Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Finding Beauty in Unexpected Places

I like this picture; do you find it intriguing? Beautiful?


Would you still find it intriguing if you knew it was a dog's water bowel? It is!

Casey is a community dog. Even though my uncle, one of my mother's brothers, officially owns the dog, Casey is fed by multiple people besides him: Mom, her sister and even a neighbor.

Casey is a good dog; he'll warn any encroaching deer with a vigorous, "Woof! Woof!" (He knows how to give a good woof-woofing to anyone he doesn't know.) He's memorized the unique sound of different cars so he'll come running to greet his extended family. He eagerly walks Mom down to get the paper and mail.

Now, it's not for nothing that he's a good dog. Every morning he positions himself outside of Mom's back door, waiting for her contribution to his breakfast. Food, dog treats, combing and petting are all in order for Casey's life.

I snapped the picture of the bowel on my parents' back porch after I noticed the pretty leaves suspended in the water of Casey's drinking supply. It's an intriguing picture to me. It's beautiful.


John Wesley, in his characteristic matter-of-fact manner, recounts some observations in his Journal while in Rotterdam, Holland. One particular opinion of the elder statesman struck me as a bit humorous for June 14, 1783:
The women and children (which I least of all expected) were in general the most beautiful I ever saw. They were surprisingly fair and had an inexpressible air of innocence in their countenance.
Why he didn't anticipate to see such attractiveness in Rotterdam isn't revealed but John Wesley ended up finding exceptional beauty where he didn't expect.

If you appreciate God's creation then you, too, can find beauty in unexpected places.

UPDATE: We had to put Casey to sleep on October 17, 2013.  He was 16-years-old.  Casey was a good boy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Death, Burial and Resurrection (Romans № 15)


Since Paul just said that grace trumps sin [Romans 5.20,21] does that mean we can live like the devil and have the righteousness of Christ, by faith, at the same time?

People believe that, you know. People believe they are unconditionally eternally secure and they will get to heaven no matter how sinful they live. Consider Paul's answer to this question:

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" (Rom 6.1-3 ESV)

Paul didn't hold that a person could live in sin and, all the while, be covered by grace. To prove his point, he alludes to the metaphor of baptism by immersion that the early Church employed. As A. T. Robertson explains in Word Pictures:

"Rom 6:3 - Were baptized into Christ...Better, 'were baptized unto Christ or in Christ.' The translation 'into' makes Paul say that the union with Christ was brought to pass by means of baptism, which is not his idea, for Paul was not a sacramentarian. Eis is at bottom the same word as en. Baptism is the public proclamation of one’s inward spiritual relation to Christ attained before the baptism."

And Clarke in his Commentary:

"Rom 6:3 - Know ye not, etc. - Every man who believes the Christian religion, and receives baptism as the proof that he believes it, and has taken up the profession of it, is bound thereby to a life of righteousness. To be baptized into Christ, is to receive the doctrine of Christ crucified, and to receive baptism as a proof of the genuineness of that faith, and the obligation to live according to its precepts."

I believe baptism is a symbol of burial; just as Christ was buried after his crucifixion, so, too, are we spiritually buried in him; baptism is a symbol that we have died in Christ. Paul takes up his thought:

"We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God." (Rom 6.4-10 ESV)

Paul identifies us with Christ in his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Paul says that Jesus died, therefore we died. Jesus was buried, therefore we were buried. Jesus rose from the dead, therefore we rose from the dead. The old creation under Adam is gone, the new creation under Christ is here!

To believe that a person, united with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection to could talk of living like the old person is absurd to Paul. It's beyond argument.

Sinners live like the devil, under Adam. Saints live like Jesus, under Christ.

The question is, who are you under?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pillars of the Church

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Rev 3:12 ESV)
Apparently Philadelphia wasn't an easy place for a Christian to live at the close of the first century A.D. The Apostle John quotes Jesus as saying:
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. (Rev 3.9-10 ESV)
From this I assume that the Christians were on the receiving end of opposition of Jews in Philadelphia, and that such a poor treatment was not lost on the Son of God.

Christ commends the church for remaining faithful and exhorts them to continue to do so. Our verse that leads Awakening Theology's entry today, quoted at the first part of the blog, gives us much upon which to meditate. In his Explanatory Notes, Wesley writes:
I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God - I will fix him as beautiful, as useful, and as immovable as a pillar in the church of God. And he shall go out no more - But shall be holy and happy for ever. And I will write upon him the name of my God - So that the nature and image of God shall appear visibly upon him. And the name of the city of my God - Giving him a title to dwell in the New Jerusalem. And my new name - A share in that joy which I entered into, after overcoming all my enemies.
Tell me: do you want to be a pillar in God's Church? Such imagery would be significant to Philadelphians, whose city was rebuilt by the Emperor Tiberius after a cataclysmic earthquake in A.D. 17. A pillar denotes strength and dependability; a column gives a sense of security.

Those who endure with Christ will be part of an immovable Church long after this present universe is destroyed.

Trust me, you don't want to be on the receiving end of That Earthquake.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rest

If you're like me, you want times to get away from the noise. Sometimes turning off the television is enough; other times you feel the need for a change of scenery.


I love a nice, sunny view of nowhere. It lowers my stress level. The picture I've chosen for this entry into Fetter Lane is the kind of ambiance I like to experience. I just feel better.

Every human needs to get away from the grind on occasionally. Consider these verses:

"The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves." (Mark 6.30-32 ESV)

Busy workers are prone to exhaustion. With stress and weariness can come frustration and depression. We must acknowledge that Christian workers aren't exempt from the frailties of the flesh.

It's not sinful to need to rest; it's not unspiritual to relax. In fact, if a Christian worker doesn't take it easy on a regular basis he will be less effective for the Kingdom of God.

Anyone who examines Paul's life knows that a Christian can have enough on his plate. Sometimes he has to push away from the table and go take a nap.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Measuring Success in the Pulpit

"For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ." (2Co 2.17 ESV)



When can a preacher know he is doing his best in proclaiming Truth? Is there any spiritual yardstick whereby he can measure his success?

1. A large church?
2. Popularity?
3. Riches and influence?
4. Best-selling books and a nationally syndicated television program?

John Wesley, in his Sermons, #136, "On Corrupting the Word of God", gives us a plumbline whereby we can measure the "success" of a preacher:

"If, then, we have spoken the word of God, the genuine unmixed word of God, and that only; if we have put no unnatural interpretation upon it, but [have] taken the known phrases in their common, obvious sense, — and when they were less known, explained scripture by scripture; if we have spoken the whole word, as occasion offered, though rather the parts which seemed most proper to give a check to some fashionable vice, or to encourage the practice of some unfashionable virtue; and if we have done this plainly and boldly, though with all the mildness and gentleness that the nature of the subject will bear; — then, believe ye our works, if not our words; or rather, believe them both together. Here is all a Preacher can do; all the evidence that he either can or need give of his good intentions. There is no way but this to show he speaks as of sincerity, as commissioned by the Lord, and as in his sight."

Here is the Anglican priest's checklist for a faithful minister of the Word:

1. Preach the Word plainly and boldly without subtracting or adding to it.
2. Interpret the Word according to it's plain sense.
3. Interpret difficult passages by using better understood passages.
4. Preach all the Word, not fearing to to rebuke popular sin and not fearing to declare unpopular truth.

What if a preacher is faithful to the ministry of the Word and it doesn't "work" with others? Wesley had his own view of obstinate hearts; let's look one more time to "On Corrupting the Word of God":

"If there be any who, after all this, will not believe that it is his concern, not our own, we labour for; that our first intention in speaking, is to point him the way to happiness, and to disengage him from the great road that leads to misery; we are clear of the blood of that man; — it rests on his own head. For thus saith the Lord, who hath set us as watchmen over the souls of our countrymen and brethren: 'If thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it;' — much more if we use all methods possible to convince him that the warning is of God; — 'if he do not turn from his way,' — which certainly he will not, if he do not believe that we are in earnest, — 'he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thine own soul.'"

No, one can be commissioned by God to preach--and he may be unpopular and not heeded! He may never get that cherished book deal or television program. He may not pastor a large megachurch and have devoted followers hanging upon his every rivoting word.

In fact, a faithful preacher may be neglected or abused. But that's not his problem.

Fidelity is the preacher's task; conversion is the Lord's responsibility.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

One Ordinary Rock

Have you noticed that one ordinary rock dropped into water can cause reverberations emanating from the epicenter of the point of disruption? (Or, as we in West Virginia call them, "ripples.")


One rock sure can introduce a lot of change to the environment around it. So can one person introduce a lot of change to the environment around him or her:

1. One man, Abraham of Ur, the Hebrew, justified by his faith in believing God's promise, became the father of those who would be saved in Christ. (Genesis 15; Romans 4)

2. One man, Joseph, son of Israel, rose from slavery to second in command of Egypt and saved his family from starvation. (Genesis 37, 39-45)

3. One man, Gideon, a discouraged and pessimistic farmer, stood against his own people's idolatry and delivered the Israelites from the Midianites. (Judges 6-8)

4. One man, David, a shepherd, rose from the pastoral life to the rule of an united Israel. (1 Samuel 16-1 Kings 2)

5. One woman, Hadassa, an orphan, became Queen Esther to King Ahasuerus of Persia and saved the Jews from a holocaust. (Esther)

6. One woman, Mary, a virgin, was chosen to bear and raise the incarnate Son of God. (Luke 1)

7. One man, Peter, a feisty fisherman, became leader of the Apostles. (Acts 1-7,10, et al.)

8. One man, Philip, a laymen, evangelized people and operated in signs and wonders. (Acts 8)

9. One man, Saul of Tarsus, a Hillelian Rabbi, converted to Christianity and became the greatest missionary in Church history. (Acts 8-9, 11-28, et al.)

10. One man, Dionysius, member of the elite Athenian Areopagus, converted to Christianity under Paul's address at Mar's Hill in spite of potential threat of ridicule from his peers. (Acts 17)

By the grace of God, for the love of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit be one ordinary rock. You just have to be thrown from God's hand to cause ripples.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Two Doors, One Choice (Romans № 14)

What if you had a choice to enter one of two doors? The left door represents "In Adam" and the right door represents "In Christ". Which one would you choose?

This is the decision that people must make today--are they going to continue part of the old humanity in Adam or are they going to choose to become part of a newly created humanity in Christ?

Weigh Paul's words as he draws a lengthy comparative contrast between Adam and Jesus:
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5.15-21 ESV)
In Adam
One sin of disobedience led to the damnation of all mankind.
One sin of disobedience led to the reign of sin εν death.

In Christ
One righteous act (his atoning death at Calvary) leads to the justification of those who accept him.
One righteous act leads to the reign of grace διά righteousness → eternal life.

Because Adam, as Federal Head and Representative of mankind, chose to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he expelled mankind from Eden--Paradise Lost. Because Christ, the Second Adam, as Federal Head and Representative of a new humanity, died on a tree, he offers those of the Old Order to enter into the New--Paradise Restored.

Now, those who aren't Christians already are in the left door. However, they can, aided by grace, choose the right door.

Which door have you chosen? To refuse to choose keeps you "In Adam", the left door. Please, choose "In Christ", the right door.

It's up to you.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Generations

In the early decades of the 20th century, my maternal grandmother took this road with her family to what is now Robinson United Methodist Church [Click on photos to enlarge them].


The saints long ago provided her with her first steps in her walk with Christ.


As a teenager Grandma left this congregation to worship at a newly established Church of God. At 18 years of age she married a man from the United Brethren Church; he, too, became Church of God.

Grandma has now been with Jesus for many years but the Methodist church remains to this day. I still have family who worship here. Every Sunday morning many cars pull in side by side, crowding the parking space down the white fence.


The Apostle Paul makes a poignant statement to his protege, Timothy. Shortly before his execution, the older man exhorts the younger:

"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." (2Ti 2.1-2 ESV)

If you were soon to die, wouldn't you want to know that your life's work would continue? Paul wants the legacy, not of himself, but of the gospel, to continue. Concerning the faithful men, Wesley adds in his Explanatory Notes, "who will be able, after thou art gone, to teach others." In other words, after Paul is gone, after Timothy is gone, and after the men Timothy teaches is gone, there will be a succession of teachers who proclaim the gospel.

Generations have come and gone but Robinson United Methodist Church is still pointing people to the Lord Jesus. Glory!


It's always about Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Deceptive Beauty

What does this beautiful Autumn setting represent?


It amazes me that this tranquil scene is a picture of death. While each Fall provides tree watchers with excitement and child-like exuberance, nevertheless, the vibrancy of the colors betray the coming Winter. The leaves of trees turn beautiful when they die.

This reminds me of the world. Sinners without Christ are the walking dead. They may be talented, educated, winsome and, some, exceptionally beautiful, but they are spiritually dead. The βιος (biological life) hides the lack of ζωη (spiritual life).

Consider Paul's words:

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."
(Eph 2:1-3 ESV)

In his Explanatory Notes John Wesley commented on 2.1a:

"Who were dead - Not only diseased, but dead; absolutely void of all spiritual life; and as incapable of quickening yourselves, as persons literally dead."

Walking corpses. Not a pretty picture to imagine. Even worse is the spiritual reality. Jesus Christ didn't die for nothing. He died to provide spiritual life to those who walk in spiritual death.

May God reveal to them that their beautiful colors mean they must be given life, because they are dead.

Friday, October 20, 2006

How Does Your Soul Look?

Yesterday afternoon I walked along a West Virginia country road and snapped pictures of the Autumn day. I photographed this scene of a decaying school bus stop shelter.


As I reflect on this picture I easily come away with two different interpretations:

1. Nostalgia
2. Ruin

Let's begin with nostalgia. Can't you imagine generations of children sitting underneath the school bus shelter, waiting for the vehicle to take them to school? What kind of conversations did they hold? Were some happy to go and see their friends while others dreaded the sound of the approaching bus?

The students who used this bus shelter have long since passed into adulthood; many now may live far from their childhood waiting zone. As the seasons chase one another year after year the quiet rotting shelter stands and can give one a wave of nostalgia for an earlier (perhaps more innocent?) time.

However, this picture may strike you with a feeling of forlorn ruin. What once stood sturdily now sags, a shelter now worthless for the purpose of its creation. You wouldn't let your children sit in such a dirty and unsafe shelter.

What is the condition of your soul? Do you look back with nostalgia at Holy Spirit experiences you had years ago, oblivious to the ruin that now has come through present spiritual neglect?

As Paul warned:

"Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." (1Co 10.12 ESV)

In Fetter Lane's third consecutive day of quoting Adam Clarke, two snippets will be added. Clarke notes in his Commentary:

"Let him that thinketh he standeth - Ο δοκων εσταναι· Let him who most confidently standeth - him who has the fullest conviction in his own conscience that his heart is right with God, and that his mind is right in the truth, take heed lest he fall from his faith, and from the state of holiness in which the grace of God has placed him."

"In a state of probation every thing may change; while we are in this life we may stand or fall: our standing in the faith depends on our union with God; and that depends on our watching unto prayer, and continuing to possess that faith that worketh by love. The highest saint under heaven can stand no longer than he depends upon God and continues in the obedience of faith. He that ceases to do so will fall into sin, and get a darkened understanding and a hardened heart: and he may continue in this state till God come to take away his soul. Therefore, let him who most assuredly standeth, take heed lest he fall; not only partially, but finally."

A ruined school bus stop shelter may be a nostalgic photo but an eternally ruined soul can't be made attractive no matter what camera is used. Keep the shelter of your heart strong.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Is Your Title On the Theater's Marquee?

If someone were to produce a retroactive historical drama of your completed life story for the big screen, what would the title of your movie be?

The title should capture the motif of the picture, the theme of the story. For this imaginative exercise, you'd have to guess as to how your life would unfold. How do you want it to unfold? Since your life story hasn't been finished, you can consciously work backwords from your idealized conception to try to make it true.

What would be a noble theme? May I suggest Paul's words, written to Timothy, shortly before his execution?
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2Ti 4.6-8 ESV)
In his Commentary Adam Clarke expounds on Paul's triumph in verse 7:
I have fought a good fight - Every reader will perceive that the apostle, as was his very frequent custom, alludes to the contests at the Grecian games: Τον αγυνα τον καλον ηγωνισμαι· I have wrestled that good wrestling - I have struggled hard, and have over come, in a most honorable cause.
I have finished my course - I have started for the prize, and have come up to the goal, outstripping all my competitors, and have gained this prize also.
I have kept the faith - As the laws of these games must be most diligently observed and kept, (for though a man overcome, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully), so I have kept the rules of the spiritual combat and race; and thus, having contended lawfully, and conquered in each exercise, I have a right to expect the prize.
Perhaps I would like the title on the marquee of my story to read, "Winning the Crown: The Larry McCallister Story".

What do you need to start doing right now to write your story before it could be written by another?

What do you think? How might your life story's title read on a marquee? Tell me! :-)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Common Grace

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.'" (Mat 5.43-45 ESV)
Have you taken the time to contemplate how good God is to us, to saints and sinners alike? The sun and the rain is given to all of humanity, revealing to all the Triune God's generosity and love. This is often called "common grace". By definition, grace is only grace if it is extended toward someone who doesn't deserve it.

Have you taken the time to contemplate how you can be like God? By loving those who don't love you, you reveal to all the Triune God's generosity and love. I'll call this "reflective grace".

Heed Adam Clarke's words from his Commentary on 5.45b:
He maketh his sun to rise on the evil - 'There is nothing greater than to imitate God in doing good to our enemies. All the creatures of God pronounce the sentence of condemnation on the revengeful: and this sentence is written by the rays of the sun, and with the drops of rain, and indeed by all the natural good things, the use of which God freely gives to his enemies.' If God had not loved us while we were his enemies, we could never have become his children: and we shall cease to be such, as soon as we cease to imitate him.
The question isn't God's love for us; the question is our love for others.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Resurrection


"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many."
(2Co 1.8-11 ESV)

Does this passage amaze you as much as it amazes me? Paul, The Apostle to the Gentiles, felt that all was lost--that he was going to die. Historically speaking, we don't know what Paul is referring to but it was horrid. What a translational phrase from Charles B. Williams: "I was so crushed beyond any power to endure that I was in dire despair of life itself."

This is Paul? This is Paul the Great? This is...this is...a human being like us. How easy it is to think of the early church leaders as people beyond problems. Far from it!

God had something to teach him. "Yes, I felt within my very self the sentence of death, to keep me from depending on myself instead of God who raises the dead." (2Co 1.9 WmsNT)

Every Christian needs to learn the power of The God of Resurrection--before he dies! It comes by faith and resignation to the Holy Spirit. It isn't easy. It doesn't feel good. Spiritual death to self-effort isn't fun.

But it's necessary.

Check out the last of the passage quoted at the beginning of the blog. We need the prayers of others, too.

And it's appreciated.

Monday, October 16, 2006

You Have a Prayer!

Have you ever heard someone say in despair, "I don't have a prayer"? I'm happy to note that this sentiment is never true of a Christian. In fact, each believer has someone praying for him all his life on this earth.

"The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them."
(Heb 7.23-25 ESV)

Imagine someone who holds a non-stop prayer meeting for us 24/7, an unrelenting supplication for nothing but salvation for us. This is our reality in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Adam Clarke, in his Commentary, notes on verse 25:

"Wherefore - Because he is an everlasting priest, and has offered the only available sacrifice, he is able to save, from the power, guilt, nature, and punishment of sin, to the uttermost, εις το παντελες, to all intents, degrees, and purposes; and always, and in and through all times, places, and circumstances; for all this is implied in the original word: but in and through all times seems to be the particular meaning here, because of what follows, he ever liveth to make intercession for them; this depends on the perpetuity of his priesthood, and the continuance of his mediatorial office. As Jesus was the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, has an everlasting priesthood, and is a continual intercessor; it is in virtue of this that all who were saved from the foundation of the world were saved through him, and all that shall be saved to the end of the world will be saved through him. He ever was and ever will be the High Priest, Sacrifice, Intercessor, and Mediator of the human race. All successive generations of men are equally interested in him, and may claim the same privileges. But none can be saved by his grace that do not come unto God through him; i.e. imploring mercy through him as their sacrifice and atonement; confidently trusting that God can be just, and yet the justifier of them who thus come to him, believing on Christ Jesus."

You have a High Priest; therefore, you have a prayer.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Before a Legacy There Is a Beginning

Something special happened 271 years ago today. On October 14, 1735 John Wesley wrote his first entry in his Journal. Read his beginning thoughts and observations below:

Mr. Benjamin Ingham, of Queen College, Oxford; Mr. Charles Delamotte, son of a merchant, in London, who had offered himself some days before; my brother, Charles Wesley, and myself, took boat for Gravesend, in order to embark for Georgia.

Our end in leaving our native country was not to avoid want (God having given us plenty of temporal blessings) nor to gain the dung or dross of riches or honor; but singly this--to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God. In the afternoon we found the 'Simmonds' off Gravesend and immediately went on board.
This was to be a momentous occasion for two reasons:

1. He had no idea how much of a failure he would be as a missionary to Georgia (later to become the U.S. state).

2. He had no idea that people still would be talking about him 271 years later.

Life is open-ended for us. We can try to guide our way through life but, in the end, many things are beyond our comprehension or control. Before he was to become the England shaking reformer John Wesley had to become the America fleeing failure.

For many years now my mother has had a verse of Scripture kept stuck to her refrigerator:
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. (Pro 19:21 ESV)
At different times I've pondered those words silently as I stood in front of the fridge. Perhaps they are more true than I care to admit.

But they are true.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Was Sin Excused? (Romans № 13 Part 3)

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."
(Rom 5.12-14 ESV)

We've been walking in the theological wilderness the past couple days; this entry in Fetter Lane examines our third and last difficulty with this passage in Paul's letter to the Romans. It can be stated:

Problem # 3 -- Sin wasn't counted...and was, at the same time?

"for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam" (Rom 5:13-14a ESV)

I like things simple; given my preference, I would do without paradox and enigma. However, what Paul says here could make a person's head hurt! Let's break it down together:

1. Sin existed before the Law of Moses.
2. Sin wasn't imputed [charged] to people before the Law of Moses.
3. But people died anyway, proving they were sinners, because only sinners die.

Hmm...

I won't try to kid you; this baffles me! How can sin not be held against a person yet be held against a person simultaneously? The fact that all died proved that sin was counted against them in some way. Is Paul saying that everyone, before Torah (The Mosaic Law) was given, didn't get condemned to hell no matter how evil he may have lived?

Let me turn to the 5.14a again:

"Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam" (Rom 5.14a ESV)

Paul acknowledges that the sinners' sin after Adam but before the Law "was not like the transgression of Adam" (ESV). This solidifies (in my mind) the belief that Adam was in covenant with God unlike Eve or any other person. However, this phrase may help us understand what it means to not be held accountable for their sin...and be held accountable at the same time.

John Wesley comments on verse 13:

"For until the law sin was in the world - All, I say, had sinned, for sin was in the world long before the written law; but, I grant, sin is not so much imputed, nor so severely punished by God, where there is no express law to convince men of it. Yet that all had sinned, even then, appears in that all died."

So, in Wesley's view, their punishment was mitigated in some way before Torah brought a fuller understanding of sin. I'll add my opinion that they still could receive divine wrath because they violated their consciences. Consider Paul earlier:

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Rom 2.14-16 ESV)

Does this answer satisfy all of my questions? No, it doesn't. However, I may have to live with the ambiguity of some of Paul's words.

Who said understanding the Bible is easy, anyway?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What Did Adam Do to Us? (Romans № 13 Part 2)

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."
(Rom 5.12-14 ESV)
Today Awakening Theology looks at the second of three problems that makes this passage of Scripture so difficult to understand.

Problem #2 -- Why (or when) did (or do) all people sin?
"...and so death spread to all men because all sinned"
(Rom 5.12b ESV)
The Cause and Effect is simple enough to understand:

Everybody sins → Everybody dies

However, when and where does this occur? Is Paul meaning,

A. Everybody sinned in Adam so everybody is born a sinner, and, thus, dies?
B. Everybody dies because he sins as an effect to Adam's sin?

In other words, have we already fallen into the hole of sin before we were born, or do we inevitably fall into the hole of sin after our birth? Or does he means something else?

Paul is vague here (at least to me). This has caused no little consternation to the theologians in the 2,000 years of Church history.

Position A is one historical Christian belief: that is, the seed of mankind was in Adam when he sinned, therefore, mankind sinned with Adam. Because of Adam, people were born depraved: having an Evil Nature from the beginning.

As far-fetched as this may seem, consider this passage from Hebrews:
One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. (Heb 7.9-10 ESV)
We have to think like a Hebrew and not like a 21st century person; Hebrew thought closely held to a concept of "corporate personality", a belief that a person was only a part of a greater whole. Today's Western civilization individualism clashes with the Eastern concept of the group, the collective whole.

So, we became sinners before we were born? To a Gentile this seems weird and illogical; to a Hebrew, the answer just might work.

Position B states that, because of Adam, people were born alienated from God; because of Adam, people were born deprived: not having an Evil Nature but, without the Holy Spirit, they quickly fall into sinful down-spiral.

This second position is preferable to me. Of course, this view has implications for the doctrine of an Adamic (sin) Nature that can't be discussed here.

[I'd recommend Dr. Kenneth E. Jones' books, Commitment to Holiness or Theology of Holiness and Love, to investigate this position.]

Not wanting to be a heretic, I'll simply say the third alternative -- he's meaning something else -- is a possibility. Paul doesn't explain everything to our satisfaction.

Two down and one to go!

Monday, October 9, 2006

Why Does Adam Get Blamed? (Romans № 13 Part 1)

Why does the world have so much old baggage plainly to be seen throughout human history?


"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."
(Rom 5.12-14 ESV)

This is the most difficult section of Scripture I've come across to this point in my study of the letter to the Romans. It frankly perplexes me yet let me rush in where angels fear to tread and hazard some answers. Let's break down three issues, one day at a time.

Problem # 1 -- Why did sin enter through Adam and not Eve?

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin," (Rom 5.12a ESV)

According to Genesis 3.6 it was Eve, not Adam, who first ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil--the one tree God forbade our first parents from using as food.
"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." (Gen 3.6 ESV)

In fact, Paul makes an argument elsewhere by adding:

"For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."
(1Ti 2.13-14 ESV)

So, why do people speak of an "Adamic Nature" rather than an "Evean Nature"? Why is Adam charged with the first transgression that has plagued mankind ever since?

I believe the best answer to this (admittedly speculative theology) is to speak of Adam as the Representative, the Federal Head, of all humanity. God had a special covenant of obedience with Adam, not Eve. In other words, he is our probationary man who stands responsible for the blessings or the throes of mankind. Under the First Adam mankind was cursed by being born without a relationship of God due to his sin. As Adam chose so did the consequences of humanity follow.

And it really hurt us all.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Giants Along My Path

One of the best books Warner Press ever published was Giants Along My Path, the autobiography of the late William Dale Oldham (1903-1984). Oldham, the first speaker of the Christian Brotherhood Hour (now Christians Broadcasting Hope) , bridged the gap between the Church of God (Anderson) pioneer days with the modern era. His casual writing style and wry wit is a source of perspective and encouragement to me. Dr. Oldham once took comfort from the following true story of a nervous young minister who became pastor of an important congregation in a university town.  Oldham writes in Giants:
He hadn't been there very long when he said to an elderly retired minister, "I am in a quandary as to what I ought to preach here. If I preach history, there sitting right in front of me, is a professor of history who knows more about the subject than I will ever know. If I preach in the areas of psychology, philosophy, or sociology the same thing is true. Teachers of all those subjects will be out there checking up on me." After hearing the young pastor out, the elderly minister advised, "Preach Christ to them, son. They don't know anything about him."  (218)
He who has ears to hear...

Friday, October 6, 2006

From My Castle's Window

You know what I wish? I wish life came bubble-wrapped and mailed with shipping peanuts; I wish life couldn't go wrong, veer off or crash down. I wish I could look at the beautiful world through the safety of a castle's window.

The problem is, of course, that life isn't that way. Since we Christians are still living with some of the after-effects of Adam's fall from grace, we have difficulty this side of heaven.

Jesus told his followers bluntly:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." (John 15.18-21 ESV)
Besides naked persecution we must deal with the ravages of this expulsion from Eden: sickness and death. However, all certainly isn't lost. Better days are coming!
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'" (Rev 21.1-4 ESV)
Speaking of this new creation, Wesley writes from his Explanatory Notes about verse one:
"A new heaven and a new earth - After the resurrection and general judgment. St. John is not now describing a flourishing state of the church, but a new and eternal state of all things. For the first heaven and the first earth - Not only the lowest part of heaven, not only the solar system, but the whole ethereal heaven, with all its host, whether of planets or fixed stars, Isa 34:4; Mat 24:29. All the former things will be done away, that all may become new, Rev 20:4-5, 2Pe 3:10, 2Pe 3:12. Are passed away - But in the fourth verse it is said, 'are gone away.' There the stronger word is used; for death, mourning, and sorrow go away all together: the former heaven and earth only pass away, giving place to the new heaven and the new earth."
Then I'll watch life through my castle's window.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Chains That Fall

If Christianity cannot release people from the bondage of sin then for what did Christ die? On the Road to Damascus the Lord Jesus spoke of Saul's mission in life:

"...I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Act 26.16b-18 ESV)

John Wesley relates the following event in his Journal for September 30, 1740:

"As I was expounding the twelfth of the Acts, a young man, with some others, rushed in, cursing and swearing vehemently; he so disturbed all near him that, after a time, they put him out. I observed it and called to let him come in, that our Lord might bid his chains fall off.

"As soon as the sermon was over, he came and declared before us all that he was a smuggler, then going on that work, as his disguise, and the great bag he had with him, showed. But he said he must never do this more, for he was now resolved to have the Lord for his God."

In the visitations of Jesus Christ through his Spirit the chains of sin still fall to the ground.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Reading Between the Lines

The Bible records the lives of real people with real emotions and real struggles. If we're not careful we can read the Scriptures with a casual disconnection. We must continue to be amazed at the unfolding of events before our reading eyes. If not, we can begin to see the Bible as a frozen text that is unable to move us.


Have you ever wondered...

1. What did Adam think when it dawned on him that he lost a garden paradise?

2. What did Abraham think when God commanded him to sacrifice his son? What did Isaac think?

3. What did Moses think when God denied him entrance into Canaan?

4. What did Samson think when his lover, Delilah, pulled a fast one over him?

5. What did Jacob/Israel think when he realized his sons lied about Joseph's death?

6. What did Jonathan think when he followed his God-rejected father to battle and to death?

7. What did King David think of his sin with Bathsheba if he equated it with the demise of Tamar, Amnon and Absalom?

8. What did John think when his brother, James, was executed by beheading?

9. What did Rabbi Gamaliel, grandson of Rabbi Hillel, think when Rabbi Saul of Tarsus converted to Christianity?

10. What did Paul and Barnabas think of each other when they fought over Barnabas' cousin, Mark, and then part company?

11. What did Peter think when Paul rebuked him in public?

12. What did John think if he knew he was the last living Apostle, the others having been murdered?

We can't make doctrinal statements about speculations--but we can be captivated by them.