Monday, March 31, 2008

Did Jesus Descend Into Hell?

Read Wayne Grudem's plea for Christians to follow Scripture as opposed to the Apostles' Creed. (This information can also be found in his Systematic Theology). Click Here to read the article.

Friday, March 28, 2008

E.M. Bounds on Unction

“This divine unction is the one distinguishing feature that separates true gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting truth. It backs and interpenetrates the revealed truth with all the force of God. It illumines the Word and broadens and enrichens [sic] the intellect and empowers it to grasp and apprehend the Word. It qualifies the preacher’s heart, and brings it to that condition of tenderness, of purity, of force and light that are necessary to secure the highest results. This unction gives to the preacher liberty and enlargement of thought and soul—a freedom, fullness, and directness of utterance that can be secured by no other process.”
--E.M. Bounds

(HT: Adrian Warnock)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Biological Entitlement: A Quick Reflection

Most of us do not wake up each morning with the thought that this day might be our last. I am going to guess that most of us live with a sense of biological entitlement. In other words, rather than think that our life will end today we assume that we will go on living for another five, ten, twenty or more years. Rather, than be in awe of the fact that we have been given another day on earth we moan and complain about all of life's difficulties. Where does this sense of entitlement come from? At its root it comes from pride and an atheistic mindset. This seems to be what James was getting at when he wrote:
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (James 4:13-17)
May God deliver us from this kind of presumption in our speech and thoughts, and may we have hearts that recognize our creatureliness.

Observe, Observe, Observe

One of the most important rules to keep in mind when interpreting the Bible is often overlooked. In a desire to arrive at the original meaning of the text biblical scholars, preachers, seminary students, and those who "study" the Bible often bypass the most important aspect of any textual study, namely the text. What I mean is that rather than grappling with what a particular text says we are too quick to find out what others have said about the text. This leads to what one of my mentors has called being a second-hander. In other words, we don't go through the often excruciating, slow and rewarding process of observing, observing, and observing. Below is a wonderful story that helps illustrate this point:

The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz

by the Student

(Samuel H. Scudder)

It was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the scientific school as a student of natural history. He asked me a few questions about my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I afterwards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and finally, whether I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that while I wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to devote myself specially to insects.

"When do you wish to begin?" he asked.

"Now," I replied.

This seemed to please him, and with an energetic "Very well," he reached from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol.

"Take this fish," he said, "and look at it; we call it a Haemulon; by and by I will ask what you have seen."

With that he left me, but in a moment returned with explicit instructions as to the care of the object entrusted to me.

"No man is fit to be a naturalist," said he, "who does not know how to take care of specimens."

I was to keep the fish before me in a tin tray, and occasionally moisten the surface with alcohol from the jar, always taking care to replace the stopper tightly. Those were not the days of ground glass stoppers, and elegantly shaped exhibition jars; all the old students will recall the huge, neckless glass bottles with their leaky, wax-besmeared corks, half-eaten by insects and begrimed with cellar dust. Entomology was a cleaner science than ichthyology, but the example of the professor who had unhesitatingly plunged to the bottom of the jar to produce the fish was infectious; and though this alcohol had "a very ancient and fish-like smell," I really dared not show any aversion within these sacred precincts, and treated the alcohol as though it were pure water. Still I was conscious of a passing feeling of disappointment, for gazing at a fish did not commend itself to an ardent entomologist. My friends at home, too, were annoyed, when they discovered that no amount of eau de cologne would drown the perfume which haunted me like a shadow.

In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish, and started in search of the professor, who had, however, left the museum; and when I returned, after lingering over some of the odd animals stored in the upper apartment, my specimen was dry all over. I dashed the fluid over the fish as if to resuscitate it from a fainting-fit, and looked with anxiety for a return of a normal, sloppy appearance. This little excitement over, nothing was to be done but return to a steadfast gaze at my mute companion. Half an hour passed, an hour, another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face -- ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at a three-quarters view -- just as ghastly. I was in despair; at an early hour, I concluded that lunch was necessary; so with infinite relief, the fish was carefully replaced in the jar, and for an hour I was free.

On my return, I learned that Professor Agassiz had been at the museum, but had gone and would not return for several hours. My fellow students were too busy to be disturbed by continued conversation. Slowly I drew forth that hideous fish, and with a feeling of desperation again looked at it. I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish; it seemed a most limited field. I pushed my fingers down its throat to see how sharp its teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me -- I would draw the fish; and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature. Just then the professor returned.

"That is right," said he, "a pencil is one of the best eyes. I am glad to notice, too, that you keep your specimen wet and your bottle corked."

With these encouraging words he added --

"Well, what is it like?"

He listened attentively to my brief rehearsal of the structure of parts whose names were still unknown to me; the fringed gill-arches and movable operculum; the pores of the head, fleshly lips, and lidless eyes; the lateral line, the spinous fin, and forked tail; the compressed and arched body. When I had finished, he waited as if expecting more, and then, with an air of disappointment:

"You have not looked very carefully; why," he continued, more earnestly, "you haven't seen one of the most conspicuous features of the animal, which is as plainly before your eyes as the fish itself. Look again; look again!" And he left me to my misery.

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish? But now I set myself to the task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another, until I saw how just the professor's criticism had been. The afternoon passed quickly, and when, towards its close, the professor inquired,

"Do you see it yet?"

"No," I replied. "I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before."

"That is next best," said he earnestly, "but I won't hear you now; put away your fish and go home; perhaps you will be ready with a better answer in the morning. I will examine you before you look at the fish."

This was disconcerting; not only must I think of my fish all night, studying, without the object before me, what this unknown but most visible feature might be, but also, without reviewing my new discoveries, I must give an exact account of them the next day. I had a bad memory; so I walked home by Charles River in a distracted state, with my two perplexities.

The cordial greeting from the professor the next morning was reassuring; here was a man who seemed to be quite as anxious as I that I should see for myself what he saw.

"Do you perhaps mean," I asked, "that the fish has symmetrical sides with paired organs?"

His thoroughly pleased, "Of course, of course!" repaid the wakeful hours of the previous night. After he had discoursed most happily and enthusiastically -- as he always did -- upon the importance of this point, I ventured to ask what I should do next.

"Oh, look at your fish!" he said, and left me again to my own devices. In a little more than an hour he returned and heard my new catalogue.

"That is good, that is good!" he repeated, "but that is not all; go on." And so for three long days, he placed that fish before my eyes, forbidding me to look at anything else, or to use any artificial aid. "Look, look, look," was his repeated injunction.

This was the best entomological lesson I ever had -- a lesson whose influence was extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy the professor has left to me, as he left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part.

A year afterwards, some of us were amusing ourselves with chalking outlandish beasts upon the blackboard. We drew prancing star-fishes; frogs in mortal combat; hydro-headed worms; stately craw-fishes, standing on their tails, bearing aloft umbrellas; and grotesque fishes, with gaping mouths and staring eyes. The professor came in shortly after, and was as much amused as any at our experiments. He looked at the fishes.

"Haemulons, every one of them," he said; "Mr. ____________ drew them."

True; and to this day, if I attempt a fish, I can draw nothing but Haemulons.

The fourth day a second fish of the same group was placed beside the first, and I was bidden to point out the resemblances and differences between the two; another and another followed, until the entire family lay before me, and a whole legion of jars covered the table and surrounding shelves; the odor had become a pleasant perfume; and even now, the sight of an old six-inch worm-eaten cork brings fragrant memories!

The whole group of Haemulons was thus brought into review; and whether engaged upon the dissection of the internal organs, preparation and examination of the bony framework, or the description of the various parts, Agassiz's training in the method of observing facts in their orderly arrangement, was ever accompanied by the urgent exhortation not to be content with them.

"Facts are stupid things," he would say, "until brought into connection with some general law."

At the end of eight months, it was almost with reluctance that I left these friends and turned to insects; but what I gained by this outside experience has been of greater value than years of later investigation in my favorite groups.

-- from American Poems (3rd ed.; Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879): pp. 450-54.

(HT: David Howard via Roy Ciampa)

An Interview with Craig Blomberg

Justin Taylor has posted an interesting interview that he recently conducted with Craig Blomberg. For those who don't know Blomberg is one of the most well known conservative scholars. Some of his best known work has been done on the historical reliability of the Gospels. Click here for an interesting and thought provoking interview.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hurtful Words and the Healing Balm of the Gospel

Carl Trueman has a "must read" post (according to Justin Taylor and I agree) on Martin Luther's remedy for dealing with hurtful words. (Click Here to read the entire article) Below is his conclusion:

" ...[O]thers might tell me I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic etc., and these words are not just descriptive: they have a certain power to make me these things, in the eyes of others and even in my own eyes, as self-doubt creeps in and the Devil whispers in my ear. But the greatness of Luther’s Protestantism lies in this: God’s speaks louder, and his word is more powerful. You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied; but if God declares me righteous, then my lies and your insult are not the final word, nor the most powerful word. I have peace in my soul because God’s word is real reality. That’s why I need to read the Bible each day, to hear the word preached each week, to come to God in prayer, and to hear words of grace from other brothers and sisters as I seek to speak the same to them. Only as God speaks his word to me, and as I hear that word in faith, is my reality transformed and do the insults of others, of my own sinful nature, and of the evil one himself, cease to constitute my reality. The words of my enemies, external and internal, might be powerful for a moment, like a firework exploding against the night sky; but the Word of the Lord is stronger, brighter, and lasts forever."

(HT: Reformation 21 via Between Two Worlds)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Song

The following is one of my favorite songs reflecting on the resurrection by one of my favorite musicians:

"Easter Song" by Keith Green

Hear the bells ringing
They're singing that you can be born again
Hear the bells ringing
They're singing Christ is risen from the dead

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the word, He has risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah

Hear the bells ringing
They're singing that you can be healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they're singing
Christ, He will reveal it now

The angels, they all surround us
And they are ministering Jesus' power
Quickly now, reach out and receive it
For this could be your glorious hour

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah

He Has Risen!

Matthew 28:1-10
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oxen, Muzzles, Grains, and Suffering?

What in the world do oxen, muzzles, and grains have to do with suffering? Recently, I was reading in Deuteronomy and noticed something that I had not seen before.  Deuteronomy 25:4 ("You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain") is quoted by Paul on two different occasions in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 9:9 & 1 Timothy 5:18) in reference to financial provision for those who labor in gospel ministry. I have often wondered what it was that caused Paul to cite this particularly verse as as argument to financially support those who labor in gospel ministry. One would think that if Paul were going to draw on an example from the Old Testament, he would have mainly use the parallel with the provision that the other Israelite tribes were to make for the Levites, instead of a verse having to do with muzzles, oxen, and grain. Why was this verse even on the forefront of Paul's mind? Perhaps, it has to do with Paul's own experience and the overall context of Deuteronomy 25:4. In specific notice Deuteronomy 25:1-3.

"If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, 2 then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. 3 Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight."

In verses 2 & 3 Moses gives the description for what should take place when someone is guilty and is deserving of being beaten. They were to be given upwards of 40 stripes for their crime. What is interesting about this punishment is that Paul himself received it at least five times during the course of his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:24) Perhaps, before the Apostle Paul would receive the beating the Deuteronomy text was read to provide the judicial grounds for punishing him. Or maybe Paul found himself in a bit of despair after being beaten each time and wanted to be reminded of the overall context for the punishment to see if he was doing anything deserving of punishment. Or perhaps as a good Pharisee he had this passage of Scripture committed to memory and with each successive beating it was impressed all the more on him mind. All of these are speculations, but what seems to be clear is that Paul used his own suffering and where it took him in the Scriptures for meditation/reflection as a means of offering encouragement to others. Paul did not allow his own suffering and sorrow to limit his effectiveness for advancing the kingdom. Instead, not only does he use his being beaten as a proof of his apostleship in 2 Corinthians 11, but it also appears that he uses his suffering as a means of strengthening the Churches by encouraging them to support those who labor in their midst on behalf of the gospel. Oh, that God would give us grace to have eyes to see that the circumstances that He has us in now (no matter how bleak) are often His primary means of equipping us for future effective ministry.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Communion With God

This weekend I spent some time reading  Communion With God by John Owen.  I was particularly helped by his following statement on Communion with Jesus:

"The accepting of Christ by the will, as its only husband, Lord, and Savior.  This is called 'receiving' of Christ (John 1:12); and is not intended only for that solemn act whereby at first entrance we close with Him, but also for the constant frame of the soul in abiding with Him and owning of Him as such.  Wen the soul consents to take Christ on His own terms, to save him in His own way, and says, 'Lord, I would have had thee and salvation in my way, that it might have been partly of my endeavours, and as it were by the works of the law; I am now willing to receive thee and to be saved in thy way,--merely by grace:  and though I would have walked according to my own mind, yet now I wholly give up myself to be ruled by the Spirit; for in thee I have righteousness and strength, in thee am I justified and do glory;"--then doth it carry on communion with Christ as to the grace of his person.  This it is to receive the Lord Jesus in his comeliness and eminency.  

Let believers exercise their hearts abundantly unto this thing.  This is choice communion with the Son Jesus Christ.  Let us receive him in all his excellencies, as he bestows himself upon us;--be frequent in thoughts of faith, comparing him with other beloveds, sin, world, legal righteousness; and preferring him before them, counting them all loss and dung in comparison of him.  And let our souls be persuaded of his sincerity and willingness in giving himself, in all that he is, as mediator unto us, to be ours; and let our hearts give up themselves unto him, and not for another:  let him know it from us; he delights to hear it, yea, he says, "Sweet is our voice, and our countenance is comely;"--and we shall not fail in the issue of sweet refreshment with him."
John Owen, Communion With God, 59.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Spurgeon on Unction

"One bright benison which private prayer brings down upon the ministry is an indescribable and inimitable something, better understood than named; it is a dew form the Lord, a divine presence which you will recognize at once when I say it is 'an unction from the Holy One."  What is it?  I wonder how long we might beat our brains before we could plainly put into words what is meant by preaching with unction; yet he who preaches knows its presence, and he who hears soon detects its absence; Samaria in famine, typifies a discourse without it;  Jerusalem, with her feasts of fat things full of marrow, may represent a sermon enriched with it. Everyone one knows what the freshness of the morning is when orient pearls abound on every blade of grass, but who describe it, must less produce if of itself? Such is the mystery of spiritual anointing; we know, but we cannot tell to others what it is.  It is as easy as it is foolish to counterfeit it,  as some do who use expressions which are meant to betoken fervent love, but oftener indicate sickly sentimentalism or mere cant.  "Dear Lord!"  "Sweet Jesus!"  "Precious Christ" are by them poured out wholesale, till one is nauseated, if not profane.  

Some have tried to imitate unction by unnatural tones and whines; by turning up their eyes, and lifting their hands in a most ridiculous manner. . . Certain brethren aim at inspiration through exertion and loud shouting, but it does not come. . . 'To affect feeling,' says Richard Cecil, 'is nauseous and soon detected, but to feel is the is the readiest way to the hearts of others.'  Unction is a thing which you cannot manufacture, and its counterfeits are worse than worthless; yet it is in itself priceless, and beyond measure needful if you would edify believers and bring sinners to Jesus.  To the secret pleader with God this secret is committed; upon him rests the dew of the Lord, about him is the perfume which makes glad the heart.  If the anointing we bear come not from the Lord of hosts we are deceivers, and since only in prayer can we obtain it, let us  continue instant, constant, fervent in supplication.  Let the fleece lie on the threshing-floor of supplication till it is wet with the dew of heaven.  Go not to minister in the temple till you have washed in the laver.  Think not to be a messenger of grace to others till you have seen the God of grace for yourselves, and had the word from his mouth."
--Charles Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 50.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Who Said That Revealed...

"It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself."
--John Calvin

"The pleasures of humility are really the most refined, inward, and exquisite delights in the world." --Jonathan Edwards

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pistol Pete Maravich

Owen Strachan offers a great God-centered reflection on the life of Pistol Pete Maravich. Click here to read the reflection. Below is a video he linked to in his post (Check out the wrist-pass):

Charnock On The Eternality of God

"God is eternal. The Spirit of God in Scripture condescends to our capacities in signifying the eternity of God by days and years which are terms belonging to time, whereby we measure it (Ps. cii.27). But we must no more conceive that God is bounded or measured by time, and hath succession of days, because of those expressions that we can conclude him to have a body, because members are ascribed to him in Scripture, to help our conceptions of his glorious nature and operations. Though years are ascribed to him, yet they are such as cannot be numbered, cannot be finished, since there is no proportion between the duration of God, and the years of men...The number of the drops of rain which have fallen in all parts of the earth since the creation of the world, if subtracted from the number of the years of God, would be found a small quantity, a mere nothing, to the years of God."
Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 286 (Emphasis mine).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Charnock On The Goodness of God: Part 2

Charnock continues his meditation on God's goodness by offering the following statement:

"God only is infinitely good. A boundless goodness that knows no limits, a goodness as infinite as his essence, not only good, but best; not only good but goodness itself, the supreme inconceivable goodness. All things else are but little particles of God, small sparks from this immense flame, sips of goodness to this fountain."
Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 211.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Goodness of God

One of the best writers on the attributes of God is Stephen Charnock.  His writing reflects a deep meditation on the being of God and he has a gift for articulate, worship filled language.  The following quote is probably worthy of at least an hour of pondering:
"God is only originally good, good of himself.  All created goodness is a rivulet from this fountain, but divine goodness hath no spring.  God depends upon no other for his goodness; he hath it in, and of, himself; man hath no goodness of himself, God hath no goodness from without himself:  his goodness is no more derived from another than his being:  if he were good by any external thing, that thing; must be in being before him, or after him; if before him, he was not then himself from eternity if after him, he was not good in himself from eternity...God is good by and in himself, since all things are only good by him; and all that goodness which is in creatures, is but the breathing of his own goodness upon them:  they have all their loveliness from the same hand they have their being from.  Though by creation God was declared good, yet he was not made good by any, or by all the creatures.  He partakes of none, but all things partake of him.  He is so good, that he gives all, and receives nothing; only good, because nothing is good but by him:  nothing hath a goodness but from him."
Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Volume 2 Discourse 12, 210-11.

Simon Gathercole Audio on Galatians 2

Listen to Simon Gathercole on "The Petrine and Pauline Sola Fide in Galations 2" by clicking here
(HT: Between Two Worlds)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Who Said That?

I have recently been reading the book Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney. Mahaney does an excellent job of incorporating quotes from past saints into his book. I have found the following two quotes to be quite helpful:

Can you guess who these quotes are from (without googling)?
A) "The pleasures of humility are really the most refined, inward, and exquisite delights in the world."

B) "It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Getting the Gospel Right..

Is there such a thing as "Orthodoxy"?  This is a question that has recently been debated in the Christian blog-o-sphere.  As I have been thinking and meditating on the words below they seem quite applicable to the debate:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!