Archives For Theology

When you read the news lately it seems like we are caught up in a playground battle of “one-upping”. Like kids swapping tales by the swings, news agencies pushing out stories that say, “Oh, yeah, have you heard about…?”

Each day we read of new developments in this moral revolution in America. Then we read of a story in Houston that is frankly so insane that it sounds like it was made up by a kid under the monkey bars.

The city of Houston passed the now infamous “bathroom bill”. Among other things, this allows people to use the restroom of their choice, based upon their own self-chosen gender identity. This means that men who say that they are women can walk into the ladies’ room and vice-versa.

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shutterstock_171636374It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”

When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”

In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.

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When we are afflicted by the devastating trials of this life it can feel like we are being held underwater. It’s tough to hear, hard to breathe, and frightening. We panic. We get anxious. This is understandable. Life in this broken world is filled with heart-shredding trials that leg-sweep us surprisingly.

In the midst of this it is very important to remember to focus on what we know and not what we do not know. The common question is “why?” This is something we know in part but not in full. In the context of the big picture we understand that the answer to the “why” question is that we live in a post Genesis 3 world. However, the specific nuanced answer to “why” is unknown. We don’t know precisely “why.”

But we do know who God is and how he acts. This is tremendously comforting. In fact, when Job was laid low by trial he never received the answer to the “why” question but he did get a lengthy exposition of the “who.” It may seem like a theological copout but if you are spending time “under-water” in the midst of the waves of the trial then you need something objective, you need to clasp ahold of a dock.

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In my monthly article for Ligonier I wrote about God’s sovereignty. Often people see such high theological concepts as stuffy and impractical. In this article, however, I provide a recent snapshot from our church family that shows it is far more than this. The gist of the article is this: When God’s sovereignty is believed by somebody it is perceived by everybody.

Here is the link to the full article.

I’m really enjoying Michael Horton’s new Systematic Theology, Pilgrim Theology. A few guys at the church are going through it together and really benefiting from the simplicity and clarity that Horton offers. In his chapter on the Scripture he contrasts the Reformation and Roman Catholic understanding of Authority and Scripture…

The churches of the Reformation do not deny the ongoing authority of the church in its representative assemblies, but the key difference is this: whereas the Roman Catholic Church combines Scripture and tradition as one source of magisterial (i.e., ruling) authority, we confess that this belongs to Scripture alone, with tradition as ministerial (i.e., serving). Just as courts interpret the constitution, church courts interpret Scripture. This is why churches from the Reformation affirm the ecumenical creeds and subscribe to confessions and catechisms as communally valid interpretations of God’s Word. Yet again, it must be emphasized that this authority does not arise from the church. It arises from the canon that the church seeks faithfully to interpret in dependence on the Spirit.

To regard Scripture as the church’s constitution is to directly counter the Roman Catholic claim that the church is the mother of Scripture…

The canon, as the constitution of the church, is what constitutes a people as this people, under this government, in this body. Of course, the Reformers and their heirs never doubted that the church came before the completed canon of Scripture in history. However, they insisted that it is the word that always creates the church.

(Note: this book remains on sale for Kindle at $7.99 or Hardback)

ordinary pastorrecommended booksOne of the benefits of being a pastor who blogs is that I often are able to recommend helpful resources to people. Over the last few years I have wanted to put together a reference list for people who were looking for good books. I am thankful that I now have it published on this site.

In the header at the top of the page is a menu “Recommended Reading” under that section there are several sub-lists:

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These two quotes on the knowledge of God provoke worship and joy.

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God’s Knowledge Brings Worship

The knowledge of God is not only perfect in kind, but also in its inclusiveness. It is called omniscience, because it is all-comprehensive.

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The Omniscience of God

This morning in our men’s theology class we highlighted this quote concerning God’s omnipresence and omniscience from Herman Bavinck. It is one of those quotes that Velcro’s itself to you.

When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart.

Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there is he.

From yourself, whither will you flee? Will you not follow yourself wherever you shall flee? But since there is One more inward even than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee unto him.

–Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God

A necessary reminder this morning:

Teach us, O God, that nothing is necessary to Thee. Were anything necessary to Thee that thing would be the measure of Thine imperfection: and how could we worship one who is imperfect? If nothing is necessary to Thee, then no one is necessary, and if no one, then not we. Thou dost seek us though Thou does not need us. We seek Thee because we need Thee, for in Thee we live and move and have our being. Amen.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy)

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
(Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

This past weekend Dr Bruce Ware, professor at Southern Seminary, was at Omaha Bible Church teaching on the Majesty of God. In addition to being a terrific writer Ware is also a tremendously gifted preacher/teacher. The sermon titles themselves below are edifying.

Beholding the God of  Merciful Holiness (Isaiah 6)
Bruce Ware on Isaiah 6

Beholding the God of Redemptive-Covenantal Love (Isaiah 43)
Bruce Ware on Isaiah 43

Beholding the God of Sovereign Supremacy (Isaiah 45)
Audio not yet available.

Additional info:
Dr Ware’s bio at Southern
Dr Ware’s books

When I became a Christian I realized that not only did I have to catch up on my biblical knowledge but that I needed to learn to speak and understand the local evangelical tongue.

I have never been shy about asking questions so this was (and remains) a healthy exercise.

One particular phrase that gets tossed around quite a bit is this:

I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.

As I learned this is a phrase to communicate the fact that one has become a Christian. As I thought about this more and more I have concluded that it is probably not the best way to communicate this truth.

What’s the big deal? Am I just nit-picking? I don’t think so. I think it’s important.

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One of the great challenges for me is trying to learn from history. I have such a propensity to hunker down into my current circumstances. Theologically speaking this is not helpful. In truth, many of the current debates or controversies have already been encountered by faithful forebears in church history.

Therefore, it is good to learn theological truth as well as the way in which other Christians have worked through these issues in history. As a pastor we have used Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology as a text to introduce men to the theological truth. Now, I am thankful, that Gregg Allison has published a Historical Theology that functions as a companion to Grudem’s very helpful work.

Allison provides the historical narrative to how these various doctrines have been understood and worked out throughout church history. And it helpfully corrolates with Wayne Grudem’s topical study.

If you have studied historical theology before you can no doubt see how helpful this is. Allison’s arrangement of the historical theology is topical not chronological. This makes things much easier for me to keep straight. It is also a great auxilary to a study in systematic theology.

Gregg Allison sat down with The Gospel Coalition for this interview. I thought it was helpful.

Discounted copies of Historical Theology are available at Amazon and Westminster Books.

Regarding the opening verses of Genesis, Timothy Pierce observes:

These texts introduce humanity to a God who is not only transcendent, but also immanent; a God who is not only powerful, but also personal; and a God who is not only austere, but also relational. The wonder of a God who can overwhelm our categories and yet be a part of our formulations in a meaningful way truly is the starting point of worship. (Enthroned on our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship), pp. 13-14

Robert Edwards, left, Louise Joy Brown (original IVF baby), right, holding her son Cameron, and at center left is her mother, Lesley Brown

Earlier this week the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Robert Edwards. He is one of the principle architects of the controversial In Vitro Fertilzation (IVF) procedure.  Back in 1978 when the first IVF child was going to be born many suspected that there would be some substantial birth defects associate with this new ‘procedure’.

In a recent NY Times editorial Robin Marantz Henig catalogs the public pulse surrounding the baby’s birth:

When Mrs. Brown checked into Oldham General Hospital, outside Manchester, to give birth, she did so under an assumed name. Still, reporters sneaked past security dressed as plumbers and priests in hopes of getting a glimpse of her.

Meanwhile, criticism of the pregnancy grew increasingly extreme. Religious groups denounced the two scientists as madmen who were trying to play God. Medical ethicists declared that in vitro fertilization was the first step on a slippery slope toward aberrations like artificial wombs and baby farms.

The writer then bottles the historic concern over these scientific procedures and brings them to the lab to test them against the data from history. Were these concerns valid? Did people over react?

Well, yes and no.

Doubtless many people have been helped by the developement of IVF. Countless people who previously could not have children have now been able to enjoy a family.

But there is also a valid concern over what has become a mass production of human embryos. The factory-like production of embryos leads to millions of embryos being frozen or worse yet, destroyed. Instead of ‘creating’ an embryo for implant or even adoption agencies are stocking their wharehouses. Sadly, they are too often destroyed or disregarded.

There is also the aspect of separating the natural aspect of sexual union from the process of procreation. I understand that the technology has helped many. However, at the same time it has become something of a preference for those who do not find themselves lining up with the traditional family model (Gay, Lesbian, unmarried, etc.).

Christians should be thinking through these things in light of a biblical worldview. We are not to be people who just jump at technology or scientific advance just because it is available. Man may do a lot of things, but this does not mean that we should do everything. There are some legitimate boundries for us to think through as Christians.

In contrast Marantz Henig writes:

Science fiction is filled with dystopian stories in which the public blindly accepts destructive technologies. But in vitro fertilization offers a more optimistic model. As we continue to develop new ways of improving upon nature, the slope may be slippery, but that’s no reason to avoid taking the first step.

IVF has become so mainstream today that many of us know people who have benefited from the technology. We celebrate the life and goodness of God in giving the life. But at the same time we have to think about the countless embryos that are now frozen or have been destroyed. In my view this is more than slippery; it is disturbing.

This is a great answer to a very tough question. I really appreciate how Dr Carson acknowledges the tension and the difficulty and then works through what has been revealed in the Scripture. Ultimately, his (our) standing place is at the solid footing of Calvary.

“When I don’t have all the answers I return again to the cross. And there I see the God-Man (JESUS) suffering and dying on my behalf. I can worship and trust a God like that.”

How can God allow suffering and evil in the world? (feed readers may have to click thru to the site to watch) from A Passion for Life on Vimeo.

Note: Dr Carson answers the question more exhaustively in his book, How Long O Lord: Reflections on Evil and Suffering (I highly recommend this book!)

(ht: Tim)

The audio is now available from the 2009 Nashville Conference on the Church and Theology.

The speakers were John MacArthur and Bruce Ware.  The theme is compelling: “Above Every Name: Recovering the Transcendence of God in the Church.”

There are several good messages available for download.  Here is the link.

sovereign-lord-jesus.jpg

The Christmas season is obviously a perfect time to marvel afresh at the infinite depth of the Savior’s condescension for and towards rebels. Consider with me the very night of the birth of Jesus in the manger. We read in The Gospel According to Luke:

Luke 2:6-7 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Here we have the ultimate care giver and source of all true comfort being comforted and cared for. Jesus, the sovereign king, was cleaned, cared for and swaddled in a blanket. Forbid it that you or I would go to a hospital to visit a newborn or even see the kids in the church nursery without finding ourselves reminded and marveling at the swaddled Savior as detailed by Luke.

Furthermore, this word used by Luke, (sparganoo) is also used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The picture here is not of an infant child but of an infant earth. We do however have one commonality, the Lord Jesus, the sovereign creator and savior is in both accounts.

Job 38:8-11 8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9 when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

Here in the relentless divine rebuke of Job we have this wonderful picture of God using clouds as a garment and darkness as a swaddling band. Amazing.

So how far does Jesus stoop for you believer? How deadly is sin that is caused the holy, omnipotent, infinitely glorious Creator to adorn flesh in order that he might re-create you?! Join me in marveling at the infinite condescension of Jesus through his incarnation. The Sovereign arm of creation and providence is the Sovereign arm of redemption. Let us fix our humbled and watery eyes upon this ever-glorious King who rescued us from sin and has given us joy inexpressible through his life, death, and resurrection.

Growing up I had a perception of pregnancy and child birth that was very uninformed.  I was under the impression that once a woman got pregnant everything was essentially fine.  I thought that losing a child in utero was an extreme irregularity surpassed only by the rare instance of a child being still born.  Even as a young dad I had seen, from my perspective, pregnancies initiated and completed with what appeared to be relative ease.  If you would have asked me I would have thought that you would be more likely to get audited by the IRS than have a pregnancy end without giving birth to a live baby.

This all changed for me quite abruptly about 8 years ago.  My wife and I saw a couple of pregnancies end early (within the first 12 weeks).  I was shocked.  We were healthy 23 year-olds who had already had two healthy babies…what was going on?  Furthermore, I was a new Christian.  And I was trying to piece together and process these things in my developing Christian worldview.  To say the least, my world was rocked a bit to find out that, by some estimates, around 1/3 of all pregnancies end prematurely.

I remember reading the simple yet profound verses in the 123rd Psalm:

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward”

Prior to these miscarriages I had looked at childbirth like a naturalist (or better yet a flaming pagan).  I believed that I was the sovereign creator who cooperated with nature to bring about life.  Oh, sure, I would not have been so brazen as to articulate such idolatry.  I tipped my hat to God by recognizing that I needed to be thankful.  But at the end of the day I did not see children as a gift from the LORD as much as I saw them as some sort of automatic right or consequence of physical intimacy.

God rocked my worldview.  He stripped loose my pagan tools, cleared off the high places, and brought me low.  I saw my wife suffer.  I suffered.  I began looking at my sons and asking myself, “Why Lord, are they here?”

I remember one particular instance with vivid clarity and it preaches to me on a regular basis.  It was just moments after we had found out that Christie had miscarried. I went into my boys’ room (they were sleeping).  I walked over to my then toddler Luke’s crib.  I saw him sleeping so peacefully.  I watched him breathe.  I saw him druel.  I then reached over and put my hand on his back and felt his little 18 month old heart pumping away through his onesie.  I thought back to the previous days when we went to the doctor and heard our baby’s heart beat.  But now, the baby’s heart was not beating.  I stood convicted of my idolatry right there.  God had convicted me that it is “in him that we live, move and have our being” and “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17.25 & 28).  What a pagan I had become.

Childbirth is not automatic.  The world is cursed.  And this curse has encroached on every inch of this world and has even invaded the wombs of women.  Sin’s sword is death and it has been mercilessly taking lives since that fateful day in the garden.

I have been learning through these years that children are indeed a gift from the LORD.  He gave them.  He created them.  He sustains them.  His fingerprints are all over this.

Since this time we have had other miscarriages, at which time we have grieved and prayed for mercy and comfort.  But God has also been well pleased to bless us with two beautiful daughters.  They stand alongside of our other children as murals of divine mercy, love, care, kindness, and grace.  God did not have to give us anything, he could have given us anything, but he chose to give us this amazing thing: children.  Amazing.

I am challenged on a regular basis when I hug my kids and feel their heartbeats to give God glory for his abundant kindness and power as the Creator.  Childbirth is not automatic.  And to have children is truly a blessing that should redound in hearty, zealous, humble thanksgiving.

If you are married and planning on kids, or newly married, getting married, or perhaps someday planning on marriage and having kids, I encourage you to think biblically about childbirth.  Give God the glory that is due him.  Remove the high places in your mind and replaces them with high thoughts of God and his abundant kindness to us, even through the precious gift of life in our children.  As John Piper might say, “Don’t waste your prengancy!”

We are thrilled to welcome back to Omaha Bible Church author, seminary professor and friend Dr. Don Carson to be the featured speaker at our annual church conference.

Dr. Carson has distinguished himself as one of the sharpest evangelical minds of our generation through his articulate promotion and defense of the faith.  Carson has written many helpful books, including The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, The Cross and Christian Ministry, and A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

However, it is his book on suffering that brought about this conference.  How Long O Lord is truly a clear and comprehensive treatment on a biblical theology of suffering.

The conference theme is “Making Sense of Suffering”.  On Saturday, October 4th, 2008 Dr Carson will equip attendees to maintain a biblical worldview in the face of suffering.  Attendees will enjoy three sessions of teaching from Dr. Carson, musical worship, and a catered breakfast and lunch.   Following the general sessions Dr. Carson will conduct a workshop for pastors dealing with the need for pastors to both preach and live the word.

The fee for the conference is an affordable $15/person or $25/family (this includes a catered lunch and breakfast).  We are also running a tandem conference for kids up to age 11 dealing with the same topic on an age appropriate level.

If you are in or around Omaha (and who is actually not close to Omaha?) make plans to attend and spend some time being encouraged and equipped by Dr Carson.

Finally, if you are a pastor or a church leader, make plans to stay and attend the session on pastoral ministry that Dr Carson will conduct at the conclusion of the conference (3pm).

Here is a link to the conference page that includes more information as well as a link to register.