Patience is not a Synonym for Tolerance

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Romans 2:4

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When we are unaccustomed to thinking about God in terms of his character, specifically his benevolence and grace, we can easily be led to believe that his patience with us reflects a lack of resolve. Perhaps resolve is too harsh a word; seriousness and intention to judge would be a better statement of our interpretation of God’s patience.

For many in the natural world, the fact that God has yet to judge them lends credence to their belief that He will not. For those inside of the family of God, patience can be interpreted as tolerance. Both interpretations are equally fallacious as God is neither tolerant or unjust. The missing component in both of these misinterpretations of the patience of God is the finite time span in which most people’s thinking resides, in contrast to the pre and post-existent manner in which God sees history.

History only has a beginning and ending point in human terms. We are given the story of our origin in the garden and a preview of the conclusion of history in John’s Apocalypse. Because of the span of time that passes between these two terminus, human beings tend to think in much smaller spans. Because God has not ended the world and passed judgment in the lifetime of our grandparents or parents or even ourselves thus far, we cannot envision the reality that it may happen at any time.

From the perspective of God, history has no beginning and ending as he has always existed and will always exist. His patience with his beloved creation spans much more than three lifetimes as we see it. Because our minds naturally drift to our favorite subject—ourselves– we pass this infinite patience through the filter of what we would like it to mean, either tolerance or the withholding releasing of judgment.

Considering Romans 2:4 in the course of Holy Week (an interesting twist of the language since every week is holy week) brings a fresh perspective to both the idea and the verse. God evidences his unmatched love and care for humanity in the giving of a Savior. The Savior suffers and pays the penalty due from us and makes the free offer to apply this sacrifice to our lives through faith. This does away with the false belief in tolerance as God clearly does not “just look the other way.” The serious of judgment and its inevitability are also highlighted in the fact that the perfectly just God requires the perfectly spotless sacrifice. If judgment were to be permanently delayed, no such sacrifice would be necessary.

What is on display is the fullness of God’s love and his desire (2 Peter 3:9) that none should perish. His withholding of immediate judgment and even the multi-generation patience that God shows has as its goal our repentance. While the Bible is clear that it will not be withheld indefinitely, neither are we told the moment in which that judgment will be consummated. We must act on God’s kindness, repent and put our full faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is the only appropriate response to the riches of his kindness.

Grace and peace to you.

A Disciple Walks the Roman Road 3

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

That this would be said of me! We’re culturally driven to be noted for our actions, our material acquisition or our leadership and Christ followers are not immune to this temptation. Even those self-styled saints who attempt to mirror the selfless, wanted-to-be-anonymous Mother Theresa but whose ministry is built on being known for their giving-up-everything-to-follow-Christ fall prey to this attraction.

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But to be known for the depth of our faith alone, this is an objective worth pursuing. Known for a faith that perseveres despite persecution. Known for a faith that isn’t swayed by cultural trends or threats. Known for a faith that is a model for others. That would honor Christ.

And it’s dangerous as well. To be known means that we’re known. If we’re following the example of St. Paul we seek not to be known for anything in ourselves. We desire everything we do to point to Christ and away from ourselves.

This is a very narrow wire on which we walk. If I’m not know for my faith am I a failure? If I am known for my faith have I taken what rightly belongs to the Lord? The tension of the Kingdom and the Gospel can be felt but we can also succeed. Follow me as I follow Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:8

P.R.O.O.F. of Life

Has God Spoken by Hank Hanegraaff

imageThe Bible Answer Man brings us yet another good addition to our apologetics library to sit aside The Apocalypse Code. Battling against the torrent  of semi-gnostic “secret” exposes published by authors such as Bart Ehrman purporting to reveal the falsehoods behind the Scriptures, Hanegraaff offers a flood of his own, laying out the various proofs that undergird the truth of the Bible that we read today.

Structured to provide the reader with an easily accessible tool for developing their apologetic chops, the book is organized logically around the succession of topics that support the truth of the Bible. This is important reading for any Christian who takes Peter’s command seriously to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. Questions about the accuracy of the texts of the Bible, the places and objects of the Bible and progressive revelation of the Bible are organized into the three initial chapters concerning the provenance of the manuscript, archeology and the linkage of prophecy.

As he does on his radio program, Hank makes these intimidating  topics understandable to Christians not steeped in biblical research. Fact after fact ( with nearly seventy pages of references and bibliography to verify ) pour forth from his pen to counter the challenges presented to factual basis for the Bible. He counters popular theories such as the error-ridden transcriptions (by verifying the numerically superior autographs against which the modern Bible is tested) and holds the archeological findings that affirm the people and places of the Bible against the non-existent findings that contradictory holy books point to.

While Hanegraaff has contributed an immediately useful volume, there are a couple of areas that might be improved. His love for his “hankronyms” went a touch overboard here, seeming to artificially organize the information in order to match the spelling. Mnemonic devices are excellent for memorization but they usually work best in limited use. Organizing the entire book around the acronyms (and sub-acronyms) gave the reading a somewhat challenging flow. Organizing the materials similar to the format that he uses on his radio program might make it easier for readers to locate the facts that they want but don’t know in which direction to turn.

Minor issues aside, I found this to be an excellent book. Hanegraaff has a unique gift set that makes his books great additions to the Christian’s library as they battle against the onslaught of anti-Christian sentiment that pervades our culture today. It is not enough to answer “in faith” when asked why you receive the Scriptures as true when the facts are so quickly accessible to you.

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.

Grace and peace to you.

Spiritual Gifts: Cessation of the Miraculous

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8)

The Cessationist Position

Doctrine regarding the spiritual gifts is a generally accepted component in the life of the Church. It is recognized that the Holy Spirit empowers redeemed individuals with abilities useful to building up the Body. Individual Christians may be the recipients of one or more of these gifts, evidence of the work of the Spirit in their lives. The precise count of the gifts is variable, dependent upon the system of classification used to enumerate them (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 4:10-11). Certain gifts-often called the miraculous, prophetic or word gifts-raise a question within the Church as to their continued distribution. These include the gift of tongues, prophecy and healing.

The cessationist position argues that the distribution of the miraculous gifts has ceased in the modern era of the Church. The gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy were limited in their assignment to the first century, useful for building up the early churches in the Apostolic era prior to the completion of the canon.

The arguments for cessation are complex and require a broad understanding of eschatology and the “Church Age”. The miraculous gifts are seen to have been products of necessity for the foundation of the early Church. They functioned as a part of the “canonical” principle for the Church during the time in which it was being founded but prior to the completion of the canonical writings. When the canon was closed, the need for the miraculous gifts was over and they subsequently ceased being given by the Holy Spirit.

This idea may be further divided. The prophetic gifts were no longer needed by the Church in light of the necessary Word of God having been canonized. To have further prophetic words from God would necessitate the reopening of the Scriptures so as to include them, thus giving a “never for sure” status to the Bible. The insufficiency of the revelation of the Scriptures must then be addressed as it challenges their closed nature. In other words, if one is to consider the Bible the final word of God for our days then it is required that we not be constantly wondering if a new word is going to modify the old. The maintenance of the prophetic gifts blurs the difference between being led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14) and being carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

In the same way, the sign gifts (tongues, miracles) were given only during the Apostolic age as necessary support for the foundation of the Church (cf Eph 2:20). With the last of the Apostles came the last distribution of these gifts as it is not necessary to lay and re-lay the foundation of the Church throughout history.

The cessationist refers to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 as a key text on which their position rests. As the application of the spiritual gifts is only efficacious in love, the first verse in this passage sets the bar; “Love never fails.” (vv 8a). Love, as a strengthener and edifier within the Church, will never pass away but prophecy, tongues and knowledge will (vv 8b). They pass as perfection replaces imperfection (vv 10; cf Heb 2:4).

This passage is read by the cessationist as expressing the less than eschatological significance of prophetic gifts of the Spirit. In the Church era until the moment when Jesus returns, faith, hope and love have eschatological meaning, unlike knowledge and other expressions of personal miracles. Fruits of the Spirit express the reality of the Holy Spirit today, serving the twin purposes of evangelism and edification of the Church.

Grace and peace to you.

Sauntering into the Sanctuary

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After expressing his displeasure at improperly brought worship ( see Nadab and Abihu – Lev 10 ), God commanded that the following steps be followed in meeting Him on the Day of Atonement.

  1. Locate a young bull
  2. Locate a ram
  3. Bathe thoroughly
  4. Put on the linen tunic
  5. Put on the linen undergarments
  6. Tie the linen sash around waist
  7. Put on the linen turban
  8. Locate two goats without blemish
  9. Locate another ram
  10. Sacrifice the bull for the atonement of the priest and his household
  11. Light a censer get two handfuls of incense
  12. Take these implements behind the curtain
  13. Put the incense in the censer to create fragrant smoke, protecting the priest from direct sight of the Ark and the presence of the Lord
  14. Sprinkle the bull’s blood seven times
  15. Bring the goats to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting
  16. Cast lots to determine which goat will be the scapegoat
  17. Sacrifice the goat whose lot fell to the Lord
  18. Repeat steps 11 to 14 with the goat’s blood
  19. The priest will go to the Altar
  20. Sprinkle blood of both the bull and goat on the Horns of the altar seven times
  21. Bring the scapegoat out
  22. Lay both hands on the goat’s head, assigning all of the sin of the nation to the goat
  23. Another man will take the goat and shoo it away into the desert
  24. The priest will return to the Tent of Meeting
  25. Remove the linen garments
  26. The priest will bathe and dress in his regular clothes
  27. Sacrifice the burnt offering for himself
  28. Sacrifice the burnt offering for the people
  29. Burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar
  30. The man who released the goat will bathe and wash his close before returning to camp
  31. The remains of the bull and goat must be taken outside of the camp and burned
  32. The man who burns the remains must bathe and wash his clothes before returning to camp

The meticulous and precise nature of these worship instructions should cause us to pause and consider the way in which we will enter God’s presence this Sunday. Do we toddle in with no more thought than if we were buying a gallon of milk?

There is great privilege in being the children of God, but also great responsibility.

Grace and peace to you.

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Psalm 108 ~ Awaken the Dawn

imageMy heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul.

Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. (Psalm 108:1-4)

In a short cry for physical aid, the psalmist calls us centuries later to consider the urgency of our spiritual motivation. Are we driven to rise in the darkness, to awaken the dawn in fervent worship? Do we linger in the comfort of our bed, seeking additional moments of slumber, delaying our appointment with God until a more convenient moment? Many are the nights in which the Lord beckons us awake, seeking our company and wanting to share a moment of communion with us. How will we respond?

Grace and peace in the Spirit of the Lord to you.

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