November, 2015

...now browsing by month

 

The Source Of Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.

Considering his wrongful imprisonment by the Romans, Paul’s admonition is astonishing. In the clutches of a legal system that was sometimes impaired by corruption, the apostle’s fears might well consume him. Instead, he puts his cares in the hands of his infallible and omnipotent Father in heaven, and so is able to exhort his fellow-sufferers to “be anxious for nothing.” In doing so, he reminds us of the true source of thanksgiving: God’s person and work.

Public Domain by KRK

Public Domain by KRK

Why Worry When You Can Pray?

Bobby McFerrin’s infectious 1988 pop hit “Don’t worry, be happy” expresses the philosophy of many people when they face the trials and troubles that inevitably attend life in this fallen world. Christians are not exempt from problems and fears, but they can cast their care upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7.) Rather than say: “Don’t be anxious,” full stop; Paul says “don’t be anxious – pray instead.” This reflects a confidence in God and is a tacit acknowledgement of His power and faithfulness. Because the Lord is both sovereign and good, the believer can trust Him to work out His purposes for their ultimate, eternal blessing (Rom. 8:28-29.) Spurgeon points out that He is the only proper ground of the saints’ trust:

Is his heart faint? Is his arm weary? Is his eye grown dim? If so, seek another God; but if he be infinite, omnipotent, faithful, true, and all-wise, why gaddest thou abroad so much to seek another confidence? Why dost thou rake the earth to find another foundation, when this is strong enough, and broad enough, and deep enough to bear all the weight which thou canst ever build thereon? Christian, be single in your faith; have not two trusts, but one. Believer, rest thou only on thy God, and let thine expectation be from him.[1]

Habitual Thanksgiving

This passage also exhorts believers to bring their requests “with thanksgiving.” Giving thanks should come naturally to them, as a couple of nineteenth century commentators declare:

‘The temper of the Christian should always be one of thanksgiving. Nearly every Psalm, however deep the sorrow and contrition, escapes into the happy atmosphere of praise and gratitude. The Psalms, in Hebrew, are the Praises. All prayer ought to include the element of thanksgiving, for mercies temporal and spiritual’ (Note by the Dean of Peterborough). The privilege of prayer is in itself an abiding theme for grateful praise.[2]

  Why does Paul link thankfulness with prayer and supplication? First, looking to our God for help reminds us of all He has done for us in the past. He purposefully created us and presently maintains our physical lives (Acts 17:28.) He providentially provides health, food, friends, and family (see Psalm 104.) Most of all one thinks of “His indescribable gift,” He provided His Son as a propitiatory sacrifice, offering a liberating redemption payment and giving a new righteous standing in the Father’s sight (2 Cor. 9:15; Rom. 3:21-26.) In the future, He will complete the work He began in believers by returning to take them to Himself and transform them into resurrected form. They will then reign with Him in the Millennial kingdom and the eternal state to follow (Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:11-23; 1 Cor. 6:3; 1 John 3:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4-6.)

Gratitude ought to be a daily, moment-by-moment attitude of human beings, yet it is often forgotten – especially in the presence of troubles. People often react to problems with introspection – or sometimes even self-absorption. But if one knows who God is and all that He does for us, then thankfulness is the logical and spiritual response. As Albert Mohler, Jr. recently wrote: “Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act, rightly understood. As a matter of fact, thankfulness is a theology in microcosm – a key to understanding what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world we experience.”[3]

Ingratitude: A Native Human Weed

Historically, forgetting the Creator and ingratitude have gone hand in hand, as Romans 1:21 explains: “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In fact the original fall of Adam and Eve may be seen as a lack of thankfulness towards God’s bounty and a corresponding desire to have fulfillment outside of obedience to His will (Gen. 3:1-6.) Fixing one’s mind on God cultivates thankfulness; ignoring Him leads to thanklessness and foolish independence.

Admittedly, not giving in to fear is sometimes easier said than done. One writer notes that “Be anxious for nothing” is “an admonition that touches the quick of every person.”[4] Yet these verses are practical, being battle tested in the cauldron of multitudinous sorrows. In prison cells, on sickbeds, and in the face of various tragedies large and small believers still demonstrate that the Almighty exchanges fear for faith and worry for peace. Only the reality of God’s power and love as manifested at the cross can give one the patience and equanimity to endure hard circumstances. Because the Son of God died and rose again defeating every enemy, there is no trial that can withstand His effectual working (1 Cor. 15:51-56.) Only His throne of grace is a sufficient place where one may take one’s cares and needs. Commenting on Philippians 4:6-7, F.B. Hole well summarizes this truth: “We may be anxious as to nothing, because prayerful as to everything, and thankful for anything.[5]

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Words of Expostulation,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 7. Originally preached on January 20, 1861. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1861), 70.

[2] H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Philippians, With Introduction and Notes. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893, 112f. [Italics original.]

[3] Albert Mohler, Jr., “They Did Not Honor Him Or Give Thanks – Why Thanksgiving Is Inescapably Theological,” on the blog, accessed on 11/24/15 here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/11/23/they-did-not-honor-him-or-give-thanks-why-thanksgiving-is-inescapably-theological/

[4] Maxie D. Dunnam, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 31: Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982, 308.

[5] F.B. Hole, Philippians. Electronic ed., accessed here: http://biblecentre.org/commentaries/fbh_54_philippians.htm#Philippians%204 Accessed on 11/28/11. [Italics original.]

Mercy in Everyday Tragedies – Or Why I’m thankful For The Lord’s Providential Plans

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

The horrible news of yet another terrorist attack – this time in Paris, the iconic “city of light” – fills the headlines globally. In this age of mass information and communication our screens are inundated with unwanted scenes of carnage and pitiable sorrow. Beyond globally publicized tragedies – some natural and some manmade – there are the innumerable smaller trials that afflict ordinary folks. We all know people that are ill with cancer; or dealing with the loss of a loved one; or struggling with the breakup of their families (divorce, wayward children, private addictions to multiple soul-destroying vices, etc.); or enduring financial reverses such as the loss of a job.

"Kain" by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg

(“Kain” (1917) by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain.) 

Seven Billion Sufferers In Need Of A Deliverer

   What can one say? Such difficulties are endemic in this fallen world and evil is all too real. That’s where the Lord’s faithfulness comes in: He is an inexhaustible salve to heal the wounds of a broken creation, filled with countless sad stories emanating from sinfully defective people. Only the knowledge of His sovereign control over the world, overruling wickedness and its attendant suffering, can give us peace to endure and confidence to overcome. Just as the Man of Sorrows who died on the cross is now the risen Lord of glory, even so this present world of calamity is going to give way to an unshakeable kingdom of glory, righteousness, and justice.[i]

A History Of Violence

   Earlier this week, as I devotionally read through a somewhat obscure genealogy in 1 Chronicles, I was reminded afresh of the Almighty’s providential mercies towards His people. Amidst numerous unfamiliar names, 1 Chronicles 7:20-24 this remarkable vignette appears:

The sons of Ephraim were Shuthelah, Bered his son, Tahath his son, Eladah his son, Tahath his son, Zabad his son, Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead. The men of Gath who were born in that land killed them because they came down to take away their cattle. Then Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And when he went in to his wife, she conceived and bore a son; and he called his name Beriah, because tragedy had come upon his house. Now his daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon and Uzzen Sheerah.

The quotidian activities of earning a living in mundane agricultural pursuits were suddenly disrupted by violence. Cattle raiders murdered Ephraim’s sons – his heirs and earthly hope for the future. As a father, I cannot imagine the grief that such an event would bring. No stranger to this type of pain[ii], Matthew Henry writes: “Nothing brings the aged to the grave with more sorrow than their following the young that descend from them to the grave first, especially if in blood. It is often the burden of those that live to be old that they see those go before them of whom they said, These same shall comfort us.”[iii] Indeed, how could a father go on after such a tragedy? The passage offers some help:

  1. Ephraim was comforted by his brothers, 1 Chron. 7:22. In times of sorrow, physical family can offer help and comfort; how much more ought spiritual brothers and sisters offer to one another during trials? 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Col. 4:8, 11; 1 Thes. 5:11, 14.
  1. The Lord comforted him by giving him another son, 1 Chron. 7:23. True, this son was no replacement for the children who were gone – this is evidenced by the boy’s name “Beriah”[iv] – but it did ensure the preservation of his family line by giving him an heir.
  1. The Lord carried on His purposes for the Ephraimites, 1 Chron. 7:24-29. In spite of the murders and opposition, Ephraim and his descendants continued to develop the land and found notable cities like Upper and Lower Beth Horon. They would prosper, just as the patriarch Jacob prophesied.[v]

We’ll Always Have Paris

From The Getty Library, public domain.

(From The Getty Library, public domain.)

  Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a terminal illness, or another type of setback or trial, the believer can rejoice in the certainty of the Lord’s purpose to glorify His people. How ever horrible the catastrophe, the Lord will lovingly carry out His will for those who have received Him through faith in Christ. As Romans 8:28-39 famously expresses it:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Crime And Punishment

   Were the murderers of Ephraim’s children ever brought to justice in this world? The Scriptures are silent on this point. Nevertheless, God’s word repeatedly declares that those who flout the mercy that He offers in Christ will inevitably stand before a higher tribunal: The Lord’s own Great White Throne.[vi] For those who have trusted Christ, He has already suffered judgment in their place.[vii] This is the only way to evade eternal punishment for our sins. One way or another, no one escapes the providential dealings of the holy God.

ENDNOTES

[i] Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Corinthians 15; and 2 Peter 3:10-13.

[ii] Henry’s first wife died in childbirth; he also had three children die in infancy. For more information, see here http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bhenry2.html Accessed on 11/17/15; or the excellent biography, Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence, available here: http://www.christianbook.com/matthew-henry-his-life-and-influence/allan-harman/9781845507831/pd/507831?event=ESRCG

[iii] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 566. [Italics original.]

[iv] The translators’ offer these meanings of the name: “On misfortune” NASmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for misfortune.” NIV’11; “In tragedy” NKJVmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for disaster” ESVmg.; “Beriah sounds like a Hebrew term meaning ‘tragedy’ or ‘misfortune.’” NLTmg.

[v] “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.” Genesis 49:22-26.

[vi] Rev. 20:11-15; see also John 5:17-47; Acts 17:29-31.

[vii] John 5:24; Rom. 8:1.

 

Book Review: God is Love

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Book Review: God is Love: A Biblical And Systematic Theology. By Gerald Bray. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.

 I received a complimentary copy in kindle format from the publisher for review purposes.

I disagree with far too much of this book to recommend it, but I benefitted from certain sections of it. I am an “eat the meat, spit out the bones” kind of a guy when it comes to books. So even though I disagree with much of the book, I am glad that I read it. As a summary of just a few of the author’s positions that I reject, I offer this list: the author’s eschatological system (which tends towards preterism and amillennialism); his ecclesiology (which favors creeds and liturgical forms of worship; plus he gives far too much credence to churches that are apostate, e.g. the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches); soteriology (Reformed; whereas I would leave more room for God sovereignly granting man freedom to make a real choice), and other strange personal asides throughout the book (discounting the Angel of the Lord as a theophany; seemingly favoring theistic evolution, etc.)

On the positive side, Bray is a lucid writer with clear commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Most of his footnotes are references to Bible verses, which is much better than bolstering one’s position by endless quotations of theologians and commentaries. He is a gentleman, who obviously strives for peace and forbearance among fellow Christians. His tone is consistently humble and not grandstanding. His chapter on atheism is worth the price of the book. He is obviously erudite and thoughtful with a broad understanding of philosophy and historical theology. Nonetheless, I think he gives too much away in trying to broadly appeal to Christendom (evangelical and otherwise.)