Friday, May 29, 2009

In My Fathers House There Are Many Rooms...

This post comes in response to a question posed by Tabatha at AskScripture.com. Tabatha (a self-proclaimed Jew) writes:
There is, I seem to recall, a beautiful piece of writing in the Christian bible; I don't know all of it but it starts with, I think: 'My father's house has many mansions'...?

I've always liked it, though I don't remember where I first read or heard it. It would just be great to learn a bit about the full piece of text?

How do you interpret that first line?

Thanks for asking, Tabatha. I have to admit that I'm hesitant at first--knowing from our past exchanges that you're much more familiar with Jewish tradition than I--to add my commentary on this passage, but I trust that what the Lord has to say through this passage will not be hindered by my commentary. I hope, in fact, that He uses me to illuminate in a way that's glorifying to Him.

The passage comes from John 14:2, during what is called the Passion Week that led up to Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus had predicted his own death in chapter 12, to His own disciples' dismay. Then, in the scene that immediately precedes this text, Jesus then foretells that it will be the denial and betrayal of His own disciples that will lead to His death. Peter, specifically, says He will "follow" Jesus where He goes--which is of course, to death--but Jesus predicts just the opposite for Peter.

Now, we also know from the other parallel accounts of this occasion (the synoptic Gospels) that it was at this very meal where Jesus declares the "New Covenant" in His blood. This brings us, at last to the context of the house and the rooms. One of the clearest descriptions of the old and new covenants is found in Jeremiah 31:32, where God describes the new covenant in this way:
"It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"

Both covenants, New and Old are likened to that of marriage. God was a "husband" to Israel, leading them by the hand--an affectionate term. Likewise, the Church is called the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5:32. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the covenant of marriage is modeled after God's covenant with His people, rather than that His covenant is modeled after marriage. (See The Nuptial Gospel for deeper discussion)

And so, at last I've laid the contextual groundwork for dissecting the passage of Scripture in question. In John 14:1-4, Jesus tells his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Although the Latin Vulgate and the King James versions both translated "rooms" as "mansions"--the better understanding would be "rooms." Literally, it's a dwelling place. But, whereas we consider a dwelling place to be it's own freestanding home, not so in the lower classes of this culture--such as the fisherman, carpenters, and so on. The custom practice was for a bridegroom to work during the year of his engagement on building a new addition, like a lean-to, onto his father's house. This would be where he and his new bride would live in the years after their marriage until, hopefully, someday he could begin his own family or inherit his father's house.

Jesus' message here to His disciples is that, though He is leaving them for a while, He is still their groom. He goes to prepare a place for them in the Father's house. Similar to the first covenant, which was established by the blood of a bull and mediated through Moses, Jesus here is giving a poignant metaphor for the love and care that is represented in the New Covenant, which He was about to confirm by His own blood (Luke 22:20) and would mediate Himself as our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-15).

And if He is departing temporarily, but remains their promised groom, then He certainly will return for them. That is the assurance He offers in verse 3. The eschatological meaning of this is still debated, but whether it is a pre-tribulation rapture that is in view, the descent of the new Jerusalem, or simply a metaphorical description of their reuniting at their own death, the end result cannot be mistaken. We will live in an everlasting loving relationship with God.

In the verses that follow, Jesus goes on to describe the mysterious relationship between Himself and God, their unity as one God-Head, and yet the distinction of Jesus as "the way" to the Father. For a more in depth look at this topic, refer to We Beheld His Glory, We Beheld His Glory Part II, Learning from the Kenosis, and Christ the Mediator.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Love the Sinner by Hating the Sin

This article comes in response to a question posted by anonymous on my open question forum, askscripture.com. Anonymous writes:
"As a born again christian mother, how do I respond to my 24 year old daughter who has announced that she is in a relationship with another female, who is 18 years old? What do I say, what limits if any, do I set? Do I accept this other female into our home and family celebrations? I am overwhelmed with heartache and don't do much but cry. Just before she announced this, she had a boyfriend for 6 1/2 years."

This is indeed a difficult situation to be in for any parent, or any friend of a dearly loved fellow sinner. People do horrible things. We call them mistakes, judgment lapses, learning experiences, etc. God, however, calls it by an altogether less popular word: sin.

Whenever we talk about dealing with the sin of another within the body, and especially within our own nuclear families, it's an important first step to confess and realize that we ourselves are also sinners. That said, the distinguishing factor between our anonymous mother and her daughter is that (presumably) that the mother confesses her sin and is not embracing a lifestyle of sin. Meanwhile the daughter shares no such humility and repentance.

The oft quoted verse by liberals and relativists who despise the concept that one human can rebuke another is Matthew 7:3, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" But remember that I've already mentioned we are looking to the plank in our own. What do confessed sinners do to deal with the specks in their brother's eye. To continue the metaphor: once you finally did remove the plank from your eye, would you then go on pretending as though your brother or sister had no speck in theirs? No. Jesus warned against hypocritical judgment, but He by no means disallowed accountability within the body.

For the dilemma that anonymous finds herself in here I believe the most applicable passage is 1 Corinthians 5:11, which reads, "you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral.... With such a man do not even eat."

Oh, but there must be some other way. Surely there must be some more kind, gentle, unoffensive way to deal with a daughter, of all people. We long to see the cuddly image we've developed of our "grandpa in the sky" type of god simply dismissing the sin and saying, "I love you anyway."

The discomfort we feel, however great or little, with this proposed scenario arises within us for one simple reason: far too mild of an attitude toward sin. If we saw sin for what it really is, what God sees it as, then we would revile the thought of sharing a meal even with a child, sibling, or parent who marked themselves proudly and unashamedly with such a repulsive spirit. Sin is death. It should be to us the stench of rotting flesh. Would you dine and be merry with a ripe corpse in the room?

The purpose, of course, of taking on such an attitude and carrying forth the action prescribed is not to elevate ourselves in some manner of self-righteousness. That is the abuse and misuse of such teaching that has led our modern culture to reject the rebuke and even the mere concept that there exists such a thing as sin. But God is not fooled. The purpose and heart behind this course of this action is to love the sinner—as we no doubt realize anonymous loves her daughter—by hating the sin.

I prefer to rephrase the old adage, "Love the sinner but hate the sin," into a more Biblical application of the concept: "Love the sinner by hating the sin." If we do not show our neighbor the speck in his/her eye, how is that loving? If we spare one's potential angst over realizing sin in their life by allowing them to persist believing they are ok, that will prove to be most unloving on the day our Lord returns. As difficult as this action seems in our worldly wisdom, the most loving thing a mother could do for this daughter would be to love her by hating her sin. As a believer, we should hate such outward rebellion to God so much that "with such a man [we would] not even eat."

As an encouraging conclusion to this thought, jump to Paul's second letter to Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 we see the result of this course of action. The sinner repents and Paul instructs the church to forgive him, welcome him home, and celebrate with them. "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him," Paul writes in verse 8. We have here a real example of the church discipline having the desired effect and we are witness to the joy it brings to all involved, not only the sinner but the entire church.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last Days - Warning Passages & Eternal Security

Today's post comes in response to a recent question on AskScripture.com where Anonymous writes (gross misspellings corrected):

"[I am] Trying to prepare a sermon for the body of our local church. I feel that [we're] living in what the Bible calls the last days before the coming of lord Jesus Christ. [I am] looking for some Biblical answers that show that many will fall from [their] faith in these days. To show them that this is a very bad thing to do, and [their] salvation is nothing to be playing around with.
Where do I begin. Let's start with basic hermeneutic principle: "I feel that..." followed by "I am looking for Biblical answers that show..." will always yield the answers you seek, but it may not be the answers that the Bible gives. Let me rephrase: if you enter into a study of Scripture with a foregone conclusion in mind and seek only to find the scriptural evidence to build your case, you will succeed in finding what you want to find, but that does not necessarily mean that you found truth.

However, we must all acknowledge that we do this to some degree. Covenant Theologians assume certain facts about Old Testament prophesy. Evangelicals de-emphasize the gospels and emphasize Paul. And Calvinists assume softer interpretations of the word "world" as well as the many warning passages, of which our anonymous inquisitor is expressly interested in.

Lucky for anonymous, I'm not a Calvinist... [clears throat] I'm just reformed [grin].

First, in regards to the present day being the last days. I'm not very certain about that. I do not claim to be an expert on eschatology, but there are several descriptions of the "last days" in scripture, even signs that they are near, and we haven't seen all of them come true. One of my friends and colleagues once commented that for at least 200 years, every generation has believed theirs to be the last. My wife's great grandfather recently passed away, yet right up until the day of his death he was so certain these were the last days that he swore that he would be taken in the rapture. Was the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD the abomination that causes desolation? It's not so cut-and-dry.

However, that wasn't really the basis of anonymous' question, and if he would like to preach a sermon with that assumption in mind, I would not fault him in the least. The more troubling assumption I see is that many will fall from their faith (that's nearly verbatim, but slightly skewed) and that this is an event that the presumably saved members of anonymous' congregation will do via "playing around" with their justified status before God.

Let's look at the text in question here, Matthew 24:9-25. In describing the events, Jesus toggles between specific you's and general many's. In verse 4, He warns His disciples specifically about deceptive prophets. But in verse 5, it is an ambiguous group that is misled by them. Again in verses 6 and 9, Jesus gives specific predictions of what will happen to "you," His followers. The warning of falling away in verse 10, then, is once again generic.

What does it mean that many will fall away, or as the NIV puts it "abandon the faith?" Just as Christ, the stumbling stone, caused many Jews to disbelieve, so will the turmoil and seemingly unjust cruelty cause many to abandon any hope in Yaweh, the god of Israel. But there is no evidence in the text that tells us these who fall away are the elect, having been justified through faith by Christ's blood, now abandoning their own salvation.

On the contrary, Jesus actually speaks some comfort to His followers. He declares that these deceiving prophets will try, "to deceive even the elect—if that were possible." Through my lens of interpretation I assume the unspoken truth here to be that it is indeed not possible. Jesus continues saying, "See, I have told you ahead of time," as though these warnings would be used to prevent His elect from being fooled.

So, anonymous, how would I preach this sermon if I were you? Do not use fear of damnation as a deterrent for sin. Instead, challenge the body of believers to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 2:10). Sure to whom? To God? Certainly not. If you fear the certainty of your eternal security, prove it to yourself by living out the life that only the Spirit can enable. Then, you can face tribulation and even death in the last days with confidence in:
"an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:4-5; emphasis mine).

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Adam, Eve, and Incest

This post comes in response to a question on askscripture.com where anonymous writes: "the bible doesn't say, as far as I know, if there were any other people unrelated to Adam and Eve's family on the earth when Cain got married. So, where did Cain get his wife from? Was she related to him?"

This is not a bad question. First, I'll answer the easier of the two questions: yes, you are correct that he Bible makes no mention of any other humans being created. So, the logical conclusion is that Cain must have married his sister.

Troubling? Why? In today's family structure where there may be 10 or so 1st cousins at a Christmas dinner, it's a bit disturbing to consider marrying any one of them. Not to mention the genetic disorders that result (I'll address that in a moment). But, try to imagine life outside the social stigma of incest we have today. Adam lived 930 years. Which, assuming he was virile from creation, means he could have fathered over 900 children in his monogamous relationship with Eve.

So, Cain didn't grow up with his sister. He's not in family photos with her. They didn't play together as children. In fact, she may be as strange to him as any other person in a crowd of 900. In that sense, it's not quite so... well... icky.

What about the Biblical ban on incest? Remember that law was not given for several thousand more years in Leviticus 18. It is not uncharacteristic of God at all to provide new or revised Laws to protect His people as time progresses. For whatever reason (and scholars can speculate that genetic devolution was the cause) God saw fit to forbid that which He once approved (Abraham married his half-sister).

I appreciate some other works on this topic found at:
http://christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c004.html
http://godlorica.blogspot.com/2006/01/whom-did-cain-marry.html (particularly if you do the math as he suggests)

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jesus and Homosexuals

This post comes in response to a question on AskScripture.com where anonymous writes, “Did Jesus like homosexuals and condone it by his actions?”

Shortest blog post ever: “No.”

Ok, so I’ll go ahead and expound a bit. I think what anonymous is getting at is a recent campaign by the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) entitled “Would Jesus Discriminate” and promoting http://www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.com/. The campaign included newspaper ads, billboards, and a slew of other media outlets citing alleged Biblical support of the so-called LGBT lifestyle.

Among the Bible verses that I personally saw advertised was Matthew 19:10-12 where Jesus tells his disciples that some men were born eunuchs. The MCC contends that in this context, eunuchs somehow represent a parallel to homosexual persons. To be honest, it is difficult to construct an argument against such a proposition that lacks any grounds at all. There are no alternate meanings of the text, there is no ambiguity in the Greek word eunouchos (Greek for eunuch), and there is no reason to see this connection other than a desire and effort to justify sin by twisting the meaning of Scripture to suit one’s own agenda.

Another account of Jesus in the gospels that is often touted as a supporting text for homosexual lifestyle is found in Matthew 8:5-13 where a centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. The MCC contends that in this context, the sick servant was not really a servant to the centurion, but his homosexual partner. Once again, it is clear that this interpretation requires a tremendous stretch of the imagination, not to mention a twist of the text.

In short, there is absolutely no evidence that Jesus condoned such sin as homosexuality. In fact, the strongest evidence supports that he would not have done so. Jesus told his followers, “Not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Matt. 5:18). This Law that He referred to was the same law that reads, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

The book of Job: Suffering and God's Sovereignty

This post comes in response to a question posted on AskScripture.com where anonymous writes: "Why did Job suffer? What examples of suffering were given in the book? Is Job's behavior questionable at times?"

I could spend years studying and writing on the book of Job and never totally unpack all that can be found entwined in it's passages. One of the most insightful studies is to read the seemingly logical observations about God and His righteousness that Job's three friends offer, consider how they are subtly flawed, and realize how commonly we make the same mistakes in our own theological judgements. But, anonymous has asked some very specific questions about the suffering we see in the book, so let's take a look.

Allow me to answer these questions a bit out of sequence. First, what examples do we see? Job lost pretty much everything but his own life, and even that he began to wish would end. In the first test, 1:13-19, raiders from nearby tribes destroyed his farm implements (donkeys and oxen) and his merchant vessels (camels). Meanwhile, it was natural disaster that destroyed his inventory (sheep) and even his own family. Now, I do not wish to downplay the value of human life lost, but I want to make sure we understand the economic meaning that a large family had in Job's day. While we can personally relate to his loss of loved ones, we might not directly relate to what this meant for Job's social status at the time. In essence, the first test was a stripping of all material blessing. The second test, 2:3-8, is where Job loses even his own health, the last shred of status that he could have. In his culture, to suffer skin boils was the curse of people on the lowest rung of the social ladder.

So what kind of suffering is this? It's tangible. It's something we can all comprehend, and some can even empathize. Some argue, however, that this is not related to the suffering of the New Testament, which was religious persecution and warranted endurance for a greater pragmatic significance than just the unfortunate dealings of so-called fate. However, was Job's suffering not a religious persecution? Who instigated it and why? It was Satan (literally the Accuser) who sought to oppose God by accusing a the ultimate character of Godliness in his day, Job, of disingenuous faith. It is clear by the narrative that none of this calamity would have befallen Job had he not been so "blameless and upright" (1:8; 2:3).

So, with that said, let's consider the first question posed by anonymous. Why did Job suffer? If we carry my last statement to the logical conclusion, it can be said that Job suffered as a result of his righteousness. How unjust is that! What an atrocious and wrong outcome of Job's obvious devotion to God. To deepen the mystery, no matter how you slice it we cannot absolve God of the ultimate responsibility for Job's suffering. God permitted Satan to implement the torment, but when he was petitioned "why" by Job, He did not skirt the responsibility by pointing blame on Satan. God, in essence, responded, "Sure I did, and what are you going to say about it. I'm God. Period."

In order to understand the book of Job without becoming inflamed with anger towards God, it is imperative that we accept by faith a truly Biblical view of God. In studying this story, you must understand that the original writer and original readers, monotheistic Hebrews, viewed God as unquestionably righteous. Therefore, Job would have been in utter sin to call the character of God into question. It simply wasn't an option. We look at these accounts through our Westernized lenses to the world and ask "why would God do this" as though we have the right to ask. Job, his friends, and the Israelites that studied this text did not share the same outlook. (See the "BSL - Righteous" download for a deeper understanding).

In fact, the book of Job carried the Hebrew doctrine of God's righteousness into a new level of understanding. Most of Israel's wisdom books (the Pentetuch, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) presented the theme of blessing from God as a just outcome of one's righteousness, and likewise curses were for those who lived unrighteous lives. This was the crux of Job's friends' advice as they thought surely he must have sinned to deserve this. The book of Job, however, does not allow the Hebrew to predict and influence God's judgements in a pattern of justice that WE as mere humans deem appropriate. The conclusion is that He is God, He will do what He pleases, and we dare not question. God is sovereign.

This is not an easy conclusion. In fact, it is precisely what frustrates most readers of Job. It's so unsatisfactory to us in our Westernized minds that we continue looking and thinking "surely there is more." I am reading "Come Next Spring" by Jim Welter, and while we obviously share differing theological views and hermeneutic methods, his treatise of Job is worth the read for anyone struggling with the unquestionable sovereignty of God.

So, to the third question, was Job out of line in his response? In one subtle way, yes, and God shamed him for it. Job, like his friends, understood God's justice to be tit-for-tat just as many people today demand that He be. In 42:4-6, Job finally understood how incomprehensible God really is, and therefor how incomprehensible His judgements, and therefore repented for presuming that he could comprehend how God should and would honor Job's righteousness.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why are evangelicals so hair-splitting about doctrine?

This post comes in response to a question posted on AskScripture.com where anonymous writes: "Why are evangelicals so hair-splitting about doctrine?"

My first reaction was "oh great, a liberal trying to instigate," but I've been inclined to give our friend Mr. Anonymous the benefit of the doubt, especially in view of the fact that he/she certainly would be right to say that God desires unity, not dissension. As passionate as I can be about certain debates, I myself must make the conscious effort to realize I will always have more in common with the most liberal of my brothers and sisters in Christ than with the most conservative and moral non-believers.

So, to get to the question, then, why are evangelicals (and fundamentalists) so hair-splitting about doctrinal positions in light of the clear commands to "agree with one another so that there may be no divisions" (1 Cor. 1:10)? Have some men simply come under the sin of pride and fascination with quarrels? Perhaps some have. But it is important to understand that the pursuit of agreement must be held in balance with the pursuit of sound doctrine that we see in Paul's pastoral epistles (i.e. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). A theistic world view teaches us that there is absolute right and absolute wrong. I believe many good-willed Christians are genuinely pursuing God's glory as they adamantly defy those who, in their opinions, do injustice to His revelation.

While it could be called "hair-splitting" for Christians to debate over scriptural inerrancy, God's sovereignty, baptismal traditions or any of the countless debated topics, it could also be crucial. It all depends on your perspective. For an example, let's assume that God told His people through a prophet that He got a 1600 (perfect score) on his SAT's. What if I heard it wrong and told everyone, "He's pretty bright, you know, a 1500 isn't bad." That's not giving God all the glory He deserves. What's worse could be, "Well, He said He did, but the original transcript got lost when He moved out of his dorm, so all we have is a photocopy. But hey, it's not really important. All that matters is He loves you." Obviously that's not all that really matters because He took the time to tell you He got a 1600.

We should all share a common passion for God's glory. For anyone who has come to especially revere God for a particular attribute or who has found great purpose in serving God according to a particular doctrine, the way a hair gets split could be the difference between ultimate glory and lesser glory. If we can all share a mutual desire for the same cause, namely His glory, we can more respectfully approach our differences. Personally, however, I am more dedicated to the glory of God than to my peace with fellow man, although I do not believe the two must be mutually exclusive.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ask Scripture

Got a question about a passage of the Bible? Trying to understand some section of Scripture?

Please, by way of comments on this post, feel free to ask any questions you may have. Be sure to subscribe, as I will take the time in the coming week to research and reply in a new blog post.

You can ask about a topic or a passage. I welcome discussion and inquiry from all levels of understanding—laymen to pastors—as well as those of you who may still be testing the claims of scripture and may or may not have accepted the Gospel message.

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