Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Servanthood in the Family

Out of my woeful lack of servitude in my family, I thought it would be good to take a few moments to go over some things I have learned about being a servant in the family from the vantage point of a husband and father and then reflect upon some of it.

From the Scriptures, I have noticed here is a sort of duality to our servanthood. This is best typified by Christ, of course, who is everwhere in the Scriptures shown as the perfect suffering Servant. When I say "duality", I mean that although Christ came and served His bride, the Church, by giving Himself up for Her, giving His life as a ransom for Her, this servitude was derivative. It derived from Christ's servitude to the Father.

Phi 2:3-11
(3) Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
(4) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
(5) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
(6) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
(7) but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
(8) And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(9) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
(10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
(11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

and again...

Joh 6:37-39
(37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
(38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
(39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

and again...

Joh 8:28-29
(28) So Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.
(29) And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him."

The application of this truth to being a husband and father is great, though I certainly haven't full grasped it. There is a lot to meditate upon here.

Here are a few observations:

1. Part and parcel of true service is the willing, joyful, loving emptying of self. Christ willingly emptied Himself, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Likewise, though we are inherently of the same status and essence of others (as we have heard it said, "the playing field is level at the foot of the cross"), we are to not consider that as something to be grasped.

2. Unlike Christ, though, we do not share equality with the Father. We are creatures who owe loving service and glory to God. However, we are equals, in essence, with others. So how much more should we be serving God by humbling ourselves before others!

3. Christ's service of others forms the basis of the greater-to-lesser argument that goes like this... if Christ is God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, very God of very God, who came in service to the Father, and that service did also include becoming as a man and being killed as a criminal, then how much more should we, who are not God, not pure, not lovely, not holy, not sinless, not due all glory and honor and power but are instead sinful, rebellious, and deserving of condemnation, be serving others who are in essence our equals? If Christ's level of willful, joyful condescension was of that magnitude, then what excuse do we have for thinking we are above humbling ourselves, as mere men, before other men?

4. One thing that stands out, as well, is that Christ's service to the Father involves seeing the Father's interests as greater. Similarly, why should my desire to do this or do that or be this or be that conflict and override my attention to the desire of my wife and children? It shouldn't. Though I may way to become a virtuoso guitar player, make a name for myself, or even do something very helpful within the Church to edify others, if my service to my wife and kids suffers, then I am failing. They can be good and noble things in themselves, but they are still my interests -not the interests and needs of those God has put in my care.

5. Christ's service to the Father, and the derivative service to His Bride according to the will of the Father, was a joy to Christ. It was hard, it involved pain and suffering, but it was His joy to serve the Father by serving His Bride. We shall do the same. We shall consider our service in marriage, our role as husband, a loving expression of our gratitude and love for the Father and His will for us.

6. Christ's service to the Father was perfectly and infallibly rendered and still is, as He intercedes for us on the basis of His one-time sacrifice as our High Priest. It is fitting that the model we are to look to is both a model of unsurpassed perfection and holiness, and also a model that is so intimately tied into who we are as Christians -the Blessed Savior and His work of redemption for us.

So what kind of service is required to be a husband and father? Supernatural service, for one. It is something that is worked in us and guided by the Holy Spirit. Second, it is service that is hard and requires much of us even when the benefits seem to us to be nothing. Third, it is service that is done primarily with and eye on our God; that we may serve our wife and children as an expression of grateful and adoring service to Him. Fourth, it is service that involves constant self-denial. Fifth, it is to be joyful. This one is difficult because we often look at service as a burden, but let us have the mind of Christ who took pleasure in serving the Father even though it cost Him even His human life. Let us pray for a joyful heart that sees self-denial for the interests of our wives and children something far better, far more enjoyable, far more gratifying and enriching than seeking and satisfying our own interests first.

Eph 5:25-30
(25) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
(26) that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
(27) so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
(28) In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
(29) For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
(30) because we are members of his body.

Let us remember also that the way in which we love our wives is for the purpose of building her up and sanctifying her in Christ. It is out of this profound love that we suffer burdens, chastisement, trouble, and discouragement -yet always with an eye upon Christ who did this, successfully and perfectly, for us.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Good Resource for the Angry

I struggle with anger. I get frustrated when the same situations arise, and I react through angry frustration. This is my major weakness if there even was one. Those who don't know me within my own home may not be aware of this -and may even be shocked, but it is true. I have battled anger for a long, long time. In many ways I have improved, yet in some ways I really have not.

Last night I had an episode that was really bad. To have a burden like this, something that you feel you can never escape no matter how badly you hate it, is a tough thing. It brings you to tears. You feel trapped. You feel like you are starting to make progress and then WHAM! It all crumbles as you fall again. Anyway, I pulled out this little booklet I got a few years back, and I read through it. I don't remember if I read it before -I think I did, but I don't really remember these principles taught in it. It was a good read -really good in helping me see my thinking for what it is.

If you struggle with anger, man or woman, I encourage you to check out this small booklet. It is not a "cure", but it shines the light on some core issues in our thinking and in our hearts. It also has some practical insight, but it is refreshingly Gospel-centered, Christ-centered. It also does a good job at exposing some of the myths and false approaching promulgated by pop-psychology (and even Christian counselors) in our country.

It is called "Anger: Escaping the Maze" by David Powlison

Here is a link.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Remembering the First Great Awakening

Today I was thinking about a few things. I was thinking about the horrible state of our nation - with its immorality, its idolatry, is human pride oozing through every pore, its sinful hatred of God, its perversity. It is a wonder why God has not simply crushed us.

Then I thought back to times when great revival took place in our nation. I don't mean the revival tent meetings and the hocus-pocus Christianity, false piety, and holy-roller type stuff. I mean the real deal -people preaching Christ and lives being changed by the Spirit of God. I mean the period known in our country's history as the "First Great Awakening" in 1730's and 1740's.

The two most notable preachers in this period of colonial America were George Whitefield, from England, and Jonathan Edwards, who is often best known for his sermon "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God". Oh, that we would have godly men gifted in preaching like this today going about as they did unabashedly preaching the message that is the only message worth preaching! As great as all of the practical matters are that many love to preach on in our day, let us take all of them, every single one of them, and sweep them before the throne of God. Let our hearts be laid bare. Let the holiness of the eternal and Almighty God shake us to our core and send us on our faces in awe and worship, and then let the message of His grace in the revealed Son, Jesus, the living Savior, come down like lightning to spark life and bring change into the hearts of millions in our nation. We need a new great awakening, a real one. Please, remember this in your prayers, especially now at this time of year when we remember and "give thanks". Let us remember God's faithfulness and mercy to bless faithful ministers of His Word in our nation's past. Let us pray that He would raise up godly men even now to bring the Gospel with power all over this nation. Let it be so, to the glory of God alone in Christ alone.

Here is a sermon by George Whitefield to reflect upon. May men preach again like this, may they preach to multitudes, and may God's Spirit convert the hearts!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Our Deadly Bias

This is something people don't want to admit. We all like to think that we are unbiased, objective, and that the person with the opposing view is the one who is distorted and clouded by his own assumptions and wishes. God's Word doesn't allow for anyone to escape from the charge that we are all biased -and not only biased, but biased in a certain way. Apart from God opening our blind eyes and bringing light to our darkened hearts, we will always be accurately characterized in the following manner:

1. As those who do not seek after God

Contrary to popular belief, men do not seek after God. There are two categories of people that appear to be: there are those who only appear to be but are actually just looking for another avenue to exalt self above their Creator and lay claims upon Him to fulfill (and hence, serve them rather than the other way around), or there are those who truly are seeking God because God has been so gracious to unblind their eyes and draw them to Himself. Apart from this special operation of grace, no man seeks God. No man truly desires God -we just want things from Him and then wish to go on our way. We want someone to help make life better, but not a God to sit on the throne and be the focus of our worship. The Bible tells us:

"...None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

2. As those who are not able to submit to God and are hostile toward Him.

Not only do we not seek after Him, but even if He sits right before us, we would rather flee than bow our knee to Him. We would rather seek our own good than give all honor and glory to God. The idea that God holds us accountable is offensive and causes all kinds of hostility to erupt within. The Word of God says, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:7-8)

3. As those who actively and knowingly suppress the truth of God

That's right. We aren't ignorant. We may not have a fully-orbed understanding of God, but the Bible is clear that we are not with excuse. We aren't ignorant enough to be spared this charge. We all have knowledge of God, yet we all seek to suppress it, cover it up, deny it, pervert it, and ignore it. Why? Because of all of these other things listed. We don't want to have to bow to God. We are born with a corrupt nature that is unable to submit to God because it doesn't want to and never will -not unless it meant somehow gaining something that would benefit self. The apostle Paul tells us, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."(Rom 1:18) and a few verses later, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." (v.21)

4. As those who constantly seek to be autonomous from God

This pretty much summarizes the former things. We want to be our own gods, essentially. We want to be free from His rule and reign except in those instances where it seems to benefit us. When we look back into the Genesis account of man's fall into sin, we will note that it was man's desire to be like God that led to the fall. Having God and enjoying God was not enough for us. We want the throne for ourselves. We want the gifts and not the Giver. We would be pleased to remove Him from every area of life -even those of us who believe we are good and will go to heaven accordingly. When we imagine heaven, we do not imagine heaven as enjoying the Being of God in the face of Jesus Christ forever. We would just assume He not interfere.

5. As those who are spiritually dead

The Bible says we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). Our hearts are darkened, and we are not able to even repent of our sinful way and believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved. As the Lord Himself said, "No one is able to come to Me [believe in Me] unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:44)

In light of these descriptors, it is not hard to look at the world around us and witness these attributes in action. Evolution is not even still represented as a theory anymore on television, even though it still very much is only a theory in the scientific realm. It is accepted as fact regardless of the many facts that speak otherwise -facts that most people are not aware of. Why? Because men suppress them. In contrast, those who espouse views that include a Creator are considered unscientific and biased in their view. Ironic, no?

For a healthy dose of human depravity, check out this Yahoo discussion. It is regarding this article that shows a recent archaeological find of an ancient, pre-Byzantine, Christian church -one clearly identifying Jesus as "our God", no less. Read the pomp and hostility of those "discussing" the article. "JESUS IS A LOSER!" claims one of the participants, while others simple deny His existence, regardless of the mounds of evidence that demonstrate otherwise, and yet another admits that having faith in God is better than having faith in the government, but then adds, "But even better than having faith in a god is having faith in YOURSELF." With just a cursory look we can see hostility toward God, suppression of the truth, and self-deification and a burning desire for autonomy from God.

It seems everyone is up for a good conspiracy story, one where the truth remains hidden and suppressed for fear of some dreaded conclusion coming out. Such is the premise within popular books such as The DaVinci Code. The irony is that we all, especially those whose hearts remain darkened (which is every person who is not "born again", born of the Spirit of God), suppress the truth. We are all in on this "conspiracy" to suppress God's truth. And what is the "dreaded conclusion" that we are seeking so desperately to avoid? It is the conclusion that God is God and we are not -and that we are dependent on God, though we have and still do daily sin against His holiness and heap nothing but more wrath and condemnation upon ourselves. It is wrath and condemnation is that justly deserved, too. We are under God's curse, and rightfully so. That is perhaps the most offensive thing with the exception of this next point: that we cannot remove this condemnation from ourselves and cannot repair our relationship with God even if we wanted to. We need a Savior, and God has only given us One -the One we mock, Jesus the Christ.

But then again, I can see why this would make someone unconfortable. Those are some pretty ugly things to have applied to us. Better to just hide that stuff and pretend the problem doesn't exist, right? It seems far more important to protect our sinful human pride than admit the truth and cry out to God. I look back and shudder at how I blatantly rejected God my whole life and, even now as a believer, still do to some extent -though now, by the grace of God, I hate it. Believer and unbeliever alike still need a Savior. We can reject this fact, but the nice thing about truth is that it remains true no matter what I think of it. I can postulate all kinds of things to cover it up, pervert it, spin it a different way, or somehow try to exclude myself from undesirable consequences, but the truth is still true. If you have never thought about this, I pray this would be a sobering moment in your life when God would be gracious to you and shine light into your soul.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

John's Prologue and the NWT

Let me take a quick moment to preface what I write here by saying that this is a very brief look at a passage that has caused much controversy, and my words here are derived from the hard work of actual scholars who have great knowledge of the original languages. In other words: I am just repeating what greater and more knowledgeable minds have said time and time again.

In fact, I am not going to go through great detail to discuss, at this time, most of the first verse of John's Gospel. For links to articles examining the fullness of first verse of John's Gospel, please see the bottom of this blog entry. I am going to get right to the point of dispute between the Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation (NWT) published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the overwhelming majority of other English translations of the Bible.

Compare the NWT and the NASB on John 1:1:

NWT: In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

NASB: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The segment we are going to focus on in John 1:1 has been bolded above. Before we get into the reasons behind the difference in translation, let us, just in passing, make a few observations to provide context. For more detail, please refer to the links at the bottom of this blog entry.

First, the first clause tells us much. The Greek is en arche ane ho logos, which means "In the beginning was the Word". No problem so far. But English has a hard time conveying what John is saying here. The tense of the verb "was" indicates continuous being, past tense. What it is literally saying is that "In the beginning, no matter how far back the beginning was, the Word was already there." Before any beginning, whether it is the beginning of this physical universe or when God created angels or whatever beginning, the Word was there already. The point John is making is obvious. The Word is eternal.

Second, if we take the first few verses and look at the different verbs John uses, we can see that John does not use ane to refer to anything created. He uses a different Greek word, egenetau, which denotes beginning. In verse 3 this is used of "all things" that "came into being". If John meant to indicate that the Word, which is Jesus (v.14), came into being at a point in time, then why not use this verb? Why use a verb that says that whenever the beginning was, the Word was already existing? The Jehovah's Witnesses insist that Jesus was created, the first created thing of all "other things". But John apparently has a very different idea. John, even in his choice of verbs, draws a line between the Word and creation -not just "other" creation, but created things in general.

Although there is more that could be said regarding the first two clauses of John 1:1, we will now go to the third clause which contains an obvious difference in translation. The difference is that the NWT inserts the word "a" before "God". Are they justified in doing so? Is John really saying, as they propose, that the Word was like God, or "a god" meaning a supreme spiritual being, but not God Himself?

Here is a quick grammar lesson. In English we have a part of speech called an "article". There is the definite article, "the", and the indefinite article, "a" or "an". The usage will demonstrate the difference better than any attempted explanation. If I am talking about "the book" you understand that I am referring to something specific. There is a definite book I am talking about. However, if I am talking about "a book" you understand that I am not being specific. It might be any book. It is indefinite. Now, in Greek there is only the definite article, which is translated "the". There is no indefinite article, no word to designate the unspecific. This is important information to have.

The Greek for the clause in question is kai theos ane ho logos, which in word-order says "and God was the Word". There is a definite article, and it comes before the word logos or "Word", but there is, as we have just noted, no indefinite article. There is no "a" before theos or "God". Yes, there are obviously times when "a" is put into the English translation when the definite article is not there, but there are also times when it is not -and for good reason. It is not a rule that whenever the definite article is missing before a noun we are to translate it by putting "a" in front of it. The translators of the NWT know this, as we will see further on.

But there is an even stronger reason for not including the word "a" in the translation. This is a grammatical structure that is used elsewhere. It is called a "copulative" construction. A copulative sentence is one that contains two nominative case nouns, one with the definite article before it, linked together by a linking verb (a verb of being like "is", "are", or "was", etc.) , and it is meant to convey something about the subject using the second noun as a descriptor about the nature of the subject. The nominative case has two uses: 1) as the subject of the sentence, or 2) the "predicate nominative" or the noun that is being ascribed to the subject in a descriptive fashion. Now, the question arises, "How do we identify the subject of the sentence?" For this type of construction, the presence of the definite article identifies the subject of the sentence. among the two nominative nouns (remember that in languages like Greek and Latin it is generally the case of words that determine their usage rather than their order in the sentence). The noun that is preceded by the article is the subject, where here is logos or "Word". Hence, the proper translation begins "and the Word was..." rather than "and God was...". Why should this construction not insert the word "a" in front of "God"? Because, as we just noted briefly, the copulative construction is meant to denote something about the essence or nature of the subject. Let's look at an example that will demonstrate this.

1 John 4:8, translated "God is love", is a good example of a copulative sentence. The Greek is ho (the) theos (God) agape (love) estin (is). There are two nouns, God and love, that are in the nominative case and hence could be the subject. However, only the word theos has the definite article ho in front of it. So the proper translations is "the God is love", God being the subject of the sentence and the word for "love" being the predicate nominative. Note what is being said. "Love" is being used to describe "God". The correct translation is not "God is a love". It is that God, in His nature or essence, is love. Love describes who He is.

Taking this knowledge back to the clause in question in John 1:1, we are left with the following explanation of "and the Word was God": John is saying that the Word, which is Jesus Christ, is in His very essence or nature God. God describes what the Word is. It is not "God-likeness" that describes Him, for there are other Greek words for that. He is God, theos.

There is no contextual reason and no grammatical reason to insert the indefinite article "a" into the English translation. The grammar shows that "God" characterizes "the Word", and the context shows that the Word is eternal and uncreated. It is simply one more attempt by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to obscure the clear intent of the apostles in demonstrating that Jesus is God. The Society folks protest on many grounds, mostly because they have no real understanding of what the doctrine of the Trinity really is -as evidenced by their own writings and pamphlets on the subject. No, we are not saying that there are three gods, and no, we are not saying that Jesus is the Father. We are saying what John is saying here... that Jesus always has been (is eternal, something only God is), that Jesus was with "the God" (in this context, the Father... see 1 John 1:1 where John uses very similar language and speaks of the Father), and that Jesus was and still is God. He is God, the Father is God. From this passage alone you are at least a binitarian!

One of the arguments proposed by the Society is pointing to Acts 28:6 where it says of the apostle Paul, "They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god." Paul was bitten by a viper and the native people of Malta were watching, expecting that he would surely die. Obviously, the phrase they are pointing to as evidence to support their translation of John 1:1 is "that he was a god". The problem here is that this is not a Greek construction parallel to John 1:1. It is not a copulative construction. One big reason it is not is because, although there are two nouns (one of them being a pronoun) linked by the linking verb "to be", neither of them are preceded by the definite article. You can't make a comparison here.

However, there are other verses where a comparison can be made. One particular verse is Mark 2:28, which the NWT translates properly. "hence the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath". Removing the extraneous words, the copulative construction is kurios estin ho huios. To clarify the English words, we have kurios (Lord) estin (is) ho (the) huios (Son). Just as in John 1:1, we have two nominative nouns linked by the linking verb where one is preceded by the definite article and one is not. So, by the placement of the definite article "the", we see that the subject is "Son". So the clause says, "the Son is Lord", not "the Son is a Lord". Again, the NWT translators were correct in not putting "a" before Lord here. They recognized that this construction is meant to characterize "the Son". The word "Lord" is meant to describe or tell us something about the Son. This is the same thing we saw in John 1:1 where "God" is meant to characterize "the Word". Just as the Son is Lord of the Sabbath, so the Word (also Jesus) is God.
In the Society's own Kingdom Interlinear Translation (KIT), which uses the Westcott-Hort Greek text, the word theos or "God" shows up in the Greek 282 times without the definite article "the". If what the Watchtower Society says about John 1:1 is true, you would expect "a god" to be their normative translation of theos without the definite article. However, in the overwhelming majority of instances it is translated simply "God", not "a god". Why do they break their own rule in so many places, even the majority of places? An example is found only a few verses after John 1:1, in verse 6: "There arose a man that was sent forth as a representative of God: his name was John." (NWT) There is no article before "God". If they insist this is a rule, then one would hope to see some consistency in applying it. Why not translate verse 6, "... as a representative of a god..."?

As with the many other translational blunders performed by the NWT translators, this is a clear attempt to use a little knowledge of the original language, but not an adequate knowledge, to justify ignoring a key truth of Scripture: the deity of Jesus the Christ. A telling sign regarding the Society's translation of John 1:1 is their reference to the opinion of a "spirit medium", a man named Johannes Grieber, in their defense of the translation of this clause. It is amazing to see the translational gymnastics required, in text after text in the NWT, to avoid the clear conclusion that Jesus is God.

As promised, here are some more links for further reading:
What's the Point?

Every now and then I get in these kind of moods. It can be a "mood" regarding life in general or something very specific. Today I am in a "mood" regarding blogging. Really... what is the point? Am I bringing something unique? Am I bringing something that anyone who reads this can't get somewhere else but with more accuracy, more insight, and more detail? No, not really. So what justification is there for me spending any of my time blogging?

Well, maybe I need to alter the focus of my blogging, or maybe I need to cash it in completely, or maybe I need to step back and pause. For example, if I concentrated mostly on relating my experiences, then that is certainly unique! And maybe my experiences, blessings, and trials will bless others. Hmm... Now that I think of it, it seems like that is the real question I must ask. What is my goal in writing this blog?

If it is to look smart, to provide something new and fresh and have an edge on everyone else, then I should delete all of this and shut it down. First of all, that would be justifying this blog for very fleshly reasons, and second, there would be nothing that smart or fresh that can't be read from someone else with more smarts or more freshness. However, if it is simply to bless others who read it, then that adds some clarity. Then it is not a matter of being new, or smart, or fresh, or even unique. I'm not here to impress someone. It is just a matter of putting stuff out there that has blessed me in the hopes that it will bless others. The motive is to display something that points to our Sovereign God in the hopes that others would be blessed.

This ought to be the goal of my blogging, even if it has never been. And I know that there are a variety of ways to bless people -it is not always with a nifty testimony. It is also maybe with a theological truth that has gripped my soul or an extreme perversion of one found in close proximity to many Christians. So basically... the goal is to love others and bring glory to God. To have an opportunity to do that like this is great. I don't care if one person ever reads it, if God sees fit.

So... thanks for indulging my little sidebar today. Taking a moment to step back was good -and not just in the blogosphere.