A Disciple Walks the Roman Road 3

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

That this would be said of me! We’re culturally driven to be noted for our actions, our material acquisition or our leadership and Christ followers are not immune to this temptation. Even those self-styled saints who attempt to mirror the selfless, wanted-to-be-anonymous Mother Theresa but whose ministry is built on being known for their giving-up-everything-to-follow-Christ fall prey to this attraction.

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But to be known for the depth of our faith alone, this is an objective worth pursuing. Known for a faith that perseveres despite persecution. Known for a faith that isn’t swayed by cultural trends or threats. Known for a faith that is a model for others. That would honor Christ.

And it’s dangerous as well. To be known means that we’re known. If we’re following the example of St. Paul we seek not to be known for anything in ourselves. We desire everything we do to point to Christ and away from ourselves.

This is a very narrow wire on which we walk. If I’m not know for my faith am I a failure? If I am known for my faith have I taken what rightly belongs to the Lord? The tension of the Kingdom and the Gospel can be felt but we can also succeed. Follow me as I follow Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:8

P.R.O.O.F. of Life

Has God Spoken by Hank Hanegraaff

imageThe Bible Answer Man brings us yet another good addition to our apologetics library to sit aside The Apocalypse Code. Battling against the torrent  of semi-gnostic “secret” exposes published by authors such as Bart Ehrman purporting to reveal the falsehoods behind the Scriptures, Hanegraaff offers a flood of his own, laying out the various proofs that undergird the truth of the Bible that we read today.

Structured to provide the reader with an easily accessible tool for developing their apologetic chops, the book is organized logically around the succession of topics that support the truth of the Bible. This is important reading for any Christian who takes Peter’s command seriously to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. Questions about the accuracy of the texts of the Bible, the places and objects of the Bible and progressive revelation of the Bible are organized into the three initial chapters concerning the provenance of the manuscript, archeology and the linkage of prophecy.

As he does on his radio program, Hank makes these intimidating  topics understandable to Christians not steeped in biblical research. Fact after fact ( with nearly seventy pages of references and bibliography to verify ) pour forth from his pen to counter the challenges presented to factual basis for the Bible. He counters popular theories such as the error-ridden transcriptions (by verifying the numerically superior autographs against which the modern Bible is tested) and holds the archeological findings that affirm the people and places of the Bible against the non-existent findings that contradictory holy books point to.

While Hanegraaff has contributed an immediately useful volume, there are a couple of areas that might be improved. His love for his “hankronyms” went a touch overboard here, seeming to artificially organize the information in order to match the spelling. Mnemonic devices are excellent for memorization but they usually work best in limited use. Organizing the entire book around the acronyms (and sub-acronyms) gave the reading a somewhat challenging flow. Organizing the materials similar to the format that he uses on his radio program might make it easier for readers to locate the facts that they want but don’t know in which direction to turn.

Minor issues aside, I found this to be an excellent book. Hanegraaff has a unique gift set that makes his books great additions to the Christian’s library as they battle against the onslaught of anti-Christian sentiment that pervades our culture today. It is not enough to answer “in faith” when asked why you receive the Scriptures as true when the facts are so quickly accessible to you.

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.

Grace and peace to you.

Spiritual Gifts: Cessation of the Miraculous

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8)

The Cessationist Position

Doctrine regarding the spiritual gifts is a generally accepted component in the life of the Church. It is recognized that the Holy Spirit empowers redeemed individuals with abilities useful to building up the Body. Individual Christians may be the recipients of one or more of these gifts, evidence of the work of the Spirit in their lives. The precise count of the gifts is variable, dependent upon the system of classification used to enumerate them (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 4:10-11). Certain gifts-often called the miraculous, prophetic or word gifts-raise a question within the Church as to their continued distribution. These include the gift of tongues, prophecy and healing.

The cessationist position argues that the distribution of the miraculous gifts has ceased in the modern era of the Church. The gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy were limited in their assignment to the first century, useful for building up the early churches in the Apostolic era prior to the completion of the canon.

The arguments for cessation are complex and require a broad understanding of eschatology and the “Church Age”. The miraculous gifts are seen to have been products of necessity for the foundation of the early Church. They functioned as a part of the “canonical” principle for the Church during the time in which it was being founded but prior to the completion of the canonical writings. When the canon was closed, the need for the miraculous gifts was over and they subsequently ceased being given by the Holy Spirit.

This idea may be further divided. The prophetic gifts were no longer needed by the Church in light of the necessary Word of God having been canonized. To have further prophetic words from God would necessitate the reopening of the Scriptures so as to include them, thus giving a “never for sure” status to the Bible. The insufficiency of the revelation of the Scriptures must then be addressed as it challenges their closed nature. In other words, if one is to consider the Bible the final word of God for our days then it is required that we not be constantly wondering if a new word is going to modify the old. The maintenance of the prophetic gifts blurs the difference between being led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14) and being carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

In the same way, the sign gifts (tongues, miracles) were given only during the Apostolic age as necessary support for the foundation of the Church (cf Eph 2:20). With the last of the Apostles came the last distribution of these gifts as it is not necessary to lay and re-lay the foundation of the Church throughout history.

The cessationist refers to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 as a key text on which their position rests. As the application of the spiritual gifts is only efficacious in love, the first verse in this passage sets the bar; “Love never fails.” (vv 8a). Love, as a strengthener and edifier within the Church, will never pass away but prophecy, tongues and knowledge will (vv 8b). They pass as perfection replaces imperfection (vv 10; cf Heb 2:4).

This passage is read by the cessationist as expressing the less than eschatological significance of prophetic gifts of the Spirit. In the Church era until the moment when Jesus returns, faith, hope and love have eschatological meaning, unlike knowledge and other expressions of personal miracles. Fruits of the Spirit express the reality of the Holy Spirit today, serving the twin purposes of evangelism and edification of the Church.

Grace and peace to you.

Sauntering into the Sanctuary

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After expressing his displeasure at improperly brought worship ( see Nadab and Abihu – Lev 10 ), God commanded that the following steps be followed in meeting Him on the Day of Atonement.

  1. Locate a young bull
  2. Locate a ram
  3. Bathe thoroughly
  4. Put on the linen tunic
  5. Put on the linen undergarments
  6. Tie the linen sash around waist
  7. Put on the linen turban
  8. Locate two goats without blemish
  9. Locate another ram
  10. Sacrifice the bull for the atonement of the priest and his household
  11. Light a censer get two handfuls of incense
  12. Take these implements behind the curtain
  13. Put the incense in the censer to create fragrant smoke, protecting the priest from direct sight of the Ark and the presence of the Lord
  14. Sprinkle the bull’s blood seven times
  15. Bring the goats to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting
  16. Cast lots to determine which goat will be the scapegoat
  17. Sacrifice the goat whose lot fell to the Lord
  18. Repeat steps 11 to 14 with the goat’s blood
  19. The priest will go to the Altar
  20. Sprinkle blood of both the bull and goat on the Horns of the altar seven times
  21. Bring the scapegoat out
  22. Lay both hands on the goat’s head, assigning all of the sin of the nation to the goat
  23. Another man will take the goat and shoo it away into the desert
  24. The priest will return to the Tent of Meeting
  25. Remove the linen garments
  26. The priest will bathe and dress in his regular clothes
  27. Sacrifice the burnt offering for himself
  28. Sacrifice the burnt offering for the people
  29. Burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar
  30. The man who released the goat will bathe and wash his close before returning to camp
  31. The remains of the bull and goat must be taken outside of the camp and burned
  32. The man who burns the remains must bathe and wash his clothes before returning to camp

The meticulous and precise nature of these worship instructions should cause us to pause and consider the way in which we will enter God’s presence this Sunday. Do we toddle in with no more thought than if we were buying a gallon of milk?

There is great privilege in being the children of God, but also great responsibility.

Grace and peace to you.

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Psalm 108 ~ Awaken the Dawn

imageMy heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul.

Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. (Psalm 108:1-4)

In a short cry for physical aid, the psalmist calls us centuries later to consider the urgency of our spiritual motivation. Are we driven to rise in the darkness, to awaken the dawn in fervent worship? Do we linger in the comfort of our bed, seeking additional moments of slumber, delaying our appointment with God until a more convenient moment? Many are the nights in which the Lord beckons us awake, seeking our company and wanting to share a moment of communion with us. How will we respond?

Grace and peace in the Spirit of the Lord to you.

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Psalm 107–Do Tell

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Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. (Ps 107:2-3)

The culture that we have developed within the Church puts an emphasis on the shiny, clean you. Reborn, redeemed? Give effusive thanks for that, Christian!

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (vv8-9)

The psalmist reminds us, however, of the value of recounting the journey prior to redemption. Others benefit directly and indirectly from the journey, from seeing the hills and valleys overcome. They gain a deeper perspective on redemption when they see sin beaten, sin removed, sin forgiven and washed clean. The psalmist tells of the wandering, the failure, the enslavement, the loss and greed—all forgotten by Yahweh in an instant when His people focused their devotion on Him.

Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord. (v43)

Grace and peace to you.

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Learning to Kneel–Two

imageDoes the grace, mercy and love of God preserve us from suffering the same fate as that visited upon Nadab and Abihu? Do we no longer heed the words of Moses paraphrasing his experience?

Among those who approach me I will show myself holy;

in the sight of all the people I will be honored. (Lev 10:3)

Worshippers read this passage and cannot help but  wonder why God would refuse to be worshipped. The young priests added incense to their censers, lit them and swung them back and forth, spreading the pleasing aroma heavenward.

Only to have it received by Yahweh as the stench of death.

So offensive was the smell to God that he sent fire down the same path that the smoke travelled, instantly killing the priests as one might remove an annoying gnat. So rapid was the response to the impropriety of worship that Aaron, the mouthpiece of Moses, is struck silent.

In our modern worship mindset we ask, why would God be offended at their worship? Why would God be offended at any worship? The passage is silent about God’s reasons, nor are we in a position to demand explanation. God alone sets the standards for worship. We can speculate as to the details of the breach. Perhaps they entered the sanctuary unprepared to worship or came at an inappropriate hour. The fire that lit the censers may have been improperly sourced or unholy. The incense might have been similarly profane.

We don’t know the reasons for God’s offense in the case of the priests, but the encounter must cause us to reflect upon our own worship. Are we equally impious?

The words of Moses are a warning to communities stretching into our own day. We must learn to worship properly so that we may worship properly. 

Grace and peace to you.

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