Posts filed under ‘Religion’

A Christmas Devotion

simeon holding baby jesus 2One of my favorite accounts surrounding the birth of Christ involved a man named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. During his life, the Holy Spirit promised him that he would not see death until he had seen the savior of the world.

In Luke 2, Simeon was lead by the Spirit into the temple. At the same time, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple. It was forty days after his birth, and he was brought to the temple for circumcision as it was custom according to the law. Luke 2:28 tells us that Simeon took infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said;

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

What a moving moment! As Alexander Schmemann once noted, Simeon had waited his whole life for this moment. Up until this point he was restless, longing for the comfort and salvation of his people. And then, at last, the Christ child was handed to him.

In that moment, he held the life of the world in his arms.

Let us remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. In the birth of Jesus, God delivered on His ancient promise to provide salvation from sin, and eternal life over death.

May we all stop today and thank God that He is a promise keeping God. The Christ child that was held in the arms of Simeon, is the same Christ that would sacrifice his life in order to deliver sinners into the loving arms of a Holy God.

December 25, 2015 at 6:15 am Leave a comment

The Message of God (Jonah 3)

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This is an excerpt from a message I preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing here.

God offers to transform our lives with grace. This simple truth is the bedrock of redemptive history. This truth is also fully evident in Jonah 3:4-5.

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God.

It is a strikingly simple, yet an eternally significant message. With 7 words Jonah brought the great city to its knees.

The word translated overthrown/demolished is the same verb used for God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. This is a serious call.

The people of Nineveh – going about with their hectic lives, consumed with the pressing needs of the moment – were met with the eternally significant words of the prophet. And it seems from the outcome that these 7 powerful words stopped every Ninevite in their tracks. For 3-days Jonah walked across the city, saying the same thing over and over again, until everyone heard.

There is something about God’s word that always engages people with eternal issues. It lifts our eyes from the immediate interests of our lives to the imminent and overwhelming reality of either everlasting destruction or eternal life.

“Whatever you are doing now,” Jonah was saying, “you need to realize that you will soon face the judgment of God—and that day is nearer than you think.”

And look who God sends to proclaim this eternally important message. God uses imperfect servant.

In my last church I taught a class on evangelism. In one of the classes I asked everyone to tell me why they have been anxious about evangelism in the past. Two of the answers I received were:

Once I have it all together, I’ll share. If you are able to fully get it together you wouldn’t need Jesus in the first place. We are all imperfect sinners who are trusting in, staking our eternities on a perfect savior. Our message is that God shows grace on sinners like you and I.

There are some people that I just done think would ever come to faith. If this narrative is about anything it is about a God who loves the most religious (Jonah) and the most pagan (Ninevites). God is powerful to save.

God used Jonah – a rebellious prophet in the streets of Nineveh. He will certainly use you and I in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and among our friends to proclaim the perfect message of salvation.

The message of God is simple: God intends to overthrow this broken world through His saving grace.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).

God doesn’t just pass over sin. He takes it serious. Christ consumed on the cross the sins of the world. God looked forward from Nineveh, looks back from wherever you are at this moment. Thankfully, as Richard Sibbes once said, “There is more mercy in God than sin in us.”

God offers to transform our lives with grace.

December 15, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

The Mercy of God (Jonah 1:17-2:10)

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This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing here.

A few years ago, the headline of USA Today featured an article titled “Is Sin Dead?”, where the author explored the question “has the notion of sin been lost in modern culture?” When it comes to sin we tend to think, “I am not as sinful as most people”. “I have high moral expectations of myself and others, but I know we are all human so I’m looking for an average score.” We find a comfort zone of morality, a kind of therapeutic middle ground where we think we are doing well.

But the reality is sin is bad news. There is no middle ground. But there is good news. If you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified? We need to see our sin with honesty, but as Christians, we cannot let our distress over sin to lead us to despair. In our distress, God delivers us.

In Jonah 2, God delivers Jonah from his distress. In the text, we read that:

“…Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”

Even as the darkness of the water surrounded him, when the bars of death were closing on him, Jonah knew that His God would deliver him. Jonah knows that God is a God who hears and delivers those who call to him.

As Christians we know that there is no pit too deep where God cannot reach. There is no sin too horrific that God cannot forgive. There is no rebellion that takes you so far that God cannot bring you home. There is no distance too far that He cannot hear you cry out in the prayer of repentance.

What we learn from this narrative is, the time for repentance is now. We don’t wait to come to God when we have our lives cleaned up. We come to God because we see that we cannot clean ourselves up. Repentance requires us to acknowledge our complete inability, in contrast to God’s complete ability.

Like God did with Jonah, Jesus came to save real people with real problems and real issues. In Christ, God has delivered you. The sins he carried to the cross were your sins and mine. Jesus sank into the deep dark depths of death on your behalf. When you cry out to God he will deliver you from your cold solitary darkness, and you will find yourself on the warm shores of his mercy and grace.

The good news of the gospel is that on the cross he heard our cry for distress. On the cross he paid the price for that sin. In the resurrection, he conquered that sin. God has answered you in Christ.

November 16, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

“What Did You Expect?” – A Marriage Conference with Paul Tripp in NC

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I just found out about this great opportunity! On November 6th and 7th, Paul Tripp will be at Calvary Baptist Church, West Campus, for a marriage conference. Here are the details.

Register Here!

  • Date: November 6 & 7 (Friday 7:00-9:15pm, Saturday 9:00am-12:15pm)
  • Cost: $20 per person, and a $10 flat fee for childcare.
  • Location: Calvary Baptist Church, West Campus (155 Commerce Drive
    Advance, NC 27006. Just outside of Winston-Salem)
  • Best Hotel: Hampton Inn in Bermuda Run (Right across the street, and has an indoor pool with water slide)

Note: the process for signing up for this conference is a little difficult and cumbersome. 

Overview

It won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.

The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.

What Did You Expect? challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.

This conference is based on his book with the same title, What Did You Expect?

Register Here!

October 25, 2015 at 9:54 pm Leave a comment

The Suffering of the Church (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

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This is an excerpt from a sermon I recently preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing online.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his own from the evil one. But, he did not pray that we would be removed from this world, and by implication – the suffering of this world.

We will suffer in this life. Suffering is comprehensive, and is a no respecter of persons. While the Bible covers various ways to suffer in this life, this passage is specifically concerned with distinctively Christian suffering. In other words, suffering that may come to us precisely because we are Christians.

Suffering will drive us to our knees, and at the same time it can be a powerful reminder that Jesus is King. Through suffering God brings us to Himself. Consider the words of 1 Peter 3:13-15

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Peter is preparing the church, not just to endure suffering – but to find in their suffering an opportunity for witness.

You can imagine that some of the Christians in which this letter was first directed to had seen the suffering of their fellow believers, and fear of that suffering had the potential of halting their desire to publicly live out their faith.

But Peter responds with strange wording – “suffering brings about blessing”. When the world sees that you are – to use the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:

  • Afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
  • Perplexed, but not driven to despair.
  • Persecuted, but not forsaken.
  • Struck down, but not destroyed.

They think, what is it with these people? What is this hope that is within them? This hope is a frame of mind achieved by setting apart – literally, sanctifying – Christ as Lord.

Our courage is born out of a belief that Christ is king even when things look hopeless. Moreover, in Christ we have a sure hope in the coming blessing. Hope is not wishful thinking, but true faith under pressure. Assurance of our future resurrection in Christ will not only give us courage and comfort, but will also put those who revile us to shame.

When you suffer, suffer with hope. This is the Blessing of Suffering for Christ. In suffering, we can find an opportunity for witness. In suffering, we also realize that God is bringing you to himself.

September 29, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

The Church Scattered (1 Peter 2:13-3:12)

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This is an excerpt from a sermon I recently preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing online here.

In 1 Peter 2:13-3:12, Peter argues that believers fulfill God’s desire for order when they take on the posture of service and submission. Namely, submission to others who have been given roles to fulfill in God’s appointment. Orderly behavior within the world is a way to express our trust in God.

In other words, the Christian is to live such a life in such a way that the watching world knows that we serve a higher ruler, God. This whole section describes a posture that is in direct contrast to the spirit of our world, where every individual demands rights and recognition.

First, this means that we show honor to the people are placed in office since government is a good and God ordained. We are God’s servants first, submitting to His will. It is a higher allegiance to God that motivates our submission to governing authorities. As Paul states in Romans 13, their authority comes from God, and their very existence has been instituted by God. In general, they are established for the good of society, namely, to punish what is evil and praise what is good.

Second, this also has implications on our vocation. Peter speaks directly to slaves in this passage, but let us be careful not to impose our United States historical experience on this text. Some slaves did live miserably, other slaves, however, served as doctors, teachers, managers, musicians, and artisans. Now, it was possible for slaves to suffer mistreatment at the hands of their masters for doing good. The primary focus of this text is concentrated on eliciting a godly response to that mistreatment, especially if they suffer unjustly for the sake of righteousness. By not retaliating or giving into resentment, repaying evil for evil, the Christian shows confidence in God’s justice and not giving into the desire to avenge himself.

Third, Peter directs his attention to marriage – and specifically – to wives. Order in the household has long been viewed as the foundation of the state and the orderly structure of society. Based on verse 1, I think we can make the argument that Peter primarily has wives of unbelieving husbands in view, those who “do not obey the word”Peter is arguing that godly behavior can become a means by which unbelieving husbands come to see the beauty of the Christian faith. In this sense, submission is commended for the sake of the mission of God. A wife submits to the husband in reflection of God’s order for marriage. For the wives of unbelieving husbands, a godly life is a mighty weapon for winning him to the faith.

In all things, do not repay evil with evil, but respond to others when they do evil to you by blessing them. In this way, our submission to God is demonstrated in our service of others.

Our lives are shaped by an eternal perspective that allows us to submit to this world’s order, knowing that in the world to come everyone will answer for how they used their position and power. Jesus endured the cross, despising shame, and now sits down at the right hand of God. With that in mind, let us do the same – endure what comes our way – and do good, knowing that one day we will reign with him in eternity.

September 21, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

“The Spirits in Prison” in 1 Peter 3:19-20

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I recently polled my Facebook friends on their interpretation of 1 Peter 3:19-20. There was much discussion, and differing views, which led me to write this blog post.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” – 1 Peter 3:18-20

There is much theological debate concerning verses 19-20. Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on First Peter, “…a wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so I do not know for certain just what Peter means.” As Ed Clowney notes, this confession by Luther should warn us of overconfidence. However, I believe there is enough biblical evidence to make an educated interpretation of this passage.

Much of the debate hinges on the identity of the “spirits” in verse 19. Depending on the context, the word translated “spirits” can either be used in reference of human spirits or angelic spirits (Num. 16:22; 27:16; Acts 7:59; Heb. 12:23). But the word itself in the immediate context is not enough to understand this passage. The references Peter uses here must also be examined in the context of the entire Bible. WIth that said, here are the three major views on the interpretation of this passage.

Option 1: The preincarnate Jesus preached through Noah to people in Noah’s day (Augustine).

The first interpretation understands “spirits” in reference to the unsaved human spirits of Noah’s day. In this sense, Christ (in the Spirit) proclaimed the gospel through Noah (1 Pet. 3:18,20). Therefore, the unbelievers who heard Christ’s preaching through Noah, and did not obey, are now suffering judgment as “spirits in prison” (3:19). In other words, because of their unbelief they are in prison spiritually.

There are several reasons why Biblical interpreters have adopted this view. First, Peter calls Noah a herald of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), and the designation “herald” corresponds to the idea of Noah being a preacher (1 Pet. 3:19). Second, Peter says the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the OT prophets (1:11). In this sense, Christ could have been speaking through Noah as an OT prophet.

Option 2: Jesus proclaims spiritual triumph over the principalities and powers of evil.

The second interpretation argues that Jesus proclaimed victory over the fallen angelic spirits who were awaiting the declaration of their final judgment even since the days of Noah. In this sense, in Jesus’ victory over death their condemnation is sealed. Simply put, the resurrection of Jesus is a proclamation of his spiritual triumph over the principalities and powers of evil.

One argument against the first view, and a merit of this second view, is that throughout the New Testament the plural word “spirits” most often refers to supernatural beings rather than humans (Matt. 8:16; 10:1; Mark 1:27; 5:13; 6:7; Luke 4:36; 6:18; 7:21; 8:2; 10:20; 11:26; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 19:12, 13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 16:13–14; Heb. 1:7). Moreover, the word “prison” is not used elsewhere in Scripture as a place of punishment after death for people, while it is used for Satan (Rev. 20:7) and other fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).

Option 3: Jesus descended into hell and preached to unbelievers or fallen angels, offering them a second chance (Origen).

In a third view, Jesus supposedly descended into hell on the Saturday between his crucifixion and resurrection – when his body was dead, but spirit was alive. Some have advocated the idea that Christ offered a second chance of salvation to those in hell. This interpretation, however, is in direct contradiction with other Scripture (Luke 16:26, 23:43; Heb. 9:27) and therefore must be rejected on biblical grounds, leaving either of the first two views as the most likely interpretation.

Conclusion 

Among the three most common interpretations, the first two fit best with the rest of Scripture and with historic orthodox Christian doctrine. However, because of the reasons stated above (and below), I lean towards the second view. Namely, that 1 Peter 3:18-22 references Jesus resurrection as a proclamation of victory over the principalities and powers of evil. In this sense, the message that Christ proclaimed is one of triumph, after having been “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).

On The Proposed Connection Between 1 Peter 3:19-20 and Genesis 6:1-4

Some scholars, including Schreiner, corroborate the “spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3 with Genesis 6:1-4, but the context of Genesis 6 suggests that God’s anger is directed toward man, not fallen angels having offspring with humans. Moreover, I do not believe the connection between “the spirits in prison” and the Nephilim passage of Genesis 6 is necessary, nor is it congruent with the trajectory of the biblical narrative.

I believe the reference to God’s patience as Noah built the ark as an analogy of His long suffering in general, even at the climax of evil in the Genesis 6 world. During that time period, humanity had plenty of opportunity to repent (Rom. 2:4, 3:25; Acts 14:16, 17:30), and eight did. Moreover, verse 18 of 1 Peter 3, seems to be contrasting the current age and the age to come (Heb. 5:7).

As for Genesis 6, it is often argued that “the sons of God” are angels, but that does not seem to align with the whole of Scripture (Matt. 22:30). In Genesis 6 the “sons of God” begin to marry the daughters of men, bringing about the judgment of God. This judgment could either be taken as limiting man’s life to 120 years, or it could refer to the time left before the destruction of society by flood.

I understand the “sons of God” in Genesis as a reference to the Sethites (those in Seth’s line). So men in the Godly line of Seth began to marry women from the ungodly line of Cain. Therefore, these marriages increased the evil Cainite-types in the earth at the expense of the godly Sethites. For more on this understanding of Genesis 6, see Daniel Fuller’s The Unity of the Bible, Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan, Meredith Kline’s Divine Kingship and Genesis6:14; and Walter Kaiser’s The Promise-Plan of God.

September 16, 2015 at 9:20 am Leave a comment

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