POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

For it was Jesus...

An Easter Poem by Kylene Monaghan

An Easter Poem by Kylene Monaghan

He died to save us
With undying trust
He has risen again
To forgive us our sin

Three days it took
Until they looked,
And the stone was rolled away

The angel there,
In no despair,
Cried out to them
For they were grim

"He lies not within
For your king is risen."

They were glad,
And no longer sad,
For the stone was rolled away

They went away,
Yet one stayed,
She was not certain
And she searched for him

There was nothing there
For the tomb was bear
She then went out
And looked about

She heard his voice,
And soon rejoiced...

For it was Jesus, the messiah.

Grace on the Face

33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 AndJesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:33-34, ESV)

Here we see grace on the face of the one they tried to erase…from history’s rolls, the skull took its toll.
They tore off his cloths, left him naked to die all alone.
They removed him…and they thought they were bold.

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, ESV)

The punks, cowards and thugs showed no love that day, but one came with truth and knew his own soul.
They were led there as criminals, yet he brought his own cross…trekked up the hill to die at great cost.
Yet again we see grace…on the face…of the one they tried to erase.

25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27, ESV)

But love and new family came from that face, the face that gives grace, to say to all of our sins…erased.

Friday Lenten Mediation - Renewal Through Confession, Repentance and the Faithfulness of Jesus...

Take and Read

  • Read the story of Israel asking for “a king to judge us like all the nations” in 1 Samuel 8:1-22. Reflect on our rejection of God as our king and asking others to rule over us. Read the retirement speech of Samuel the prophet found in 1 Samuel 12. Reflect upon Samuel’s counsel to God’s people.
  • Read the narrative of David and Nathan found in the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel. Read chapters 11 and 12 to enter the story.  Remember David is called “a man after God’s own heart” and was his chosen King (see 2 Samuel 7). What happened to David? How does he initially respond to Nathan?
  • Read Psalm 51 to see how David came to his senses. How did he see the character of God through all of this?

Meditate and Memorize

In light of our own sin and God’s promised grace in Jesus, reflect upon these Scriptures:

20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.

1 Samuel 12:20-22

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

Psalm 51:1-2

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,

Mark 3:28

Song and Celebration

If at work or on a lunch break somewhere, put in the headphones and listen to these songs. In listening to these, singing or reading the lyrics, reflect upon the great gift of repentance, faith and the full forgiveness in Christ found by God’s grace

I’m Coming Back by Rebecca Elliot

(Click here to listen to audio)

Iʼve wasted all I have
On things that will not last
Iʼve run so very far away from you

Iʼve tried to forget
Everything you said
My stubborn feet have walked the way of fools
But I canʼt escape from you
Iʼm coming back
Iʼm turning back to you
You loved me first
And now my soul thirsts for you… alone

The way Iʼve walked is death
All my strength is spent
Chasing after wind and fools gold

But my gold has turned to dust
And all my idols rusted over
I’ve gained the whole world but I’ve lost my soul

Iʼm coming back
Iʼm turning back to you
You loved me first
And now my soul thirsts for you…alone

Jesus Paid it All original lyrics by Elvina M. Hall

(Click here to listen to audio)

I hear the Savior say
Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness watch and pray
Find in me thine all in all

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Lord now indeed I find
Thy power and thine alone
Can change the lepers spots
And melt the heart of stone

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

It’s washed away! All my sin! And all my shame!

And when before the throne
I stand in him complete
Jesus died my soul to save
My lips shall still repeat

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Oh praise the one who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead (Repeated)

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow


Oh holy God, we are people who have walked away from you in both word and deed.  We have hurt others, we have gloried in our pride, we have neglected our heart for you and seen ourselves as better than others. We are so prone to wander away in our thoughts, our affections and in the things we do. But your magnificent mercy and grace captures us today with your marvelous love. We thank you that you welcome sinners and change us.  We thank you that you give us new hope for every day.  Whether we walk today in the valley of the shadow of death or sing upon the mountain tops of victory we know that you are with us. Thank you today for calling us your children, calling us to prayer and calling us by your own name. We are forgiven because we are yours. We have hope today because of your great and precious promises in Jesus our God, Savior and King.

After the wave...

This morning just about all the roads in Middlesex County NJ are empty. This is rare occurrence caused by the recent rampage of hurricane Irene. The storm lost most of it’s southern Caribbean muscle, but still brought heavy flooding to parts of our state. This morning the worship gatherings of Jacob’s Well were cancelled due to the realities associated with the storm. We were to finish a series simply entitled “New School - A New Testament Overview”. Today was to be that enigmatic little book known as the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Last summer, when we began an Old Testament introduction, I introduced the metaphor of a wave coming through all of human history. At the very beginning of time, after the fall of man and the curse of God upon the world, the promises of redemption and hope began to flow. The covenant promises of God build throughout history and culminate at a specific locus in space-time, the person of Jesus himself. At this point, all the energy of a wave at sea, culminates in a glorious picture of the glory of God.  At the cresting of a massive wave stuff begins to happen.  There is blessing and joy - like surfing - and power and chaos unleashed - like a hurricane.

Today, I was to complete the image of the wave by looking at what happens after the furious storm passes by.  As a kid growing up in Virginia Beach, VA I know what happens after a big tropical storm clears out. There is a glorious and glowing calm, sometimes the groans and pains of destruction and and exhales of relief.  Revelation is a book where the cresting wave and the powerful judgments of the storm are on display.  Both the chaos of sin, the blessing of God and power of his holy and right judgment is fully felt in all its joy and fury. Yet, what happens after the wave fully passes through?  What is left after all the churning of the water, the height and power of the wave and all the glory which is felt and seen? After every wave is a serene calm; after every storm there is a profound and tangible peace.  As the words of Charlie Richardson’s song, there is a peace, so rightly recall:

Thereʼs a peace to settle your soul,
There is a peace that is calling you home

It is no small thing that one of the images in the vision the apostle is given in the Revelation is that of a glassy sea. The dangers and perils and fear associated with the sea have been calmed. That which used to hold doom and calamity is now a beautiful accessory around the throne of God; the foundation for the throne room of heaven is peace.

After the wave of redemption flows through history, unfolding in the covenants and cresting in the person of Jesus, his work of gospel grace and holy judgment have fully brought redemption to all things.  What is our response?

 “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Revelation 4:1-11

As the Kingdom of Heaven is still a far country we still have much work to do in this age as we await the full peace in the age to come. Watch, Work, Pray my friends…for the glory of God, the good of our cities as we extend hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Blessed Virgin and Jesus' Family

The authors of the books of Jude and James are identified in a very interesting way in the New Testament. They seem to be identified as brothers of Jesus himself (Mark 6:1-5, Jude 1:1, Matthew 13:53-58). It might come as a surprise to some, but it appears that Jesus grew up in a family and had siblings. In fact we read this account in the gospel of Matthew.

53And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas [Jude]? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

Furthermore, Luke’s gospel contains another account  that describes Jesus mother and brothers coming to look for him in a crowd of people.  The account in Luke 8 reads as follows:

19Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Luke 8:19-21 ESV

Paul the apostle spoke of James in Galatians chapter 1:18, 19 as being the “Lord’s brother.” Additionally, the earliest church history written by a man named Eusebius called Jude, the brother of the Lord according to the flesh. (Church History, Book III, Chapter 19). Now this could seem odd for those of us who may have Catholic families, upbringings or friends as the Catholic view is that Mary, Jesus’ mom, was a virgin for life. Now, we don’t have too much space here to cover Mary in detail but let me just say that Protestants seem to give Mary too little props and respect while Catholics tend to go way over the top in the other direction.  What follows will be a few agreements and disagreements Protestants and Roman Catholics have about the blessed virgin.

Some Agreements

Both Protestants and Catholics hold that Mary was the virgin mother of Jesus fulfilling the OT prophesy that the Messiah would be born in just this way (See Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:14). Additionally, Mary is said to be favored by God with a unique role in history to bear the Son of God in her womb, raise him in her care and unleash Jesus the man into life and ministry (Luke 1:26-38). Finally, Mary in a worshipping response to God known as the magnificat, declares that she will be called blessed by all generations (Luke 1:46-55).  These agreements are clear yet some major disagreements remain in the Christian view of Jesus’ mom.

Remaining Disagreements

First, though the idea of Mary’s of perpetual virginity has a long history in the Catholic church, it has no grounds in Holy Scripture. One reason is that Mary clearly had a husband and we are told in Matthew 1:24,25 that “he took his wife, but knew her (biblical language for sex) not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”  Furthermore, an unconsummated marriage was contrary to the teaching of Scripture (Genesis 2:24,25 and 1 Corinthians 7). Another reason, mentioned above, is that Mary had other children. The context of  Matthew 13 cited above is clearly that of a family. Only a bit of hand waving can make father, mother, brother, sisters actually mean cousins or close relatives and not kids. A second disagreement regarding Mary is that she was sinless and unmarked by original sin. This doctrine, known as the immaculate conception of Mary teaches that Mary was conceived without original sin and did not sin. It was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854 but is not articulated in the Bible. Third, we do not agree that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven upon her death as such teaching is simply speculation without any biblical warrant.

The Scripture presents Mary as a human being like you and me though blessed and chosen by God for a very special role in redemptive history. Yet she is not a co-mediator between us and God as there is only one mediator that of Jesus himself (1 Timothy 2:6) Whether she appears magically upon ham sandwiches, in the clouds or in strange water stains on sides of buildings I’ll leave for you to decide.  I’m agnostic on these matters.

The who shapes the what...short reflection on being and doing

The following diagram was shared during our NT Overview series to describe the importance of the culture of a community and how it lives out its mission. It simply seeks to show the interrelated nature of a community’s culture (and individual character) and its actual flowing out in its mission. 

Our identity as believers and as Christ’s church is foundational. He is our definition and we live our lives in him through the gospel. Who we are has been changed by the gospel both individually and collectively (see Ephesians 1-2) and it is from our union with Jesus that we live out our missional calling together. We are a gospel centered people following Jesus on his mission in the world.

Our actions as believers and as Christ’s church are then transformational in that we are shaped by our daily practices. Whereas our identity is in Christ through the gospel, our choices, decisions and actions need to be shaped by the gospel as well. As we live this out, following Jesus, God’s Spirit bears fruit in us (see all of Galatians 5). This is both active—we work at it. What we do, what we do together, really matters. It is also passive, in that God is doing work in us, on us and through us (see Philippians 2:12, 13). If we do not live out our mission, choose to sow sin in our lives, go AWOL from Jesus’ purposes, it will effect us. We will look less like Jesus, more like the world and be unfruitful and ineffective in gospel work (see 2 Peter 1:3-11) To be a part of a gospel centered, missional community means we shape and share a culture based upon our calling in the world. When we do so our life together takes on a different reality and this in turn has a profound effect on our lives.

In Summary the WHO we are together should determine the WHAT we live together. Then the WHAT we live together continues to shape and transform the WHO we are. We should never deceive ourselves to think that the crew we flow with in life does not matter. In fact, it is indispensible to life and mission. And this, as you can see if you step back and look at the graphic above, creates a smile…at least this what my daughter saw here.

Theology and Mission - Circumcision with Titus and Timothy

Theology and Mission…Both Matter

During the first few decades of the Christian movement there arose a controversy as to how the Old Covenant laws should relate to New Covenant faith. As the  gospel of Jesus was proclaimed in the world, both Jews and non Jews began to place their faith and trust in him as their Savior.  As God created a new community of the faithful out of groups of people that had been separated in the past, many questions come to the forefront. Since Jesus was the promised  Messiah of Israel fulfilling the Old Covenant promises did the new Christians need to become Jewish first and then become “real Christians?” What of the Old Testament commands regarding circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant promise? What of the dietary laws designed to set God’s people apart as distinct from the nations? These questions had to be answered. 

Paul was very clear in his letter to the Galatians that to go back to the law when salvation has been accomplished by Jesus on the cross would to be a foolish thing to do.  He spoke against the necessity for circumcision in the strongest, most forceful of terms. Paul quite literally went off on the Galatians concerning this subject. Paul’s theology was clear; circumcision is not what saves you or makes you a part of the new covenant community. What makes a sinful person, justified by God? Paul’s answer throughout his writings is that faith in Christ alone as a gift of God’s grace is what rescues and declares sinners forgiven by a holy and just God. As such, Paul refused to have Titus, a gentile, circumcised because it would have betrayed the gospel (Galatians 2:1-6). When the church convened some meetings in Jerusalem they were unified and clear about this point (See Acts 15). Gentiles were not required to keep the practice of circumcision and other aspects of the ceremonial law. Yet in the very next chapter in the book of Acts we see Paul take Timothy, whose Mom was Jewish but whose Dad was a Gentile, and circumcise him. “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” So what gives? Why did Paul vigorously oppose Titus’ circumcision but not Timothy’s? In Titus’ case something theological was at stake, the very message as to what saves people! In Timothy’s case Paul’s concern was of a different sort. He was concerned with their mission among certain people.

In the context Timothy and Paul were to minister some may have considered Timothy, half Jewish, half Gentile, as someone who would not be speaking for God because he was obviously not following in his traditions as a Jewish man. So rather than hindering the hearing of the gospel, Paul circumcised Timothy so it would not be an issue of distraction from their message.  After all, Paul wrote to the Galatians “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Gal 5:6. The point being is that the heart aligned to Jesus in faith is what matters, not the external reality of circumcision. So Paul circumcising Timothy didn’t hurt anything (well maybe it hurt something) as Timothy was not counting on this and the law to save him. Yet Timothy being uncircumcised apparently would have hindered their mission and the reception of their message so why not just do it for the sake of the gospel? This echoes Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 

Paul would not give an inch in compromising the gospel and clearly shows us this in penning the strong warnings of Galatians. He also would not let things hinder a hearing of the gospel among people when those things were secondary issues of lesser importance. He proclaimed the good news in truth but with cultural wisdom and shrewdness. May we have both the courage to defend the truth and to proclaim it without hindrance to others in our own day.

Introduction to Colossians

Subversion, Jesus as Lord in the Book of Colossians

I just finished up an introduction to Colossians for the peeps at Jacob’s Well.  We’ll be giving these out next Sunday but I thought some of you guys might enjoy here at the POCBlog. I would throw it up as a blog entry but it would be too long.  I would then break it up into a gigillion small blog entries but I have not the time to do that. So…I’ve put it in a PDF and linked it to the image above. 

Visual Reflections on Ecclesiastes...

This fall at Jacob’s Well we have been tracking through the ancient wisdom literature known as the book of Ecclesiastes (from Greek through to Latin, which means Teacher of an Assembly or “Preacher”). It has been a great ride for our community.  Link to the series audio is online here

Here are a few visual reflections from our wrap up.  The first illustrates the inclusio of Ecclesiastes while the second is a wordle of the ESV text of Ecclesiastes created with Wordle.net.

The Great Inclusio of Ecclesiastes


Wordle of the Preacher’s Words

Judge Not the Judgment of God

There is a bit of a meme1 that goes around regarding the God of the Bible.  Some would articulate it in various ways but it goes something like this: “The God of the Old Testament is wrathful and bringing judgment, while in the New Testament God is loving, meek and mild in Jesus.”  In this view, it is almost as if the Old Testament has a different God.  Here it seems God is only angry and having a bad hair day. He forgot to take his meds or woke up on the wrong side of heaven.  In the New Testament God has gone to therapy, grown up and worked out his anger issues. There are a couple of massive problems with this view. 

First, it is simply not accurate and displays an ignorance of the teaching of Old and New Testaments.  In the Old Testament, God reveals himself as “gracious and merciful abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, partially in Nahum 1:3). This identification is in the narrative portions in the Bible and is repeated in the poetic and in the prophets. The vision of the Old Testament is unified in this.  Furthermore, in the New Testament Jesus has white hot words for those who deny the gospel and lead people astray in self-righteous legalism.  Somehow, people forget that it was sweet Jesus that taught us most clearly and most often about the impending disaster of Hell.  Second, this meme misses the theological story of the Bible in that the whole Bible presents God as good and loving, human beings as sinners and rebels and God as our holy, severe and completely just creator and judge.  God’s kindness is manifest to us precisely because we know our guilt before Him as a holy God.  In other words, we understand the grace of God only as we realize the just and good judgment of God upon sin and sinners.

Our culture today is hyper sensitive about many things. We have very thin skin and are offended at the smallest of things.  The thought of anyone judging anyone sort of freaks us out.  Many people may not actually know much of the Bible today but many can quote a segment of Jesus’ words; usually in King James’ English: “Judge not lest ye be judged. ” (Matthew 7:1) What Jesus was saying in this teaching is that humans are quick to judge others even when they have not done any self examination.  His point was not that there should be no judgment but rather people judge hypocritically.  Let me go on record that self-righteous, hypocritical judgment is offensive and all too often the native language of some religious people.  Jesus compared it to people having a huge log sticking in their eyeball while going around picking out little dust specks off of other people’s corneas.  He found this ridiculous but people, religious and unreligious, do this all the time.  Yet Jesus never intimated that God would not be the judge of people; in fact, he clearly made judgments and taught us that we all will ultimately be accountable to God.  Jesus teaches us the difference between certain human judgments and divine judgment is that the latter will be completely and fully based on truth (See John 8).

In this essay I want to do something a bit daring.  I want to defend the judgment of God as a reasonable and very good thing.  I will do so by first defining what we mean by using the term judgment in a theological sense. Second, I will argue why judgment is not only right but also makes sense when we stop to think about it. Third, I will make the case for why we must know and understand God’s right judgment of us.  If we come to understand God’s judgment we will be in both a fearful and wonderful position before the almighty. We will know that we must be forgiven and rescued from God’s coming wrath and we will see the beauty of the cross of Jesus Christ as the place where judgment and mercy meet and grace wins.

What we mean by the term Judgment

Though the act of making judgments can be applied to various things we are using the term in a theological sense as related to God and human beings.  The Pocket Dictionary for Theological Terms has a comprehensive, yet concise definition which I find helpful.

In a broad sense, [judgment is] God’s evaluation as to the rightness or wrongness of an act of a creature, whether human or angelic, using the standard of God’s own righteous and holy character.  In a more specific sense, judgment refers to the future event when God through Jesus Christ will judge all people, whether righteous or wicked, for their works done while on earth. The NT indicates that all people, whether Christian or not, will be judged according to their deeds; however, Christians [those who place their trust in the persona and work of Jesus alone] will be accepted in light of the work of Christ on their behalf.2

Taking the word “act” above to mean mental as well as bodily acts we can say what we mean by judgment is God’s evaluation of our thoughts and actions either approving of or condemning the same.  With this in mind, is it harsh of God to “judge us” or is it the reasonable and right thing to do? Any judgments? OK, moving along.

Why Judgment is Reasonable

In both the reading of the Bible and simple every day observation of our lives there are many reasons why the judgment of God makes sense. Before we begin let me make a plea to the reader who may not want to imagine that God is not real. I ask only this of you at this time—I want you to think about what the world is like in your experience and I want you to suspend your disbelief and think about reality as if God were at its center. I know you may find this hard to do, but humor me and you might have your mind opened to some new insights. Ok, why does God judging us make sense?

God is Holy

The creator of all things made all things for his purposes.  He created human beings male and female in his image and likeness and made them unique (See Genesis 1-2).  Any understanding of God’s justice must begin by bifurcating Creator and creature.  We must understand that God is completely different from us in that his character is utterly holy and righteous.  Human beings are flawed and as such they can err, be unjust to others, have skewed opinions and are capable of downright malicious guile towards others.  God is not like this, he is holy (Leviticus 19:1,2; Psalm 99) and set apart from sin and altogether righteous by nature.  God’s judgment is pure, based on truth, based upon righteousness in a way that human judgment is not.  So when God exercises justice, it IS JUSTICE.  

Many of us have seen that human justice is incomplete and flawed.  We have seen people oppressed unjustly and we all could acknowledge that the guilty sometimes go free (particularly if they are rich) and the innocent are sometimes condemned (particularly if they are poor). The particular case of OJ Simpson comes to mind.  If OJ was falsely accused, then God knows this and will vindicate him in the end.  If OJ did it, then he did not get away with it; one day he will stand before a holy God.  In our experience, when we see injustice we either cry out longing for wrong to be made right or we rejoice in it showing our own guilt before God.  In fact, in the Old Testament Psalms, judgment is desired because the Psalmist realized that God would be the only one who could truly set things right! The truth that God is holy and righteous makes the judgment of God actually something for rejoicing!3  

Something deep in  our own hearts tells us that something is wrong in the world and many of us are angered by injustice we see in us and around us.  It is not hard to imagine God caring about sin and injustice infinitely more than we do. Furthermore, because God’s own nature is holy and righteous all together he abhors wrong doing.  This brings us to the other side of the coin of judgment as it becomes personal.  I rejoice in the truth that God will bring a just judgment to all human affairs in the end, but I pause and tremble as well because of my own sin and pride.  So while God’s holiness and righteousness make judgment a good thing, our sin and our guilt make is clear that God judging us a most sobering thing.

Human Beings are Guilty

First, both Scripture and experience tell us that there are no human beings who are not guilty of thinking, believing and doing things that are wrong.  All of this flows forth from an autonomous rebellion against our creator and his commands. I have yet to meet anyone who claims that they are a perfect person.  Even those I have known who question the category of “perfect” readily admit that they do not live up to even their own standards all the time at every minute throughout their lives.  If we are guilty it makes sense that God would know and rightly see our lives and actions.  Scripture teaches us that all have sinned and fall short of God’s intentions for us, that we all like sheep have gone astray and that we all stumble in various ways (Romans 3, Isaiah 53, James 3). It seems to me if we are in some way guilty then God is in the best position to judge.  God’s holiness and our sinfulness result in him rightly bringing us into judgment.

In Judging Us God Treats us as Human

One of the ideas that our modern world tends towards is an overly environmental and therapeutic view of everything.  In this view people are not seen as responsible, wrong and evil any longer.  Rather we see people as misunderstood, undereducated, victims of circumstance or simply mentally ill.  People need to be cured not judged for their actions.  Now I am not saying that circumstance, environment and illness do not matter. They do.  What I am saying is that our modern view blinds us at times that we are just bad. Someone can be well educated, wealthy and believe jacked up stuff. Someone can be privileged and completely sane and drive an airplane into the side of a building. As such, judgment is worthy upon us and we don’t simply need to be given therapy. The classic essay on this is CS Lewis’ critique of what he called “The Humanitarian View of Punishment”. In this work he argues that in order to treat human beings as human we both judge and punish them when their acts deserve it. Dealing with people due to their just deserts, what they rightly deserve, is actually humane. To treat people only as sick in need of a cure robs them of their humanity and the dignity of their choices. In our world a small group of professional experts make judgments as to the saneness of us all and then are given rights to “fix us” as they see fit.4  One quote from the essay is worth sharing here:

To be “cured” against one’s will and be cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on the level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we “ought to have known better”, is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.5

In judging us, God treats us as our beliefs, choices and actions truly matter. What we do means something! Our acts have consequences and accountability and are capable of being good or evil. Only human beings have this moral nature standing upright or fallen before God.  As such God’s judgment of us is fair, just and expected.

God’s Judgment Removes our Self-righteousness and Brings Humility

Finally, God’s judgment is good because it levels any pretensions of self righteousness and brings a proper humility to our lives.  CJ Mahaney is his book Humility, True Greatness defines humility in categories familiar to us above: Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.Knowing that all of life is lived before God and that my life will be judged rightly by God in the end brings a sobering effect upon us.  We are slower to hypocritically judge others and see our righteousness as far above “those other people.”  If we know and understand God’s judgment we have grasped an important prerequisite to understanding God’s mercy.  In fact, if we are to “get” the good news of Jesus Christ we must realize that we are rightly under the wrath and judgment of God for our own sin.

Why we must understand the judgment of God

As we close I want to review a bit and think together about the judgment of God.  First, God’s judgment makes life and our choices consequential. What we think, believe and do in light of these things deeply matters. We are responsible and accountable for our lives. Further, God’s judgment of me is a fearful thing.  I know my own heart and realize that if I were to come under the judgment of perfect holiness I would not find a place to stand. The Psalmist echoes this clearly: If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:3,4). This passage reminds us that God telling us the truth about our sin and his judgment is in fact a great kindness. It is a kindness that can lead us to something the Scripture calls repentance (Romans 2:4). The repentant heart sees God’s holiness and its own sinfulness and has sorrow. It is a godly sorrow in that we come to our only judge to say we are sorry, to turn from sin to that same judge for his grace and mercy.  It is here that new life begins. 

Jesus came to the earth to live the life we have not lived, a life without sin fully following the commands of God. Jesus also came to die the death that we deserved as the penalty for our sin when it is judged by God. The wrath that we deserve was taken upon Jesus willingly for us so that the mercy and love of our heavenly father might give pardon and peace. It is at the cross of Jesus that judgment is poured out—the righteous willingly giving his life for the unrighteous! It is at the cross that grace and mercy win and justice is satisfied. God is our only true judge; he is also our only true savior.  He came in the flesh in Jesus to make peace with rebels. I’ll close by having Paul, an early Christian leader and messenger, explain in the inspired words of Scripture.

1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:1-11

Amen and amen…


1. From Wikipedia— A meme is is a unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.

2. Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999), judgment.

3. We see this in the Psalms when many times the poets are crying out for God to act against the oppressor and judge between people on the earth when great evil is done.  See the first chapter of CS Lewis, Reflection on the Psalms (Orlando: Harcourt, 1958).

4. See the essay “The Humanitarian View of Punishment” in the collection of Lewis’ writings entitled God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1970), 287.

5. Ibid, 292.

6. CJ Mahaney, Humility, True Greatness (Sisters: Multnomah Books, 2005), 22.

The Old Testament Law and the People of God

A Guest Essay by Scott C. Jones


We’ve called this series Old School in order to emphasize the Old Testament’s enduring relevance for God’s people today. One of the central aspects of the Old Testament is the rather extensive Law given to Israel after God delivered them from their Egyptian oppressors. The Law, with its various rules and instructions was binding on God’s people and their relationship with God was based on their adherence to it. That was God’s deal – his covenant, to use the theological word – with his people back in the day. But what about us? The New Testament clearly indicates that we are under a new covenant – a new deal – based not in God’s physical redemption of Israel from slavery, but based in God’s spiritual redemption of all humanity from sin, death and hell.

Well, since the nature of the covenant is different, our response is likewise different. Our response to this new covenant is faith, rather than adherence to the Law (cf Galatians 2, 3). In this sense, God’s people are said to now be “under grace” and not “under the Law” (Romans 6:14). This may seem to indicate that the Law is basically irrelevant and non–binding to God’s people today. However, confusion comes when we consider some of Jesus’ teachings that suggest the Law is Old School, not like bell bottoms (irrelevant), but more like Chuck Taylor’s (enduringly relevant). Consider Matthew 5:17–18:

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Or, Luke 16:17:

But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

So what do we make of all this? Is the Law at all relevant to God’s people or can we simply ignore it – maybe skip the next few Sundays – and only read the New Testament from now on? Well, as is often the case, we are not the first people to feel this tension. Fortunately, smart Jesus–loving people throughout the history of the church have sought to explain these apparent difficulties. For help on this particular question, we will lean especially on the insights of the leaders of the reformation. These great theologians who turned the church upside down back in the 16th century didn’t ignore such difficulties, but instead sought understanding by meditating on the Scriptures. We have a lot to thank them for and their insights on the Law’s role in the life of the Christian are no exception.

Having said that, the first great breakthrough on this issue actually came about 400 years before the Reformers from a Catholic theologian named Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas suggested that there were three types of laws in God’s covenant with Israel: civil, ceremonial and moral.

Civil Law

Civil laws are those that relate to the proper functioning of society within the nation of Israel. Israel was a theocracy, meaning God was its highest authority (much like Muslim nations in our present day who claim Allah as the state’s highest authority). As such, God gave them a code of conduct that spanned all sectors of society, including issues of land ownership, economics and crime and punishment. God’s people under the new covenant are explicitly commanded to submit to worldly authorities (cf Romans 13). We are no longer called to pursue or live in a theocracy. Therefore, the civil law is not binding on God’s people today; we are not citizens of ancient Israel.1 However, to Jesus’ point about the Law not passing away: there is much to learn from the civil law. At its core, every part of the Law is meant to reflect God’s character in the world. The law is a reflection of the Law–giver. So, for instance, in learning how the ancient Israelites were to conduct business, we can learn a lot about how God views business generally and what principles might properly be adopted in the life of the Christian businessman or woman.

Ceremonial Law

The ceremonial laws delineate the ritual practices associated with the temple and Israel’s rather complex sacrificial system. Everything from the design of the temple and its various instruments to the unique roles of the priests within the temple system are included in this category of laws. The New Testament book of Hebrews, and especially the tenth chapter, plainly states that the ceremonial law was done away with in Christ. To use the language of Hebrews, the sacrificial system is no longer necessary now that Christ has come because his sacrifice was “once, for all.” Again though, just because these laws aren’t binding on us, doesn’t mean we don’t have a tremendous amount to learn from them. In fact, the entire book of Hebrews outlines how these types of laws point forward to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The ceremonial law helps us to more fully understand Christ’s substitutionary death. Reid has talked about how understanding the Old Testament allows us to see Jesus in Hi–Definition. The ceremonial law is a perfect example of that reality.2

Moral Law

The moral laws are those that relate to how God’s people are to treat each other interpersonally. Jesus taught that the entire Old Testament Scriptures can be summed up by two commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:40). The moral laws most directly demonstrate what that looks like in everyday life. This is where things get complex for modern–day followers of Jesus. We may not be expected to cancel debts every seven years (Deut. 15:1, civil law) or kill animals as a sign of peace (Lev 7; ceremonial law), but would any of us deny that we’re still supposed to follow the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; moral law)? This is where John Calvin – aided by a few of the other reformers – is helpful. Calvin spoke of the three uses of the moral law, which we’ll outline below3:

Pedagogical Use of the Moral Law

This is a fancy word for teaching. Paul uses a form of the word in Galatians 3:24–25 where he says the following:

4 So then, the law was our [pedagogue] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a [pedagogue]”4

The first use of the moral law is that it teaches us something. Here’s what it teaches us: that we cannot keep the law perfectly and therefore are unrighteous and in need of a Savior. Calvin said it like this:

“[the moral law teaches us by] exhibiting the righteousness of God, — in other words, the righteousness which alone is acceptable to God, — it admonishes every one of his own unrighteousness, convicts, and finally condemns him.”5

Martin Luther, another leading Reformer, put it a little different saying that the Law drives us to our knees. The Law makes us aware of our sinful selves and desperate for righteousness. This is especially the case for those who would want to relate to God since the Law itself demands perfect obedience (cf. Deut 28:58; Paul reiterates this in Galatians 3:10). If we’re to relate to a holy God, we must be holy … the Law, or rather our lack of ability to keep the Law perfectly, makes us long for holiness. The holiness for which we long is solely available in Christ. As such, the Law teaches us to lean on and run to Christ.

The Moral Law Restrains Evil

The moral law also serves to hold back evil and injustice. The Old Testament’s teaching about the basic dignity of humanity and the need for justice and the protection of rights has become the foundation of Western civilization. Even if people don’t acknowledge this background, Biblical law is at the heart of how our modern world thinks about issues of right and wrong. Imagine if God had never given us instructions on how to treat people. Imagine a world without the Ten Commandments. God has indeed revealed these things and they’ve provided the basis for such universally accepted ideals as human rights.

Didactic or Normative Use of the Moral Law

Throughout the Old Testament, God foretells the coming of a new covenant between God and humanity. One essential aspect of that new covenant will be God’s people actually keeping the Law. Whereas once the people of God were characterized by obstinate disobedience, God’s new covenant people will be characterized by faithful obedience. Such passages as Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 36 all emphasize this new feature in the history of God’s relationship with humanity. How is this accomplished? Those who put their faith in Jesus are given the Holy Spirit who transforms us from objects of God’s wrath into children of God who are being conformed to the image of His Son. In short, the Holy Spirit progressively makes us more like Jesus. To use the terms we’ve been discussing, in Christ we go from law–breakers to law–keepers. Of course, this does not suggest moral perfection. Jesus is the only human being that ever perfectly kept the Law and it’s ultimately his righteousness that saves us. However, to a degree unique in human history, those who have received the Holy Spirit under the new covenant are equipped to live as God’s holy, set apart people in the world (again, however imperfectly). The law we keep is the timeless moral law of the old covenant. Because the moral law is fundamentally rooted in the character of God it is never null and void for his people. Also, because the Law is meant to reveal the character of God both to and through his people, it is always important for the people of God to be distinct from the world by representing that truth in our lives. If anything, the transformation offered in Christ actually broadens what it means to keep the law. Having been loved fully in Christ, we are now free to extend love to others, even to our enemies. This is basically the point of the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5–7).  Elsewhere in the New Testament this new approach to the law is called the “Law of Christ” (cf. 1Cor 9:21 and Gal 6:2).6 We might say it this way: though we are not saved by adherence to the Law, we are saved for good works (adherence to the Law). Consider Ephesians 2:8–10:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.


In review, the Old Testament law – and more specifically the moral law – continues to function in three important ways. First, it reminds us of our own unrighteousness and drives us to the cross for forgiveness and redemption. Second, it restrains evil by revealing the justice and wisdom of God in human affairs. Finally, the moral law provides guidance for God’s new covenant people on how best to represent and glorify God before a watching world. Far from irrelevant, God’s law demands our close attention. Like a pair of Chuck’s, God’s law never goes out of style.

In Christ and for His Glory,

Scott Jones


1. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. This is a great book in general about how to read the Scriptures. Chapter 9—”The Law(s): Covenant Stipulations for Israel” is especially helpful on the issue discussed here.

2. Vern Poythress’ The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses is an outstanding resource that shows, in wonderful detail, how the ceremonial laws point to Christ. Highly recommended!

3. Michael Horton has written an excellent overview of these issues available at http://www.wscal.edu/faculty/wscwritings/09.09.php

4. Brackets are mine.

5. Calvin’s Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 7, Section 6

6. See Tom Schreiner’s article on the Commands of God in Central Themes in Biblical Theology, edited by Scott Hafemann.

A small guide for wrestling with issues of creation and science

The beauty of the Christian faith is that it is based in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not arbitrary mythology but the story of God throughout human history redeeming the world through his appointed one Jesus Christ.  As such followers of Jesus have and will remain concerned with the truth about God, about our world and what God has done, is doing and will do in history.  Furthermore, it was from a Christian view of the world as the creation of an intelligent God which gave fertile ground to the rise of modern science.1 Christians and the civilizations in which they have traveled have thought of science as studying God’s created order and “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”2  As such, science has been done by and among people of Christian faith for hundreds of years.  This has resulted in a unique dialogue that has sometimes had tensions. 

Out of the intellectual developments in Europe there came certain non Christian philosophical movements (deism, agnosticism, atheism) which were at complete odds with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These were not new ideas but a revival and expansion on ancient debates which have gone on for some time.  It was in this ground of conflict between competing worldviews and philosophies that a “war between science and religion” was put forth. 

Over the years enlightenment rationalism and secular thinkers have attempted to fashion an image in the public consciousness that faith and religion were at war with science seeking the demise of free inquiry.3  This view that science is the domain of agnostics/atheists has been reignited a bit as of late by the so called “New Atheists” such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.4

While there is no war between science and faith they are indeed dialogue partners in our learning and understanding of our lives and place in the universe.  In this essay I want to layout in brief some of the issues and tensions associated with the science of origins and cosmology (the study of the cosmos on a macro level) and the truth of the Christian Scriptures.  This will by no means be complete as neither space nor time permits such a study in an entry of this size.

One point of note before we jump in.  I did my bachelors degree in Applied Science with a minor in Physics.  I have been around the scientific community.  Furthermore, I am two thirds of the way complete in a Master’s degree in Applied Apologetics which is focused on articulating and defending the Christian faith in the market place of ideas.  Even with my training, the issues raised by biblical studies, the sciences and the theology of the church are not simple issues to wrestle with.  In fact, there are many competing views of how such integration of science, the Bible and our theology should come together. This is among Christians who love Jesus, hold to the authority and infallibility of the Bible.  As such this debate and discussion is an “open handed issue” for us.  This means that excessive dogmatism about some of these issues is not helpful in our learning and growing in our understanding of science and the Word of God.   Finally, let me be very clear.  Science is the study of God’s creation with a desire to learn, serve the good of others and enjoy the world God has made.  Scientism is the idea that knowledge is only gained through empirical, scientific inquiry and such knowledge is superior to all other human discourses. I find this to be false both biblically and philosophically.  There are many things which are real and true which cannot be proved through scientific method.  The laws of logic, mathematics, ethical truths, metaphysical beings such as God, angels and demons, the fact that we are not trapped in the matrix, or that I did not eat breakfast today cannot be proven by empirical scientific methods.  We should love to study the revealed things of God in creation but we should never trap ourselves in the small world of materialism; that matter is all there is to everything.  Scripture uses the harshest of terms for worshipping the creation rather than the creator.  All of our scientific study should be for the glory of God and the good of others, anything less is not worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What follows is some key issues surrounding the debate and I will close by describing briefly some of the positions held by Bible believing Christians along with some recommendations for further reading.  OK, jumping in.

Key Issue—How Do you Read Genesis 1-2

There are many different ways that believers understand the early chapters of the first book in the Bible. One thing we must agree upon is that the book of Genesis is inspired by God, teaches us the truth about God and man, that it was written to ancient peoples and it would have held meaning for the original audience.  Furthermore, Jesus himself quoted from the early chapters of Genesis as reality (Matthew 19:1-9) as did the apostle Paul (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Timothy 2).  With these things in mind, there is some diversity among scholars who study Genesis in how it should be read.

First, there are those who treat it as a truth teaching myth.5 I find this problematic due to the New Testament’s direct references to Genesis accounts.  There are others who see Genesis 1 as ancient Near Eastern poetry giving us a literary framework to teach us the theology of creation thematically and it was not intended to treat issues of science or chronology. This view would also hold firmly to the historical nature of Adam/Eve in Genesis 2 and the fall of Genesis 3.6 Others argue that Genesis 1 is speaking of assigning function to the creation as God’s place of operations and not about material mechanisms at all. This view does not require the mythologizing or denial of the historicity of an actual Adam.7 Finally, there are others who see it as a narrative telling us exactly how God created the world which takes the chronology to be an unfolding of “days.”8

Key Issue—The Age of the Universe

Associated with the reading of Genesis is the age of the earth and the universe.  If one thinks that Genesis 1 unfolds precise chronology it leads one to certain conclusions about the age of the earth. Putting together the genealogies of the Bible, as has been done in the past, places creation at roughly six thousand years ago.9  This would be the case if the days of Genesis 1 are strict solar days which modern people understand to mean one rotation of the earth.  However, we must ask the question if there might be biblical and scientific reasons to believe that the earth and the universe are much older. Biblically speaking, if Genesis 1 is not speaking of chronology then making such inferences would be unwarranted and dubious.  Furthermore, if there are good scientific reasons to think the universe is older than six thousand years we may need to look carefully at our interpretation of Genesis.  So where have Bible believing people landed on the question of the age of the universe?  First, those who hold that Genesis 1 is a chronological unfolding fall into young earth and old earth varieties.  The young earth person takes “day” to be one revolution of earth, the old earth person would take “day” to mean “age” or unspecified period of time. One final group of those who hold to an older earth/universe see an unspecified time after Genesis 1:1 where the long periods of time observed scientifically could take place. In this view, the chronology of the six days can still be normal days. Second, those who hold to literary framework or functional view of creation in Genesis 1 feel no reason to be bound to a young earth hypothesis. They hold that a proper reading of the ancient text does not demand any such thing. Finally, one thing which is largely agreed upon by Christians and secular thinkers regards the appearance of human beings in history.  Human beings, as we now exist, came about on the earth in the area of thousands of years ago.  Most Bible believing Christians who do not mythologize our first parents hold to a recent creation of human beings in the image and likeness of God.  How the first humans became humans is addressed by the next key issue; the role of human origins and the issues raised by biological evolution.

Key Issue—The Question of Origins

Let it be clear that the term “evolution” simply means to change over time.  Furthermore, we do observe that biological creatures do change due to environmental conditions in which life exists. Some have called this micro or horizontal evolution; change within certain kinds of creatures.  We see this readily in the biodiversity found on our planet.  It is quite another thing to say that the universe came into existence, uncaused, from nothing.  Additionally, the teaching that life spontaneously generates from inorganic materials when fortuitous conditions arise, that RNA and DNA systems with built in information transfer capacities arise without any sort of intelligence, and that simple amino acids arise and morph into functionally folded proteins without any design or cause is quite a different idea. These ideas, some would call macro or vertical evolution, has given Christian thinkers/scientists and some secular scientists pause over the years. Even atheistic scientists such as Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins have even suggested panspermia, the idea that basic life was seeded from other planets, as a “solution” to the problem of life arising spontaneously on the earth. Of course this just moves the location of the problem geographically and solves nothing.

There are several contemporary views that Bible believing Christians hold in relation to the question of origins and evolution.  All Christians believe God is the creator of the universe and life with its various latent capacities.  From this point it can get complicated. First, there are Christians who find no reason to biblically accept the theory of evolution and reject it in toto (don’t believe a lick of it).  There are also Christians, many trained scientists, who find no good scientific reason to accept a naturalistic version of evolution.  Some hold to an evolution guided by God and have rightly been challenged because the theory of evolution simply requires “no God.”  Some have accepted evolution as the means or secondary cause which God built into his creation as the way he would create the biodiversity and humanity we see today.  Putting some of this together in list form reveals the diversity of Christian thought on the matter. I have also listed some authors in each camp for you here in the list.

  1. There are young earthers who read Genesis 1 chronologically that reject evolution (see Kurt Wise, Faith, Form and Time)
  2. There are old earthers who read Genesis 1 chronologically that reject evolution for scientific reasons (see David Snoke, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth)
  3. There are old earthers who read Genesis 1 chronologically that accept some forms of evolution with progressive creation (see Hugh Ross, Creation as Science)
  4. There are old earthers who read Genesis 1 thematically who accept forms of evolution (see edited work by Keith B. Miller, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation)
  5. There are old earthers who read Genesis 1 thematically/functionally who are quite neutral on evolution (could take it or leave it depending on the scientific evidence, see John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One)

All those who accept forms of evolution and wish to remain committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture hold the following in some form or another. Though God used evolution to bring about the body plans of the first humans, God breathed into them the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) and made them in the image of God, distinct from their animal ancestors. I am not saying this is true, this is simply what is articulated to hold both evolution by natural processes and the teaching of the Bible.  I think the science of evolutionary biology is still a young discipline and as we learn additional things about the information involved in cellular life there will be further discussion.  Additionally, two great fronts of scientific investigation involve consciousness/brain matters as well as the complexity genetic information and expression. These will be at the forefront of discussions in future as we wrestle both biblically and scientifically with what it means to be human.10

Key Issue—Relating Special and General Revelation

In Christian theology we speak of both general revelation (God revealing himself to us through nature, conscience and design) and specific revelation (God speaking to us through Jesus Christ and the Scriptures).  On all matters to which the Scriptures speak, the written Word of God is the authority in our lives. However, through the study of nature using God given rational capacities, truth from general revelation may require us to re-think our current understanding of the biblical text. A case in point might help a bit here.  Looking at every day appearances, it seems that the sun rises and the sun sets.  It seems the Sun travels across the sky each day. There is nothing “wrong” about this understanding and you will likely hear it from the evening news weatherperson and read a similar description in Psalm 19.  Yet we now understand, due to the careful study of general revelation, that the earth rotates on roughly a 23.5 degree axis and each day/night results from this rotation. Some Christians in the past might have thought, and understandably so, that the sun rose and the sun set. The Bible uses this sort of phenomenological language but we should not use these passages to argue that the sun goes around the earth. Clarity brought from observation and general revelation has helped us to better understand what certain parts of the Bible are actually teaching.11 As we learn more about the age of the universe and developmental biology, it may cause people to rightly re-think a wooden reading of Genesis.Finally, we need not place things in someone’s way of considering the gospel of Jesus Christ by marrying oneself to a certain scientific paradigm.  Such would be unnecessary and unwise and perhaps cause us to read a certain view into the Bible ourselves.  We should remain humble and hold to the clear teachings of Scripture and remain open in debatable matters.  So what IS essential?

Give me the down, down!

In closing I want to be very clear and remind us the purpose for which God gave us the Holy Scriptures and the Genesis account. They do not intend to give every truth that can be known.  They make no such claim.  However, they are given to us to reveal who we are, who God is and how God has purposed to redeem his people and all things through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the central figure and subject of the Bible’s teaching. When coming to the doctrine of creation, we should make some things very clear.  The Word of God wants to communicate to us that:

  • God made all things and is the rightful owner and sovereign ruler over them.

  • God made human beings in his  image, unique among all creatures to know and worship God. We are responsible to God for how we live and steward creation under his rule.

  • God made all things for his purposes and redeems all things through Jesus Christ.

We might say that Genesis 1 and 2 hold the true accounting of creation and all THAT GOD DID but makes no effort at all to explain HOW (in terms of contemporary science) God did ALL THAT. As we learn through good science (not atheism smuggled in as science) we will discover wonders about our God and his infinite wisdom. I am also sure there will be secret things that remain with God alone (Deuteronomy 29:29) to keep us both humble and desiring to learn.

End Notes

  1. See Stanley Jaki, The Savior of Science and Thaxton and Pearcey’s The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy for more on this thesis.
  2. This statement has been attributed to Johannes Kepler, a Christian scientist and one of the fathers of modern astronomy.
  3. The two most seminal works from this point of view would be John William Draper’s History of the Conflict Between Science and Religion and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology.  
  4. Harris recently completed his PhD in neuroscience at UCLA, and has written a couple of books bashing faith.  Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist from England whose book The God Delusion laid out his diatribe against religious belief.  Dennett is a philosopher at Tufts University and his book Breaking the Spell sought to explain religion as a biological phenomena and artifact of evolution. For a witty response to the idea that atheism has the corner on “Science” see mathematician and philosopher David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion—Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions My review of the latter work is found here.
  5. See Robin Collins’ “Evolution and Original Sin” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation edited by Keith B. Miller
  6. See Meredith Kline’s “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony” available online at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1996/PSCF3-96Kline.html. From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 48:2-15 (1996).
  7. See John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One for his view which he describes as one of “Cosmic Temple Inauguration.”  In his view Genesis 1 describes the one true God inaugurating the cosmos as his place of operations.  Walton provides an excellent summary of his view on pages 162-168 of this work.  On the issue of Adam, Walton is clear that his view sees Adam as an archetype of humanity but this does NOT eliminate that Adam could be an historical figure and biological individual.  See footnote 5 from page 71. In Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton’s A Survey of the Old Testament, Walton does seem to hold to an historical Adam.
  8. Various Christians hold this view but disagree strongly with each other on other matters. In this group you would find young earth creationists, old earth day-age theorists and those who hold that a long period of time could exist after Genesis 1:1 and before the 6 chronological creation days.
  9. See discussion in Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine-What Christians Should Believe, p 94.
  10. An interesting recent work, Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves by James Le Fanu tackles how our immense learning in these fields has actually led us to a deeper sense of mystery and an openness to discuss views of humanity without the harsh materialism and scientism recently common in our intellectual culture.
  11. See Richard Pratt, He Gave US Stories, p 38-39.

Coming to the Lord's Table

Each week at Jacob’s Well we come to the Lord’s Table. We use this time for various gospel purposes in our hearts and lives together. The following are but some broad suggestions for using this time in worship to come to Jesus in the gospel.

Confess and Repent (Mark 1:14, 15; Acts 3:19, 20; 1 John 1:9)

Each week holds temptations and challenges, some which are met in victory others in set back. Confession is the Christian practice by which we agree with God about our sin. God always “knows” we confess to say to him that we agree with his truth about our sin. We need to give our sins to Jesus (confess) and then turn from them back towards restored fellowship with God (repentance). The word repent in the New Testament means to change one’s mind about sin—it is a turning back to God away from the deception and destruction of sin.

Reconnect and Reconcile (Matthew 5:21-24)

Communion is also an occasion to reconcile our relationships with one another.  Jesus taught us that when coming to worship God we should have an urgency in our hearts about being right with one another.  If you are not right with friends, family or your spouse, the Lord’s Table is a time to reflect on making things right.  Who has sinned against you that you need to forgive? Forgive them. Who have you sinned against that you need to ask for forgiveness? Apologize to them and ask them to forgive you.  You can do this at Jacob’s Well during our communion worship time. Grab your wife’s hand and say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” then come to the table together.  Grab a friend and step out in the hallway to pray—then come to the table together. Unity should be seen when we come to the table, not anger and broken relationships in the church.

Reflect and Remember (Luke 22:14-23; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26)

Central to the Lord’s Table is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Before our eyes, in our hands and tasted upon our lips is the truth of Jesus’ death for sin, shed blood to establish new covenant relationship with his people, his resurrection for our justification and his second coming for our eternal hope.  The amazing grace of God in the gospel whereby he forgoes sinners like us, defeats sin, death and the powers of Hell and reconciles us to the father.  Jesus taught us to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) and we must not forget that our time at the table is itself a proclamation of the gospel (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Rejoice and Worship

At Jacob’s Well we intentionally do not rush through our time together at Jesus’ table.  We include opportunity for reflection, to rejoice in the gospel and then sing together out of gratitude in worship.  At times we have been asked should our time of communion be somber and focused on our sins or celebratory and focused on Jesus’ victory over them.  The answer is “Yes!” If we forget our sinful need for the gospel we’ll grow proud and flippant before God.  If we forget the triumph of God’s grace in Jesus Christ over our sins we’ll always be bummed out.  Our counsel is repent, confess and lament if you are in a crusty place of life; just don’t forget that rejoicing in the gospel and celebrating Jesus dispels the dark clouds with blasts of joyous light.

Receive Grace in Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:16; Revelation 3:14-20)

The Scriptures teach us that the bread and cup are an actual participation in the body and blood of Christ; at the Lord’s table there is real communion taking place between Jesus and his church.  Intimate table fellowship with Jesus is promise for this age that will be completely realized in the eternal kingdom.  Therefore, the Lord’s Table is a present foretaste of eternity which breaks into the mundane of the now each week.  At Jacob’s Well we set the table before us so that we might “come to Jesus” and receive mercy, grace and spiritual nourishment by his grace.   He is graciously inviting us to come to him in the gospel and it is the privilege of every believer to repent of sin and enjoy fellowship and communion with Jesus. 

One final reminder

We do not worship the bread and wine as if it becomes Jesus nor do we “sacrifice” Jesus each week when we observe communion. Let us not forget that it is the risen and living Jesus that we worship. It is the risen one who is present with us by his spirit in the bread and cup; we do not worship the elements themselves as if they are Jesus.  To do so would amount to worshipping created elements and not the one to which the elements should lead us.  One theologian of the reformation said this well:

For what is idolatry if it is not to worship the gifts instead of the giver? Here the sin is twofold. The honour robbed from God is transferred to the creature, and God, moreover, is dishonoured by the pollution and profanation of his own goodness, while his holy sacrament is converted into an execrable idol.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4,  Chapter17, Section 36

The bread and the wine are signs not saviors and they should be taken by Christians with joy and worship.  Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin during his time on the earth and we dare not think that communion sacrifices him again and again (See Hebrews 10:1-18). Communion is a seal that connects us deeply together with our Savior and his sacrifice for us and we pray this entry helps you to observe communion as we walk together in the mission of God.

AWOL Ambassadors?

One of my favorite passages in Scripture comes at the close of the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians.  It highlights both God’s transformative work in our lives and his missional calling on us in the world.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I have always found it a bit amazing that God chooses to transform rebellious, sinful and wayward people into new creations who he then calls to be his ambassadors. An ambassador is one who both represents for a kingdom or nation and carries the message of that realm to others.  As Jesus’ church we represent the Kingdom of God while living among the kingdoms of this world and we bring the saving gospel message to those around. That message is that God forgives sin, removes guilt, turns away wrath, frees us from his just condemnation, makes us clean and makes us part of his family. This is all through the work of Jesus on the cross.  God saves us from sin, death and hell and creates a new community out of such people.  In light of our calling and message, I find it puzzling that Jesus’ followers can sometimes be AWOL from this mission. The following are seven simple ways I think we can become AWOL Ambassadors.

We Won’t Leave Our Own Country

First, if we won’t leave our comforts to go to others we will be AWOL Ambassadors. We can like it too much at home, where we think it is safe, where we don’t have to leave our preferences, our comforts and actually be among people who are different from us.  We like our world where everyone looks the same, talks the same and is easy to be with.  We would rather stay here than go there for the sake of the gospel. AWOL.

We Don’t Like Other People

Second, if we don’t love other people we will remain AWOL from our calling.  After all, “they” have different beliefs, opinions, and habits than we do.  “They” might offend my sensibilities and their lives are messy; I really do not want to love them. In fact, I pretty much don’t like those folk.  If we become involved with those outside of the church they might inconvenience us and mess up our world.  Thank God Jesus did not think this way or he would have never taken on flesh, walked among us and died for us.

We are Bringing the Wrong Message

Third, if an ambassador brings the wrong message, she will be AWOL from her duty.  So many people are hearing a message from the church that is not the message of the Bible. God doesn’t like people, neither do we, we want to take over the government? This is what some people “hear” from the church today in America. Is that really our message? Or others teach that God is open minded, tolerant and doesn’t care about sin and evil doing. Is this really our message? Our message is that God is holy and is the righteous judge of sin and sinners AND he saves them by his grace through the work of Jesus on the cross.  Are we bringing the wrong message? If so, we are AWOL in our ambassadorship delivering the messages of men as if they were the message of God.

Representing the Wrong Kingdom

Fourth, an ambassador for Jesus represents his Kingdom not the Kingdom of George Bush or Barak Obama.  Christians can become AWOL when they represent for party politics as if that was the Kingdom of Jesus. I am not saying that our message and allegiance to Jesus will not have implications for our political philosophies and involvement. I am saying that an Ambassador who thinks Jesus would only vote Republican or Democratic or Libertarian or Green or whatever is already AWOL.  Remember what our King said to us “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:33-38)

We Fear Peoples’ Opinions

Fifth, Ambassadors who grow fearful of people can start changing the message and misrepresenting the King.  There is a reason why the saying “don’t shoot the messenger” has become a bit proverbial.  Messengers do get shot you know.  Throughout the ages Jesus and his gospel have been polarizing eliciting joy and wonder as well as ridicule and guile.  When people mock you as a messenger or disregard the message you preach will you adjust the gospel to tickle the ears of this world? (2 Timothy 4:1-5) Will you continue to reach out to others and share the gospel? If you give way to fear, you will go AWOL.  Jesus told us that all authority on heaven and on earth have been given to him and that we preach good news on his orders (Matthew 24:14, Matthew 28:18-20). We need to put a cup on and stay in the fight even when it gets tough; we must not compromise.

Not Realizing the Importance of Our Call

Sixth, an ambassador who does not realize the importance of his call will neglect it and go AWOL.  God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the wise.  God has chosen us for this high calling to be his ambassadors.  This was his choice to use us. God does not have a “B team” in his Kingdom and calls all his people to represent him and share the gospel.  If we forget this we might despise ourselves and feel unusable by the King.  This might just keep us out of the game.  God in his wisdom saves and calls whomever he chooses; we should joyfully respond and stay in the game.

We are not Equipped and Trained

Seventh, ambassadors can be AWOL when they simply do not know what do to in the mission.  Thankfully, God has given us apostles, prophets, pastor-teachers, evangelists to equip the church for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).  A church should always be training ambassadors to represent the King and preach his message. We should be a people proclaiming the gospel with our lips and refelcting it in good works.  Churches which leave this calling are themselves AWOL.  When a church no longer believes that Jesus is King and that his gospel is the only hope for sinners then it is no longer an embassy or outpost for Jesus. It is sadly a dying relic of a bygone age.  Church leader, don’t be AWOL, the implications are massive and you are accountable to the King (Hebrews 13:17, James 3:1).

Today, I pray you walk in the conscious realization of your ambassadorship and that you joyfully represent for Jesus.  As we share his message we will see the gospel’s power to save. God is faithful and is always calling new ambassadors to his team who wish to live for his glory and the good of others by extending hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Are you in? Are you AWOL? Let’s repent and get back to work.

Coming to the Scriptures



All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2 Timonthy 3:16

Hear—Read— Memorize—Study—Meditate




  • We need to be in the community of God’s people where the Scriptures are preached and where we respond together to the Word.  We need to gather with the church.
  • Audio/MP3 Bibles can be great on commutes to listen to the Scriptures read aloud.  Hearing the Bible read is a long practiced rhythm of the church.
  • Podcasts and other audio/video recordings can serve as great secondary ways of hearing the Bible preached.


  • Start the day with the reading of Scripture, read passages with your family at dinner, reading at bed time with the kids is a great flow as well.
  • Where to start? If you are new to the Bible start with Jesus by reading Mark and John.  Then books like Romans and Ephesians in the New Testament and Psalms/Proverbs and Genesis in the Old Testament are great places to explore.
  • We are a community that opens the book; it should be very easy to read along/ahead on Sundays. 


  • Putting Scripture to memory helps guide the soul day to day in the complexities of life.  Make memorizing passages a part of your MC. Do it with a friend or two.  Pick something from the passages our community is teaching
  • I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11


A few principles to help you dig deeper

  • Study key words— in English, in the original languages using a Lexicon. If a word is repeated in a text, it might be important!
  • Note the context — literary, historical, geographical, and cultural.
  • Cross reference — use a concordance to see what this book, the NT/OT and Bible as a whole says on this subject.
  • Consultation — look at what other godly people have said about this passage using study notes and commentaries.  In every series introduction we do at Jacob’s Well there is a bibliography. Further, the site bestcommentaries.com is an excellent guide to resources for studying the Scriptures.

Some Useful Tools

  • A Good Study Bible (ESV Study Bible is great), Concordances, Commentaries, Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Greek and Hebrew Lexicons.
  • A few web sites


The following are some simple recommendations to help you slow down and meditate, chew on, sacred Scripture.

  • Select a passage—something you read that struck you or something the church is teaching.  We actually provide community meditation questions each week. The Psalms are great places for mediation as well. Many times they are meditations!
  • Read it out loud slowly and ask God to impress his truth upon you. Repeat giving emphasis to different parts of the passage. Note words or phrases that strike you deeply and connect to your soul.
  • Repeat the Passage or Verse in your own words.  Where does it converge with your current circumstances.
  • Ask questions. The following may be helpful: Is there an example to follow? A command to follow? Sin to repent of? Temptation to say no to? Promise to claim? What does this text say about God’s saving work in the gospel? How does it point to Jesus?
  • Speak with God about the passage, ask him to be your teacher.  If you have studied the passage in depth, seek intersection with your life not simply knowing the facts.  Let meditation flow into prayer.

Core Rhythms - Going Deeper in our Life with God


You may download a complete copy of this paper (pdf) here.

The Christian faith begins and ends with Jesus Christ the incarnate God.  The Scriptures all testify about him (Luke 24:25-27) and he is quite literally the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Furthermore, Jesus is many things to his people.  He is the great revealer of God’s Word to us, he made sacrifice for our sins by his own death and resurrection and he is our king and leader.  His life is also an example for us in how to walk on earth in full surrender and harmony with our creator. His life had a certain pattern and rhythm[1] to it of which we are called to be imitators (Ephesians 5:1,2, 1 Corinthians 11:1). We are not called to ask what Jesus would do in some hypothetical way, but we are to know him personally and follow him with wisdom in the contours of our lives. One of the things we see over and over in the life of Jesus is a path of constant contact and communion with God.  His life was given in joyful obedience and fellowship with his heavenly father; we desire our lives to have a similar rhythm. Christian Philosopher Dallas Willard makes note of this simple yet profound connection:

My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing—-by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live.  We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father. [2]

Yet there remains a major difference between us and Jesus. Jesus lived in complete and perfect harmony with the Father and we struggle forward with our sinfulness while he works on us day by day.  Jesus lived in communion with God in a complete way and our lives struggle in finding our rhythm in keeping in step with God.  Now let me also make something clear, Jesus lived his life on earth as a spiritually empowered human being, not some sort of superman.  He was tempted in every way yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  He grew tired and frustrated with life just as we do, but stayed intimately connected with the Father. We can become like him as God leads us as well, we just fall short at times where he did not.  That is why WE follow HIM

For us to live like Jesus we must examine the regular practices and flow of our own lives.  Rather than jumping right to an exhortation about the things we need to be doing, I want us to begin by looking at the heart behind certain spiritual activities. If we do not initially cultivate a heart for God we will only create a list of duties which is disconnected from our relationship with God.  This never goes well and ends up with wearisome and lifeless religion.

In this essay we will travel the following road together. First, we will discuss our deep need to regularly meet with God in order to be transformed and live in harmonious friendship with him. Furthermore, in doing so, we need to find freedom in our surrender to his purposes in our lives as our King.  We will do this by looking at two helpful biblical metaphors which deal with appearing before God.  Second, we will discuss the role of what we call spiritual disciplines or means of grace in shaping our lives.  God has given his people certain practices to help transform us and grow us in friendship with him.  At this point we are going to shake it up a little and talk about disciplines using the metaphor of a dance. God calls us to learn the rhythms of gospel life and mission together as we flow with him. I am using this metaphor for two reasons: 1) to help out the guys as the ladies love to dance. Just kidding; but dancing is just all right with me, 2) more seriously, I like the metaphor as it portrays our relationship with God as the joyful pursuit which it truly is.  Finally, we will give a brief overview of each of the rhythms we will discuss as a community over the next eight weeks.  So let us appropriately begin with our need for God.

Our Need to Appear Before God

In the Old Testament we read the following heart cry from the Psalmist. As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.   When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1, 2) We live a daily struggle to connect with God because our world and our lives are out of rhythm and disjointed from him.

The Scriptures teach us that God created all things good for his purposes. The universe and human beings were made to be in rhythm with their creator celebrating his goodness, power and glory. Yet because of the sin and rebellion of human beings the rhythm of the world is now out of sync with its maker. Creation groans containing both the echoes of an original harmony amidst current brokenness and futility (See Genesis 3 and Romans 8).

The good news of Jesus Christ has vast implications as it is God’s promise to redeem our lives and reconnect us with God.  Furthermore, the promise of the cross of Christ is that all things will be made new and brought back into perfect harmony in the coming Kingdom of God.  In the present age we struggle forward and long for this coming redemption that has started in us by faith in Jesus.  In Christ God has made a way back to the paradise which was lost in Eden both in reconnecting us personally with God and bringing all things under the Lordship of Jesus (See Ephesians 1). In fact, the Kingdom will be better than Eden…really, it will.

The cry of the Psalmist above is a cry for reconnection with God in the midst of a world of sin, chaos, enemies, personal wandering, sadness and depression.  His soul is longing for God; for communion with and intimacy with the Father. He wants to personally appear before God in worship. There are two biblical metaphors which describe well the aspect of appearing before God; we will treat them ever so briefly here as I think they help us to get to the heart of the gospel and the “why” behind certain spiritual practices.

  • The Face of God – Favor in Relationship – The Scriptures speaks of someone’s face representing their character and presence. To seek the face of God is to seek his favor and an audience with him.  If God hides his face from his people, they feel distant and far from him like abandoned children. (See Psalm 27) If God were to allow his face to shine upon them they experience the joy of his pleasure and salvation (See Psalm 80). This metaphor is also extended in the New Testament where we are told the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is seen in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 4). In Jesus we receive mercy, grace and favor from God. His face upon us shifts from guilt and condemnation for our sins to fellowship and joy with our Savior.  Here we see the reality of the pleasantness and friendship involved with the favor/face of our Creator. We want to appear before him in this sort of friendship. 
  • The Throne of God – Bowing before our King – Another metaphor of appearing before God deals with a throne.  God is presented in Scripture as a high, lofty, holy and majestic King (See Isaiah 6). To come before his throne is to come in a posture of reverent fear and respect for our King.  We dare not approach him unless we come in his favor (See Psalm 89:1-18 and Revelation 4).

Both of these metaphors are needed for us to understand our relationship to God as his creatures and his children. The gospel reestablishes relationship and the gospel brings joyful submission and surrender of our lives to God.  We understand that in the gospel, God is both our father/friend and sovereign king.  Some treat God in such a way that he is domesticated into our equal. Let me be clear, friendship with God is not the same as having a buddy. Furthermore, some make God such a high and distant king that we forget that Jesus calls us his friends. Both of these realities provide for us the right posture as we relate to almighty God. This sort of posture of appearing before God is articulated well in the book of Hebrews.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

Here we come before the throne of God our King with the faithful advocacy of our high priest Jesus.  We come to a friend on the throne, but we only come as we have been forgiven on his terms.  We come as worshippers in need of mercy, grace and help. This is the posture in which we need to come to before God.

How do we arrive before the face and throne of God? How do we connect in deep relationship and joyful surrender to our King?  Through the gospel! In the gospel God has given us paths to walk which lead us precisely to these realities.  It is not a formula; it is a struggle forward driven by our desire and love for God.  The spiritual practices, disciplines and rhythms of life begin with a longing for relationship with God in Jesus Christ.  They place us in a proper posture to receive from him and be transformed by him.  They help us, as a Christian long ago once said, to practice the presence of God.[3] 

The Dance of the Gospel

In talking about spiritual practices and rhythms we are never leaving doctrinal truth behind. In fact it is the truth of the gospel that provides grounds for all our spiritual practices.  We live certain rhythms in relationship to God who is revealed in truth. Our theology should point to the one we love and desire to be more like, not to gods of our own making and imagination. Our practices and rhythms are the enjoyable paths which enable the transformation and fruitful lives to take place.  The late Francis Schaeffer once said it this way:

In the last analysis it is never doctrine alone that is important. It is always doctrine appropriated that counts…We may know the truth, we may have the knowledge, but it has not been appropriated, and so it will not mean anything to us in practice, and the fruit will not be born.[4]

So we begin with gospel truth and then we move towards certain rhythms of life which God uses to change our lives.  If we use the metaphor of a dance, the gospel is the music and the steps will be our spiritual disciplines and practices. We’ll return to the dance a bit, but before that I want us to walk through some history together.  

Throughout the history of the church, God’s people have sought to live lives marked by certain biblical practices.  Prayer, Silence, Solitude, Meditation, Study, Preaching, Baptism, Communion and Mission come to mind.  Some have called these means of grace as the things which God uses to change us.  Others have used the term spiritual disciplines reflecting the biblical language from 1 Timothy 4:7, 8:

7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

The word train yourself in this passage has often been translated discipline or exercise yourself and for good reason.  The word here is gumnázō which literally meant to exercise/train at the gymnasium for the purpose of athletic competition.  It means we should undertake disciplined spiritual training much like an athlete trains her body for competition. It means spiritually, we need to regularly hit the gym.

Throughout the history of the church there have been people who focused with extreme energy on the disciplined life of spiritual practices. In the first few centuries after Jesus, people known as anchorite monks would withdraw from society to live alone as hermits in the Egyptian dessert.  Their goal was to remove themselves from all things worldly to focus solely in solitude on God.[5] One of the most famous was a man named Anthony who became legendary for his devotion to God and even weighed in on the side of orthodoxy against the followers of Arius who claimed Jesus was not fully divine.[6]  Another rather famous ascetic monk was a man by the name of Simeon the Stylite.[7] His name was derived from the Greek word style which meant “pillar” or “pole.” Desiring solitude from the world and the pressing needs of humanity this guy lived on a one meter square on the top of a pillar for 39 years. Yes, to love Jesus he sat on a pole by himself in prayer and meditation for almost four decades. Now, I could not do this.  One, I am called to some things in the mission of God that involve other people.  Two, I don’t think the sitting on a pole thing would work for me. Just sayin.  All this to say that focused discipline has been a part of Christian history in various flavors from the beginning.  Over time the lone monk gave way to monastic orders where men, and women in the case of convents, would withdraw in communities to focus on spiritual practices and seeking God. 

Such strict discipline was always the realm of the few in times past, but we are not all called to a monkish existence even though on some crazy busy days a retreat from the chaos of the wordl does sound quite attractive. The Scriptures do however call all followers of Jesus to implement certain rhythms and practices in our everyday lives. Ancient, biblical practices of disciplined devotion should mark our paths in the modern world. 

Yet today, even the word discipline can be misunderstood by some to mean some tortuous drudgery so I want to use the terminology of gospel rhythms to express these practices as a joyful walk with God.  I also want to be clear that maintaining gospel rhythms in life is WORK and requires real DISCIPLINE.  We know that God’s purpose is to transform us to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:29, 30).  God is making us more like him in character, more like him in what we love, more like him in the way we go about our business here on the earth.  Yet many just want to say a prayer, have an experience, get a spiritual buzz and “poof!” become instant, mature, spiritual people.  No sweat, no work, no struggle.  After a while we find out that this just doesn’t work.   The Christian faith is not a magic trick; it is daily discipleship following our Lord. 

OK, back to dancing. I think if you know what it takes to dance really well you will realize it indeed involves some work and discipline.  Just take the show Dancing with the Stars as an example.  The training involved to learn to dance in a new way, with a new flow and with a partner is quite rigorous.  On the show some sort of celebrity is partnered with a pro that is charged to teach and train said celebrity to dance.  They are whipped into shape by an arduous regiment of dance training. As an aside, my favorite contestant had to be Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple computer…I think they said he looked like a Tele Tubby while doing his thing. Dang Steve! Anyway, when you think about the dance for a minute you will realize that someone leads, someone follows. Sanctification, the progressive work of God in our lives making us more like Jesus, is a bit like learning to dance. God plays the music and leads his people; he gives us certain rhythms and steps that we must learn. We must do some work and we must follow.

If you have seen “The Carlton Dance”[8] on the old school show the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, you realize that not everyone has the same kind of rhythm.  However, in the gospel we have the music and the beats that all of Jesus’ followers can flow to.  Let’s close by looking at the gospel rhythms that are core, or central, to our lives with Jesus.

Core Gospel Rhythms

God not only ordains the end for our lives, becoming like Jesus, but he also has designed the means to that end.  Gospel Rhythms are gifts to our lives to return us to the story of redemption, renew our minds with truth, refuel our souls with spiritual food and keep us connected in life giving relationship with God.  These rhythms are not simply made up by human beings, nor are they divine suggestions, but they are indeed gifts from God for every believer.  You may have a tendency to enjoy one more than another due to your unique design by God, but each is important. Furthermore, there is a diversity of expression within the body of Christ of devotion and connection to God. Some are more drawn to study, others more towards long walks in nature praying to God.[9]  We also must realize that there should be no Christian life that is devoid of scripture, prayer and other gospel rhythms exemplified and commanded by Jesus. In other words, you may like study better than prayer, but you need to pray.  You may like serving the needy more than you like meditating on Scripture, but you need biblical intake or your spiritual life will starve.  All of these rhythms are important for us but it is a reflection of the diversity of the church that you may feel drawn more towards one or the other.  One final note is in order. 

The gospel rhythms we will discuss here are by no means exhaustive of the practices in the Bible.  There are certainly other things we do as believers and certainly other things which could be listed under spiritual disciplines for the Christian life.  We are simply covering a few practices we walk in as individuals and as a community of faith.

Scripture: Study and Meditation

Much can be said about the study of the Bible, the Word of God, and the importance it has in our lives as followers of Jesus.  Author Donald Whitney is blunt and to the point in stating:

No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word.  Nothing can substitute for it.   There is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious.  In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God.  The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it.  There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in him to be right with God.  In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord.[10]

Jesus tells us the importance of the Bible in quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 – “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  The most desirable possession we have been given are the very words of God.  The Bible is the solid food for our lives which align us with the heart of God.  He speaks through the Scriptures, which the author of Hebrews describes as “living and active sharper than any double edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12)  Paul told Timothy that the inspired Scriptures are useful for “teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness” to prepare our lives for everything God will call us to do (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).  The importance of the Bible cannot be overstated.  If we love God, we will love his Word; we will realize that without a word from God we would wither away spiritually and die.  

The believer therefore will desire to be intimately involved with the Bible.  She will want to hear it taught and preached regularly.  She will want to memorize it, hiding it in her heart.  She will want to read it daily for encouragement and study it deeply so to grasp its truth and meaning.  She will want to meditate, think deeply upon, and ponder the wisdom of the Word of God.

Meditation is a word which has almost been completely absorbed by a conception of the practice found in Eastern philosophies.  Eastern meditation, of the Hindu and Buddhist flavors, is a practice in which a person attempts to empty the mind, even remove/eradicate the self into the oneness of being. It is a looking inward with the mind completely disengaged.  Biblical meditation is a completely different sort and it is lacking today in the lives of God’s people.

Meditation of the Biblical species is a contemplation of God, his words, his character and his works.  It is a filling of the mind with wonderful thoughts of God; his work in saving us, his works in creation, his works in history and in the world today.  It is allowing the Word of God to dwell, to linger, to simmer in our souls deeply.  Colossians 3:16 encourages us to Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  The goal of biblical mediation is to arouse the affections, to still the heart and to set it aflame.  Mediation should lead us to prayer; something which meditation will help us find a little easier to do. In summary, in God’s Word he speaks to us, in our time in prayer we enter an intimate conversation with the Almighty.  To prayer we now turn.

Prayer and Fasting

Perhaps the greatest privilege you have as a believer is that of prayer.   The fact is the creator of the universe desires for you to intimately communicate with him each day.  Prayer can be viewed as simply talking with God, sharing with him your thoughts, concerns, and desire to walk closely with him.  In prayer we can find help, guidance, and strength to face life’s many tough challenges.  In prayer we also find that the very one who made all things desires an audience with you; for you to worship him, to confess your sins to him, to thank him for all things, and to petition him with your needs.

But to be honest, most of us get too spazzed out in life to have any real prayer life.  The cell phones ring, TVs buzz, Facebook notifies, e-mails arrive, tweets flow down the screen and blogs update, etc. making us a rather distracted people.  I know I personally struggle to carve out time to pray during the day.  Peter reminds us of a very important aspect for a life of prayer when he writes, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). We must be self-controlled, mindful of eternal realities, and focused on the coming of Jesus.  This is precisely why we so need to sit our butts down to be alone and pray.  How it dries up the soul to run around all the time without quiet, peace, not being conscious of the company of God!  In prayer we can find the mercy and help we need in every struggle (Heb 4:16), we see God align our wills to his own (Matt 6:9-13), we find grace and forgiveness for sin, and we enjoy the presence and nearness of God.  Oh how we all need to make time for prayer!

Fasting has long been a part of the lives of the followers of Jesus, but many times it can be misunderstood or altogether neglected.  Put very simply, fasting is the abstention from something for spiritual reasons.  Richard Foster has defined it this way: Fasting is the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.[11] In the Bible people would abstain from food, at times water as well, and married couples from sex for times of prayer (really, see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5).  Fasting is a way to express the worth of God over temporal things, to seek him in concentrated prayer, to confess sin and show contrition of heart.  Both the Old and New Testament show believers fasting.  We’ll take just a quick peek.

In the Old Testament Moses fasted before receiving the law of God (Deut 9:9), the Jewish people fasted for Queen Esther before she went before a king (Esther 4), King David fasts and prays when his son is stricken ill (2 Samuel 12), and the nation of Israel fasts corporately on several occasions to show repentance, consecrate themselves to God and ask his favor (2 Chron 20, Joel 2, Nehemiah 9).  Additionally every Jew would fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31) as the people went to God for atonement for sin. Even the Ninevites fasted to show repentance at the preaching of Jonah.  In the New Testament, Jesus implicitly assumed his followers would fast when he said to them: 

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:16-18, emphasis added). 

Jesus expected us to fast in certain seasons for dedicated times of spiritual pursuit, where we say before God, “You are more valuable to me than my normal needs and schedule.”   On point of emphasis needs to be made; we should always fast to seek God himself, not as a way to manipulate his hand to give us what we want.  It is a declaration that what we desire is in fact our God, not the gifts he may give to our lives…be they food, drink, marital intimacy, or even television.  

A good fast in modern times is to give up media (iPod, internet, movies, TV) for a period of time to intentionally seek the Lord.  These things can be good for our enjoyment, but you would be surprised at how the Lord would speak to you if you set aside time to be alone, in silence, with his word, for prayer.   I commend such fasts to you today.  Many helpful books have been written recently to assist the church in fasting.  I would recommend John Piper’s A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting.[12]  In fact it is available free online at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/OnlineBooks/ByTitle/.

Work and Rest

In the Scripture God calls us to a rhythm and balance between work and rest.  God has woven into the nature of creation a need to be active and a need to rest.  Our bodies need to sleep or they quickly break down.  The land needs to be left fallow or it will become depleted and dead lacking the vitality to bring forth produce.  God in his kindness modeled and gave to humanity the concept and command for Sabbath Rest whereby we work six days and leave one day for rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-11; Mark 2:23-28). The rhythms of work/rest should occur daily, weekly, and seasonally in our lives for our good and for the glory of God.  Some of us in America must learn to rest in order to worship and honor our God. Some of us are slackers and need to work a bit more.  We should see the sanctity of work as a gift from God and a calling by him.  We also need to see the love of God for us in telling us to slow it down and chill out regularly.  Sabbath rest allows the soul to readjust its gaze to the big picture of life and our worship and dependence on its maker.  Historically, both Jews and Christians have taken a day to rest and worship.  The Jewish community on the 7th day and the early Christians (all Jewish by the way) moved the day of worship to Sunday.  Why? To worship the risen Christ on the day he was raised triumphantly over death.  Due to our history in America being shaped by both communities we have a two day weekend.  The actual day is not the important issue, maintaining a rhythm of work rest is the issue[13].  We need to adjust ourselves to this gospel rhythm in our lives.

Mission – Evangelism and Service

It is easy to think only of contemplative practices, where the soul focuses upon God, as the primary means we connect with him.  Yet if we are to follow Jesus we cannot miss that he was an active man living out the mission of his Father.  His commission to his people is to “make disciples of all nations” and teaching them to follow everything he commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20).  This involves proclaiming the gospel to other people who are in need of the forgiveness of Jesus for their sins.  The word evangelism simply means to share the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus.  It is a proclaiming of truth to others and calling them to repent of sin and turn to Christ for grace and forgiveness.  It is a gospel rhythm, massively neglected by the church in our age.  For many reasons, Christians today simply do not share the gospel word with friends, neighbors and the people in their lives.  I have found that I meet deeply with Jesus when I am living out his mission with lost people because this is what he is doing today.  The Bible tells us that Jesus came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We should be about this business as a core rhythm of our lives.

In addition to evangelism, we are also called to serve others and care about the poor and oppressed in our world.  It is clear that this was expected by Jesus (Matthew 25) and the apostles (Galatians 2:10). In fact, in Galatians two you see both gospel preaching and serving the poor presented in the same passage, in the same context!

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Sharing the gospel with people outside of the church community and serving others should go hand and hand as regular gospel practices in which we should engage.  In doing so, you will meet Jesus there.

Gathered Gospel Rhythms

Most of the gospel rhythms with which we engage can be practiced both individually and together as a community.  There are however, a few practices which mark the gathering of the church together for regular worship.  These mark each week with the gospel and mark certain important passages of life together.  We’ll focus on three of these of which the Protestant Reformers singled out as “marks” of a true biblical church. 

The Word - The Scriptures and Gathered Worship

Just as the Word is savored in the life of the individual, the Scriptures, the very Word of God, are to be proclaimed, taught, heard and obeyed by the people of God together.  The Bible is meant to be read publicly (1 Timothy 4:13) and heard as well as read by people in the church.  The Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and will change us as we hear it.  A preacher’s duty is not only to bring “how to” seminars to people with spiritual themes, but rather to bring God’s very word to their ears so that they are changed by it.  Christians are exhorted to keep getting together regularly (Hebrews 10:24, 25), to gathering as the church.  In part, this is for us to participate in the practice of Communion and hearing the Bible read and preached.  In addition to gathering for the preaching of the Bible we also gather to sing and worship the God of the gospel.  Singing to one another and to our God is the response of overflow of joy and gratitude.  At Jacob’s Well we respond to what we see of God in the Scriptures through songs, hymns and other spiritual songs.

The Sacraments - Baptism and The Lord’s Table

Christian Baptism

Baptism is the entry sign of the new covenant or the initiatory right for every Christian.  It is the outward sign of the reality that this person belongs to God’s church. It marks a person as a Christian and is the way someone recognizes publically with Jesus Christ and his people. As it is an entry sign, it is to be performed one time and is not repeated regularly like Communion. The meaning of baptism is multifaceted.  It is meant to portray our own death, burial and resurrection with Christ (Romans 6, Colossians 2:12).  It also represents purification, a washing, or cleansing from our sin (Acts 22:16), and it also represents that we have been rescued from divine wrath and the coming judgment (1 Peter 3). Finally, it serves as an outward testimony of the inward change of conversion; people who were alienated from the Lord, yes even his enemies, are now washed, cleansed, and testify to a good conscience towards God.

The Lord’s Table

Jesus established the Lord’s Supper, or communion, for his people as a lasting sacrament and ongoing ordinance of the New Covenant.  A covenant is a promise from God; the New Covenant is a promise sealed in Jesus’ own blood.  It represents a promise that in Christ, God has purchased his people for himself, forgiven them, reconciled them to himself, and made them right in his sight.  In Communion this promise of the gospel is celebrated and displayed in the church.  In Communion we do many things together.  We remember and celebrate his body and blood which were broken and shed for our sins.  We also meet with Jesus is a special way, as he indeed is present with us at his table where he ministers to us by the Spirit.   Communion is a time for confession, repentance, and rededicating our lives together before God.  It is a time of declaring our allegiance and dependence upon Jesus for all things; it is also a visible picture to the world that the eternal is mingled with our present and that Jesus is still calling people to become his own.   It is not to be minimized or sidelined in the churches as it is a central and unique aspect of Christian worship.  It marks us as his people and is an intimate time for the bride of Christ before her Lord.


Living life through Gospel Rhythms should always come forth from a heart that has been converted and desires to follow Jesus.  It is not something we can or should try to force upon one another. Studying scripture, prayer, meditation, mission and participation in the life of the local church must flow from a deep “want to” that God has placed in us. If we cannot hear the gospel music, we will not pursue gospel rhythms.  Yet when Jesus gives us ears to hear even the most off beat brothers and sisters will suddenly feel a gospel rhythm come to life.  We want to discipline and train in godliness.  We want to say no to temptation and sin to follow Jesus in spiritual practices in our lives.  We will want to have his face turned towards us and come before his throne regularly for mercy, help and grace.  When I try to get my kids to eat broccoli I can tell them it is good for them and I can even make them choke it down.  Yet if they find a taste for it, they will eat with joy for themselves.  You cannot make others choke down Jesus, but when he finds them, gospel rhythms will begin to become a joy in their lives. 

Jacob’s Well I commend to you the pathways of study, prayer, fasting, meditation, evangelism, service, hearing and singing the gospel, baptism and communion.  These paths contain life.  These paths are led by Jesus.


[1] In this essay we will use several terms almost interchangeably. Life Patterns, Rhythms, Pathways, Activities, and Disciplines will all be used to describe certain occupations to which all Christians are called.

[2] Quoted in Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1991), 21.

[3]“The holiest, most universal and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God.  To practice the presence of God is to pleasure in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly in our hearts with him at all times, and at every moment, especially in times of temptation, pain, spiritual dryness, revulsion to spiritual things, and even unfaithfulness and sin.” Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, trans. Robert J. Edmonson, Christian Classics, vol. q (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 1985), 125.

[4] Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton, Ill.,: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971), 84-85.

[5] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity, 1st ed., 2 vols. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), Vol 1 - 138-143.

[6] Ibid., 141.

[7] Wiki, “Simeon Stylites,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites.

[8] For such delights, reference that web browser to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zS1cLOIxsQ8

[9] For an interesting historical and sociological look at the diversity of ways in which people connect with God in the Christian tradition see Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).

[10] Whitney.

[11] Quoted in Ibid., 160.

[12] John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997).

[13] In Romans 14 and Colossians 2 the apostle Paul addresses this issue head on.  The Sabbath is a gift to man and it is also a type or shadow of our full rest in Jesus (See Hebrews chapters 3 and 4)


González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. 2 vols. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.

Lawrence, Brother. The Practice of the Presence of God. Translated by Robert J. Edmonson. Vol. q Christian Classics. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 1985.

Piper, John. A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting. Wheaton: Crossway, 1997.

Schaeffer, Francis A. True Spirituality. Wheaton, Ill.,: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971.

Thomas, Gary. Sacred Pathways. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1991.

Wiki. “Simeon Stylites.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites.


The Resurgence posted a great video entitled “how to build a god” that got me thinking about the foolishness of building our life, identity and hope in some thing.  Check it out…

Thankful today to remember how easily I get all caught up in sports, gadgets, opinions of people, etc. when God wants me to live free by finding my life and satisfaction in him.  Great passage about a community that experienced such transformation:

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 ESV