Friday, April 29, 2011

The Coming King

Revelation 1:14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.

14 ἡ δὲ κεφαλὴ αὐτοῦ καὶ αἱ τρίχες λευκαὶ ὡς ἔριον λευκόν ὡς χιὼν καὶ οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ αὐτοῦ ὡς φλὸξ πυρὸς 15  καὶ οἱ πόδες αὐτοῦ ὅμοιοι χαλκολιβάνῳ ὡς ἐν καμίνῳ πεπυρωμένης καὶ ἡ φωνὴ αὐτοῦ ὡς φωνὴ ὑδάτων πολλῶν,

In case you're wondering, I'm trying to follow the Johannine thread as I go through John, 1,2,3 John, and Revelation. It's kind of interesting to see John's train of thought, though of course Revelation gets a little scattered. This way it is easier to see the language that he uses and how it all fits together. We'll get back to Paul in a few weeks.

When I read this I was struck by the phrase ἡ φωνὴ αὐτοῦ ὡς φωνὴ ὑδάτων πολλῶν. First of all, I find it a bit interesting to see the same word translated two different ways in the same phrase. The word ἡ φωνὴ has the glosses sound, noise, or voice. Since it has the possessive αὐτοῦ it does not make much sense to call it "his sound" or "his noise." The translation makes perfect sense, but it could throw you off if you were not paying attention to the possessive. I've been there.

When I read this I think of the innumerable trips my family took to Niagara Falls in my youth. Even a relatively small waterfall makes a fair amount of noise. A tour of the waterfalls in western North Carolina will make that clear. But there is something different about Niagara. There is so much water going over two very high cliffs that the sound of the waterfalls pretty much overwhelm everything else. You can't hear much else besides the water when you're there, particularly if you are near the falls.

Think of that sound when you think of Christ. Anyone who focuses on "Jesus, meek and mild" has clearly never read Revelation. He is no hippie. He is coming back as a conquering king and there will be no question about who He is when He returns. This is the all-powerful alpha and omega. Are you ready for His return?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Pastor's Joy

3 John 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

4 μειζοτέραν τούτων οὐκ ἔχω χαράν, ἵνα ἀκούω τὰ ἐμὰ τέκνα ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ περιπατοῦντα.

John is telling Gaius here that his greatest joy is that his spiritual children are walking in the truth. He uses a comparative adjective  μειζοτέραν to explain this. That is where we get the "than" in English since it is difficult to express this in Greek. The first clause is something like, "I do not have greater joy than this" which is connected to the ἵνα clause. What gives him such great joy? He loves to hear that his children are walking in the truth. Note that he uses the participle περιπατοῦντα, which suggests that he is particularly glad to hear that his children are in a general, continuous state of walking in the truth.

What does this mean for us? It means that we need to walk in the truth. How do we know what the truth it? We learn it by reading, studying, and memorizing God's Word. That's the truth. How do we bless and honor our pastors? Letting them use your beach house for the week is a nice thing, but what they want more than anything is to hear about you walking in the truth.

As someone who is getting ready to go into ministry I can testify to this. I want to see God glorified in changed lives. I know that God's Word is powerful and active. I know that the Holy Spirit transforms hearts. I am fine with someone who wants to apply Galatians 6:6 to me in an appropriate way, but I would much prefer that someone note this verse if they really want to honor me for anything they may have learned.

Any pastors out there who want to comment on this? Is there any greater joy than to hear that your people are walking in the truth?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Proper Discipleship

2 John 12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

12 Πολλὰ ἔχων ὑμῖν γράφειν οὐκ ἐβουλήθην διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος, ἀλλὰ ἐλπίζω γενέσθαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ στόμα πρὸς στόμα λαλῆσαι, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν πεπληρωμένη ᾖ.

This is the penultimate verse in this very short book. John does not want to write any more, but he wants to speak face to face. Literally, this is "mouth to mouth," so I'm pretty sure that it is an idiom. The point is that he would prefer a conversation in person over exchanging letters. He then explains his reason with a ἵνα clause. He wants to do this so that our joy πεπληρωμένη. This is a passive perfect participle. Very woodenly, this would be "having been completely filled." Obviously the ESV is more smooth.

This is a verse that I have glossed over many times as I've read this short book. I tend not to concentrate quite as hard at the end of my sections of reading, to be honest. But I think that this is an important verse for discipleship here in 2011.

We are now a digital people. I like email, but I realize that makes me a 20th century dinosaur. Texting has replaced actual cellphone conversations as the preferred way to communicate. We update our friends with 140 character tweets. We update and interact with Facebook statuses. We write blogs. These are all inherently asynchronous ways to communicate.

Obviously John did not have all of these means at his disposal. However, he did have good old fashioned paper and ink. He had the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so he could write a letter like this one under His inspiration. Yet he still preferred to come and talk to the lady face to face. That was what it would take for their joy to be complete.

Why is that? There is something different about meeting with someone face to face. You can't read body language over texting, for example. This is especially true when you start abbreviating everything. I think of this in terms of discipleship. Obviously John was in a position to disciple this lady. It would appear that face to face was the preferred mode for this.

I struggle with this because it demands my time and energy. I can write emails on my own time. But being with someone requires being with someone. It is more messy and more risky. But I can't escape the clear witness of Scripture on this. It's not as if this is the only passage either. Refer to the end of Acts 14 sometime. We need to spend time with each other if we are to grow in godliness. Are you willing?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Big Summary

1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

21 Τεκνία, φυλάξατε ἑαυτὰ ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων.

This is the last verse in 1 John and, frankly, it feels a tad tacked-on. You've read all this amazing stuff about Christ and what it means to live in Christ and then you hit this. Why is this here? John gives the imperative φυλάξατε. He is telling them to guard themselves. "Keep" is a smoother translation, but I think that the force of the word "guard" is better for understanding this.

Why does John add this? I would maintain that idolatry is at the root of all sin. We sin because we have idols apart from God. Let's take an easy one like pornography. This is born out of lust. We have decided that sex is more important than Jesus, so we run to pornography. That's an example of idolatry. Money is another easy example. When we make money more important to us than Jesus we are committing idolatry.

John adds this short verse because this is the key to everything. If we keep ourselves from idols then we will be able to live in such a way as John described throughout the rest of the book. That's sanctification in a nutshell, I think. 

Of course, this is very easy to throw out in a blog post, but impossible to live apart from the Holy Spirit. I know this all too well. My prayer is that we all would keep ourselves from idols and run to Christ.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Do We Love?

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

19 ἡμεῖς ἀγαπῶμεν, ὅτι αὐτὸς πρῶτος ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς.

This is such a rich chapter that it is almost impossible to know what to write about. This is such a simple, but powerful verse. The chapter is about love and how love is the manifestation of Christ in us. In other words, if we don't love other people then we lie when we say that we know Christ. It is impossible for us not to love if we know Christ. But why is that?

This verse tells us why. We love because He first loved us. There is nothing magic in the Greek. The first person plural is in the present active indicative. This refers to the present act of loving. It is what we do. The other verb is a third person aorist. That means that in some unidentified time in the past God loved us first.

What this verse tells us is the means of how we love - we love because God first loved us. But it also tells us something about the timing. God loved us first. He loved us before we ever loved Him. Other passages shed more light into this truth. We cannot love Him unless He loves us first because we are dead in our sins. Dead people don't make decisions and they certainly cannot love. 

When I consider this verse I am moved by God's immense love for an incredible sinner such as I. I think of all the times when I have sinned and cannot believe that He would extend His grace to me. Yet He does. If you know Christ this must move you too. If you're not, then I urge you to repent and believe.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Not to Lie

1 John 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν, ψεύστην ποιοῦμεν αὐτὸν καὶ ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν.

This ends one of the more confusing chapters for the English Bible reader. It looks like it is contradicting itself because previously John told us that if we go on sinning then we are not Christians. Now here we see that if we say that we have not sinned then His word is not in us. What do we do with this?

The answer comes from the verbs. Here the verb is ἡμαρτήκαμεν which is in the indicative perfect. However, the word in verse 8 is περιπατῶμεν, which is in the subjunctive. In other words, what John is getting at here is that if we are living in a continual state of habitual sin then we should not call ourselves Christians. However, if we say that we never have times of sin then we are lying. Confessing sin is at the heart of the Christian life. We can't call ourselves Christians and say that we do not sin.

This is a passage that really puzzled me until I learned Greek. I'm not saying that you need to know Greek to read 1 John, but if you don't know Greek this is where a good commentary really comes in handy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Third Appearance

John 21:14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

14 τοῦτο ἤδη τρίτον ἐφανερώθη Ἰησοῦς τοῖς μαθηταῖς ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν.

As we finish out John, here we see Jesus appearing to the disciples and giving them a big catch of fish and a nice breakfast. Just after this verse Jesus reinstates Peter. Here I want to focus on this verse because of what it means.

This verse is one of those where we have to decide if we trust the Gospel accounts or not. If you trust the Gospels you cannot get around the fact of Jesus' resurrection. He appeared to them three separate times so that they would be sure that He really was alive. If it happened one time perhaps it was a fluke from their emotions. If it happened twice perhaps we could still come up with some plausible conspiracy theory. But here we see a third appearance. This leaves no doubt that Jesus really was raised from the dead.

As we find ourselves in the middle of Passion Week, it is important to consider this now. We're getting ready to celebrate Easter. This is when we remember what it is that makes Christianity unique. Anyone can celebrate some equivalent of Christmas because everyone who ever called himself a prophet has a birthday. But only Jesus has a resurrection day. 

This should be cause for immense celebration. Because Jesus lived a perfect life, suffered, died, was buried, and raised we have atonement for our sins through faith in Him. We can celebrate our first spiritual resurrection with Him that we enjoyed when we were saved. And we can look forward to our physical resurrection with Him on the last day. 

Can you look forward to this as well? If not, repent and believe in Christ.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Greener Grass Conspiracy

One of the great benefits of running a blog and following publishers' blogs is that you occasionally get a free title to review. In this case, I got a copy of the short Crossway piece The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge.If that name sounds familiar, it's because he authored Game Day for the Glory of God. He is a Sovereign Grace pastor, so that should help you understand where he comes from.

The book weighs in at a modest 139 pages, 10 of which are front matter. It is divided into twelve bite-sized chapters, plus a short introduction. This made it the perfect book to take to the beach since I could honestly say "just a minute" to my three-year old son while I finished a chapter and then went to play with him. Each chapter ends with questions that would be great for a small group discussion.

The overall thesis of this book is that with the Fall came a conspiracy to discontentment. This started when Adam and Eve were not content with God's good provision in their lives. They chose to seek something more when they ate of the fruit. Of course, it's tempting to look down on them in hindsight, but we are no better. We think that they had it completely made in that they simply had to work the garden and avoid a single tree. What could be easier?

Altrogge makes the point that as recipients of the grace of God through the cross of Christ we are just as blessed as they were, but just as discontented. He gives a lot of examples that should hit home with men and women. He deals with the obvious examples for men like status and sex, but for women he discusses relationships. As a man who reads almost exclusively male authors I tend not to notice how strongly biased the illustrations tend to be toward men. It really stood out that Altrogge reaches out to women as well.

The overall tone is conversational and pastoral. I get the sense that this book could easily be a series of conversations over coffee. All the chapters but one open with a very short story that illustrates the point of the chapter. He uses familiar illustrations quite liberally throughout and they keep each chapter flowing. This makes the book readily accessible to most Americans.

Make no mistake, this is a book directed squarely at middle to upper-middle class Americans. This is a book for those who are living in the suburbs and have no serious trials in life. This is a book that will rock some worlds. Altrogge makes that clear by contrasting the trials of the typical American's life with those of people who don't know where their next meals are coming from. And by "typical American" I mean that he uses examples from his own life so that you really connect with him as you realize that although he is a pastor he is just a regular guy too. As with any good gospel presentation, Altrogge describes the situation we're in, explains the problem, and then gives the solution to the problem.

The solution is found in the cross of Christ. What it comes down to is that if we are saved then we need to understand what we've been saved from. We also need to realize the hope that we live for. Our hope is not in more stuff. It is not in relationships. It is not in affirmation from supervisors. It is in the hope of our eternity with Christ that was bought at the cross. This focus will help us overcome the conspiracy because we will realize just how trivial most of our life's pursuits really are.

If you've read any John Piper this should not be a new concept to you. If you've gone a step further and read some of the Puritans then this should not be new either. Altrogge has done a great job of taking Puritan writings and distilled them into an easy, popular form. The endnotes cite writers like Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Watson, John Calvin, and John Piper. If you know these writers you will recognize their teachings, but if you don't then this is a fantastic way to be introduced to them.

However, if you have read a lot of Piper or the Puritans then you can probably skip this one as there will be little new in it for you. As a future pastor, I plan on keeping this book on my shelf as a gateway to those kinds of authors though. I would love it if everyone under my care read and appropriated Desiring God or The Pleasures of God, but I know that won't happen. This slim volume should serve as an easy, accessible way to help folks change their thinking about the centrality of the gospel in all we do. If they want more depth then I can turn them on to Piper. But for the guy who is living Ecclesiastes 1-11, this book will be a huge help.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Kingdom

John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."

36 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς· ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου· εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἦν ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμή, οἱ ὑπηρέται οἱ ἐμοὶ ἠγωνίζοντο [ἂν] ἵνα μὴ παραδοθῶ τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις· νῦν δὲ ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐντεῦθεν.

This was Jesus' answer to Pilate. Pilate didn't really understand what Jesus was all about and this answer didn't help things much. But it helps us when we consider what Jesus came to do.

The Jews were confused because they were sure that He came to establish an earthly kingdom. In fact, that's what they asked Him about in Acts 1. They were all set for Him to depose the Romans and set up His rule from Jerusalem. What nobody seemed to get is that He had to suffer and die on the cross first and then be raised on the third day.

Jesus had told them that the "Kingdom of heaven is at hand." Here we see that His kingdom is established. It's just not what everyone expected. Eventually He is going to return and reign in glory over the New Heavens and New Earth. Until then, His kingdom is a spiritual one.

Normally, I have a practical application from what I write, but here I don't. Instead, I just think that this gives me a hermeneutical principle as I read the Gospels. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tozer and Listening

I get this in my email once a year and am convicted about it once a year.

Prayer: Take Time to Listen

The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments.
-Psalm 119:130-131

The Quakers had many fine ideas about life, and there is a story from them that illustrates the point I am trying to make. It concerns a conversation between Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a Quaker woman he had met. Maybe Coleridge was boasting a bit, but he told the woman how he had arranged the use of time so he would have no wasted hours.He said he memorized Greek while dressing and during breakfast. He went on with his list of other mental activities--making notes,reading, writing, formulating thoughts and ideas--until bedtime.

The Quaker listened unimpressed. When Coleridge was finished with his explanation, she asked him a simple, searching question: "My friend, when dost thee think?"

God is having a difficult time getting through to us because we are a fast-paced generation. We seem to have no time for contemplation. We have no time to answer God when He calls.
 Jesus, Author of our Faith, p. 46

"Thank You, Lord, that You convicted me some time ago about this need for time to think, of the need for solitude and silence. Make this increasingly possible for me, but also for many of my brothers and sisters who have not discovered the value of this slowing down. Amen."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Whole Point

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

1 Ταῦτα ἐλάλησεν Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εἶπεν· πάτερ, ἐλήλυθεν ἡ ὥρα· δόξασόν σου τὸν υἱόν, ἵνα ὁ υἱὸς δοξάσῃ σέ,

This is the beginning of Jesus' "high priestly prayer" where He makes an appeal to the Father for the disciples. There is a ton to talk about in this prayer, but I want to focus on this verse. First, we see that  ἐλήλυθεν ἡ ὥρα. Here Jesus uses a perfect to say that the time has arrived for the cross. Then He uses an imperative in praying for God to δόξασόν σου τὸν υἱόν. Why should God glorify His son? Jesus answers with a ινα clause: ἵνα ὁ υἱὸς δοξάσῃ σέ.

What's the big deal about this? I think that Jesus' prayer gives us a model for how we should be focused in our lives. When we talk about the gospel we tend to focus on what Christ did for us. It is true that He died to atone for the sins of the world. To minimize that would be ridiculous. However, we should not maximize it either.

Here we see Jesus pray that the Father would be glorified in the sacrifice He was about to make. The cross is central to everything we do. But ultimately it is not about our redeemed lives, but about the glory of the Father. The change in us should be focused on glorifying God the Father.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

With Blinders On

John 14:17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

17 τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὃ ὁ κόσμος οὐ δύναται λαβεῖν, ὅτι οὐ θεωρεῖ αὐτὸ οὐδὲ γινώσκει· ὑμεῖς γινώσκετε αὐτό, ὅτι παρ᾽ ὑμῖν μένει καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσται.

Here Jesus is teaching His disciples about the Holy Spirit. He has a lot to say about Him, but this is one of my memory verses for Pneumatology and something struck me about it as I read it yesterday and reviewed it today. Jesus says that the world οὐ θεωρεῖ αὐτὸ οὐδὲ γινώσκει. The word θεωρεῖ is what is translated "sees" here i the ESV. When I learned it as a vocabulary word, I learned it as "look at, behold." The word "sees" captures that meaning, but I think that reading it in English it may not be strong enough.

I have met more than a few materialists who are materialists because they say that they only believe what they can sense. Of course, they believe in subatomic particles and all manner of theoretical things because scientists have proven them. They also tend to believe in the theory of evolution because they need something to tell them how we got where we are. My point is not to argue about subatomic particles or the theory of evolution. My point is just that folks who say that they cannot believe in an unseen God will happily believe in other things that they have not personally sensed because they trust the witnesses.

Jesus is telling His disciples that this would be the case and He was right (go figure). The world does not look at the Holy Spirit even though evidence of His work surrounds us every day. The world certainly does not know Him. How could it unless they are regenerated? This is the contrast that Jesus makes. You (the disciples) know Him, because (ὅτι) He dwells with you and will be with you. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19, Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit. That is how He is in us. As Jesus was speaking this the Holy Spirit was only dwelling with them because this was before Pentecost.

The point is that the world does not see the Holy Spirit, but if you have become a Christian you must know Him. After all, He is the one who changed your heart. He is in us. What do you do with this knowledge?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Leaving an Example

John 13:15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

15 ὑπόδειγμα γὰρ ἔδωκα ὑμῖν ἵνα καθὼς ἐγὼ ἐποίησα ὑμῖν καὶ ὑμεῖς ποιῆτε.

I apologize for my lack of posting lately. I am really working hard to finish this semester well since it is my last semester. Blogging has gone on the back-burner, but since Noah woke me up early today I got a good start and have time for it.

This verse comes right after Jesus washed His disciples' feet. There are some who take this passage as a prescription for how we should treat each other in a literal way. They practice foot-washing. I understand that this is prevalent among the Grace Brethren when they have communion services.

I don't think that it is a bad idea for the pastor to wash people's feet, though it would be a bit strange in our culture. I can't think of any men I want handling my feet. The question is whether Jesus is speaking literally or metaphorically here. If you don't like the word "metaphorical" you could substitute "paradigmatically" instead. In other words, was Jesus giving a specific instruction or was He simply giving them a principle by which to live?

I would have to go with the latter. Though this is not an ironclad argument, the fact is that we do not find foot-washing in any of the other synoptic gospels. We do not find it in Acts or the Pauline epistles. I don't know what the practices of the early church were, but I do think that these other arguments from silence are fairly compelling. If it is meant to be done regularly, why don't we see it elsewhere in Scripture?

I realize that this is not a particularly strong argument, nor do I think it is a sinful practice today. However, I do think that we will not go wrong if we take this to be an example of extreme humility on Jesus' part, particularly given the context of the next few verses where He describes the master-servant relationship. We need to humbly serve one another in the body of Christ. There are plenty of examples of that throughout Scripture, amen? Are there examples of that in your life?