full Text: Esth. 7; Rom. 2

Worldview | Each of us has a narrative about how the world works. Conscious or subconscious, its effect is pervasive. Leslie Stevenson suggests, “So much depends on our conception of human nature: for individuals, the meaning and purpose of our lives, what we ought to do or strive for, what we may hope to achieve or to become” [1].

Christian | The Christian narrative, argues Albert Wolters, is utterly unique in its perspective: “The great danger is to always single out some aspect of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of sin, as the villain. Such an error [conceives] the good-evil dichotomy as intrinsic to the creation itself … [as] something in the good creation is identified as [the source] of evil. In the course of history, this ‘something’ has been variously identified as … the body and its passions (Plato and much of Greek philosophy), as culture in distinction from nature (Rousseau and Romanticism), as authority figures in society and family (psychodynamic psychology), as economic forces (Marx) … As far as I can tell, the Bible is unique in its rejection of all attempts to either demonize some part of creation as the root of our problems or idolize some part of creation as the solution” [2].

Effect | The problem with the world is sin and it’s in all of us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “[T]he line separating good and evil passes … right through every human heart” [3]. Its effect is disastrous. Paul wrote, “[B]ecause of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself[4]. Why start the week by thinking about God’s hatred of sin? To the extent we understand it in our minds and hearts, the love of God will not sink to sentimentalism and self-help. It is not this. It is an infinitely precious and powerful treasure, an invaluable redemption, and the ultimate solution to the sin problem of the Christian narrative.

Prayer | Lord, You declared that your creation was “good” and that those created in your image were “very good” [5]. When sin entered the world, however, sin attached itself to every good created thing like a parasite. Our reasoning, emotions, actions and motives alike are all under its influence. Therefore, we praise you with deep humility for Christ’s redeeming love that cost him his life and that solved the sin problem for all who believe. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Leslie Stevenson & David Haberman. Ten Theories of Human Nature: Confucianism, Hinduism, The Bible, Plato, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, Skinner, Lorenz. Oxford University Press, 1998. (Location 175 on Kindle for Mac.)  |  [2] Albert Wolters. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Eerdmans, 2005 (p. 61).  |  [3] Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago.  |  [4] Rom. 2:5 NIV1984  |  [5] See Gen. 1.

January 27, 2012

If I Perish, I Perish

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Est. 4:15-16
Full Text: Est. 4; Acts 27

Cravings | “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering,” said Earnest Hemingway. “The rest are merely games” [1]. Extreme sports enthusiasts, of course, agree. There needs to be some life-threatening element that satisfies our craving for adventure. After all, boredom is the worst. As Victor Hugo said, “One can dream of something more terrible than a hell where one suffers; it’s a hell where one would get bored” [2]. Yet, our craving for adventure has a twin craving that extreme sports don’t satisfy – significance. We don’t just want thrills; we want meaning. We want something that’s worth taking risks for.

Risks | Haman convinced the king to issue a decree to exterminate the Jewish refugees. The king, however, didn’t know that Esther was Jewish. When Mordecai heard about the decree, he asked Esther to plead their case to the king. Although she knew that the lives of her people were at stake, she also knew that the law stated that anyone who approached the king without being summoned would be killed unless mercy was shown. What did she do? She told Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews … and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” [3]. Esther didn’t know what would happen, but she made her decision based on wisdom and love. Then she handed the results over to God.

Obedience | In our culture, we have opportunities to take risks with significance daily. In fact, mere obedience can lead to a meaningful adventure. For example, when working professionals observe the Sabbath by resting from work and focusing on God, they risk being bested by colleagues and competitors. When we give the firstfruits of our income to God by tithing, we risk not being able to afford other things. How do we choose obedience? We release our cravings for comfort, security, control and success, and embrace our cravings for adventure, faith, miracles and deep knowledge of Jesus.

Prayer | Lord, You created us for adventure with significance. Yet, we are oftentimes misdirected and separate these twin cravings. In our lives, give us the courage to take risks for your kingdom, as we constantly choose faith over fear and obedience over sin. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] There is debate about whether Hemingway actually said this.
Some attribute it to writer Barnaby Conrad while others attribute it to Ken Purdy.  |
[2] Victor Hugo. Les Miserables.  |  [3] Esth. 4:15-16 NKJV


January 26, 2012

The Resurrection of Christ: Incredible or Not?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Acts 26:8
Full Text: Est. 3; Acts 26

Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
– Paul

Resurrection | “Really? How can you seriously ask that question?” That’s what I want to say to Paul. Then again, I wasn’t his target audience. He was talking to a group of people who already believed that God could raise people from the dead – the Pharisees [1]. After all, their Scriptures included several resurrection accounts, e.g., the young boy raised by Elijah, the son of the Shunammite, the bones of the dead man [2]. Even in their own lifetime, they knew of several public resurrection accounts, e.g., the daughter of Jairus, Lazarus, Dorcas, Eutychus [3].

Unexpected | Jesus’ resurrection, however, was different. The others were raised from the dead and maintained their mortality. They had the same bodies and eventually died again. Jesus, on the other hand, was resurrected unto immortality in a new, glorified body. He was no longer susceptible to decay and death. In fact, although he was raised in bodily form, he even appeared sufficiently different that some of his disciples failed to recognize him [4]. This was their problem. For although the Pharisees expected a resurrection unto immortality at the end of the age, they didn’t expect it in the middle of history. Jesus was a surprise and, in their minds, an impossibility.

Firstfruits | Should they have been expecting it? Throughout his life, in every decision he made, Jesus always chose obedience over sin. Thus, he became the spotless Passover Lamb, slaughtered to make atonement before the Lord, according to the Law [5]. Yes, although he bore our sins when they were transferred to him by virtue of his righteousness, he was not made a sinner. Instead, under the Law, he became the Scapegoat, sent into the wilderness to bear our iniquities [6]. When God raised Jesus from the dead, therefore, He declared his life and death to be sufficient under the Jewish law. He defeated death itself and the grave had no hold on him. Thus, he was the “firstfruits” of our resurrection. His “resurrection from the dead was the beginning of the resurrection of the dead” [7].

Prayer | Lord, Our objections to the resurrection are different from the Pharisees’, but we struggle with the same thing that they did – unbelief. Therefore, help our unbelief. For we long to follow in Christ’s footsteps at the end of this age – no longer in our sins because he has been raised [8]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Wikipedia, Pharisees (noting their belief in a literal resurrection of the dead, which was one of the main points of contention between their Jewish sect and the opposing Jewish sect, the Sadducees).

[2] See 1 Kings 17:17-24 (the young boy raised by Elijah); 2 Kings 4:32-37 (the son of the Shunammite); 2 Kings 13:21 (the bones of the dead man thrown into the tomb). See also N.T. Wright, The Resurrection and the Son of God, Chapter 3: “Time to Wake Up (1): Death and Beyond in the Old Testament” (citing several texts that point to life beyond the grave in the Jewish Scriptures) (see special footnote below).

[3] See Matt. 9:18-26 and parallel texts: Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56 (the daughter of Jairus); John 11:1-13 (Lazarus); Acts 9:36-43 (Dorcas); Acts 20:7-12 (Eutychus). See also N.T. Wright, The Resurrection and the Son of God, Chapter 4: “Time to Wake Up (2): Hope Beyond Death in Post-Biblical Judaism” (citing several examples of Jewish belief in life after death) (see special footnote below).

[4] Two of his own disciples didn’t recognize him when they walked with him on the road to Ammaus (see Lk. 24:13-32, where Luke specifically mentions that their eyes were closed from and then opened to recognizing him). Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him for a moment (see Jn. 20:14-16). On other occasions, of course, the disciples seemed to have recognized him fairly quickly (see Mt. 28:9, 17; Jn. 20:19-20, 26-28; 21:7, 12). When Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples in Jerusalem, they were initially startled and frightened (Lk. 24:33, 37), but they were convinced he had risen from the dead when they saw his pierced hands and feet and saw him eat a piece of fish. (Information taken from Grudem, Systematic Theology, see Special Footnote below).

[5] See Lev. 16 (Day of Atonement).

[6] Id.

[7] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God. 2003, pp. 453-4, emphasis original.

[8] 1 Cor. 15:17. See 1 Cor. 15 (a full, beautiful discussion by Paul on the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for the Christian).

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Special Footnote

 It seems impossible to cover the topic of the resurrection in 400 words or less. I apologize in advance, therefore, if you’re left wanting more – or, even more likely, confused! Therefore, I am going to highlight a few additional resources for further reading:

(1) Miracles by C.S. Lewis. He notes that, before addressing any question about whether any miracle, in fact, happened, the preliminary question is whether the supernatural can interfere with the natural.

(2) The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright. This is, perhaps, the seminal work on the various aspects of what Easter means. It is very long, but it is also fairly comprehensive in setting out the context in which the resurrection happened. Tim Keller has said that it is the best work on this topic that he has ever read.

(3) Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. If you’re looking for an introduction to some of the major topics of Biblical doctrine, this is a great start. Not only does it lay out some specific doctrines (with Biblical references), it also has semi-devotional endings to each chapter that often include a questions for personal application, Scripture memory passages, and hymns on which to meditate and worship.

(4) J.I. Packer, “Introduction” to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen. Since Owen is so hard for people to read, many people skip the actual book and recommend Packer’s introduction. It’s an unpacking of the atoning sacrifice of the death of Christ and what it means for the Christian and the world.

(5) New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. If you’re curious about the historicity of the resurrection, you might want to check this out. As a side note, when I was drafting this devotional, I thought about addressing this topic, but I opted against it because I was convinced by Lewis’ argument in Miracles that, in our naturalistic era, I would have to cover the preliminary question before attempting to address the resurrection question. In Miracles, he wrote, “Seeing is not believing. For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience … Our senses are not infallible … If immediate experience cannot prove or disprove the miraculous, still less can history do so. Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occurred in the past by examining the evidence ‘according to the ordinary rules of historical inquiry.’ But the ordinary rules cannot be worked until we have decided whether miracles are possible, and if so, how probable they are.” Not having the room to do both, I opted to address the objections of the Pharisees and focus on the intention of Paul’s comment itself. Thankfully, this is not – Lord-willing – the last devotional I’ll write, so I’ll try and cover those at a later time (or one of you can write in the comments about it!).

(6) Although I do not necessarily “recommend” reading it, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, has a lot to say – all negative – about miracles and the resurrection. I have found it helpful to read this book because it reminds me (in a very abrasive way) how our Christian belief in miracles and the resurrection appear to non-Christians. Yet, he fails where Lewis addresses – namely, in faulting at the preliminary question (he does not believe there is anything beyond the natural).

 

January 25, 2012

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Est. 2:22-23
Full Text: Est. 2; Acts 25

Wife | How should a man choose a wife? In their latest book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller argue that spiritual friendship should be the basis for marriage because, “It is easier to turn a friend into a romantic partner than to turn a romantic partner into a friend” [1]. With the same ring of friendship, philosopher Giuseppe Mazzini said, “Look to her not only for comfort, but for strength and inspiration and the doubling of your intellectual and moral powers” [2].

Cinderella | Esther is the Cinderella story of the Bible. An unknown and beautiful Jewish orphan girl rises to become the Queen of Persia. In the first chapter, King Xerxes divorces and deposes Queen Vashti because she refuses his invitation to dinner. In the second chapter, he selects Esther as queen in a beauty contest – hardly the method suggested by the Kellers. Yet, his courtship is not the point [3]; God’s sovereign salvation through her courageous strength is. After all, Esther is not just another pretty face; she is smart and bold and disciplined.

Audience | Shortly after Xerxes and Esther were married, Mordecai – her guardian and adoptive father – overheard two guards conspiring to assassinate the king. So Mordecai told Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on the gallows [4]. Esther was bold in going to Xerxes. After all, anyone who requested a meeting with the king could have been killed. Moreover, she knew what had happened to Vashti when she disrespected Xerxes. Yet, she went. Boldly and loyally, she went. And her husband was saved by her wisdom. Indeed, in marrying Esther, he doubled his intellectual and moral powers.

Prayer | Lord, The purpose of true womanhood is “to display the glory of Christ in its highest expression, namely, in his dying to make a rebellious people his everlasting and supremely happy bride” [5]. In Esther, we see a foreshadowing of Christ – for both put their lives on the line to save your people. Yet, although Esther was beautiful in appearance, Christ was not [6]. Therefore, let us be women who pursue and men who love the true picture of godly femininity – not mere external adornment, but rather “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” [7]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Tim and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage. If you’re interested in watching the book launch event, where Bethany Jenkins (founder of The Park Forum) co-interviewed the Kellers, click here.

[2] Quoted in Bill Bennett, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood. Chapter: “Man with Woman and Children.” Paragraph 7. Kindle edition, Location 7787. Review on Washington Times: here.

[3] Just because something is mentioned as having happened in the Bible does not mean that the Lord condones it. Very often Bible teachers will distinguish between readings in the Bible that are “descriptive” (that is, part of the history that contributes to the understanding of the story) and readings that are “normative” (that is, teachings that we should follow and do). So, for example, the fact that Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines is descriptive but not normative (after all, the law required that a king should only take one wife – see Deut. 17:14-17). In the same way, Xerxes’ courtship is not mentioned for its normative factor because it’s narrative.

[4] Esther 2:22-23 ESV

[5] John Piper, The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood.” 9 October 2008. Sermon. (with several mini-portraits of strong and courageous women who glorified God with their lives).

[6] See Isaiah 53.

[7] See 1 Peter 3:1-6 (although this is directed to believing women who are married to unbelieving men, its truth is equally applicable to believing women who are married to believing men).

[FN] The title of this devotional is roughly taken from Prov. 31:10.


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