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By In Theology

Patient Reading

We Americans tend to be an impatient lot. (I’m sure other cultures have their own problems with impatience, but I am writing as an American.) Patiently waiting for things is practically a thing of the past. If I want to know something, I can simply talk to my phone, and I will get a million possible answers in .34 seconds. If I want something, I need only tap a few things on a screen and, sometimes, by the end of the day, I can have it. I need … I want … answers fast. Who has time anymore to wait on things with all of our time-saving mechanisms?

Then we come to the Bible. The Bible is an ancient book with laws concerning white hairs growing out of sores, where you may and may not defecate, and how to deal with goring oxen. There are odd stories about an axe head floating, a man being swallowed by a great fish, and some guy name Jacob being touched on his thigh so that he walked with a limp the rest of his life (therefore, “the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.” Gen 32.32). You come to the New Testament letters and there is a quite a bit about Jews and Gentiles and their relationships with one another. What use is all of this stuff? (more…)

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By In Theology

Wordless Gospel Proclamation

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor words;
Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19.1-4)

If you will but look up, you can see the glory of God; his beauty, wisdom, and power. As the sun takes its path through sky, as the constellations proclaim the times of the year, and as we are overwhelmed by the vastness and beauty of the sky (or what the Bible calls “the firmament” or “the heavens”), the creation itself is wordlessly proclaiming to all the inhabitants of the world the truth about the God who created all things.

In theological parlance this is called “natural” or “general revelation.” General revelation is distinct from “special revelation.” Special revelation is God revealing himself in the Scriptures and ultimately in Christ Jesus. We need special revelation in order to be saved. Paul makes it clear in the beginning of Romans that general revelation is enough to reveal the truth about God but not enough to save (Rom 1.19-23). General revelation is enough revelation to condemn but not enough to save.

Psalm 19 is a classic passage used to speak about the distinction between general revelation and special revelation. In the first part of the Psalm, David sings of how the creation wordlessly proclaims the glory of God. Then, in the latter part of the Psalm, he turns his attention to extolling the special revelation of God’s Law.

In what seems to be an odd move, Paul uses Psalm 19.4 in Romans 10.18 to refute any arguments that the Jews haven’t heard the gospel. “But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’”

Is Paul contradicting what he said in the opening of his letter? Is he now saying, “Well, general revelation really does preach the gospel?” I don’t think so.

Within this little section of Romans (10.14-21), Paul refers to a number of different passages in Isaiah. All of these passages deal within their contexts with how God is making a new creation through his Suffering Servant. Paul’s argument is that this new creation has begun and is embodied in Christ Jesus. The Jews as well as the Gentiles can see this new creation in the church. And that is where Psalm 19 comes in.

While there is no doubt Psalm 19 sings of the literal creation of firmament, sun, moon, and stars, the firmament and all of the heavenly bodies are images of the people of God. God promised Abraham that his children would be like the stars of heaven (Gen 15.5; 22.17; 26.4). This was a promise, not only of the number of Abraham’s descendants, but of their position in the world. Just as the sun, moon, and stars were seated in the heavenly places to rule over the earth, determining times and seasons (Gen 1.14-19), so Abraham’s children would be seated in heavenly places, ruling the earth.

Joseph and Jacob certainly understood this relationship. When Joseph had a dream that the sun, moon, and eleven stars/constellations would bow down to his constellation, Jacob replied, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” (Gen 37.10) Joseph and Jacob understood that they were the heavenly bodies who ruled the earth.

What is happening after Christ comes is a firmament rearrangement. The Gentiles are now being seated as stars in accordance with the promise to Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12.1-3). The Jews are seeing this new firmament arrangement in the church. New relationships are being created. The old walls of separation have been broken down (Eph 2.11-22). Now, in Christ, we are all seated in heavenly places (Eph 1.20; 2.6).

Paul’s use of Psalm 19.4 is, I believe, a reference to this new situation. The Jews are hearing the wordless proclamation of the gospel by looking at the church and its new Jew-Gentile make-up. By this proclamation they are being summonsed by the King and his ambassadors to whole-hearted allegiance to Jesus as Lord; a summons that includes being a part of this renovated family of God.

The proclamation of the gospel by means of the spoken word is indispensable to the gospel ministry. People must hear of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. They must hear how their sins can be forgiven and how they can have true life.

But the spoken word must never stand alone. The church must wordlessly proclaim the gospel in the way we live our live together. People must see how we love one another. People must see how we live in healthy male-female relationships. People must see how we deal with sin appropriately. People must see how broken lives are being mended. In short, we heavenly bodies must proclaim the glory of God–his beauty, wisdom, and power–in our lives together. Only as we do this are we faithful ministers of the gospel.

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By In Culture, Scribblings, Theology

a poem for advent

E. E. Cummings

 

maybe god

is a child
‘s hand)very carefully
bring
-ing
to you and to
me(and quite with
out crushing)the

papery weightless diminutive (more…)

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By In Interviews, Podcast, Theology

Episode 20: A Conversation about Advent

In this Episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Pastor Uri Brito and Mr. Sean Johnson discuss the next season of the Church Calendar: Advent. The season of Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit,” begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians.

Pastor Uri explains how this section of the church calendar helps give us a picture of the Gospel in a Biblical promise and fulfillment paradigm. “Advent and Christmas work together… and when we skip Advent we’re missing that first portion of the Gospel. “He also recommends the book: The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Joan Chittister.

Mr. Sean Johnson continues to emphasize the importance of observing Advent with, “Anything that you want to enjoy seems to deserve the service of expectation… Anything that you can await is going to be enjoyed more.” Both believe that Advent adds to the importance and significance of our greater Christmas feast. Brito reminds us that: “If we have a major event like Christmas on December 25 and we simply arrive at Christmas without haven’t spent the season prior to that in preparation for Christmas, I think over the years—it trivializes the event. It becomes something you do, not something you expect.”

Advent 2017 will begin on Sunday, December 3 and ends on Sunday, December 24. The liturgical color for Advent is purple, Kuyperian Contributor Steve Macias also wrote on its significance here.

 

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By In Theology, Worship

Christ the King

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the church year; a Sunday that has come to be celebrated as “The Feast of Christ the King.” It is an appropriate end to the liturgical calendar as well as a transition into the calendrical beginning of the liturgical calendar which will begin next Sunday with Advent. “Christ the King” reflects the fact that history as we know it is moving toward a termination point; a point when all of the kingdom work is done and the Son delivers the kingdom to God the Father (1Cor 15.23-24). With faith-filled hope, we anticipate that day. Advent reminds us that we are not there yet.

This kingdom work is nothing more than the original mission that God gave man in the Garden. Man was to “take dominion,” develop a kingdom, in which all of life was ordered according to the word and will of God. Just as man was to follow the weekly pattern of six days of work followed by a Sabbath, so the whole earth was to be molded after the pattern of heaven. This project was frustrated because of sin. Man conformed himself and the creation to the word and will of the serpent. As a result “the kingdom” of man in the world began to be characterized by selfishness, tyranny, murder, and all manner of evil.

In his grace God did not allow death to completely overcome the world. Death was prominent and spread to all men (Rom 5.12), but there would be signs of life here and there. But God’s original kingdom work would not ultimately be undone for the earth. He would send another man to be king. This man would not have the same situation as the first Adam. He would first have to take dominion over sin and death, those hindrances to the world becoming fruitful. Once sin and death were decisively dealt with, then the kingdom work could begin in earnest.

Christ Jesus came and did just this. In his cross and resurrection he overcame sin and death. In doing so, he was granted the position by the Father to rule over the creation, to establish the kingdom, and complete the work the first Adam failed to do. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father to do this kingdom work. Jesus reigns now with all authority over heaven and earth (Mt 28.18). In and through his body, the church, by the power of the Spirit, Jesus continues this kingdom work until the day that it will be completed.

The reign of Christ is exercised in the world in and through his church. Jesus is completing his kingdom through what we, the church, are doing. As we go about our daily lives, serving others in our homes and jobs, seeking to bring Christ’s order wherever he has given us authority, we are participating in the kingdom work. In word and in deed we are proclaiming the gospel, the good news, that the world is under new management; the lordship of our benevolent King who has provided forgiveness and freedom from the bondage of sin and the power to live as we were created to live: as true image-bearers of God, growing up into his likeness. This message is not merely about my personal life. It is about how I am a part of God’s larger family and project for the entire creation. God has done in Christ for me what he has done so that I can be a member of his family and join him in his work.

Because Christ is King, we have a mission; a mission whose outcome is not in doubt. Jesus will have this world ordered by the word and will of God in every respect. Consequently, we work in certain hope. Dear kingdom citizen, work on. Don’t let discouragement overwhelm you. Christ is King.

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By In Theology, Worship

Gratitude: The Fight Against Idolatry

Ingratitude is no peccadillo. Along with the refusal to give glory to God, ingratitude is the fountainhead of idolatry that eventually inundates a person and a society in the most degrading sins. Before speaking about how people who think themselves to be wise become fools or how God gives people over to their sinful lusts, Paul tells us that they are first ungrateful (Rom 1.21). Ingratitude was evident in the first sin of Adam and Eve, and that story lies behind much of what Paul says in Romans 1. God gave the man and woman every tree of the field for food and even the Tree of Life at which they would meet with him. They had everything they needed and more. But God withheld one tree from them. Their ingratitude for all that God had given them stirred up discontent that focused their attention on that which God had withheld. The rest is history.

The basic posture of ingratitude is a pride that foolishly declares independence from God, despising him and his good gifts. You have decided that God doesn’t deserve gratitude. He is not really good in himself or good to you. You declare that you don’t need him while you breathe his air. He doesn’t deserve your respect or love. The rejection of God’s goodness is not without its severe consequences. To reject God’s goodness in ingratitude is to reject God’s design for you and the creation. It is the refusal to respond in agreement and submission to God’s own declaration that his design for creation is “good.” Consequently, you go your own way.

Ingratitude reveals the deep problem of sin in man of his hatred for the very life of God himself. God lives eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit, with each member of the Holy Trinity giving mutual respect and gratitude to one another. Jesus’ giving thanks to the Father on a number of occasions throughout his life revealed to us the eternal relationship of the Trinity. Each recognizes the gifts given by the others and responds to them with due honor and gratitude. Throughout eternity the Father gives to the Son and the Son responds by giving back to the Father his thanks. The Son gives to the Spirit, and the Spirit responds by giving back to the Son his thanks. On and on it goes. It is a community life characterized by gratitude.

Created in God’s image, man is called not only imitate this life with one another but to participate in the family of God himself. We are called to acknowledge the goodness of God to us and join in the eternal dance of gratitude. Our ingratitude is a revelation that we hate the life of God and want nothing to do with it.

We who have been brought into the family of God, united to Christ by the Spirit, are to be characterized as grateful people. It is one of our distinguishing marks as the people of God. Indeed, the meal that forms us into the body of Christ (1Cor 10.16-17) is a meal of thanksgiving. We are the thanksgiving family, bound together by our mutual gratitude for what God has done in Christ.

The discipline of gratitude is a perpetual guard against the idolatry that lingers in our hearts and is always looking for an opportunity to make another idol. Gratitude refocuses us on reality; the reality that our lives are dependent upon God at every moment. Gratitude cultivates contentment; we focus on what God has given us instead of that which he has withheld. Gratitude is a roadblock on the road of depravity.

It is not always easy to be grateful. We live in a world in which we are surrounded by the effects of sin. There are times that we hurt because of our sin or the sin of others. There are times that our mere mortality is evident in illness or death. We live with pain. Yet Paul tells us in Ephesians 5.10 that we are to be “giving thanks always for all things to the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is in no way denying the hard realities, telling us to “put on a smile even though it hurts.” He is telling us to keep everything in the context of the larger narrative. We are those who trust that God is good and has good purposes even through evil. Though evil is not good and must never be declared good, we can give thanks even in the midst of difficult times because God has a good purpose for us.

So, this is the conclusion of the matter: give thanks.

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By In Theology, Worship

Confessing Jesus as Lord

Writing into a Roman context to tell people that the proper response to the gospel was to confess “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10.9) would have been provocative. “Lord” was the designation given to Caesar. Caesar was Lord and all other loyalties were subservient to him. You may pray your prayers to the god of your choice, but at the end of the day, when push came to shove, your god must submit to the will of Caesar. Everything, including your loyalties to your gods, must serve the greater purpose of the Empire and, more particularly, Caesar himself. To declare that there was a loyalty that was higher than Caesar to which one must submit was subversive to the unity of the Empire. If one dared to challenge Caesar in this regard, the full weight of Rome would come down upon him. Many of our fathers and mothers who confessed Jesus as Lord endured the consequence of challenging Caesar.

But Paul’s call was much deeper than the present empire situation. (more…)

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