God in Three Persons – the doctrine of the Trinity is not as complicated as you think

[From the archives.]

One way to understand Trinitarian doctrine is by seeing what it’s not, and one thing it’s not is modalism.*

Modalism Works For Me

Now before you cast me out as a heretic and declare me anathema, let me say that modalism works for me in who I am. It doesn’t work for who God is.

Modalism comes from the word “mode” and essentially means that a single person can operate in different modes.  I know I can. I’m a husband and a father and a neighbor and a lot of other things. It’s easiest to see these things when I’m in that particular mode and no other, although you can imagine that at times I’ve acted as husband, father and neighbor at the same instance.

You know the thing about me being modal, though? No one thinks the person who is a father to my children is a different person from the one who is a husband to my wife and yet still different from the one who is a neighbor to the people next door. It’s all just me.

Imagine, though, if I tried to give the impression of being three separate people:

Neighbor: “Hey neighbor, are you all free for a barbecue this weekend?”

Me: “I know I am, but I’ll have to check with the others.”

Neighbor: “Yeah, always good to check with your wife before committing!”

Me: “I suppose, but first I’m going to check with my wife’s husband.”

Neighbor: “Oh yeah, her hus- … Huh?”

Me: “I don’t think he has any plans, but I’ll let you know. Are the kids invited?”

Neighbor: “Uhhhh, yeah sure.”

Me: “Then I’ll have to ask my kids’ father as well and see if he can make it.”

Neighbor: “Their father. Oooookay … you do that.” [Laughs nervously and slowly backs into house.]

I’d retreat to my house too if one of my neighbors talked to me that way.

Why I Am Not Modalist

You might have heard people say that the reason we call God the Father, Son and Spirit is because sometimes he acts as a parent, sometimes as a child and sometimes in a more amorphous spiritual sense.

What a load of hooey.

In the Bible we see Jesus talking to our heavenly Father all the time, and he never gives the impression that he’s just putting on an act and talking to himself. In fact, just the opposite. And the same goes for how he relates to the Holy Spirit. It comes across quite clearly in the passages concerning Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12-13.)

These are not the words of someone who is talking about himself in two modes. That would be as ridiculous as the dialog I had above with my neighbor. This is someone talking about another person.

Jesus spoke a lot about the Holy Spirit as well that night, like this:

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:25-26.)

He didn’t say he was going to come back to them as a Spirit, nor that he was the one sending them the Spirit. He said he was going away and the Father would send the Spirit. Again, nothing modal about this.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not just the same person** acting in three different ways. They are the Three-in-One Trinity, and while this may be a mystery of sorts*** that doesn’t make God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit any less real, any less One and any less the great I Am.****

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14.)

Amen.

***

*Some definitions might help:

Sequential Modalism (as opposed to the concurrent modalism shown in my imagined dialog with that neighbor above):

…taught that the three persons of the Trinity [are] different “modes” of the Godhead. Adherants believed that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God’s self-revelation. A typical modalist approach is to regard God as the Father in creation, the Son in redemption, and the Spirit in sanctification. In other words, God exists as Father, Son and Spirit in different eras, but never as triune. (Monergism.org.)

Trinity:

The term designating one God in three persons. Although not itself a biblical term, “the Trinity” has been found a convenient designation for the one God self-revealed in Scripture as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It signifies that within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three “persons” who are neither three gods on the one side, nor three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell–Editor, p.1112). (Cited at Monergism.org.)

**The use of the word “person” can confuse some people into tritheism, which is not orthodox trinitarianism and should be avoided just as diligently as modalism:

Tritheism confesses the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three independent divine beings; three separate gods who share the ‘same substance’. This is a common mistake because of misunderstanding of the use of the term ‘persons’ in defining the Trinity. (Monergism.org.)

*** Augustine said, “In no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” To help clear up the mystery a bit, you might like to read this article by R.C. Sproul.

****More of my take on Trinitarian doctrine (and some humor) is in my post Counting to Three.

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Courthouses, Heaven and Coming Home

When I became a judge 20 years ago, they had no place for me.

Literally.

I was the eighth judge in a seven judge courthouse, and that meant there was no courtroom for me. They also had no chambers for me – the office space for me and a clerk to handle the paper side of being a judge.

The courthouse I moved into 20 years ago. (Wikimedia.)

The courthouse I moved into in 1995. (Wikimedia)

It reminds me a little of Jesus telling people about what it’s like to follow him:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58.)

Jesus actually did have a place to lay his head. That is, if he wanted to give up on being the Messiah he could have gone home to Nazareth and returned to the carpenter’s shop and lived out his days as a craftsman. But in order to fulfill his role as the Messiah, the Son of Man who is God in the flesh, he left that behind and pursued the will of his Heavenly Father.

That’s like what happened to me when I was appointed to the bench. No, not to become some sort of messiah but to pursue an opportunity to serve as a public official. In doing so I left a partnership in an established law firm, my  corner office with large windows, the car allowance that came with it. And I went to a courthouse that had no room for me.

When Jesus went on the road, he found people ready to take him in at times. He’d stay with friends like Peter (Matthew 8:14-15) and the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. (Luke 10:38-42, John 12:1-2.) Sometimes he’d find himself in homes of people he just met, like the tax collectors Levi (Mark 2:14-15) and Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10.)

The people at the courthouse took me in too. There was one empty space where they placed a desk and a telephone for me to use. It wasn’t exactly a judge’s chambers so I didn’t have space for a clerk to handle my files. I also still had no courtroom, so I used whichever one was empty at any given time. Another judge took a vacation day? I was in their courtroom first thing that morning. Someone went to a judicial education class? Ditto. And when there wasn’t a spare courtroom? I used the Board of Supervisor’s public meeting room in the county building next door and held court there.

So I found space, or should I say that court administration found space for me, to hold court and do my job. You might think this wouldn’t be too bad for the short term, and you’d be right.

It wasn’t short term.

I was without a courtroom and chambers for over a year. But they eventually constructed a courtroom and chamber out of some office space and sixteen months after I was sworn in as a judge I moved into my own chambers and courtroom, complete with space for a clerk to do her work as well. If you look at the courthouse picture above, our windows are one floor above the main steps, looking out through the columns. It was worth the wait.

As you can imagine, though, the courthouse itself was getting awfully crowded. It was built in 1917 to house two courtrooms and other offices, and every judge added since then has required finding space to carve out another courtroom and chambers. We are now up to eleven judges and for years have had to rent space in nearby office buildings and place modular units down the block to house makeshift courtrooms, chambers and support offices.

Until now.

A New Home

The need for a new courthouse has been clear for a long time, but we couldn’t make plans until a few years ago. Finally the Legislature found a way to fund new construction, and after years of searching for a location, hiring an architect, and watching the construction firms dig a hole in the ground and raise a building up out of it, we have a new courthouse.

The new courthouse (California Courts Website)

My chambers are at the top left, to the rear.
(California Courts Website)

Again, this reminds me of Jesus.

It’s not that I remember Jesus’ own experience this time, but what he said about a new home for his people.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3.)

Why do we need a new place to dwell? As Paul explained, Jesus came not only to save his people but so “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21.) This liberation comes through the new creation, the new heaven and earth.

John, who was there when Jesus told his closest friends about his Father’s house and going to prepare a place for them all, decades later saw the vision of what this would really look like.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5.)

I waited sixteen months for a courtroom and chambers, and twenty years for a courthouse where people are not carving out space just to have room to get the job done. But even this new courthouse will soon be too small, too outdated, too inadequate.

The home Jesus is preparing for me will never need replacing. So waiting for Jesus to take me to his Father’s house, a perfect home, in his good time doesn’t seem that hard a wait. Still, as John said at the end of his book of visions:

“Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20.)

I am waiting eagerly for my new home.

***

The Sacramento Bee Newspaper asked me to speak in a one minute video about the importance of building courthouses right. The shots of marble and stained glass are in the old building while the broad expanses of glass and steel are in the new one. They are both beautiful courthouses, as the snowscape of the old courthouse shows (from the one time 9 years ago we had snow stick to the ground), as well as this photo of the new courthouse by night.

court snowIMG_2199

***

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Moses Preached the Gospel of Jesus to the Israelites

One of the most relied upon passages for evangelism is Romans 10:9.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The Resurrection of Christ, Noel Coypel 1700 (Wikimedia)

Declaring for all to hear what is truly in your heart is a mark of sincere faith. But this concept goes back over 1000 years before Jesus was born.

Old Testament Gospel

Consider Moses. He gave an interesting sermon to the Israelites shortly before he died. He spoke at length of the ways of God and that all they needed to do was follow those ways in order to prosper as God’s people in their new land. The interesting part comes when he spoke of how they could know God’s ways in their own lives.

It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:12-14.)

Moses Receiving the Law, William Blake 1780 (Wikimedia)

Moses Receiving the Law, William Blake 1780 (Wikimedia)

This was radical thinking for people used to religions with gods who kept their distance. Moses said that God’s word was given to them not only in their mouths so they could repeat it as if it were a memorized school lesson, but also in their hearts as if it were a sustainer of life. And in a very real way it is, since the word of God is produced by the Word himself, Jesus.

Moses’ sermon led to the letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, the one that contains that line above about believing and declaring.

But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:6-11.)

Paul told the people in Rome that Moses was speaking of more than merely following the laws God gave the ancient Israelites. Moses was speaking of relationship with God for everyone, whether Jewish and under the Mosaic covenant or non-Jewish and not under the laws Israel was required to follow in order to receive blessings as the earthly nation of God’s people.

The New Testament Gospel for Jews and Non-Jews Alike

In essence, Paul said to those who came from Jewish homes and those who were not Jewish that this promise of God’s word and righteousness living in them was for both of them, and receiving God’s blessing was not dependent on following the laws God gave the Israelites. Paul concluded this passage with the assurance:

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13.)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) (Wikipedia)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)
(Wikipedia)

What does this lack of difference mean? It means that Jews and Gentiles both come to Christ the same way, through Jesus’ righteousness. This is clearly seen if you back up in Romans 10 a bit. Paul begins this passage by pointing out the mistake of continuing to try to have a relationship with God by following the laws given to Moses and the nation of Israel.

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4.)

When Paul said “Christ is the culmination of the law” he left no room for anyone to say “Yes, but I still need to follow the Jewish laws because I was born Jewish” or “Yes, but I still have to follow some of the Old Testament laws now that I’m a Christian.” Rather:

  • Righteousness is found in Jesus and this righteousness belongs to everyone who believes in him.
  • Salvation is not found in Old Testament laws but in Jesus.

Paul’s point in referring to Moses’ sermon is to show that this is nothing new. Rather, Moses told the Israelites long ago that righteousness is a gift God gives them in their hearts that they can declare with their mouths. And this is the way for non-Jews as well. Whether Jew or Gentile, believing in your heart that Jesus rose from the dead and declaring with words that Jesus is Lord is the sign of Jesus’ righteousness in you, that you belong to Jesus and have received his salvation.

Moses sure could preach the gospel of Christ, couldn’t he?

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Why Your Story Matters to Jesus

[From the archives.]

We Need Stories

I’m a Jane Austen fan. Her novels, her short stories, her letters. I’m a fan of adaptations too, whether taken directly from her work (Emma Thompson rocked the script for Sense and Sensibility and won a well-deserved Oscar for it) or a modern spin (we’ve watched Clueless more than once at our house).

I’m also a fan of the latest Pride and Prejudice adaptation: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. This video blog is the cleverest modern take on Austen I’ve ever seen. Lizzie Bennet as social media vlogger? Yes, it can be done, and done so well that you forget the plot was originally written over 200 years ago. Today marks the finale, and I will miss this series greatly.

One of the main reasons for its success is Ashley Clements, the person cast in the title role. She carries the heavy burden of being Elizabeth Bennet, perhaps the most read heroine in 19th c. British literature, and makes it look like a natural fit. You can watch the videos for yourself to see what I mean.

What I’d like to point out here, though, is the fact that Ms. Clements herself is worth admiring if for no other reason than a recent post on her blog.* Some of her fans told her that they’d been going through hard things and even, though they thought it might sound silly, found comfort in knowing they could always stop by for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on Mondays and Thursdays for the latest installments.

Ms. Clements told them she understood completely:

We need stories. Stories are important. There is nothing silly or dumb about relating to them and feeling attached to them. They help us see ourselves and others in new ways. They help us feel our feelings. They make us laugh when we feel low. They help us realize dreams and conquer fears. They give us a fuller understanding of the world.

There is so much more she said in that very short post, and you can read every golden word of it here.

A Fuller Understanding

It’s a powerful tool, story-telling. In the hands of a master, as Austen proved so well, it can grab a person for life. In the hand of The Master, it can be life-changing.

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35.)

Why do we resonate with story so much? C.S. Lewis said:

To be stories at all they must be a series of events: but it must be understood that this series – the plot as we call it – is only really a net whereby to catch something else. The real theme may be, and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state or quality.  (On Stories, 1947.)

In story after story, Jesus spoke of this “something other”, of things like love, greed, comfort and hypocrisy. He told stories that are more than memorable; they are a call to action, a call to faith, a call to turn to the one who is the very Word himself.

Story. Everybody has one. And each of our stories – yours, mine, everyone’s – is part of the Master Storyteller’s story. What is the real theme (as Lewis put it) of your story in his?

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Looking Backward Moves You Forward

Objects in Mirror are Closer than they Appear

It’s a long drive from northern California to San Diego. The radio station that came in strong during one stretch of open road played Christian music with the DJs telling humorous stories or sharing uplifting Bible verses between songs. The station lived up to its motto of being positive and encouraging.

But one of the efforts to encourage – while sincere and enthusiastic – took a wrong turn.

“Do you know why your rearview mirror is so small and your windshield is so large?” asked the radio voice. “It’s because where you’re going is infinitely more important than where you’ve been.”

Wrong on two counts.

First, when it comes to a car’s design the rear view mirror is as big as it needs to be to give you a look out the back window of the car. If it were larger it wouldn’t show you any more of the traffic coming up behind you, but it would get in the way of seeing what is coming up on the road ahead.

Second, from a theological standpoint the analogy breaks down quickly. The radio voice was trying to apply the mirror/windshield set-up to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi where he spoke of his past, listing his credentials in an effort to show that when it came to worldly reputation he had as much a claim to being highly regarded as anyone. Then he looked to his future and said:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14.)

He essentially said that all his worldly credentials were bunk compared to what is given him in Jesus. Hence his statement that he forgets what is behind and looks forward to the goal Jesus promises him. But he never said not to remember the past because the future is supposedly “infinitely more important.” That would be unbiblical.

In fact, the Bible teaches that remembering where you’ve come from is extremely important.

Understanding the Road You’re On

Paul himself said the past is worth remembering.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12.)

The past is important, he went on to say, because it provides context for the present reality under the New Covenant:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13.)

Remembering the past helps you understand who you are in Christ right now.

Should you live in the past? No, the Bible doesn’t teach that. Your thoughts of the past should be the proper size: large enough to show you where you’ve come from but not so large as to obscure your view of where you are now and where you’re going.

There’s nothing wrong with a well-positioned rearview mirror. After all, a proper focus on the past, present and future glorifies God because they all reveal your relationship with him – what he has done for you, what he is doing in your life, and what he has in store for you for eternity.

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A Plea To The Gospel Coalition: living up to your name

Coalitions are best able to pursue their goal when widely based. When a group chooses to use the word coalition in its title, it conveys the sense that the group is choosing to join with a broad spectrum of other groups or individuals in order to pursue their common goal.

Coalition: n. An alliance or union between groups, factions or parties, esp. for some temporary and specific reason.
***
Word origin and history for coalition: n. “the growing together of parts,” from French coalition (1540s), from Late Latin coalitus “fellowship,” originally past participle  of Latin coalescere (see coalesce). First used in a political sense 1715.
(Dictionary.com.)

That’s why a coalition for the gospel sounds like such a good idea. It suggests a coalition of groups or individuals all focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ: studying it, supporting it, and sharing the good news with the world.

What is this gospel? Here are some passages that describe the good news found in Jesus:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners … . (1 timothy 1:15.)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … . But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus … . (Ephesians 2:1, 4-6.)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1.)

And as Jesus proclaimed this good news about himself:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19.)

A coalition formed to promote this gospel already exists, of course, but it’s not an organization. It’s an organism.

The Body of Christ

The church is the organism Jesus created to share the good news of who he is and what he has done. That is not to say that the church cannot have organizations within it. Denominations and parachurch groups have their place. But they should not confuse themselves for the Body of Christ itself.

And that’s what disturbed me when I read a recent posting from The Gospel Coalition regarding its latest directory of member churches.

1. Add your church. We invite you to add your church to our online church directory so that individuals in your area can find your church. The one requirement is that your church agrees in full with TGC’s Foundation Documents. If you affirm these documents, please feel free to add your church.

***

4. Report a church that doesn’t align with TGC’s Foundation Documents. If you find a church that doesn’t seem to be in alignment with TGC, we ask that you’d let us know. You can do so by clicking the “Report” link next to each listing. (From 5 Ways You Can Use TGC’s New Church Directory.)

The “Foundation Documents” linked in the first point leads off with this opening line in the Preamble:

We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition … .

A congregation that pursues the gospel but is not both evangelical and in the Reformed tradition cannot be part of the coalition, since such a church would not agree “in full” with the Foundation Documents.

The Confessional Statement (the second of the three Foundation Documents) requires a complementarian doctrinal stance:

God ordains … the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, … [t]he distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.

A congregation that pursues the gospel but holds to egalitarian doctrine regarding the roles of men and women, wives and husbands, cannot be part of the coalition because it also does not agree “in full” with the Foundation Documents..

These distinctions found in the Preamble and Confessional Statement, as Dee Parsons pointed out, are better suited for a denomination than a coalition when they are made a measure of membership.

Yet there is hope for the group to truly be a coalition, and it is found in the third Foundation Document: the Theological Vision for Ministry. There is much wisdom in this document as a general outline of what effective gospel ministry can look like, and the statements that speak of the gospel are powerful and orthodox while not being narrow nor bringing in extraneous matter. It is written broadly enough to encompass congregations from Reformed and non-Reformed backgrounds, to allow for complementarian and egalitarian doctrine, and would even join together those who fall into the “King James Only” camp alongside those that have no particular translation in mind for their congregants.

This ministry vision is where the true coalition could be found. If those who pursue, promote and proclaim the gospel agree on the broadly stated TGC ministry vision without insisting on agreement on each and every position in the Preamble or Confessional Statement, they can join together in focusing on the gospel.

Of course, there are those who insist that Reformed doctrine and complementarianism are the gospel. Some of those people will even say that egalitarians or non-Reformed doctrine holders are not Christians. Happily, such people are not only wrong but they are in a minority, and I would hope The Gospel Coalition would want to separate itself from such schismatic talk.

That doesn’t mean that people who think you need to be Reformed (as I am) and complementarian (as I am not) in order to focus on the gospel can’t form an organization and then exclude those who don’t hold to their beliefs. It’s just that the organization wouldn’t be a coalition.

The gospel, as the passages quoted above and many more found in the Bible state, is about Jesus freeing people from sin and reconciling them to God and joining him in eternal fellowship.

Whether you are John Calvin, John Wesley or John the son of Zebedee, this is the gospel message proclaimed by the church from the beginning. Let us not be like the Corinthians who separated themselves into factions depending on which teacher they most identified with:

Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. (1 Corinthians 3:3-5.)

Let us instead:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6.)

This is what a coalition for the gospel really looks like.

***

[For those who like to know these things, this is my 1000th post. Let there be great rejoicing.]

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The Secret to Being a Good Listener

Listening well is not my strong suit. It’s a professional requirement, but it doesn’t come easy. Whether at work or with friends, my natural bent is not steering me toward any Listener of the Year awards.

Speaking of friends, we have one who is a really good listener so I’ve tried to follow her model. Here’s what I saw her do once when my wife was telling her about a particularly difficult day:

“Oh yes, that’s hard … Hmmm … Wow, what did you say next? … And then what happened? … I’m so sorry to hear that … Oh yes, that’s hard … Hmmm … Wow, what did you say next … [etc.] …”

At least that’s how it sounded to me. So I tried doing that next chance I had.

How did that go again? “Oh yes, that’s hard … Hmmm … Wow, what did you say next? … I’m so sorry that happened … Oh yes, that’s hard … Hmmm …”

It sounded stiff to me, but I kept at it and after a while it wasn’t so stiff. In fact, I started to sound – to myself anyway – as if I was actually engaging with the person talking to me. And the more I modeled my friend’s sincere behavior, the more sincere I got in being able to listen well. I still probably won’t win any awards, but I’m better at it than I used to be.

God’s Modeling

We’re clay. You knew that right? God’s the potter and we’re the clay and he gets to decide what he’s making us into.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8.)

So what does that mean for God’s people under the New Covenant? It means being modeled on Christ himself:

We all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18.)

This modeling, though, is not of our own doing, but is the work of God himself, because:

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6.)

God models clay still, and he won’t stop working on us until he’s completed that work.

Been Made Brand New

The great thing about God’s eternity is that we are not only being made new, but we are already made new, righteously new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here! … God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21.)

Two truths jump out at me in that passage:

  1. Because we are in Christ, we are completely new.
  2. Because of what Christ has completely done, we have become the righteousness of God.

God, the master potter, models his clay perfectly well. What a modeling job.

I’m glad I’m in the Potter’s hands.

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Why is the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Targeting My Kids?

When Target was asked why it had a toy aisle with the signs “building sets” and “girls’ building sets” it did the sensible thing: it decided labeling toys as belonging solely to boys or girls was unnecessary.

Yet the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood does not agree this is at all sensible.  CBMW’s Executive Director Grant Castleberry wrote:

Over the weekend, Target became the next corporate power, after Amazon, to rid themselves of all gender designations and labels for children’s toys and bedding.

In the corporate rush to not be the company behind the ever-moving gender eight ball, all it seems to take is a few social-media punches from disgruntled, progressive customers, and companies are swift to jump on the winding, zigzag gender line.

The problem is, the line keeps moving and twisting, and in this case, disappearing.

I disagree.

The problem is not that there is a gender line that keeps moving and twisting, but that such a line has never existed in the first place. Or if it has, it is a social construct rather than based on a person’s sex. Mr. Castleberry, on the other hand, insists that these constructs are not cultural but Biblical:

The Bible teaches that men are wired by God to protect and to pursue, so it is not surprising that they naturally like toys that by-and-large involve fighting, building, and racing. Women, on the other hand, are wired by God to nurture and to be pursued, so it is also not surprising that they largely enjoy playing with American Girl Dolls, Barbies, and Disney princess dresses.

Where does the Bible teach that men are wired one way and women another? Mr. Castleberry never says. I think that’s because the Bible doesn’t actually teach this gender wiring.

But let’s put his assertion to the test. I have both a son and a daughter who are now young adults. Allow me to list alternating aspects of each of their experiences.

(a) This child flew to the other side of the world to serve in a developing nation while still a teen, going through all training and travel without either of us parents coming along.

(b) This child served in the nursery ministry at church and worked as a babysitter to earn extra money in High School.

(a) This child enjoyed running through the playground playing tag.

(b) This child enjoyed girls’ birthday parties for classmates from elementary school.

(a) This child was on the music team in college ministry.

(b) This child volunteered to work at Vacation Bible School.

(a) This child bravely decided to attend a university at the other end of California straight out of High School.

(b) This child took advanced placement calculus in High School.

(a) This child served at an inner city rescue mission in one of the roughest parts of San Francisco while still a teen.

(b) This child traveled with the church youth group to a small village in Mexico to play with children.

Now tell me, would you label experiences (a) as masculine or feminine? What about experiences (b)? It’s important to get the label right so you can then correctly identify which of my children is the one who did items labeled (a) and which did (b).

Got it yet?

Answer: my son and my daughter are each child (a) and (b) because everything listed comes from experiences both of them had, sometimes together but more often separately. Which goes to show that labeling a child’s or teen’s choice of activities as either masculine or feminine would not only be unhelpful, but would be a disservice to the child.

More than Masculine and Feminine

Contrary to CBMW’s position, we are not called to be masculine or feminine. These are notions that change with each society over not only time but also distance. After all, how many men do you see greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek as Paul repeatedly instructed them to do? (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26.) He’s not the only apostle to issue this instruction either:

Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Peter 5:14.)

It might be very common in some parts of the world still, but I imagine CBMW would consider it unmanly if starting this Sunday it were taken up in American churches as a regular greeting among the men. Yet if CBMW is going to promote behavior with clear Scriptural support it would be men kissing one another. (Some might even say men kissing men is mandated based on its apostolic pedigree.)

We don’t have to worry about that, though, because our call is to something much higher than merely trying to appear masculine or feminine:

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24.)

We are created to be like God. No amount of labeling in a toy aisle or at CBMW will change that.

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Not a Tame God

In Job 41, God asks a rather odd question. Not odd as in nonsense, but odd in that it is one of the most thought-provoking passages in the whole book.

Keep in mind as you read these few verses that Leviathan represents the most fearsome sea creature imaginable. Also, try to keep track of the many suggestions for taming and domesticating the sea monster God lays out.

“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
    or tie down its tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through its nose
    or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it keep begging you for mercy?
    Will it speak to you with gentle words?
Will it make an agreement with you
    for you to take it as your slave for life?
Can you make a pet of it like a bird
    or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
Will traders barter for it?
    Will they divide it up among the merchants?
Can you fill its hide with harpoons
    or its head with fishing spears?
If you lay a hand on it,
    you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
Any hope of subduing it is false;
    the mere sight of it is overpowering.
No one is fierce enough to rouse it. (Job 41:1-10.)

Gustave Doré - Destruction of Leviathan (as prophesied in Isaiah 27:1)

Gustave Doré – Destruction of Leviathan
(see Isaiah 27:1)

Anyone thinking they have a way to tame that monster is living in a false hope, God says. But what is his point?

It’s found in the very next question God poses.

    Who then is able to stand against me?
Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
    Everything under heaven belongs to me. (Job 41:10-11.)

The book of Job consists in large part of speeches where many times the speaker seems to want to form God in his own image. As Job suffers, his friends tell him it’s because God has judged him worthy of punishment, that this is who God is in Job’s life: a punisher. Job repeatedly proclaims his conduct not deserving of punishment, and says if he only had an audience with God he’d tell God how unfair he’s being.

God’s reference to Leviathan is designed to set them all straight.

These men can’t even subdue and train a fellow creature. How can they hope to tame God and train the Creator to answer them the way they want, to speak comforting words at their behest?

They can’t.

As C.S. Lewis wrote of the Christ figure in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is “not like a tame lion.” God is not ours to mold and manipulate. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8.)

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:21.)

God’s thoughts and ways and purposes are unsearchable, unknowable, beyond our limited ability to comprehend. (Romans 11:33.) But that is not to say we cannot know God in our limitations. Jesus is the way to understand God, as he assured his friends.

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9.)

And one day we will know fully, without limitation, all that God wants us to know.

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12.)

This is your assurance: the One who knows you fully now will give you full understanding when you stand in his presence. And he won’t fit your limited image of him. To the contrary, you will instead fit his.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2.)

Admit it. This is much better than fruitlessly trying to tame God and domesticate him for your own personal needs.

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Social Media Activists – an outrageous analysis

outrage

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Love is patient, love is kind.
1 Corinthians 13:4

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