Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sermon on Genesis 19-21

On December 8, 2013, I preached at Oak Grove Congregational Christian United Church of Christ in Pine Mountain, GA. You can read and listen to the sermon here.

Genesis 19:30-21:21    

Today’s text may be somewhat obscure for some in this room, but it contains important truth for us today. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed, so these words we have before us come with the same authority as if Jesus himself were here speaking them to us personally. I was assigned two chapters of narrative text, so for time’s sake, I will not be able to read it all to you, but I will teach it to you like the original author taught it to his people, as a narrative.

As I tell the story, I want you to listen for the main point: Lot’s daughters, Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, and Abimelech are all concerned with preserving a lineage to make their names great. And also notice that, in God’s sovereign providence, He preserves the lineage of Abraham and makes His name great.

Lot and His Daughters - Genesis 19:30-38

Lot, the nephew of Abraham was afraid to live in the town of Zoar, so he and his two daughters lived in a cave on a mountain outside of town. The daughters became worried that the family line would not continue because they weren’t married, and they didn’t have any prospective suitors because they lived in isolation. So the two daughters made a plan to get their father drunk and sleep with him without him knowing. So both daughters committed a terrible sin in conceiving children by their ignorant and drunk father. One of the sons was named Moab, from whom came the Moabites, and the other son was named Ben-ammi, from whom came the Ammonites. 

What God is showing us here is that unbridled desire leads to sin. Lot’s daughters had such a strong desire for children that they would do absolutely anything to have them, even if it involved incest. Each of us has a tendency to look at the sinful things that we want and convince ourselves that they are good. It is not uncommon for us to rationalize our sinful behavior as being godly. Lot’s daughters tried to make their sin sound holy by thinking of it as preserving the family line. But rest assured, your sins will find you out. It is important that we are honest about our sin. Furthermore, Lot’s daughters felt no repentance. In fact, they even named their kids in celebration of their sin - Moab means “from my father” and Ben-ammi means “son of my own people.” 

God is also showing us that our sins can sometimes have terrible long-term consequences. The Moabites and the Ammonites are the descendants of Moab and Ben-ammi, and these two tribes are consistently a thorn in the side of the people of Israel. These two tribes hinder the future Israelites from coming into the Promised Land. Your sin may seem like it only affects you, but there may be serious consequences for others in the future. So the call is to repent; turn away from sin and follow Christ. Walk no longer in the darkness and come into the light. Leave a legacy of godliness for your family. 

Ultimately, God can bring beauty from our messes. The most famous Moabite is Ruth. From the line of this Moabite woman comes King David and eventually Jesus himself. God often uses what was intended for evil to bring about His sovereign and good plan. So press on and pursue the Lord; He can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

Abraham and Abimelech - Genesis 20

Abraham and his wife Sarah traveled toward the Negeb desert, and along the way they passed through the city of Gerar. The king of Gerar was named Abimelech. Abimelech was captivated by Sarah’s beauty and demanded to have her as a wife. Abraham knew that if he confessed that he was Sarah’s husband that he would be killed and Sarah would be taken as one of Abimelech’s concubines, so he lied. Abraham told the king that Sarah was his sister and his life was spared. Before Abimelech had time to sleep with Sarah, God came to him in a dream and told him what Abraham had done. Abimelech confessed that he knew nothing of this; Abraham and Sarah had both lied to him. God told Abimelech that He knew that he was innocent and that He had protected Abimelech by not allowing them to sleep together. God commanded Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham because Abraham was a prophet.

So Abimelech obeyed the Lord and scolded Abraham for deceiving him. He questioned Abraham about why he thought he had to do that. Abraham said that he assumed that there were no upright and God-fearing people in the city and that deception was his only way to make it out alive. Abraham said that Sarah is technically his half sister so it wasn’t even a full lie. Abimelech gave Abraham sheep and goats and silver and full access to the land in Gerar. 

Abraham prayed and thanked the Lord for Abimelech’s generosity and understanding. He prayed for Abimelech and God richly blessed Abimelech and his family for his obedience. 

One of the things we are to learn here is something of the far-reaching effects of sin. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength; therefore, the greatest sin is to fail to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Another way of putting it is to say that the greatest sin is faithlessness, to disbelieve that God is worthy of our love and trust. Faithlessness is not just thinking that there is no God, it is also thinking that God is too small to fulfill his promises and that he needs our help. This is Abraham’s chief sin: he does not trust God to fulfill His promise. Abraham knew that God promised to make his offspring into a great nation, but Abraham found himself in a bind, he thought that God had lost control and needed some help, so he lied about Sarah being his sister. 

Abraham not only sinned in his lack of faith, but he also sinned by deceiving Abimelech. The life of faith cannot be maintained by deception. Are you deceiving others into thinking that you are more holy than you really are? Are you deceiving others into thinking that you are a Christian when you know that you really are not? You will be found out because it is impossible to keep up the facade. Come into the light today! Today is the day of salvation!

Much can also be learned from Abimelech’s situation. He was deceived by Abraham and he unintentionally sinned against God by taking Sarah as a wife. Even though Abimelech was ignorant the crime, he was still guilty. Abimelech recognized his guilt, he recognized that God blessed Abraham, and he recognized that he must obey the Lord in making things right. Abimelech repented of a sin that he did not intentionally do. This is a lesson to us that we must have soft hearts that hear the call of God to repent. It is important that we confess our sins to God and turn from that sin to obey Jesus. Pray that the Holy Spirit will illumine you to the sins in your life that you don’t even know about. 

Finally, God is gracious to Abraham in his sin. The whole story depicts Abimelech as the good guy and Abraham as the bad guy, yet God seems to be harsher with Abimelech than with Abraham. The important thing to notice is that God does not deal with Abraham according to his sin, but he lets it slide. Why? Romans 3 tells us that God passed over former sins because He knew that Christ would come to pay for the sins of all of God’s people for all time. The sins of Abraham were placed on Christ at the cross. That’s why it says that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham was saved in the same way that we are. He was saved by looking forward to the Messiah who was to come, we are saved by looking back to the Messiah who has already come. The New Testament says this clearly:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith… 
Galatians 3:7-9

So Abraham received mercy and grace, not because he deserved it, but because he had faith in the promise of God. Likewise, you and I are saved by faith alone in Christ, just like Abraham. Will you trust in the faithfulness of God to keep His promises?

The Birth of Isaac - Genesis 21:1-7

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time in which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” 

God is always faithful to His promises. He promised that Abraham’s offspring would be blessed and would be a great nation. Despite Abraham’s effort to take the matter in his own hands by having Ishmael by Hagar, God fulfills His promise in the birth of Isaac by Sarah. Isaac is the child of promise. But hear the word of the Lord in the New Testament:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise….
Galatians 3:16,18

The bigger picture that Paul shows us is that Jesus is the ultimate child of the promise; he is the true and greater Isaac. All of the promises of the Old Testament are pointing forward to Jesus. He is the one who is the ultimate Blessed One, by whom all the nations are blessed, through his life and substitutionary death. He is ultimately made into a great nation, with its epicenter in the New Jerusalem. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; his Kingdom will have no end and cannot be shaken. Paul goes further:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Galatians 3:25-29

For all who are in Christ, we are children of the promise too. We are adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ. We become partakers in this promise that goes all the way back to Abraham if Christ is our Head. The promise is not limited to ethnic Jews, for we are the true sons of Abraham if we are in Christ. 

God Protects Ishmael and Hagar - Genesis 21:8-21

Isaac grew into a heathy and happy little boy and Abraham threw a huge party to celebrate this “son of the promise.” Ishmael, the son of Hagar by Abraham, laughed at Isaac. Sarah was furious and demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away for good. After all, Ishmael was an illegitimate son and would not get any of the family inheritance. Abraham was upset because of the decision he had to make, but the Lord told Abraham not to worry about Hagar and Ishmael because Isaac would be the “son of blessing.” God promised to take care of Ishmael and to make his descendants into a great nation too. So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away with some food and drink and they wandered in the wilderness. 

They eventually ran out of water and the child began to cry in exhausted dehydration. Hagar went away from the child because she did not want to be present when the child died. She began to cry too. God heard the cries and came to Hagar and promised to make Ishmael into a great nation. She opened her eyes and saw a well of water and they drank. They were saved, and the boy grew into a powerful man. 

Here we see that God has a general kind of care even for those who are not a part of His promises. But the question to ask is this: Are you a child of the promise or a child of the flesh? Paul explains this in the New Testament: 

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”
Galatians 4:22-31

The fact is that we are all born according to the flesh, with a sinful nature, estranged from the promise of God, condemned by the Law of God. But hear the word of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…You must be born again!” There will be a day when we will each stand before our Creator and Judge. We will give an account of our lives. Only those who find their death in Jesus’ death will make it through the judgment. Only those who claim no righteousness but Christ’s will make it. Have you been born again? Are you united to Christ by faith? Have you come to an end of yourself and are you relying FULLY on Jesus for your salvation. Would you repent of your sin and turn to him who loved you and gave himself up for you? Would you cry out to Him in humble prayer and confession? If you are NOT an heir of the promises of God through Christ, I implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

First Sermon - 1 John 1:5-2:2

On December 1, I preached my first sermon from a pulpit. All of my prior preaching has been on street corners to unsuspecting college students. The Word was graciously received by the First Congregational Christian Church of Phenix City, AL. You can listen to the sermon here. 

     1 John 1:5-2:2                      


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 

The beloved disciple, John, is saying that the content of this book is a message from Jesus. And we believe that the Holy Spirit is carrying John along as he writes to ensure a legitimately God-inspired letter. The message of this book as a whole and this passage in particular is an incredibly relevant word for the Western church in America and especially here in the Bible Belt South. 

Today’s passage is particularly relevant for those who struggle with doubt and assurance of salvation. If you really want to grow in understanding who God is, what Christ has done, and how to know if you are in Christ, then hear the word of the Lord. 

John tells us something of the nature of God, what God is like. He says the God is Light. Now light here is functionally synonymous with Truth. Recall our favorite passage from the Gospel that John wrote: 
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)
So, there is an association between God’s Light, His Presence, His Truth, and our sinful tendency to distance ourselves from Him. In a way, to say that God is Light is to reiterate that God is Holy. 

John is also saying that God is consistently God. He never changes. A.W. Tozer has said that God is not the perfect balance of parts, He is the perfect absence of parts. What he is saying is that God is not a more loving in one scenario and more just in another scenario. This means that God is not moody. He is always right. This also means that we do not have to pit God against Himself. We do not have to compromise in our love for God. He has no negative qualities, He is good and righteous in all of His ways. We do not have to fear in fully embracing God. When you bite into an apple, you may find a worm, so you eat slowly and hesitatingly. Or when you are married, you never know when your spouse may let you down, so you might withhold your FULL love. We do NOT have to have that kind of uncertainty about following Jesus. HE WILL NEVER LET YOU DOWN. He is absolutely Light, in him there is NO darkness at all. There is no shadow (James 1). He has no ulterior motives. We do not ever have to fear being disappointed. 

Why would you try to hide from a God like this? God is light and God is good. He drives away the shades of night, and death’s dark shadow puts to flight. His light pierces the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Come into the Light of God’s truth today. When we come to an end of ourselves and admit our brokenness, He makes us whole. We all like cockroaches flee for the shadows. Our flesh hates it, but the way to godliness is to be exposed by the light.


John gives three “If we say” statements of error followed by three “If” statements of correction. He diagnoses three sinful tendencies that Christians fall into regarding their own sin. 1) There is a tendency to speak like we know Jesus without actually knowing Jesus. 2) There is a tendency to think that we no longer struggle with sin as a believer. 3) There is a tendency to minimize and cover up our past sins. 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

We all know people who “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk.” This is the person that John addresses here: those who claim to have fellowship with God but the pattern of their life is not characterized by the Light of Christ, but rather by the darkness of sin. John says that such people are liars; they deliberately and consciously lie. In the quiet of their own bedroom at night, there is a storm of trouble in their conscious because they know that they are living a lie. 

Salvation is more than knowing the right answers to the questions. Galatians 2:16 says that by works of the Law, no one will be justified. In the same way, by mere profession of faith, no one will be justified. HAVE YOU BEEN CHANGED BY THE GOSPEL? Have your priorities been rearranged? Jacob wrestled with the Lord in the wilderness and he never walked the same way again. How has the truth of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection and ascension impacted your life? If you claim to know Christ but you walk in the same old way of life, you are a liar and you will be judged on the final day. I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God! (2 Corinthians 5:20) If we come into the light of Christ, fully exposed in our need for Him, the blood of Jesus covers us and cleanses us; he makes us pure and blameless before God. And because we have unimpeded fellowship with God, we can have unhindered fellowship with one another. Is your life marked by strife and drama and conflict with your brothers and sisters? Come and walk in the light and he will make your paths straight. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

There are some who deny that they struggle with sin since coming to know the Lord. These people are more than liars, they are self-deceived. They have persuaded themselves that they do not have any sin to confess. They deny that sin corrupts the human heart and needs daily renewal in God’s truth. The confirmation of assurance is NOT that you no longer sin, but that you know where to go when you do. Assurance of salvation can be had as we daily confess our sin and repent, as we daily cast ourselves on the cross of Christ. But these false teachers to not do that. How can they know the forgiving mercy of our Father if they deny their need of Him? If we confess our sins, God is faithful to do exactly as He has promised; HE WILL FORGIVE AND PURIFY. Do not fail to come to God by way of the cross for fear of God’s acceptance. He has promised to be faithful. The new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:34 says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” So I plead with the hymn “Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. Let not conscience make you linger, not of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.”

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 

The third lie of the false teachers is to deny past sins. Romans 3:23 says that all people sin and fall short of God’s glory. We have all inherited a sinful nature and we live in a fallen world. So, to say that we have not sinned is to contradict God and to call Him a liar. I am sure you hear the silliness and danger of disagreeing with God about the reality of sin. 

John changes his tone by addressing his readers as, “My little children.” His tone changes from a professor’s teaching about false doctrines to that of a loving father warning his children of the danger of sin. He states that the whole point of teaching them about sin and false doctrines should motivate them to avoid sinning all the more. But, consistent with his argument, he says that if a Christian does sin, Jesus is there. We have only to cry out to him for forgiveness and grace. We can trust that his grace is greater than all our sin. Moreover, Jesus is our advocate. He pleads for us. He argues our case before the Judge like a defense attorney. And he is Jesus Christ the righteous one, he has never lost a single case. Listen to these precious truths from the hymn:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.
My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Here is the climax of this text, God’s solution to the problem of human sin, the cross-work of Jesus Christ. The word propitiation may sound intimidating, but it is the richest word in all the Bible and is worth the mental effort to understand. In short, it means atoning sacrifice or wrath appeasement. It means that Jesus, by his death on the cross, has satisfied the Father’s wrath that was coming toward sinners. 

God created man in His image so that we might enjoy fellowship and communion with Him. But Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and so has every person since. We all deserve God’s righteous judgment. Away with all the complaining about the doctrine of divine wrath! Of course God loves us, and it is precisely because He loves us that He hates sin and desires to punish it. He has a holy, controlled, and settled antagonism toward all evil. He will not stand for anything that destroys worship. We all deserve the wrath of God for all eternity because of our sins. 

So, when John says that Jesus is the propitiation, he says that Jesus satisfies and absorbs the Father’s wrath toward sin and sinners. Jesus died on the cross in the place of sinners, as our substitute. He makes the Father propitious, or favorable toward those who deserve His punishment. This is what drove Jesus to sweat great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane; it was not mere thorns and nails that caused him to quiver, it was the full fury of the wrath of God that led him to ask his Father to let the cup pass from him. Praise God for Jesus’ resolution to say, “But not my will but yours be done.” Jesus of Nazareth literally endured Hell for his sheep. 

Jesus lived a perfect life that each of us are called to live, and he died a death that you and I deserve. His perfect righteousness is sufficient for the whole world, but is made efficient only for those who turn from sin and trust in him for salvation by faith alone. Would you go on in sin when there is a clear and sufficient way of redemption for your soul? What is there in Christ that you would not desire in a Savior? Praise him for the beauty and glory of propitiation! Go no longer in sin. Come into the light by way of the cross. I implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Complementarian Marriage and Gender Roles

Complementarian Marriage and Gender Roles

Current events in American culture necessitate that Christians think biblically about issues pertaining to God’s creative intent for human relationships. We live in a time in which all lines of demarkation are being challenged. A neuroscientist from Emory University recently asserted in the New York Times that because dogs experience human-like emotions, “dogs are people too,” and closes with speculating about the future of “dog’s rights.”1 So, in the midst of a culture that prizes blurring lines and redefining terms to make room for inclusivist concepts ranging from transgenderism, to homosexuality, to no-fault divorce, to metrosexuality, to cohabitation, Christians must be informed concerning the Bible’s teaching on issues relating to marriage and gender and personhood. 

The solution is not a return to some dated picture of apron-clad wives cooking and cleaning, pausing only long enough to push out babies. Nor is it helpful to dream of the good-ol’-days. The only way to move is forward, but the way to move forward to look backward to biblical teaching.

God’s Word gives the fundamental teaching on issues pertaining to marriage and gender. I am working from the premise that God exists and He has spoken clearly and infallibly through the Bible. The purpose of this paper is not to prove the reliability of the Bible, but rather to show what the Bible has to say about the issue of complementarian marriage and gender roles.  

When surveying the Gospels, Jesus gives no exhaustive teaching on marriage and gender, but what he does is even better. Jesus affirms the principles from the Old Testament concerning marriage; he sets straight what the Pharisaical schools had misconstrued. Jesus specifically points to God’s creative intent for people and relationships.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 2
Matthew 19:3-9

It is best to start at the beginning:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 
Genesis 1:26-31

So, God made man in His image, and God made woman in His image. And mysteriously, man and woman together in a marriage relationship pictures the image of God. They both receive a mandate to fill the earth with children to populate the world. They are both charged with the task of cultivating and exercising dominion over all the other created things. From this, it is evident that God calls both men and women to obey His word. Both men and women are equally rational, moral creatures made in God’s image. 

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. 
Genesis 2:15-25

The naming of the Woman is significant. This is an act of authority, responsibility, and headship. Just as a father and mother name their newborn child, claiming responsibility for the child and claiming the right to name him/her, so Adam accepted his God-given role as head and leader of the Woman. 

The Woman was made “a helper fit for him,” literally “like-opposite him.” The Woman was designed to fulfill her God-given role by coming alongside Adam to help him fulfill his God-given role. Western sentiment looks down on this notion of being a helper, but all throughout the Bible, God refers to Himself as our Helper. 

God was clearly setting a precedent for all mankind for all ages because He says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Adam and the Woman had no father or mother. Therefore it is evident that God was establishing a definition of what marriage is for those who were to come afterward. 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head, 
and you shall bruise his heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
And to Adam he said,
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:1-24

Adam’s headship is further demonstrated when God comes to the Garden. He calls for Adam, not the Woman or both of them as a couple, to give an account for their sin. The Fall of Man did not introduce gender roles; it polluted and disfigured them. 

In God’s curse upon the Woman, He says that her desire would be for her husband. This does not mean that she will be drawn to him merely as a companion. It means that her desire will be to rule over him. (This is confirmed by the same use of the word in Genesis 4:6-7 in the context of Cain’s hatred and eventual murder of his brother Abel. “The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”) Because of sin, women have a sin-tendency to be discontent with submission to their husbands. 

Adam’s sin was one of omission. When the Woman was tempted by the serpent, Adam stood by passively - “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” - Adam neglected his role of leader and protector. So in God’s curse upon Adam, he is charged with listening to the voice of his wife - instead of the voice of his God - he had blatantly failed to lead. 

However, in God’s curse upon the serpent, God promises that the offspring of the woman will strike the fatal blow upon the serpent’s head, though that same offspring will suffer a strike to his heel. God promised a redeemer, a messiah, that would overcome the Enemy. Adam and the Woman understood this as a promise; therefore, Adam renames the Woman “Eve” in faith that God’s word will prove true - Eve means “mother of all living.” In this renaming of the Woman, Adam begins to model for all people that men and women are still called to strive to obey the original roles for which God designed people. 

Jesus is the Messiah; he is the Second Adam who loves, leads, and protects his bride, the Church; he is the true offspring of the Woman who has his heel bruised in his crucifixion but crushes the serpent’s head in his resurrection. 

Concerning the New Testament’s understanding of headship and submission, there is even greater clarity. Jesus’ comments are primarily reaffirming and correctly interpreting the Old Testament teaching, while Paul fleshes out some of the more nuanced issues. 

We see the heart of equality and complementarity within the Trinity. No Christian would argue that Jesus is less divine than the Father, that Jesus is somehow less glorious or worthy of worship. Yet through Jesus’ incarnation, he humbly submits himself to his Father’s will. This demonstrates that, within the Trinity, the roles of headship and submission are not a matter of essence or dignity or quality or glory, but rather a matter of role and function. Jesus’ character was displayed most clearly in his submission in a way that it would not have been if he were the head. The Father’s character is demonstrated most clearly in His headship and authority in a way that would not be as clear if He were not. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and is sent out. In a similar way, a woman flourishes most in her femininity when she submits and helps her husband, and a man flourishes most in his masculinity when he leads and protects and provides for his wife as head. Both are called to model themselves after Jesus, males in sacrificial authority and women in sacrificial submission. 3

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
1 Corinthians 11:3

Paul is helpful in applying God’s creative intent to the family while exposing human sin and circumstances that arise from living in a fallen world.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:22-33

All women are NOT called to submit to all men. Wives are called to submit each to their own husband. Husbands should have a self-giving love for their own wives. Women are called to show Christlike submission, while men are called to show Christlike headship. Men and women are made to demonstrate the rich character of God in gender-specific ways. The Bible allows for freedom in the particulars while still upholding the obligatory nature of the principles. 4

The importance of this issue is profound because, as Ephesians 5 says, marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, a picture of the gospel. Where biblical concepts of marriage and gender are nonexistent or cloudy, the clarity of the gospel is hindered. All marriage relationships are pictures of the gospel; the question is, “How accurate is the picture?”  

In light of this brief biblical evidence, it will be helpful to define some terms, considering much of the current discussion is a matter of redefining terminology. What God has defined, let not man redefine. 

Marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman that is binding until one of the spouses dies; marriage is established by God (whether or not a couple acknowledges Him or not), in the presence of witnesses, consummated by sexual intercourse. 5

Complementarianism is that view of human interaction which affirms that God designed men and women with equal worth, glory, dignity, and value but with different gender-specific roles and functions in society.

“Biblical headship for the husband is the divine calling to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant-leadership, protection and provision in the home. Biblical submission for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. This is the way of joy. For God loves his people and he loves his glory. And therefore when people follow his idea of marriage, people are most satisfied and he is most glorified.” 3

In an age of gender confusion and sex changes, definitions are necessary. Gender is more than a social construct. Sex is more than a biological descriptor. The two are inextricably and definitionally linked. Males (sex) are designed to embrace masculinity (gender). Females (sex) are designed to embrace femininity (gender). Gender and sex are not independent variables. These things are bound to personhood and relational dynamics. If gender is at the heart of our nature, then we risk losing an important part of ourselves if we abandon our roles. 4

I close with a poem entitled “Comparisons” by G. K. Chesterton:
If I set the sun beside the moon,
And if I set the land beside the sea,
And if I set the town beside the country,
And if I set the man beside the woman,
I suppose some fool would talk about one being better. 6

2. All Scripture quotations are from the ESV 2011, Crossway. 
3. Piper, John. What’s the Difference? Crossway.
4. Keller, Tim and Kathy. The Meaning of Marriage. Dutton. 
5. Kostenberger, Andreas. God, Marriage, and Family 2nd Edition. Crossway

Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Choose a Local Church (for incoming freshman...or anyone)

How to Choose a Local Church (for incoming freshmen)

For many of us, prior to college, church affiliation and routine has largely been directed by our parents, so coming to college is a unique time for students to make personal, spiritual decisions for the first time. There is no way to emphasize highly enough how important it is to be immersed in the life of a local body of believers, but hopefully this can help.

PRAY! Seek the Lord and ask for guidance, then trust His leading and make a decision.

What to look for (non-negotiable): 

  • Foundation: There must be a clear emphasis on the centrality and authority of Scripture and on Jesus’ finished work on the cross to be received by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:1-10, 1 Timothy 3:16
  • Doctrine: There must be a consistent emphasis on the gospel in preaching and teaching, worship, family, evangelism, church discipline and love for God and neighbors. Galatians 6:1-2; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Timothy 4:13-16
  • Service: There must be an outward focus, working for the good of the local community. Jeremiah 29:5-9; James 1:27, Hebrews 10:24-25
  • Mission: There must be an emphasis on making disciples in the local community and around the world. The Church is vehicle by which God reaches every people group. Matthew 28:19-20, Romans 15:20

The church must be unified around the gospel, sanctifying one another as they gather regularly and live life together.

Personal preference (negotiable):
  • Order: church government, traditional order of service, style of music, views of sacraments 
  • Specific issues: eschatology, etc. 
  • Size: follow the Holy Spirit’s leading 

Very practically:
  • Attend different ministries at the same church (i.e. corporate worship, small group bible study, specific college services, etc.). There is a strong temptation to only spend time with people your age; invest in the nursery and with the senior saints.
  • Give a church two or three services in a row before you make a final decision.
  • Make a final decision and become a member, it doesn’t have to take forever.
  • Look for a place where you can use your gifts to serve and not just consume. 
  • Look for a place where you are challenged and fed.
  • Find leaders that you can submit to, read a church’s Statement of Faith, and then become members. 

JOIN A CHURCH! Church membership is essential to thrive in the Christian life. “Church hopping” does NOT honor Jesus, nor does it help you. It is crucial to covenant together with other believers from different walks of life. God has gifted every follower of Christ with spiritual gifts, NOT AS AN END UNTO ITSELF, but to be used for service in His Church. No church is perfect, so be gracious.

You must seek God’s will in God’s Word and be led by God’s Spirit. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

God Stooped Down

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth by the Word of His Power. He spoke and things came into being. By the pronouncement of some nouns and verbs, without the lifting of a finger, the waters teemed with sea-life and the ground sprouted vegetation and animals slowly began creeping along the ground. A brilliant system when you think about it! What else would you expect from THE God who alone rules and reigns over all things? 

But on the sixth day, there was a change of method. No more speaking and it was done.  No more creating things without a drop of sweat from his holy brow. God stooped down. He stooped down and created a little mud-man. God stooped down and got His hands dirty. Compelled by no outside stimuli or lack in Himself, He stooped down to deal with Man in a way that was unique from all of the rest of the creation. The breath of His Spirit blew roundabout and inside the Man and he lived; this was His masterpiece. This Man that God made would be crowned with glory and honor and be set over all of the rest of the created order. He would be the image of God physically manifest in the universe to live in perfect communion with God, to perfectly receive and display absolute Trinitarian love. But as a sign of God’s unique relationship with this Man, God stooped down.  

And Man grew to resent God. The Serpent deceived Man and so, in pride, the Man coveted against God; he leapt up in a vain attempt to usurp God’s role and by so doing he fell...hard. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one Man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all Men because all sinned --

Fast forward several thousand years.

In a small room, in the middle of the pre-celebration festivities for the Passover, Jesus was eating with His disciples. Then, in amazing humility, He rose up from the table, and He stooped down. He laid aside His outer garments, much the same way as when He left the glory and privilege that He had with God before. He tied a towel around His waist, the mark of a servant, pointing us back to His birth when Divinity wrapped Himself in servant-like flesh. And then He proceeded to wash the disciple nasty feet. He got His hands dirty, beads of sweat forming on His holy brow. In this act of extraordinary humility, Jesus showed us the kind of death He was to die. With greatest grace, in leaving the manifest presence of God to stoop down into human flesh, God the Father crowned Him with glory and honor because of His suffering and death. 

God’s unique and redemptive purpose for Man, you and me, demanded that justice be satisfied by sending His Son to take our curse upon Himself. Jesus stooped down and bore our sin in His body on the tree. He is now risen from the dead. Therefore God has highly exalted Him to the highest place and has bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Repent and Believe, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Genesis 1-3, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4, Hebrews 2:5-9, Romans 5:12, John 13, Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 8:4, Mark 1:15

*In case you missed it: in the Garden, in the very act of creating Man, before the Fall, God showed the lengths He would have to go to redeem us.