Archive for June, 2011

Mere Human

“… are you not behaving as mere men?” 1 Cor 3:4b

We are no longer merely human when we walk by the Spirit of God! We don’t have the excuse that “everybody does that…” because, by the grace of God, we aren’t like “everybody”. Mistakes happen and we sin quite a bit, but we must not forget that we are not mere men and so we can conquer whatever failing or weakness we have relying on the Spirit of grace! In the specific context of the verse, the problem was division in the Body of Christ. We can talk about ecumenicity and the positives and negatives of that constant struggle, but before we touch the grand scale ecumenical issues, we should have united and loving bodies of believers who are dedicated to dealing with each other with grace and peace as the supernatural norm, not “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” judgmental and divisive quarreling like in the world.

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Mark 10:32-45, Some Thoughts and Questions

32They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, 33saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. 34They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”

35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

-Mark 10:32-45 (NASB)

The first thing that the Sons of Thunder do after Jesus describes (in excruciating detail) his own crucifixion to them is to demand (the “impudence” in this case is not to be recommended, methinks!) a seat at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory. They are seeking after glory when Jesus is showing them His humiliation.

It is interesting to note that Jesus is glorified on the cross in His baptism/humiliation, and he has one thief/insurrectionist on his left and one on his right (Mark 15:24). This really was the judgment of the world (John 12:31) and a humanity, rebellious insurrectionists against God who considered their sonship in Adam robbery and rebelled against their Maker, is divided by the cross of Christ, some on the left and others on the right (cf. Matthew 25:33), some to condemnation and others to renewed sonship in Christ.

The Sons of Thunder (or their mother on another occasion) thought that they could bear the cup of the Father’s wrath. This sort of misunderstanding is just what one would come to expect reading the Gospels’ account of the Twelve. The real puzzling part is Jesus’ answer. These Thunder-children will drink of that cup. They will be baptized with this same baptism. I assume that this is Jesus saying that they will suffer many things and then receive hundredfold what they lost (Mark 10:28-31). God sacrificed Israel (the faithful of Israel, that is to say, Jesus, Isaiah 53’s Suffering Servant) in order to receive the nations as his inheritance. Psalm 2 and Daniel 7:13 give us a picture of this inheritance reception. This may have some implications for our understanding of Paul’s baptismal theology in terms of union with Christ in His death (cf Rom 6:3 et al.) in order to be raised in justification and new life by faith.

Here begin full-bodied questions:

1. In what sense is the faithful suffering of the saints similar to Christ’s suffering?

2. How does Jesus’ teaching about serving apply to Christian civil magistrates? In what sense must/can the civil magistrate “lay his life down as a ransom for many”? One must be careful here!

If you disagree with anything, be gentle, for I am still learning precision in the written medium!

Puzzling Verse with Commentary!

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” 2 Cor 10:5,6 (NASB)

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” 2 Cor 10:5,6 (ESV)

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” 2 Cor 10:5,6 (KJV)

Calvin’s commentary (From Christian Classics Ethereal Library) on the passage:

…by contrivances he means, whatever pertains to carnal wisdom.

The term high thing denotes any kind of glory and power in this world. There is no reason, therefore, why a servant of Christ should dread anything, however formidable, that may stand up in opposition to his doctrine. Let him, in spite of it, persevere, and he will scatter to the winds every machination of whatever sort. Nay more, the kingdom of Christ cannot be set up or established, otherwise than by throwing down everything in the world that is exalted. For nothing is more opposed to the spiritual wisdom of God than the wisdom of the flesh; nothing is more at variance with the grace of God than man’s natural ability, and so as to other things. Hence the only foundation of Christ’s kingdom is the abasement of men. And to this effect are those expressions in the Prophets:

The moon shall be ashamed, and the sun shall be confounded,
when the Lord shall begin to reign in that day; (Isaiah 24:23.)

Again,

The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the high looks of mortals shall be abased, and the Lord alone shall be
exalted in that day.(Isaiah 5:15, and Isaiah 2:17)

Because, in order that God alone may shine forth, it is necessary that the glory of the world should vanish away.

5. And bring into captivity I am of opinion, that, having previously spoken more particularly of the conflict of spiritual armor, along with the hinderances that rise up in opposition to the gospel of Christ, he now, on the other hand, speaks of the ordinary preparation, by which men must be brought into subjection to him. For so long as we rest in our own judgment, and are wise in our own estimation, we are far from having made any approach to the doctrine of Christ. Hence we must set out with this, that

he who is wise must become a fool, (1 Corinthians 3:18,)

that is, we must give up our own understanding, and renounce the wisdom of the flesh, and thus we must present our minds to Christ empty that he may fill them. Now the form of expression must be observed, when he says, that he brings every thought into captivity, for it is as though he had said, that the liberty of the human mind must be restrained and bridled, that it may not be wise, apart from the doctrine of Christ; and farther, that its audacity cannot be restrained by any other means, than by its being carried away, as it were, captive. Now it is by the guidance of the Spirit, that it is brought to allow itself to be placed under control, and remain in a voluntary captivity.

6. And are in readiness to avenge. This he adds, lest insolent men should presumptuously lift themselves up in opposition to his ministry, as if they could do so with impunity. Hence he says, that power had been given him — not merely for constraining voluntary disciples to subjection to Christ, but also for inflicting vengeance upon the rebellious, and that his threats were not empty bugbears, but had the execution quite in readiness — to use the customary expression. Now this vengeance is founded on Christ’s word —

whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven. (Matthew 18:18.)

For although God does not thunder forth immediately on the minister’s pronouncing the sentence, yet the decision is ratified, and will be accomplished in its own time. Let it, however, be always understood, that it is when the minister fights with spiritual armor. Some understand it as referring to bodily punishments, by means of which the Apostles inflicted vengeance upon contumacious and impious persons; as for example, Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead, and Paul struck Elymas the sorcerer blind. (Acts 5:1-10, and Acts 13:6-11.) But the other meaning suits better, for the Apostles did not make use of that power invariably or indiscriminately. Paul, however, speaks in general terms that he has vengeance ready at hand against all the disobedient.

When your obedience shall be fulfilled How prudently he guards against alienating any by excessive severity! For as he had threatened to inflict punishment upon the rebellious, that he may not seem to provoke them, he declares that another duty had been enjoined upon him with regard to them — simply that of making them obedient to Christ. And, unquestionably, this is the proper intention of the gospel, as he teaches both in the commencement and in the close of the Epistle to the Romans. (Romans 1:5, andRomans 16:26.) Hence all Christian teachers ought carefully to observe this order, that they should first endeavor with gentleness to bring their hearers to obedience, so as to invite them kindly before proceeding to inflict punishment upon rebellion. Hence, too, Christ has given the commandment as to loosing before that of binding.

I am not as puzzled by the fifth verse, as by the sixth, but I will just go with Calvin on the meaning until something more clear comes along. The translations significantly differ with one another, which is another puzzling point. I don’t get the King James rendition at all.

I came across this verse using ESV Greek tools looking for all occurrences of the greek word for “obedience”. It is always shocking that I come across verses I have read so many times (the beginning of the sentence is quite oft quoted!) yet have really no idea about the meaning of the end? We should all be careful to really read what we are reading.

If anyone can more clearly explain what the verse means, then please do so! Calvin’s explanation does not sit too well with me, though I think what he is saying is good and true, I am not sure that is what Paul is saying. But until I know (do not hesitate to comment here or at facebook!) I will just go with Calvin (a safe road, to be sure!).

Speaking the Truth in Love

I don’t think you can choose truth over love, because if you sacrifice love you have not understood the truth.

They are mutually inclusive, and setting up a hypothetical situation in which one is asked to choose between truth and love is creating a false dichotomy. Going even further and saying you would choose one over the other is, in my mind, evidence of disordered priorities.

Sure, there may be certain circumstances in which truth or love should be emphasized over the other as a corrective to error, but both are always necessary. Truth is nonnegotiable, but so is love.

As John Frame points out, Reformed churches often emphasize what have historically been considered the marks of the church (preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and church discipline) while forgetting that Jesus told us that the most important mark of the church is love (John 13:35).

To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God – Les Miserables –

The story of Les Misérables has caused me to think about redemption in such a way that I feel that I understand my life in Christ better. There is so much to say about the story (as I have only seen the movie with Liam Neeson and the 25th anniversary concert, I am lacking in actual details from the book!) that one doesn’t know where to start. I have to still sort this stuff out in my mind which is spinning in circles. I need to read the book first to really be sure of what I am reading. The movie and musical present slightly different redemptive perspectives and so I am working through the decisions each made and am excited to read the book! Until I can formulate my thoughts better, I will post my favorite lyrics from the finale, when Jean ValJean (the main character) dies and those who gave their lives to make possible the marriage that is one of the most beautiful and romantic stories you will ever read:

 

FANTINE (The bride’s deceased mother):

Come with me

Where chains will never bind you

All your grief

At last, at last behind you

Lord in heaven;

Look down on him in mercy

 

VALJEAN:

Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory

 

FANTINE, VALJEAN AND EPONINE (Friend and unrecognized lover of the groom who died delivering his love-letter to the bride before the battle):

Take my hand

And lead me to salvation

Take my love

For love is everlasting

And remember

The truth that once was spoken:

To love another person is to see the face of god

 

ALL:

Do you hear the people sing?

Lost in the valley of the night

It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light

For the wretched of the earth

There is a flame that never dies

Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise

 

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the lord

They will walk behind the ploughshare

They will put away the sword

The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

Beatrice as a Mirror, not a Lens

When Dante reaches the part of Heaven called the Empyrean, he begins to see all things as they truly are. He sees the essential beauty of variation in Creation and he sees the fundamental unity and equality that all of Creation has under God. It is some of the most amazingly attractive descriptive imagery that I have ever read.

Until this point, Dante’s relationship with Beatrice has been one of follower and guide, respectively, and we get to see that Beatrice acts as a sort of picture of Theology for Dante. We see this because Virgil, the Pilgrim’s guide through Hell and Purgatory, has acted as a person/symbol of Philosophy for the Pilgrim. This Philosophy has a clue as to the nature of reality, and acted on it, but could not grasp heavenly things as anything other than normative expressions of how things work in Creation or how they ought to work (allowing for some invectives against Florence throughout). Beatrice, as the Pilgrim’s guide for Heaven, is therefore a person/symbol of Theology, to which Philosophy is but a handmaiden, because she leads the Pilgrim in the area where things are the way they ought to be, which is pure grace and love and peace and justice and order.

When Dante gets to seeing reality as it truly is, Beatrice goes from his guide to a co-mirror of the glory of God. They both shine and Dante is led to, in his Medieval Catholic way, Bernard of Clairveaux and the Virgin Mary for his devotional lesson/preparation before the Beatific vision of God Himself. Before, Dante looked to Beatrice for guidance and answers and beauty. He was not wrong, she was all of those things. But she is a created lens through which to view God. She is not, and therefore Theology is not, the ultimate lens through which Dante views God. God is not a collection of true propositions about Himself.

Dante, when he sees all things from God’s perspective, is no longer dependent on Theology herself, but Theology is with him in proclaiming Holy Holy Holy at the spectacle. Dante, with all of his unquestionable certainty concerning the most random and esoteric (and Biblically incorrect) points of systematic theology and biblical history, hits the nail right on the head on this principle. Theology is not primarily the lens through which we view God. Theology is the collection of true and helpful propositions about God that themselves reflect God’s glory. Good theology is not only done for God’s glory, but will itself reflect His glory and worship Him alongside us.

My prayer is that God keeps me from glorying in the Theology, and that God drives me to discern a Theology that God is most glorified in, while never losing sight of the fact that I am a mirror myself and stand next to my Theology in reflecting the same glorious God. Because of this, I need to seek after new obedience and discipline in terms of devotional life, not just for (as Wesley said) “light” but also for “heat”.

I seek a Theology that is foundationally Scriptural, in that it glorifies God alone in His sovereign grace alone, condescending to us in Christ alone to accomplish for us what we couldn’t have done ourselves, apprehended by us by faith alone, which itself is a gift of God’s saving and free grace. That is a theology that is a good mirror for our God and His glory comprehended in the five Solas of the Reformation.

Therefore, as a person that holds to this Theology, I have to reflect those five Solas in my own piety as well:

1. Sola Scriptura I should look to the Scriptures and have a life that is more shaped by them than by any other standards imposed on myself externally. This includes social pressures and self-imposed arbitrary guilt manufacturing that so easily assaults my conscience. Nothing stands above the Standard. I should have a worshipful heart like David’s and I should be content with what God has revealed in the Scriptures for my good, constraining myself to do, as well as know, the whole counsel of God.

2. Soli Deo Gloria I should seek to consciously glorify God in all things. This includes passing all of my plans through God in the furnace of daily and constant prayer and keeping Him actively involved in the decision-making aspect of my life. I should seek to do His will as recorded in the Scriptures “on earth” as the angels do it “in heaven”. I should be constantly aware of how I make Christ look to those around me, both believers and unbelievers. How do I carry myself? Is a soul-killing pride creeping up, or am I, in good conscience, doing all things to the glory of God? Hard questions to be sure, but I must not give in to the challenge. It is for the glory of God, after all.

3. Sola Gratia I should be drowning in the ocean of God’s love and mercy and kindness towards me as a sinner. That God would love me while I was yet a sinner should blow me away. The grace of God should not be a “true proposition”, but a fully realized bulldozer to my pride and self-righteousness. It should also be a balm for my soul, a place to find my rest at any point of my walk with Him. More than that, I should never feel nervous about coming into His presence, but I should seek His throne of grace with boldness because I know that my salvation is all of grace, so no pretensions should accompany me anywhere or in any way. Grace is not just undeserved favor in some systematic theology sense, rather grace is the air I breathe, and it the beating of my heart, it is the glue of Creation and I, recognizing this, should be absolutely secure in my salvation despite my sins, frequent and heinous though they be. Grace is grace, I should let it be such and crush any temptation that tells me that God is not 100% for me no matter what because of the work of Christ on my behalf.

4. Solus Christus I should never look to another person or thing to be my treasure and my source of satisfaction because it is Christ alone Who is my treasure. His joy should be my joy. He lived off of every word that comes from the mouth of God, so should I. That, with the recognition that He is every word that comes from the mouth of God, the One in Whom all things hold together. I am utterly dependent on His work on my behalf, and, as the embodiment of God Himself, I should seek to filter all of my thoughts about God through the person and work of Jesus Christ, tearing down every thought that exalts itself against Christ in my mind. Any idols in my life, innocent and good though they be in their proper place, need to be passed through the alter that Isaac was placed on. Because Christ put Himself on that alter, I can trust that though I lose everything, God raises the dead and calls light out of the darkness. Christ is, therefore, the founder and perfecter of my faith and He alone is sufficient to give me peace and joy and comfort in this Pilgrim life.

5. Sola Fide Last, but not least, I need to never, ever, look to my thoughts or deeds as the instrument whereby God raises me from the dead or the grounds of my acceptance in His sight. I have to recognize that I am utterly dead and so all I can do is trust that God is faithful and just in Christ. I have to live by faith alone means that I better be the only kind of mirror worth having. A mirror that tries to reflect itself won’t do a very good job. The mirror is not a light source itself. A mirror is dependent on that external light to do what it was made to do. This is like our faith. If we live by faith alone, that means we aren’t trying to reflect ourselves, we are dependent on the light of Christ and the grace of the Spirit for all of the resplendent glory, and so we point our mirrors, our lives and works and desires and trust and thoughts, upwards toward the light source that is Christ, the light of the world, crucified, dead, buried, raised, ascended and exalted. We believe in Him and believe Him. In this we become good mirrors, reflecting the object of our faith to the whole world. Faith isn’t apprehension or assent to the articles of faith. Faith is trusting in God, the fiducia aspect being especially instrumental in God’s justifying and sanctifying work, conforming us to the image of Him Who went before us.

These things are easy to get my head  around. They are not so easy to get my life around. May God break down the walls that are erected between my head and heart and hands. As a concrete issue, for those who read this, never hesitate, if I get off onto theological tangents to inquire as to the “so what?” and “therefore…?” of the quest. No point of theology should be separate from our growth in maturity and love and grace in Christ.

Praise God for His mercy. God really is good. May He constantly show me ways to live out my faith in obedience to Christ and with the guidance of His Spirit, all for His glory. And when I fall down, as is the natural inclination of my sinful heart…

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Wow. That was a fantastic book.

After several months of fitting it in the cracks between all of my reading for school, homework, and studying for the MCAT, I finally finished Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, author previously of Seabiscuit.

This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, a hooligan growing up in Torrance, CA (!), an Olympic runner, a WWII bombardier, a survivor of a plane crash in the Pacific ocean (floating on a raft with virtually no supplies for months), POW in Japan (where he was singled out for especially poor treatment, partially because of his celebrity status due to his Olympic career), post-War drunk, convert at a Billy Graham crusade, mentor to troubled youth, and man of Christ.

This book is packed full of riveting history, information, and anecdotes. Zamperini’s personal story is itself fascinating and well worth the read, but I learned just as much about the Pacific theater of WWII. In fact, learning about just how brutally the Japanese treated their POWs (much worse than POWs in the European theater were treated) was quite disturbing.

One aspect of Zamperini’s story that was especially interesting was his dramatic conversion to Christianity. After the War, Zamperini was consumed with hatred and thoughts of revenge, particularly against one Japanese guard which had treated him especially poorly. He had gotten married and had a child, but he was getting drunker by the day, and his behavior was violent and filled with anger. His wife convinced him to attend a Billy Graham crusade, and he was resistant at first, but the second time he went back, he remembered the promises he had made God when he was stranded on that raft in the Pacific ocean; God had provided then, and Zamperini had completely forgotten his promises until now. The way Hillenbrand tells it, Zamperini’s life had an almost immediate turnaround. His hatred was gone, and his heart was filled instead with forgiveness. This portion of the story is given a relatively smaller part of the book, and, from what I gather, Zamperini elaborates more in his autobiography, Devil At My Heels.

Hillenbrand’s writing is superbly engaging, and I highly recommend this book.