Friday, July 29, 2011

John Stott; promoted to Glory

John Stott has gone home to be with the Lord. In my opinion, Stott was one of the premier Anglican theologians of the last fifty years. I am sorry to lose him now, when the Anglican Church most needs its scholars that are genuinely biblically faithful. But the Lord of the Church makes no mistakes.

While Stott authored many books, the one which I really treasure is his Basic Christianity. This little book is both an explanation, and somewhat of a defense, of the basic doctrines of Christianity. I have used it as an evangelistic tool, as well as a small study to get believers up-to-speed on the faith.

If you have not read this little book (available in both the BFC library and bookstore, as well as on Amazon), you are denying yourself an excellent intro to Christian doctrine.

Rest in peace, John Stott.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

With you, #3

Let's review: In the first post, the basic point was made that the state of relationship between two parties is illustrated by the degree of separation between them.

In the second post, this principle was shown to be as true of our relationship with God as it is of our relationship with people.

In this post, I hope to show that it has always been God's desire to restore the closeness humans once enjoyed with Him. This can be seen in a brief look at God's deeds in history.

In Genesis 6:18 (Noah), God establishes a covenant of protection with Noah: "I will establish my covenant with you". A similar statement is repeated in 9:9.

In Genesis 12:1-3 God establishes a covenant of blessing with Abraham, and follows up on it with promises such as "I am a shield to you" (Ge 15:1). "I will be God to you" (Ge 17:7). God begins to tell Isaac, then Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel in Ge 32:28), and his sons, "I will be with you" (Ge 26:3; 31:3).

In Exodus, God "remembered His covenant" with Israel (Exodus 2:24), and delivered them by the hand of Moses. At Sinai, where the Ten Commandments were handed down, God speaks of Israel as "My own possession" (Exodus 19:5). He then instructs Moses to have the people construct a portable worship center (known as the tabernacle, Ex 25 ff), in which He begins to dwell among His people with a manifest presence (a cloud of smoke by day, a pillar of fire by night). A system of worship is delivered to the people, whereby the sins that separate them from God might be atoned through the blood of a sacrificial animal (Leviticus 17:11).

And yet there was still great separation between God and His people. Only the priests could enter the Holy Place, and only the High Priest was able to enter the Most Holy Place, and then only at certain times of the year. Even the construction of the tabernacle (and later, the temple), and the accompanying instructions for worship emphasized the separation necessary for the Holy God to dwell in the midst of a sinful people. Wrongfully coming into contact with God's holy things meant instant death.

During the reign of Solomon, the portable worship center is rebuilt as a fixed, glorious temple, and God's presence indwells the temple. The consecration of the temple was one of the high-water marks of the nation (read about the construction and consecration of Solomon's temple in 2 Chronicles 1-7).

All of these events, from Genesis through the construction of Solomon's temple, took place at God's own initiative. He was the actor, the initiator, providing a means whereby His people could repent and return to Him. Why? First, because it was God's desire to be near His people and to bless them. Second, because man will not seek reconciliation on his own, nor can he.

Unfortunately, God's people continued to rebel and sin against Him. Ultimately they forsook Him and followed false gods. Their rebellion against God was not only demonstrated in their sins against Him, but in their relationships with one another, particularly in their injustice against the most helpless of their society, the poor, the widows, and the orphans.

One of the saddest parts of Scripture, in my opinion, is when God abandons His defiled temple by stages, in Ezekiel 8-11, because of the increasingly gross sin of His people. Ultimately, Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians, and God's rebellious people are captives once more, this time in Babylon. They are separated from God and separated from the land God gave them. Notice the geographical aspect of separation, which illustrates the spiritual aspect?

So what's the point in this post? God desires to be with His people, and demonstrates that desire throughout the history of Israel, by covenant, by deliverance, and by His manifest presence. At every turn, however, man's sin manifests itself, creating separation between sinful man and Holy God. Clearly, a solution superior to a building (the temple) and a system of worship (the sacrifice of bulls and goats and lambs) and sinful human mediators (the priestly tribe of Levi, and the high-priestly clan of Aaron) is needed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review of Putting your Past in Its Place

Dr. Steve Viars (D.Min, Westminster) is the senior pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana. His new book, Putting your Past in its Place, is a fruit of his long counseling ministry, and his commitment to helping people from the Word of God.

The thesis of the book is that our manner of handling our problems in the present can be influenced by our past; therefore we need to ensure that we have dealt with the past biblically. His goal in the book is to help believers in Christ work through their problems in ways that are pleasing to God.

Viars begins by building a properly balanced perspective: the past is not everything, we can rise above what has happened to us; neither is the past inconsequential, it can be a collection of unfinished business that hinders moving forward.

Illustrating his points with a combination of biblical teaching and fascinating case studies, Viars shows the reader that past events can be placed into four basic categories:
  1. What happened was not our fault, and we responded properly.
  2. What happened was not our fault, but we responded sinfully.
  3. What happened was our fault, but we responded and dealt with it properly.
  4. What happened was our fault, and we responded sinfully.
The reader is encouraged to place events from the past into the appropriate "bucket." Viars then teaches how each bucket can be properly "emptied," with the result that the past becomes our friend, and not our enemy.

Viars is not a "take two bible verses and call me in the morning" kind of counselor. His treatment of these issues reveals both keen perception into human behavior and a nuanced approach to dealing with it. Viars' style is warm, down-to-earth, and engaging. His writing is suffused with compassion and understanding. Extending the book's usefulness, each chapter ends with both study group and individual questions.

I highly recommend this book to two audiences: those who are wrestling with a difficult past will find it supremely helpful. Pastors, counselors, and anyone engaged in helping others will find in this book a very complete resource for assisting believers to grow in Christ. I know I will be using it in my own counseling.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Problems leaving Comments???

Apparently the blogger software has sporadic difficulties allowing readers (or even blog owners) to post comments. If you have had this problem, there may be several things you can do to fix it. There is something you can do to reduce your difficulties, and there is something I can do as well.

First, I have changed the comment settings so that comments are entered in a pop-up box, rather than an embedded form. Supposedly, this cleared up the problem for some, according to the forums.

But you can also make a change that might help. If you are using Firefox, go into the settings and tell it to accept cookies from third-parties.

If you are using Internet Explorer, click Tools/Compatibility View Settings. You can add and to the list of sites to show in compatibility view. I frankly do not have enough hair left on my head to risk losing another strand, so I just clicked the "Display all web sites in Compatibility View".

That's kind of a well-duh choice, for me, anyway. It's sort of like Microsoft asking, "Would you prefer your browser to work all the time, or would you rather enjoy it working erratically and unpredictably? You'll get a few cool features if you don't mind that it does not work. Your choice. . . "

Ok, don't get me started on my anti-Microsoft rant. It is hard to imagine any company working as hard to destroy customer loyalty, as does Microsoft. But hey, great companies rise, and great companies fall. Why shouldn't it happen to MS, also?

Anyway, in all fairness, it appears that this problem is Google's as much as it is Microsoft's. The problem with posting on Blogger (Google) has been in the forums since 2008. Hard to believe that they still have not fixed it. Perhaps it's a perfect storm of difficulties.

So - if you have had difficulty commenting on my blog, could you please try again on this post. I am curious to see if anything I/you do helps. You can contact me at if you are unable to post. I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Time out for a status update

I have been on sabbatical since the beginning of May, and it winds to a close at the end of this month. What a precious gift has been given to Doris and me by Bible Fellowship Church, in allowing us this time off! Thank you, BFC'ers! And what a delight to know that BFC has been in the capable hands of Pastor Robb, and our pastoral intern, Scott Gruber. Thank you! And I appreciate our Board and their good work supporting Pastor Robb and Scott. Thank you!

Doris and I are doing our sabbatical here in Greenville, and it has been a great pleasure to worship at BFC. The congregation has been careful to allow us the sort of isolation needed in a sabbatical, and we are so grateful for that, too.

I had set several goals for this time away, some personal, some "professional." We have made good headway on some, not so good on others.

Professional Goals
  • Recover working skills in Hebrew: this has been a success, though I want to go much further. If you hear me talking about "reading backwards," it is my way of referring to that beautiful ancient language.
  • Read good prolegomena on Psalms studies: complete. I have read a good deal on this, and am benefiting from it in my Psalms studies.
  • Translate and study 5 selected psalms: this has not been as successful. I will only complete Psalm 90. Though the translation and study has been thorough, I see once again how slowly I produce.  I am wrapping up an extended commentary on Psalm 90, and will produce some materials based upon that, hopefully completing before August. The other 4 psalms will have to find their way into my personal study when I return.
  • Enjoy a spiritual refreshing: this I can't quantify, as I have no metric by which to measure it. But I do feel renewed, and eager to return. I suppose that counts as a success.

Personal Goals
  • Get some chores around the house accomplished that have been on the list too long: success. Our bathroom remodeling project is finally complete (Larry Addis finished his part way, way back in the Fall, and did an excellent job). I have finally gotten my part done!), and other tasks have been wrapped up.
  • Visit my mom and Doris' mom and dad. We had a wonderful time at Broad Reach (my mom's home) in May, and a wonderful time in Cedar Rapids with Doris parents in June.
  • Renew exercise disciplines: this has been an overwhelming success. As far as I can tell, I'm still alive and kicking, so the P90X has not killed us yet. We have done several 5K runs, with more on the schedule, and the glimmerings of something a little more challenging, maybe, next spring.
  • Finish the rewrite of Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix. I have made good headway, but will not complete this by the end of July.
  • Worshiping at Lauri's church in Cincinatti, and Dani and Erik's church in Columbus: We will have completed this by the end of July. Would have liked to get to Josh and Abbies, but its just too far, this time.
What's Next?
  • I am back in the saddle at BFC in August. Looking forward to returning!
  • As far as a Preaching/Teaching schedule, I will be preaching a series on Psalm 90 in August, and then beginning a longer series on the book of Acts in September. I will be finishing up our ABF class on a biblical view of Church and State in August, and then teaching on the book of Romans in the Fall Quarter.
  • With respect to writing, I have decided to abandon the traditional publishing route (an easy decision, based on the number of rejections I have received!) and self-publish. As soon as Outlander is done and out there, I will be writing a novel entitled The Candidate, hopefully completing it during the current presidential election. I have a stack of projects after that, that I can't wait to get to, probably enough to last the rest of my life, especially since I typically don't have time for writing except on days off and at night. Besides a sequel to Outlander, I also need to write a prequel for Makatozi's Revenge, and then edit MR to fit what I have done in the prequel.

Monday, July 11, 2011

With You, #2

I asserted, in the first article in this series, the state of a relationship is illustrated by the degree of separation, seen in orientation, location, or barriers. People who are enjoying a good relationship want to be 'with' one another. Modern language expresses this idea using 'spatial' words: two who enjoy a fulfilling relationship are said to be 'close,' while someone who does not form relationships readily might be spoken of as 'distant.'

Two in love want to be together as much as they can; two whose relationship is painful and unpleasant desire to be separated.

As relational beings created in the image of God, we model divine realities (however imperfectly) on a human level. So it is not surprising to find that the state of our relationship with God is illustrated by the degree of separation we experience from Him, as illustrated by orientation, location, or barriers.

A perfect example of this is found in Genesis 1-3. God created Adam and Eve that they might be with Him. His perfect intention was that Adam and Eve produce a generation of servants who would be loving and happy stewards over the Cosmos that He made (Genesis 1:26-31). It is evident from Genesis 2 that God fellowshiped with Adam and Eve, and attended to their needs.

God's desire was to display His glory to and through the world He had created. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve were corrupted by the serpent and decided upon other plans (Genesis 3:1-6). After they sinned against God, notice the change in their relationship with God and one another:
  • They felt uncomfortable in their nakedness, and made clothes (a barrier between them), Genesis 3:7.
  • When they heard God, they were afraid of Him and hid (change of location), Genesis 3:8.
  • When questioned, Adam shifted the blame to Eve (a change in his orientation towards her), Genesis 3:12, and even subtly blamed God Himelf ('the woman You gave me!').
  • As a consequence of their disobedience, they were driven out of the garden (the place where they met with God, an increasing separation), Genesis 3:24.
Today we experience both separation from God and from one another because of the alienation our sinfulness has brought about. Isaiah, the prophet, actually uses the term:

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short That it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2 (NASB, emphasis mine)

There are so many rich illustrations of this principle in the Bible, including ones that accentuate the almost spatial, geographical nature of it, I could go on for quite some time buttressing my point from Scripture. In the next article, we'll see that God's desire remains unchanged: He still desires to have his redeemed creatures 'with' Him, and has communicated that in several powerful ways.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

With you

A husband and wife are sitting in their car, traveling down the highway. They chat happily for a while, and then have a minor disagreement. Conversation stops, and she turns away from her husband and stares out her passenger-side window.

A mom, dad, and kids are sitting together around the table, playing a game. The son misbehaves, and becomes disruptive. He is sent to his room.

After 18 years of marriage, a husband and a wife divorce. They can't stand to live in the same house anymore.

Two neighbors who live side by side, have a disagreement. A week later one of them comes home to find the other erecting a fence between the two houses.

A child misbehaves in school, and is stood in the corner, his back to the class.

Two families with bad blood between them used to sit on opposite sides of the church, and never spoke. Recently, they reconciled. Now they sit together, and are planning to vacation together.

A daughter was estranged from her family and so moved to the other side of the country, as far away as she could get. She never called or wrote. Recently, her dad repented of sinning against her and sought her forgiveness, which she tearfully granted. She then repented of shutting out the whole family, and moved back into town. Now they are constantly visiting together, attending church together, celebrating Christmas together.

A man from Colorado and a woman from Iowa fall in love. They marry, and she leaves her home and friends to be with him.

What is the common feature in all these snapshots? You can probably identify several, but there is one in particular I want you to see. Now, don't get all profound on me, here, it's really quite simple.

In each case the state of the relationship is illustrated by the degree of separation, seen in orientation (the wife's back is to her husband as she looks out the window), location (the son is in his room separated from the family) or barriers (fence). When a relationship worsens, one or more of those factors increases as a consequence (increasing distance, representing increasing separation). When a relationship improves, one or more of those factors is reduced as a consequence (increasing proximity, or nearness, decreasing separation).

Now I know I have just stated the obvious, right? These are situations common to all of us, and we have probably thought about conflict and relationships enough already to have realized these things on our own. But please, bear with me, right now I am purchasing the ingredients--I have not started baking the cake yet.

We'll carry the thought further in a later post, because there is somewhere I'm going with it (look for posts entitled "With you" or look up posts having the label "Shuv"--to be explained later).

For the time being, think about how the events of Genesis 2 and 3 (the Garden of Eden story) illustrate the point mentioned above. If it's been awhile since you read those chapters, dig out your Bible and read 'em again, then think about how that story illustrates the point above about the state of the relationship.

And notice one more thing: in order for the state of affairs to improve in any of the scenarios above, one of the parties must "turn" or "return."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Does the truth about God matter?

Hmm. . . good question. Let's explore that, starting with the notion of truth as something objective and not just personal. . . .

You go into a store, and give the clerk a twenty for an item that costs five dollars. You are expecting fifteen in change. The clerk gives you, instead, one dollar, and insists that, according to her truth, it is correct change. Does that matter to you?

You're at a dealership and while on the lot you negotiate the price of a car. The salesman invites you into his office to close the deal, and when he writes up the sales agreement, the price is double what he agreed to while standing on the lot. Does it matter to you?

You're a single mom, and you manage to land a job that won't require you to work weekends, so you can be home with your small school-age children. After the first week, you check the schedule, and your boss has you working next Saturday and Sunday. Does it matter to you? What will be your response when your boss says, "Well, that agreement you referred to? That's your truth. My truth is posted on the schedule."

You're fueling a Boeing 767. You calculate the required fuel in kilograms. The ground crew takes your figure, and calculates their fuel transfer in pounds (without a conversion factor). Does the truth that one kilogram weighs approximately 2.2 pounds matter? [You can read about the crash landing of Air Canada flight 143 here].

You're planning an unmanned Mars Mission. One mission team uses English units to calculate the propulsion required for trajectory correction maneuvering; the other team uses metric units. Does it matter? [You can read about the loss of the $328,000,000 mission here.]

"Wait just one minute, Chris! Your examples are about physical constants, conversion factors, verbal promises about which we can be certain. You can not just extrapolate that firm nature of truth to the spiritual world!"

Oh, really? Why not?

"Well, because spiritual truth is different! Everyone has their own spiritual truth. There's no single true truth that's true for everyone!"

I see. And, how exactly do you know that? On what grounds do you believe that the truth which bounds the spiritual world is any less certain, settled, objective, or knowable than that which bounds the material world? What gives you such certainty that spiritual truth is . . . uncertainAfter all, the concrete realities of the physical world would lead us to expect a similar state of affairs for the unseen, spiritual world.

In fact, some philosophers of science argue that it was precisely the Western belief that, because a real, rational, personal Creator ordained consistent, orderly, laws of nature, these laws may therefore be investigated and discovered by the real, rational, personal minds which He created. This orderly view of the Cosmos (as opposed to animistic, chaotic, and somewhat arbitrary Eastern views of reality) is precisely what made scientific investigation of the natural world not only worthwhile, but pregnant with success. It was this Judeo-Christian worldview which led to centuries of Western domination in science.

If we can agree for a moment, for the purpose of discussion, that certain and knowable spiritual truth does in fact exist, then it follows that knowing God truly is not only important, but vital.

For example, suppose you are on the phone, telling an old high-school classmate you haven't seen in years about the woman you married, and you happen to mention (seriously) that she weighs 200 pounds. Do you think that mischaracterization is going to matter to your 95 lb wife?

Or, talking to the same individual, suppose you tell him that you have a wonderful son who is going to pursue a degree in medicine just as soon as he gets out of jail for drug-dealing. Would such a characterization matter to your son, if (a) he's never been in jail, (b) he's never dealt in drugs, (c) he vomits at the sight of blood, and (d) his real interest is computer science?

If we assume, for the purpose of discussion, that God actually does exist, and that spiritual truth is certain and knowable, then don't you think it would matter to this real Being if what you believe and say about Him is accurate? Does saying true things about God matter?

As a matter of fact, the Bible indicates that it does matter, and matters very much to God. The book of Job ends with God admonishing Job's three friends to offer a burnt offering and to go to Job so that he might pray for them. Why? Because, God says, 
". . . I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has" (Job 42:8).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul makes a very dogmatic statement about getting the gospel right (the gospel is God's plan to deliver men from the judgment for their sins): "As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:9, NASB).

Yep. Truth about God matters. And He has told us all about Himself in the Bible. Better get it right.