Jesus and Santa

•December 16, 2013 • 1 Comment

imagesCAE96E22Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of the year. I enjoy the beautiful lights, the wonderful smells and the special time with the family. But all of these pale in comparison to the reason for the season: God entering His own narrative in the form of a helpless child to redeem humanity from a debt they could never pay.

But in the West we also have a jolly figure named Santa Claus that many parents (whether Christian or non-Christian) tell their children about. Some Christians see no problem with re-telling the story of Santa Claus while others strongly oppose it.

Michael Patton (who doesn’t see a major issue with it) helpfully lays out three common Christian objections towards “playing Santa” (check out his responses here):

1. Playing Santa takes away from the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ.

2. Playing Santa is a lie

3. If you play Santa your kids may think you are “playing” God too

I think number one is defiantly a possibility but it’s not just limited to Santa. Our commercialized holiday has become a far cry from what God wanted us to remember by having His son being born in an animal’s feeding trough. Number two is the biggest reason why I don’t “push” Santa onto my kids nor shy from the truth when they ask me about him. I don’t want my sons to question if I’m being honest with them or put a thought in their mind that they can’t trust me. I think number three is kind of silly because they aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) on the same plane in the Christian mind. This was true to me even at an early age. In the fifth grade I was so convinced that Santa Claus was real that me and a friend (who was a bit shaper than me and ended up going to Harvard) “debated” with most of the other kids about why Santa was real. I believed the story until it was dispelled by my father explaining it. But never once did I equate Santa with God there was simply not contest between the two.

untitledI think Pastor John Piper has some extremely helpful and wise thoughts on Jesus and Santa. He wants to point us to Christ as our greatest treasure instead of focusing on the negative aspects of what effect Santa may or may not have on our kids.

He raises the question why give our kids fast food (i.e. Santa) when they can have a feast with the finest cuisine through Christ?

Here is the link to John Piper’s audio (for some reason it won’t embed on my blog):

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/rethinking-santa

What do you think?

What should the Christian responce/position to Santa be during Christmas and for the rest of year?

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God Always Keeps His Promises

•December 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A helpful reminder from DesiringGod.org  as you head into work that God always fulfill’s His promises and purpose; whatever the day may bring.

in-god-we-trust“‘I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.’

This is the straightforward truth that David clings to in Psalm 57:2.

Here he states two basic facts: God has a purpose for him and God will fulfill that purpose. Both these truths combine to become that deep and wondrous theological concept we call “providence.” The word was much more common centuries ago than it is today, though its relevancy has never waned. Its meaning captures God’s relationship to the created world, namely, that he both preserves the order of all things and guides them toward his intended end.

Providence is the sovereignty of God made palpable. It’s the outworking of his power and authority for his children in space and time, which means, in the things we schedule, the air we breathe, the moments we move. Providence is observed, experienced, tasted. We may even say it’s the distinctively Christian term for reality.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Enjoy your Monday and may God bless you and keep you and make your face shine upon you as you represent Him to the world!

 

Christian Rap and Worship

•December 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Worship can take various forms and styles. Its aim is to beckon our hearts toward God and show that He is worthy of all honor and praise.

I wanted to post this video from a Christian Rapper named Lecrae because it embodies what I see the intend of worship in a “non-traditional” form. The name of the song is “Boasting”.

 

I also wanted to include the lyrics (with my biblical references in parenthesis) to show you how biblically saturated I see this song:

CHORUS

If this life has anything to gain at all

I’ll count it loss if I can’t hear you, feel you, ’cause I need you (Phil 3:8).

Can’t walk this earth alone (Deut 8:3, Luke 4:4, Matt. 4:4).

I recognize I’m not my own (1 Cor. 6:19-20), so before I fall

I need to hear you, feel you, as I live to make my boast in you alone (Gal 6:14).

VERSE 1

With every breath I take, with every heart beat,

Sunrise and the moon lights in the dark street.

Every glance, every dance, every note of a song.

It’s all a gift undeserved that I shouldn’t have known (Jas 1:17).

Every day that I lie, every moment I covet

I’m deserving to die (Rom. 6:23), I’m just earning your judgment (Rev. 20:11-12).

I, without the cross there’s only condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

If Jesus wasn’t executed there’s no celebration (1st Cor. 15:14).

So in times that are good, in times that are bad

For any times that I’ve had it all I will be glad (1st Thess. 5:18).

And I will boast in the cross. I’ll boast in my pains.

I will boast in the sunshine, boast in his reign (Gal 6:14).

What’s my life if it’s not praising you?

Another dollar in my bank account of vain pursuit (Psalm 127:1).

I do not count my life as any value or precious at all.

Let me finish my race, let me answer my call (2 Tim. 4:7).

VERSE 2

Tomorrow’s never promised, but it is we swear (Jas 4:13-14).

Think we holding our own, just a fist full of air (Psalm 14:1).

God has never been obligated to give us life.

If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight (Rom. 3:23).

Mere sinners owed nothing but a fierce hand.

We never loved him, we pushed away his pierced hands (Isa. 53).

I rejected his love, grace, kindness, and mercy.

Dying of thirst, yet, willing to die thirsty (John 4:14).

Eternally worthy, how could I live for less?

Patiently you turned my heart away from selfishness (Gal 5:22-23).

I volunteer for your sanctifying surgery.

I know the Spirit’s purging me of everything that’s hurting me (John 17:17).

Remove the veil from my darkened eyes (2nd Cor 4:4).

So now every morning I open your word and see the Son rise (2nd Cor 4:5-6).

I hope in nothin, boast in nothin, only in your suffering (Gal 6:14).

I live to show your glory, dying to tell your story (Phil. 1:21).

BRIDGE

Glory was solely meant for you (Psalm 115).

Doing what no one else could do.

With All I have to give, (With all I have to Give)

I’ll use my life, I’ll use my lips. (My Lips Yeaaah)

I’ll only glory in your Word. What gift to me I don’t deserve.

I’ll live in such a way that it reflects to you, my Praise (Psalm 16:5-11).

I hope this song is as much of a blessing to you as it was (and is) for me in my journey with Jesus.

Jesus Hermenutics

•December 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Interpreting and teaching God’s Word is a great privilege and responsibility. For me it also takes time, hard work and a commitment to the text.

bible-main

After my previous posts on the Gospel of Matthew I thought it would be helpful to lay out my interpretive methodology and why I chose it in hopes of helping others gain confidence in approaching and understanding God’s Word.

MY INTERPRETATION METHOD

I try and approach the Scriptures in the same way I believe Jesus did: with the expectation and conviction that they are actually true (Matt. 22:29, Matt. 4:4-10) .

Dr. Dan Wallace has a helpful post that under girds a Jesus centered view of Scripture.  I’m not going to engage the post-modern literary theorists that essentially says “we can never ‘really’ know what the authors meant” because I find this position unsustainable in reality.

I’m simply going to hold to the position that the biblical writers had real reasons why they were writing. I want to figure them out so I can better understand what they mean so that I can understand what God is saying through them.

This methodology is often called the historical-grammatical hermeneutic (method of interpretation). It looks for the cultural and historical elements surrounding the text as well as the lexical and syntactical elements contained in the original languages.

For example in our article on Matthew we looked at the tenths of verbs (passive/active) and the significance it had in foreshadowing the virgin birth of Jesus. We also saw how the entire history of Israel placed in the genealogies set the stage for the fulfillment of God’s plans for His people through Jesus. These syntactical and historical elements play a huge role in helping us gain deeper insight into the biblical text.

Holy-Spirit-Dove-small

WHAT ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT?

The above methodology is not divorced from the Holy Spirit’s work but in unison with it. The biblical text is clear that the Holy Spirit is who is teaching us God’s ways:

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13)

Ephesians 6:17-18 also illustrates this and shows how prayer and God’s Word go hand and hand:

“ and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…”

IS SCRIPTURE ONLY FOR SCHOLARS?

Why would God make Scripture in such a way that requires us to dig in and to study it and not just fed it to us like cotton candy? I like Dr. Walt Russell’s answer to this question.

He says, “…Jesus Christ will not do for His followers what He has deemed them capable of doing for themselves. The friends of Lazarus were unable to call him forth from the dead as they stood around his tomb. Only Jesus the Messiah could do that (John 11:43). However, once Lazarus was raised, Jesus expected these dumbfounded folks to unwrap all the burial wrappings binding Lazarus so that he could be free (john 11:44). It was not that Jesus was too lazy or proud to do this. Rather He would not do what He deemed humans capable of doing because He respected their dignity.”[1]

But can non-scholars really understand the Bible in a true and meaningful way?

Absolutely.

crystal-clear-vision-clarity

Wayne Grudem has read an extremely detailed article outlining the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture that is well worth the read. I am only going to high light a couple aspects of Grudem’s article to show that God has designed Scripture to be useful to all men and women in teaching
them about God and living righteousness (2nd Tim. 3:16).

1)   Scripture was designed to be taught (and understandable) to children (Deut. 6:6-7)

2)     Paul wrote to various churches composed of both non-educated and educated people and those of all ages and backgrounds (1 Cor. 1:2, Gal 1:2, Phil 1:1, etc.)

3)   Those who search to understand the Scriptures are commended for doing so (Acts 17:11)

These scriptural realities should give us confidence in God’s providence for His Word and encourage us to dig deeper into it.

God has given us His Word according to His eternal purpose and plan and it never fails (Isa. 55:11).

As we continue in our study of Matthew and as you do your own personal Bible study let us seek God prayerfully together in understanding what His Word tells us. Let us not lose heart with difficult or confusing passages but trust that God has a purpose and meaning even if we can’t understand it yet. And let us find confidence in the fact that God is the perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2) and the one who is directing us on our journey with Jesus!

 


[1] Walt Russell, Playing With Fire, pg 22

Gems In The Genealogies: Examining Matthew 1:1-17

•December 10, 2013 • 2 Comments

When most of us come to the genealogies in the Bible our eyes begin to glaze over or we are so confused at how to pronounce the names that we just skip them.

gems_on_whiteDon’t. There are gems contained in there that will illuminate the rest of the biblical book.

Here’s the text (Matthew 1:1-17):

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 To Abraham was born Isaac; and to Isaac, Jacob; and to Jacob, Judah and his brothers; 3 and to Judah were born Perez and Zerah by Tamar; and to Perez was born Hezron; and to Hezron, Ram; 4 and to Ram was born Amminadab; and to Amminadab, Nahshon; and to Nahshon, Salmon; 5 and to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab; and to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth; and to Obed, Jesse; 6 and to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah; 7 and to Solomon was born Rehoboam; and to Rehoboam, Abijah; and to Abijah, Asa; 8 and to Asa was born Jehoshaphat; and dto Jehoshaphat, Joram; and to Joram, Uzziah; 9 and to Uzziah was born Jotham; and to Jotham, Ahaz; and to Ahaz, Hezekiah; 10 and to Hezekiah was born Manasseh; and to Manasseh, Amon; and to Amon, Josiah; 11 and to Josiah were born Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 And after the deportation to Babylon, to Jeconiah was born Shealtiel; and to Shealtiel, Zerubbabel; 13 and to Zerubbabel was born Abihud; and to Abihud, Eliakim; and to Eliakim, Azor; 14 and to Azor was born Zadok; and to Zadok, Achim; and to Achim, Eliud; 15 and to Eliud was born Eleazar; and to Eleazar, Matthan; and to Matthan, Jacob; 16 and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17 Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the time of Christ fourteen generations.”

Eyes glazed over yet or did you just skim down to this sentence? =)

DIGGING INTO THE TEXT

The word “genealogy” in the English translation is literally the word “genesis” (or “origin”) in the original Greek. It communicates the idea that a fulfillment of a new creation is taking place.[1] This fulfillment is in the context of God’s grand design for His people that culminate in the coming promised Messiah. As Michael Wilkin’s puts it, “Just as Genesis gave the story of one beginning-God’s creation and covenant relations with Israel –so the Gospel of Matthew gives the story of a new beginning-the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God (cf. also Mark 1:1).[2]

The Apostle Matthew focuses on the two most prominent figures in Israel’s history: Abraham and David. He shows that Jesus has both the biblical pedigree and authority to usher in the Kingdom of God as the long awaited Messiah.[3]

BigTree

The gospel writer also throws us some things we might not expect in such a royal lineage: he places four women of whom many readers would consider of questionable character. Writing about this R.T. France writes, “…the four mothers included in the list certainly make a strikingly unconventional group to find within the pedigree of the Messiah of Israel, in that probably all four them were non-Israelite (Tamar and Rahab were Canaanites, Ruth a Moabite and Bathsheba the wife of a Hittite). Moreover, their stories do not fit comfortable into traditional patterns of sexual morality. Tamar’s seduction of her father-in-law, Rahab’s prostitution, and Bathsheba’s adultery…”[4] In regards to Ruth he cites the “questionable” behavior at the feet of Boaz in the threshing floor.[5] It seems clear that the reason Matthew puts these women in the text is to show that God can use anyone and that His plans will not be thwarted, even by sin.

Another element of the text that is “hidden” to English readers is found in verse 16.

and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Up until this point the word for “born” (or beget) has been used as an active verb to show the relationship between father and son (Abraham to Isaac, etc.). However the second instance of the word “born” in verse 16 (…“by whom was born Jesus,…) becomes a passive verb that “seems to imply the divine activity made clear in 1:18-25.”[6]

Put another way the change in this verb seems to show that there wasn’t anything “active” on the part of Joseph in Jesus being born (as oppose to other individuals mentioned in the genealogy) but the “passive” power of the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary that will take place in the next couple verses (see 1:18-25).

Thus it becomes a kind of biblical support for the concept of the doctrine immaculate conception (i.e. how Mary bore Jesus while still being a virgin).

DIFFICULTIES

There are some known difficulties with this passage in terms of reconciling it with Luke’s and the genealogies of Chronicles and Kings in the Old Testament.[7] Various solutions have been put forward but it seems like the best, given the limitation on available data, is to understand that Matthew is not providing an exhaustive list of the genealogies but to show that Jesus’ relationship to the three great epochs of Israel’s history: Abraham (its beginning), David (at its “peak”) and the Exile/Return (at perhaps its lowest).[8]

Matthew’s intent seems to be to communicate to His readers that God has been faithful to His promises in blessing the entire world through Abraham’s seed (Gen. 12:1-13) and that a King from David’s line would rule God’s people forever (2 Sam. 7:16) in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

The fourteen numerology also raises questions because Matthew didn’t clarify why he organized it that way. Three basic reasons have been given, none of which really affect Matthews’s overall intent. The three are:

1)  That the Hebrew letters (each symbolizing a number, 1, 2, 3, etc. according to their order in the Hebrew alphabet) for “David” add up to fourteen (four, six, four respectively).[9] Hence Matthew wanted to reaffirm the messianic idea that the line of David (“son of David” in the text) had finally come.

2) A “doubling” of the symbolically powerful number seven within Judaism.[10]

3) “It corresponds to the number of high priests from Aaron to the establishment of Solomon’s Temple; the number of high priest from the establishment of the Temple until Jaddua, the last high priest mentioned in Scripture.”[11] Thus affirming the spiritual significance of Jesus’ coming onto the scene.

WHO CARES?

This is all nice information about a text and the biblical book but if you’ve survived reading this far I want to give you some personal payout for the study (hopefully).

Here are three principles that I think can be applied from the text. Mind you these are genealogies so I want you to see how much good stuff is in the Bible, even the parts we consider “mundane”!

promise1)  God is faithful to fulfill His promises to His people.

This genealogy spans over a thousand years but it shows that God never forgot nor altered His plan. We can trust God to fulfill the many promises He has given us through His Word even when it seems like he’s forgotten (Abraham), we screw up big time (David) or both (Israel’s exile/return).

2) There are no limits to who God can use for His purposes.

Your family background nor your history does not disqualify you from the Kingdom of God. The women mentioned in Jesus’ family line are not “suppose” to be there. Yet God saw it fitting to use what others thought unusable. To love what some would think unlovable. God is in the business of that and calls us to trust Him and follow him regardless of our past.

3) Dig into the biblical text

There are treasures in God’s Word that become apparent to us only when we really dig down deep into it. Perhaps for some of you this is the first you’ve heard of some of these aspects of the genealogies. I can assure you I only skimmed the surface there are more nuggets in God’s Word because it’s inexhaustible because He is inexhaustible. Keep digging.

As you go about today take a moment to reflect on some of the promises you know God has given His people in Scripture. Open your Bible and read through them a couple times and let them sink deeply into you. Then take an opportunity to confess and share your heart with God about things you feel have been keeping you back from surrendering aspects of your life to Him whether its past hurts, finances, shame and guilt or things you don’t understand about the Christian life.

I assure He knows them already and is bigger than all of them. He just wants you to know and live in the freedom of that reality because He has given you all things already through Jesus Christ!


[1] France, NICNT: The Gospel of Matthew, pg 28

[2] Michael Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, pg 55

[3] David L. Turner, Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament: Matthew, pg 54

[4] R.T. France, pg 36-37

[5] lbid.

[6] Turner, pg 61

[7] Leon Morris, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Matthew, pg 22-23

[8] Turner, pg 58

[9] R.T. France, pg 31

[10] Morris, pg 23

[11] Morris, 25

When Work Is Pain

•December 8, 2013 • 2 Comments

As a result of the curse (Gen. 3) our work doesn’t always fulfill us in the ways it was designed to. Some of us are waking up today knowing that it’s going to be a long day and others of us will get hit by it before our first cup of coffee.

thorns-and-thistles-padmanabhan-ramchander

But we always have choices on how we can respond.

“Woe is me” is one response we can choose whereby we victimize ourselves and the situation we find ourselves in. We think to ourselves that “this shouldn’t be happening to me, it’s not fair and it’s not right.”

Or we may respond by releasing our anger, frustration or stress on other people around us. “If only so and so would do their job right I wouldn’t be in the situation I am in”. We become overly critical and our capacity for mercy quickly dries up for anyone who crosses us reminds us of the bad day we are having.

The hard thing is we may be right. It isn’t fair and those people do to a poor job that makes my job ten times harder. And there may be appropriate times to explain something to management or let someone know how they might help the team better. However, a personal heart check needs to take place before that.

As Jesus’ followers we are not to be known for our self pity or complaining because that wasn’t how Jesus lived.

But some of us may try and “will ourselves through the day”. We say little adages to ourselves such as, “God only puts us through things we can handle.” In some ways this may be helpful because it communicates that we are going to get through this situation/experience even if it feels impossible in the moment because God is in control (which is true).

However the glaring problem with this phrase is that it’s not biblical.

The verse that people often cite as support for the idea is 1st Cor. 10:13,

 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

As you can see the text clearly indicates that temptation to sin is mind, not any difficult or painful situation we find ourselves in. Therefore what the verse is saying is that as believers encounter sin  in their daily lives we are no longer bound to obey it (Rom. 6:6-14) but can trust that God will provide a way out from it if we choose to obey Him. Be careful using this to try and encourage others in painful/difficult situations because it can often minimize the struggle they are experiencing and because it can make God feel “far off” as oppose to near and close to their situation.

So what are we to do then in the midst of difficulties at work and in life in general?

Jesus explains to us as He did to His disciples in Matthew 11:28-30:

Peter.1“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

We are suppose to do the same thing we did when we realized our life was a mess before we knew Christ: Come to Him. When we encounter troubles and hardship Jesus is calling us back to Himself and reminding us of our desperate need for Him. He isn’t calling us to complain or blame others. He isn’t telling us to strap our boot straps on and push through it alone.

Jesus is calling us to remember who He, what He has done for us and our desperate need for Him in our day to day lives. As we reconnect with Him we realize who we are and who He has called us to be and that we are never alone in our situation.

As you head to work this morning, whether the day is going (or may/will go) good or bad take some time reflecting on who Jesus is and what He has done in your life on your drive to work or before you start your day. Be reminded that He is the God of the Universe who is in control of all things and is actively working all things for your ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Have peace in the realization of these things and let this verse from Jesus’ mouth go with you for the rest of your day:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Divine Doctrines: Exploring Systematic Theology

•December 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

This is the first of many “Theology Thursdays” where we will seek to understand various elements of Christian doctrine and theology by comparing different evangelical systematic theologies together.

“Doctrine divides”. “I just need Jesus and my Bible”.

These phrases can often be heard in many church circles. The essence of the premise is that as long as we have the “basic Gospel message” things like doctrine and theology are at best not that important and at worse a means of division within the body of Christ that should be avoided.

The problem is that the “basic Gospel message” is meaningless without sound doctrine and theology to under-gird it.

The elements that make up the “basic Gospel message” in the person of Jesus, His sacrificial death on the cross and His powerful resurrection are loaded with theology that if removed make it unrecognizable.

augustine - heart and mind

But what is theology?

Theology at its most basic level can be defined as the study of God. However the word “study” is where modern readers can get into trouble. It has led some to believe that theology is merely studying books or dealing with ideas in an ivory tower rather than an interactive relationship with a Person.

A better way of thinking about theology is the knowledge about God inseparably intertwined with the knowledge of God.

I think of it like someone becoming a doctor. You have to study and read books to get a framework understanding of the ins and outs of the human body and the various alignments that can plague it. However if you don’t perform surgeries/treatments and do hands on research applying the knowledge you have learned you aren’t really a doctor you’re just a reader.

In a similar fashion if we just read theology books or even the Bible without applying it in our daily lives we too become “readers” as oppose to doers of the Word of God (Jas. 1:22).

Globe-Puzzle-Pieces

Over the next couple months we are going to look at aspects of Christian theology by comparing various evangelical Systematic Theologies. These books are designed to summarize and organize aspects of theology (biblical, historical, etc.) into categories. They are helpful in formulating a Christian worldview and understanding what the Bible and Christian tradition has said about “x” or “y” doctrine. My aim in this is to help explain these doctrines, show why they are important and how they apply to our day to day lives in our journey with Jesus.

Because the reality is good theology is always rooted in an interactive between persons in the context of a relationship. In our case it is between God and His image bearers.

Next week we will be looking at the doctrine of the Word of God and how it is the foundation for our understanding of theology.