1.10.2014

Book Review: What The Old Testament Authors Really Cared About

When I first heard of the title of this book, I was a little skeptical. This guy has the gumption to tell us all what the Old Testament authors really cared about? Pretentiousness in the title! Surely this book can't live up to its claim. Welp, I was wrong. This book, edited by Jason DeRouchie, is an excellent introduction to the Old Testament with a keen focus on authorial intent. In this review, I will offer a brief summary of the book and then my reflections.

In this Old Testament survey, several authors and professors walk through each book in the Old Testament in the order of the Hebrew scriptures, which has a definite impact when it comes to understanding the theme of certain books (ex: 1-2 Chronicles). In each chapter, the respective author walks through the purpose(s) each scriptural author had for writing by answering the whos, whens, wheres, and whys of the book. DeRouchie states plainly the purpose of this book: "this survey attempts to present the essence of what is revealed in the Old Testament, with a conscious eye toward the fulfillment found in Jesus in the New Testament" (p.13, emphasis original). This book pairs very well with other works on biblical theology. The chapters are sprinkled with relevant pictures, sidebars, visual and textual graphs, and most importantly, solid biblical exegesis - as far as this amateur theologian can tell.

I was very pleased with the overall content of this book, especially considering that I had never read almost any author contained in this volume before. There are too many helpful things I underlined and noted to share here in this review. I only noted a few items of biblical interpretation which seemed to be a little bit of a stretch. Either way, such items were very minor and not essential to the main meaning of the text in question.

Here is one sample of something in the chapter on Lamentations I found encouraging and readily applicable to my life: "[Speaking of God's faithfulness as the basis for hope in suffering]...therefore, those who look to God have real hope - the confident assurance that he will meet the repentant with real mercy in accordance with his character and promise" (p.405).

I heartily commend this book to everyone who desires to get to know that which composes a large majority of the Bible.

Per FTC guidelines, I note that I received this book for free from Kregel Publications in exchange for an unbiased review.






5.20.2013

The Object of Corporate Worship

Mike Cosper, in his book Rhythms of Grace, makes a key observation about the nature of corporate worship. Here is my summary what Mike calls the worship one-two-three:
One: God is the object and the author of worship. 
Two: Worship happens when God’s people are scattered and gathered.  
Three: God, the Church, and the world witness our worship.
I was thinking about the implications of God being the object of our worship and pondered the following ponderings.

Do we worship God according to His self-revelation or to a false image of God? In our corporate worship, God is the only object of our worship and we worship God. We do not gather together to engage in an activity called “worship”; we worship something, namely, God. God is to be the sole object of our worship. When we gather, we direct all our honoring, thanksgiving, praising, exalting, and exulting towards God. As the formerly blind man fell at Jesus feet and worshiped Jesus when he received Jesus’ self-revelation (John 9:37-38), so we are to respond to God as we receive God’s story – the gospel. It makes much sense to then fill our corporate gatherings with Scripture – reading, reciting, preaching – so that there will be no doubt in the congregation as to who God says He is and so that God’s Spirit may actively work in us through the Scriptures.

God’s self-revelation should also cause us to evaluate carefully the words of the songs we sing. Consider the following:

  • Do the songs we sing accurately reflect who God is and what He has done? Are we singing false or faulty doctrine? (This implies one must have and know doctrine first.)
  • Do we have an imbalanced song collection where we focus inordinately on certain characteristics of God and neglect others?
  • Can the songs we sing be sung by one living the normal Christian life or do the songs we sing portray the redeemed life as one of all triumph or as one of gloom?
  • Do the songs we sing represent a mere mishmash of spiritual phrases? Do our songs sound more like a word-bank for worship buzzword bingo – praise, love, glory, fire, desire, king, sing – than coherent lyrics which tell God’s story that we sing along to? Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some popular songwriters, singing “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” ad infinitum might not be the best method of vocalizing our praise to God.

There is much more to be thought through and more to be said about such a topic.

3.31.2013

The Neglected Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage

Should Christians support "same-sex marriage"?

That is the question I have been considering this past week. I have seen several Christian friends and acquaintances come out in support of same-sex marriage via social media recently. I have also heard many raise their opposition to same-sex marriage. I believe that there is an argument against same sex marriage which has been tragically neglected in recent weeks. The argument had two sides, a negative and positive. Let's consider the negative first.

Same-sex marriage, as it is presently propounded, is incompatible with what is good for men and women according to what God has made plain in Scripture. Why? Because same-sex marriage is founded on something sinful - homosexuality. You cannot support same-sex marriage without supporting something which God disapproves. Christians should never encourage anyone to sin, whether they are believers or not. Standing up for same-sex marriage is to promote a life where one can accept homosexual desire and pursue it in the context of a homosexual relationship. Christians should not encourage this. To accept homosexual marriage is to accept sin and Christians should never accept that which brings death to mankind (cf. Romans 1-6).

What is the positive side of the argument? The glorious, beautiful, and tragically neglected side of the argument? Christ, the one to whom Christians should point their same-sex friends to, is scorned. Here is one way of stating the argument all too absent as of late: 

"There is something far better for the homosexual man or woman than to be married to another homosexual man or woman - to repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus and be forever married to He who is ultimately and most fully good for men and women - Jesus!"  

We should encourage homosexuals to flee to Christ and repent of their sin (including homosexual passions) and believe in the gospel of grace. Christians can't promote something that brings death (as all sin does) and at the same time promote Christ. I think many Christians mistakenly support same-sex marriage because they have a skewed view of what is marriage, love, happiness, and the ultimate purpose of life. The Bible gives the truth of what is good for men and women: to know and be known by God in Christ. Or, as many have confessed over the years: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. 

I am deliberately leaving many things out of this post for the sake of trying to present a singular point. Comments are open.

2.24.2013

The Only Kind of Boasting Allowed - Gadsby #32

There is only one kind of boasting approved by God and that is boasting in Christ. What does it mean to boast in Christ? Is it to exult in the fact that Christ saved you? This is an unthinkable and glorious reality, but I don't think that in boasting in Christ, we become the subject of such boasting. Boasting in Christ rather is proudly exulting in who Jesus is, how He made God just and became the justifier of those who have faith in Him (Rom. 3:26). I think boasting is closer to that. Having said that, this is the only kind of boasting approved by God. Further, the litmus test for evidence of the residence of the Spirit of God is such boasting - exulting in the supreme holiness of God manifested in the Son's life, death, and resurrection with abundant love.

Also, another way to detect the Spirit's activity is to see how much people are heart-gazing at Christ. This is the dominant activity of the Spirit. Do I need to mention that some alleged manifestations of the Spirit may be exactly the opposite of what they claim to be if Christ is not lifted up as the supreme treasure?

    32    C.M.    J. Hart
    “He shall not speak of himself.” John 16:13; 15:26

    1    Whatever prompts the soul to pride,
            Or gives us room to boast,
        Except in Jesus crucified,
            Is not the Holy Ghost.

    2    That blessed Spirit omits to speak
            Of what himself has done,
        And bids the enlightened sinner seek
            Salvation in the Son.

    3    He never moves a man to say,
            “Thank God, I’m made so good,”
        But turns his eye another way,
            To Jesus and his blood.

    4    Great are the graces he confers,
            But all in Jesus’ name;
        He gladly dictates, gladly hears,
            “Salvation to the Lamb.”

2.19.2013

Useless Doctrine - Gadsby # 31

Doctrine quickly becomes meaningless if it does not affect your life. Hart repeats this several times in this hymn. What good is election to me if God has not chosen me? What good is justification if Christ' accomplished redemption is not applied to me? You get the picture. But the question still remains: is your doctrine useless?

    31    C.M.    J. Hart
    “The kingdom of God is ... in power.” 1 Cor. 4. 20
  
    1    A form of words, though e’er so sound,
            Can never save a soul;
        The Holy Ghost must give the wound,
            And make the wounded whole.

    2    Though God’s election is a truth,
            Small comfort there I see,
        Till I am told by God’s own mouth,
            That he has chosen me.

    3    [Sinners, I read, are justified,
            By faith in Jesus’ blood;
        But when to me that blood’s applied,
            ’Tis then it does me good.]

    4    [To perseverance I agree;
            The thing to me is clear;
        Because the Lord has promised me
            That I shall persevere.]

    5    [Imputed righteousness I own
            A doctrine most divine;
        For Jesus to my heart makes known
            That all his merit’s mine.]

    6    That Christ is God I can avouch,
            And for his people cares,
        Since I have prayed to him as such,
            And he has heard my prayers.

    7    That sinners black as hell, by Christ
            Are saved, I know full well;
        For I his mercy have not missed,
            And I am black as hell.

    8    Thus, Christians glorify the Lord,
            His Spirit joins with ours
        In bearing witness to his word,
            With all its saving powers.

2.18.2013

The Fruit of the Spirit - Gadsby #30

I'm not entirely sure if I am in 100% agreement with this hymn. Here are a few points of pushback I have:

  • What about the soul who doesn't have "sincere desires" in seeking after Jesus' love? For example, there are many who pursue God in Spirit-idolatry, where miraculous gifts are sought more than God Himself. But if the Holy Spirit only gave "breathings from above" to those who sincerely sought Jesus, we would all be lacking God's great Gift (Rom. 5:4). I am not denying that God withholds Spiritual blessings from those who earnestly seek Him. Such a thought paints the picture of a fickle and malevolent God. I guess my point is here that the Spirit will breath on those whom He wills (Jn. 3:8), through convicting them of their sin (which means that they are presently entangled in sin to be convicted of it - cf. Jn 16:8).
  • "still small voice" - I have rarely seen someone use this phrase properly. When people speak of the "still small voice" they often imply hearing little mental whispers from God. The debate around this phrase/topic is worthy of exegesis from skilled exegetes (i.e. not me). Suffice it to say, when phrases such as this are exported from Scripture and then take on a new meaning divorced from the original text, well, you're doing it wrong.
Other than those minor quibbles, here is one thing worthy of reflection: you can have your "conscience washed from sin". This is not impossible. But beware of the Accuser who will work against you to make it seem impossible.

30    C.M.    J. Hart
The Fruit of the Spirit. Acts 2:3; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9

    1    The soul that with sincere desires
            Seeks after Jesus’ love,
        That soul the Holy Ghost inspires
            With breathings from above.

    2    [Not every one in like degree
            The Spirit of God receives;
        The Christian often cannot see
            His faith, and yet believes.

    3    So gentle sometimes is the flame,
            That, if we take not heed,
        We may unkindly quench the same,
            We may, my friends, indeed.]

    4    Blest God! that once in fiery tongues
            Cam’st down in open view,
        Come, visit every heart that longs
            To entertain thee too.

    5    [And though not like a mighty wind,
            Nor with a rushing noise,
        May we thy calmer comforts find,
            And hear thy still small voice.]

    6    Not for the gift of tongues we pray,
            Nor power the sick to heal;
        Give wisdom to direct our way,
            And strength to do thy will.

    7    We pray to be renewed within,
            And reconciled to God;
        To have our conscience washed from sin
            In the Redeemer’s blood.

    8    We pray to have our faith increased,
            And O, celestial Dove!
        We pray to be completely blessed
            With that rich blessing, love.

2.14.2013

A Hymn About The Spirit's Leading

The first thing that struck me when I was reading this hymn was the phrase "ravished breasts". It is ok to realized that your heart is often beat up and you are worn down from life. We can't hide from pain in this cursed universe. But we need not fall into utter despair because of the struggles we face in life. The Spirit is ready and willing to help us. More than that, we can hope in Him, the Spirit of God, because He is powerful and He can renovate our bruised hearts. The soul the Spirit of God renews will not collapse into ruin.

It is a gospel irony that we find healing in the "bruised wounds of our incarnate God". The world would think it strange that the God believers worship is a God who guides us to a bloody crucifix where the "sinner-train" finds a new song: "We're clean, just God, we're clean."

29    8.8.6.    J. Hart
Led by the Spirit. Ezek. 37:5,9; John 16:14

    1    Descend from heaven, celestial Dove,
        With flames of pure seraphic love
            Our ravished breasts inspire;
        Fountain of joy, blest Paraclete,
        Warm our cold hearts with heavenly heat,
            And set our souls on fire.

    2    Breathe on these bones, so dry and dead;
        Thy sweetest, softest influence shed
            In all our hearts abroad;
        Point out the place where grace abounds;
        Direct us to the bleeding wounds
            Of our incarnate God.

    3    Conduct, blest Guide, thy sinner-train
        To Calvary, where the Lamb was slain,
            And with us there abide;
        Let us our loved Redeemer meet,
        Weep o’er his pierc├Ęd hands and feet,
            And view his wounded side.

    4    [From which pure fountain if thou draw
        Water to quench the fiery law,
            And blood to purge our sin;
        We’ll tell the Father in that day,
        (And thou shalt witness what we say),
            “We’re clean, just God, we’re clean.”]

    5    Teach us for what to pray, and how;
        And since, kind God, ’tis only thou
            The throne of grace canst move,
        Pray thou for us, that we, through faith,
        May feel the effects of Jesus’ death,
            Through faith, that works by love.

    6    [Thou, with the Father and the Son,
        Art that mysterious Three-in-One,
            God blest for evermore!
        Whom though we cannot comprehend,
        Feeling thou art the sinner’s Friend,
            We love thee and adore.]

2.13.2013

Gadsby #28 - The Spirit Gives Life

If this hymn does not well describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I am not sure what else does. Writings such as hymns, catechisms, and confessions are worthy of our meditation just as Scripture is worthy of our meditation for such writings are summaries and testimonies of the truth of Scripture. My thinking has been changed much by good hymns.

There is comfort which we may delight in and there is comfort in which we may not delight in. It is fitting to find joy in the comfort the Spirit gives us as he reminds us of Christ' eternal priesthood and accomplished redemption. It is not fitting to rest in the "false comforts" of this world (verse 5). Such comforts are akin to drinking antifreeze. Sweet but poisonous.

One question from this hymn we should apply to ourselves is: do we ask the Spirit to renovate our hearts?

28   C.M.   J. Hart
“It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” John 6:63; 14:16
   
1 Blest Spirit of truth, eternal God,
Thou meek and lowly Dove,
Who fill’st the soul through Jesus’ blood,
With faith, and hope, and love;

2 Who comfortest the heavy heart,
By sin and sorrow pressed;
Who to the dead canst life impart,
And to the weary rest;

3 [Thy sweet communion charms the soul,
And gives true peace and joy,
Which Satan’s power cannot control,
Nor all his wiles destroy;]

4 Come from the blissful realms above;
Our longing breasts inspire
With thy soft flames of heavenly love,
And fan the sacred fire.

5 [Let no false comfort lift us up
To confidence that’s vain;
Nor let their faith and courage droop,
For whom the Lamb was slain.]

6 Breathe comfort where distress abounds,
Make the whole conscience clean,
And heal, with balm from Jesus’ wounds,
The festering sores of sin.

7 Vanquish our lust, our pride remove,
Take out the heart of stone;
Show us the Father’s boundless love,
And merits of the Son.

8 The Father sent the Son to die;
The willing Son obeyed;
The witness thou, to ratify
The purchase Christ has made.

2.12.2013

Should Christians counsel unbelievers?

A few excerpts from Alasdair Groves' article in the Journal of Biblical Counseling from CCEF:
Counseling a non-Christian involves building a friendship. Get to know this person. Ask questions. Express appreciation. Show tenderness and compassion. Share things about yourself. Spend time. Listen attentively. Discern what is important. Notice strengths as well as failings. Ask how someone is really doing, and mean it. This question, asked with genuine interest, is a precious gift. If you can care about a friend who is not a Christian, why should counseling be any different? Jesus looked at the rich young ruler and “loved him.” We must know and love this person living in separation from God, just as Christ loved us when we walked in darkness.
Christian ministry is evangelism. In counseling this means we strive for a relationship where the natural next step in the relationship is speaking about the good news of the Good Shepherd. What happens when someone acknowledges shame, guilt, wounds, wickedness, weakness or loneliness? That person becomes more open to a Shepherd who laid down his life so his sheep could have glorious, endless, forgiven, painless, shameless, eternal life with God as part of his family. 
Read the whole article for free here as a PDF.

2.11.2013

Gadsby #27 - To the Holy Ghost

Oh how we need the Spirit! Who else can "dispel the darkness from our minds"?

What are the most sinister "doubts and fears" that can cross our hearts? Doubting that God cannot satisfy us. Fearing that He is impotent. Such doubts and fears are dispelled by a God-kindled love for God.

Let this hymn be our prayer to the Spirit.

27 S.M. J. Hart
To the Holy Ghost. Luke 11:13; John 14:26; John 15:26

1 Come, Holy Spirit, come;
Let thy bright beams arise;
Dispel the darkness from our minds,
And open all our eyes.

2 [Cheer our desponding hearts,
Thou heavenly Paraclete;
Give us to lie, with humble hope,
At our Redeemer’s feet.]

3 Revive our drooping faith;
Our doubts and fears remove;
And kindle in our breasts the flames
Of never-dying love.

4 Convince us of our sin,
Then lead to Jesus’ blood;
And to our wondering view reveal
The secret love of God.

5 [Show us that loving Man
That rules the courts of bliss,
The Lord of Hosts, the Mighty God,
The eternal Prince of Peace.]

6 [’Tis thine to cleanse the heart,
To sanctify the soul,
To pour fresh life on every part,
And new-create the whole.]

7 If thou, celestial Dove,
Thy influence withdraw,
What easy victims soon we fall
To conscience, wrath, and law!

8 [No longer burns our love;
Our faith and patience fail;
Our sin revives, and death and hell
Our feeble souls assail.]

9 Dwell, therefore, in our hearts;
Our minds from bondage free;
Then shall we know, and praise, and love
The Father, Son, and Thee.