Theological Reflections on Being Engaged

Date February 20, 2012 Posted by Roger Overton

Roger & JenAs I write this, I’m about two months away from my wedding day. I am engaged to a beautiful, godly woman and eagerly looking forward to spending the rest of my life with her. As we’ve been heavily involved in wedding planning and preparing not just for the wedding celebration, but also the spiritual marriage to come, it’s occurred to me that this period of preparation points to some important theological truths.

As the church universal, we are to be Christ’s bride (Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 9-10). As we read in Ephesians 5:22-33, marriage is in part an allusion to the relationship between Christ and His church. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and so Christian marriage is supposed to point what Christ has done for His redeemed.

How do these truths apply to those of us that aren’t quite married yet? I think it’s safe to same I’m in the “already, not yet” stage. That is, I have made a commitment to marry a particular woman. Though we are not yet married, in many ways I should already be seeking to love her as Christ loves the church. I am already responsible in many ways for leading our relationship well and seeking our growth in knowledge, wisdom, and holiness.

This is similar to the theological principle of “already, not yet.” Christ has already demonstrated His love for His bride by giving Himself up for her, and yet the marriage has not yet happened. The bride must be made ready before the marriage and subsequent celebration. We live in an in between time. A time when the promises of old have begun to be fulfilled in Christ’s first coming and will be entirely fulfilled in His second coming.

The take away is this: my fiancée and I are in a time of preparation for marriage. We have already done away with single living, but are not quite married. We are learning how to serve each other. I am learning how to love and lead. We are preparing for the wedding not just with decorations, music, and schedules, but we are also preparing our lives for unity. In this way, though not married yet, we too point to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. And it is my prayer that our relationship, even now, speaks well of the glory to come.

Happy 11:11 11/11/11!

Date November 11, 2011 Posted by Amy Hall

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Enjoy this special day, everybody!

“Saved” an Insider Christian Word?

Date September 21, 2011 Posted by Aaron Snell

Frank Turk over at Pyromaniacs delayed his weekly-Wednesday open letter one day, and in it’s place put up an older post that compared two books published in 2008. One of those books is by Indiana megachurch pastor Tim Stevens, and in an addendum Frank notes that “Tim Stevens now wants to remove the word ‘saved’ from the Christian vocabulary when we are speaking to lost people.” He links to this article from the Christian Post.

There’s a lot that could be said in response to Stevens’ statements, but I wanted to leave most of that aside and comment on just one point. Stevens says that he is annoyed by the use of the word “saved” among Christians, because it is an “insider term” that doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside the church, and ostracizes the Christian from the culture. It’s a word that just doesn’t make sense to, and alienates, non-Christians (not to mention, in his view, that it is an incomplete term to describe a Christ-follower – but leave that aside for now) and hence should be substituted with more acceptable and understandable phrases.

But here’s the question: is “saved” really just a Christian in-house term? Is it just insider lingo that has no real communicative value for non-Christian outsiders? The Apostle Peter seemed to think differently:

37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:37-40, emphasis added)

“Saved” is explicitly used in Scripture to communicate the gospel message. We abandon it, I think, to our peril. Moreover, the only way this term would be confusing or meaningless to a non-Christian is if they have never actually been presented with a biblical gospel message of sin, repentance and faith in Christ.

Not only this, Scripture uses the term to refer to individual Christians in exactly the way Stevens is objecting to:

And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)

Stevens talks about people who are searching, who “feel a need for God,” but are made uncomfortable when they come to church and just don’t get it, in large part due to the language used (“saved” being the example given here, along with “born-again”). However, if anyone was a so-called “seeker” it was Cornelius:

13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ (Acts 11:13-14)

And there’s one more:

30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31)

The jailer got it. And I think non-Christians will too, if we actually give them the gospel.

We’re Arguing Definitions, Not Rights

Date August 10, 2011 Posted by Amy Hall

One common misconception in the same-sex marriage debate is the idea that the traditional legal definition of marriage is a violation of equal rights. Since this is an extremely emotionally charged accusation, it’s difficult to get past it into a real discussion of the issue.

Here’s the approach I usually take:

1. Nearly everyone who thinks the government ought to issue marriage licenses favors defining marriage in some way. That is, they favor excluding some combinations of people (polygamy, incest, etc.), not individuals, from the definition. Even judges. Even you!

2. You can’t consistently argue that by excluding certain combinations of people, traditional marriage violates equal rights—unless you also argue to remove every single boundary from the definition of marriage and say anyone can marry anyone, in whatever combination of numbers they like.

3. If you’re not willing to argue this, then you’re for having a definition with boundaries, which puts you on equal footing with the traditional marriage supporters.

4. So the question is, which definition should we use? It’s fine for you to argue that your definition of “two people who love each other” is better than my definition of “one man, one woman,” or someone else’s definition of “one man, multiple women,” but we need to start off by understanding that we’re arguing definitions, not rights.

It’s not unconstitutional to adopt either my or your definition, as long as it’s applied equally to every individual. Remember that the Constitution doesn’t recognize rights for combinations of people; rights only belong to individuals. So one can’t say that a man and five women have a right to get married; one can only say that each individual man or woman has the right to enter into marriage (no individual is excluded). This right is then acted upon according to the boundaries set by the state’s definition of what marriage is—boundaries which are equally applied to every individual. You would like to equally apply the boundary of “two people who love each other” (excluding some other combinations), and I would like to apply the boundary of “one man, one woman” to each individual equally.

But I agree that the boundaries we place on marriage need to be relevant to the institution of marriage in order to be legitimate, so why don’t we sit down and talk about the reasons why we each think the country should use our definition?

This definition-vs.-rights issue needs to be clarified. Otherwise, if you’re arguing for the boundaries of traditional marriage, you’ll enter the argument having already been unfairly declared an unconstitutional bigot before any of your reasons are explained (despite the fact that your opponent also favors certain boundaries), and anyone would be unlikely to listen to the reasons why you’re an unconstitutional bigot. We have to get past this first barrier if we want to be given the chance to make our case.

[Cross-posted at Stand to Reason]

The Moral Consequences of Economic Philosophy

Date August 9, 2011 Posted by Amy Hall

Behold, the fruit of class warfare rhetoric. This is what happens when you teach that “rich people” became rich at your expense and they owe you their property. The end of respect for private property and a person’s right to have what he’s earned is the end of civilization.

Please go read Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem immediately.

How Our Suffering Glorifies God

Date July 27, 2011 Posted by Amy Hall

I’ve been reading Richard Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ, a book about the sufferings of Christians under the Communists, particularly Wurmbrand’s own suffering in Romania. This book puts some flesh and bones on what we read about suffering in 1 Peter, enabling us to see with our own “eyes” the reality of the unique role suffering plays in our purpose as Christians.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10 we read:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

God calls and saves a people for Himself for the purpose of “proclaiming His excellencies”—the pinnacle of those excellencies being His mercy and grace that changed us, His enemies, into His people. And in 1 Peter, we find two ways that suffering accomplishes this purpose. The first is in 1:6-7:

[Y]ou have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The truth about Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, about our adoption as God’s children, and our future enjoyment of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever is something far more precious than gold. And every time a Christian endures suffering and holds on to this truth instead of giving up in unbelief, cynicism, or bitterness, he is revealing God’s glory to the world by saying the height of God’s value is even greater than the depth of pain in suffering. In the case of Wurmbrand and his fellow prisoners, this is saying something indeed.

But there’s yet another way suffering accomplishes God’s purpose for us. Peter twice couples our suffering with a description Christ’s suffering. First in 2:21-24:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

And again in 3:17-18:

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

When we suffer unjustly and respond as Christ did, we serve as a picture of Christ to our persecutors and to the world, proclaiming His glory and revealing Him to those who don’t yet know Him.

Wurmbrand and his fellow Christian prisoners would suffer through their beatings, refusing to deny Christ, and then turn and pray in love for those tormentors whose sin was responsible for the cruel destruction of their bodies. By this living illustration of the beauty of Christ’s character, work, and value, some of the guards saw Jesus for the first time and became His followers.

The suffering of Christians, inevitable and expected, uniquely accomplishes both of these goods in the service of our ultimate purpose of glorifying God and His grace.

(Right now on Amazon, the Kindle version of Tortured for Christ is only $1. And you don’t need a Kindle! Just download a free app to read the book on your PC or Mac.)

[Cross-posted at Stand to Reason]

Life-Changing Apologetics

Date May 10, 2011 Posted by Amy Hall

In Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man (published in 1677), Scougal notes the connection between a “serious consideration” of the “certainty and importance” of the truths of Christianity and a thriving Christian life:

I shall mention but two other means for begetting that holy and divine temper of spirit which is the subject of the present discourse. And the first is, a deep and serious consideration of the truths of our religion, and that, both as to the certainty and importance of them. The assent which is ordinarily given to divine truth is very faint and languid, very weak and ineffectual, flowing only from a blind inclination to follow that religion which is in fashion, or a lazy indifferency and unconcernedness whether things be so or not. Men are unwilling to quarrel with the religion of their country, and since all their neighbours are Christians, they are content to be so too: but they are seldom at the pains to consider the evidences of those truths, or to ponder the importance and tendency of them; and thence it is that they have so little influence on their affections and practice.

Hebrews 10:32-39 also makes a connection between confidence in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ and the endurance needed to do the will of God. Those who are thoroughly convinced that Christianity is true will find a lasting strength and vibrancy in their life with God that will never be matched by those in the church who are “indifferent and unconcerned” about whether or not Christianity is actually true.

There is a certain advantage that comes from living in a culture where, increasingly, all our neighbors are not Christians, and where as a result, people are less inclined to blindly attend church merely because they believe it to be “in fashion.” The challenges of pluralism are forcing more Christians than ever into examining what they believe. The conviction and love for God that results will lead to great things.

(Cross-posted at Stand to Reason)

Prayer Begins with Hope in God

Date May 5, 2011 Posted by Amy Hall

Today is the National Day of Prayer, and while prayer is a central part of life for some of you, I have no doubt that many of you are sheepishly reflecting on the fact that you’re not very big on prayer. Perhaps some of you are even defiantly resisting prayer, or are merely depressed and unable to motivate yourselves to plead with God when you’ve faced so many disappointments and feel so far away from Him.

Or maybe you’re like me, and you’ve been in each of these places at one time or another. When I was in the lowest point of my prayer life, I came across A Praying Life by Paul Miller and found it to be very helpful. I discovered yesterday that Amazon is offering the Kindle version of this book for free, so take a look today because I don’t know how long this will last. (You can download a free program onto your computer (PC or Mac) from Amazon to read the book, even if you don’t have a Kindle.) And here’s a review of the book by Tim Challies that explains its strengths and weaknesses.

Beyond recommending the book, I wanted to say a word of encouragement to those who are having trouble praying. First, the greatest killer of prayer is a loss of hope. A turning point for me when I was feeling most hopeless happened when I was reading Romans 4. In this chapter, Paul is explaining that we’re the descendants of Abraham, and the heir of the promises made to him, if we share in the faith of Abraham. Then Paul hits us with a description of God that changes everything: “Him whom [Abraham] believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.”

Meditate on that for a moment. God “gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” God has the power to give your spirit the life and hope that is now lacking in you–He calls it into being out of nothing. Do you feel dead? God is the God who gives life where it does not now exist. This is who God is. This is what He does. But He doesn’t always do this immediately. Do you have the faith to trust in Him while waiting as Abraham waited?

Without becoming weak in faith [Abraham] contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform (Romans 4:18-21).

It’s likely that an end to your hopelessness, leading to an ability to pray again, seems impossible to you–just as impossible as the birth of Isaac seemed to Abraham. So, like Abraham, don’t try to focus all your faith on this happening. Instead, focus your faith on God, trustworthy and powerful, who gives life to the dead. Meditate on who He is. Don’t worry if you don’t believe you’ll ever have hope again. Just start by believing the truth about God. Like Abraham, “in hope against hope” put your faith in Him who is able to call into being that which does not exist.

Second, your soul is real. There are spiritual realities in life just as there are physical realities. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that my soul can starve just as surely as my body can starve. You need to pray and read the Bible as much as you need to eat because there is the same reality of necessity in both cases. Do you place as much urgency on the one as on the other? Do you ever decide not to eat for a few days because you’re too busy? Is your soul suffering now the way your body would be if you stopped eating? The answer to your apathy or despair might be as simple as beginning to eat again.

Let A Praying Life be a starting point for you.

[Cross-posted at Stand to Reason]

Evil and the Cross

Date April 22, 2011 Posted by Amy Hall

Today we think about an event that was not only the result of evil, but also the reason for allowing evil to exist in the first place. That event is the revealing of the perfection and beauty of God’s grace and righteousness through the demonstration of both on the cross:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23-26).

Why did God allow evil to come into this world? Why not create everything in the state of perfection we will be in after this world comes to an end? I think the answer is that God had a goal in mind that is greater than the suffering, and that goal is the revealing of Himself to His people so that we will be able to fully express our pleasure in Him through worship, enjoying Him for an eternity.

In other words, we experience suffering and sin so that Jesus could die on the cross for us.

That might sound backward to you. But if God’s greatest goal is to reveal His perfections to us (a greater goal than our temporary comfort on this Earth), then in order for us to know God’s grace, His mercy, His power, His justice, His righteousness, His love, and our need for Him, He allowed sin into this world so that we could see and experience Him in these ways. And the pinnacle of this demonstration of Himself happened at the cross.

Evil isn’t necessary for God’s goodness to exist, but it is necessary for God’s goodness to be revealed to us. I always think of the heroes of United 93 as an illustration of this. Before 9/11, the people who would soon give their lives on that flight went about their daily business doing ordinary things. They had already developed the character, invisible to us, that would direct their actions on that tragic day, but the depth of their self-sacrificing courage wasn’t made visible to us until evil led to the expression of it.

In the same way, God was God before sin was in the world. He was always full of grace, but without our sin, would we have known it? He was always just, but without judgment, would we have seen it? Would we have ever seen a love that seeks out enemies if there had been no enemies? Our knowledge and appreciation of God would have been forever stunted in a world without the cross.

In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:5-6).

(Cross-posted at Stand to Reason)

How We Can Help Those in Japan

Date March 13, 2011 Posted by Roger Overton

By now we’ve all seen the images, the videos, the interviews and reports. We know that the devastation in Northern Japan is vast and brutal. Thousands have died, tens of thousands are injured, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. As Christians especially, it’s important for us to reflect not only on supporting the victims, but how best to do so.

1) Our default reaction must always be prayer. If there’s one thing the tsunami video has taught us, it’s that we have little control over what happens. All of our plans and possessions can be wiped out in seconds. But the truth is that God is even bigger than nuclear meltdowns, tsunamis, and island-moving earthquakes. As Creator He is sovereign over all, and it’s to His throne we must first go on behalf of the victims. John Piper has provided a prayer to help us pray well for them.

2) Give money, wisely. One of the many snares in this world is false organizations that scam people for “charitable donations” in these situations. The first rule of thumb in donating is to give to organizations that you already know or can easily verify their reputation. Secondly, give where the need is. The most common organization people donate to in situations like this is the International Red Cross. They do very good and important work, and I’m in no way putting them down. But there will be other needs that other organizations specialize in, and given that the vast majority of people donate to the Red Cross, I typically seek out these other specified organizations. Here is a list of four organizations I know and have donated to specifically for aid to Japan.

World Vision usually focuses on children, but in these situations they provide general relief as well. They will supply fresh water, food, and shelter, as well as caring for the specific needs of children who have been affected. There are likely hundreds of children who have been orphaned by this disaster, and many more will have special needs that their parents are not prepared to care for. World Vision already has a team on the ground in Sendai assessing needs and how they can meet them.

Habitat for Humanity Web banners: Donate

Habitat for Humanity specializes in building homes. If you’ve seen any of the tsunami footage, you know that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homes have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. After the immediate needs of water, food, medical aid and basic supplies have been provided for, home building will be the next major need.

Obviously, Food for the Hungry is about supplying food. What makes them unique and why I’m excited about supporting them is that they supply food through local churches and ministries. They provide not just physical food, but also spiritual food and a connection for victims to get to know and become involved with local ministries.

Doctors Without Borders mostly focuses aid toward armed conflict, epidemics, and lesser known problems. But they also provide support in natural disasters, especially when they have teams in the area. They have teams stationed in Japan that are already helping to provide relief. They are uniquely equipped with mobile surgical and evacuation clinics that be help in places where the local government is not prepared.