Archive for May, 2012

In A Theology of the Church, David P. Nelson states that “the Christian doctrine of creation is the free act of the triune God to create the entire universe from nothing, as well as every creature for his own purposes and glory.” What does this statement mean? The best way to discuss the meaning of this definition is to break it down into its component parts. We will look at its component parts. First, we will look at “free act of the triune God”. Next we will look at “to create the entire universe from nothing”. We will follow that analysis up with “as well as every creature”. Next up will be “for his own purposes”. We will then close out with “glory.” From this analysis, we will see that the doctrine of creation is central to the Christian faith in that it affirms the supremacy of God and that there is assurance that there is a greater purpose to our existence.

First, Creation was a “free act of the triune God”. This phrase indicates several things. It affirms that the Trinity existed before creation. This means that, as the Apostles John and Paul affirm in their canonical contributions, that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were not added later. They were part of the trinity from eternity. The trinity existed before creation. That the Trinity exists prior to creation establishes Jesus firmly as co-equal with God and affirms his authority over creation, and its most special component, man. That the triune God freely acted is of significance as well. This was a purposeful choice of God to create. It implies that there was a self-sufficiency to the triune God. God in the blessed Trinity did not need to create. The eternal union of reciprocal love within the Trinity was sufficient. In of Himself, God needs nothing. However, God is a God of blessing. Thus, he freely created so that he could bless his creation and that his creation could return that blessing in loving worship. This creation was an act. God made it happen which leads us to the next component of the definition.

In order for there to be creation, God had to act. In creating the heavens and earth, it was act to “create the entire universe out of nothing.” Nelson uses this phrase to indicate God brought the universe into being through his act. This act was “speaking”. God spoke the universe into being. It did not exist. This belief that Christians have is known as ex nihilo creation. Ex nihilo is Latin which means “from nothing”. When applied to Creation, it means that there was nothing before or coexistent with God. This establishes Gods lordship over all creation. It reflects a distinction between God and his creation. It establishes that all of creation owes its existence and obedience to the Creator. It also establishes that there was nothing before God and thus any idols that we have created as gods is just pure folly.

Early church father, Athanasius affirmed the ex nihilo doctrine. Thus, this doctrine has long-standing affirmation in the church. He affirmed that God not only made us out of nothing but he gave us freely, by grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God. However, since man rebelled against God, so God called forth the lovingkindness of the Word…for our salvation…to be born…into a human body (252). Thus, Athanasius was the first to affirm the linkage of Christ to creation. It affirms that Jesus existed in the Trinity pre-creation and thus gives him authority far superior to any man or any idol man creates.

That God created “every creature” is significant in that all life in creation owes its existence to the Creator God. That every creature is a creature of God, it has implications for man, God’s special creature who was made in his image. This statement means that every creature in creation serves a purpose and that each creature is valuable. The doctrine of creation should lead to a deep appreciation for all human life. This value means that practices like abortion and euthanasia are inconsistent with God’s plan and the Christian faith, according to Nelson. As well, racism is inconsistent with the value that God places on his creation. Along with this appreciation for human life, that God made all creatures should lead us to value and manage the rest of God’s creation with foresight and wisdom.

The next phrase, “for his own purposes” is crucial as well. God has a plan for his creation, a purpose. God has instituted and orderly and purposeful creation. The fall of man has twisted this orderliness because of sin but that God is guiding it all toward sending His Son and ultimately ending it with the new creation. His purpose was for man and the creation under man’s stewardship were to exist in perfect harmony and worship of creation toward God. However, with the fall, a means of reclaiming his creation was necessary. The God who created can also save. Through God’s purposes, Jesus entered the world and became a propitiatory sacrifice to reconcile God’s creation to Himself. Thus, God has a redemptive plan in place “for his own purposes.”

Finally, the phrase “for his own glory” is used. The creation was to be blessing to the created and in response the creation was to glorify God in reverent continual worship. This worship was to be freely given through the free will God granted to man. However, in this free will, man rebelled against this freedom. God began this creation and it is evident by use of the phrase, “in the beginning” that there is an end to the creation as we know it. There will be an end. In order to reconcile and begin to re-establish the glory that was prior to the Fall, God sent his Son into the world to provide man with the avenue of reconciliation where the purity of the original glory could be restored. Those who accept this avenue of reconciliation in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit will enjoy the restored glory at the Second Coming. God will do away with the fallen creation and establish the new heavens and new earth…for his own glory.

Creation doctrine has been beaten and battered over the past two hundred years. It is ridiculed highly by today’s secular world. So ridiculed, it is to the point that many Christians are often ashamed to bring it up in non-religious circles. In doing so, they have compromised on a significant tenet of the Christian faith. However, the doctrine of creation is a necessary tenet of true faith. It asserts the power, glory, and control of our God who created this universe freely without need. If more people took the doctrine of creation seriously, we would actually see the value of man elevate and the value of this earth restored. In creation doctrine, we see this world and all that is in it as a gift rather than a right.

Matthew 10:1-4

These Guys Changed The World? Part 1

At the end of Chapter 9, we saw Jesus pray for the harvest of souls. Matthew then immediately to begin Chapter 10 identifies Jesus’ disciples together all at once by name. It is clear that Jesus’ prayer in the moment was to send out his disciples into the harvest. Now, Matthew shows the disciples all together at one time and in one place so that Jesus could commission them to be sent out with his authority. They were commissioned to be his agents. There was well-developed case law in Jewish society as to agency law by this time. By using the term, “gave them authority”, Matthew was telling his audience that the disciples were agents of the Jesus imbued with the representative authority of him. Here we read in Matthew 10:1-4:

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

It is clear from the Scriptures that the disciples were not mentioned together all at the same time and in the same place as they are at this moment. Matthew makes it clear that this is an important moment in this history of this band…“Jesus and The Galilee Gang.” It should be assumed that because Matthew makes this moment a big deal that previously the twelve were not always together with Jesus all the time. Prior to this moment, each of them probably rotated in and out of the band as they could afford to while maintaining their livelihood and families back home. Until this moment, they were bi-vocational it is safe to assume. Each had come to salvation through Jesus. Each was in transition from their secular life to full time ministry. From Chapter 10 forward, you can see their apprenticeship under Jesus. In Acts, after Pentecost, you will see them take on full-time ministry. After Pentecost, you see them through the power of the Holy Spirit and through humble submission to Christ’s great commission change the course of human history. These guys are giants to us.  As John MacArthur says in his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, “if you have ever visited the great cathedrals of Europe, you might assume that the Apostles were larger-than-life stained-glass saints with shining halos who represented an exalted degree of spirituality.”

However, they were anything but extraordinary before they met Jesus. As we take a look at them, the question arises, “These guys changed the world? C’mon ya gotta be kidding me!” Let’s take a look at these men and see these guys not through the exalted status that they now have but back at the beginning when they were just “average Joes”…that is, until they met Christ. Any of us who struggle with whether we are adequate to carry out God’s purposes in the world should recall that the first ambassadors Jesus called were wholly inadequate. God uses especially those who will recognize their own inadequacy, for those who suppose their own ability adequate for God’s call usually end up depending on it instead of on him. Nowhere is the old often used axiom, “God does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called!”, more true than with Jesus’ backup band, “The Twelve”.

The Apostle Peter

The first disciple we will take a look at is Peter.  Andrew, Peter’s brother, was a disciple and follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35, 40), but who became a follower of Jesus after John’s testimony, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (1:36, 37). Andrew, in turn, located his brother Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah” (1:41). When Jesus saw Peter, he said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (1:42). Later, when Jesus chose the Twelve, Mark and Luke indicate that He gave to Simon the name Peter (Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; cf. Matt 10:2). How long Peter and Andrew remained with Jesus at this time is not known. At the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (at least six to nine months after the first call), they, with the sons of Zebedee, were recalled by Jesus by the Sea of Galilee where they were casting their nets into the sea (Matt 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18). Luke reports (5:1-11) this recall of Peter in connection with a fishing episode in which, under the instruction of Jesus, Peter and his companions caught a huge number of fish. In response Peter confessed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). From that time on Peter and the others apparently were constant companions of Jesus (Matt 19:27; Mark 10:28; Luke 18:28; cf. John 6:68).

Peter held the position of leadership in the circle of the Twelve. He is listed first in the four lists of the twelve disciples in the NT (Matt 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). In the gospels he is the most frequently mentioned of the Twelve. Peter was one of the inner circle of the three or four intimate apostles of Jesus. He was often the spokesman for the Twelve (Matt 15:15; 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20; Matt 18:21; 19:27; Mark 10:28; and Luke 18:28; 12:41). Peter owned a house in Capernaum. There Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38, 39). Luke places the incident at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry; Matthew places the event some time later (Matt 8:14, 15).

Peter appears as a man of contrasts. He was not always stable and reliable as his name implies. Following his splendid confession at Caesarea Philippi, he objected violently to Jesus’ predictions regarding His passion. Peter had not yet fully understood the Messianic role of Jesus—his messiah was still a Jewish national and political leader who could not suffer defeat in death.On the way to the Mount of Olives, according to Matthew and Mark (Luke and John place this episode in the Upper Room), Peter protested strongly against Jesus’ statement that all His followers were going to abandon Him, and Peter pledged his loyalty to the utmost. Jesus countered with the somber prediction of Peter’s denials (Matt 26:30-35; Mark 14:26-31; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:36-38). Later that evening, the prediction of Jesus came true—Peter denied any association with “the Galilean” (Matt 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:25-27). Even prior to the denials, while in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter with James and John failed Jesus in this critical hour by falling asleep. According to Matthew and Mark, Peter was singled out for a rebuke (Matt 26:40; Mark 14:37). Shortly thereafter, Peter displayed a flash of bravery, although misguided, when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus’ response was a mild rebuke of Peter.

The Apostle Peter displayed vital leadership in the early history of the Church as recorded in the first half of the Acts of the Apostles. Shortly after the ascension, he presided over the appointment of a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). Peter boldly addressed the crowds on Pentecost Sunday, and his sermon was instrumental in the conversion of about three thousand (Acts 2). This sermon reveals that Peter was well versed in the OT Scriptures (also evident in his epistles). He saw clearly the link between the OT prophetic utterances and Jesus of Nazareth. He recognized the emerging Church of Jesus Christ as the continuation of the OT people of God, a continuity substantiated through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Early Church.

After Pentecost, Peter miraculously healed a lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple (Acts 3:1-10). Peter preached another sermon (3:11-26), which led to his and John’s arrest (4:1-4). The next morning Peter spoke impressively in court (4:5-22). Peter was the spokesman in the episode involving Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11). Peter and John went to Samaria after Philip’s initial work of evangelism there (8:14-24). Here Peter forcefully rebuked Simon. Later, Peter performed miracles of healing in Lydda (healing of Aeneas, 9:32-34) and in Joppa (raising of Dorcas, 9:36-43).

Next we will look at the Apostle John, but for now we have looked at Peter. Peter, the inconsistent, impulsive, completely flawed individual that he was, became, as Paul called him, “a pillar of the church.”

Jesus could have completely rejected Peter after his denials. Jesus did not. He restores Peter to his place among the disciples. He saw beyond the moment and saw what Peter was capable of being when the Holy Spirit was in him. He saw him as the leader that was to hold the disciples together. He saw him as the forceful orator who added 3,000 people to the ranks of Christ followers with one speech. He saw a man that would have such faith that he could perform miracles in Christ’s name.

Christ can use you and me in the same way. None of us has a past that is so completely beyond horrible that we cannot be redeemed by Christ. Christ sees through our sin and loves us anyway. Christ sees what we can become after salvation. Even after salvation, Christ sees the repentant heart after confessing sin to Our Lord. Christ sees what we will become for his kingdom if only we let go of our sins and let go of our mistakes and simply let go. When we fully experience the joy of restoration that Peter felt, we can indeed become world changers like Peter did. Will you let go of your past and your sins, and let Jesus grab you by the hand and present you with the Holy Spirit? Will you let the Holy Spirit have all of you? Peter was just a fisherman, a regular guy. He was a regular guy that failed miserably when it counted the most. Peter often acted first and thought later. But, he became one of the most highly regarded men of the church for his leadership, his decisions (such as approving Paul’s taking of the message to the Gentile nations), his writings, and his devotion to the Lord.

Like Peter, he used his past not as something to wallow in but rather as a reason to dive deeper into the joy of salvation and restoration. Peter, so ashamed of how he treated Jesus when it counted, counted it immense joy when Jesus restored him (ironically asking him three times to feed his sheep). After that incident combined with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon him at Pentecost, the man was absolutely on fire for the Kingdom. Do you think so little of your salvation that you have no joy – the unbridled joy of being redeemed when you should be cast into the abyss? If you have not found salvation, do you want this joy? Do you want to climb out of the depths of despair and into that complete joy? Peter did!

Amen and amen.

USE YOUR BRAIN! A Review of John Stott’s Your Mind Matters
by Mark Bowling

When reading the book, Your Mind Matters by John Stott, one might look for one or two sentences that epitomize the thrust of the book – that one thought that drives the book’s point home greater than any other. It might well be, when John Stott says,
“Now all the verbs Luke uses here of Paul’s evangelistic ministry – to argue, to explain, to prove, to proclaim and to persuade – are to some extent “intellectual words. They indicate that Paul was teaching…and arguing toward a conclusion. He was seeking to convince in order to convert.” (67)

Stott says God created man as a rational being, a thinking being. It is through knowledge of God that we grow to spiritual maturity. In the end, the best way to summarize this book in one sentence is that emotion may lead us to the cross, but knowledge of God will keep us there.
In Chapter 1, Stott begins by identifying three examples of anti-intellectualism that is prevalent in Christianity today. He states that Catholic Christians have “nearly always placed a strong emphasis on ritual and its proper performance” (15). Stott comments that the danger is not ritual itself, but ritualism, which becomes “a meaningless substitute for intelligent worship.” He then identifies “Radical Christians,” who focus on “social and political action” without concern for doctrine (16). Next, he takes aim at “Pentecostal Christians, many of whom make experience the major criterion of truth.” Stott quotes an unnamed Pentecostal leader as having said “what matters in the end is ‘not doctrine but experience” (17). In conclusion, Dr. Stott discusses his desire to see a balance between the anti-intellectualism of the above situations and the opposite pole of arid, unemotional intellectual approaches to God. Both the mind and the heart were created to worship God, according to Dr. Stott, not solely one or the other. Each must serve in its place.
In Chapter 2, Stott demonstrates discusses how knowledge has changed the world rather than brawn. It is clear that the idealist, the non-violent philosophical thinkers of the ages that have radically changed the world and the course of history. Gandi, Mandela, King, and others jump to mind that have radically changed their societies simply with expressed thought rather than through violent overthrows of governments. Of course, Jesus’ taught his followers to change the world not with swords but through changed hearts. Although other animals can think in rudimentary ways, only man can reason and understand. Stott makes this a powerful appeal when he says, “Scripture takes for granted that we have the capability to think and to reason and it rebukes us when we act in ways show us to be less rational than animals” (24). Uncontrolled emotions lead us to satisfy our own pleasures. Our emotions are kept in check by our minds. It is through reason that we discover the effects of sin and the methods by which we can extract ourselves from it. Evil thoughts can be reasoned away by comparative thought of Godly things. Stott gives us biblical examples of how God expects us to use our mind. For example, Jesus rebukes his audiences for begging for signs and uses the example of how we can reason from the signs of the physical world how the weather is going to be on a particular day but yet they kept begging for signs of the Messiah.
Stott now turns to God himself as evidence that reason is an expectation. The processes of nature are logically explicable. God has expressed his thoughts to use through the processes he established in nature. Stott then quotes James Orr’s book, The Christian View of God and The World. Orr’s quote basically says that what differentiates Christianity from paganism and from other religions in general is that it has a defined doctrine. The truth revealed by God in His universe and His Word gives us is a basis of knowledge. However, this doctrine without exercise of knowledge becomes ritual. Ritual without understanding becomes weak and easily swayed away from the knowledge of God (29-30). From Orr, one can see that Christians must have doctrine and understanding of why we believe it.
Next, Stott addresses the role of our mind in redemption from sin. Man can read and reason. He can read and reason upon the gospel. The written word of the gospel and the sharing of these words addressed to the mind is the chief means by which God has appointed to bring salvation to sinners. Stott goes onto indict modern Christianity. We want our church to be like our entertainment, mindless-not thought-provoking such that we would be forced to re-examine ourselves. We don’t want to have to think about it. In this atmosphere, ritual becomes most important. How do we get Christians to be thinkers again? Reading the Bible! Stott explains that Paul repeatedly uses the words knowledge, wisdom, discernment and understanding in his canonical letters to the churches he planted. Stott concludes that “there can be no doubt that Paul found these characteristics to be foundational to the Christian life” (41).
In Chapter 3, Stott identifies six areas of the Christian life where knowledge is crucial. They are worship, faith, holiness, guidance, evangelism, and ministry. With regard to worship, Stott calls on several Davidic Psalms. In each case, the mighty deeds of God in the universe and for his people Israel all point toward his mightiest deed for us all, the birth, life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. Only through reading and meditation can one understand what God has done for each believer and thus respond in praise. All worship should be an intelligent response to God’s self-revelation in his Word. Next, Stott describes how knowledge and faith work together. Stott explains that true faith is essentially reasonable because it trusts in the character and promises of God. One does not shut his eyes to the facts and circumstances of life and think happy thoughts. Believers express faith by reasoning. According to Stott, faith is a reasoned choice not something mystical in which we have no role to play. Next, Stott addresses knowledge and holiness. His argument is that knowledge of the Scriptures (just as Jesus displayed in his temptation in the wilderness) and thus of the will of God is the first secret to a righteous life. He warns though that knowledge alone though is not enough. We must renew our mind so that our behavior becomes transformed. We must recall Scripture’s truths again and again until they take hold in our mind and thus changes our character. This is not giddy optimism. This is recalling the truth that exists until we make it part of our mind and thus who we are. Stott then moves onto the next area where knowledge and the Christian walk must interact. This area is guidance or discernment. Stott further breaks the issue down into two categories – general will of God and particular will of God. The believer develops knowledge of God’s general will for all believers. This will is that of being conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus, Christ, is fully evident and revealed in Scripture. Thus, we need to use our mind to study the Scripture, using proper biblical interpretation principles, so that we may discover God’s general will as to how his people should react to certain situations in life. God’s particular will is not to be sought directly in Scripture. It comes forth from the proper interpretation of Scripture. Proper interpretation of Scripture must be taken to the next step which is application. Application is where God’s particular will for our lives is shown. We must use our minds and our common sense and pray that God will guide us through this thinking process.
Knowledge and evangelism should not be separated either. In this area of Christian life, Stott relies heavily on the Apostle Paul. He states that Paul summed up his ministry by saying that “we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Persuading is an intellectual enterprise. To persuade is to develop arguments that will change another person’s opinion on a particular subject. Stott also indicates that once a person was convinced of his need for Christ, Paul and other early Christian evangelists taught them a body of doctrine about Christ. Each of these activities requires a reasoned approach by both parties to the transaction – the evangelizer and the evangelized. Closely related to evangelism is pastoral ministry. Knowledge is thus required in the pastoral ministry. However, it is a reminder against lazy or false doctrine in the pulpit. Stott reminds that it is by the knowledge of Christ as he is portrayed in the Scriptures and proclaimed by the ministry that Christians reach spiritual maturity. Thus, pastoral minister must be studious, both in preparation for the ministry and in the field with his flock.
In the final chapter (Chapter 4), Stott says that knowledge of God should is foundational to a true and full Christian walk. Our knowledge should have results. We must move forward by remembering “just one thing: God never intends knowledge to be an end in itself but always to be means to some other end.” He again calls on Paul to make his case. Without love, our knowledge is like a clanging cymbal. It makes noise but does nothing. Stott claims, “Knowledge carries with it the solemn responsibility to act on the knowledge we have, to translate our knowledge into appropriate behavior” (80). As a result, we find knowledge leading to worship, faith, holiness, and love.
To conclude, Stott’s book demonstrates the effect of Luke 10:27 commands. We are commanded in the first half of this verse to “Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” Knowledge of God leads us to love Him more and realize what God has done for us through redemptive history culminating in Jesus in the flesh to offer a final sacrifice for our sin nature. This knowledge should make us giddy with joy. It should make us so giddy with joy that execute the second half of the verse – to love our neighbor as ourselves. Emotion may get us to the cross. Knowledge keeps us there. Together in proper balance they embolden us to share the cross.