Friday, December 15, 2006

THANK YOU!!!



All things come to an end, and that is true for New Creation Person too. Effective today, December 15, 2006, New Creation Person will be shutting down this blog.

However, that doesn't mean that New Creation Person will be gone for good! We will be moving to a new website!!! Effectively immediately, you can find the New Creation Person blog at:

http://newcreationperson.typepad.com/newcreationperson/

Join NCP at its new website as we continue to search God's word and seek to become devoted followers of Jesus Christ!!!

Thank you for reading!!!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Law Written On Our Hearts (Romans 2:14-15)

“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.” (Romans 2:14-15; English Standard Version)

One of the issues that plagues our culture (and by “culture” I am referring to Western Civilization, particularly in North America) is that of moral relativism. Moral relativism is the belief that one’s morals—one’s standards of right and wrong—are relative. That what you believe to be morally right may not be what I believe to be morally right, and in our post-modern age of political correctness and tolerance, I have no right to impose my moral standards on you. Objectivity, as it relates to morality, is tossed out the window. Is it any wonder that we are a culture in decline? Standards of decency have been violated and what was once thought vulgar and obscene is now seen as normal and natural.

Is moral relativity true? Do standards of decency and right and wrong vary and differ between cultures and people groups? If they do, then how can we enforce our laws? How can we punish anyone for doing “wrong” when the definition of “wrong” is a moving target? In fact, that’s the dilemma we face in our culture today. If our government passes a law that some find objectionable, it is now OK to flout that law and encourage others to do so. Take, for example, the recent flap over immigration rights. Recently we had protests across the nation against the government’s right to enforce immigration laws. Many of the people at these protests were illegal immigrants (people who entered this country by illegal means)—the rest were people who think it’s OK to break the law in this regard.

Let’s go back to the question posed earlier: “Is moral relativity true?” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Bible has an answer to this question (the Bible has an answer to every question of significance regarding human life), so what does God’s word have to say on this subject? In the book of Romans, we have probably the most systematic treatise on Christian theology in the Bible. In chapter 1, we have the Biblical diagnosis of mankind’s most serious problem: Sin. Mankind is hopelessly sinful, and as such we reject God’s truth (truth that is obvious to everyone) and replace it with man-made lies. Doing so frees us from the responsibility of having to follow God’s will and we sink into a cesspool of moral depravity and debauchery.

In Romans 2:1-11, we learn that even though there are those who don’t sink to the depths of sin mentioned in Romans 1:18-32, doesn’t mean they will escape God’s judgment. The reason being that when we judge the sin of others, we pass judgment on ourselves because we’re guilty of doing the same things (Romans 2:1). One may say, “Wait a minute. I don’t engage in sexual immorality like the people mentioned in Romans 1:18-32.” Maybe not outwardly, but what about your thought life? What about in those secret moments when no one is looking?

This brings up an interesting point. Everyone at some point in their life has passed judgment on the actions of others. If you’re a parent, how do you train your children? By what basis do you discipline them for their behavior? If cultural norms of right and wrong are relative, then what one teaches their children is no more right than if they taught them the exact opposite. You see, moral relativism doesn’t work in the real world—it’s only some liberal, ivory-tower fantasy that excuses what God calls sin. No sane parent teaches their children that it’s OK to steal, or to lie, or to harm another, or to disrespect people in authority. Why? Because these things are wrong! No extant culture on this planet teaches their children these things.

This begs the further question: “Why are these things (and others) universally wrong?” That brings us to the passage before us. In Romans 2:12-16, the apostle Paul engages in a discussion about God’s judgment and the law. He starts off by telling us that God will judge those under the law, by the law (this would refer to the Jews who were given God’s law), and those not under the law, without the law (this would refer to Gentiles—non-Jews). Now if God is not going to judge Gentiles on the basis of the law, by what basis will God judge them? Paul tells us by the law “written on their hearts” (v. 15).

This is what many theologians refer to as conscience. This is a word that has fallen into disrepute over the years through the attacks of moral relativism, but the Bible tells us that everyone has a conscience. The conscience is basically an internal warning system. It warns us anytime we’re about to violate something we believe to be wrong. As such, the conscience is only as good as the moral code that informs it. The conscience is God-given; it is “hard-wired” into every human soul. The reason why some things (e.g., murder, theft, deception, etc.) are considered universally wrong is because we have a God-given conscience that has these things hard-wired into it. That is why Paul in v. 14 says, “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.” The only way people who don’t have God’s law still do what God’s law says is if they have that law “written on their hearts.”

Bottom Line: The Bible goes on to say that we can ignore our conscience to the point where it is seared—i.e., where it no longer functions as designed (1 Timothy 4:2). That comes by following moral relativism and continually doing what our conscience tells us is wrong to the point where the conscience no longer reacts as it once did. God gave us conscience as a witness to his existence. There can be no “right and wrong” if there is no standard by which to make moral judgments; and God is that standard. There can be no law without a lawgiver, and God is the cosmic judge and lawgiver. Even though we may not be exposed to God’s written law (i.e., the Bible), we have no excuse because God has written his law on our hearts.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pray For Those in Authority

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV)

After greeting Timothy and revealing the purpose of writing to him ("Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience." 1:18-19), Paul begins with the first order of business: public worship. Paul urges Timothy to instruct the church at Ephesus to engage in public prayer; lifting up everyone, especially those in authority.

The word "urge" is interesting (Gk. parakaleo). The word can mean to beg, plead, exhort, or urge. The word can also mean to comfort or encourage, and is used in John 14 to speak of the Holy Spirit ("But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the Encourager (Gk. Parakletos). Paul's use of this strong word reveals the importance of the instruction he gives to Timothy.

The instruction, as noted above, is to pray for all people, especially those in authority. Paul uses four distinct words for prayer in this passage: requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving. The primary concern in the public worship service is to make our requests known to God through public prayer and intercession and to offer thanksgiving to God for all He has done in our lives. This echoes what the early church considered important. In Acts 2:42, Luke tells his readers what the early church met to do: "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Later, in Acts 6:3, Luke recounts the story of a dispute within the church regarding food distribution. The Apostles instructed the church to appoint faithful men to handle this issue so they could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word ("Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."). Prayer was a very important part of public worship.

Furthermore, Paul urged Timothy to pray for public leaders: kings and all those in authority. Our public prayers in the worship service should include our government leaders. What is really interesting about this command is that Paul wrote it during the reign of Nero. Nero was definitely no friend to Christianity. Paul doesn't qualify the instruction to pray for our civic leaders. He doesn't say, "pray for those in authority, but only those who are nice." We are to pray for our leaders regardless of who they are or what they've done. Why? That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. If we have good leaders, then we thank God for blessing us with wise and just leaders. If we have evil leaders, then we pray to God to forgive them and to bless them and wisdom to see the error of their ways. Stephen, in Acts 7, prayed to God to forgive the Jewish Sanhedrin even while they were stoning him.

Our ability to even meet publicly is based on the government. We in America are greatly blessed because of the religious freedom that is allowed by our constitution. We can meet publicly as often as we want and practice our faith without fear of government persecution. However, this isn't the case worldwide. There are many places where Christians cannot overtly practice their faith for fear of execution (this is especially the case in some Muslim countries). Christians also had to go underground in the old Soviet Union. So the reason we pray for our leaders is because they are the ones who control whether we can worship publicly or not. So we pray for them, not only to thank God for our ability to worship publicly, but also for our leaders to make wise decisions for the public good. Paul wanted Timothy to make public prayer a priority in Ephesus, and we are to do likewise.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Resurrection AND the Life (John 11:25-26)

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26; English Standard Version)

There is an old saying that says the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. I don’t know about taxes, though it seems wherever there is government there is taxation; so that might actually be true. However, death is a guarantee. I have performed hours of intense research, and I can conclude with complete certainty that the death rate is still 100%; one out of every one person will die at some point in time. Yet despite the certainty of death, human beings try to avoid it at all costs. We exercise, we take vitamins, we watch our diets, and we try to do everything in our power to eke out a few more years of life and try to cheat death at every turn. But the certainty of death remains. It is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that everyone tries to ignore. No one likes to think about death until it is staring them in the face.

That is the scene set in John 11. Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary and a close friend of Jesus, was terminally ill. Here was a man, a contemporary of Jesus, in the prime of his life, and he was faced with a terminal illness—he was going to die, and there was nothing he could do about it. Lazarus’ sisters send word to Jesus that he was terminally ill. Jesus’ response is puzzling to many. Instead of going immediately to Bethany (at least a two day’s journey from where he was), Jesus delays going to Lazarus’ side for two days (perhaps a topic for another article). The bottom line is when Jesus finally does arrive in Bethany, Lazarus is dead.

Jesus arrives to a scene of great mourning. John makes a point of mentioning that Lazarus’ has been dead for four days—in other words, he was really dead; there was no chance of spontaneous resuscitation. Martha confronts Jesus and tells him that had he been there Lazarus would not have died. Martha knew that Jesus was the Son of God; she knew that he came to give them eternal life. Martha had all of the right head knowledge, but she was about to have her faith in Jesus stretched. Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will rise again (v. 23). This is a statement of certainty on Jesus’ part. Martha doesn’t fully understand what Jesus is telling her. She thinks he is referring to the resurrection on the last day (v. 24).

At this point, Jesus utters the fourth of seven “I AM” statements in John’s gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus is in effect telling Martha that he has the power of life and resurrection in him. This is evident all throughout the gospel of John (1:4; 5:21, 26; 6:40, 44, 57; 14:6). Jesus has the power of life within him. He can give to whomever he chooses. Martha doesn’t have to wait until the resurrection on the last day. Jesus can (and does) bring Lazarus back to life at that very instant. It doesn’t matter that Lazarus has been dead for four days and has already begun the process of decomposition. Jesus has power over death.

There is a deeper theological truth here and that is only God has the power of life and death. God is the source of life; he is the only self-existent, self-sufficient Being in the universe. When Jesus says that he is the “resurrection and the life,” he is saying that he has the power of life and death within him—i.e., he is claiming to be God (another common theme in John’s gospel).

Bringing this out of the first century and into the 21st century, how does this apply to us? Well, just like Lazarus, we will all die. Some will live longer than others, but all will die. Yet death doesn’t have to be the end. Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Death isn’t the end for believers. Jesus alludes to this when he says in v. 11 that Lazarus has fallen asleep. This is a common New Testament way of referring to the death of believers. It’s also a beautiful picture of an ugly reality. When believers die, they go into repose until the last trumpet sounds to awaken them (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The reason people fear death is because for many people death is the great unknown. Many people really don’t know what will happen to them after they die. All kinds of theories abound regarding the subject of death, but the reality is no one knows. We also fear and avoid death because we don’t want to face the potential reality that this life is all there is. If many people took the time to think about it, they wouldn’t like the result. If everything ends with our deaths, it really renders life meaningless. However, Jesus infuses meaning and purpose into a life that would be utterly meaningless without him. Death is not the end, but a passage to a greater reality. There is life beyond the grave, and Jesus is the one who gives us this life. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

Jesus also said, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Does this mean that people alive now who have faith in Christ won’t die? No. It means that people of faith won’t face the “second death” (i.e., eternal separation from God in hell, see Revelation 20:14). Yet I also believe it means that there will be some who won’t see physical death. Again referring to the passage from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul says the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive at the time of Christ’s coming will be raptured and spend eternity with Jesus. So there is a sense in which some believers won’t experience the first death, much less the second death.

Bottom Line: The final words of Jesus in this passage give us the practical application: “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that Jesus has power over life and death? Do you believe that Jesus came to give us life and give it more abundantly? Do you believe that faith in Jesus Christ will keep you from the second death? Lazarus was raised from the dead to prove that Jesus had the power of life within him. “Do you believe this?”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Question of the Week for December 11, 2006

Question: What was the significance of the Israelites making a statue of gold and a calf?

Answer: If by asking this question you are wondering if there is any “deeper” meaning regarding the golden calf of Exodus 32 other than that provided by the text itself, then my answer would be “no.” We should avoid trying to find hidden meanings in the Biblical text and let the text speak for itself. The story related in Exodus 32 is part of the historical account of the Israelites in the wilderness. The setting of the story is right after the escape from the Egyptian army and right after the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Moses is summoned by God to come up to the top of Mount Sinai and receive the tablets with the law and commandments. According to Exodus 24:18, Moses was gone for 40 days and 40 nights.

While he was up there, God gave Moses specific detailed instructions regarding the construction of the tabernacle (the tent of meeting), the ark of the covenant, the tools and implements of worship within the tabernacle, the priestly garments, and even the names of two gifted individuals who would be the overseers for all the construction efforts (this is all chronicled in Exodus 25-31). Now the Israelites have been waiting at the base of Mount Sinai for a month and a half with no word from Moses. They begin to get restless. They must have figured that God had abandoned them and that Moses was either lost or dead, so they pressure Aaron into fashioning an idol to lead them and for them to worship (Exodus 32:1). Aaron takes a collection of all gold jewelry and they fashion a golden calf. At this point, Aaron commits two grievous sins. First he ascribes to the golden calf the works of God (“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Exodus 32:4). Second he basically calls the golden calf God and orders that sacrifices and worship be ascribed to it (Exodus 32:5-6). Both of these were in direct violation of the first two commandments (Exodus 20:3-6) given no more than two months ago.

So if one must find the significance of the golden calf, it is this: The sinfulness of man knows no bounds. These very Israelites had “front-row” seats to some of the most amazing miracles God has ever performed. They saw the miraculous plagues visited upon Egypt. They saw the parting of the Red Sea. They saw the drowning of the entire Egyptian army. They saw the “sound and light” show atop Mount Sinai when God came down. There is no rational reason why the Israelites would reject God so quickly, but reject God they did. Of all of the people who should have known better, Aaron should have known better. He was used as the mouthpiece of God before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:16), but as we see, he was complicit in their treachery (Exodus 32:2, 5). 40 days without their leader (Moses) and they’re ready to ditch God, ditch their leader and worship a golden cow.

There is no rational explanation of this other than the depths of the depravity of the human heart. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). It’s easy for us to look in hind sight and pass judgment on the Israelites, but how do we know we would have fared any better? Even the apostle Paul was appalled at his own sinfulness (Romans 7:15, 24).

There is a silver lining in all of this. One of the wonderful things about the Bible is that the heroes are portrayed as real people, warts and all. If this were a book authored by human beings, Aaron’s faux pas would have been edited out—as would the sins of Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel and a host of other Bible heroes. However, this is God’s book and all throughout its pages we see a testimony of God’s grace and mercy, rather than the deeds of great men. God used incredibly fallible men to further his purposes. This same Aaron who led the people into wanton idolatry was also the Aaron who later became the very first High Priest of Israel, and who garnered national mourning when he died (Numbers 20:29). If God can use Aaron and Moses and David, he can use you and me; even though we’re incredibly flawed too. What an awesome God we worship!