Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Identity & the Gospel for the Judges 19 Woman (He was Torn for the 12 Tribes)

Identity and the Gospel Message for the Judges 19 Woman

Whenever the passage in Judges 19 is read, pastors and speakers alike typically take great care to caution their hearers about horrific events told concerning the concubine, her suffering, and her unredeemed disposition. Additionally most studies do well placing Judges 19 within the larger context of the book of Judges and bringing out the doctrine of the depravity of man whereby everyone did right in their own eyes, because in those days there was no king to rule.

Yet, the story of the Judges 19 woman requires more than a magnifying glass on her sinful condition and the sinfulness of others in the culture around her. Yes, absolutely, the wages of sin is death, and Judges 19 does graphically depict this for us. But it is my continued hope that women (and men alike) see how Christ redeems the hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman by bringing the Gospel message to bear even in those utterly hard and dark passages.

We might first start by thinking about the covenantal concept of identity. To this end, I found it quite interesting to note that none of the characters in Judges 19 are named. They are all anonymous entities, which is likely intended to achieve several different things, as many commentators believe. A common view is that the Levite, the stranger, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman” that ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In this way, the concubine is meant to represent the people of Israel as a whole who had been enslaved by sin, given over to wickedness by the very leaders who were responsible for their well-being. But there are some other layers of meaning here concerning the anonymity of the concubine. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters were generally not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine would only derive a unique identity from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing and otherwise would typically not be remembered within the historical covenant. Interestingly, today when we think of women who are enslaved by sexual sin or who have been given over to the illicit and dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, they become objectified and defined by their sinful acts. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes them to go underground, becoming anonymous entities whose lives matter little either to their new masters or the culture around them.

Even these deep issues of identity are redeemed by Jesus who is our true King,and, yes, even in a land where everyone only does what is right in their own eyes. And He is the true and better Israel. He is the perfect husband, who protects his bride. Jesus doesn't give his bride over to the enemy to have his way with her and abuse her. Instead King Jesus leaves His Father's house and offers his own body going in the bride’s stead to be torn apart for the twelve tribes. Instead of giving us over, without hope or any possibility for rescue, Jesus gives himself up on the Cross. His battered body is the sign to his people that he is our true King and Redeemer and Husband.

So, on the practical end, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we are training folks in the church to be like the Levite who orders the woman on his doorstep to “Get Up”, even though she is dead (or nearly dead)? “Be a Biblical Woman by doing X and Y and Z or fulfilling such and such role.” Or are we equipping women to point these Judges 19 women to the true Savior and true King who redeemed us out of slavery? Unfortunately, too often the great temptation as we know it in women’s ministry is get to the imperatives too fast -- to be prescriptive far too soon -- because of our emphasis on women’s roles and what women are supposed to do, rather than who we are in Christ first and foremost. Identity.

The prophet Hosea looks back in Chapter 9 and 10 and warns Ephraim that they are behaving as those in Gibeah from the days of the Judges by going after false gods and idols and forget who they are; Whose they are; Who they belong to. They were forgetting their husband, over and over and over. Do we remind each other that we are His Bride and that he has redeemed us as the prophet Hosea was called to redeem his bride, Gomer? That at one time we were not a people (Hosea 1:10), but we too were delivered out of an Egypt, out of slavery (Exodus 20:2) and the kingdom of death and darkness (Col. 1:13), by the One who took our place and who has called us by name?

We are all prone to wander and forget our True King and Redeemer. Our savior Jesus, who has written our names on His hands, who has rescued us from the kingdom darkness described in Judges 19, and who has adopted us children of the Living God who will never leave us or forsake us!

Finally, I believe it it may be helpful for to consider the words of Paul written to the Galatian church regarding the contrast between Abraham’s concubine, Hagar (representing life in the flesh and slavery to sin), and Abraham’s wife, Sarah (representing the freedom of the new covenant in Christ). 
“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;  she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.” ” (Galatians 4:25-27, ESV)

Now we know that we were all once the concubine, sold as slaves under the law, powerless to save ourselves from the kingdom of darkness, but God because of His great mercy, saved us by the blood of Christ, who gave Himself for us when we were nothing, so that we could be His very own treasured possession - His Bride .. That He called us by name and has written our names on His very hands so that we could have eternal life with Him .. Does this -- should this -- help change how we look at and minister to the Judges 19 woman? And to women in general? Just some food for thought.

To be continued...

Throwback: Thoughts on Mardi Gras and Lent

From February 2008 (with some updating):
Today is Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday. I remember going to Mardi Gras back in 1985 when I was in the Navy, stationed at Meridian, Mississippi. These were crazy times. As a 19- year-old gal, I could legally drink some things in some states and not at all in others. I can remember the thrill my Navy buddy and I had of going to New Orleans for the weekend on "liberty" with our Marine friends. Total freedom after complete restriction. We had just finished boot camp in Orlando and the first eight weeks of our training at our "A" school at NAS Meridian. After not being able to wear civilian clothes, go off post or do anything without being within earshot and full view of some petty officer, having a full four days of liberty... in New Orleans... during Mardi Gras was just too much for a bunch of young chicks like us to handle. We didn't get in any real trouble per se, but my friend and I were ill-equipped to handle the decisions and experiences we were about to encounter. Neither one of us had ever been away from home on our own before boot camp, and now here we were with some older 21-year-old dudes who were more than willing to introduce us to the wild world of Mardi Gras. Within a few days after all the frivolity, we knew we would be back in our highly structured and restricted environment again where every word and deed would not go unseen. Needless to say we took every advantage of our temporary freedom possible.

In a lot of ways this story reminds me a great deal of how Christians often treat freedom and legality, especially at this time of year, when many prepare to observe Lent and some even practice the revelry of Mardi Gras.

In terms of Christian liberty, we know that Paul writes (1 Cor. 6:12a)"everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial" and again "to the pure, all things are pure"(Titus 1:15). Some of us would take this freedom to the absolute extreme on the occasion of Mardi Gras, so that the following day we may begin a fast of some sort leading up to Easter when we will observe and celebrate Christ's resurrection. So, Fat Tuesday is sort of a reward in advance for the coming harshness we expect to endure by giving up things that our hearts really long for secretly -- things that we are willing to white-knuckle it for a while, as we await the day when we can again pursue our various and sundry idols without the heavy guilt inflicted by our consciences. As if God closes His eyes for the day just so we can "Get it all out of our system." Then the following day, we get back on the treadmill of performance, doing all the respectable things that we think will earn God's approval and make us acceptable to be in His presence. Of course this kind of legalism is wrong, and it doesn't only happen at Mardi Gras and Lent, but in fact the cycle often continues well after the Easter holy day has ended. 

Moreover, the licentiousness of Mardi Gras is also not Biblical. In 1 Cor. 6:12b, Paul continues, "'Everything is permissible for me'—but I will not be mastered by anything." If we create days or situations for ourselves whereby we indulge our flesh as a reward for legalistic performance or as an outlet for dealing with emotional stress, it is still a just as much a form of idolatry. The behavior, thought, thing, food, drink, whatever, that we long to indulge has mastered us from the inside, even if we only secretly practice it once in a while. The Bible says all of our hearts are idolatrous this way, looking to dethrone our Creator, replacing Him with the things He has created to glorify Him. John Calvin said that our hearts are essentially idol factories that are always capable of manufacturing things to put in God's place. 

To use a more modern illustration of how we think of the cycle of idolatry, I submit to you: "Whack a Mole"

When we battle sin in the flesh, it seems like just as soon as we stop one idol, a new one pops up in its place. The more idols we whack or beat down, the better we feel about ourselves on the outside. In fact, if we live this way for a while we can often convince ourselves that we're doing quite well. Meanwhile, on the inside, Christians can't help but sense the compiling of sin and idolatry that is going on. Just like Paul in Romans 7, we eventually either come to the end of ourselves and are exhausted, or we delude ourselves thinking, "Game Over", I won on my own! This is a snapshot of the nature of our depravity since the fall. 

But recognizing our idolatry and nature of our sinful flesh does not have to result in condemnation. It is moment to fall at the foot of the cross and look on Jesus Christ, who is sufficient to forgive us. To surrender all our wiles and whims and games to Him. To find our complete rest and trust in Him. To have our hearts abide in His work on the cross and His unending love for us as children of the most High God. When we find our rest in Him, we also find that His Holy Spirit can keep us off the Mardi Gras/Lent treadmill. If we keep in step with the Spirit, we will neither feel the bondage of sinful slavery that used to rule our lives and beckon us to forsake the Lord, nor will we find God's Law a brutal and unending task master/drill sergeant/whack a mole machine that condemns us continually. Rather we will have peace with God through Christ, having been reconciled by His blood, and being given the ministry of the Holy Spirit who will renew us and remake us into His image bearers as we bask in His Word.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces - (Horton)

Christianity Today published an article almost three years ago that is more relevant than ever: Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces by Dr. Michael Horton (I gave it five stars back when it first came out. It's still all of that and more)

He writes about how the doctrine of sin and redemption is simple, but not simplistic and describes our sin nature this way:
"If sin were just a behavior, we could stop it. If we had done it a lot, we might need some help in stopping it, but eventually—if we tried hard enough—we could. However, sin is not just a behavior. Long before they made any choice about what to do with it, people were predisposed toward same-sex attractions. Affirming original sin, Christians don't have trouble accepting this. We reject the Pelagian reduction of sin to an action that one can overcome with enough will-power. We are depraved (warped) in every respect: spiritually, morally, intellectually, volitionally, and physically. Long before genetics became a flourishing field, Christians have spoken about sin as an inherited condition. Furthermore, we can inherit specific sins—or at least tendencies—of our fathers and mothers. Then add to that the ways in which people are sinned against by the attitudes and behaviors of others, especially in childhood. So even before we actually decide to take that first drink, place that first bet, unleash our first punch, or fool around with our best friend, we are already caught up in the tangled web of solidarity in sin. At the same time, we are responsible for our choices, which reinforce or counter the specific sins toward which we are especially disposed."
He goes on to provide some key insights into the nature of sin and redemption:
"The gospel frees us to confess our sins without fear of condemnation. Looking to Christ alone for our justification and holiness, we can finally declare war on our indwelling sin because we have peace with God... If there is no biblical basis for greater condemnation, there is also no scriptural basis for greater laxity in God's judgment of this sin."
"Unwilling to embrace the paradox of being 'simultaneously justified and sinful,' we reject either justification or sanctification. However, a simplistic view of sin as acts requires as its solution nothing more than red-faced threats or smiling therapies for getting our act together. 'Just stop doing it,' says the simplistic anti-gay position. 'Just embrace it,' says the simplistic pro-gay position." 
(more recently, the pro-gay position is a bit more disguised: Wheaton's gay-Christian counselor)
"Conformity to Christ's image can only be driven by the gospel. And yet it is directed by the specific commands and exhortations of God's word."
"We are all under church discipline: that is, the obligation to mutual accountability in the body of Christ. This is exercised, by Christ's own appointment, through pastors and elders."
"We dare not try to cut Christ in pieces, as if we could receive him deliverer from sin's guilt but not from its dominion, or as Savior but not as Lord. Nor can we cut ourselves in pieces, severing our body from our soul—as if we could give our heart to Jesus and keep the title deed to our body."
He also references 1 Cor. 6:13-20, where Paul draws the analogy of sexual immorality as uniting the body of Christ to that of a prostitute. 
"You are not your own, for you were bought with a priceSo glorify God in your body." (1 Cor. 6:20).

In my next post, I hope to follow-up by continuing with more thoughts beyond Dr. Horton's fine article here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

John Owen on Galatians 6:14

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14)

Owen's commentary:
"Set your affections on the cross of Christ. This is eminently effective in frustrating the whole work of indwelling sin. The apostle gloried and rejoiced in the cross of Christ. His heart was set on it. It crucified the world to him, making it a dead and undesirable thing. The baits and pleasures of sin are all things in the world, "the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life." By these, sin entices and entangles our souls. If the heart is filled with the cross of Christ, it casts death and undesirability on them all, leaving no seeming beauty, pleasure, or comeliness in them. Again, Paul says, 'It crucifies me to the world and makes my heart, my affections, and my desires dead to all these things. It roots up corrupt lusts and affections, and leaves no desire to go and makes no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts." Labour, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ."
- John Owen, Indwelling Sin in Believers (Banner of Truth Trust, 2010) pp. 99-100.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Waking Up in a Puddle of Mud is Not the Worst Place to Be

Put yourself in this situation. Go play in a muddy field but don't get dirty. Impossible! It’s no wonder then that those struggling with life-dominating/indwelling sin issues often conclude, “Sometimes I feel that no matter what I do, I am displeasing to God. I am perpetually dirty.”  (Illustration taken from The Journal of Biblical Counseling Volume 28-3. Page 26)

In this illustration, the person who experiences overwhelming desires of the flesh and who is without the hope of the Gospel, will find the law of God simply impossible! They may merely try by the power of self-will to straighten up and fly right, then only to find that the best they can muster is the aesthetic management of outward appearances and avoidance of blatant overt acts of commission by white-knuckling abstinence. But eventually, if the Holy Spirit is working in this person, the matters of the heart will surface and will need to be dealt with head on. Are we equipped?

Some believe that the pastoral implications of and the compassionate approach to dealing with such overwhelming guilt and shame and sense of moral bankruptcy is to backpedal on the law of God and the sinfulness of sin (as previously addressed in my posts quoting John Calvin on indwelling sin and Matthew Henry on Matthew 5:28-30). Rather than walking with our predecessors, Paul, David, Isaiah, and so many others given in the scriptures, many of our contemporaries are actually going the way of what the prophet Jeremiah warned against in Chapter 8:11, "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace".

Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden where all was very good and only one thing forbidden. But after the fall, this world is polluted, like a muddy field. We are surrounded by unclean things, not only in the world, but also in our flesh. So, every one of us struggles and fails to keep ourselves cleansed in the muck and mire of our fallen surroundings.

God bless the man or woman who comes to the end of his or herself and is able to cry out to the Lord as did Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector:
"Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
"For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, "My sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3-4)
"Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)
"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’" (Luke 18:13)

To feel that weight and burden of sin -- to be awakened by the Holy Spirit to the puddle of mud in which we have been wading  - is the ideal place to find the mercy and repentance found in the good news of the Gospel message. As David wrote in Psalm 51, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." We too should have compassion and not despise those who bear heavy hearts broken by their sin and stained by the sin of the muck of life in this world.

However, if the message we are giving is little more than moralistic therapeutic deism (as it often tends to be), then of course we are heaping nothing but shame and guilt and remorse onto the broken and needy sinner. Moralistic therapeutic deism teaches people to try to find life by digging their own cisterns in their fields of mud. But no life can be found in such places. Eventually, that puddle of mud will increasingly feel more like quicksand, leading the way straight down to Sheol and away from salvation in Christ alone.

Having experienced the result of living in the dark of moralistic therapeutic deism, that feeling of fighting against a quicksand that never seems to end, we can then find ourselves prone to swing to the other extreme.

In some Evangelical circles, this may be partially why various forms of antinomianism have cropped up.  And if not full blown antinomianism, then perhaps a lower view of sin has been preferred, so as to attempt lighten the stain and guilt of sin (without the blood of Christ).

If we try to ameliorate the burden of sin by minimizing the deceitfulness of sin, then we risk losing the opportunity to share the full Gospel, the forgiveness and healing of Christ. For a Biblical example, consider the testimony of David in Psalm 32, verses 3-5:
"For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;  
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you,  
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,'  
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin

So, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and offered to those condemned souls who have come to feel the weight of their sin, then and only then, is freedom and newness of life possible for those who embrace Him as Lord and Savior. He assures us:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matt. 11:28-30
Let's not forget the Lord's wondrous works toward Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector who cried out to Him for deliverance. Each of these men were blessed by the gift of conviction and repentance unto the Lord and the Lord saved them out of the miry pit of their guilt and shame, and even more out of the very pit that leads to hell. This is what they say:
Isaiah: "Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
David: "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) 
Paul: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25) and "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin," (Romans 8:1-3)
The tax collector: "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14) 

In his new book, "Hide or Seek", John Freeman writes in Chapter 6: Letting the Gospel Disrupt You and Dispel the Lie that You're Powerless:

"What enables us to progress from one stage to another, to boldly and radically be honest about the state of our hearts? It comes from knowing you've nothing to lose but everything to gain by trusting it all to Christ -- trusting your hardened or confused heart, your corrupt desires, and your love for your sin, to him. It also requires trusting in the finished work of Christ for the past, present, and future for you -- just where you may find yourself right now. It means trusting his record instead of yours. It means realizing that we all, at any given moment, are in desperate need of the grace that is found in Jesus. It's a grace that isn't manufactured or self-produced, but one that comes from above as a gift from God.
It's an excellent book that is Gospel-centered and extremely helpful.

And finally, in the process of writing this post, I came across Carrie Sandom's plenary from The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2012, which speaks directly to this topic:

(Note: Carrie Sandom will be the featured plenary speaker at Women in the Word: A Workshop at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA (just north of Philadelphia) this October!

Monday, January 26, 2015

John Calvin on Indwelling Sin & Lust of the Flesh

This is a continuation from my previous post where I quote Matthew Henry's commentary on Matthew 5:28-30.  The issue at hand is that I referenced was the weakened view of the sinfulness of sin by some in our Evangelical circles, perhaps in an effort to appear more compassionate in the public debates, especially with regard to sexual sin. 

One of the dividing points is the distinction between the believer's experience of indwelling sin which still causes temptation and their willful acting out of particular behaviors. Generally speaking, the distinction made is that indwelling sin is not culpable (eg. merely one of the outcomes of the fall and just happens to people, like getting cancer). Historically, Protestants (especially of the reformed persuasion) have not held this view and I do not believe this view is based on scripture. 

John Calvin, as one example, speaks rather clearly on these matters in several places in "The Institutes of Christian Religion". Here is an excerpt to that end:
"It may be alleged that human laws have respect to intentions and wishes, and not fortuitous events. .. They consider the animus with which the act was done, but they do not scrutinise the secret thoughts. Accordingly, their demand is satisfied when the hand merely refrains from transgression. On the contrary, the law of heaven being enacted for our minds, the first thing necessary to a due observance of the Law is to put them under restraint. But the generality of men, even while they are most anxious to conceal their disregard of the Law, only frame their hands and feet and other parts of their body to some kind of observance, but in the meanwhile keep the heart utterly estranged from everything like obedience. They think it enough to have carefully concealed from man what they are doing in the sight of God... Here the principal thing  which the Law requires is wanting. Whence then, this gross stupidity, but just because they lose sight of the Lawgiver, and form an idea of righteousness in accordance with their own disposition? Against this Paul strenuously protests, when he declares that the "law is spiritual"    (Rom. 7:14); intimating that it not only demands the homage of the soul, and mind, and will, but requires an angelic purity, which, purified from all filthiness of the flesh, savours only of the Spirit." - The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book II, Ch. 8 para.6.

Additionally, Calvin's commentary on Matthew 5:28-30 is exceptionally informative, as well:

MATTHEW 5:27-30
27. You have heard that it was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not commit adultery. 28. But I say to you, That whoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29. And if thy right eye shall be a stumbling block405 to thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is better for thee that one of thy members perish, and that thy whole body be not thrown into hell. 30. And if thy right hand shall be a hindrance to thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is better that one of thy members perish, and that thy whole body be not thrown into hell.

Matthew 5:27Thou shalt not commit adultery. Christ proceeds with his subject, and shows, that the law of God not only has authority over the life, in a political view, to form the outward manners, but that it requires pure and holy affections of the heart. We must remember what I have already stated, that though Christ quotes the very words of the law, it is the gross and false meaning, which had been put upon it by dishonest interpreters, that he blames. He has already told us, that he did not come as a new Legislator, but as the faithful expounder of a law which had been already given. It might be objected that, through long practice, that interpretation had grown old. Christ expressly admits this, but meets it by saying, that the antiquity of an error ought not to be allowed to plead in its favor.

28. Whoever shall look upon a woman. The design of Christ was to condemn generally the lust of the flesh. He says, that not only those who have seduced their neighbors’ wives, but those who have polluted their eyes by an immodest look, are adulterers before God. This is a synec-doche:406 for not only the eyes, but even the concealed flames of the heart, render men guilty of adultery. Accordingly, Paul makes chastity (1 Corinthians 7:34) to consist both in body and in mind. But Christ reckoned it enough to refute the gross mistake which was prevalent: for they thought that it was only necessary to guard against outward adultery. As it is generally by the wantonness of the eyes that temptations are presented to the mind, and as lust enters, as it were, by that door, Christ used this mode of speaking, when he wished to condemn lust: which is evident from the expression, to lust after her.This teaches us also, that not only those who form a deliberate purpose of fornication, but those who admit any polluted thoughts, are reckoned adulterers before God. The hypocrisy of the Papists, therefore, is too gross and stupid, when they affirm that lust is not a sin, until it gain the full consent of the heart. But we need not wonder, that they make sin to be so small a matter: for those who ascribe righteousness to the merit of works must be very dull and stupid in judging of their sins.

29. If thy right eye shall be a stumbling-block to thee. It might be thought that, considering the weakness of the flesh and of nature, Christ pressed too severely on men, and therefore he anticipates all such complaints. The general meaning is, that however difficult, or severe, or troublesome, or harsh, any commandment of God may be, yet no excuse ought to be pleaded on those grounds, because the justice of God ought to stand higher in our estimation, than all that we reckon most precious and valuable. “You have no right to object to me, that you can scarcely turn your eyes in any direction, without being suddenly drawn away by some temptation: for you ought rather to part with your eyes, than to depart from the commandments of God.” And yet Christ does not mean, that we must mutilate our body, in order to obey God: but as all would readily wish, that they should not be restrained from the free use of their senses, Christ employs an exaggerated form of speech to show, that whatever hinders us from yielding that obedience to God which he requires in his law, ought to be cut off. And he does so expressly, because men allow themselves too much liberty in that respect. If the mind were pure, the eyes and hands would be obedient to it; for it is certain, that they have no movement of their own. But here we are deeply to blame. We are so far from being as careful as we ought to be, to avoid allurements, that we rather provoke our senses to wickedness by allowing them unbounded liberty.

Matthew Henry on Matthew 5:28-30

More and more evangelicals are back peddling on the sinfulness of sin in an attempt to be viewed as more compassionate toward those who battle sexual sin. Over the past year or so I have heard so much softening on this text that I thought I'd research some of the classic commentators to get their take on these verses (Matthew 5:28-30):

27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

And here is the excerpt from Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary (with my highlights added in):

"We have here an exposition of the seventh commandment, given us by the same hand that made the law, and therefore was fittest to be the interpreter of it: it is the law against uncleanness, which fitly follows upon the former; that laid a restraint upon sinful passions, this upon sinful appetites, both which ought always to be under the government of reason and conscience, and if indulged, are equally pernicious.I. The command is here laid down (v. 27), Thou shalt not commit adultery; which includes a prohibition of all other acts of uncleanness, and the desire of them: but the Pharisees, in their expositions of this command, made it to extend no further than the act of adultery, suggesting, that if the iniquity was only regarded in the heart, and went no further, God could not hear it, would not regard it (Ps. 66:18 ), and therefore they thought it enough to be able to say that they were no adulterers, Lu. 18:11 .II. It is here explained in the strictness of it, in three things, which would seem new and strange to those who had been always governed by the tradition of the elders, and took all for oracular that they taught.1. We are here taught, that there is such a thing as heart-adultery, adulterous thoughts and dispositions, which never proceed to the act of adultery or fornication; and perhaps the defilement which these give to the soul, that is here so clearly asserted, was not only included in the seventh commandment, but was signified and intended in many of those ceremonial pollutions under the law, for which they were to wash their clothes, and bathe their flesh inwater. Whosoever looketh on a woman (not only another man’s wife, as some would have it, but any woman), to lust after her, has committed adultery with her in his heart, v. 28. This command forbids not only the acts of fornication and adultery, but, (1.) All appetites to them, all lusting after the forbidden object; this is the beginning of the sin, lust conceiving (James. 1:15 ); it is a bad step towards the sin; and where the lust is dwelt upon and approved, and the wanton desire is rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, it is the commission of sin, as far as the heart can do it; there wants nothing but convenient opportunity for the sin itself. Adultera mens est—The mind is debauched.Ovid. Lust is conscience baffled or biassed: biassed, if it say nothing against the sin; baffled, if it prevail not in what is says. (2.) All approaches toward them; feeding the eye with the sight of the forbidden fruit; not only looking for that end, that I may lust; but looking till I do lust, or looking to gratify the lust, where further satisfaction cannot be obtained. The eye is both the inlet and outlet of a great deal of wickedness of this kind, witness Joseph’s mistress (Gen. 39:7 ), Samson (Jdg. 16:1 ), David, 2 Sa. 11:2 . We read the eyes full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin, 2 Pt. 2:14 . What need have we, therefore, with holy Job, to make a covenant with our eyes, to make this bargain with them that they should have the pleasure of beholding the light of the sun and the works of God, provided they would never fasten or dwell upon any thing that might occasion impure imaginations or desires; and under this penalty, that if they did, they must smart for it in penitential tears! Job. 31:1 . What have we the covering of the eyes for, but to restrain corrupt glances, and to keep out of their defiling impressions? This forbids also the using of any other of our senses to stir up lust. If ensnaring looks are forbidden fruit, much more unclean discourses, and wanton dalliances, the fuel and bellows of this hellish fire. These precepts are hedges about the law of heart-purityv. 8. And if looking be lust, they who dress and deck, and expose themselves, with design to be looked at and lusted after (like Jezebel, that painted her face and tired her head, and looked out at the window ) are no less guilty. Men sin, but devils tempt to sin.2. That such looks and such dalliances are so very dangerous and destructive to the soul, that it is better to lose the eye and the hand that thus offend then to give way to the sin, and perish eternally in it. This lesson is here taught us, v. 29v. 30. Corrupt nature would soon object against the prohibition of heart-adultery, that it is impossible to governed by it; "It is a hard saying, who can bear it? Flesh and blood cannot but look with pleasure upon a beautiful woman; and it is impossible to forbear lusting after and dallying with such an object.’’ Such pretences as these will scarcely be overcome by reason, and therefore must be argued against with the terrors of the Lord, and so they are here argued against.(1.) It is a severe operation that is here prescribed for the preventing of these fleshly lusts. If thy right eye offend thee, or cause thee to offend, by wanton glances, or wanton gazings, upon forbidden objects; if thy right hand offend thee, or cause thee to offend, by wanton dalliances; and if it were indeed impossible, as is pretended, to govern the eye and the hand, and they have been so accustomed to these wicked practices, that they will not be withheld from them; if there be no other way to restrain them (which, blessed be God, through his grace, there is), it were better for us to pluck out the eye, and cut off the hand, though the right eye,and right hand, the more honourable and useful, than to indulge them in sin to the ruin of the soul. And if this must be submitted to, at the thought of which nature startles, much more must we resolve to keep under the body, and to bring it into subjection; to live a life of mortification and self-denial; to keep a constant watch over our own hearts, and to suppress the first rising of lust and corruption there; to avoid the occasions of sin, to resist the beginnings of it, and to decline the company of those who will be a snare to us, though ever so pleasing; to keep out of harm’s way, and abridge ourselves in the use of lawful things, when we find them temptations to us; and to seek unto God for his grace, and depend upon that grace daily, and so to walk in the Spirit, as that we may not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; and this will be as effectual as cutting off a right hand or pulling out a right eye; and perhaps as much against the grain to flesh and blood; it is the destruction of the old man.(2.) It is a startling argument that is made use of to enforce this prescription (v. 29), and it is repeated in the same words (v. 30), because we are loth to hear such rough things; Isa. 30:10 . It is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, though it be an eye or a hand, which can be worse spared, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Note, [1.] It is not unbecoming a minister of the gospel to preach of hell and damnation; nay, he must do it, for Christ himself did it; and we are unfaithful to our trust, if we give not warning of the wrath to come. [2.] There ar some sins from which we need to besaved with fear, particularly fleshly lusts, which are such natural brute beasts as cannot be checked, but by being frightened; cannot be kept from a forbidden tree, but by cherubim, with a flaming sword.[3.] When we are tempted to think it hard to deny ourselves, and to crucify fleshly lusts, we ought to consider how much harder it will be to lie for ever in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone; those do not know or do not believe what hell is, that will rather venture their eternal ruin in those flames, than deny themselves the gratification of a base and brutish lust. [4.] In hell there will be torments for the body; the whole body will be cast into hell, and there will be torment in every part of it; so that if we have a care of our own bodies, we shall possess them in sanctification and honour, and not in the lusts of uncleanness. [5.] Even those duties that are most unpleasant to flesh and blood, are profitable for us; and our Master requires nothing from us but what he knows to be for our advantage."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reflections on "Heirs of the Covenant" by Susan Hunt

Series: You Are What You Read
Heirs of the Covenant by Susan Hunt

As a north-easterner and one not brought up in the church or in the Christian faith, I have to admit that when I hear phrases like "Heirs of the Covenant" or even just the words "Heirs" and "Covenant" in church, my initial reaction is to run. For one thing, the idea of thinking of people as "Heirs" either sounds to me like an archaic backdrop to one of Shakespeare's tragedies or it conjures up notions of southern aristocracy, complete with the plantations, estates, and deeply competitive sibling rivalries.

And whenever I hear the term "Covenant" used, I hearken back to some of my earlier Presbyterian days when "Covenant" was an adjective used for everything that I didn't have: covenant children, covenant marriages, covenant families, covenant schools, and so forth).
Rick Phillips wrote an article about this phenomenon some time ago for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals called Covenant Confusion in which he quips about having been given a bag of covenant coffee beans, which he received as an effectual means of grace. Today when I hear the term "Covenant" used, I still have flashbacks of Duggar-like images.

ByFaith Magazine, our PCA denominational magazine, just recently published an article by Susan Hunt titled, "Heirs of the Covenant" that I had delayed reading as long as I could, until the other day, when I was looking for some inspiration for a women's ministry assignment. I knew Susan could always be counted on for providing godly insight into issues of women's ministry in the church. So, I finally prayed for the willingness to read, and opened up the page with a resolve to push through what I expected to be at a minimum somewhat irrelevant and possibly even somewhat painful to glean some useful content.

Much to my surprise, I am so grateful to have read every word on that page so carefully crafted by Susan! So much wisdom! So much grace! And so much love for the body of Christ!!

And most surprisingly, her article is just so relevant, too.

What rich teaching is here! Theological depth and scriptural balm for life in as the body of Christ and as women in the church!

Below I've copied five of the excerpts from the article that I was able to share with our Women's Bible Study last night. The article generated some great discussion, as well as some ideas for our group to be more intentional in getting to know each other and to cultivate covenant community as women doing life together in the church:

  • "The Gospel of grace is the Good News that the Sovereign, Triune King of the universe enters into a relationship with His people. How could such a thing happen? It took a covenant.
    Covenant is a compelling idea. Covenant is the storyline of the grandest of stories, a story that began before the beginning of time when God chose us in Christ to be His own (Ephesians 1:4), that exploded into time and space when God created us in His image (Genesis 1), was scandalously lost when our first parents rebelled (Genesis 3:1-7), was graciously restored when God promised a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15), was gloriously fulfilled when the Word became flesh (John 1:14), and will reach its spectacular consummation when we hear “a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” (Revelation 21:3)."
  • "The covenant is Trinitarian. In the pre-creation covenant of redemption the Father chose a people, the Son redeemed them by His blood, and the Holy Spirit applies what the Father purposed and the Son accomplished and seals our inheritance (Ephesians 1). There was diversity of function but unity of purpose — “to praise His glorious grace” (vv. 6, 12, 14). The inspiring implication: “Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 1)."
  • “Covenant is a promise that stretches from Genesis to Revelation: I will be your God, you will be my people, I will live among you.  (Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 29:12-13; Jeremiah 24:7; Zechariah 8:8; John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 21:1-5)
  • “Scripture clearly teaches that the content of God’s covenant is to be contextualized in the covenant community. If the covenant is taught in a purely academic way, it will be anemic. God never intended the passing on of the covenant to be just a mental exercise. The covenant is corporate. Our relationship with God is personal and individual, but when that relationship is established, we are immediately in community with others who are in relationship with Him."
  • “The church should be zealous to cultivate community among believers. But unless the members of the community understand that the covenant community was established by an act of God’s free grace and that their existence and purpose is about His glory and not their personal happiness, they will lack the substance to sustain the structures they put in place.”

Read the article at ByFaith Magazine>>>

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top Reads for 2014 - Part 2: A Year of Perspicuity

For the past two years (2012 and 2013), my top reads lists have included numerous weighty tomes, such as several systematic and biblical theologies containing more than 1100 pages, academic biographies, apologetics treatises, and original doctrinal works.

In contrast to the past couple of years, my personal reading for 2014 was marked primarily by some marvelously clear and concise contributions that effectively and winsomely simplified deep historical truths and doctrine. These authors have been a blessing to me in many ways, not the least of which is by providing such perspicuous teaching models! Enjoy this list (and don't miss my Top Reads for 2014 - Part 1: The Year of Reformed Women Authors)!

1. Taking God at His Word:  Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What that Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung

2. Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery by G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd

3. Calvin on The Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael S. Horton

4. Everyone's a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by R. C. Sproul

5. Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower

6. The Triune God (a collection of essays by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals from leading pastors and preachers on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit)

7. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller.

8. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine

9 The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs [Kindle Edition] by Sebastian Traeger and Greg D. Gilbert. (Don't miss my Top Reads Part 1 - The Year of Reformed Women Authors, in which Carolyn McCulley's book is highlighted:

10. How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith. This helpful, insightful, and thought-provoking book makes a good pairing with George Marsden's The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950's and the Crisis of Liberal Belief .  Both books provide interesting cultural analysis, but I found Smith's more workable and practical.

Published prior to 2014, Read this Year. Each of these deserve to be on one of my top reads lists:

Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas (2012)
A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture by Keith Mathison (2013) - free for Kindle
Malcolm Gladwell
Fallen: A Theology of Sin (Theology in Community) [Kindle Edition] by Christopher W. Morgan (Author, Editor)

One final note: After spending time this week reviewing the books I've read this year, as well as some books I still need to read or wish to re-read, I've had a few thoughts about how I might merge my reading and gleaning and this blog a bit more. One concept in the works is to do a series called: You Are What You Read, which is a phrase partially co-opted from Rosario Butterfield's blog at The Gospel Coalition early last year here. I hope to say more about this in a later blog post.

Top Reads for 2014 - Part 1 - The Year of Reformed Women Authors

I'd like to officially dub 2014 the year of reformed women authors!

Truth be told, quite few authors blazed the trail before them in the year(s) just prior. Authors like Aimee Byrd, with Housewife Theologian, Melissa Kruger, with The Envy of Eve, Wendy Alsup, the Gospel-Centered WomanKathleen Nielson's Bible Studies, and Nancy Guthrie's Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series certainly got the ball rolling for reformed women authors. Yet, the list of books listed below is a huge testimony to the enormous surge in the quality and quantity of female biblical writers. They're truly impressive, don't you think?

Transcending the list, in a category all its own is: The Women's Devotional Study Bible published by Crossway.

After sifting through my Kindle and rummaging through my bookshelves, here are my top 10 books by reformed women authors published in 2014, listed in no particular order:

I hope you also agree that this was a most prolific year for women authors. Praise God!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Christmas Gift Exchange (TBT)

My first Christmas as a Christian in 1996 is memorable for many reasons. But at this time of year, I am especially
reminded of my very first “White Elephant” gift exchange and how that experience taught me a little bit more about the Gospel. God’s gift to us in Christ came to us in an unassuming package, one which we esteemed not at all. He gave His cherished Son for us and we rejected Him. We have envied and stolen from our neighbor to avoid Him. Even worse when we crucified Him, we literally sent the gift back to the Giver. We said no thanks, God, you can have Him back; we've got our furry slippers right here. We're good. Then Lord goes further. He says, here, let me take your filthy rags. You give me your worst, and I will give you my cherished gift. By the ministry of His Holy Spirit, He reaches down and takes away our junk and sin and graciously, gently, lovingly gives us His most beloved possession, His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. And By His Spirit we now receive this most precious gift, which we neither deserved nor desired, apart from His mercy and grace. Thank you, Jesus.

Read the story here>>>

Friday, November 21, 2014

Have You Joined the Thanksgiving Parade?

In a blast from the past, Dr. Michael Horton writes at The White Horse Inn "Join in the Thanksgiving Parade":
"We need not wallow in our unworthiness, but join the thanksgiving parade that is already in progress, until one day we join our voices with the rest of redeemed creation. The vision of the heavenly kingdom in Revelation is a restored liturgy, with every part of creation performing its ordained role. It is a universal city without man-made walls or a man-made temple, for the Lord surrounds it in safety and the Lamb is its temple. At last, the symphony resounds throughout the empire: 'Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!…Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord (Ps 148:312-13).' " 

Read the entire article here>>>