Archive for March, 2010

Psalm 1: The Degeneration of the Sinful Man

I just found Charles Spurgeon’s “Treasury of David” stuff online, and if everything is as interesting as this first dive into Psalm 1, I’m excited to continue reading these! Within the exposition that Spurgeon does on this chapter is a really interesting portrait of a sinful man and what must be done to keep from going down this path. Let’s look at just the first 2 verses:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in this law he meditates day and night.”

What is interesting is how quickly the man can degenerate according to this passage. Note the verbs used in the first verse. First the man simply walks, then he stands (or perhaps a better way to think about it is that he both STOPS and stands) and finally he sits. This illustrates how sin so easily ensnares us, as someone who is not focused on the Lord and His Word can move so quickly from a passer-through to stopping to see what’s going on to finally joining in to the world of sin.

What is also of note is that at each level the company becomes increasingly worse to involve oneself with. Initially it is only the ungodly, which could mean simply those who are lost and have no knowledge of God. From there, the company becomes sinners, or those who deliberately do things against the will of God, with some awareness of the wrong they are doing. Lastly, the company becomes the scornful, or those who openly mock the truth of the Word of God, and some may even go so far as to attempt to explain away the Lord. The further away one gets from God (which can be directly correlated with how much time is spent seeking God), the easier it gets to act not only in ignorance to God but in direct opposition to His commands.

So how does one escape such company? Verse 2 gives a pretty clear answer. One has to delight in the law of the Lord. Notice that it is not just “the Lord,” but rather “the law of the Lord.” As Spurgeon points out, this man is not under the law, but rather in it. This man is someone who not only loves the Lord, but also keeps His commandments (John 14:15) and does so with delight (Colossians 3:23).

A friend passed along a blog post written recently about frustration concerning those who feel they are saved based on one single experience but show no evidence of God’s fruit in their lives. The “blessed man” of Psalm 1 is a Berean; his fruit is shown as he meditates on the law day and night.

Think of the New Age movement’s practice of meditation. What does it entail? You must block out all distractions and immerse yourself in the process. The idea behind Biblical meditation is similar; you must dive deep into the law, and if you are immersed in such law “both day and night,” odds are you have a better shot of keeping His commandments and avoiding the type of company talked about in verse one.

Lord, give us the desire to delight in Your Word, and help us to put aside all distractions to focus on the glory of the things You’ve spoken to us. Help us to not merely be hearers of Your Word, but also to take action and to put it on our minds both day and night. Amen.

Jesus — Of Judah

I had a weird mental pathway today to my topic. I was thinking about looking for a commentary on Judges to see if anyone else had some interesting takes on the man Jephthah was, which led me back to my blog yesterday. I remembered Rahab and wondered if any other women would be worth mentioning in this group. Certainly some might say Ruth or Esther could be included, perhaps Hannah or Sarah or even Bathsheba. However, one crossed my mind that little is known about: Tamar. Would Tamar be worthy of such an honor? We know she was Judah’s niece and tricked him into sleeping with her to conceive a child that would be his heir, since her husband and husband’s brother were both killed by the Lord.

That put another question in my mind. Judah slept with his niece, who was masquerading as a prostitute. And yet it is this man from whom Jesus chose to be a descendant. Looking at the tribes of Israel and the men from which they came, one would suspect that Jesus would come from the line of Joseph, or perhaps Levi, since He is described in Hebrews as “High Priest,” and the Levites were the priests. But no, Jesus is the “lion of the tribe of Judah.” Why did He choose (and it most definitely was a choice; I have no desire to debate the sovereignty of God in this post) the lineage of Judah?

It got me thinking about what we really know about Judah. For starters, his name lends more to the future Messiah as one of his descendants. The name Judah is derived from the Hebrew word for praise. Joseph comes from the Hebrew for may he add, while Levi comes from the Hebrew for attached.

After Judah’s birth, we don’t hear about him again until his incident with Tamar. Genesis 38 tells this story, but at the end, it is noteworthy that Judah keeps the promise he made to Tamar in attempting to bring her a goat and honoring the cord and seal he gave to her as his sign, even though he says, “She is more righteous than I.”

However, Judah’s greatest contribution to the book of Genesis comes in chapters 43-44. Due to the famine, Jacob sends his sons (minus Benjamin) to Egypt to buy grain, and when they come to their brother Joseph (not recognizing him), they are sent back with orders to bring Benjamin with them, and Simeon is imprisoned until they come back. Judah at this point emerges as the leader and asks that Benjamin be entrusted to his care. You would think this would be the request of the firstborn, but no, Judah was 4th in line. Judah takes on the responsibility of caring for the young and inexperienced Benjamin.

As the story continues, when the brothers return Joseph secretly plants a silver cup in Benjamin’s grain sack to force Benjamin to stay in Egypt. Judah then does something that up to this point has not been done in the book of Genesis: he sacrifices himself for the good of his younger, inexperienced brother. He pleads with Joseph to let him be the one imprisoned, since Benjamin is entrusted to his care. Joseph can no longer contain himself, reveals himself to his brothers, and they lived happily ever after (er, mostly; those living in the time of Moses might disagree with the move to Egypt).

So what qualities does Judah show in his short time in Genesis? (1) He honors a covenant that he made, (2) he emerges as leader of his “people,” (3) he takes responsibility for the weak and inexperienced, and (4) he offers himself as a sacrifice for the weak, so that the weak won’t be separated from his father forever.

Anybody see the parallels between Judah and Jesus? While Judah was not perfect, he was the best example of what Jesus came to fulfill. Simeon was chosen to be imprisoned first, but he and Levi both stained their father’s name by attacking the town of the man who raped their sister. Reuben, when Joseph was sold by his brothers, merely protested but did not step in himself. No, Judah was the man who showed the character that was later made even more perfect by Jesus Christ. It is only fitting that God chose to personify Himself in the lineage of such a man who, not blameless by any stretch of the imagination, did what needed to be done to protect and bring honor to his own.

Hall of Faith – Jephthah???

Most people who either actively read their Bible or attend church on a regular basis have probably heard a reference to the “Hall of Faith.” For those who may not know, this points to Hebrews 11, where the author of Hebrews calls out by name some of the Old Testament believers who exemplified great faith, and in some cases specifically where this faith showed its nature.

I recall recently talking about Samson and how he continually let Delilah and the Philistines attempt to take him down, and how he never learned. A friend made a comment in the vein of, “Yeah, and yet he’s mentioned in the Hall of Faith. Strange, isn’t it?” So I went back to the Hall of Faith chapter to see what exactly it was that earned Samson a place of recognition among the greats. Unfortunately, he is just listed in a series of names, so there is no exact specification for his inclusion, but it was the name after his that got me thinking. Jephthah?!

For starters, WIFE and I just finished the book of Judges in our attempt to read through the entire Bible in a year. After actually reading through the whole book, it’s evident to me that Judges is a book filled with chaos. People attacking people and not listening to people and breaking promises and making promises they don’t really intend to keep. Indeed, the common phrase running through many of the verses of Judges is, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Which brings me to Jephthah. We find this man in the midst of all of the chaos of Judges, yet like Samson he is included in the Hall of Faith. Why? A little background on Jephthah might help.

Jephthah was born the son of a prostitute (which isn’t terrible; after all, Rahab –called out by the author of Hebrews as a prostitute– is also mentioned in the Hall of Faith), and his brothers basically ostracized him from the family, saying he was not one of the real brothers. After the people of Gilead (Jephthah’s father) were attacked by the Ammonites, they called on Jephthah (referred to first as “a mighty warrior”) to lead them.

After scorning them for their treatment of him and making sure he would be their leader if he helped, he sent a message to the leader of the Ammonites, asking why they were attacking and after a couple of back-and-forths, is basically ignored by the Ammonite king. So Jephthah leads his men and defeats the Ammonites.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and may be the reason for his name in the Hall of Faith. Jephthah made a vow to God that if God would grant him the victory, He would sacrifice (as a burnt offering; Judges 11:31) the first thing that came out of his house when he returned in triumph. As luck would have it, the first thing out of the house was his only daughter. Jephthah, as any father would be, is distraught and tears his clothes. However, here’s the test of the man–he informs his daughter of the vow, she understands and agrees and after two months to spend with her friends, he goes through with the sacrifice!!!

Wow. As a new father, I know that if I made such a vow, I would probably say, “Um, OK Lord, what else can I give you instead, because You’re not getting my daughter.” Even Abraham, when told to sacrifice Isaac, didn’t actually have to go through with it. How strong a man of faith was Jephthah, not only in trusting the Lord to deliver the Ammonites into his hand but following through on a vow that cost him the life of his only daughter.

I’m sure Jephthah is rejoicing with his daughter in heaven now, but it is such faith that people today should strive to achieve. That no matter what happens, what we promise to the Lord is sacred, and we need to treat it as such, because He knows better than we do why He gives us the things he does, be it possessions, wealth, suffering or anything else.

Jephthah might not have been the smartest cookie in the jar, but he without a doubt was one of the most faithful and God-honoring, so I not only support but now understand why his name is mentioned in Hebrews. No doubt the recipients of the original letter of Hebrews did also. Hopefully modern-day recipients will observe and take note.

Calvinism vs. Arminianism – A Response

Wow. My previous blog post generated the most response of any of the blog posts I’ve done up to this point. I’m guessing it has to do with the fact that this is an extremely hot and controversial topic. I decided to a bit more research to make sure I feel a bit better about where I fall.

One friend encouraged me to read the book “Easy Chairs, Hard Words,” and after previewing the first chapter on Amazon, looks pretty interesting and suggests that maybe I should use the term “reformed” instead of “Calvinist.” WIFE (which, in case you’re a new reader, stands for Woman I Find Exceptional) also suggested that maybe I hastily jumped too much into the argument without enough research.

I have to say, this post is probably where I draw the last line. I will probably read the above suggested book, but as far as expounding on my personal feelings, this is probably it.

That said, I went looking for some comparisons between the 5 points of Calvinism and the corresponding 5 points of Arminianism. This one was a pretty good one, in my opinion, and helped me draw the line on a couple of questionable ideas I had about some of the 5 points: http://www.fivesolas.com/cal_arm.htm.

Without getting too deep into it, the points in my previous posts that I disagreed with the explanation (Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints) are a bit more clear cut here, and in reading the “strict” Arminianist counterpoints, I have to say I fall closer to the Calvinist view of these doctrines than the Arminianist view. So I guess this pushes me to a 4-point Calvinist, which apparently is a fairly common theological position.

So my issue still lies with Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement, which again according to research is possibly the most controversial of the 5 points. When looking at both viewpoints, they both seem to have compelling arguments. So my first question to myself was, “Haven’t I heard somewhere about ‘the hope of salvation,’ which would extend to all men?”

I looked up the passage (1 Thessalonians 5:8, if anyone cares to reference it) and went to Strong’s concordance to learn the actual Greek word and meaning for “hope” in this verse. The literal definition, plus various other references using the same Greek word, liken that “hope” more to an “expectation” or “faith in,” which leans closer to the Reformed viewpoint. (http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G1680 is the link for Strong’s concordance to this word)

But I was still interested in the point about 1 Timothy 1:15 (“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost {of all}.”). It doesn’t say SOME sinners, it just says sinners. The last prepositional phrase isn’t in all translations of this verse, but the Greek word for “sinners” is hamartolos, which in its most literal sense means “not free from sin,” but in a more specific sense is applied to “all wicked men.” (http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G268&t=NASB&page=2 is the reference for this one.). Other passages using the same Greek word seem to point to such an understanding of the original Greek.

This idea seems more concrete to me, so I think in the sliding scale I fall closer to the side of Unlimited Atonement, but the basis for both viewpoints is Scriptural, so who am I to decide one is solely right and one is solely wrong?

My last point goes back to my original statement in this post. This will be my last post on this subject. Why? Because I base my belief on what the Bible says. There are clearly enough mysterious passages in the Bible to make you fall on one side or another. I fell into that behavior earlier in life when determining that I was a “pre-tribulationist” believer in the Rapture. I think if God wanted us to know the answer outright, He would have just said specifically in His Word, “This is how it is.” But I guess the underlying point is that both doctrinal viewpoints believe that we need Christ in our lives to be saved, and that is the most important doctrinal position of all!

My Take on Calvinism’s 5 Points

So in reading back through some of blog posts I remembered that I said I wanted to tackle where I stand in terms of Calvinism versus Arminianism. While I haven’t seriously studied Arminianism enough yet to see how I view that theology, I did do some research on the 5 points of Calvinism. While these points don’t comprise totally the philosophy of Calvinism, they are tenets that strong Calvinists adhere to. I like that they form a pretty word acrostically, but as for the tenets themselves, some questions arise.

Total depravity
Unconditional election
Limited atonement
Irresistible grace
Perserverance of the saints

TOTAL DEPRAVITY – due to the fall of Adam, everyone born into the world is enslaved into the service of sin (i.e. we are born with sin)

My take: I agree with this one completely. No objections.

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION – it is God’s choice from eternity whom He will save, and it is not based on foreseen virtue, merit or faith in those people

My take: This idea is supported by Paul in both the book of Romans and 1 Corinthians, so I agree with this one too.

LIMITED ATONEMENT – since God predestined the elect, Jesus’ death that atoned for sins was only meant to atone for the sins of the elect, and not all of the world

My take: Paul doesn’t make the claim that “Christ came to the world to save SOME sinners, of whom I am the worst.” I believe that Christ came to testify to the truth (as He states in John 18:37) to all of the world, otherwise Christ wouldn’t have said, “Go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS.” The Word of God is readily available to anyone who wants to read it, not to an elect few who were destined to read it. The caveat comes in the form of free will. I believe God would give everyone the chance to accept the atonement; it’s just that not everyone does, and He knew that from eternity

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE – the Holy Spirit is able to overcome any obstacles put up in the way of saving those whom God had predestined to be with Him

My take: I like the idea of this one, but not the explanation. This explanation makes it sound like the Holy Spirit tries harder to reach some than others, because they are the elect. I think God tries with the same earnest to reach every individual, because as He tries to reach someone, another might come to Him in free will as a result.

PERSERVERANCE OF THE SAINTS – Those whom God has called into communion with Himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who fall away were either never really saved or will return.

My take: I don’t like this explanation either. What happens to a person who is undeniably saved but dies in a sinful act? For example, what happens to the saved pastor who is killed while trying to murder a man who raped his daughter? No chance to return, but no one doubts the salvation. If you simplify the explanation of POTS to simply “You can’t lose your salvation,” then I agree.

So that’s it. I guess I’m a 3 1/2 point Calvinist, which means I must agree with some of Arminius’ beliefs too. Or perhaps not. I guess we’ll find out eventually.

If God Is So Powerful and Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Bracket – 1st Weekend Carnage

Wow what a first weekend in the tournament. Lots of upsets, including my beloved Lobos going down on Saturday to a better (at least on this day) Washington team. My bracket, as well as about half of the nation, could be on its way to a sinking ship as Kansas fell to Northern Iowa in the upset of the tournament. However, I do still have 7 of 8 Elite Eight teams in, so I might end up being OK. I’m 2nd in the pools I’m participating in, so I have it set up pretty good if things fall my way. I’ll be rooting hard against Syracuse and Kentucky, though. Here’s how my bracket looks after the carnage.