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Charismatic Puritan

Right doctrine leads to right thinking, and right thinking leads to right living.

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Location: Gaithersburg, MD, United States

Jealous for the truth, beauty and majesty of our glorious risen Savior.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Colossians 1.13-23 - Part 3

III. Jesus as creator.

We typically talk of God the Father as creator, but the NT describes what the OT hinted at, that is the plurality of agents in creation, by telling us in several places that creation was formed by, through and for Jesus (All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:3 (ESV)), as it does here.

Paul explains a fourfold relationship of Jesus Christ to Creation.

1. He existed before Creation

2. He created all things

3. All things exist for Him

4. He holds all things together

1. He existed before Creation

He is “the firstborn of all creation…by him all things were created…And he is before all things…” The term firstborn (prototokos) does not specifically refer to time, but to place or status. Jesus Christ was not the first being created, since He Himself is the Creator of all things.

Firstborn primarily means “of first importance, of first rank, the heir.” Firstborn of all Creation can also impose a chronological relationship however, and thus means “prior to all Creation.” As we said before when we discussed His God-head, He is eternal God. (Before Abraham was, I am.) (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 (ESV))

2. He created all things

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” “All things were made by Him” (John 1:3). He is the Creator, not of “the rest” of the universe, but of “all things.” The word for that introduces this verse could be translated “because.” Jesus Christ is the Firstborn of all because He created all things. It is no wonder that the winds and waves obeyed Him, for He is Master over all. All things are under His command.

3. All things exist for Him (v. 16b).

Everything exists in Him, for Him, and through Him. Jesus Christ is the Sphere in which they exist, the Agent through which they came into being, and the One for whom they were made.

Paul’s use of three different prepositions is one way of refuting the philosophy of the false teachers. For centuries, the Greek philosophers had taught that everything needed a primary cause, an instrumental cause, and a final cause. The primary cause is the plan, the instrumental cause the power, and the final cause the purpose.

When it comes to Creation, Jesus Christ is the primary cause (He planned it), the instrumental cause (He produced it), and the final cause (He did it for His own pleasure). What He is not, is one with it. Creation is not of Him, that is of his substance.

This world with its mountains and lakes, its insects and birds and fish and beasts, and flowers (especially TULIPs) was made so beautiful because it was Christ’s world. Man was created and the ages of history were all arranged for Him.

Sin was ordained for him so that He could save us from it. Creation was designed to be the stage for manifesting God’s glory through Jesus Christ. The eternal purposes of redemption and their fulfillment in time were all for him so that He could simultaneously demonstrate God’s love and mercy and justice and wrath.

4. He holds all things together (v. 17).

“In Him all things hold together.” “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Hebrews 1:3 (ESV))

Science continues to look for a universal theory that would explain the function of the universe, what is euphemistically called the Theory of Everything (TOE).

There appear to be different rules for how big things like galaxies function and other rules for how atomic and sub-atomic particles behave. And different rules for different kinds of particles. Light has wave and particle properties. Small particles have particle and wave properties. There are electric, magnetic and gravitational forces, and subsets of those.

When you consider the volume occupied by an atom, it is mostly empty space. Imagine that the nucleus of an atom was a golf ball. The first electron shell would be 1000 meters away. If the nucleus was the size of a period on the fifty yard line of a football field, the first electron would be out at the goal line. These are massive distances relative to the size of the objects that hold them together. What is the force that does this, that keeps matter together? It is Jesus. That may sound like a simple school child answer, but that is what it is. The Word of his power.

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ῥῆμα [rhema /hray·mah/] “word” 56 times, “saying” 1 time. That which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken, word. 1a any sound produced by the voice and having definite meaning. speech, discourse.

Jesus speaks and His words have sufficient power to not only create, but sustain and carry the universe through to its purposeful completion. (Heb 1.3 - uphold = to carry to completion) He holds it together yet keeps it from collapsing in on itself. He rules it at the cosmic and subatomic levels, and at all stages in between.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Colossians 1.13-23 - Parts 1 & 2

I. Intro: Jesus as He is.

I am a husband. I love my wife. I wrote down some of the things that I love about my wife:

1. I love the way she greets me at the door when I come home. She is so excited to see me it is as if her whole day has been spent waiting for that moment.

2. I love the way she snuggles up with me on the couch when we watch TV.

3. I love how soft her fur is behind her ears.

4. I love to watch her tail wag when she gets happy.

5. I love the way brings her toys to me and hunkers down and barks at me when she wants to play.

So quickly you get the picture that I’m not really talking about my wife, Jewell, but I’m probably talking about my dog, Mizu. Now, I have a relationship with my wife and my dog, but they are very different relationships. When I call myself a husband, I’m talking about a relationship with my wife.

My relationship with my wife, if it is going to be honest, if my love for her is to be real, needs to be built on a knowledge of Jewell as she is, not as I want or imagine her to be.

What is a Christian? Most of our definitions of “Christian” revolve around a relationship to Jesus Christ. But in the same way I confused my definition of Jewell with my definition of Mizu, we can confuse our definition of Christ with something we want or imagine Him to be and the result is that we love, worship, follow and obey someone or something other than Jesus as He really is. We create an idol.

A.W. Tozer defined idolatry as this: “We imagine something about God and then act as if it were true.” We don’t get to “imagine” Jesus to be something other than who He really is as revealed in scripture. All attempts to describe him beyond what we have been infallibly given must be regarded with extreme caution because they will always have a tendency to redefine Him according to our image and likeness, our preferences, and that is evil.

Fortunately, we have the infallible, revealed word of God to inform us. This passage of scripture in particular is one of the most detailed and precise definitions of who Jesus is, what he has done, and how that matters. Knowing who Jesus really is is essential to our ability to love, worship and obey Him. And that is to be our primary eternal purpose: to worship God through Christ by loving and obeying Him.

I am convinced that God’s greatest purpose, His ultimate goal, the one thing that consumes His zeal more than anything else, is His own glory as revealed in His Son, Jesus.

There’s a song that sings of Christ on the Cross, “You took the fall and thought of me above all.” I think that is false. Honestly, I think that is an insidious indication of pride and narcissism. Jesus did not think of me above all, He thought of His Father’s glory above all. And God not only loves His own glory, but loves His Son so much as to make him the primary agent of creating, revealing, and magnifying His glory.

We become partakers of that glory, fellow agents of magnification, and beneficiaries of the work of Christ - all of His works from before the foundations of the world - through the Gospel; that is, the very real historical fact of Jesus as He is, His dying for sinners, and our the proclamation of those facts.

As we look at these verses from Colossians, we must consider Paul’s original intention towards his original audience, which was to correct the errors of false teachers by establishing sound doctrine. Exactly who they were, I don’t think we can be certain. There is some evidence of arguments against Gnostic heresy, some against Judaizers, and some against pagan or Greek mythology.

The only remedy to the snares of false doctrine, is to understand who Christ is. So, to counter them, whoever they were, Paul makes clear, detailed doctrinal statements about the specific nature, power and function of Jesus Christ, and especially as his role as part of the God-head, as Creator, as Lord and as Redeemer.

These are huge subjects that volumes have been written about and in these few verses, we have a tremendous amount of theological content. I could easily imagine 3 months of preaching, on these 11 verses. Maybe 6. Yet at the same time we could summarize the vital and essential information of this in a sentence:

Jesus Christ is the son of God who took on flesh to die as a sacrifice for our sins so that God the Father could reconcile us to Himself so that we could stand before Him blameless and be welcomed into his kingdom as sons. (I don’t do small sentences.).

Even Better, we could make it a song:

Holy God, in love became

Perfect man to bear my blame

On the cross, He took my sin

So that I might live again.

(The Gospel Song, Sovereign Grace Ministries)

I want us to look in rather broad strokes at these four roles - deity, creator, redeemer and king - and begin to put them in usable terms so that we can define who Jesus is and what our relationship to him is, so we can worship Him rightly, and avoid idolatry.

II. Jesus as part of the God-head:

Paul speaks of Jesus distinctly as God. He is the image of the invisible God. Not as man was made in the image and likeness of God, in his natural faculties and dominion over the creatures. Rather, he is the express image of his person, (Hebrews 1:3a: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.). Jesus claims this of Himself in John 14:9 (ESV) “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And even more so, Paul says that in Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

What does that mean, fullness? Fullness = πλήρωμα, plérōma - n: a total quantity, with emphasis upon completeness. It thus denotes in particular totality, the absence of any lacunae (gaps or holes - like the lacunae in bone). All things needed are provided. This also applies to kings having the full measure of authority and greatness. It was specifically used of Caesar Augustus. Pleroma, as a word and as a concept, does not brook any room for exceptions. It completely fills the space. “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” Luke 6:38 (ESV) It does not allow for any other definition of Jesus except as fully, actually, completely God.

Currently there is a heresy that began around the 1870s called “kenosis theory” (Have this mind ... but made himself nothing (kenoo - emptied himself)..."

“The Divine Logos by His Incarnation divested Himself of His divine attributes of omniscience and omnipotence, so that in His incarnate life the Divine Person is revealed and solely revealed through a human consciousness.”

But this is a new concept without any theological history beyond German Liberal scholars and no support in the actual text of scripture. God, through Paul, anticipates such idolatry and so gives us clear refutation in verse 19 and again in v 2.9, by declaring the true and full deity of Jesus, the pleroma of His godness.

During Paul’s time the heresy was the opposite distortion, that Jesus was fully God, but not really human. The false teachers taught that matter was evil, including the human body. They also taught that Jesus Christ did not have a real body since this would have put Him in contact with evil matter.

The results of these false teachings were tragic, including extreme asceticism on the one hand and unbridled sin on the other. After all, if your body is sinful, you must try to enslave it and deny it any sense of pleasure. Or if flesh is evil and is going to perish anyway and only our soul matters, then why not enjoy our carnality since it’s just going to be purged in the end.

Paul doesn’t allow for the heresies that say that Jesus was a divine creature that only appeared to be in the flesh, because clearly in vv. 20 and 22, he speaks of Jesus’ flesh and blood, not as symbolic but as the means by which he made atonement for sins. If his physical form was merely metaphor or apparition, then so is our salvation only a specter.

Rather, Jesus is both God and man - the hypostatic union - and He will redeem both spirit and flesh, reforming creation to be the union of heaven and earth, not two separate realities, but one contiguous realm that He made and rules (God, creator, redeemer, king).


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Review - The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet by Thomas Dubay

My mother gave me Dubay’s book since she knows that science and theology, and their constant intersection, are things I, as a physician and a Puritan, constantly engage both theoretically and practically. As such I was eager to read this book and found it most enjoyable, generally well written, although sometimes I think his assertions and conclusions unknowingly beg the question of Christian faith, and typically theologically sound. I must say upfront that whenever Dubay would delve into the realm of that which is specifically Roman Catholic in doctrine – particularly discussions of Mary, the Saints (vs. the saints), his treatment of sanctity vs. sanctification, his description of the nature of the church, and his adherence to the Pelagian error – I found it disturbing to my Reformed sensibilities. Having said that, I would plainly recommend this book to an informed and doctrinally sound Protestant Christian who has a discerning theological filter, but would be less likely to recommend it to a more spiritually immature or naïve Christian. If one is Catholic, they are used to these things and probably embrace them.

Let me briefly begin with faults because I want to concentrate on the book’s many strengths:
1. Again, from my Reformed perspective, the plainly Roman Catholic doctrines I previously mentioned and a few others.
2. The treatment of Science and theology as separate, independent, self-evident co-equals. Theology is derived from the inerrant scripture and is the benchmark of all truth since it is the breathed Word of God and therefore must be above science which is derived from broken groaning nature and flawed human reason, both corrupted by Adam’s rebellion.
3. A generally uncritical acceptance of evolutionism, and even a criticism of creationism, without a serious discussion. There are many resources to counter this: Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth does this well when presenting the importance of Christian world view, Michael Behe, William Dembski, the Discovery Institute, etc.
4. The insistence that current biological forms are “perfect in their kind,” which is antithetical to a belief in any kind of evolutionary logic.
5. His drift toward universalism, the idea that we are all “children of God.” Only those in Christ are God’s children, the others are our neighbors, not our brothers and sisters. This is further evidence of the Pelagian error.
6. His beef with rock and roll and his blind affection for classical music. He criticizes rock as essentially brutish, and much if it may be, but consider Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, consider Rush, Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Yes, among many others. Conversely, there are many “classical” music pieces that are grossly secular in their themes – sex, drinking – that it cannot be established as pure. The issue is skill, content and context, not musical style.

The strengths, in brief summary, because they are many and profound:
1. The single most important strength of this book is the exaltation of the beauty, splendor and glory of God manifest most graciously in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This book has greatly encouraged and exhorted me to love Jesus more, and more as beautiful. Dubay’s emphasis on Jesus can be summed in this quote he has from Hans Urs von Balthasar, his primary resource: “It is not sacred scripture which is God’s original language and self-expression, but rather Jesus Christ. As one and Unique, and yet as one who is to be understood only in the context of the whole created cosmos, Jesus is the Word, the Image, the Expression and the Exegesis of God.” That is beautiful.
2. The overwhelming emphasis on love. “There is a great need to reunite what God has joined together…intellectual competence and burning love – which is to say that the beautiful must be a prime part of the biblical and theological enterprises.”
3. Numerous beautiful, well explained examples of the design inferred from nature, 5 chapters specifically devoted to micro-, macro-, and midi-marvels, the anthropic principle and artistry in nature.
4. The exhortations to holiness, derived from God’s holiness, reflecting Christ’s holiness, and observing glory as “holiness manifest” in the sublimity of creation. If one were to argue about the errors in the system as a result of sin, he has a chapter on Ugliness, specifically dealing with that.
5. An emphasis on Trinitarian theology in the expression of God’s character in creation.
6. The idolatry inherent in modern science as expressed in scientism. “We must have something to focus on, to glorify, to worship. We either pursue the real God or a created surrogate.”

“People who love reality, love truth…being men and women of integrity, they treasure beauty because it is the mark of truth.”

Overall, this was a wonderful book that moved me to love my Savior more.


Friday, July 04, 2008


From World magazine: “Diana Smith, a self-described moderate and committed Presbyterian…"The whole gay thing?" she says. "Jesus never mentioned homosexuals at all."”

What about nuclear weapons? Jesus didn’t mention anything about them? OK, we could get that covered under all the war stuff in general, which means that Jesus would be totally cool with nukes because He told Peter to go buy a sword, right? And Jesus even said He didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. Why not a nuclear sword? Diana?

Let’s get away from something so cataclysmic. Identity theft. Jesus didn’t mention identity theft at all, so that should be cool. He also didn’t mention heroin. And he did turn water into wine, so a little feel good is good, right?

This is preposterous. Jesus never mentioned homosexuals? Did he have to? Doesn’t the Old Testament history and law give us adequate condemnation of homosexuality? Doesn’t Paul clearly condemn homosexuality? What about rape? Well, maybe that could be included under the broader category of sexual immorality, but if that’s the case, then wouldn’t homosexuality be included there, too? If not, then according to this logic rape should be at worst neutral as far as Jesus is concerned.

Jesus doesn’t have to mention homosexuality just like he doesn’t have to mention rape because He is the fulfillment of the law and will not remove one iota of it. If homosexuality will not be tolerated by God among the people of Israel, Jesus won’t tolerate that either, because He is God and the law is a reflection of His character.

Marriage – and for that matter sex – is a Mysterious and profound metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the true church, are his bride. When you distort the earthly image of God’s relationships you distort the image of God. Can you think of more pervasive and heretical sin? This is the opposite flow of the Garden’s distortion. Adam and Eve rebelled against God and distorted that vertical relationship which IMMEDIATELY resulted in a distortion of their horizontal relationship. It was the first consequence of sin. So when we deliberately distort our horizontal relationships, especially, particularly, our sexual relationships, we create distortions of our relationship to God as well.

This is not about hating homosexuals. This is about loving Jesus and His bride, the church. It is about being jealous for the unsurpassable beauty and glory and righteousness and holiness of the Lion of Judah, the Lamb that was slain, who is waiting to come back and claim His beloved.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man

Do I need another Christmas album? I have Frank and Ella and Tony, Sarah McLachlan, The Mormons and Hillsong, and about 2 dozen Christian artists I've downloaded off of iTunes, so, no, I really don't. But, as we listen to the "Christmas muzak" being played in stores and on the radio we all hear the paucity of Christ in what is being sung. Even Christians singing hymns will often change words to remove some of the more important lyrics. It was after 3 tries that Johnny Mathis finally gave the lyric in "What Child is This" that I was looking for - "Nails, spear shall pierce Him through; the cross be borne for me, for you." And that's a really important concept. Yes, Jesus is the "Reason for the Season," but the real core of the reason He made this season is so He could become incarnate in order to someday be our atoning sacrifice and bear our sins on the cross. The "Savior" album captures that reason in all its before, during and after redemptive wonder.

Although several of the songs don't have that musically "Christmas" feel to them, whether that is arrangement of instruments or the song itself I'm not sufficiently articulate in the language of music to describe, but I think the use of choral voices may have helped. The instruments, also, are those of typical contemporary music and not the strings and horns that more traditional Christmas music might have. However, there are several particular standouts that highlight this exceptionally well crafted and deliberately scripted album.

The first song, "Christ the Lord is Born Today" will be one of my favorite Christmas hymns, in fact, just one of my favorite hymns, for the foreseeable future. The promises of Genesis are wrapped into the birth narrative as well as the anticipated realization of the redemptive promises that began their fulfillment at the Savior's incarnation. Musically it is lively, energetic and festive and smacks of what I think of when I think of when I think of Christmas music.

"Emmanuel, Emmanuel," the third song is similar in its energy as well as its broad scope of redemptive history. It begins in the poverty of the virgin's lap, describes our brokenness that Christ came into and the recounts the promised redemption and its consequences as paid for by the cross. As I'm shuffling through the songs now, the second song, "Hope Has Come" also has the joyous warmth of a soul satisfied in the Savior and desirous of adoring Him.

The last song, "Sleep, Jesus, Sleep" has that very simple elegant sound of a meditative traditional hymn. It is also a favorite because of the magnificent vocals of Shannon Harris that turn what is almost a lullaby into a profoundly worshipful recounting of Christ's supreme authority, the anticipation of His full redemptive work and the truly personal and intimate way we should experience and celebrate it. The fact that it was written by my friend Rich Dalmas makes it that much more cherished.

I've used the word group "anticipate" twice in this review and I think that is an appropriate singular description of the effect of this work; it develops in me a deeper appreciation of Christ and His work and a hungrier anticipation for His return. I can think of no better result of celebrating the first advent than a jealousy for the second.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Snozberries Taste like Snozberries

A practical application of Hebrews 1.3

As I awoke last Saturday morning cruising onto the rising sun at about 520 miles per hour (well it was morning, obviously, at my current longitude, although my body clock was somewhere on the other side of the international dateline at about 11:00 later that night – yes, I’m a time traveler!), I became acutely aware of the sustaining grace of our orderly, law-making, law-abiding, creator God. The basic physical principles that have existed since about 10-43 seconds after God said, “Now,” were keeping my Boeing 767 in the air above the Pacific Ocean. Bernoulli’s principle (and/or Newton’s Third Law) works, every day, thousands, if not tens of thousands of times to keep millions of God’s image-bearers airborne as they bustle about across the surface of the planet that God, in His total sovereignty, sustains in existence.

Physics works. Planes fly, internal combustion engines run, electrons flow across filaments or slap against glass to make light or images on a screen. Atoms clack together in the air and make sound; a fork made of a particular metal of a specific length and thickness will consistently produce the same, calculable tone. Oxygen gets picked up by hemoglobin in your red blood cells as they slide through your lungs and is deposited in your eye to fuel the intra-cellular machines that will eventually (like, in milliseconds) allow a burst of electrical charge down a neuron into your brain so you can read these words. Biology and chemistry and mathematics work. When you eat a piece of chocolate, it tastes like chocolate because right then, at that point in spacetime God actively and consciously sustains the order of that time-space continuum in its progress by the word of His power such that we have a reliable, predictable world. The oranges taste like oranges and if there were snozberries, they would taste like snozberries because the King of the universe made and keeps them that way.

Did you ever think about the effects of Adam’s rebellion on the physical properties of metals? I admit I’m a little outside the realm of the Genesis text here, but I suspect that prior to his rebellion, had Adam learned metallurgy and blacksmithing, there would be no structural fatigue. There would be no rust. O-rings and valves and rivets would not fail. Things would not break – not bridge spans, not light bulb filaments, not my mom’s hip.

Did you ever think that before Adam’s rebellion nothing would have spoiled? I don’t think we would have found an instance of rotten, over-ripe fruit on the ground under a tree somewhere in the garden. If Adam hadn’t rebelled, I don’t think we would have ever seen moldy cheese. We certainly wouldn’t have seen spina bifida or its rostral evil sister, anencephaly. If Adam hadn’t rebelled against the loving, sustaining, creator God that walked with him in the cool of the day, such that God was reviled by Adam’s presence and was required to separate Himself from this now spoiled world, my friends’ daughter would have lived longer than just that one day. In fact, she would never have died.

Right now, the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who sustains the universe by the power of his word knows both the exact location and specific trajectory of every atom and subatomic particle in your body or hurtling through the universe. He knows this with no uncertainty. He knows about that little divot in the yard where you are going to roll your ankle and the avocado pit that is going to deflect a paring knife into the palm of your hand. He knows about the turbine that is going to shred itself inside its housing, sending fragments of hot metal into the fuel tank of a plane that will then plummet to the ground, or sea, with everyone onboard just as He knew about the plates of earth’s crust that slipped over and sent a wall of water to kill a hundred thousand people in Indonesia. He was not ignorant or impotent. He was separated because of sin, but He was in complete control.

Because of sin there is venous thromboembolic disease, multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter and the cancer that began in my grandfather’s lungs and then spread through his body. Because of sin God has ordained errors into the system (even as He continues to sustain it, otherwise it would just explode), so that we suffer consequences of sin. Because of God’s sovereign control over His orderly universe, fibrinolytics and anticoagulants and meropenem or imipenem and surgery and radiation – and vaccines – typically fix those consequences of sin, but not always. That is His deliberate plan. God has ordained suffering because of sin so that His Son, Jesus, could suffer on a cross to put sin and suffering to death. That is the death of death in the death of Christ. As Piper says, God has chosen to reveal the greatness of the glory of His grace through suffering.

But! But despite Adam’s rebellion, but because of Jesus’ obedience to the cross, the day is rapidly approaching when all this error will be corrected, wiped away, and a new, perfect and perfectly sustained creation will unfold. In the new Jerusalem, there will no be no NH&NE Medical Center. There will be no need for civil engineers (sorry, Brock, but we’ll both be out of a job) or building inspectors. There will be no decay in the load bearing members in the eternal city that has God as its designer and builder. There will be no rust and no spoilage and always, forever, with perfect clarity and unblemished luxury, the snozberries will taste like snozberries.

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