Wednesday, December 24, 2014

N.T. Wright on the Problem of Evil

"We are not told—or not in any way that satisfies our puzzled questioning—how and why there is radical evil within God’s wonderful, beautiful, and essentially good creation. One day I think we shall find out, but I believe we are incapable of understanding it at the moment, in the same way that a baby in the womb would lack the categories to think about the outside world. What we are promised, however, is that God will make a world in which all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well, a world in which forgiveness is one of the foundation stones and reconciliation is the cement which holds everything together. And we are given this promise not as a matter of whistling in the dark, not as something to believe even though there is no evidence, but in and through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, and in and through the Spirit through whom the achievement of Jesus becomes a reality in our world and in our lives. When we understand forgiveness, flowing from the work of Jesus and the Spirit, as the strange and powerful thing it really is, we begin to realize that God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others, is the knife that cuts the rope by which sin, anger, fear, recrimination and death are still attached to us. Evil will have nothing to say at the last, because the victory of the cross will be fully implemented."

N.T. Wright

Friday, December 19, 2014

Straight No Chaser...The Twelve Days of Christmas

Here's another of the songs I try to share each Christmas. It's a different take on a familiar tune...and it's a whole lot of fun!

Missing the Point of Christmas

This is a reprint of a post from December 12, 2012

The other day I was at the store looking at cards when I saw a pretty, red and gold card with the following acrostic emblazoned upon its front:

Holy One

I was thankful that amidst all the commercialization and materialism of Christmas, someone had remembered the Reason for the Season (do I need a little TM after that?). I couldn't help but shake my head in dismay though when I opened the card to find this inside:

Did you catch the word that set me off?


Too often we (even we, in the Church) think of God as being like Santa Claus, keeping two lists: "Naughty" and "Nice." The whole point of Christmas though is that not one of us is good enough to attain "Nice" list standing. What we (each and every one of us) DESERVE is nothing less than the convicting judgment of a righteous God, who perfectly understands how very short we fall from the standard of holiness that is required of us.

But that's the great thing about Christmas. In it we see the grand manifestation of the grace of God in the fact that he did not give us what we DESERVE. Rather he took on human flesh that he might live the perfect life we fail to live, and die the atoning death we DESERVE to die. You see, for those who trust in Christ, God doesn't keep a record of your naughtiness to hold against you. Rather, he has worked graciously, savingly, forgivingly, "canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." (Colossians 2:14)

It's understandable that non-Christians would miss the point of Christmas. But if you call yourself by the name of the One who was laid in a manger over 2000 years ago, please don't make that same mistake.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Christmas is All About

My daughter is in the fifth grade. It seems like it was a LONG time ago when I was that age--probably because it was! Two things in particular stick out in my memory from that year: 1) I remember the St. Louis Cardinals winning the 1982 World Series, and 2) I remember taking part in a play at school. It was a production of It's a Charlie Brown Christmas and I played the role of Linus.

Linus was of course the most challenging part in the production because I had a monologue that was much longer than any of the lines other characters had. In that monologue, Linus explains what Christmas is really all about. It was my favorite part of the whole production then, and it still is now each time I watch the cartoon production of  It's a Charlie Brown Christmas on TV.

It was a lot to memorize when I was eleven, but with blanket in hand, I was up to the task. The great thing though is the fact that it wasn't only a line in a play, it was gospel truth, a direct quote from the second chapter of the Luke. Merry Christmas to you all and may each of you know the joy that comes with knowing the true meaning of Christmas.

A Christmas Letter

Genealogy is one of my favorite hobbies. I find it especially gratifying to get acquainted with ancestors that I otherwise could never have known. For instance, I never met my great-grandfather, Frank J. Scribner (he died four years before I was born), but I am quite certain that I would have greatly enjoyed him. Not only did he share my ministerial calling, but by all accounts he was a kind, intelligent and loving man.

One of the primary means through which I have gotten to know him is through reading his journals, sermons and various personal correspondences. Among these are this Christmas letter which he penned 57 years ago, and which I enjoy reading annually this time of year. I hope you will enjoy reading it and be blessed by it as well.

An earlier version was originally posted on 12/20/12.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously proclaims, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9, ESV). In the wake of all that occurred last night in Ferguson, it seems to be quite the appropriate message for us today.

When Jesus spoke of peacemakers, he no doubt had in mind the concept of shalom (Hebrew for "peace"). What we need to keep in mind though is what exactly is encapsulated in shalom. Cornelius Plantinga states the following: 

"The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, whole ness and delight -- a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as it's Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be."

So while it is right for us to be against rioting, arson and looting, it is not enough for our peacemaking to end there. We must also be against systemic injustice, racism, division and oppression. We must realize that it is not enough to try to KEEP peace, especially when true peace doesn't actually exist. We must strive to MAKE peace. 

We need to humbly admit that our point of view just might not always be the point of view of ultimate truth. We must demonstrate empathy before leaping right to judgment. When we can't understand how there could be any logical explanation for a person's actions, that should cause us to wonder if there's a piece of the puzzle we don't see or at least don't fully understand. This involves great deals of listening before speaking; patiently asking for explanation instead of quickly offering criticism; humbly asking God to give us the vision to see where peace needs to be made, the wisdom to know how we should respond, and the courage to follow through with action.

Peacemaking is hard work. It is at times painful. It is always costly. It certainly was for Jesus, the true Son of God, the ultimate peacemaker. He, at ultimate cost to himself, not only KEPT peace, but MADE peace. May we prayerfully and humbly seek to follow his example.

"For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility." (Ephesians 2:14-16, ESV)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Can Leviticus Actually Be Good News?

It was said of Willie Mays that his glove was the place where triples went to die. I suppose it could be said that Leviticus is the place where Bible reading plans go to die.

Many a person has begun a Bible reading plan at the start of a new year with high hopes and the best of intentions. Things generally begin well. The stories found in Genesis keep things moving along and the mighty acts of God in Exodus usually keep the reader on track. 

Then something happens. That something is Leviticus. With all of its detail and minutiae regarding ceremonial law, many a reader simply loses interest. What, after all, does all of it have to do with the Gospel?

Against the backdrop of this reality comes a new commentary on Leviticus  by Dr. Jay Sklar from IVP's Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series. Jay is Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where I took two semesters of Hebrew from him. As unbelievable as it may seem, each class period could truly be classified as a devotional experience. If a man can turn the study of Hebrew into a devotional experience, he can no doubt show us how the Gospel sings in Leviticus. That, after all, is what it is intended to do. 

He begins by pointing us to a vital, though often overlooked fact: Leviticus can only be properly understood in light of the story that immediately precedes it.
The story immediately before Leviticus is one in which the Lord redeems the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and enters into covenant relationship with them. They are to be his ‘treasured possession’ who are to fulfill a special role: being a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’, and in this way spreading the Lord’s kingdom of justice, mercy, goodness and love in all the earth. What is more, they are to do this with the Lord himself dwelling in their midst in the tent of meeting. If you were an Israelite, all of this would lead to some burning questions: How in the world can the holy and pure King of the universe dwell among his sinful and impure people? How can he live here, in our very midst, without his holiness melting us in our sin and impurity? And how can we live as his people in such a way that we really do extend his holy kingdom throughout the earth?
Leviticus answers these questions.
But that’s not all Leviticus does.
(I)t also casts a vision that takes the Israelites back to the Lord’s intent for humanity from the beginning of the world: to walk in rich fellowship with their covenant King, enjoying his care and blessing, and extending throughout all the earth his kingdom of justice, mercy, kindness, righteousness, holiness and love.
And all the while Jay reminds us, “If what we see in the Old Testament  is an acorn, what we see in Jesus is a magnificent oak. This is especially true for the themes of Leviticus.”

I am very thankful to have this commentary on my bookshelf and I highly recommend that you do the same.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Frozen, Freedom and the Gospel

If you (like me) have a pre-teen daughter, you have perhaps seen the Disney movie Frozen. Almost certainly you have heard your daughter sing the movie's hit song, Let It Go (performed above by Idina Menzel).

Trevin Wax offered some great thoughts on the movie and the song in a post today at his Kingdom People blog. He points out:
Thousands of little girls across the country are singing this song – a manifesto of sorts, a call to cast off restraint, rebel against unrealistic expectations and instead be true to whatever you feel most deeply inside. What’s ironic is that the movie’s storyline goes against the message of this song. When the princess decides to “let it go,” she brings terrible evil into the world. The fallout from her actions is devastating. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me” is the sin that isolates the princess and freezes her kingdom.
He goes on...
 A popular idea in our culture is that there are only two ways to live:
  1. Through authenticity, expressed in rebellion against cultural constraints
  2. Through an ordered life, expressed in rule-keeping
Neither of these paths are the way to true fulfillment though.Wax concludes,
Christianity teaches explicitly what Frozen only hints at: salvation comes not through self-discovery or self-restraint, but through self-sacrifice.

All across the country, little girls are singing about self-discovery. Let’s make sure that after they see the film, they are given songs about self-sacrifice.
 Read the whole post here.