Friday, November 30, 2012


Tullian Tchividjian post:  Two Ways to Run

In an essay on sanctification, Gerhard Forde writes about the two ways we can run from God–breaking the rules and keeping the rules:
If our righteousness depends totally on Jesus, and is appropriated only in the relationship of trust (faith), then we begin to see that God has two problems with us. The relationship can be broken in two ways.
The first would be our failure, our immorality, our vices, our rule breaking. Since we lack faith and hope in God’s cause, the relationship is threatened or broken; we go our own way. That problem is usually quite obvious.
But the second problem is not so obvious. It is precisely our supposed success, our “morality”, our virtues, our rule keeping. The relationship with God is broken to the degree that we think we don’t need unconditional justification, or perhaps even to the degree that we think we are going to use God to achieve our own ideas of sanctity. The relationship is broken precisely because we think it is our holiness.
The first problem, our failure and immorality, is usually most easily recognized and generally condemned because it has consequences both personally and socially. But the second problem, while generally approved in human eyes because it is advantageous and socially useful, is more dangerous before God because it is praised and sought after. It is the kind of hypocrisy Jesus criticized so vehemently in the gospels: “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Matt. 23:27).

Begins With A Seed

Ed Stetzer:  Subversive Preaching: A Excerpt from Subversive Kingdom

"Consider the sower who went out to sow" (Matt. 13:3). Jesus' first parable about the kingdom of God speaks less about what the kingdom is than how the kingdom begins.
It begins with a seed.
This is the same "seed" Peter was talking about when he said we've been "born again--not of perishable seed but of imperishable--through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Pet. 1:23). It's what the psalmist was referring to in saying that "though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves" (Ps. 126:6).
The seed is the Word.
The Word starts everything--"the word about the kingdom" (Matt. 13:19). This is what God uses to produce an exponentially expanding realm of his rule and influence, "some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown" (v. 8).
No Word, no kingdom.
Each of us has been raised on certain givens, standards, and traditions that may or may not find their basis in scriptural truth. The ideas that motivate us, determine our priorities, frame our ethics, and inform our behaviors can come from anywhere--books, interviews, random trails of thought that float into our ears and bounce around in our heads. But only the Word can produce kingdom fruit. If our lives don't start there, they cannot lead to anything that eternally matters.
Jesus taught us a striking message about this Word--that it is a kingdom-sprouting seed, producing fruit only in receptive soil. So our first job as subversive kingdom agents is to be people who "receive the implanted word" (James 1:21). This doesn't mean the Bible is the only thing we can ever read, but it does mean our impact on this culture and generation--both as individuals and through the church--depends not upon our skills and timing or our grasp of certain business models. It doesn't even depend on our eagerness to know, our sincerity to learn, or our desire to experience the Word. It depends upon our willingness to receive humbly and in faith the message of the gospel.
We must resist being merely familiar with this Word, but must drink it in as if our life depends on it (1 Pet. 2:2), letting it change our whole perspective and expectation of life. God's Spirit will produce an explosion of kingdom growth within us, then (better yet) through us.
We already know what happens when our hearts are beaten hard and resistant to God's Word. We know what it's like to give him little room for squeezing seed between the tiny cracks in our schedules. We know when our soil is so full of other interests and concerns, there's not much daylight left for the small shoots of spiritual possibility to take hold and actually do anything. In other words, we have all been the path, the rocky ground, and the thorny patch before.
But for those who are in the kingdom of Christ, we've received the Word with receptive ears and have seen the truth with spiritual sight. We've experienced the fruit of the kingdom.
When we face hard times, our soil often dries up and hard soil forms. Or when we get busy and distracted, our Christian life begins to gasp and sputter from lack of nutrition. We produce fewer kingdom fruits.
But when our hearts are truly receptive to God's Word--letting it live, grow, and germinate in us--our Lord will take care of making things happen in the fertile soil. Our desires and attitudes will become his desires and attitudes. Things will start sprouting from our work and testimony we never thought in a million years we'd ever see attached to us. The people around us will be changed and challenged by what just naturally comes up in conversation--not occasionally but regularly and consistently, in surprising amounts.
Because when the seed strikes root in good soil, the new life that springs up is a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood agent of his subversive kingdom. And with that kind of structure underneath us, we can go out intentionally with great determination to undermine the evil world order and set free its captives--especially as we join together with other believers in the church who are feasting on the Word themselves. That's how God creates entire fields of bumper kingdom crops, both here in our communities and around the world.
The Word that changes us is what also changes others.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Promises of God to Undeserving Lawbreakers

Ray Ortlund post:  How to read the Bible, and how not to

“Against those forms of Judaism that saw the law-covenant not only as lex [law] but as a hermeneutical device for interpreting the Old Testament, Paul insists that the Bible’s story line takes precedence and provides the proper hermeneutical key.”
D. A. Carson, “Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament,” JETS 40 (1997): 585.
There are two ways to read the Bible.  We can read it as law or as promise.
If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do.  Even the promises will be conditioned by law.  But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do.  Even the law will be conditioned by promise.
In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one.  “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18).
So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision, threat or promise — if we want to know how to read the Bible in an apostolic rather than a rabbinic way — we can follow the plot-line of the Bible itself and see which comes first.  And in fact, promise comes first, in God’s word to Abram in Genesis 12.  Then the law is “added” — significant word, in Galatians 3:19 — the law is added as a sidebar later, in Exodus 20.  The hermeneutical category “promise” establishes the larger, wraparound framework for everything else added in along the way.
The deepest message of the Bible is the promises of God to undeserving law-breakers through his grace in Christ.  This is not an arbitrary overlay forced onto the biblical text.  The Bible presents itself to us this way.  The laws and commands and examples and warnings are all there, fulfilled in Christ and revered by us.  But they do not provide the hermeneutic with which we make sense of the whole.  We can and should understand them as qualified by God’s gracious promise, for all who will bank their hopes on him.

Confessions of Faith

Matthew Hoskinson post:  Ancient Answers for Modern Questions

Why would a guy born in the 1970s lead a church born in the 1740s to adopt a confession of faith born in 2010?
There can be little doubt about the value of corporate confessions. One might argue that believers have "no creed but the Bible." But the very nature of the Bible demands that we summarize its truth as clearly and comprehensively as possible. Otherwise when someone asks what the Bible teaches, no other option is available except a weeks-long study of the question from one end of the Bible to the other. Not only is such a method impractical, the data overwhelm us like the toys scattered around my daughters' bedroom, begging for someone to collect and organize them for ease of access---not to mention sanity.
No wonder, then, that the Scriptures themselves employ confessions of faith. Paul writes to Timothy, "Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen of angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, received up to glory" (1 Tim. 3:15). Here is the life of Jesus worked into six pithy, portable sayings. This confession does not include every detail of his life, but it offers a framework for everything that is true about Christ while countering false notions that had arisen.
Church history is replete with confessions that organize biblical truth and ward off heresy. When our congregation incorporated as the First Baptist Church in the City of New York in 1762, our founders adopted the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. Since then our church has completely rewritten its articles of faith twice and significantly revised the statement once.
One might wonder why a church like ours would change its doctrinal statement. Could it be a desire to make Christianity more palatable to the world? Certainly! But given the consistent fidelity to the Scriptures evident in each of our confessions, one must conclude that other factors were in play.
1. New challenges to the faith require fresh statements of biblical truth for contemporary audiences.
Such was certainly the case in 1935 when our church adopted our current confession. The preceding statement assumed but did not assert Jesus' bodily resurrection. The modernist denial of the supernatural necessitated a clear statement on the point.
2. A church may change its thinking about secondary theological matters.
A case in point is the application of Old Testament Sabbath principles to New Testament believers. So also is the "manner of receiving persons" into the church's fellowship, a point detailed in our 1839 confession but deleted in a revision two years later.
3. A church recognizes the need to clarify its theological stance.
The oversight of Christ's resurrection in our 1841 statement exemplifies the point, as does Francis Beckwith's persuasive argument that the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society leaves room for Roman Catholics to join.
For these reasons I am leading our congregation to consider replacing our articles of faith. While some friends suggest that we return to a historic confession of our past, my recommendation is to adopt (with minor revision) The Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement. This confession has the following advantages:
1. Contemporary. TGC's Confessional Statement addresses issues with which the church today wrestles. For example, its authors address the challenge of open theism in the first article, postmodern deconstructionism in the second, and homosexuality in the third. The confession tacitly refers to contemporary challenges by explicitly articulating biblical truth.
2. Evangelical. Since The Gospel Coalition represents a wide swath of Protestantism, the Confessional Statement avoids some of the denominational cul-de-sacs that often receive the heaviest treatment in narrower confessions. The focus here is on the "deep and broad consensus [that] exists regarding the truths of the gospel," as the Preamble states. While individuals and churches certainly believe more, the statement keeps the gospel as the functional center of our lives and churches without succumbing to an unthinking ecumenism that erases biblically drawn lines in the name of a gospel-less unity.
3. Affably complementarian. The third article treats the creation and design of humanity in greater detail than most confessions of faith, developing the equality that women and men enjoy before God, the unique blessing (and consequent non-interchangeability) of the sexes, and so on. On each point the Confessional Statement reflects a complementarian understanding of Scripture. But complementarians often present biblical teaching in terms of what is disallowed rather than celebrate the diversity of the sexes and the God who brings glory to himself through both men and women.
4. Biblical-theological. The confession quotes the Bible freely and uses Scriptural phraseology wherever possible. Furthermore, its theological method makes room for matters given significant biblical treatment but often left untreated in confessions. In this respect most notable is Article 10 on the kingdom of God. Central to Jesus' teaching, this topic has enormous ramifications for our ecclesiology, eschatology, and indeed our soteriology.
5. Doxological. Some otherwise orthodox confessions read like the conclusions of a detached, analytical scientist, rather than the warm-hearted, God-glorifying devotion that such truth ought to stir. How much better would it be for us to theologize coram deo, that the product might redound to his glory. Here again the Confessional Statement is exemplary. Regularly recurring through the statement is the phrase from Ephesians 1, "to the praise of his glorious grace." The one true God has done all things for our joy and his glory, so our theology  should always result in doxology.
The Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement is not a perfect document, and within a hundred years (or sooner!) another generation of believers will opt for something different to help them understand the Scriptures and face their world. Nevertheless this statement is a helpful guide to biblical truth and will, I hope, be an instrument by which the Lord keeps his people faithful to him until the next generation arises.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Continuing Need for Grace

Ed Stetzer post:  Dangerous Calling:  An Interview with Paul Tripp

Today, I welcome author and speaker Paul Tripp to the blog. Paul is professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas and the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care under the auspices of the Association of Biblical Counselors.
His latest book, Dangerous Calling, reveals the truth that the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy. This environment actively undermines the wellbeing and efficacy of our church leaders and thus the entire church body. It is a book that both diagnoses and offers cures for issues that impact every member and church leader, and gives solid strategies for fighting the all-important war that rages in our churches today.
Paul will be hanging around the comments on the blog today, so if you have a question about the book or the interview, feel free to ask them below.

You say that you couldn't not write this book. It was that important. Why do you feel this book is so needed?
As I have traveled around the world I have had hundreds of pastors tell me their stories. I have been concerned and saddened at the numbers of pastors who somehow, someway have lost their way in the middle of their own ministry story. To add to this, the temptations they have been dealing with are so subtle and deceptive that most of them didn't know what danger they were in until it was too late.
Like me, through all of your travels and speaking opportunities you meet a lot of pastors. How would you describe the state of the pastoral culture? What seems to be the biggest dysfunction?
Isn't it ironic that in many situations no one receives less regular heart exposing, transforming and encouraging ministry than the one who gives leadership to the ministry of the local church-- the pastor? It is quite normal for pastors to live in a culture of isolation and separation. One pastor cogently captured it for me this way as he said, "Everyone else in the body of Christ can confess sin, but if I do I'm done." The reality is that every pastor is a person in the middle of his own sanctification. A pastoral culture of silence and separation simply can't work. Is it workable for a pastor to live in isolation from the essential sanctifying ministry of the body of Christ?
You're very candid about your own identity struggle as a pastor. How were you tempted and deceived in this identity struggle? How did you come to realize and repent of it?
I was seduced into thinking I was someone I wasn't because of my academic sucess, my theological knowledge and my leadership gifts when actually I was an angry man who was on the way to destroying my life and ministry. In a remarkable moment of powerful rescuing grace, God used a conversation with my brother, Tedd, to open my eyes. The next few months were very painful. I wasn't zapped by lightning, becoming immediately anger-free. No, rather I saw the anger that had gripped me everywhere. But the pain was the pain of grace; a principal tool in God's work of rescue and turning.
You mention 3 themes that can lead to spiritual blindness, even as a pastor. What are those themes?
If sin blinds, and it does, then as long as sin still lives inside of me there will be pockets of spiritual blindness. What is so dangerous about spiritual blindness is that unlike physically blind people, who are aware that they are blind, spiritually blind people tend to be blind to their blindness. So, it's tempting for the pastor to move through his ministry thinking that no one has a more accurate view of him than he does. The fact is that his view of himself has been distorted by the fact that he is in ministry, his maturity has been redefined by biblical literacy and theological expertise and he has confused ministry success with God's endorsement of his character and lifestyle.
Why do people often misdiagnose biblical maturity? What does real biblical maturity look like and how can a pastor cultivate it?
Ministry gifts, knowledge, experience, and success are able to tempt a pastor to think he is more mature than he actually is. Maturity is being humbly aware of your continuing need for grace in a way that causes you to daily run to God for help, consume the rescuing wisdom of his Word and determine by grace to live as God has commanded.
What would you say is wrong with the way that we seek to prepare people for ministry in the local church?
I think it is quite possible in the academic Christianity of the seminary environment to forget that a person's ministry is never just shaped by his knowledge, gifts and skill. It is also inescapably shaped by the condition of his heart. I think we need to be more functionally committed to pastoral academics.
What deficiencies do you often see in the hiring process of a pastor?
We cannot allow ourselves to call pastors to local church ministry who we essentially don't know. We must be interested in the whole man not just in the degree of his theological knowledge and agreement, his ministry track-record or his leadership gifts. In ministry it is very hard to train others to live with passion, humility and courage when you yourself don't have those qualities.

Merciful and Gracious

Ray Ortlund post:  Who is God?

The following is a liturgy we have used at Immanuel Church.  It is based on William Bridge’s A Lifting Up For The Downcast (1648), in which Bridge uses God’s self-revelation in Exodus 34 to deconstruct the objections we raise against God’s grace.  There is no more wonderful question than, Who is God, especially in relation to compulsive sinners?  Exodus 34 is God’s own answer to that question.
A number of people in various locations have asked for this.  I am glad to make it available:

Leader:  Who is God?
All:  He is the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.

Leader:  But does God really want to help me?
All:  He is a God merciful and wants to help.

Leader:  But what is there in me to move him to care?
All:  He is a God gracious, motivated by his own love.

Leader:  But I’ve been sinful and backward for too long.
All:  He is a God slow to anger.

Leader:  But I’ve sinned extremely, blatantly, aboundingly.
All:  He is a God abounding in steadfast love.

Leader:  But I’m weak and unfaithful to him.
All:  He is a God abounding in faithfulness.

Leader:  But God works only with big important people.
All:  He keeps steadfast love for thousands.

Leader:  But I’ve sinned in so many different ways.
All:  He forgives iniquity and transgression and sin – all kinds.

Leader:  But if I let myself believe this, it makes God seem unserious.
All:  He will by no means clear the guilty.  But if any sinner desires God, he may have God as his mighty Friend through Christ.  This we believe, and we live again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rest In Good News

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer about Sin’s Desire for Us and God’s Grace for Us

     The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Gen. 4:6-7
     Dear Lord Jesus, I’m always vulnerable to the destructive power of sin, but it seems like I’m especially vulnerable when there’s some kind of emotional upheaval in my heart. Like Cain, when I’m angry and sulking about something or someone, I can be easily “had” by sin, giving in to its desire—its seductive and destructive ways. I wish there was no such thing as “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25).
     Lord Jesus, thank you for pursuing me today and asking me questions like, “Why are you angry?” “Why are you so sad?” “What are you afraid of?” and “Why are you so quiet and distant?” Though you know the answers to these and every question you ask, I need to think about these things. Show me my heart, Jesus, show me what’s going on below the water line of my restlessness.
     I wish I only had to think about the sin that’s crouching just outside my door—the tempter and temptress without, just waiting to pounce. But the truth is, Jesus, until you return to finish making all things new, I’ve got to be wise to the sin that’s crouching inside of me as well. Like Paul, the very things I don’t want to do, I still do, and the very things I want to do, they’re not always easily done (Rom. 7). I long for more freedom to live and to love as I am loved by you, Jesus
     How I praise you that there’s no condemnation hanging over me for my sin, for you hung on the cross in my place. How I praise you that to be tempted is not an act of sin, for even you, Jesus, were tempted. I would despair without this knowledge of your experience.
     But the awesome and glorious truth is this: You’ve mastered sin for us, Jesus. You’ve exhausted its penalty and broken its power. Sin will not have dominion over us ever again. Hallelujah, many times over!
     In this good news, in this gospel, I rest today. As you show me my vulnerable heart, Jesus, show me your compassionate and loving heart ten times more so. That vision will more than meet my need. It’s your promise keeping, not mine, that is my peace and hope. So very Amen I pray, in your strong, present, and redeeming name.

Rhythm of Work and Rest

Tim Keller post:  The Power of Deep Rest

There is a symbiotic relationship between work and rest. Of course we know this at one level. We get away from work in order to replenish our bodies and minds. Resting, or practicing Sabbath, is also a way to help us get perspective on our work and put it in its proper place. Often we can't see our work properly until we get some distance from it and reimmerse ourselves in other activities. Then we see that there is more to life than work. With that perspective and rested bodies and minds, we return to do more and better work.
But the relationship between work and rest operates at a deeper level as well. All of us are haunted by the work under the work---that need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity. But if we can experience gospel-rest in our hearts, if we can be free from the need to earn our salvation through our work, we will have a deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates us, restores our perspective, and renews our passion.
To understand this deep rest we need to look at the biblical meaning of the Sabbath---to understand what it is a sign of, and what it points to.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Exodus 20 ties the observance of a Sabbath day to God's creation. "For God rested on the seventh day." What does this mean practically? Since God rested after his creation, we must also rest after ours. This rhythm of work and rest is not only for believers; it is for everyone, as part of our created nature. Overwork or underwork violates that nature and leads to breakdown. To rest is actually a way to enjoy and honor the goodness of God's creation and our own. To violate the rhythm of work and rest (in either direction) leads to chaos in our life and in the world around us. Sabbath is therefore a celebration of our design.
Deuteronomy 5 goes on to tie the observance of Sabbath to God's redemption. Verse 15 says, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." God portrays the Sabbath day as a reenactment of emancipation from slavery. It reminds us how he delivered his people from a condition in which they were not human beings, but simply units of capacity in Pharaoh's brick production system.
Anyone who cannot obey God's command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don't have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath. Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. It means you are not a slave---not to your culture's expectations, your family's hopes, your medical school's demands, not even to your own insecurities. It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph---otherwise you will feel guilty for taking time off, or you will be unable to truly unplug.
The Sabbath legislation in Israel was enacted after the Exodus from Egypt. It was unique among world cultures at the time. It limited work, profit taking, exploitation, and economic production in general. Every seventh day no work could be done in the fields, and every seventh year the field was to remain fallow and not be cultivated at all. This surely meant that in the short run Israel was less economically productive and prosperous than its neighbors. But it was a land of free people. In the long run, of course, a deeply rested people are far more productive.
We are also to think of Sabbath as an act of trust. God appointed the Sabbath to remind us that he is working and resting. To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward. Entrepreneurs find it especially difficult to believe this. They have high levels of competence and very few team members. If they don't put in the hours, things don't get done. How easy to fall prey to the temptation to believe that they alone are holding up their corner of creation!
But by now you must see that God is there---you are not alone in your work. Jesus' famous discourse against worry (Matthew 6:25-34) is set in the context of work. He chides us that the plants of the field are cared for, though "they do not labor or spin" (verse 28). He reminds us that we are obviously more valuable to God than plants---so we shouldn't "run after" material things through our work (verse 32). So if you are worrying during your rest, you are not practicing Sabbath. It is a chance to meditate on passages like Matthew 6 until deep rest begins to penetrate you.
We might conclude that the practical benefits of the gospel's Sabbath rest come to us only as individuals, as we pray and read the Word---but that would be a mistake. God also strengthens us through the fellowship of community with other Christians. So for example Paul calls Christians to "carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). And yet we are told that Jesus will relieve the burdened (Matthew 11:28-30) and that we are to cast all our cares and burdens on God (1 Peter 5:7) who bears them daily (Psalm 68:19). So which is it? Are we to look to God to support us under our work and burdens---or to other Christian brothers and sisters? Obviously the answer is both, because it is normally through the sympathy and encouragement of Christian friends that we experience God refreshing us and supporting us in our work.
This excerpt is adapted from Tim Keller's new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (Dutton, 2012).


Excerpt from Art Lindsley post:  5 Myths about Jubilee

Found in Leviticus 25, the biblical practice of Jubilee is becoming ever more prominent in discussions about justice, poverty, and debt relief. Many evangelical authors mention Jubilee as a biblical example of debt forgiveness and redistribution of land. It has also gained popular attention in the news media.
Jubilee has been offered by several sources as a solution to our current economic crisis. At Forbes, Erik Kain asked, "Could a debt jubilee help kickstart the economy?" Reutersprofiled economists who are seriously considering Jubilee as a tool for ending the recession, and the Huffington Post linked the practice to the demands of Occupy Wall Street. In an age of crushing federal and consumer debt, a practice that forgives financial burdens is naturally becoming quite popular.
But what is the context for the scriptural practice of Jubilee? When the Israelites reached the Promised Land, God distributed land to the 12 tribes (Joshua 13:723:4). The purpose of the Jubilee law was to keep the land in the hands of the tribes and families to which he had given land in the first place.
In Leviticus 25:8-10, a ram's horn is to be blown on the day of atonement of the 50th year (or the 49th), and each family is to return to their property. Verses 15-16 details how this process should work:
You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. 16 If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.
Today, many myths persist about this ancient practice. We'll deal with five of the major ones.

Monday, November 26, 2012

God and My Life Details

Jonathan Parnell post:  Be Stressed Out and Do Not Sin

I love the Book of Psalms. They are authoritative models of prayer and worship and therefore we return to them often for help. "When we don't know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit intercedes for us..." — and read some psalms. And in my experience, it's the easiest book to short-circuit meaning for application. Because the theology is so relevant, we can subtly gloss over what the text says to focus on us and our situations. But remember it's only for us — by God about his Son for us.
So how might it look if we read like this? Say, Psalm 4? How would it look if we asked first, "what does this text say?" and then second, "what does it mean for me right now?"
1  Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
2  O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
3  But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
  4 Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5  Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6  There are many who say, "Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!"
7  You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
8  In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

What It Means

Prayer is an important theme in this Psalm of David. It begins with the plea, "Answer me when I call" (verse 1). Again, "hear my prayer!" Then, "the Lord hears when I call to him" (verse 3). It's an amazing picture of fellowship. David talks to God and God hears David. And he keeps David. He sustains and guards him (Psalm 3:54:8).
Now these are observations. They are all by the way of discovering what the text says. But don't think we're blank-slate readers. Jesus has let us in on an important tip: the whole Bible is about him (Luke 24:25–27John 5:3946). So an integral part of discovering what this psalm means is seeing how it's connected to our Lord.
Consider again the amazing picture of fellowship: that David prays and God hears him. This is evident in Psalm 3:4 as well. David cried to the Lord and he gets an answer. This access mirrors Psalm 2:8 where the Lord invites his Son (and King) to ask whatever he wants and it will be given to him. The common thread in these first few psalms is that God hears the prayers of his king and no enemy will stand in his way. The Lord hears and ensures his King's dominion (Psalm 2:9–12). Though foes are many, the Lord lifts David's head (Psalm 3:1–3). Even when he's in great distress, David can trust in the Lord (Psalm 4:1–3).
David is undoubtedly a pointer to Jesus. The eternal kingdom promised in 2 Samuel 7:13sets in motion a greater longing for the Messiah to come. David will have a son who is king forever (and it's not Solomon). We begin to see that God's fulfillment of his promised Messiah is wrapped up with his faithfulness to David. God cuts off David's enemies because he is keeping his promise about Jesus (2 Samuel 7:98:1–1314). And this is why David is able to trust God amid his enemies in Psalm 4.
David indeed has enemies, but he says not to sin. Be angry, sure, be agitated or perturbed, but do not sin. David knows the promise and he trusts the Lord. Therefore, being the model of a faithful Israelite, he offers right sacrifices (Psalm 4:5). He believes. God is enough for him. Material stuff turns immaterial. Circumstances, come what may. His joy is in the Lordwho keeps him (Psalm 4:7–8). David's faith — his trust that the Lord will keep his promise of an eternal throne (i.e., the reign of Jesus) — propelled him fearless when distress abounded. That's what is happening in Psalm. That is what it means.

Why It Matters

I was irritable a couple days last week when I got home from work. It was the crunch of deadlines and tasks and the feeling that I never seem to get enough accomplished in a day's time. More snappy than angry, my family caught the brunt of my displaced frustration. Then I read this psalm.
David was surrounded by enemies — real enemies. That is enough to make someone angry, or agitated or perturbed, but he says not to sin. He didn't try to take things into his own hands. He trusted the Lord, which included, as I said above, a hope in the future messianic king. The Lord's faithfulness to David concerning Jesus was the foundation of his fearlessness. That's why enemies may annoy him, but they won't lead him to sinful unbelief (Psalm 4:4).
Might this same reality bear the same implications for me? Sure, there are pressures. Responsibilities abound. Concede that point. But be stressed out and do not sin. God is faithful. His care for David in reference to his promise secures care for me. Right there with David, the object of my hope is the same. I look to the same Messiah. God's unfailing love for me in Jesus reaches down into the details of my life and wields them for my good (Romans 8:28). So rather than blow off steam toward my kids, I can ponder in my own heart and be silent. I can trust in the Lord. I can bank on the fact that he's got all this under control. And that makes me a different person.
What the text says (meaning) changes me now (application). We read illumined and walk transformed.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Understanding Scripture

Practical Theology for Women post:  The Bible is the Best Commentary on Itself

During several public and private discussions lately over “literal Biblical womanhood,” I realized anew how the issue of understanding Scripture continues to plague the church. A decade ago, an assistant pastor at my old church told me the greatest piece of wisdom I have ever received on understanding Scripture—the Bible is the best commentary on itself. Since then, when I have read a New Testament verse that has the little footnote that links it to an Old Testament verse, I stop and flip to the Old Testament verse. This is Scripture telling me something about itself, linking important concepts in itself, and EXPLAINING ITSELF. My experience personally is that if you stop reading other books on interpreting the Bible and stop listening to other teachers on interpreting the Bible, and then listen for a bit to the BIBLE interpreting the Bible, a lot clears up.

Here is what the Bible has taught me about itself.

At times, God wrote out His revelation of Himself to us in the form of stories. Sometimes, He used clear commands and instructions. Within even those clear commands and instructions, God gave universal truths for all cultures and all times along with instructions that played a specific role for a finite period of time. The question then is how does Scripture reveal what parts were for a particular time and what parts transcend time or culture?

Most believers agree that not all parts of Scripture should be literally followed today, as evidenced by the fact that no modern Christian group offers animal sacrifices. However, beyond animal sacrifices, there are divergent perspectives within the larger evangelical movement on how we know what is required for today, especially in terms of application to women. The most important insight the Bible gives us for understanding itself is that Jesus' life and death fulfilled the Old Testament Law. Jesus says clearly in Luke 24 that all of the Law and Prophets pointed to Him. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus also teaches something specifically about the Old Testament Law, which says some very odd things to women that we may be tempted to write off simply due to their weirdness. He says,  
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
He states this previous to His death and reinforces an impossible standard, that we need to keep the Law better than the Pharisees. After His death, Paul teaches that Jesus alone was the only one who could keep the Law as God intended, and His death marked the great exchange where our sins were contributed to Christ's account and His righteousness was attributed to ours. 
2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We are now counted as having kept the Law as Jesus did! Paul says in Romans 10:4 that Christ is the end point of the Law for all who believe in Him.

The Law served several purposes. First, it served to show civilization what God values. We value the dignity of human life, care of the poor, fidelity in marriage, fairness in business dealings, rest, and worship because God first showed us through the Law that He cared about such things. Second, the Law showed from multiple different angles both our need for a Savior and what He would look like when He comes.

Some Christian groups distinguish between categories of the Law such as ceremonial, sacrificial, and moral law. But the Bible does not make such distinctions, and I find those distinctions confusing rather than helpful. There are many wrong ways to think about Old Testament laws. They should not be written off, ignored, or abolished. Instead, Jesus fulfilled them. He brought them to completion, and their purpose is concluded. The entire books of Galatians and Hebrews are spent exploring this point. 
Galatians 3 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
The author of Hebrews, quoting Jeremiah, says that the Law is now written on our hearts (Hebrews 10:16). What God did externally through His Law, He now does internally through the Holy Spirit. 

Not only did Jesus fulfill the Law, He boiled it all down for us so that we could continue living in the essence of what the Law was meant to convey to us about God's character and His desires for His children. Jesus summed this up with the Golden Rule and Greatest Command.
Matthew 7 12“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  
Matthew 22 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
After studying portions of the Old Testament Law over the years, I have a new appreciation for God's purposes and protections to His children by way of them. There was no government but God at the time. His instructions through the law encompassed much more than simple morality as we perceive it today. There was no FDA or OSHA. God gave this law at the dawn of civilization, and at that point, civilization was not very civilized. What kind of instructions were needed for people dealing with the most basic of dietary and sanitary needs? For instance, it makes sense that God would instruct His people in Leviticus 11 not to eat bottom dwelling shellfish, the scavengers of the ocean. Even today, despite modern refrigeration and testing for bacteria, people often get sick from eating them. How much greater the risk for God's children who had no refrigeration and no ability to test for bacteria.

That instruction is a fairly easy one to understand. There are others that are not. Some instructions simply seem odd. Others seem downright brutal. We do not know God's exact reason for each, but understanding that God was giving basic instructions at the dawn of civilization to people with no government, police, or medical help gives insight into their general purpose.

Not only is the Old Testament Law fulfilled in Jesus, there is another helpful principle for understanding Scripture. Bible story is not the same as Bible instruction. Some Scripture passages describe what happened while others prescribe what we are to do. Just because the Bible tells a story does not mean we are to emulate the details of that story.

The book of Judges is helpful in demonstrating the difference. There, God describes ugly things in Israel's history, and He does it without much discussion of whether the things described are good or evil. At the end of this story, He writes, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The description in Judges serves to show the need of God's children for the true King of Kings who would save them from their depravity.

Combining these principles for reading Scripture together, we start to get a clearer picture of how to receive Scripture on any subject, especially the topic of “Biblical womanhood.” We start in Genesis 1 and 2 where God states in perfection that every woman is an image bearer of God reflecting especially His strong help and advocacy for His children. From there, I recommend studying Ephesians, where Paul lays out our spiritual inheritance via the gospel as the key to once again being the imitators of God (Eph. 5:1) that He created us to be in Genesis 2. In between, the Old Testament Law pointed toward Christ and was fulfilled in Him. Proverbs 31 gives insight, wisdom, and understanding (not law), which is best received under the press of the Holy Spirit who helps us apply it in ways that are actually wise in our own lives as opposed to the conclusions some may espouse when they try to convict us in place of the Spirit. The New Testament reaffirms the summary moral code of the Ten Commandments. Jesus even intensifies it in His Sermon on the Mount. The essence is summed up in the Greatest Command and Golden Rule. Much of the epistles then flesh out what such love looks like in the New Covenant, and we can trust those instructions even as we wrestle with the Holy Spirit to understand and apply them.

The Bible really is the best commentary on itself.

* Adapted from Chapter 8 of The Gospel-Centered Woman.