Jesus, As Sufferer – 2 Tim 2:1-7

In one of my seminary classes, I have been studying the letter of 2 Timothy, and I recently decidedly to write my final paper on one of the paragraphs in the letter, 2 Timothy 2:1-7. It’s a short, but familiar passage where the apostle Paul encourages ‘timid’ Timothy to be strong in God’s grace amidst the trying times of the Christianity-persecuting Roman Empire.

I’ll keep the structure of the blog pretty simple. I’ll put the text directly below this, and then I’ll hash out some gospel implications found in the text that I find quite inspiring. Here’s 2 Timothy 2:1-7, check it out:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

When you approach any text in the Bible, the first thing you should think of is ‘how does this passage fit into the redemptive storyline of the entire Bible?’ and then ‘how does gospel-rendering of the text enrich this specific passage?’ That’s kind of what I want to do here—look for the ways that this text relates to Jesus, and see how it’s relation to Jesus enriches the meaning of this passage altogether.

First, in verses 1-2, Paul encourages Timothy ‘be strengthened’ by the grace of Christ and ‘to entrust’ the message of the gospel to reliable, faithful men. Two commands. But in order to not treat these two commands as simply commands (and to therefore become legalistic in your approach), instead think of the indicatives that precede and motivate these commands. First, Jesus was entirely strengthened by God to complete the mission of God. True, he was God, but he was also human, and he relied entirely on the Father for enabling grace in his human condition. Likewise, as people who aren’t also God, how much more should we depend entirely on God’s enabling grace to complete the mission of God? And second, Jesus is the ultimate example who entrusted the gospel message to reliable, faithful men; he chose 12 disciples and invested in them. In fact, Christians in North Carolina and in Hong Kong and Beijing and Mexico City are Christians because Jesus invested in those 12 men. Therefore, our command to entrust the gospel message and invest in others isn’t a really command ‘to do’ for Jesus, but an encouragement to follow in what he has already done.

But verses 3-7 are where the gospel especially shines through in a brilliant way. Take some time to rehash those verses. Three illustrations: soldier, athlete, and farmer—behind each of these illustrations is the basic encouragement to endure the suffering because the reward is greater. Indeed, a ‘gospel’ rendering of the text might suggest that Jesus is the ultimate example of the soldier, athlete, and farmer whom we are to follow after all.

As a soldier, even though Jesus was the general, he forsook all his justified comfort and luxury and lovingly went on the front line to absorb the blow for all of us. Therefore, how much more should we lovingly go into the front lines for the mission of the world, sacrificing the pithy luxury we have here, which will fade and which we can’t take to heaven anyways? No, the investments we make here are the ones we will see and cherish forever.

As an athlete, even though Jesus was God, he humbled himself as a human, to experience the most intense ‘training’ of life. He experienced all temptation and every kind of discomfort of life, and overcame. He competed according to the rules of righteousness, and because he obeyed in every way and never failed to sin, he won the prize of complete righteousness before God. Yet, thankfully, he graciously offers that prize of his life—righteousness, complete right standing with God—to all who trust in him and join his team, so to speak.

As a farmer, even though Jesus could have refused to toil for our redemption, he decided to undergo constant toil to cultivate a ripe harvest of salvation for us all, which he bids us to participate and rejoice in. Truly, it was his blood that was poured out for us all that watered the crop of salvation. He didn’t have to subject himself to such toil, pain, grief, and loneliness, but he did it so that we wouldn’t have to toil for our own salvation and fail. In fact, just like a scarecrow in the garden wards off birds and animals that steal from the fruit of the garden, so also does the hanging Christ on the tree secure the garden of life and righteousness and damn Satan’s attempts of destroying the inevitable harvest of his blood.

Christians aren’t called to be ‘soldiers, athletes, and farmers’ in our own strength for the mission of God. No, we are called to follow Jesus’ example that ultimately saved us, went before us, and now empowers us.

Remember, Christians, you fellow ‘soldiers, athletes, and farmers’ who are called to suffer for God:

Jesus suffered the most and sacrificed the most in human history for you to accomplish the greatest victory for you. And now, He is calling you to suffer a little bit so that you can lay hold of his victory too. Truly, without Jesus’ suffering, we would never be able to know the extent of his love for us. And without our suffering, the world will never be able to know the extent of our love for Him. When we suffer, it is our instinct to blame God. Yet, we so often forget that God willingly suffered MOST for us in Christ, absorbing our blame against Him.

Your suffering is a megaphone to the listening world. Suffering has a way of revealing what is most important to you—suffering brings everything to the top to see. Like a teabag, your real ‘flavor’ comes out in hot water. So when we are poured out, what do people ‘taste’? What’s the main essence of our life? Your suffering reveals it. When you suffer, how do you react, where do you go? When you get cut open, what pours out of you? Bitterness or hope? Knowing Jesus first as our great sufferer who promises that our suffering is not vain IS the empowerment for enduring suffering in a way that glorifies Christ and sweetens our joy in Him.

When we suffer for Christ, we share in the suffering of Christ. Remember that He isn’t ever calling us to do something for Him that He hasn’t already done for us. Remember that you have never suffered something that He hasn’t suffered either.

“If Christ be God and died for me, then there is no sacrifice that is too great for me to make for Him.” —CT Studd

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Direction & Joy – Psalm 16

One of my favorite psalms–and quite possibly my favorite–is Psalm 16. Over the years, I have gone back to it many times. I go to it when I struggle with sin; I go to it when I look for guidance; I go to it when I need relational advice; and I go to it when I have difficulty trusting in God and in his good, pleasing, and perfect plans.

The title of this psalm is You Will Not Abandon My Soul. Indeed, this theme of God’s faithfulness and goodness speaks not just to matters of salvation, but to every situation—relational, vocational, financial, emotional, and spiritual—where we feel like He is losing us or we are losing Him.

The first two verses and the last two verses of this great psalm truly bookend and contextualize the overall meaning conveyed throughout all 11 verses. The first two verses proclaim that we have no good apart from God, which means that He alone is good can be an adequate and sufficient refuge for us through life—in the good and the bad. And the last two verses actually amplify this message even more explicitly, saying how true and full joy are assured promises from the One who only can save us from the penalty, power, and presence of sin after all. These ‘bookends’ of the psalm pervasively imbue a significant perspective throughout the verses ‘sandwhiched’ in between.

Verses 3 and 4 speak about the significance of relationships in life, specifically the importance and necessity of godly relationships. The two verses are artfully written, for it seems like that psalmist is creating a contrast between godly friends and ungodly friends. The psalmist’s contrast reveals that the main difference between godly and ungodly friends is the potential level of delight that will ultimately be afforded. “The saints of the land” give delight, for truly, they are connected and vitalized by the One in whom all true delight resides. On the other hand, the ungodly run after things that will ultimately fade and bring ruin. While the godly are supported by the Lord’s constant source of joy, the ungodly have no other choice but to pursue after things that will multiply sorrow. If we were made for God, then making ‘ other things’ our functional savior will never work, but only make us worse off.

Furthermore, verses 5-9 makes a compelling argument about how the Source of all Joy also is the Source of all direction, which is not unrelated to our experience of ultimate joy and direction after all. God gives us counsel in addition to the longings of our hearts, which is not mutually exclusive if our ultimate delight is in Him. Truly, God holds your heart, your direction, your purpose, and your destiny—all with ultimately loving and joyful intentions in mind.

Many times it seems like direction and joy are diametrically opposing ideas in the sense that we must ‘figure out direction’ and ‘get direction right’ in order to then claim the ‘joy’ that allegedly lies ahead. I know I’ve felt this way. However, it seems that this psalm is arguing for not the exact opposite, but certainly nothing less than that. Meaning, God in his sovereignty melds direction and joy sometimes in the furnace of suffering and uncertainty. God treats direction not as a prerequisite for joy, but direction as part of joy. In other words, joy is not just achieved in the destination, but is achievable in the direction of the progression. In light of a completely loving and sovereign God, joy isn’t the reward I get after correctly figuring out a puzzle of direction. In light of the God of Joy and Direction, walking with him infuses direction with joy and joy with direction. Walking with the God of Joy and Direction means joy becomes the journey and the destination.

That truth empowers vitality to my paralyzed bones of insecurities. That truth breathes life into my weary, confused spirit. That truth encourages me to risk with delight instead of to wait with doubt. I can jump out of the plane of uncertainty with the assurance that God is not only my unfailing parachute, but that he is also my ever-guiding source of wind. The reality of a God of Joy and Direction who takes redemptive interest in insignificant and rebellious like me is empowering… and it gives me both joy and direction.

To conclude, the theme of joy and direction in this psalm artfully speaks to all circumstantial and situational experiences of life because it emphasizes a God of Joy and Direction who woos us in every circumstance and situation to fall back, trust, and enjoy His own joy and direction throughout the process.

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Providence & Promise – The Head & The Heart

What do you do when it seems like there are incredible blessings that God has purposefully placed in your life, but it also seems like He is leading you to let them go? How does one make sense of that? Why should it be that way?

It’s complex. It’s complicated. It’s frustrating. It doesn’t make sense.

It makes you doubt why God gave it to you in the first place.

It makes you speculate why God caused it to happen after all.

What do you do when the complexities of the heart and the mind are intermixed at such a high level of ambiguity and uncertainty, and yet you have to make a decision—not only for yourself, but also for others who are equally affected? What do you do? Where is your guidance? Is there an encyclopedia that specifically tells what to do when ‘Situation 403-A’ happens?

What do you do when you want something and/or want to want something, or when you long for something and/or when you long to long for something, and yet there is an inexplicable ‘something’ that restrains you from what you desire most?

Have any of you ever experienced something like this? I haven’t really experienced anything like this until I graduated from college. Relationships. Vocation. Finances. Future.

It was no coincidence that I ‘decided’ to start reading through the book of Genesis around October and finished in December. I had no idea how many stories in the book of Genesis specifically relate to what I have just described. Noah. Abraham. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. All of these figures’ lives look like roller coasters on steroids. Ironically—and providentially—it’s interesting to note that each of these major figures went through situations where they were given a desire, given a promise, given the fulfillment of that desire and promise, and then it looked like God stripped it away from them—yet, only so that God could later give them the truer and better fulfillment of that desire, promise, and gift all along.

Let’s just rehash some of these stories so we can take a better look at what I’m trying to get at:

Noah followed after God’s call to build an ark, even when it made no sense. He didn’t want to do the incredibly ‘stupid’ thing according to all standards of logic in his day. But he felt like God was leading him to do so, and so he did it anyways. He built a massive ark to preserve groups of life forms. Amidst the humiliation and discouragement from everyone around him, Noah did what he felt like God was calling him to do. Do you think Noah ever doubted this call? Of course. Maybe it was just all in his head. Maybe he was making it up. It didn’t make sense, so how did he know? Noah did it anywhere, against all logic. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Noah was blessed. God promised to never flood the earth again, and God used Noah and his family to repopulate it. Through the process of uncertainty and illogic, God was stretching Noah’s trust and dependency on him. God’s will of uncertainty for Noah was seasonally specific to his overall promise for Noah—and all of humankind for that matter. This ‘uncertain’ will of God looked completely contradictory to this ‘certain’ promise of God—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Noah’s trusting of God’s sovereignty kept him afloat through the storms of uncertainty. Noah didn’t sink. (Excuse the cheesiness)

Think about the life and story of Israel’s main patriarch, Abraham. God called Abraham out of his comfortable living to go somewhere. Where? Abraham wasn’t told and he didn’t know where. God just told him to go. So he went. In the process, God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation and that he would have children. Abraham and his wife were way too old to have children, yet God miraculously gave them one child, Isaac, when they were both over the age of 90. God came through; he delivered upon his promise. God blessed them with what their hearts yearned for most. But when Isaac was a teenager, God told Abraham to take Isaac up to a mountain and to offer him as a sacrifice. What? Why? God promised to make Abraham a great nation, and he miraculously gave them one son as proof that He had, and was making good upon, that promise. Now God is calling Abraham to sacrifice this ‘providential’ promise? This goes against all that Abraham had wanted and all that could possibly make logical sense. Was Abraham even hearing God correctly? Why did he feel this way? Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Abraham was blessed. God provided a ram in the thicket to take the place of the sacrifice instead of Isaac. God was stretching Abraham’s trust and dependency upon him. God’s will for Abraham was seasonally specific to his overall promise for Abraham. This ‘uncertain’ will of God looked completely contradictory to this ‘certain’ promise of God—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Abraham’s trusting of God’s sovereignty kept him active in the ambiguity of uncertainty. Abraham didn’t become paralyzed.

Think about Israel’s other great patriarch, Jacob, too. Jacob was the younger son of Isaac, which culturally meant that Jacob would not receive the blessing of his father. However, Jacob felt like God had given him the blessing. He felt like the traditional blessing for the older brother was his calling and his promise from God. Those feelings that he had were not sinful. In fact, God had placed those feelings in him for a purpose because it was God’s will for him to receive the blessing. However, the obstacle of culture and the obstacle of his older brother and the obstacle of his father seemed to inevitably prevent this promise from occurring. Why were those obstacles there then? It was God’s will. What? If it was God’s will then those obstacles wouldn’t be there, right? Wrong. Logic was so at odds with what God had placed on Jacob’s heart. Therefore, Jacob had major uncertainty in God’s will. Was he just imagining God’s will for his life? Was he just making it up in his head? Did he think or feel a certain way that was uninformed, or in a way that he was mistaken? No, we all know that he wasn’t. Here’s the catch that is mind blowing: even though Jacob sinned against his father, and stole from his older brother, and rejected God’s moral will, somehow—in the amazing providence of God—that was part of it. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Jacob was blessed. Through Jacob’s running away, arguing with his lords, and having kids with women who were barren, God’s promise over Jacob’s life was nevertheless fulfilled. How? What? Why that way? That makes no logical sense. All of these factors sequenced a chain of events so insane that one could only credit the fulfillment of Jacob’s promise to God’s providence. God was stretching Jacob’s trust and dependency upon him. Jacob resisted and rebelled. But even so, the end result was the same. God’s will for Jacob (even though Jacob rejected God’s moral will) somehow did not contradict his overall promise for Jacob. As such, this ‘uncertain’ will of God looked completely contradictory to this ‘certain’ promise of God. We actually don’t even know how God’s will would have happened if Jacob followed God’s will—but nevertheless, God providentially worked it all out. The promise and the fulfillment was the same. Ironically, Jacob’s lack of trust in God’s sovereignty didn’t thwart God’s promise in the puzzlement of uncertainty. Jacob’s destiny was insured by God’s promise.

Think about Joseph, one of the most beloved characters in Genesis. Joseph—coincidentally just like Jacob—was the youngest of his family, which culturally meant that Joseph would not receive the blessing from his father. However, Joseph believed that God had placed a calling on his life to be the blessing for his family. He felt like God had given him a promise that he would be the leader and savior-figure over Israel. Once again, we find another situation where God’s call goes against all logic of the day. Joseph most definitely battled with this ‘direction’ of sorts, himself. He might have asked himself, “Is it God who has made me feel this way? And why?” He didn’t know. God didn’t tell him. It went against all his logic. And could you even imagine what Joseph’s older brothers said to him? They thought Joseph was psycho, a lunatic, and an arrogant dreamer. As we see in the story, Joseph was abandoned by his brothers and sold into slavery to Egypt. Joseph thought God’s promise for life was to be a ruler? He’s a slave right now. That doesn’t make sense at all. Then, while Joseph is slaving away at a wealthy home in Egypt, he gets falsely accused of raping a woman, and so he gets thrown into an Egyptian prison for years. Do you think Joseph doubted God’s promise? Maybe Joseph was making up all this stuff in his head after all. Surely, this wouldn’t all happen if God had place a specific promise over his life. It doesn’t make any sense. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Joseph was blessed. The slavery, the jail time, the abuse, the rejection, the unreasonableness of his logic, the unbelievable chances and sequences of events that all added up to make things the way that God wanted them to be was simply unreal—simply an attestation to God’s providence. All of those factors sequenced a chain of events so insane that one could only credit the fulfillment of Joseph’s promise to God’s providence. Through the process, however, God was stretching Joseph’s trust and dependency upon him. God’s ‘uncertain’ will for Joseph was seasonally specific to his overall ‘certain’ promise for Joseph. This will of God looked completely contradictory to this promise of God—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Joseph’s trusting of God’s sovereignty kept him hopeful in the hopelessness of uncertainty. Joseph didn’t grow helpless.

And finally, think about Moses, arguably the most significant figure in the entire Old Testament. God had put a divine calling on Moses’ life long before he was even born. It was in God’s providence that Moses would lead the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt. Providentially, in the massive abortions all over Egypt, baby Moses was miraculously kept alive because his sister floated him down a river that led into the Egyptian court where the princesses bathed. Moses providentially became adopted and grew up in Egyptian royalty, even though he was supposed to be killed at the order of Pharaoh. To much surprise, God providentially kept Moses alive in the good gracious of Pharaoh. Thus, because Moses grew up in royalty, it seems logical and natural to assume that God’s promise over Moses’ life would come to fulfillment. Through this platform, Moses would save the Israel. That seems logical, rational, and reasonable. Nope. There’s a massive plot twist. Moses flees from the kingdom in the fear of death because he murdered a guard out of anger. Did he just ruin God’s promise over his life? Moses is now abandoned in the wilderness with no chance of ever returning. In fact, he stays in complete desolation for 40 years. Do you think Moses doubted God’s promise over his life? Oh, yeah. Maybe Moses was just hearing voices or feeling funny all along. The whole ‘promise’ thing had to be a sham. Surely, this wouldn’t all happen if God had placed a specific promise over his life. It doesn’t make any sense. Uncertainty for 40 years in the wilderness must have reduced his hope to hopelessness. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Moses was blessed. The prior platform, the promise, the past, Moses’ skills and passion and connections, the wilderness, etc.—none of these things were wasted. Even though Moses murdered a guard, somehow it was in God’s will for him to be where he was, and sure enough, God was preparing him to lead the Israelites out of slavery. All of those factors sequenced a chain of events so insane that one could only credit the fulfillment of Moses’ promise to God’s providence. Through the process, God was stretching Moses’ trust and dependency upon him. God’s ‘uncertain’ will for Moses was seasonally specific to his overall ‘certain’ promise for Moses. This will of God looked completely contradictory to this promise of God in Moses’ life—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Moses’ trust in God’s sovereignty kept him confident in the confines of uncertainty. Moses didn’t become complacent.

What I am trying to highlight through those stories is this:

Uncertainty in a major area of life is scary. It just sucks. And it’s even worse when uncertainty plagues many—or even all—aspects of your life. Uncertainty undercuts the strongest, most valuable, and most dependable pillars you have built your life on. And it makes it seem like everything has fallen down because of it.

Just like these old characters in the book of Genesis, God has given each of us a specific desire, a specific promise, and a specific blessing to fulfill those desires. But sometimes it just isn’t ‘logical’ when he seems to prevent them from fully happening. Maybe it’s getting a girlfriend that you really liked that never would have happened otherwise without God’s blessing and grace. Maybe it’s getting a job you always wanted that never would have happened otherwise without God’s blessing and grace. But then, against every bit of logic and desire, ‘it’ seems unfit, for whatever reason. And you have to make a choice. And uncertainty sets in like a weight in your stomach.

This past year, and these past two weeks in specific, I have experienced more uncertainty at one time in my life than ever before. It’s awful. The problem is that it doesn’t affect just me, either. You are forced to make decisions. You are forced to make decisions that you don’t want to make. You are forced to make sacrifices that you don’t want to do. You are forced to do what you think is best. You are forced to interpret the circumstances as God’s glorifying will for this season of life. And you are also forced to hold on to the idea that God’s will for this season of life is not contradictory to—but actually a crucial part of—his overall promise for your life. Somehow this is part of God’s ‘uncertain’ will that is not working against his ‘certain’ promise over your life. Through these times, God is making us and changing us into people we couldn’t otherwise be. And through these times, God is leading us and bringing us to places that we couldn’t otherwise be, too.

Who knows how these wills of God will unfold. Maybe they are simple. Maybe they are complex. Maybe they will intersect. But if anything else, it gives me hope.

And while there is uncertainty in life in a zoomed-in view of the details, there is never uncertainty with God in a zoomed-out view of his character. We can trust what God does (in the past, present, and future) because of who he is—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And we see the clearest demonstration of who he is and how he feels about us on the cross. For example, if he loved and died for us when we were his enemies, how much more so can we trust that he will lovingly guide us where we should go, now that we are his beloved children? When we can’t know his hand, we can know His heart, which in turn causes us to trust his hand all along. When we can’t exactly decipher the ‘what’ or ‘why’ behind our circumstances, we can know the ‘Who’ behind it, which in turn causes us to trust Him with the ‘what’ and ‘why’ all along. We can trust God with what we can’t or don’t know because of what we can and do know: his unconditional, steadfast love for us in Christ. Certainly, the gospel speaks peace to our anxious and weary hearts by reminding us we have a loving Father who is in control—not an indifferent, detached deity.

I love what Kevin DeYoung says in his book, Just Do Something: “We can take risks because God doesn’t” (45). He later comments, “If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something” (104). Meaning, we can take risks with God-honoring intentions because He is sovereign over all things, doesn’t take risks with us, and will allow, deny, and confirm our choices accordingly to his greater plan. Even though we can’t see the future, he has already paved it out. Tim Keller also poetically writes about the mysterious way our free-willed decisions intricately work in junction with God’s sovereignty for his glory in his sermon entitled, Christ Our Head, saying:

God is so great that he works out a plan, a plan to work everything out for your good if you belong to him, and his glory, which takes into consideration your choices, and still works his plan out infallibly.

To conclude, let me give a brief analogy that will wrap this all up.

I have heard that potters from back in the Ancient Near Eastern times would spend much time, detail, and energy crafting their masterpiece of pottery. Hours upon hours upon hours would go into this beautiful pot. They would mold it over and over and over again. They would sandblast it over and over and over again. They would glaze it over and over and over again. The amount of time that was invested into these pots was simply staggering, and maybe a little excessive. Essentially, the potters made sure their pots were absolutely perfect before they hit the market. In fact, each pot would sell at a very high price already.

But what the potters would do next was shocking. After all that investment of time and energy and skill, they would take their precious pot into an isolated room and just completely destroy it. In a matter of seconds, they would turn their extremely valuable masterpiece into hundreds of worthless pieces.

But that’s not where they stopped. In fact, the destruction was part of their pottery process. Those hundreds of ‘worthless’ pieces were actually not worthless at all. They were actually more valuable. See, while the pottery was being smashed to pieces, gold was being melted and refined in the back room. And skillfully, the potter would reconstruct his broken masterpiece with the glue of this fine gold—making his masterpiece exponentially more valuable than it was to begin with. Once the pot was pieced back together to completion, it gleamed from every angle with intricate golden streaks all around. It was even lovelier, even more desirable, and even more valuable than it had ever been before.

And I think this is a picture of what God does to us sometimes in our circumstances and in the process of his providential promise over our life. He gives us a beautiful gift. In fact, He gives us an amazing gift of undeniable value. But then, against all our logic and against all our control, it seems like he completely destroys it.

Many of us interpret events like this. It’s natural too. But fortunately, it is not the end. It is the process. His will is seasonally specific with these circumstances. Ironically, this ‘uncertain’ will of God at this moment is not contradictory to the ‘certain’ promise of God over your life. It’s part of it. Ultimately, he’s adding value to your life in some providential way. Ultimately, he’s making you into someone you need to be. Ultimately, he’s bringing you to somewhere you need to be. And somehow, in divine providence, all these things wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Being the ‘clay’ isn’t easy, and we can’t always know what the Potter’s hands are up to, but we can trust his heart, because he is the Potter, after all. And that makes the process worth it.

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Is A Clear Conscience Possible?

How can a Christian have a clear conscience?

Can anyone have a clear conscience for that matter? Everyone has done things and thought things in their past that they regret or that they know is reprehensibly sinful. So, is it even possible to live with a ‘clear conscious,’ or is it just wishful thinking that stems from an exaggerated sense of idealism?

No, Christians–of all people–can and should live with a clear conscience.

Here is why:

Christians can maintain a clear conscience because while we are never sinless, we are nevertheless guiltless because of the redeeming, saving, and forgiving work of Christ. Indeed, while we may fall in our righteous practice for God, we will never fall from our righteous position before God. This is because one’s righteous practice is about what one does for God, which can change, falter, and fail; but one’s righteous position is about what God has done for us in Christ, which is immutably permanent and unconditional.

Let’s just rehash this real quick: Jesus died for you so that you could be saved and forgiven from your sin. Jesus’ life and death accomplished forgiveness of sins, right standing before God, and adoption into the kingdom of God. He accomplished it, he paid the price in full. But in order to claim and activate these gifts for you, you must repent and believe, accepting that what Jesus did for you was enough. There’s nothing left for you ‘to do’ to get more of what he already offers you. More of God’s love? Higher degrees of God’s grace and forgiveness? Nope, can’t be earned or added to–Jesus paid it ALL.

Think of a gift card, for example. When someone gave you a gift card, they already paid the full price. You don’t have to pay a dime or a penny more. But in order to activate their prior payment and make use of it, you must actively use it. And if you don’t use it, you simply have unused credit, untapped spending potential. Similarly, when Jesus lived and died for you, he offers you a gift of major, unparalleled credit. All you have to do is accept it and make use of it through repentance of your sin and belief in his grace. Repentance and belief is what lays hold of all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-19).

And this directly plays a role in having a clear conscience. If Jesus forgave you once and for all, then you can live guiltless once and for all. In light of Christ, living without a clear conscious means denying the authenticity or the power of his forgiveness over your sin.

But you may say, like many others do:

“Well, I’m glad God forgives me of my sin, but I can never forgive myself.”

I’m going to be dangerously blunt. That statement is idolatrous and heinous to God. What you just implied by that statement is that God’s forgiveness and approval over you is not as important as your own forgiveness and approval of yourself, which means that your opinion of yourself is more weighty than God’s opinion of you. Therefore, saying “I can’t forgive myself” means that you failed your greatest idol: you. And ironically, that idol is too unloving and too unable to forgive you and love you in the way that you need to be loved and forgiven. What you need is what Jesus alone offers.

Elevating self-forgiveness over God’s forgiveness, too, needs to be forgiven by God, who graciously and abundantly forgives. Realizing the weightiness of God’s forgiveness for you is what will finally crush the unreasonably high, idolatrous expectations for yourself that only God can and should have carried from the start. Accepting God’s forgiveness for you should lead you to give forgiveness to yourself. Truly, accepting God’s forgiveness also means accepting that He alone can forgive you–because you have identified God as the rightful judge over your sin, not yourself. But be at ease, because Jesus was judged for your sin in your place on the cross. And he also offers his righteous life to you, so that you can be judged according to Jesus’ perfect life. You just have to accept this gift of forgiveness (2 Cor. 5:21).

And certainly, knowing that God’s love and forgiveness for you is not based on your love for Him (righteous position) does not cause you to love him less, but more, and helps your righteous practice for him all the more. And not because you are obligated to, but because you finally want to. God’s unconditional love for you compels genuine love in return from you. It changes the heart and mind, and it truly is the solution for a clear conscience and transparent living before God and man.

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Similarities between Moses & Jesus

The more I read the Bible, the more I see that it is not just a book of many different stories, but how it is a book of many stories that ultimately tell one story. Many of us see the Bible as a composition of ancient, heroic, moral stories that inspire and teach us. But is there a way that any of these stories go together? Is there a thread of commonality? I’m not talking about some bizarre conspiracy theory like how all Pixar movies take place in the same galaxy (if you haven’t heard of this theory, it’s actually pretty cool, but that’s beyond the point).

However, Jesus himself is actually the one who first explicitly suggested such a ‘connection’ between all the stories in the Bible—and interestingly enough, he claimed that every story was ultimately about himself. In the gospel of Luke, he says to his disciples, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled;” and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to [his disciples] in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:44, 27).

Certainly, Jesus gives us the right glasses for correctly reading and interpreting the Scriptures. The Bible, then, is not a book primarily about many stories, but a book ultimately about many smaller stories all telling the same, greater story. Jesus says all these stories ultimately point to himself, are fulfilled in himself, and find their greater meaning in his greater story. In other words, all other stories in the Bible are parts of the conflict and plot in the greater story of Jesus, in which the fulfillment of their story ultimately happens in his. In fact, his story is not just the fulfillment of these other stories; he is the fulfillment of these other stories.

Because all the stories of the Old Testament point to, foreshadow, and find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, this also means that these stories will have figures, events, traditions, symbols etc. that will foreshadow Jesus Christ in more or less obvious ways.

In this blog, I wanted to specifically focus on how the great Old Testament character, Moses, points to, foreshadows, and prefigures Jesus in many ways. Here’s a number of parallels I could think of, though, I am sure there are more.

Check it out:

During the time of Moses, Pharaoh ordered a mass killing of every Hebrew baby under the age of 2 years old. During the time of Jesus, King Herod ordered a mass killing of every Hebrew baby under the age of 2 years old.

Moses came up out of Egypt to redeem his people. Jesus, though born in Bethlehem, at a young age fled with his family to Egypt and stayed there during his youth to avoid Herod’s persecution. And Jesus, too, like Moses, came up out of Egypt to redeem the world.

Moses was born without shelter, laid into a straw-thatched basket, floated down a river, and was picked up by Egyptian royalty. Jesus too was born without shelter, laid into a straw-filled stable, and was visited by Herodian royalty.

Moses grew up in the palace of Pharaoh, the highest place of esteem in his culture. Jesus grew up in the synagogues of Jerusalem, the highest place of esteem in his culture.

Moses was a Hebrew Levite. Jesus too was a Hebrew Levite.

Moses brought the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt. Jesus brought the Israelites and the world out of slavery to sin and death.

Moses received the 10 commandments from God on Mount Sinai. Jesus reinterpreted the 10 commandments from God in his Sermon on the Mount.

Moses carried the law and pointed to the gospel. Jesus fulfilled the law and IS the gospel.

The Israelites experienced 400 dark years of bondage to Egypt until Moses was born and came to rescue them. The nation of Israel experienced 400 dark years of silence from God until Jesus was born and came to save them.

Moses went through the wilderness and was doubtful to God before he began his ministry to redeem the Israelites. Jesus went through the wilderness and was tempted by Satan before he began his ministry to redeem the world.

Moses was royalty in Egypt, but left his position of power to serve and save an enslaved people. Jesus was royalty in Heaven, but left his position of power to serve and save an enslaved world.

Moses was inconceivably both royalty and slave at the same time, being a prince but also a Hebrew. Jesus is inconceivably both God and man at the same time, being the transcendent Son of God but also a descendent Son of Man.

God spoke to Moses through a bush that was on fire, but it was not consumed. Similarly, God speaks to us through Jesus’ body on a tree that took the fire of God’s wrath, but he was not consumed.

Moses parted the Red Sea. Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee.

Moses pleaded that God would feed the thousands of Israelites so they wouldn’t die in the desert; God answered his prayer and miraculously provided more manna and quail from the heavens than they could possibly eat. In fact, there were loads upon loads of leftovers. Jesus pleaded that God would feed the thousands of followers so they wouldn’t starve in the countryside; God answered his prayer and Jesus miraculously provided more bread and fish than they could possibly eat. In fact, there were baskets upon baskets of leftovers.

God’s covenant was first given to Moses. God’s covenant is finalized in Jesus.

Moses is the author of the law. Jesus is the author of our faith.

Moses was the first mediator. Jesus is the final mediator.

Moses carried around the Ark of the Covenant and the makeshift tabernacle, which contained the presence of God. Jesus IS the presence of God, not limited to four walls or holy places.

Moses held up a pole with a snake on it, and everyone who looked upon it would be saved from their deadly snakebites. Similarly, Jesus was held up on cross, and everyone who looks upon it will be saved from sin, the Serpent’s sting of death.

Moses first initiated the Passover Lamb to absorb the wrath of God. Jesus is the final and ultimate Passover Lamb who fully absorbed the wrath of God for sin once and for all. The Passover Lamb of Moses was simply a shadow of the coming Passover Lamb of Christ.

Moses turned water into blood. Jesus turned water into wine.

Moses appropriated the law. Jesus accomplished the law.

Moses did not marry a full Jew, but actually a non-Jew who became grafted into the heritage of Israel. Jesus will marry the church, which is not fully Jews, but actually non-Jews as well, who became grafted into the saving heritage of Israel.

Moses led his people to the Promised Land, but not into it. Jesus leads his people to the better Promised Land—reconciliation with God—and will one day usher us into the eternal, ultimate Promised Land—heaven.

While the Israelites were dying of thirst in the desert, Moses struck a rock, and from the blow, it spewed water to quench their thirst. Similarly, while we are dying of spiritual thirst in the desert of spiritual alienation from God, God struck a better Rock for our sins, Jesus, and from the blow, it spews Living Water to quench our thirst of spiritual alienation from God.

And I am sure that there are more parallels. The point is, you can’t make this up. And this is exactly why I believe it is true. All of history is a book upon which God writes a story of unparalleled brilliance about his unparalleled glory to tell the greatest story ever told. Jesus is the centerpiece of all reality and it made God glad to glorify his Son in this way.

If anything, Moses—as great as he is—is merely a sign, a pointer, and a shadow of the truer and greater Moses, JESUS.

__________

Here are some more examples, though some are more far-fetched… http://www.confidentfaith.net/moses-and-jesus-devine-similarities

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Crucifixion on Thursday or Friday? Contradiction in the gospels?

If you went to UNC Chapel Hill and took a class by Bart Ehrman–or if you have read any of his books–it is likely that you have heard one of his main arguments about the contradictions in the Christian canon of Scripture, namely, that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) portray the crucifixion on Friday whereas the gospel of John portrays the crucifixion on Thursday. In light of the alleged contradiction, Ehrman argues that the gospel of John recounts the crucifixion on a Thursday (the day of the Passover when the lamb is slain) in order to enhance the theme of John’s gospel narrative, that Jesus was the Son of God who was slain as a sacrifice for humanity’s sins. Ehrman concludes, therefore, that the historical authenticity of the gospels is a sham, cannot be trusted, and even alludes that the gospel accounts were written more from agenda than a sincere desire to recount what the writers eyewitnessed.

However, many scholars accuse Ehrman of jumping to conclusions too quickly. Certainly, it is without question that Ehrman’s observations appear to be quite compelling, and if his conclusions were true, it would seismically shake the foundations of Christianity’s doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Yet, such a conclusion has not been met with little refutation. Two renowned authors, for example, Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger, specifically refute Ehrman’s claims of such a contradiction in the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John about the dissimilar dates of the crucifixion. In their book, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, they posit the following counterargument:

“Specific claims of contradictions between John and the Synoptics include arguments that the crucifixion accounts conflict. For example, some argue that John places the crucifixion on Thursday instead of Friday in light of John’s reference to “the day of Preparation” (19:14). “The day of Preparation” usually occurred on Thursdays when the Passover lambs would have been slaughtered in preparation for Passover later that evening. Yet the solution to this apparent dilemma lies close at hand. In John 19:31, it is made clear that Jesus’ crucifixion took place on “the day of Preparation,” with the very next day being a “high day” (i.e., the Sabbath of Passover week). Thus, even in John the crucifixion takes place on Friday, with “the day of Preparation” in John, as in Mark and Luke, referring, not to the day of preparation for the Passover, but to the Sabbath (Mark 15:42; Luke 22:1; cf. Josephus, Ant. 16.163–64). Moreover, since Passover lasted a week (in conjunction with the associated Feast of Unleavened Bread; Luke 22:1), it was appropriate to speak of the day of preparation for the Sabbath as “the day of Preparation of Passover Week” (though not of the Passover in a more narrow sense; cf. John 19:14).”

Along with this argument, Ehrman also argues that the crucifixion and resurrection do not take place in an actual three days like the four gospel accounts seem to suggest. In response, I have heard several scholars say that the Greek words “in three days” does not literally mean “three days” like we would understand in our modern English context. Rather, “in three days” is a Greek expression that simply stood for a relatively short amount of time. Thus, the text does not literally mean “three days” like we Westerners understand “three days;” it sensibly makes use of the language of the day to communicate a short amount of time instead.

To be honest and fair, I am definitely not as knowledgeable as the scholars mentioned in this blog, but I do want to humbly point out that opposing arguments against Ehrman’s ‘groundbreaking, world-changing, shocking’ claims do exist–and from scholars who are just as smart and just as qualified as Ehrman. Of course, such counterarguments do not get fair media attention with Ehrman’s arguments–not because they are not equally valid–but because they do not carry the inherent ‘shock factor’ that Ehrman’s claims do.

In other words, just because media puts such a research everywhere doesn’t mean it is true. And just because it is shocking doesn’t mean it is true either. Evidence means it’s true, and that requires that both the Christian and the non-Christian must approach evidence and textual criticism with open minds, humbly evaluating what they might or might not want to be true all along. Evidence, however, is not the end-all-be-all, either. Because, as science teaches us, more evidence about evidence might be later discovered as well, which could lead us to slightly modified, or entirely different, conclusions.

________________

Andreas J. Köstenberger & Michael J. Kruger. The Heresy of Orthodoxy. 178-179.

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Do You Doubt? I Hope So.

Recently, I listened to some speakers discuss the religious nature of doubt, how everyone doubts, and how doubt really comes in only two different categories. Essentially, the speakers noted that the nature of one’s doubt stems from the nature of one’s heart, which generally takes on two main postures of pride or humility.

Tim Keller classifies all doubt into the two categories of either dishonest doubt or honest doubt. He says dishonest doubt is proud and lazy. It responds to God’s revelation in Scripture by saying ‘that’s impossible’ or ‘that’s just silly’ and then walks away. These statements, of course, are not arguments—they are just assertions. Keller notes that dishonest doubt is close-minded; it refuses to consider the possibility that there exists purposes and power beyond one’s initial comprehension.

By contrast, honest doubts are humble in nature because they lead you to ask genuine questions, not just put up a defiant wall. When you ask a real question, it puts you in a position of humility and vulnerability. Humility means that you admit there is something you do not yet know. And so, what if God gives you an answer? And what if that answer contradicts you, shatters your categories, or demands things from you that you feel like you are not yet ready to give? Honest doubt is open to challenging beliefs; it is open-minded.

Many people have doubts, and really everyone should have doubts because that means that their faith (whatever it might be) is being critically examined and being taken seriously, not just merely assumed or naively believed.

All my life I have struggled with doubt. And I have definitely not been an honest doubter all my life either, not even close. Popular questions such as these have troubled and wearied me: How can we trust that the Bible is reliable? Can we be assured that Jesus resurrected from the dead? How can intense suffering coexist with an all-powerful and all-loving God? How come the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament seem like they have as much in common as oil and water? Why is homosexuality ‘wrong’, especially when it seems like Christians just pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible’s many outdated rules like not ‘touching pigskins’ or not ‘wearing two types of cotton cloth’? Does the innocent tribal person who has never heard the gospel go to heaven or hell, and why? Why can’t all religions just lead to the same God anyways?

I will say that my episodes of dishonest doubt never really gave me relieving answers, just bitter rejection, apathy, and justification to sin. But honest doubt, on the other hand, actually led me not only to answers, but also–and more importantly–to peace with those answers.

If you are really asking God—from humble doubt—for insight into who he is and what he does, he might just give it to you. Are you open to the possibility of a God who might give you uncomfortable answers? Likewise, Keller profoundly describes doubt as a foot poised: it can go backwards into unbelief, but it can never go forwards without picking up a foot.

But every doubter has to be consistent and fair in his doubts, too. Are you so confident in your doubts that you are unwilling to doubt your own doubts? To be fair, you must treat your doubts like your doubts treat you. You are only being fair to your doubts by doubting your doubts as well, because doubts are, after all, inherently doubtful and subject to doubtfulness. Conversely, you are not being fair to your doubts when you choose to not doubt your doubts; by not doubting your doubts, you have give unwarranted power to your doubts than they deserve or warrant.

Interestingly enough, Keller notes that the top two reasons people lose their faith have nothing to do with intellectual reasons. Rather, such controlling doubt stems from pain (that we have gone personally experienced and the inability that a good God would allow it to happen) and the desire for sexual freedom. Quite possibly, intellectual objections to the Christian God may not always be sincerely intellectual in nature, but might instead be a smokescreen to conceal or justify matters of the heart that are striving to find any reason to reject God’s authority in favor for their own.

At the end of the day, however, these things are not rational arguments, of course, but things that cloister our minds from the possibility of an all-powerful, all-wise, and all-ruling God. Keller says that the problem is not the doubt; it is the proud, unyielding, self-centered heart behind the doubts.

Are you a doubter? I hope so. But let’s at least be honest doubters who take our gaps of understanding to God in humble admission and eager disposition.

_________

75% of this blog is taken verbatim from Tim Keller and JD Greear’s adaption of Keller’s sermon on Mary and Zechariah; here is the link: http://www.jdgreear.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/2f-The-Fear-of-Hopelessness-Luke-1-26-38-Do-Not-Be-Afraid.pdf

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