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Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's Not Too Late to Join the Bible Reading Group!

Well, the PBF bible reading group is approximately two months into our six-month trip through the bible. Having gone a little ways down the road, I thought it would be good to give you an update and to encourage you that its not too late to join us.

There seems to be three common reasons for the difficulty that people have with reading through the bible on a regular basis.  First, many people do not spend significant time in the Word because of a lack of accountability.  Without someone coming alongside us to enjoy the journey with us, it is all too easy to let life crowd the bible out of our schedules.  We need help to stay on track.  

Second, many of us do not function well with a lack of structure.  When exhorted to read the bible, many people have no idea where to start.  We end up treating the bible like a Ouija board, randomly landing on a few verses for the day, understanding nothing of the context and taking no meaningful truth with us into the day.  Said another way, many people do not spend time in the Word because they do not have a user-friendly plan for reading. 

Third, without someone to help us understand the overall storyline, many of us struggle to make sense of the bible, which makes reading it a rote drudgery. For some, the bible has always been a confusing jumble of many different types of literature with no overarching trajectory from beginning to the end. For this reason, when we do read, we gravitate toward those books that are easiest for us to understand, perhaps the Gospels or Proverbs. However, after reading nothing but these books for an extended period, we become bored and stop reading altogether.

I believe that the PBF reading group for the most part has removed these three obstacles to successful, habitual, broad reading of Scripture.  First, the group has provided an automatic mechanism for accountability in that the participants know that every other Saturday morning the group will be discussing a specific portion of Scripture.  This serves as a soft nudge to stay on schedule. Additionally, each member is encouraged to “buddy up” with another member for the purpose of regular encouragement and accountability during the two-week period between each meeting. Going two weeks without any interaction with another reader could be a recipe for falling behind and eventually giving up. Having someone to interact with has been a great blessing for us on the journey so far.  Overall, the knowledge that we are all traveling the same road and counting on each other for strength and encouragement has motivated us to stay the course.  

A second way that this group has overcome typical obstacles to successful bible reading is through the structure of the reading plan. No one ever gets out of bed in the morning without a clue what to read. For six months, none of us will have to worry about that. It may seem ludicrous, but the elimination of that one question represents the removal of a major barrier to spending regular time in the Word. 

The reading group has eliminated a third obstacle to bible reading by both reading at an accelerated pace and by using a reading companion, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment.  With a typical “read through the bible in a year” plan, the pace is too slow to make some of the biblical theological connections necessary to make sense of the storyline of Scripture.  Reading a larger portion of text each day has helped us to maintain an eye on the forest while still noticing the trees. Additionally, the use of a good biblical theology text has been an invaluable assistance to us, many of whom have ever read the bible from a biblical theological perspective.  We are all reading with new eyes, seeing repeated pictures of the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, repeated demonstrations of the gender struggle created by the Fall, and repeated displays of God’s judgment and mercy side-by-side, all pointing toward the coming of Christ.  These daily discoveries have led to an unexpected result.  Rather than struggling to keep up with the reading schedule, many participants are finding themselves reading ahead after getting caught up in the storyline.  Those who previously found Leviticus and Numbers to be the most difficult reading in Scripture actually enjoyed these books as they recognized the richness they hold from a biblical theological perspective.  

So let me encourage you that it is not too late to join us.  You don’t have to catch up; simply jump in on the reading for today (the reading plan can be found here).  And don’t worry about being condemned if you don’t finish the reading for any given week.  The group is a no-condemnation zone.  You won't be hassled; you’ll only be encouraged to keep going!  It may be just the thing you need to get you back into God’s Word on a regular basis.  Our next meeting is Saturday, May 4th at 7:30a at the church.  Hope to see you there!

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do the bombings prove that man is good or evil?

There was an article on today entitled, “Is man inherently good or evil?”  In it, writer Will Cain notes that while events like the Boston bombing remind us that evil exists in the world, the countless acts of bravery, heroism, and love in the aftermath demonstrate that good outweighs evil in this world.  He concludes that though acts of evil occur, man is still inherently good and is to be commended.

I can understand Cain’s point of view.  Certainly, the acts of selflessness and care on Monday far outnumber the one act of violence.  After the bombs went off, immediately people sprang into action to save the lives of total strangers.  Cain mentioned one specific person, Carlos Arredondo, who moved quickly to apply a tourniquet to the legs of Jeff Bauman.  In Cain’s opinion, “[Arredondo] says more about us than whoever dropped a pressure cooker at the marathon on Monday.”  In other words, heroism is more indicative of the human condition than is terrorism.

However, if we have a biblical worldview, we must say that Monday’s events do not demonstrate that man is inherently good, but that there exists an inherently good God who regularly shows mercy to man, who is inherently evil. 

How is this? First of all, the moment we begin to speak of the categories of “good” and “evil” we knowingly or unknowingly presuppose the existence of an absolute moral standard.  In order to recognize good or evil, we must have a way to recognize it objectively.  God is that standard of good.  Jesus testified that “no one is good but God alone” (Luke18:19).  His standard is recorded for us in the form of Scripture.  The bible is the revealed will of God, by which we may discern good and evil.  The bible teaches that there also exists within the human heart an understanding of that standard in the form of the conscience (Rom 2:15-16), although this conscience is imperfect and needs to be educated according to Scripture.  So even by asking the question, “is man inherently good or evil?” we assume that there is an objective standard of evil.  That standard is God.

As to the inherent nature of man, the Bible is clear that man is evil.  When God created the first man, Adam, he was good (Gen 1:31).  But when that man sinned, he acquired a sin nature, which he passed on to all who came after him, so that Scripture is able to say, “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).  The NT repeatedly agrees, with one passage emphatically noting that “there is no one good, not even one!” (Rom3:10-18). 

This would seem to prompt two obvious questions.  First, if man is inherently evil why don’t we see these kinds of acts of horror more often?  If left to ourselves, we would not only see these things all the time, but we would all be perpetrating them.  But Scripture teaches that God actively restrains evil (Job 1-2; Gen 20:4-6).  He only allows those evil acts that achieve His purposes.  For this we should be overwhelmed with gratitude.  We deserve far worse than the evil of man; we deserve the eternal wrath of God.  Yet for a time, He withholds both.  This is a demonstration of His grace.

A second question: If man is inherently evil, how do we explain the acts of service and kindness that take place on earth, like the actions taken on Monday to save the victims of the bombing?  Again, we have to start with Scripture, which affirms not only that God alone is good (Luke 18:19), but that every good thing comes from Him (Jas 1:17).  That means that nothing good originates in the heart or intention of man.  God is the source of all good.  When we do good, it is because God has created that desire in us.  This is why Paul explains to the Philippians, “it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13, cf Eph 2:10).  This is true not only of believers but also of unbelievers, as in the case of Balaam blessing Israel (Num 22-24) and when Cyrus gave the command for the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem (2Chr36:22-23; Isa 45:1-7).  God uses human instruments to do good in the world, good for which He alone is to be credited and praised.  In other words, our good works are the result of His grace in our lives.

What we’ve witnessed this week in the events in Boston do not show us that man is inherently good.  Man is inherently evil and in desperate need of a Savior.  God is inherently good and He alone is the source of all good, whether it be acts of kindness shown during times of tragedy or the giving of His own Son to save the souls of men and eventually, finally rid the world of evil.  Our gracious God alone is to be praised.  
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Friday, April 12, 2013

From a Christ-Centered View of the Bible to a Christ-Centered View of the World

For the past couple of months, a group of us have been reading through the Bible using Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory In Salvation Through Judgment as a reading companion.  Reading through the bible at such a quick pace (we plan to be finished by the end of August) has made it much easier to see the big picture storyline of Scripture.  At each turn, it has been striking to see how Christ-centered the bible is and that each section of Scripture can only be rightly interpreted in light of the coming of Christ.  That, in turn, has prompted me to consider how important it is to interpret the world around me in light of the coming of Christ.
The New Testament is clear that the Old Testament should be viewed in light of Jesus. The Gospel writers, especially Matthew, repeatedly show Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture (Mat 1:23; 2:6, 15,18, 23; 3:3; 4;1-11, 14-16; 11:4-6; 12:15-21; 13:34-35; 21:4-5; 26:56). Jesus Himself viewed the entirety of the Old Testament as a testimony about Him. In John 5:39, He told the Jews, “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; It is these that testify about Me.”  At the time Jesus said this, the New Testament did not exist, so “the Scriptures” refers to the Old Testament.  There is also that glorious scene in Luke 24, where Jesus walked with two men from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27). According to Jesus, the overarching intent of the Old Testament was to point forward to Him.
This conviction was shared by the apostles.  In the book of Acts, Peter, Philip, Stephen, Paul, and Apollos appealed to the Old Testament to validate the claim that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 2:14-36; 3:11-26; 4:8-12; 7:1-53; 8:4-5, 26-35;9:20-22; 10:34-43; 13:13-49; 17:1-4, 10-11; 18:24-28; 20:17-27; 24:10-21; 26:1-23;28:23-28).  In Romans 3:21-22, Paul declared that the Law and Prophets bear witness to the “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (cf Rom 1:1-2; 1 Cor 15:3-5). Peter wrote that the prophets knew that “the Spirit of Christ in them” was predicting “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet 1:10-11).  
So Jesus and the apostles clearly viewed all of Scripture in light of Christ.  We should do the same.  But if we read all the bible in light of Christ, shouldn’t we also read the world around us in light of Christ?  The bible records that after a brief period of perfect fellowship with God, man sinned against God, resulting in alienation from Him and sin and sickness entering the world.  But in the very pronouncement of judgment, God promised a seed who would vanquish evil and redeem man (Gen3:1-24).  That seed was Jesus Christ.  He is the one who would reverse the effects of the Fall, which He began to do at His first coming and will finish at His second. 
Every instance of sin and its effects, death, sickness, and suffering all around us is a result of the Fall that cries out for the redemption of creation, which comes only through Christ. Conversely, every joy and everything of beauty is evidence of God’s grace, which comes only through Christ. If all of that is true, we can and should interpret everything around us in light of Christ and His gospel.
For example, currently we are witnessing a national debate regarding homosexual marriage.  What the bible teaches us about Christ should inform the way we view this issue.  God’s Word reveals that homosexuality is an abomination to Yahweh and as such condemns a person to eternal torment (Lev 18:22, 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Matt 13:41-42). Man’s inability to deal with his own sin is the reason a Savior was necessary.  Homosexuality in our culture should remind us of how essential the coming of Christ was and is for saving sinners.
Every time we hear talk about the permanence of a person’s sexual orientation or the inability of homosexuals to change, we should be reminded that Scripture testifies that in Christ this too can be changed – “…and such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:9-11).   In other words, viewing homosexuality in light of Christ helps us to see this issue in terms of the necessity and sufficiency of the Savior.
But what about homosexual marriage?  Christ should inform our understanding of this, too.  Marriage is intended to be a picture of the union between Christ and the church (Eph 5:22-33).  To unite a man and a man in marriage is to defile that picture.  It takes what is an abomination to God and seeks to join it with what is sacred to God.  It is a defamation of Christ Himself.  We can and should view homosexual marriage in light of Christ.
We should interpret everything in the world in a similar fashion.  All sin, immorality, and suffering should remind us of the brokenness of creation, a problem that only Jesus is able to fix.  All joy and goodness should remind us that redemption and eternal bliss can only be found in Him.  He is the only hope for this world.
What are your major concerns right now?  What difficult decisions do you have to make?  What trials are you enduring?  What political or social issues are you struggling to understand?  Let me exhort you to look at these things in light of Christ.  Apply the coming of the Savior to your particular situation.  The key to being able to do this is to know what the Bible teaches about Jesus.  The more we are in His Word, understanding all of Scripture in light of Christ, the more we will be able to understand the world in the same fashion.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thoughts On Believers and The Gay Marriage Issue

I’ve had a number of conversations over the last week about how believers should respond to the gay marriage issue.  Most of us have been caught off guard by how quickly public opinion seems to have swayed.  We hear people talking about it at work and in the neighborhood, we read threads online, and we are bombarded with it by the news media.  Because the issue has rushed so quickly to the front of the national stage, many believers feel unprepared to discuss the topic from a biblical perspective.  Others of us have been struck by how unbiblically some believers are thinking and interacting on the issue.
Below (in no particular order) are my thoughts on how the Bible would instruct us.  This is not an exhaustive discussion, but just a few principles from Scripture.  Most of my thinking on how to interact with the culture on this comes from 1 Peter, which is an excellent primer on how to live as “elect exiles” in a world bent against us and our God.  As homosexual marriage more than any other issue threatens to put Christians at odds with the world around us, 1 Peter seems like an excellent place to turn for guidance.
1. We must count it a privilege and joy to be persecuted for the cause of Christ.  The believers to whom Peter wrote his first epistle were under some form of persecution that apparently was expected to intensify.  Peter exhorted them to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:13).  The apostle was not calling anyone to do anything he had not already done – having been beaten for proclaiming the gospel, Peter and the other apostles rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:27-42). 
Granted, at this point in America believers are only experiencing what we could call "soft persecution" – ostracism, defamation, ridicule, etc.  Things will most likely get worse.  Regardless, the biblical exhortation to us is the same.  When we are persecuted for our message, we are to rejoice.
2. As believers, we should view this debate not primarily as a threat to our religious freedom, but rather an extraordinary opportunity to share the gospel. It is a threat to our religious freedom and we are called to be sober-minded and watchful.  But conspicuously absent from 1 Peter is the admonition to fight for our own freedom.  That does not mean that it is wrong to be involved in the political process, to support politicians who espouse our views, to lobby Congress, etc.  Those things are fine.  However, our primary objective as disciples of Jesus Christ is not to defend ourselves or our freedoms, but to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We should view ourselves not first and foremost as a special interest group under attack, but as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” tasked with proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
3. We must speak the truth in love.  The temptation to remain silent will grow stronger as acceptance of gay marriage becomes more and more the norm.  We are already seeing what happens to people who stand for biblical marriage.  They are ridiculed in the media, they lose professional opportunities, they experience strained relationships, their reputations are damaged, and they are labeled as bigots.  But silence is not an option for us.  We cannot keep quiet in the face of the normalization of debauchery as if sin no longer condemns sinners.  We must warn people about the judgment of God and give the gospel as the only hope for salvation.
Further, we must regard it as unloving to not speak the truth.  What could be more cruel than to withhold the gospel from those who are doomed in their sin just like we were?  Just because we assume that someone will disagree with the truth or react unfavorably is no excuse to be quiet.  Only God knows who will receive the gospel and who will reject it.  Our responsibility is to cast the seed far and wide.    
We also need to remind ourselves that it is unloving to not speak the truth in love.  It must be clear that what we communicate comes not from a heart of judgment or anger or spite, but rather from a heart of concern for the souls of all.
4. We must treat conversations about gay marriage as a one-way express lane to the gospel.  Every time the topic comes up, we should regard it as a gift.  Our tendency may be to try to make an apologetic argument for traditional marriage, which is fine, but we can’t do only that.  Apologetic arguments are not going to turn the tide.  Only changed hearts will turn the tide, and only the gospel can change hearts.  We cannot simply address this issue from a moralistic perspective.  We must speak the truth that homosexual behavior is an abomination to God, but that it is merely one of a plethora of sins that have condemned all of us to hell.  All people are born sinners and stand condemned by their sin.  The difference between us and the world is not that we are morally superior, but that we have found grace, forgiveness, and life in Christ (1 Pet 2:24).  We must present ourselves as sinners saved by grace pointing other sinners to the only source of life.  The biggest mistake we can make is to condemn homosexuality and leave it at that.  We must follow the example of the Bible and place judgment and salvation side-by-side.
5. We must understand the issue biblically and be prepared to answer questions and challenges.  When someone asks, “what’s so wrong with homosexual marriage?” or “how does homosexual marriage threaten you?” we need to recognize not only the slant with which the question is asked but also how to give a biblical response.  In my opinion, natural law arguments are not going to hold water in a relativistic culture.  We must appeal to a transcendent source of absolute truth, God’s Word.  That will require us to understand what the Bible teaches about God as the creator, ruler, and lawgiver, about marriage, gender roles, homosexuality, sexual sin in general, the family, and a host of other topics.
But we need to guard against getting involved in a traffic jam on the gospel expressway.  Remember the ultimate objective is to get to the gospel.  In 1 Peter3:15, we are exhorted to be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in us.  Traditional marriage is not the reason for the hope that is in us.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is, so that needs to be our main message.
6. We must keep our conduct among the world honorable (1 Pet 2:12).  In other words, we need to live godly lives even as we are being maligned for our beliefs.  This is a repeated theme in Peter’s first epistle, and the reason is simple: when we live godly lives in the midst of persecution or unjust treatment, our conduct testifies to the truth of our message and puts our revilers to shame (1 Pet 3:16).  Peter even predicts that on the last day our accusers will glorify God because of our good deeds (1 Pet 2:12).  Christ also suffered unjustly, leaving us an example that we might follow in his steps.  “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:21-23).  Our focus should be on glorifying God in our words and conduct.  Nothing will discredit us faster than ungodliness.
Again, this is not an exhaustive discussion, but hopefully some will find it helpful.
If you have any questions about the issue or you have received questions from others that you don’t know how to answer, please either email them to me or ask them in the comment section of this post.  I’ll respond as soon as I can.
Don't let these things drive you to anxiety.  Rather, "humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Pet 5:6-7).
Posted by Greg Birdwell