Resolved…

December 29, 2014

With the New Year upon us, many people will be making New Years Resolutions. While this is neither commanded to do nor commanded not to do in Scripture, the principle is a sound one. We, with the help of the Holy Spirit can resolve to do things different this year in 2015. In light of that, I want to include Jonathan Edwards resolutions he wrote while he was 18 and 19 in the years 1722 and 1723. They are an excellent example on how to approach the new year with a desire for holiness and doing all to the glory of God!

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is

perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found inSaturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

44- Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan.12 and 13.1723.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it.July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13 1723.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times.May 12, July ii, and July 13.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.July 4, and 13, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan.14′ and July ‘3’ 1723.

64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26, and Aug.10 1723.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

For more on Edwards and his resolutions be sure to check out Steven Lawson’s excellent book, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards.

Advertisements

Book Review – Christian Bioethics

December 28, 2014

It seems that there is a never-ending barrage of ethical questions coming at pastors, health care workers, and families. Some may wonder where to turn for answers for some of the most difficult ethical issues. C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley, an ethicist/professor and an ethicist/doctor help Christians to understand how to make life and death decisions in an effective way in Christian Bioethics (B&H). The questions that surrounded us even 50 years ago, are different and more complicated than those we face today. Having an up-to-date help in addressing these issues, in what looks like an excellent series (B&H Studies in Christian Ethics), these two authors serve as able guides.

The authors begin by addressing issues of Christian bioethics in a general way. Particularly helpful is their second chapter where they show the necessity of understanding the Bible as our foundational guide for ethical decisions and show how it speaks to issues of today.

Part 2, looks at issues of death, particularly abortion and human dignity and dying. Both are hot-button topics in our 24 hour news cycle and important for Christians to have solid answers on.

Part 3 looks at issues of life, with regards to infertility and reproductive technology, organ donation and transplantation,  and cloning and human-animal hybrids. Some of the issues hit close to home for many people, including Christians, and it is important for us to understand these issues.

Part 4 considers issues of remaking life, including issues of aging and life-extension and how to preserve our humanity in the midst of our ever-growing biotech world. How we should treat our elderly, and what fundamentally it means to be human are important questions for all of us.

The book is not completely comprehensive, and there are areas of discussion that could be explored further. There are broader topic books on Christian ethics (not just bioethics) that would be helpful supplements on this volume. Mitchell and Riley helpfully offer resources on all of these issues for further reading. The style (where each author is represented in each chapter) could come off a little disjointed to developing a coherent whole thought on each issue, but it is helpful to see both author’s perspectives. Yet, when it comes to some of these profound issues facing both Christians and non-Christians alike, Mitchell and Riley helpfully address them from a biblical standpoint. Not every reader will agree with everything here, but they will have to work through Mitchell and Riley’s understanding of both Scripture and the times we live in.

When it comes to anyone dealing with these bioethic issues today (which frankly is most likely all of us), I would consider Mitchell and Riley’s Christian Bioethics to be a helpful guide in the great morass of issues facing us. They provide a compassionate and caring understanding that issues we are going through, or people we know are going through.


Not the Crèche but the Cross: Christmas is but Servant to Easter

December 22, 2014

Everyone loves to celebrate a party. Weddings are much more fun than funerals.  Getting a new job is much more exciting than getting laid off. We in the church are certainly no different. Our tendency is to spend time enjoying the positives rather than celebrating anything negative. When it comes to “Christian” holidays, the clear winner for our attention and affection is Christmas. Even if we ignore the fact that Santa brings presents and the Easter Bunny only chocolate, who would not rather enjoy the birth of a child rather than the public execution of a state criminal? At Christmas, banners fly on Christian homes that read “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” They love signing Christmas carols, exchanging presents, and even in the case of our church, collecting money to give Christmas gifts to our missionaries that we support. But when it comes to Easter, we can hardly get people to consider coming together to reflect and even sing about the death of our Master. Easter takes second fiddle to Christmas when it comes to holidays to celebrate in the Church. Even when taking into consideration the resurrection as part of Easter, Christmas still becomes the event that dominates our holiday considerations.

Yet, it is not the crèche but the cross that is the pivotal point in the Christian calendar. Christmas simply serves as a servant to Easter. When the Christian rightly understands what the purpose of Christmas was, they will understand that Christmas should not be the main holiday focus of the church, but that Easter should dominate our attention. For Christ was not born simply to be born, but to go to a cross. Jesus was, as the saying goes, “born to die” I would articulate here then, that as individual Christians and as the church we should realize that Christmas should be a time when we reflect on the reason why Jesus came, namely to die a substitutionary death for sinners to be redeemed, and rose again to provide eternal life for the same. Christ did not stay in the manger, He went to His death for sinners. Christmas exists so that Easter could!

The Purpose of Christmas

Christmas is obviously not about the grand advertising and merchandising brouhaha that it has become. As Lucy Van Pelt says in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” That may be what Christmas is today, but the obvious purpose for Christmas was for the Incarnation to happen.

Ever since the Fall of man in the Garden, humanity has been waiting for redemption. It had been hinted at even in the Garden (Genesis 3:15) and the Levitical system of sacrifice pointed forward to the full and final sacrifice that was necessary (Hebrews 10:14). Yet, what was necessary, implicitly hinted at in some portions, was made explicitly clear in others. A child would need to be born. Isaiah 7:14 reads, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[1] Later, this promise is expounded upon further in Isaiah 9:6–7 emphasizing this child’s kingship, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

But, all too often once Christmas rolls around, we get stuck in the manger scene with the wonderful truth of the child born and attended to by shepherds and angels alike. It is a warm, caring scene that even the most anti-religious can tolerate to a certain extent. Still in towns do you even see community manager scenes, they play Christian music on the radio at Christmas, and people still wish each other Merry Christmas, much to the chagrin of the ACLU. Yet, what was the purpose for God being born a man? It was far more profound that simply being born.

It is very clear from the Scriptures that the reason God became man was to redeem the lost through the cross:

Luke 19:10 – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 9:13 – “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 10:45 – “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Galatians 4:4–5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

1 Timothy 1:15 – “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

1 John 4:10 – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

As B. B. Warfield rightly notes, “Eliminate sin as the proximate occasion and redemption as the prime end of the Incarnation, and none of the other relations in which it stands, and none of the other effects which flow from it, will be fulfilled, at least in the measure of their rights.”[2] What Warfield is saying is that without thinking that the prime end of the Incarnation is the death and resurrection of Christ means that no other benefits from it can come to pass. The essential purpose of the Incarnation was not for a child to remain in the manger but for that child to become a man, to live, and die to redeem sinners for God.

The Purpose of Easter

So, if the purpose of the Incarnation was the Cross, what was the purpose of the cross? That is not more explicitly described than in Isaiah 53. While the whole passage speaks to the nature of the reason for the suffering of Jesus, vv. 10–12 will do to demonstrate the reason for the cross.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The purpose of Jesus death on the cross was to bear the sins of those who would be redeemed. He bore our iniquities so that we might be saved. He took our place and was condemned instead of us. The reason Jesus died was so that we might live. This is the most profound truth that we can ever understand. The crux (from where the word “cross” comes from) of the Christian faith is the cross. God created man and when man fell it was the purpose of God to restore fellowship between God and man. With an infinite debt to be paid against an infinite God, the only way finite man could pay it could either be through an eternity in Hell or if an infinite person took our place. That was the reason Christ became man, so that the infinite could take the place of the finite. The reason we have life, and life abundantly, is that Christ in his death paid our penalty against an infinite God. The purpose of Easter was to redeem sinners.

This all can be summed up so clearly and beautifully by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:24–25: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The purpose of Christmas was so that Easter could happen. Easter happened so that men could be saved from eternal torment and punishment in Hell!

Living in the Shadow of Both the Crèche and the Cross

I remember preaching on an unusual passage one Christmas: Revelation 5.

Revelation 5 is the second part of the major climax of the throne room scene in the book of Revelation. Here John weeps because no one is found worthy to open the scroll that will bring about the justice of God upon all unrighteousness. Yet, in the midst of the elders one is found who is worthy to take the scroll and open it and enact the judgments to come. This passage becomes one of the most profound expressions of the purpose for the Incarnation.

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God      from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Here we see that the reason Christ was worthy to enact the judgments to come and bring about the fruition of God’s plans for the universe was because He was slain and He redeemed people for God from among the mass of humanity. He was worthy because He died and rose again. The only way Christ could do that was by becoming man through the Incarnation. The Incarnation occurred because the cross had to occur. It is ultimately not the crèche but the cross that is the center of our faith.

This Christmas, as we live in both the shadow of the crèche and the cross, we need to remember to not leave Christ in the crèche. The reason Christ came was so He could die for sinners. The question you need to ask yourself this Christmas is whether the peace that was promised at the arrival of Jesus as man is available to you, or whether you are still under the judgment of God? The redeeming work of Christ on the cross is still available to you and if you repent of your sins and turn and embrace Jesus Christ alone as your Saviour you will have eternal life. Jesus Christ came to redeem you from death and destruction through His death and resurrection. This Christmas, have an eye toward Easter and belief in Him.

If you are in Christ Jesus then consider which holiday should have most of your emphasis. Should Christmas, the servant of Easter occupy your entire focus or should it serve as a bridge to talk about the reason why Jesus Christ came? Christmas is a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel because people are open to celebrating the Christ-child. Use it to direct them to the real purpose for Christmas: the cross. Share with them the hope and peace they can have, not in the Incarnation in and of itself but in the reason He came, to purchase men for God through His death and resurrection.

While we might say Jesus is the reason for the season, Jesus is the reason for every season. And at this Christmas season, do not leave Jesus in the crèche. Remember He came to die for sinners. The purpose for Christmas was Easter.

[1] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

[2] B. B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, ed. John E. Meeter, 2 vol. (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970), I:143.


Book Review – Reading Koine Greek

December 16, 2014

Rod Decker (1952-2014) was Greek and New Testament Professor at Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA for many years before his untimely death. In that time, he developed an integrated text and work book for first year Greek students called Reading Koine Greek. When I was asked to teach Greek to the undergraduate students at Baptist Bible College, I planned to use Mounce like I had been taught. But Dr. Decker met with me to encourage me to consider using his pre-published Greek text. He gave me  a copy to review, and after working through much of the text, I found it a superior version for teaching. Here are my thoughts on why you should consider Decker for first year Greek instruction.

1) He introduces the verbal system earlier. I was always frustrated with Mounce’s “natural” approach to the verbal system where you learned it later. I found it difficult to make head way in studying Greek with the verbal system put so far behind. Decker, in contrast introduces the verbal system in its basic form in chapter 5. Then in earnest he works through elements of the verbal system starting in chapter 13. This gives the student a better understanding of the Greek language, including the verbal system, at an earlier date than Mounce and others.

2) It’s thoroughly updated with the most up-to-date linguistic elements. Older entries either did not include detailed discussions of verbal aspect, or were written prior to the seminal Porter-Fanning entries. While you may disagree with Decker as he generally takes Porter’s approach, you will see how he carefully integrates elements of, what may be considered advanced Greek, into first year where it is appropriate. The book is thorough and detailed on a number of issues like aspect, which makes it even an ideal text to be used alone, or in a class.

3) The combined workbook is helpful in itself because it makes it less cumbersome to carry around a separate workbook. I had my students live, breathe, and eat Decker, and utilize their UBS 4th, and Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Adding a separate workbook would have been unnecessary.

4) This is a grammar for Koine Greek, not just New Testament Greek. Decker helpfully includes translation work from the LXX and the church fathers. How many of your Greek students have large portions of 2 Chronicles or 1 Enoch or 1 Clement memorized already? This is where we separate the men from the boys, as my Greek teacher used to say.

While Decker doesn’t have all the fancy videos like Mounce does, there are helpful teaching elements available to be used in conjunction with Reading Koine Greek. In addition, helpful appendixes on the vocative, various charts, and such, make the book an excellent reference tool as well.

Certainly the length of book, and the details at times, might make you shy away from it as a good entry level Greek text, but I assure you, Reading Koine Greek  is an excellent pedagogical tool for teaching first year Greek. I heartily recommend it for teachers and those who simply want to learn to read the NT in Greek.


What’s the Big Deal About Complaining?

December 15, 2014

Anything that has been featured on Oprah, I find very suspicious. The modern new age guru often features items and books on her show that skyrocket in popularity after being featured, but generally have much to be desired. What caught my attention was the so-called “complaint-free world” bracelet. Pastor Will Bowen was featured on Oprah regarding this 21-day challenge for a complaint-free world. He gave out purple bracelets to his congregation and when they complained they were to switch the bracelet to their other hand and start the 21-day challenge all over again.

After doing the 21-day challenge himself (although using 3 bracelets in the process), he now no longer complains! According to the official website, “Your thoughts create your world and your words indicate your thoughts. When you eliminate complaining from your life you will enjoy happier relationships, better health and greater prosperity. This simple program helps you set a trap for your own negativity and redirect your mind towards a more positive and rewarding life.”

Is this how easy it is to eliminate complaining from one’s life; with a simple bracelet? What is the big deal with complaining after all? Complaining is the act of expressing feelings of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment. Complaining is a negative action done by people who cannot understand how or why God operates. Complaining ultimately denies the sovereignty of God, disrupts the life of the body of Christ, and devastates the life of the believer.

COMPLAINING DENIES THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

The ultimate issue every believer needs to address is his relationship to God. He must understand who God is, what He does, and what is the believer’s response to Him. The Scriptures teach us that God is completely sovereign over all of the created order. The Scriptures read, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). Elsewhere Daniel reminds us that, “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35). God is completely sovereign and in control of every event in the universe. The Dutch theologian and one-time President of The Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), once famously said, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is Mine!’”

Ultimately all events throughout history, all movements of every atom of matter, absolutely everything is under the complete and sovereign control of God. What does this have to do with complaining? When we complain we seek to express our dissatisfaction with God and where He has placed us. Complaining is ultimately the act of saying, “God, I know you are sovereign and this event that you have placed me in is of your own design, but I can do better. In fact, God, you were wrong to put me in the situation you have.” This is the general effect of complaining. It practically denies the sovereignty of God. God is completely sovereign and every event that God brings into your life is of His hand and for His glory. While the event, in itself, may not be good, as a Christian, one must be content and learn to accept God’s plan for your life.This is no better illustrated than in the book of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk expressed his frustration about the sin and wickedness around him and wondered when God would act (1:1–4). God answers Habakkuk by telling him that He will judge the wickedness of Israel but will use a nation even more wicked to do so: the Babylonians (1:5–11). Habakkuk questions God’s usage of a wicked nation to do this and practically expresses that God could not possibly do that in this situation (1:12–2:1). God responds by reminding Habakkuk that even the wicked nation of Babylon will be punished in the end. God’s plans are never frustrated (2:2–20). God describes the coming of His judgment to Habakkuk which would disturb us all (3:2–16), yet Habakkuk responds in faith. Knowing that the situation is difficult and grim, Habakkuk still acknowledges the sovereignty of God and will not complain about how God will sort this out. He concludes the book, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (3:17–19). We must respond like Habakkuk and rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances.

COMPLAINING DISRUPTS THE LIFE OF THE BODY OF CHRIST

Our complaining, though, does not just affect our view of God but it affects the body of Christ as well. Ephesians 4:29 reads, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We have learned that complaining is negative since it denies the sovereignty of God. Therefore, complaining is corrupting talk. This corrupting talk is that which brings down people instead of building them up. Paul reminds the Ephesian believers that,in contrast to allowing corrupting talk to come from their mouths and bring down believers, they are to allow only good things which bring grace and build up people out of their mouths.

We all know how a complainer brings people down.Someone who constantly complains about his situation in life is one that brings us down too. We begin to sense the same problems in our own lives and become complainers too. Complaining is contagious. And as people who are not to allow corrupting talk to come out of our mouths for the sake of those around us, we must be very careful with what we say. Complaining has the potential to seriously disrupt the life of the body of Christ. In contrast, someone who does not complain but instead speaks words that build up, brings grace to the body of Christ.

COMPLAINING DEVASTATES THE LIFE OF THE BELIEVER

On an individual level, complaining devastates the life of the believer. Our behavior, over time, becomes habit. And eventually it destroys any real joy we can have in Christ. This one act of disobedience can lead to other acts as well. If you complain too much you can become so focused on the negative that you miss out on all the good things God does around you. Psalm 106:25 reads, “They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord.” The Israelites murmured and complained about being led out of Egypt and into the desert. And this led to a failure for them to obey the further commands of the Lord. And God punished them for it. God’s patience ultimately is tested by the complaints of people. 1 Corinthians 10:10 reminds us not to “… grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” Complaining is a sin that does not please God. Since God is sovereign and He ordains all events to occur in life including the ones you are facing in your life today, complaining tests His patience. If all things are done to His glory and ultimately your good then why have you got to complain? Instead, you should be joyful in the Lord. Complaining tests God’s patience and we know that God punished those who tested His patience.

SO, WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT COMPLAINING

Complaining practically denies the sovereignty of God, disrupts the life of the body of Christ, and ultimately devastates the life of the believer. It does not honour God, it hurts friends, families, and churches, and it hurts us. It can lead us into further disobedience and ultimately it can lead us into punishment from God.

How do we stop complaining? A bracelet will not help. Only the transforming work of God in your life will help. If you have never turned to Christ in faith, do so now. The Holy Spirit dwells in the believer in Christ and helps him pursue a life of godliness and joy. But, it is not just the Spirit working in you; it is a joint process where you are involved. Actively seek to eliminate complaining from your life. Pray for help in this regard. Study the Scriptures to see God’s gracious and good acts in the past and reflect on His kindness to you in your life. Seek to speak only profitable things and when you sense a complaint coming out of your mouth, your best advice is simply to shut your mouth! Then, think, and speak things that build people up. God will aid you in your effort to eliminate complaining from your life. It will be ultimately better for you, better for your church, and better for the exaltation of God!

 


Missing Holidays on Your Calendar

December 8, 2014
A bad combination of a vacuous theology and historical anemia has lead much of our Protestant, Western Christianity to forget all of the various holidays to celebrate at this time of year.
I don’t mean many of the non-Christian holidays that happen this month, but many of the Christian ones that most of us neglect. It’s because of an over-reaction to Roman Catholic saint veneration that we’ve forgotten to even consider those who have gone before us and what we can learn from them and how to celebrate them.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the saints of the past, and everything right. The author of Hebrews in 12:1 writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The saints of the past watch closely and cheer us on. Why not remember them and what they can teach us? Even Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” So, since the saints of the past cheer us on, let’s consider how we can emulate them as they imitate Christ. So, who are some saints, among many, and their “holidays we can remember this holiday?”

Saint Nicholas Day – December 6 – Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (270-343). The historical “Santa Claus” was a staunch orthodox Christian minister who was at the Council of Nicea and signed the orthodox Nicean creed and, as tradition tells us, in a lack of patience with the heretic Arius, slapped him. That’s my kind of Santa Claus. Stories surrounding Nicholas’ care of sailors and children and young women, are things that we need to strongly see as blessed elements of a loving gracious character, that developed into our over-commercial Santa. Frankly, the true historical saint is a far better person to celebrate this time of year.

Saint Lucia Day – December 13 – Saint Lucy (283-310). A saint celebrated in many nordic countries, who was a martyr for her Christian convictions. It is said that they could not lead her away and that they built a fire around her but she wouldn’t die until she received final unction. She persevered in the midst of her martyrdom continuing to speak with authority about how her death would remove fear from other believers. The girls that participate in St. Lucia’s Day traditions wear a wreath of candles to allow her hands to be free in honor of her using both hands to bring items to the believers in the catacombs. A worthy person to emulate.

The Feast of Saint Stephen – December 26. We’re well aware of the story of Stephen and his tremendous speech in Acts 7. Here is a man of devout Christian character who in the face of insurmountable odds, and the threat of death, preached Christ. His martyrdom should remind us the fate that could be for all men of God, but it also reminds us of the reward (to see Jesus at the right hand of God) for those who persevere. Certainly a saint to emulate.

May I recommend that while you celebrate Christmas, and the birth of our Lord and Savior, you remember those men and women who followed Christ, who we too should follow. What wonderful stories to tell your children and grandchildren, and those who went before us who teach us what it means to be a Christian. So, don’t forget about all the other important Christian holidays this time of year, and throughout the year. You won’t be sorry as you enrich your understanding of what it means to be a Christian by studying the Christians of the past!


Wise Words on Recent Race Relations

December 1, 2014

I don’t think I’m really overly qualified to speak on the recent issues in Ferguson, MO, but I believe Voddie Baucham may be. On that note, I wanted to bring to you his recent post over at The Gospel Coalition.

Thoughts on Ferguson – Voddie Baucham

In early August my wife and I, along with seven of our nine children, left for a month-long ministry tour in Africa (Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa). It was a couple of days before we got settled and had any access to media. As such, I was taken aback when I began to receive Google alerts, emails, and Facebook and Twitter messages either demanding that I comment on “Ferguson,” or condemning me for failing to do so. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Who, what, or where was Ferguson? Why was it such a big deal? Why was I being condemned (along with other “high-profile” evangelicals) for “failing to speak out on such an important issue”?

I eventually got up to speed. Or at least I found out what all the fuss was about. Over the next several weeks I viewed this issue from a unique perspective. I was an American in Africa watching an issue ignite ethnic tensions in my homeland. It was almost surreal.

Who Am I to Speak?

My first response to Ferguson was to say nothing. I was on the outside looking in. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the communities or the issues surrounding the tensions. Second, I chose to remain silent because people were demanding that I speak—even condemning me for my silence. In this age of “I sure would love to hear your thoughts on” I get tired of the sense of entitlement with which people approach those whom they deem to be popular or high-profile Christians. No one is “entitled” to my opinion. Nor is my faithfulness to God determined by how quickly I respond to “relevant” issues.

As a pastor, I have a responsibility to my flock. If those for whose souls I care (Heb. 13:17) want help thinking through these issues, I am obligated to them. I have a duty to walk them through issues like these to the best of my ability, and with sensitivity to their particular needs. What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.

The Plight of Black Men

Rest assured, I do believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men. These issues are violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And all of these issues are rooted in and connected to the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to black men if we don’t first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately.

There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus, if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black. I want to apply the gospel and its implications in a way that addresses the real issue. If a few black men being killed by cops requires a national “dialogue,” what in the world does the overwhelming number of black-on-black murders require? If the police do not see black men through the proper gospel-centered, image-of-God lens, what does the black-on-black murder rate say about the way we see ourselves?

In addition to violence, black men are plagued with criminality. Low-income black communities like Ferguson know all too well that black criminals preying on their neighbors makes life almost unlivable. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I know all too well what it’s like to have bars on the windows and doors for fear that thugs will break in to steal or kill. I remember being robbed at gunpoint on my way home from the store one day. It was one of the most frightening and disheartening events of my life. The fear, helplessness, and anger I felt stayed with me for years. And it taught me an unfortunate lesson: the greatest threat to me was other black men.

The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness. We know that fatherlessness is the number one indicator of future violence, dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and future incarceration. And in the black community, more than 70 percent of all children are born out of wedlock! Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community.

Nor is this plague forced on us. It is as common as morning dew, and as overlooked as dust under a refrigerator. Where are the marches against this travesty? Where are the protestors who demand better? Where are the black “leaders” who . . . oh, that’s right, they have just as many illegitimate children as anyone else. Again, it is common knowledge that this is the most immediate root cause of the ills plaguing black Americans.

But What About Racism?

I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”

Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.

It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.

I don’t care what advantages my white neighbor may or may not have. If he does have advantages, God bless him! I no more fault him than I fault my own children who have tremendous advantages due to the fact that they were raised by two educated, Christian parents who loved, disciplined, and taught them. Ironically, when I think about THAT advantage, I am filled with joy and gratitude to God for his faithfulness. People are supposed to bequeath an advantage to their children and grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Why, then, would I be angry with my white neighbor for any advantage he is purported to have? And what good would it do? How does that advance the gospel? Especially in light of the fact that growing up with the gospel is the ultimate privilege/advantage! It is the advantage that has granted us all “American privilege”! Are we guilty for being citizens of the wealthiest republic in the history of the world? I think not!

As a father of seven black men, I tell them to be aware of the fact that there may be times when they may get a closer look, an unwelcome stop, or worse. However, I do not tell them that this means they need to live with a chip on their shoulder, or that the world is out to get them. I certainly don’t tell them that they need to go out and riot (especially when that involves destroying black-owned businesses). I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs. I tell them, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19). And I tell them that there are worse things than suffering injustice. That is why we must heed Peter’s words:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:15–17)

In the end, the best lesson my children can learn from Ferguson is not that they need to be on the lookout for white cops. It is far more important that I use this teachable moment to remind them that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth.

My sons have far more to fear from making bad choices than they have to fear from the police. The overwhelming majority of police officers are decent people just trying to make a living. They are much more likely to help you than to harm you. A life of thuggery, however, is NEVER your friend. In the end, it will cost you . . . sometimes, it costs you everything.

Voddie Baucham is the pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.