Saturday, May 30, 2009

Big days

Today was the first Saturday we have had since the kids' last day of school. So it seemed appropriate to be sure we packed into it as much as possible. Karen and I started the day off right with early morning (6 am for me, 5:30 for her) coffee and lazing around followed by a good breakfast of pancakes, eggs, toast, and a little more coffee.

Sooner than we wanted to have to, it was time to get ready for the family picture Karen had scheduled for us at Portrait Innovations. It's been three years since our last one, so we were due for another one, but I was remembering how much pain the last one was, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I helped Karen bathe the children, comb hair, and monitor playtime so that the clothes for the picture weren't stained and unwearable. It turned out to be much less painful than I feared. We were in and out in less than 20 minutes, the kids were beautifully behaved (a sheer miracle!), and the photos turned out to cost significantly less $ than the previous, extended beating version of family pictures. I was shocked to hear that we could pick up all the prints we bought along with a CD of all the shots we took within 20 minutes. So off we went for hot pretzels until the time came. Judge for yourselves what you think of the results, but based on having me in the picture, I think this one came out pretty well.

Since it was shaping up to be a good day after all, I decided to press our luck and actually take all the kids to the Peoria Zoo without naps. Normally, I would not contemplate such wild and crazy things, but again, I needn't have worried. The kids were great, and since we are zoo members, we got in to see the preview of the new Africa! exhibits that probably doubles the size of the zoo. This was well worth the time, and a ton of fun, despite the huge crowd. I can hardly believe all they've done, although I'm sure it means zoo membership fees are going to increase the next time we need to renew ours.

After we left the zoo, everybody decided to skip naps and play outside. At least, everyone except Daddy, who sacked out on the office couch for an hour while Karen played referee for sprinkler fun and bike riding. Dinner was pan fried deer steak, hash browns, and fresh watermelon.

It's now after 11:00 and I have to preach tomorrow, so it's time to wrap this up. But I never cease to be amazed at the joy a person can find in the common grace of our loving God. I hope to find more of it tomorrow...

A cartoon for the times

My sister sent me this cartoon. In light of my last post, it seems appropriate. Sigh...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What a world we live in these days...

So I got a letter in the mail at the office this morning informing me that the church's business credit card has been canceled, effective 5/30/09. This is not due to the fact that either I or the church have in any way proven to be unworthy of credit. No, it's because our credit card company has had its credit revoked by its lenders, so they no longer have money to lend to us. This is surely the weirdest development I've ever experienced. Who ever heard of a credit company with bad credit?

In related news, our '06 Dodge minivan is on the fritz again. Even though it only has 43,000 miles on it, we are having engine problems and may need a new transmission. Since no one is minding the store at Dodge though, there's no one to hear us complain. I guess if the Lord wants to spend His money this way, He's free to do so, but as His steward, I'd rather spend it on something more fun. Still, it's ultimately His van and His money, so I will trust Him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Prophetic skills, part 2

You heard it here first-Kris Allen to win it all on American Idol. Since that has now happened, contrary to every other critic's expectation, I'm thinking a trip to the races is in my future....

Seriously, I'm gratified that a guy who is both incredibly talented and seems to be a humble young man despite his success won the biggest contest a young musician can win. All the best to he and his young bride. I pray that success doesn't go to his head and that he remembers his Lord in the days to come.

Acts 7: Message and Martyrdom

Stephen's speech before the Sanhedrin is far more than simply a speech with a climactic denouncement of the Sanhedrin as men who have more in common with those who killed the prophets than with those who followed them. An amazing level of complexity is wrapped into a message which both answers the charges against him (from Acts 6:13-14) and presents a number of important truths along the way. Among Stephen's points are:
  1. God's plan is, and always has been, progressive and changing. Whether in the calling of Abraham or the shift from the Land to Egypt to the desert and back to the Land, or whether in the giving of the Law and the shift from the tabernacle to the Temple, God's concern has been the advancement of His salvific program with His people.
  2. God's blessings aren't limited to the Land and the Temple. God blessed his people in many places and in many ways apart from the Temple and the Land. God desires the expansion of His Kingdom well beyond these narrow borders to the entire world and its people.
  3. Israel's history is one of rejection of what God is doing, and the Sanhedrin of Stephen's own day are in line with that history. By referring to them as "stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears," Stephen is drawing on prophetic language to connect his judges to the ones who were judged by God rather than the faithful remnant.
The most stunning part of Acts 7 for me though isn't Stephen's speech, even though it is the major portion of the chapter. What is more arresting for me is the parallels Luke draws between Jesus' death and Stephen's martyrdom. Even more compelling is the fact that Stephen sees the Lord standing in heaven to receive him. When everyone else has abandoned Stephen and his accusers are killing him, Jesus stands in honor of His dying saint. That encourages me on a level too deep for words. What kind of a God does that for those who serve Him with their dying breaths?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Life Lessons

The past two days, I've been involved in ripping out the ancient bulletin boards and chalk boards from our children's ministry rooms at church. We've been disposing of piles of junk, fixing up items in disrepair, patching the nail holes left by the approximately 10,000 ring shank roofing nails that were used for attaching the backing on each chalkboard and bulletin board, priming, painting, and hanging drywall. We are going to have some really incredible ministry spaces when we are done, and I can hardly wait for it all to be finished. But I must have come home pretty ripe, because the first thing Karen said to me after she greeted me was, "So, are you going to take a shower soon?"

I have a friend who says, "Never refuse a breath mint." Apparently the same principle applies to people asking when you are planning to shower...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rogues Gallery

Hopefully, I'll never see these two faces in a lineup... Thanks to Aunt Mandy and Uncle Steve for the awesome mustaches.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday Scrabble Smackdown

So Karen beat me in the rematch 328 to 263. My creativity was somewhat more limited today than the other night. What can I say? A proverbial word about pride and falls seems to apply...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Flashes of the obvious...

According to a report, the National Institutes of Health (a federal agency), is funding a $2.6 million study of Chinese prostitutes. Its goal is to seek a reason why prostitutes frequently consume alcohol while in the course of their "jobs," with a view toward reducing alcohol consumption and thereby encouraging "safer sex." Well, my insights might not be worth $2.6 mil, but let me think on it a second: These poor ladies are engaged in a profession which is destructive to mind, body, and spirit, and despite years of being told by their government that there is no God, they cannot escape the conscience which the God they don't believe in put in their hearts. Consequently, they seek to numb the pain they feel by whatever means works. Since booze is the cheapest, most readily available anesthetic, they use it in quantity. Mystery solved.

Now if the government wants to fund a useful study, how about one that looks for the most effective ways to help these oppressed women escape from their self-destructive life? Or one which funds Luca Brasi types to make their pimps "an offer they can't refuse" to let them go? Or one which provides job training so that they develop more marketable and less degrading skills?

My skills as a prophet are developing...

Despite widespread predictions that the finals of American Idol would come down to Danny vs. Adam, the actual results were as I predicted yesterday morning. We'll see if my predictive capabilities hold up through next week. If so, I may have to start going to the racetrack...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

American Idol Recap

Okay, so this is far from the most consequential post I've ever penned. But American Idol is a fun show, if a bit heavy on the melodrama from time to time. I enjoy watching the performers mature in their abilities over the weeks the show runs each season, and have fun rooting for the one I actually like. Now that it's down to the final three, here's my take:
  1. Adam: Adam sang U2's "One" for his judge's choice song. Pretty forgettable, especially in light of the fact that I don't believe anyone not Bono should ever sing U2, and the fact that it is not one of their better known songs. Adam should also never be allowed to sing Steven Tyler, though he did okay with "Cryin', " the song he picked for himself. Some bands/artists are inimitable, and anyone who attempts one of their songs necessarily suffers by comparison. I've got no doubt that Adam can sing, but to me he always comes off like he's just escaped from his lead role in the stage revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Even if Adam wins (which all the judges seem to assume will happen), I don't think he will have much of a career after the show, since '80's glam rock pretty much died at the end of that decade, and Poison isn't looking for any new members.
  2. Danny: Danny sang "Dance Little Sister," which adds another title to the long list of songs performed on American Idol I'd never heard of before. (Apparently, it's by Terence Trent D'Arby, which probably explains why I don't recognize it). For his own song choice, he did "You are so beautiful." Danny did a competent job with both of these songs, though I didn't like the arrangement of "You are so beautiful." I keep waiting on Danny to have a moment, like Kris' take on "Ain't No Sunshine" or Adam's "Tracks of My Tears." So far, it has not been forthcoming. I like Danny, but I think he's goin' home.
  3. Kris: Kris sang "Apologize" with the piano and "Heartless" with just him and an acoustic guitar. I've never heard either of these songs before (maybe being outside the target demographic has something to do with this), but I liked them both, despite the judges only enjoying the 2nd one. Kris is clearly the best musician even if he is about even on the singing.
I think it will be a fight to the finish. I doubt both Kris and Danny get into the finals, because I think they will split the same base of voters. However, when it comes down to either of them versus Adam, I'm betting there are a lot more bluesy pop fans than screamy rocker fans out there. Especially since all the fans of screamy rock now have gotten "old" and regard such stuff as "noise" from their youth (to the extent we can still hear after years of Aerosmith casettes too loud on our Walkmans).

We'll see what happens, but I'd put my money on Kris Allen to win it all and have a career.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

God is with His People-Acts 6

Acts 6 is an interesting little chapter. In it, one reads of the 1st church conflict and its resolution by the appointment of Greek cultured Jews as deacons. This little incident is set against the backdrop later in the same chapter of very real and serious persecution of one of the new deacons, Stephen. The contrast is illuminating. Compared with being on trial for his life, the problem he was appointed by the church to solve must seem small, as indeed it is (at least in comparison). But I think that very contrast illustrates something profoundly important, the truth that God is always with His people. In matters both comparatively small and ultimately serious, God's Spirit is always at work in both His Church as a whole and in the lives of its individual members.

That great truth encourages me a great deal. I've never been on trial for my life and don't really expect to be anytime soon. The problems of my life, such as they are, all lean more to the side of common and even ordinary than they do toward matters of life and death. So I am glad that God is in the comparatively small stuff too, because it means that Jesus really has kept His promise to be "with us always, even to the very end of the age." It also means that in the "small" things, I can learn to trust Him, remember and recognize His presence with me, so that when the "charge of the elephant" type circumstances arrive, I can have assurance that He is with me, and be able to stand.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sweet summertime

Part of the fun of summer for me is doing a project or two around the house. Since Karen got a little money for her birthday (she's an older woman of 36 now), she decided that we really need a picnic table. We quite responsibly went to all of the big box home improvement stores to find a DIY picnic table kit. We finally found the best deal at Menards, only to find when we checked out that the price in their scanner wasn't the price on their poster. The usual mayhem ensued, with me having to wheel my picnic table on the flatbed card backwards through the checkout line and backwards through the entrance gate to customer service, where I found that Mark, the super-duper customer service rep (who told me he would grant me the poster price instead of the computer price), hadn't called Customer Service to let them know what was going on. So off Karen went to get Mark to call down. What a hassle to save $16.

Anyway, it went together in a couple hours (with help from Karen and the boys) and is now out back under our camping awning awaiting stain and Thompson's water seal. It's perfect for summer suppers and early morning Bible study and coffee. I can hardly wait till it's all done.

Red letter day

Karen and I love to play games after the kids go to bed. Usually it's the card game gin, but occasionally it's something else. Typically, I win at gin about 50% of the time, though lately my average has been improving a bit. Karen refuses to play Monopoly with me anymore, since she has never won and we both agreed playing the game wasn't worth the relational cost. I felt the same way about Scrabble, since I got pretty tired of the beat down she kept delivering. Since it was Mother's Day, Karen got to pick the game. So we played a round of gin (which I won!) and then she suggested Scrabble. What can I say? I love my wife, so I got the box down out of the closet, fully expecting to take my usual whacking. Much to everyone's surprise, I not only won, but won by nearly 100 points. Never happened before, probably won't happen again. So I plan to enjoy the thrill of victory for a while before we play again.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Family time

Tomorrow, I will be traveling to Indy for a family reunion of sorts. I will get to see my brother-in-law, who is in for a quick visit from China. The family and I are staying with my parents at their house with my sister and we're getting together with my brother, sister-in-law, and all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins on Dad's side (plus my sainted Grandma-Mom's mother!) on Saturday. Considering I haven't seen many of my cousins in a few years, it will be great to re-connect. We have really missed our family and missed laughing with them, hugging them, and just talking. It's been too long. I think it's the first time I'll be home on Mother's Day weekend since I moved to Dallas with Karen 11 years ago. If you think of it, pray for us as we travel.

Acts 5:12-42 and the Persecuted Church

I think the thing that impresses me most about the apostles in this passage is their sheer perseverance in the teeth of persecution and abuse. In Acts 3, they get arrested for preaching at Solomon's Colonnade after Peter and John healed a crippled beggar there. By Acts 5:12, it's not just an impromptu preaching location, but the Church's regular meeting place. From there the Apostles are arrested again (5:18) and to there they return to preach both after their miraculous jailbreak (5:19-20) and after they get flogged by the Sanhedrin (5:42). These guys are either remarkably dense, or so righteously stubborn that they simply don't care what men think in comparison to their regard for what God has called them to do. Obviously, I think it's the latter, but I still stand in awe.

Actually, I stand in awe of the believers in the persecuted Church worldwide. I wonder sometimes, could I stand like so many do in forgotten prisons and distant villages all over the world? Could I take torture and death before I would be willing to deny the Sovereign Lord who bought me? Would I consider it pure joy to be counted worthy to suffer (5:41) for the Name of Jesus? I certainly hope so. But I wonder if we in America, with all of our (mostly unused) freedom to preach the Gospel of Christ, aren't missing out on something terribly important to the Christian life. I'm not saying I want to be persecuted or suffer martyrdom for the sake of Jesus. I'm not a masochist, at the end of the day. But it does seem that true Christianity flourishes best and most in a situation in which the Christian life is not lived out on "home court," but where everyone is against you.

If you're still reading this, please join me in a prayer. Pray first of all that God will spur us toward making greater use of our freedom to make the Gospel known. Pray too that our brothers and sisters in tough countries all over the world will endure the test and preach anyway.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I've been lifting weights with a friend for a couple months now and trying to follow the Weight Watchers plan since the first of the year. I am now leg pressing almost 400 lbs. for 3 sets, and have made huge strides with my back, arms, and chest. I've also lost 17 lbs. since January 1. I'm wearing smaller pants than I have in about 2 years. Even though I've struggled with fitness and health most of my adult life, I'm always amazed at how much difference consistent small changes over a long period of time start to make. Small choices do become destiny after a while...

Joys of Summer

My in-laws were in last weekend. It's always great to see and visit with them, not to mention that I can usually dragoon Don into helping me with various projects around the house, yard, and garage. Over the weekend, and partly with his gracious help, I managed to:
  • Change the oil in the truck
  • Tune up the mower for the summer season
  • Clean out and tune up the grill
  • Wrestle the children
  • Preach another chapter of the book of Acts
  • Swap out the grill tank for a refill
  • Sweep out and clean the garage and get rid of some old junk
  • Teach the final class on our denomination's statement of faith revision
  • Convince Karen to mow and trim the grass
  • Destroy a junky wooden box I had been meaning to take apart for two months
  • Re-staple the insulation back up in our garage
  • Burn the accumulated yard waste (sticks, leaves, bird nests, etc.)
  • Take Karen out to dinner and shopping for her 36th birthday (big thanks on this to the in-laws so we could be alone!)
  • Fix John's training wheels for the 875th time.
  • Lead a new members class at my house
  • Roast hot dogs and marshmallows with the family
  • Enjoy the warmer weather

Acts 5:1-11 and Spiritual Hypocrisy

In ancient times, the theater did not rely so much on the actor's ability to convey emotion with facial expressions as we do today. Back then, they used masks. From this practice, we get the traditional tragedy and comedy masks which are a symbol of the theater even today. The Greek word from which we get our English word "hypocrite" is based on this ancient practice. Literally, it means "to speak from under" and it originally was a reference to actors whose art involved doing precisely that as they performed on stage.

The major sin of Ananias and Sapphira was spiritual hypocrisy, of pretending to be more spiritual than they really were and in so doing, acting dishonestly. They operated on the premise that "no one will ever know," as if somehow both they and God did not or would not know what they were doing.

But hypocrisy is one of the most subtle sins to which we all are prone. Most of us wouldn't do it as baldly as Ananias and Sapphira did, but nevertheless, we can fall into this sin if we aren't careful. Here are some of the more common situations in which we are tempted:
  1. Someone at church asks you how you are doing. While I know the social convention is to always say "fine," or some such, this is church. The Church is supposed to be a new type of community. If that isn't quite true (i.e., inwardly you're thinking, "Well, my sister is dying of cancer, my income isn't paying the bills this month, I feel very far away from God," etc.), how should you answer?
  2. You are deeply struggling with or enmeshed in a sin. You're afraid to tell anyone about it, yet you can't get free from it. What do you do?
  3. You are in a Bible study. Everyone is sharing their experiences with God and it comes to your turn. If you don't have a similar type of experience to theirs, what do you do?
We have to be careful. This kind of hypocritical behavior inhibits the kind of deep relationships which we all want and for which the Church is designed. I've failed in every one of these situations, so I'm glad that God is merciful and gracious. I'm also still tempted.

What about you?

What is the "filling of the Spirit"?

In two places in the Acts 4:1-31, Luke tells us that people were "filled with the Holy Spirit." The first reference is v. 8, where Peter begins to answer the Sanhedrin regarding the healing he and John had performed the previous day. The second reference is in verse 31, where all the praying church were filled with the Spirit. But Luke doesn't go into much detail as to what that means, since he seems to more or less assume his readers know.

There are two major schools of thought on this. Our charismatic friends tend toward equating the filling of the Spirit with speaking in tongues. I don't believe that they are correct on that because:
  • Not everyone has the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:30), but everyone is commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
  • While tongues is mentioned as evidence of being filled with the Spirit in Acts 2 and a couple other places in Acts, here in chapter 4, there is no mention of anyone speaking in tongues. Nor is tongues described as "the filling of the Spirit" elsewhere it is mentioned. For example, in Ephesians 5:18ff, evidence of filling of the Spirit includes such things as "speaking to one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs," avoiding drunkenness, thankfulness to God, having a God-honoring marriage, a God-honoring master/slave relationship, and obeying one's parents.
  • Therefore, I think the filling of the Spirit, while it may be evidenced by tongues speaking, is not equivalent to it.
As far as I have been able to discern it biblically, the filling of the Spirit is a repeatable experience of believers that results from their rejection of and repentance from sin and choosing submission to God instead. The Spirit's filling is simply the turning over of control of your life from yourself and your flesh to God and His indwelling Spirit, so that your life produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). I say it is repeatable, because while there are indications that the Holy Spirit's filling can be lost, or at least masked due to grieving (Eph. 4:30) or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19), it is also true that we who believe in Christ cannot lose His indwelling presence (Rom. 8:9-11).

That fact is a great comfort to me, because I find myself so often in need of fresh filling from the Spirit to accomplish the calling He has given me. Whether in my role as pastor, or as husband, father, or simply as a human being created in God's image, I often fail. I don't always speak as I should, think as I should, or act as I should. Yet God is gracious, granting both forgiveness and fresh filling from the Spirit as often as I fall down. What a mighty, gracious, compassionate God we serve!

The Bible and God's Sovereignty

If you want to further explore the topic of God's sovereignty, here's a few passages to plow through:
  1. Isaiah 40
  2. Ephesians 1:1-13
  3. Ephesians 2:8-9
  4. Romans 9-11
While you're at it, try to answer the following questions with as much support from these texts as you can muster:
  1. What role does a human being play in salvation?
  2. Where does the faith to believe come from?
  3. How significant is human decision in determining the course of human history?
  4. What role does human sin play in whether or not God chooses to adopt a person as His child?
  5. How does a person receive salvation? To say it another way, what must I do to be saved?

God is Sovereign-Acts 4:25-30

What do we mean when we talk about God's sovereignty? Does it mean that God totally runs everything and that our freedom is just imaginary? Or worse, does it mean that God causes evil to happen? What does sovereignty mean if there is a real sense in which we have freedom as people and with it, responsibility for our choices?

A few years ago, I became familiar with part of the Puritan Jonathan Edward's writings on the subject and it has shaped my own understanding significantly. Summarizing, here's how I think the whole divine sovereignty/human freedom argument is best resolved:

Man's choices are freely made, but with a few caveats:
  1. Man's freedom is not "final." That is, the universe is not a closed system. God can (and does!) intervene in it and can overrule both man's choices and the consequences of those choices. For example, if I jump out of a plane and my chute doesn't open, God can either save my life or let me die. As sovereign God, He can also ensure that my car doesn't start so I never make it to the airport, and thus, never jump. Thus, my choice was freely made, but it is not final in the sense that God can (and may) overrule both it and any consequences flowing from it.
  2. Man's freedom is not "sovereign." A man does not have the ability to do anything that is possible. Both his character and his circumstances put limits on his choices.
  3. Therefore, man's freedom is analogous (though finite!) to God's omnipotence. When we say God is omnipotent, we do not mean that God can do anything He wants to. What we mean is that God can do anything which He desires that is both possible and consistent with His nature/character as God. So, God cannot commit evil, cease existing, or do that which is a logical contradiction (such as create a rock too big for Him to lift). In a similar way, humans are capable of doing all things which are possible for humans (e.g., we can't walk through walls or levitate) and which are consistent with our nature.
  4. The Point: Redeemed humans can choose obedience or disobedience to God; unbelievers can't. Redeemed humans have both an old nature and the indwelling Spirit of God. Thus, they can follow the flesh and it's lusts or keep in the step with the Spirit. But an unbeliever's choices are limited by his nature/character. Since all they possess is an "old man," they freely choose to do that which it desires: evil and sin and rebellion against God.

Read Your Bible!

I have long answered the question about which Bible translation is "best" with the response "whichever one you will read." I believe that's still a good response, because in reading the Scriptures we are able to "think God's thoughts after Him." But "finding time" to read your Bible can be a challenge for all of us. It has even been a challenge for me at times, at least, if I don't count the time I spend preparing for teaching and preaching and look at just the time I spend in the Word "for myself" and my own spiritual growth.

I've recently discovered that you can get the Bible delivered daily to your email box via RSS feed. I like the ESV Bible for my own reading and study, so I've signed myself up for a daily plan to take me through the ESV Bible in a year. Fun, easy, and way better than the often cheesy "spiritual" emails a lot of Christians send one another. Try it. You may find that you like it!

Jesus: Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord? Part II

The books I suggested in my previous post are written from a pretty scholarly perspective and assume a certain level of familiarity with the debates about the "historical Jesus." Some other books that are not quite so challenging, but which are still worthwhile are:
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
  • The Reason for God, by Tim Keller. This whole book is good, but the chapter called "The Reality of the Resurrection" is most germane to this discussion.
  • Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison is a classic work on the truth of the resurrection and was written by a former skeptic.

Jesus: Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord?

This week's (4/12) message is a challenge to discover the truth of Jesus' claims to be the Son of God in the flesh. Most non-Christian people who really investigate Jesus' life find it difficult to believe that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic. The accounts of his life don't suggest a man who was a huckster like the old-time patent medicine salesmen or P. T. Barnum. Neither do they suggest a megalomaniac a la Jim Jones or Josef Stalin. Nor does Jesus seem like the crazy but essentially harmless folks now populating mental institutions who believe themselves to be famous people. But a great number of people, particularly in the West, are attracted to the idea of Jesus as a legend. There are great numbers of New Testament scholars who say that the "Jesus of history" was a Galilean peasant with many admirable qualities, but that the more "startling" claims about Jesus (i.e., miracles and especially resurrection) were later fabrications made up by the authors of the Gospels. There are good reasons to believe that the Jesus represented by the Gospel writers is historically accurate (that is, good reasons other than the fact that we already believe in the Jesus presented there). But to find the solid scholarship supporting the Bibles' historicity, you may have to do some digging. Here's a list of some the best books available from some of the best scholars of which I'm aware:
  • Jesus According to Scripture by Darrell Bock
  • The Missing Gospels by Darrell Bock
  • Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham
  • God Crucified by Richard Bauckham
  • Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll
  • The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith by C. Stephen Evans
This week's (4/5) sermon focuses on choosing Jesus as King. The point of Palm Sunday is that we all have a choice, between either receiving the Prince of Peace, who comes to us gentle and riding on a donkey, righteous and bringing salvation (Zech. 9:9), or receiving the Judge of all the Earth, who wears a robe dipped in blood and out of whose mouth proceeds a sharp sword (Rev. 19:13, 15). All those who have received Jesus as Lord and Messiah have received Him as King. But sometimes, even we who follow Jesus fail to grant full sovereignty to Him over all of our lives. Consider the following:

  1. The nation's economy is the worst it has been since at least 1980/81. Does that reality cause you to fear the future, or do you trust the Lord's hand, since it is He who sets up kings and nations and takes them down (Isa. 40)? Do you continue to give to the church and other missional endeavors, just as you have always done, or have you scaled back figuring that "the Lord will understand"?

  2. Is Jesus King of your tongue? How do you speak to your spouse and children in your home? Are the words of your mouth acceptable in the sight of God? Always?

  3. How do your entertainment choices reflect the rule of Jesus over your eyes and mind? Even if your choices are good, or at least morally neutral, does the amount of time you spend entertaining yourself honor God? To what extent does "me time" eliminate time with family, fellowship with your church family, building evangelistic friendships, or even prayer and Bible reading?

  4. Is Jesus King of your body? Are you keeping yourself pure? Do you by the Spirit rule over your body's desires (such as those for food, sleep, and sex) or do they rule over you?

Acts 3:19-21 and the "Times of Refreshing"

Given our abbreviated worship service down at the Cafe on Sunday, I didn't have time to elaborate on one of the more fascinating aspects of Peter's sermon, specifically the part of it in which Peter says that if Israel repents, then God's kingdom will come to earth. This raises all kinds of biblical-theological issues, but I believe that is what he is indeed promising for the following reasons:
  1. The use of the word "restore" (Gk. apokatasteseos) is related to the use of a form of the same word in Acts 1:6 (i.e., "Lord, is it at this time you are going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?"). Both uses anticipate the restoration of Israel as a theocratic kingdom.
  2. Restoration and regeneration are frequently parallel concepts (Isa. 65:17; Matt. 19:28; Rom. 8:20-22).
  3. Grammatically, there are two different kinds of purpose clauses (i.e., "that" or "so that") in verse 19 and 20. The first one "so that your sins will be forgiven" is a near purpose. Then, if Israel as a whole would repent, the "times of refreshing" (i.e., the Kingdom) when God sends the Christ, would come. This is the more distant purpose (indicated by a different verb form and preposition).
  4. The sending of the Christ, or the Messiah, means the coming of the Kingdom, which was foretold by the OT prophets (v. 21, 24). The Church was not foreseen by the prophets (cf. Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1-6), but the Messianic Age was frequently predicted.
Note: I did not come up with these reasons on my own. I relied on the "Acts" commentary by Stanley Toussaint in The Bible Knowledge Commentary to point them out to me. But I nevertheless believe Dr. Toussaint is correct.

If I understand this correctly, this means that, if Israel as a nation had repented of their sin and turned to Jesus, the Tribulation foretold by Daniel would have come relatively quickly afterward. Then, after 7 years, the Millennial Reign of Christ would have begun. Evidently, that was not God's purpose and plan, since here we are 2,000 years later. But it does raise some interesting questions to ponder:
  1. If the repentance of Israel will bring about the soon coming of the Kingdom, in what sense is the coming of Christ "imminent" (i.e., an event that could happen at any time)?
  2. Since Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Messiah regarding his being the Servant of YHWH in Isaiah (plus many others!), why did the Jews not recognize Him as the Christ?
  3. Since God loves His people Israel, what purpose is He serving by setting Israel aside so that He might build the Church? (Hint: read Romans 9-11).

Acts 3-4: The Healing of a Crippled Beggar

This Sunday, we're looking at the book of Acts, chapter 3, in which Peter and John heal a crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. This chapter's events actually spill over into chapter 4, which records Peter and John's arrest and questioning by the Sanhedrin as a result of this healing. Claims of miraculous healing are always controversial, it seems, but as I study these two chapters, I see at least six characteristics of a true healing:
  1. Immediate: "instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong." (Acts 3:7)
  2. Complete: "He jumped to his feet and began to walk" (Acts 3:8). "It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing" (Acts 3:16). The beggar did not simply gain increased mobility. He was totally healed of his handicap.
  3. Verifiable: "they recognized him as the man who used to sit begging" (Acts 3:10) and "as you can all see" (Acts 3:16). Anyone could go ask any one of dozens of witnesses, or the man himself, what happened and be told the same story the Bible tells.
  4. Permanent: The man was healed from that day forward, with no relapse in his condition, despite being over 40 years old (Acts 4:22).
  5. Obvious: Even the Sanhedrin, who did not believe in the Apostles' message had to say, "Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it" (Acts 4:16).
  6. God-glorifying: "all the people were praising God for what had happened" (Acts 4:21). Peter and John deflected all attention from themselves (v. 3:12) and onto God so that the people praised God for what He had done.
To the extent that all of these characteristics are present when a healing is claimed, to that extent, I think it must be regarded as being a true miracle from God. I believe the converse is also true.

Adding new (old) posts

The next several posts will be re-posts from my recently aborted attempt at a biblical-theological blog. Since the amount of interest in my thoughts on those issues solely is approaching zero, I have decided to move them over here. If you've been among my small cadre of A Step Further readers, you can safely ignore the next several posts. If not, then enjoy.