Month: November 2006

Dr. Darrell Bock on “The Nativity Story”

Dr. Darrell Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture at Dallas Theological Seminary {his books and bio can be found here}. Here’s his mini-review of the upcoming Christmas movie “The Nativity Story“…

“Its production level was not what I expected. It looked more like a TV movie. The story is more of a character development of Mary and Joseph in terms of the actual story. In that way it felt more like a European film or a Hallmark effort. That element is done nicely. The film does give a terrific feel for what first century life was like. It is an average film, not great, not poor. It does keep to the story line of the gospels with additional scenes added to give a feel for what Mary and Joseph faced given the Virgin Birth backdrop.”

How To Get To Heaven Without Tripping, or God Gives Queer Gifts

I was struck by the words of Jesus in a familiar passage today in Matthew 7:14:

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Certainly a verse that many believers know and affirm. What stood out to me however, was one little word that I don’t like in that sentence. One little word that many struggle with. And yet we affirm the truth of Jesus’ words in that verse but by our lives we contradict them. And it all hinges on that one word. Oh, how that one word has caused many prayers to ascend to my Father. That one word trips me up and clashes with my experiences. That one word crashes like a cymbal in my ears. That one word is this: hard. Now, we as Christians don’t have a problem with the word “narrow”– in this pluralistic post-modern world we gladly shout out that Jesus is the only way to God. We have no issue telling people that the only way to Heaven is through Jesus Christ. But where many of us {me, immensely} short circuit the power and promise of Jesus’ words in that verse is by wanting to delete, white-out, and erase that one word: hard.

What is interesting about that word “hard” is actually the thing that is so wondrous about it. In this verse it is the noun form of the verb thlipsis in Greek, a word which Paul uses very often. It is often translated “suffering, hardship, tribulation”. Now, what might you say, is so wondrous about this word? How is suffering/hardship a wonderful thing? Suffering is a wonderful thing because it is a GIFT from God! Yes, a gift. Paul says it here in Philippians 1:29-

“For it has been granted to you {literally ‘graced’ or ‘gifted’ to you”} that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”

Now, the word here for suffer is not the same word used by Jesus, but the idea is there. Suffering is a gift from God. What a queer and strange gift! Suffering…a gift?!? We would all agree that salvation is a gift freely given by God but so is suffering. Albeit, we often focus on the salvation gift, and not so much on the suffering gift. In fact, many times I’ve wanted to give it back to God! No thanks, I can do without that gift! But the reality is that I CAN’T do without that gift because it is part of the package, part of the way to finding God. Part of the way to Heaven.

Luke describes the words and teachings of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:22 this way:

“…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God…”

Again, this is the same word {verb form} used by Jesus. It is through suffering and hardship that we enter the kingdom of God. This is the path we must follow as disciples of Christ. He suffered and we will too. But we should not just come to a basic understanding and acceptance of it either. Its not enough to just come to grips with the fact that we will suffer in this world. We must go one more step. And we can only do this by God’s grace. The step is found in Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians in 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10-

“Therefore I will boast {rejoice in, exult in} all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content {exult, rejoice, be well pleased with, like, approve} with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

None of us do it continually, but we are called to rejoice in our sufferings because they are God-appointed instruments which He uses to teach us that He is sufficient, that we are dependent on Him, and that enable us to then go and minister to others in their affliction {thlipsis} SEE 2ND CORINTHIANS 1:3-11.

So don’t waste your sufferings/hardships/afflcitions/problems. See them as God-ordained means to a greater end: seeing and basking in the future glory of God that awaits us {see also Romans 5:1-5 where Paul uses the same word for suffering in verse 3}.

May you not only affirm that Jesus is the narrow and only way to God, but may you also not “trip” over the hardships and sufferings which are yours but may you see them as spring boards to sanctification, trust, faith, blessings to others, and most importantly opportunities to bring glory to God. {And pray for me as I struggle too…}

Overcoming Sin and Temptation

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I just began reading the newly released “Overcoming Sin and Temptation” by John Owen {1616-1683}, edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic, which is an updated edition of 3 of Owen’s works: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers; Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It; and Indwelling Sin. I scarce can say that I am excited that I finally hold a copy in my hand. Let me share a paragraph from the introduction by Kapic:

“The goal of the Christian life is not external conformity or mindless action, but a passionate love for God informed by the mind and embraced by the will. So the path forward is not to decrease one’s affections but rather to enlarge them and fill them with ‘heavenly things.’ Here one is not trying to escape the painful realities of this life but rather endeavoring to reframe one’s perspectives of life around a much larger canvas that encompasses all of reality. To respond to the distorting nature of sin you must set your affections on the beauty and glory of God, the loveliness of Christ, and the wonder of the Gospel: ‘Were our affections filled, taken up, and possessed with these things…what access could sin, with its painted pleasures, with its sugared poisons, with its envenomed baits, have unto our souls?’ {Owen}. Resisting sin, according to this Puritan divine, comes not by deadening your affections but by awakening them to God himself. Do not seek to empty your cup as a way to avoid sin, but rather seek to fill it up with the Spirit of life, so there is no longer room for sin.”

I highly recommend this book as another guide besides Scripture, to help you in your fight against sin. Owen says it best when he says simply, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Sustaining A Wartime Mentality

Last night I watched the movie “We Were Soldiers” {starring Mel Gibson} and was struck by several things:

1} There is as scene where a young soldier has just become a father and is sitting in the chapel praying as the weight of fatherhood and the impending war bear down upon his soul. As I watched, I was reminded of the gravity of parenting and our utter dependence upon God in this matter. Too often I am relaxed in the rearing of my boys in the ways of the Lord, especially concerning prayer. Now, I do pray for them earnestly every morning. But it is easy to let this slide, along with reading the Scriptures together, serving others, etc. So I thought I would write to ecourage you to recognize the seriousness of life, that we are at war {Ephesians 6} and that we must fight the good fight of faith. Life is war. So fight sin, fight apathy, depression, etc by the power of the Spirit and the promise of Scripture. Pray for your children and loved ones and neighbors, etc. Don’t just settle into life and forget that we are in a spiritual battle.

John Piper speaks of this casual, non-warlike mentality in chapter 1 of his book “Let the Nations Be Glad“, which happens to be one of the best books I have ever read. I would encourage you to pick a copy up and absorb. The preface and first chapter of the book are available for free here in pdf format. Take advantage of this great resource! Also, I just heard a sermon by Piper this morning on the way to work about PRAYER. You can read, listen or download here. In fact, I would encourage you to absorb all of Piper’s FREE resources at Desiring God.org

2} In the movie I was struck by Mel Gibson’s character and how pastoral he was. Contantly encouraging his men, fighting for them, leading them, etc. I would encourage any of you in pastoral ministry to watch this movie and observe Gibson’s character and see the many applications for pastoral life and work.

May you all have a wonderful, God-saturated Thanksgiving, and may you echo the refrain of Psalm 136
“Give thanks to the LORD for His steadfast love endures forever…”

Happy Birthday, Asher!

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Wow, time flies. A year ago today, Heather gave birth {naturally!!} to our 3rd son Asher. He truly is a blessing and lives up to his name, which in Hebrew means “happy.” Asher brings such joy and happiness to our lives as well. He enjoys nursing, eating, and sleeping. And he especially loves his 2 older brothers who appear to be very loud, rambunctious, and energetic playmates. With 3 boys in our house and wood floors which do nothing to absorb sound like the wonders of carpet, there is never a dull or quiet moment. And we love the chaos that is our home!

Asher, here’s a birthday blessing for you from Psalm 1, my happy boy:

1:1 Blessed {Asher=HAPPY!!} is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.