Category: Theology

“Must I ?”

piper

You may be familiar with the teaching and writing of John Piper. I last saw him in person 10 years ago at the Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago.  Recently  I caught him on a live stream from  the Gospel Coalition conference in Indianapolis.

Well, after 10 years, Pastor Piper, now 73, has not lost any of his zeal.

He spoke of passion week and what must happen to Jesus at the end. Here’s a scripture that was central in his talk.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”( Luke 9:22)

Hearing Piper’s talk I was struck by all the musts, and how all the events that happened to Jesus during  passion week were foreordained as part of God’s plan. So even though  Jesus’ executioners meant it for evil, God used the crucifixion for the good purpose of saving a people who benefit from Christ’s death  and resurrection by getting eternal life.

Piper’s talk inspired me to reflect on our own lives and whether things must happen.

We know that God is totally in control of everything, so that in our lives there is nothing that “just happens” to occur. That really means that God says everything in our lives had to happen.  Stunningly, this even applies to the most negative stuff that has ever happened to us,  including nasty ways of being mistreated, beaten up, slandered, and unjustly accused.

If we don’t see God’s hand in it, reflecting on the negative things that have happened to us leads to a whining, bitter or fearful attitude. But just think : if we believe that God is really sovereign Lord, then we must accept that he could have stopped any of it — but somehow, for his own good purposes, not always clear to us, he allowed all of it.

The events of passion week, of course, had to happen because they were part of God’s plan for bringing salvation and showing his glory throughout the earth on a grand scale.

But the things that happen in our own lives help execute God’s will on a smaller scale…our “little” lives are meant to show his glory, too …so whatever misfortunes that happen  are fully  under God’s control. I know this isn’t always easy to see and accept but it’s a wonderful antidote to bitterness.

If the River Dries Up, What Can We Depend On ?

low danube     resized begg

This past August we went on a cruise on the Danube river, led by Pastor Alistair Begg.

We saw many wonderful sights in Germany, Austria, and Hungary but were faced with a major issue: due to drought in central Europe, the river was too shallow. Because of this, our Viking cruise ship was in danger of running aground.

At two different locations, one in Germany and one in Austria, the water was so shallow that we had to leave the boat, take a bus bypass around the shallow area,  and then embark on a different, almost identical ship downstream. It was a Bizarro world experience — we got the same stateroom number and room type, but tiny details might be different—for example, the bathroom sink might be black instead of white, or the electrical sockets might be different.

We did finally get to where we were supposed to go —Budapest —  but definitely not by the route that had been planned.

Doesn’t something similar happen in our Christian lives ? We embark on our plans and get detoured. Sometimes our lives seem like a bizarre, inexplicable variant of what we originally expected.

When such detours occur, do things “just happen” to go the wrong way ? Are the bypasses in our life some kind of chance or accident ? No, God is sovereign over each of those twists and turns.

But, does God’s lordship mean we are responsible for nothing ? Not at all. When a detour happens that seems out of our control, at least we are responsible for our attitude. When the spit hits the fan,  we can choose whether to dwell in contentment  or to whine. On our river trip, we had an example of that choice : did all the extra packing and unpacking lead to grumbling ?

Anyone who depends on the Danube’s water level faces conditions which are always fluctuating. But Jesus never changes.

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

What Jesus supplies does not waver or vary and is totally dependable.

Yes, we can rely on him. What a wonderful lifesaving truth to cling to during the unexpected  detours  in our lives!

 

Secret Decoder Ring?

secret decoder ring

There are loads of passages in the Bible about the future. Lots of them are obscure or hard to understand, perhaps the most difficult being those in the book of Revelation. Since people have argued about the timing and meaning of Revelation’s details  for centuries, I am skeptical when someone says they have discovered exactly what these mysterious passages all mean. It sounds  like they have discovered  a secret decoder ring that decrypts the prophetic passages in the  Bible.

Today I will argue that Revelation gives us great encouragement in living our Christian lives, even if we can’t decode lots of the prophetic details.

Today let’s look at one passage with lots of mystery, the tale of  the two witnesses. These guys appear in Revelation 11:3-12. I’ll give more Scripture than I usually do in my posts:

 And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.  Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (Revelation 11:3-12)

You can find many attempts to decode just who the two witnesses are. Are they  Moses and Elijah? Are they someone else ? And what in the world is the significance of 1,260 ?

So many theories ! But let’s look at what’s more important. We know that all scripture has something of use for us to live more fully for God today. So — How do the two witnesses affect how I live now?

Let me suggest three ways.

  • The two witnesses speak the truth in spite of opposition—- and God wants us to boldly, confidently speak the truth even when we face opposition.
  • The scorn of wicked people for the two witnesses ends. God sets it right. And here’s a promise : Later, God will set all wrongs right. We don’t know the timing, but God promises that evil will end.
  • The two murdered witnesses come alive. And, Jesus brings us back to life. First, we were dead in our sin and Jesus brought us back to spiritual life. And Jesus promises that sometime after we die, he will return and give us new, live resurrection bodies.

See, we don’t need a secret decoder ring for Revelation to be helpful.  Even though the details of the timing and sequencing of future events remain hidden, Revelation encourages us to live more fully for Christ today, and strengthens our hope that our Lord is fully in control of our future.

Does God Give us a Theology Exam?

pass exam

Sometimes I hear someone skeptical about Christianity asking: “What is the minimum you have to believe to be a Christian?”

I have a problem with that question. It assumes that becoming a Christian is simply assenting to a list of propositional truths or facts or dogmas. But this is a misunderstanding of what it means to believe.

Why? Because in the Bible “to believe” has a much deeper, wider meaning than just saying that a list of facts is true. To start, let’s look at what Jesus said to Martha about faith. The regular NIV translation says:

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25)

That translation gets part of the meaning. But the Amplified Bible expresses the full meaning of the original Greek word:
Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) Me [as Savior] will live even if he dies

So, an effective way to rephrase the skeptic’s question is: Who do you need to trust to be a Christian? And the simple short answer is Jesus.

But then the next question is: Who is this Jesus that I trust?

John’s gospel is especially helpful here:
 but these have been written so that you may believe [with a deep, abiding trust] that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of God; and that by believing [and trusting in and relying on Him] you may have life in His name. (John 20:31AMP)

John’s whole Gospel explains why Jesus is worthy of deep, abiding trust. It explains who Jesus was, describes the miraculous things he did, expounds his commands to love, and shows how he gives eternal life to those who repent of their sins and trust him.

Taking all of this to heart, try to imagine what it would be like if you died and met God — would he give you a theology exam, asking “Which facts and propositions did you believe?”

Or would he say, “Did you live your life by fully relying on my Son Jesus?”