Friday, June 08, 2007

Put Your House in Order

"This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die" (Isaiah 38:1; 2 Kings 20:1).

This verse in context is part of a hard to explain passage in which God seems to change His mind. I say, "seems to," because we know from other Scripture passages that "God is not a man that He should change His mind" (Numbers 23:19). I'd be glad to discuss that and other passges that might seem a challenge to explain, but for today, I want to take this verse out of context and consider it in light of 2 Samuel 17:23, which says, "When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father's tomb."

"Put your house in order." What does this mean?

To put your house in order means to do estate planning. It's that simple. That's what it meant 3000 years ago, and that's what it means today. It means to settle your debts - or perhaps in our culture, to make arrangements for your debts to be settled once your gone. For us to put our house in order means to have a will, a living will, and a power of attorney if necessary. It means for us to have life insurance for our dependents. I would say it even means leaving detailed instructions for your spouse, children, parents, and/or estate executor to follow regarding all financial accounts and responsibilities that pertain to you.

"Put your house in order." Why should we do it?

Job 14:5 says, "Man's days are determined; [God has] decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." This is a general statement of the lifespan of mankind. No one lives past 120 years anymore. But God's knowledge of His creation goes beyond generalities. He knows us intimately. Psalm 139:16 says, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Though we may pray with David, "Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days" (Psalm 39:4a); the likelihood is that we will not be told the specifics. Rather, we ought to pray also the second half of that verse, "Let me know how fleeting is my life," as that gets us in the right mindset to put our house in order. The end of Psalm 139, v23-24, says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

"No man knows when his hour will come" (Ecclesiastes 9:12). But the Lord has ordained our days before even one of them came to be. Ahithopel, an evil man, put his house in order before hanging himself; how much more ought we, as servants of the Lord Jesus, do the same before our death. So put your house in order, because you are going to die. Let Psalm 90:12 be our prayer: "Lord...Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Romans: Completed

Since September 27, 2006, my blog has been primarily devoted to a study of Romans. Eight and one half months later, our Romans study is complete. I'll be commencing a Gospel of John study on my blog, perhaps at the end of the summer. In the meantime, I look forward to resuming some general comments on theology and worldviews, beginning today with the Creation Museum.

The Answer in Genesis Creation Museum is located in northern Kentucky, just about 75 minutes from my house. I had the opportunity to visit on the first preview day (Monday, May 21), prior to the grand opening. I was amazed at the amount of work still to be done by opening day - scheduled for Memorial Day (May 28). The content was excellent. Critics have claimed that there is a lack of science in the museum, that it is mostly a display of technology and propaganda. Because my family, including three small children, was with me on that preview day, and because it was not yet completely finished, and because of the media critiques, I decided to pay another visit to the museum last Friday, June 1.

The planetarium is a must see, with an overview of the earth's grandeur paling in comparison to the almost infinite immensity of the universe. We serve a great big God! The special effects theater is entertaining with a satirical look at worldview issues stemming from a Biblical vs. secular worldview. It contains a great deal of science presented in such a way that leaves the audience with questions. Consider for example the recent find of T. Rex soft tissue from a dig site in Montana. For those of you who don't realize the importance of this find, consider that soft tissue decays in hundreds of years or less - not millions or billions of years. Do you see the problem this creates for the old-earth scientist who clings to the timeline of dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago?

Many typical creation / evolution related questions are answered in the tour through the museum. Video screens play small scale flood clips, displaying the power of vast amounts of water. The pre-flood / post-flood exhibits are helpful for folks who have no understanding of the Biblical account. One thing I really appreciated about the museum is the fair display of evolutionary claims presented right next to the Biblical explanation of things. You see, the evidence is the same for both parties. The interpretations are what differ, and the museum goes to great lengths to show why that is.

Finally, there is a video presentation at the end of the tour that is basically a gospel presentation. It shows how the Biblical understanding of creation is so pertinent to the message of the gospel - that Jesus died to save sinners. "Save sinners from what?" you might ask. From death. Death is the result of sin. And no other view of creation upholds that important reality. Romans 5:12 says, "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin." There's no escaping that truth - and science, true empirical science (complete with repeated observations and testing), supports that view - the Biblical view. Let me recomend that you visit on my tab. I've got some guest passes and would be glad to let you use them at your convenience. Just leave a comment, and I'll be in touch.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Romans 16:25-27

Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey Him - to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Paul closes this great letter, this systematic theological treatise, this practical exhortation to unity with a prayer of adoration to God that serves to encourage God’s people. Paul’s love and concern for God’s people (2 Timothy 2:10) comes out in the greetings we looked at this week and last. His awe of God, his sense of the greatness of God, comes out in this prayer of adoration as the only suitable response to the glorious plan of salvation revealed in this letter.

Paul focuses us on the goal of God’s glory, and we, like Paul, need to be overwhelmed at the greatness of God. The greatness of God is belittled in our generation. Man the sinner is big, and God the Savior is small in our generation. Man is central; God is peripheral. Man is important; God is way down the list of important things in life in our culture today. But Paul is drawing our attention to the greatness of God in this doxology.

First, “To Him who is able,” declares the mighty power of God. “To Him who is able to establish us by and in the Gospel – the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” V25-27 tie back into the theme of Paul’s letter: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The Gospel is the power of God. And now God is able to establish us in the Gospel by the Gospel. So we praise God for His mighty power revealed in and by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take a moment to compare Romans 1:1-16 with 16:25-27.

Second, by saying, “To the only wise God,” Paul is declaring that the Gospel he preached is about a redemptive event that God had been working on from eternity past, but had only revealed fully in Jesus Christ. It draws us back to the doxology in Romans 11. This Gospel in and by which God establishes us has been in the works for all of history, and no one could have figured it out apart from God’s revelation. Only God was wise in devising and working out this plan to be glorified in the salvation of His people. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” By praising God’s might and power and wisdom, Paul is encouraging us to be comforted and strengthened and assured that we are in capable hands. You’re in good hands with God – and of this is due to Jesus Christ. And yet, “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). So, we see the glory of the Triune Deity magnified in this plan as He works, fully unified in the efforts of the three Persons of the Godhead, to bring glory to His name through the salvation of His people.

How would you end the greatest theological treatise ever written? Augustine, at the end of The City of God, after 1100 pages of wrestling with how God is at work in the world, said, “It may be too much for some, too little for others. Of both these groups I ask forgiveness. But of those for whom it is enough I would make this request, that they do not thank me but join with me in rendering thanks to God.” Paul ends it by emphasizing love for the brethren, prayer, praise, confidence in God, and consecration to work for His glory. Thanks be to God for His holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. Amen.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Romans 16:21-24

Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city's director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. [May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen.]

Paul’s final list of 8 names and greetings is simply a continuation of the previous list, thus continuing to show us both the importance of working in unity for the spread of the Gospel and the reality of the communion of saints. This list, rather than Paul greeting those in and around Rome, represents those with Paul in the Corinthian church greeting the Roman believers. Can you picture these guys standing around Paul and Tertius as they finish writing this letter? We don’t know if they personally knew the Roman believers or if they were just excited to be involved in this fellowshipping between churches. One thing we can say is that these men would have, by having their name in this letter, been consenting to the teaching found within, serving to emphasize early Christian doctrinal unity.

We all know Timothy, Paul’s fellow worker; he, along with Lucius (some consider that this is actually Luke, but this can be refuted by the fact that Paul calls him a relative (likely Lucius was a Jew – and Luke was a Gentile); others think it is the prophet and teacher from Antioch – Lucius from Acts 13:1), Jason (possibly the same man mentioned in Acts 17:5-9 who hosted Paul and Silas and whose house was assaulted by a mob), and Sosipater (perhaps Sopater son of Pyhrrus from Berea from Acts 20:4), send their greetings to the Romans in Paul’s letter. The scribe, Tertius, sends his greetings. Gaius (perhaps of Derbe from Acts 20:4; more likely the one Paul baptized in 1 Corinthians 1:14), who apparently hosted Paul and/or Tertius and the church in Corinth in his home, sends his greetings. And notice the focus on hospitality again. 3 John focuses on the hospitality of Gaius as well (a different Gaius). It should be as if the Lord Jesus Himself was coming to your house. Christian community is important. Christians glorify God by assembling together. Hospitality brings Christians together in unity and love and fellowship. Erastus’ job title is given; as the steward or treasurer of Corinth, he’s a prominent figure, and he’s come to believe the Gospel and join in the fellowship of believers. He and brother Quartus are forever commemorated with their greetings to the Roman church. Paul calls all of these men “brothers.” Let’s be grateful that Jesus Christ our Lord is “not ashamed to call [us] brothers” (Hebrews 2:11).

With of these “to and fro” greetings, we ought to realize that Christians ought to know about one another’s spiritual condition and service. We learn from this passage that we can have a close relationship with certain brothers and sisters within the community of faith without violating the general principle of all of us being brothers and sisters in Christ. The Communion of the Saints is a reality. In Romans 14-15, Paul talked about being the Body of Christ. And chapter 16 shows us how it was lived out in the first century. They were ministering to one another. They were loving one another. They were excited in greeting one another. They were excited to hear from one another. They were caring for one another. They were in deep and significant and distinctively gospel and Christian relationships with one another. They were risking their lives and using their resources and hosting Gospel work in their homes and working hard for the Lord, for the Gospel, for the Kingdom. They had different roles, but they were clearly One Body. Let’s be like that!

And then in v24 we get an identical benediction to the one in v20: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen.” While some ancient manuscripts omit this one, we can be certain that it has been issued at least once (v20). A benediction is from God to us. A doxology is from us to God. We see this benediction as God blessing His people. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll wrap up the book of Romans by looking at the doxology, which is God’s people blessing God or praising God. The benediction is “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ being with all of us.” The doxology is “glory forever through Jesus be to Him who is able to establish us.”