Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Psalm 32:11 - A Changed Heart

Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

David finishes his celebration of repentance with a call for all repentant sinners to take stock of what God has done for them. He highlights the new thinking under which they now operate. This new thinking can be seen in their perspectives on righteousness, their own hearts, and God.

Repentant sinners know a different kind of righteousness

David addresses this verse to "righteous ones." Of whom does he speak? Our cultural conceptions of righteousness present some peculiar distortions. In North America, it is commonly believed that a "righteous one" is a person who is generally virtuous, is active in church, does not sin in overt ways or follows a strict moral code (also, he is boring, uptight, angry and out of touch). Biblical repentance knocks the stuffing out of that view. A person who fits the cultural definition has no need of repentance, he is probably too "good" for it. But the outward goodness man can achieve is very different from the righteousness God requires. What is the Biblical concept?

The words, "upright in heart" offer a clue as to what David had in mind when he spoke of "righteous ones." There is an inner righteousness which consists in aligning one's heart to the perfect standard of righteousness: God. This righteousness starts with a confession of our sinfulness. Compared to God, each one of us is a wretched mess. Whether we have sinned in gross and overt ways is not the point. There is a vast ocean of moral perfection separating God and man. Some are swimming in the water, and some are contentedly relaxing on the beach. But ALL are on the wrong side of the ocean and NONE can swim across it. At the end of the day, we all need a shower, and God's perfection remains way beyond the farthest horizon we can see.

True righteousness moves from confession of sin to an acknowledgement of God's perfect goodness. In and of Himself, He is pure, He is holy, He is good, He is the measure of goodness and truth. To make the point very clear to us, God has revealed His transcendent perfection through creation. But He didn't stop there - He also sent us the living epitome of righteousness in human form through the incarnation of Christ.

True righteousness finds its culmination in sinners being justified by grace through faith. Righteousness is not something we achieve and offer to God. It's what He has achieved and now freely offers to us as a gift. This is the simple and wonderful message of the Gospel. Verse 11 is tied to verse 10, and we see that the inner RIGHTEOUSNESS of the heart comes from the MERCY which is given to those who TRUST God. David succinctly expresses the Gospel in these two verses, and Paul later expands the concepts found here into the first 5 chapters of the book of Romans. Paul calls it "The Righteousness of God," a righteousness that is MORE THAN just. It justifies sinners, in spite of their sinfulness (meaning they don't deserve it) and because of their sinfulness (meaning they can't do it for themselves, only He could do it).

For believers, the outward acts of righteousness which form a righteous character are built upon this inner righteousness. They are the fruit of the righteousness which comes to them as a gift from God. Any other kind of outward righteousness is false and useless, as every repentant sinner knows.

Repentant sinners see the significance of the heart

David recognizes that his sinful choices were the natural outflow of a depraved heart. He has learned something new about himself: he is sinful to the core. Now he is much more aware of the desires of his heart, much more grateful for any evidence of grace, and much more deliberate about rooting out evil thinking.

When we see our hearts as the idol factories that they are, we stop believing our own selfish thinking and no longer trust ourselves. Instead, we believe the testimony of the Word of God. We give serious consideration to the advice of others who see us more objectively than we see ourselves. We cry out to God for mercy every day - knowing many seeds of wickedness lie within us. More than that: we confess that we don't even realize the seeds of wickedness that lie dormant in our hearts.

We also realize that the transforming work of God happens in our hearts as He creates new desires within us. All our desire for good is evidence of His inner work of grace.

Consider the meaning of the Hebrew word for upright:

Upright = Heb YASHAR - straight, level, smooth, by impl. pleasing.

YASHAR can describe a road that is clear and unobstructed, hence smooth. In the context of this psalm, the connotation is that God is pleased when our hearts have a clear, unobstructed path to Him. In other words, we must reveal our hearts to Him, leaving nothing hidden or unconfessed. We must keep open communication with Him. We must bring down every high thing (such as our proud, defensive thinking), and raise up every low place (our hidden deeds). In this way we will maintain an intimate communion with the Father, which is an unfailing spring of delight.

Repentant sinners find overwhelming joy in God

All joy has a cause, and David calls us to rejoice for the very best reason: God Himself. Earlier in the psalm God was pressing a firm hand down on us, bringing us to a barren and desolate place of intense thirst. He seemed to be terrorizing our consciences, and we found no joy in Him. But now He becomes the ground of our gladness, the reason for our rejoicing, the basis of our blessedness.

Here are a few reasons why you will see repentant sinners rejoicing with unbridled enthusiasm:

~ God was patient and did not give us what we deserve. While we sinned, He granted time for repentance.
~ God completely and freely forgave us for all the ways we sinned in act, word and thought.
~ God covered our sinful nature by imputing Christ's righteousness to us.
~ God made atonement for our sin by offering a perfect sacrifice in our place.
~ God proved the sufficiency of the atonement by raising our perfect representative from the dead, thereby guaranteeing our forgiveness and acceptance before Him.
~ God granted us renewed fellowship with Himself.
~ God accepts us exactly as we are.
~ God loves us too much to leave us as we are. He promises to change us as we walk with Him.
~ God has promised to help us in our ongoing struggle against sin. He has given us a great High Priest Who offers continued forgiveness and help.
~ As we struggle with the ongoing destruction of a sinful world, the spiritual powers of evil that rule here, and the corruptions of our own hearts, God remains the stable and steadfast ground of our hope, a changeless fountain of grace, our wise Guide, our caring Shepherd, our loving Father and our faithful Friend.

David ends on this triumphant note of joy to remind us that repentance is all about restored fellowship with God. As John Piper's famous axiom reminds us: sin is what we do when we are not satisfied in God. All our righteousness and joy come from being filled with Him, satisfied in Him, alive through Him, grateful for Him, focused on Him, thoughtful of Him, inclined toward Him, dependent on Him.

Dear friend, rest your weary soul in His everlasting grace today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

It's amazing! Jesus Christ, God the Son, became the God-Man, was born of Mary, and offered Himself as our substitute. He lived and died in our place, rose victorious, and reigns in heaven now.

We wonder at the way He crossed from eternity into time. We marvel at His humility. We tremble before His unveiled glory. And we thank Him for His loving self-sacrifice - from the hour He was born until He gave up His spirit on the cross.

What a unique and unusual occurrence, this incarnation of Christ.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bless you this Christmas. May you know the joy of His presence in the coming new year. It may come to you in paradoxical ways: wrapped in sufferings, and challenges, and trials, and humbling experiences. But under all that wrapping is the glory, the life, the very power of God. There's no greater treasure.

Grace to you, friends!


We took my son for a visit with the doctor yesterday. My son still has a good size lump on his neck, which the doctor believes is a "branchial cleft cyst." We're going to schedule him for surgery to have it removed sometime in January. The link below gives details about the condition and pictures of the required surgical procedure. Don't look if you're squeamish.

The doctor assures us that this is a fairly standard procedure. However, he warned us that sometimes these cysts can reach deep into the neck and even affect the tonsils. The tonsils sometimes have to be removed along with the cyst. And of course he mentioned that several vital structures are in the neck area, which can present some complications.

Thanks everyone for your prayers. I'm definitely praying for the doctor's mind, heart, and hands - along with my son's neck.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Psalm 32:10 - The Joys of Repentance

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

By the time one gets to the end of Psalm 32, repentance starts to look wonderful. And it is.

Here in verse 10, we find that godly sorrow helps us to avoid ultimate sorrow. We see that repentance brings joy, while the anguish of sin only multiplies through unbelief and continued rebellion. It is indeed a paradox that our real and lasting joy rises out of sorrow. Until we have experienced sorrow for sin, we cannot know the joy of the Lord. Repentance is the way to true happiness - the abiding, eternal happiness that comes from a life lived in God's presence. Paul touches on this in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

For believers, sorrow is a step on the path toward the good things that are coming. But for the world, sorrow is just a bleak reflection of the bad things that have happened - and a reminder that more bad things are on the way.

Psalm 32:10 is a good example of the inherent beauty of Biblical poetry. The Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were deft and careful with their words. They often used parallel constructions and grammatical structures to pack amplified meaning into every phrase. In essence, the parts of a verse become a lens through which the other parts are magnified and clarified. Consider this brief color-coded analysis:

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

"wicked" is put against "He who trusts in the LORD." These are contrasting phrases, showing us these things: at a root level, the only way to turn from wickedness is to trust in the LORD. Trustful dependence (a.k.a. "faith") characterizes those who repent, while wickedness characterizes those who do not trust God. Faith always treats sin with repentance, and repentance always defeats sin with faith. All sin reveals our lack of trust in God, and unbelief always leads toward sin. These are broad principles that give us direction when we are at our wits' end, struggling with the turmoil of life's challenges. These truths form the subject matter of our confession before God. "Lord, I lied because I do not trust You as I should. I should have spoken the truth as You command. Please forgive me, and help me to change."

"Sorrows" is put against "lovingkindness." Another set of telling contrasts. Here David uses the word HESED, the famous Hebrew term for mercy (it's discussed at length in the post on verse 6). The sorrow brought on by sin is a result of separation from God's mercy. Repentance and faith reconnect us with that mercy. Put another way, our relationship with God is governed by this principle: BY GRACE (or MERCY), THROUGH FAITH (or TRUST). The reformers cried out "Sola Gratia" (by grace alone) and "Sola Fide" (through faith alone), reflecting Paul's words in Ephesians 2:8-9. These principles pervade the whole of Scripture from beginning to end.

"Many" is placed parallel to "surround." Rather than a contrast, here we have mutually descriptive terms (i.e., the two words function as synonyms). From this we understand that the wicked are surrounded by many sorrows, and those who trust in the LORD receive many mercies - so many that they become surrounded by them.

Note the double-edged promise in this verse. For the unrepentant, many sorrows are forecast. But for those who repent, mercy is guaranteed. And it is not guaranteed on the ground of our good works, but on the ground of our faith.

All of this leads us back to the overall theme of Psalm 32: God's mercy is so great that we can trust Him with our worst sins. We can go to Him. We can confess. We can find His forgiveness. We can have restored fellowship with Him. We can be changed through repentance and faith. We can overcome sin. We can walk with God. All of these things we CAN do because of His unfailing mercy, which surrounds us and prevails over us like a flood.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Prisoners Find Hope in Christ

My Father-in-Law has spent most of the last 30 years in prison. He's a prison chaplain.

Now in his 70's and supposedly retired, he is unrelenting in his passion to reach out to what he calls "the Matthew 25 people."

Seven years ago, after many years of faithful service in upstate New York, he and his wife moved to a small town near Springfield, MO. In "retirement," his ongoing ministry is so impactful that a local news station recently did a story on him. You can watch the video here:

You may be startled when he says, "What they need first and foremost is a friend." Don't let it bother you. Bob is not a word-perfect theologian, and doesn't try to be one. He's a tried and tested servant of God who knows the real Friend prisoners need is Jesus Christ. God has given him a tremendous gift for reaching out to those who have been cast off by others. He shares God's kindness with them, and he shares the Gospel with them. For Bob Reed, this is the only way to be a friend.

Among his many contacts over the years, he became a confidant of the much-publicized former satanist, Sean Sellers, who was later executed for his crimes.

Bob and his wife Jeanetta are available for speaking engagements, missions conferences, short term overseas missions teams, concerts (Bob is a GREAT singer) and other events and outreaches. If you'd like to get in touch with the Reed's and learn more about their work, I can email their contact info to you.

I'm grateful to have the Reed's as my in-laws. They are an inspiration to me, and a godly example for my children.

Grace & peace,

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Psalm 32:9 - The Results of Repentance

Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.

In verse 8, God promises to personally teach and train the repentant sinner. Now He gives us the details of this training, and the intended results of repentance, including a contrasting example of what our training does NOT involve. This path leads us to a change which affects our entire person - mind, will, and affections.

Before we examine this, let's remind ourselves of one clear fact drawn from verses 1, 2, and 5: the person in this training program is already forgiven. He does not embark on this path to obtain clemency - he follows the divine teaching because he has already received mercy and now trusts his Teacher to steer him right. He is a HASID - a person whose identity is grounded in divine mercy.

Repentance brings a lasting change of mind with new thinking.

God's teaching moves us from folly to wisdom. The horse and mule have no wisdom or understanding. They act according to their nature and instincts, not a reasoned course of intelligent reflection. The animal's life is a continual quest for survival and is aimed at preserving independence. But Christ calls His followers to death and surrender.

Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

Luke 14:33 "So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions."

For the Christian, life is paradoxically found only through dying with Christ, and freedom is attained only by surrendering to the sovereign God. And the only way to arrive at this enlightened view of things is by divinely imparted wisdom. Fallen human nature cannot comprehend the things of God, and will instead rise up in pride, independence, self-reliance and the perpetual pursuit of easy pleasure. Our sinful flesh despises the hard road of discipleship.

Animals can be tamed and domesticated so that they will outwardly conform to the demands of their masters, but they will never voluntarily surrender themselves. Amazing tricks can be achieved by channeling an animal's instincts, but this is not the result of any wisdom they have gained. It is nothing more than the same old animal thinking brought into a new set of circumstances which are carefully manipulated by the master. God's ways are higher than this. He does not "break" us like a horse is broken. He aims for inward transformation. He does not employ threat and manipulation to force us into behavioral change. Rather, He invests us with His Own Spirit and renews our minds through His Word to bring about an entirely new nature - one that loves Him and receives His teaching with delight.

Psalm 51:6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.

God teaches our hearts so that we become willing to do His will.

Repentance brings us beyond mere external motivation through a transformed will.

There is hardly a more stubborn animal than a mule. These creatures are uncommonly recalcitrant. Yet with the use of a painful bit and bridle, even this beast will become obedient - at least on the outside. When repentance is external and fear-driven, our obedience is all on the surface. But when repentance reaches our hearts, we become obedient from within (Romans 6:17). Our will changes. The desire for sin decreases, the choice to sin becomes less appealing, and the love for sin gets broken. We grieve over our sin, not because it wreaks havoc on our happiness, but because it breaks God's heart. We cannot conceive of any happiness apart from Him. Sins like pride and envy become abhorrently abominable to us, even though they do not seem to affect our outward lives in dramatic ways. We plead with God to help us overcome these sins. We hate our sin because we look at the cross and see what it did to Jesus Christ. We loathe our sin because it works death in us, leaving us with a tormenting sense of separation from God. Only the Gospel can cure this.

At the same time, we begin to love God because we find Him to be pure and untainted and utterly innocent. We delight in His Word because it is completely holy. We are captivated by an incarnate Christ Who walked spotlessly through our fallen world. The temptations that have so easily capsized us didn't even draw his interest.

Has curiosity taken us into sin? He limited His knowledge and yet did not succumb to sin through curiosity. Has pleasure carried us to sinful excess? He experienced daily suffering and never turned to sinful pleasure for relief. Have bodily drives and hungers driven us into wickedness? He had all of them, too, yet He never made provision for the flesh. Have riches become a snare to us? He became entirely poor, and never once complained or worshipped the Mammon idol of money that makes the world "go 'round." Has loneliness opened a door for evil in our lives? After half a lifetime filled with rejection, the God-Man Jesus Christ hung on the cross by Himself and endured the ferocious and hellish alienation brought about through rejection by both God and man - without ever having a stray thought, word or deed. His is a perfect and intrinsic and inherent and irresistible holiness.

When we see the destructiveness of sin, and when we see the pure magnificence of Christ, our will changes. Not because we are threatened, but because we are captivated. We do not hate sin because it "hurts" us in this life (though it certainly does). We hate sin because sin is Christ's enemy, and we have become His friends. This changes our will, so that we are transformed from the inside out.

Repentance brings us near to God with new affections.

God points our attention to a specific characteristic of horses and mules: of their own accord, they will not come near you. A wild horse can only run wild. A wild mule will only resist. Fear drives these animals and causes them to keep their distance from us.

In the same way, all fallen human beings are averse to God. We naturally despise, hate and turn from Him. We naturally view ourselves as His mortal enemies. But for a repentant sinner there is one important difference: grace. By grace, we have the ability to draw near to God. By grace, the dividing wall of hostility is removed. By grace, He forgives us. By grace, He draws us. By grace, He accepts us. By grace, He makes us His own children. We are not His pets, or work animals, or slaves, or prisoners. We are beloved sons!

And when we realize just how loved and forgiven we are, we willingly submit to our Father and offer ourselves as His slaves. We WANT to be kept in the boundaries of His will. We LOVE to be His.

What sweet joys fill our hearts as we walk with Him. It is not under the restraints of bit and bridle that we walk, but in the light and easy yoke of Christ. In this yoke, He walks next to us all the way, lending the strength we lack and encouraging our weary hearts to keep on. There can be absolutely no freedom for man, except in being bound to Christ by the eternal bonds of love and mercy. In these blessed bonds, we are freed from the slavish drudgery of sin and secured forever by grace.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


My son was released from the hospital last night! The lump on his neck has considerably reduced in size. He is energetic and full of life.

When we got home, we sat down in front of the computer and looked at the analytics for THEOparadox, marvelling at how many people might have been praying. My son was amazed to see all the little dots on the map which likely represent caring people who were showing God's love to him during his time of need.

While we still do not know exactly why there is a lump in his neck, the doctors are hopeful that surgery - if needed - will be much easier with a smaller lump. The doctors would like to see him in about a week for another evaluation.

Throughout this time, we have seen God's hand at work. He has united our family in new ways, given us great favor with the doctors and hospital staff, and caused us to sense the peace of Christ reigning in the midst of our chaos. God worked through my son's Pediatrician to get us into the best children's hospital in North Florida. And he worked through many of you to show us His great kindness - thank you!

Grace & peace,

Sunday, December 07, 2008


So much for "normal" blogging . . .

We have spoken with our son's attending physician this afternoon, and it sounds like surgery is still a possibility for tomorrow . . . but nothing's definite at this point. The doctors are feeling a bit exasperated by the fact that they cannot make a firm diagnosis. They're trying to determine whether it is more risky to do surgery now or to wait. So, your continued prayers are appreciated. We especially need wisdom for whatever decisions we will have to make tomorrow.

The medical scenarios seem to change too easily, but we are resting in the firm hands of the living God.

Some may trust in horses, some in chariots, some in doctors and nurses . . . but we will trust in the NAME OF OUR GOD.

Perhaps this would be a good time to talk about the paradoxes of divine healing, of the excesses and imbalances and heresies in some modern theologies, of God's direct intervention in some cases, of His use of medicine and doctors, of His use and allowance of suffering in the lives of His chosen ones, in the lives of their children, in the life of His Own Dear Son, etc. But in the end, it would all come back to this: we pray, we trust God, and we hold fast to His sovereign grace. We thank Him for every day of life, and that even in our worst sickness - even in death - we never get what we deserve. We get GRACE! And our hearts are ultimately filled with joy no matter what happens. My son and I have been having some great discussions about the incarnation, Jesus' sufferings for us, and the triumph of resurrection. 4 year olds are so smart about these things - I'm learning a lot!

Interestingly enough, we read the account of Hezekiah's illness and recovery in our family devotions last week. That ancient Hebrew king set a great example for us.


The doctors have asked to keep my son under observation and IV antibiotics for one more day, and plan to send him home tomorrow. His swelling is markedly decreased. The doctors would like to see him back in about one week for a surgery consultation.

As for a diagnosis, the most likely culprit is a cyst that may have been present at birth and has now become infected. The doctor would like to surgically remove the cyst in the near future, after the swelling has gone down. Please pray that God will give us and the doctors wisdom in how to proceed. We are praying for divine healing in the meantime.

My wife and I thank you for your prayers. The situation could have been much worse, but all seems to be progressing at a stable course for now. We still don't have a "for sure" diagnosis (is such a thing possible?), but at least the condition is at a manageable level. I'll resume "normal" blogging now, and post updates on my son if there are any significant developments.


Saturday, December 06, 2008


My son has been under observation and receiving various diagnostics as the doctors try to discover the exact nature of his condition. He's been quite a little trooper and not even afraid of the needles. I am sure he will be quite a man someday! And, prayerfully, a fearless man of GOD.

For today at least, the doctors have chosen not to do surgery. The lump on his neck is getting slightly smaller, so there is evidence of prayer and antibiotics and rest doing their work. I've now been at the hospital for 22 hours. I'll stay here with him again tonight while his sister and my lovely wife rest up at home. We all have to be ready for a possible surgical option tomorrow.

In the morning, the doctors will re-evaluate him for surgery. We hope it's not needed, as it would involve cutting into his neck. I'll give another update tomorrow if I can. Since I may have a bit of time on my hands, I might even be able to put up a new Psalm 32 post while I'm here.

Thanks so much for your prayers. I have been encouraging my son with the fact that people from all over the world whom he has never met have been praying for him - simply because they love Jesus like Mommy and Daddy do.

In this photo, you can see the huge wrapping they are using to hold the IV attachment in place. Poor little guy misses his right hand quite a bit.

The doctors have drawn a line around the swollen area. It's gradually getting smaller, all glory to God.

Friday, December 05, 2008


My 4 year old son, who is featured in one of the videos in the sidebar, needs your prayers. He had what appeared to be a swollen gland on his neck about two weeks ago. The doctor said it was not serious and he did not need any treatment. A few days later it swelled up like a balloon, and when he developed a 104 degree fever we took him to the Emergency Room. That was Thanksgiving Day.

Now my son has been on strong antibiotics for a week, but his swelling is still very high. Today he saw the doctor and they are recommending immediate consultation for surgery. We will be taking him in to the hospital today, and they will be doing some tests and possibly operating today or tomorrow. We are somewhat in the dark as to the nature of his condition, so it's a bit scary. Please, friends, pray for my son if you are able.

I Sam. 2:2, 4-8 "There is no one holy like the LORD, Indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God. . . . The bows of the mighty are shattered, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry cease to hunger. Even the barren gives birth to seven, but she who has many children languishes. The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and He set the world on them."

We are trusting in the Name of the One true sovereign and loving God, through His blessed Son and in the strength of His Spirit.

Thank you for your prayers,

The Wittenburg Church Door

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is only a tongue-in-cheek bit of fun, based on my experiences and observations of theological trends. If you're offended by this, please try to lighten up. If you've abandoned sound doctrine in favor of modern trends and worldly fads, repent.
The year is 1517. In a historic act of Biblical courage, Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Church Door . . .
Terrified peasants rejoice at the good news and run into the safety of the cathedral.
An angry Roman Catholic theologian rips down the 95 Theses and uses them to make a paper hat. He puts the hat on his head and stands outside the cathedral windows looking in. Later, Luther's friends put the 95 Theses back on the door.
A Calvinist goes through the door and tells everyone inside, "God sovereignly planned long ago for you to be here. You are here by His pleasure and will."
An Amyrauldian Calvinist stands up and says God made it possible for everyone outside to come in also.
A Hyper Calvinist opens the door and walks through it. He leaves the door open, waiting for God to close it for him. He turns around and tells the crowd outside they are probably not invited to come in.
A second Hyper Calvinist who is standing outside slams the door shut and boards up the church entrance.
An early Arminian takes the boards off the door and then cuts the door in half, beckoning everyone to enter. He takes the other half of the door to the local morgue and encourages the dead people to get into the church at any cost.
Later, a militant Arminian breaks the door down and stands on it, declaring that he is free to enter or leave the cathedral at will and no one can stop him. He then clarifies his meaning by saying this happens "by grace alone." He goes to the morgue to see if some of the dead people are just sleeping.

An Open Theist says God did not know about the cathedral or the door until they happened, but now He is glad they are there. He builds a robot and programs it to respond to every person's movements. He calls the robot "G.O.D."
A Universalist stands outside and tells bystanders that the Wittenburg Church door is no different from any other door in the world, but the important thing is to choose a door and go through it. He also assures those who want no door at all that this is a perfectly good option.
A "Free Grace" Antinomian stands on the church steps and tells everyone that they need only believe they are inside the cathedral, and they are. Anyone who says they have to actually enter the cathedral is a deceiving, graceless legalist.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer hits the "Free Grace" Antinomian over the head with a hardcover copy of his book, "The Cost of Discipleship." After that, Bonhoeffer disappears and everyone wonders where he went.
A Calvinistic Antinomian decides to go up the cathedral steps with a fire hose. He tells everyone inside to pretend they're in an amusement park. He then turns on the water and blasts every sacred thing in sight until it is completely waterlogged. He believes his insurance company will pay for the damages.
A Charismatic reads the first thesis and gets so excited he bursts through the door and dances around the cathedral shouting at the top of his lungs. He knocks over several candlesticks in the process. When someone tries to draw his attention to the other 94 theses, he declares they are unimportant and starts dancing again with his eyes closed.
A Reformed Charismatic walks to the microphone with the 95 Theses in hand. He shares a dream he had about the third thesis, and all of his friends start hopping and singing for sheer joy (with their eyes wide open).
A Pentecostal jumps over three pews and starts swinging from a gold chandelier. He appears to be completely unharmed when the chandelier falls to the ground and crushes him.
A Oneness Pentecostal notes that there are not three doors, but one. He ignores the three windows above the door.
An Independent Fundamentalist preacher stands up and delivers a fiery sermon about the fact that the door is wooden and rigid. Two of the three points in his sermon are about the splinters one might expect to get from handling such a door. In conclusion, he burns some "false doors" on the church steps.
A KJV-only preacher stands at the door demanding that everyone who tries to enter must use a secret password. The password is "Thou."
A Fundamental Baptist preacher tells everyone they must take a bath and wear nice clothes if they want to come inside the cathedral. He also convinces several bystanders to place one foot inside the door and assures them that they are now "eternally secure" inside the cathedral no matter what they do.
A Neo-orthodox theologian stands in the doorway with one foot on each side of the threshold. He declares that he is both "within" and "without" the cathedral at the same time.
Two Southern Baptists get into a shoving match with the Neo-orthodox theologian. One is trying to push him out of the cathedral, while the other is trying to push him in.
A Liberal Theologian sits on the church steps and writes a long article about the many possible interpretations of the word "door" as it is used in Scripture and church history. None of these interpretations has any resemblance to the actual Wittenburg church door, but they do sound quite scholarly and lead many intelligent people away from the door.
A Neo-evangelical pastor passes a survey around to everyone standing outside the church. He then places silver wallpaper over the door, sets a welcome mat in front of it and launches a full scale remodeling project using the survey as a blueprint. The sign over the church door now reads "Wittenburg Creek Community Church - home of the High-Bells."

A Postmodernist rips the door off its hinges and burns it in the town square. Later, the pastor of a prominent Emergent Church scoops up the ashes and forms them into a statue resembling Gumby. Several thousand seekers come to his "campus" each weekend to enjoy the image he has made. The pastor calls this "reinventing" the Wittenburg door and insists that this is what God had in mind all along. He goes to Starbucks and starts a long, confusing conversation with his friends in which they "imagine" a Wittenburg Church door that is covered with pink velvet and has a "doggy door." Afterward, they visit their favorite tattoo parlor to get the word "relevant" inked permanently onto their foreheads.

Meanwhile, a few bedraggled peasants, bearing old rugged crosses on a narrow road, flee into the church to find refuge in the living and true, eternal, gracious, sovereign God.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Repentance, Substitution and Replacement

Here are a few thoughts to add to yesterday's post on Psalm 32:8 . . .

Repentance is turning, not just FROM SIN, but also TO CHRIST. In repentance, we turn from "irresistible" sin to an irresistible Savior. We draw back from the fleeting pleasures of sin and run headlong into the eternal joys of Christ. He becomes the object of our pursuit, the Friend from Whom we cannot bear to be distant, the delight and satisfaction of our souls. As we were smitten with sin, and willing to give all for it, we are now smitten with HIM and willing to give all for this Wonderful One. He amazes us! Repentance leads us to Christ, not merely as the Substitute Who was punished in our place, but as the replacement for the sin that we formerly cherished. Every desire we have had for sin should rightly have been directed toward Him. Every enjoyment of earthly pleasure should have been an enjoyment of Him. All the love we have had for worldly things should have been love for Him. The self-importance with which we puffed ourselves up should have been ascribed to Him as glory and honor and worship. The proud confidence we have wasted on ourselves should have been dependence on His grace and faith in His goodness. All the service and submission we have given to sin should have been His. Rather than slavishly laboring for sin, we should have surrendered to His sovereign lordship. Repentance says these things.

By our sin, we have expressed a low view of Christ. Now, in repentance, we again see Him enthroned, glorious, exalted, worthy, attractive, beautiful, capable, wise, desirable and perfect. He is the SUBSTITUTE for the sinner and the REPLACEMENT for the sin. He captivates us!

We are not to begin repentance by replacing sin with good works. We are to begin by replacing our love for sin with love for Christ, and we are to replace our acts of sin with acts of devotion to Him. As you read these words, do you see in yourself a lack of zeal and devotion for Jesus Himself? Do you seem to fall short of this high view of Him? Dear friend, do not despair - simply fall before Him and tell Him what you lack. Tell Him you don't even know what you lack. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him, and He will give you whatever you need. He will BE whatever you need!

As we come to Christ in this way, new desires are born in us. We begin to taste the goodness of God and sin becomes less appetizing (and eventually downright disgusting). As I Corinthians 1:30 declares, Christ "has become for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption . . ." and whatever else we may need. It is all in Him. Until this truth becomes real to us, our repentance remains incomplete. But once it is embraced, the embrace is forever! You'll find it in the arms of Jesus, as He becomes more to you than He ever was before.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Psalm 32:8 - God's Training Program

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

Although the text does not indicate who is speaking, it seems that this is God's answer to David. Note the three verbs: INSTRUCT, TEACH, COUNSEL

Instruct - Heb. SAKAL – to make wise, intelligent, skillful; to give insight, understanding. The word is used in Genesis 3:6, where the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “desirable for gaining [SAKAL].” It “never concerns abstract prudence, but acting prudently.” (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, OT, “To Understand”)
Teach - Heb. YARAH – to shoot or throw; to point; to teach
Counsel - Heb. YA'ATS – to advise, counsel

All three words are stated in the imperfect mood, indicating there is a process at work. In response to our repentance, God forgives, He protects - and He puts us in His training program for godliness. He knows we need to change, but He does not expect this to happen apart from His own direct involvement. He teaches us with His eye upon us. He is not placing us under scrutiny with some sort of probation. He is watching over us to guarantee the effectiveness of our training.

Why does God teach us in this way? Did we sin for lack of teaching? Was it for want of information? Do we simply need to know more theology? Is “education” the answer to our sin problem? Certainly it is a lack of wisdom that led us into our sins, but it is not primarily for our education that God places us in His training program. Nor is it about “behavior modification.” Rather, this is our opportunity to know Him better. Developing an intimate and dependent relationship with Christ is the great remedy for our sinful ways. The more closely we walk with God, the less we practice sin. The more we incline our ear to His Words, the less we pay heed to the voices of temptation. The more we gaze into His burning eyes of grace, the less we are drawn by this world's glitter. It is not a matter of learning more facts – it's a matter of learning Christ.

Matthew 11:28-29 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Holy Spirit is the divine Counselor Who helps us learn Christ. We desperately need His help. There is no other way to change. Consider the glorious promise in these words: “Walk by the Spirit, and you WILL NOT CARRY OUT the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). No wonder David cried out in Psalm 51, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me!” Speaking of this sin-conquering Counselor who dwells in us, Jesus said

John 16:14-15 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

"The mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit is that such a life is continually and ever more and more occupied with Christ, that Christ is becoming greater and greater as time goes on. The effect of the Holy Spirit's work in us is to bring us to the shore of a mighty ocean which reaches far, far beyond our range, and concerning which we feel - oh, the depths, the fullness, of Christ! If we live as long as ever man lived, we shall still be only on the fringe of this vast fullness that Christ is. Now, that at once becomes a challenge to us before we go any further. These are not just words. This is not just rhetoric; this is truth. Let us ask our hearts at once, Is this true in our case? Is this the kind of life that we know? Are we coming to despair on this matter? That is to say, that we are glimpsing so much as signified by Christ that we know we are beaten, that we are out of our depth, and will never range all this. It is beyond us, far beyond us, and yet we are drawn on and ever on. Is that true in your experience? That is the mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit. Christ becomes greater and greater as we go on. If that is true, well, that is the way of life. If ever you and I should come to a place where we think we know, we have it all, we have attained, and from that point things become static, we may take it that the Holy Spirit has ceased operations and that life has become stultified. . . . So God, right at the beginning, brings Christ forth, presents Him, attests Him, and in effect says, This is that to which I will conform you, to this image!" (T. Austin-Sparks, The School of Christ)

More of the Spirit's teaching is found in the next verse of Psalm 32 . . .

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Radio Broadcast

Today I was interviewed on the internet radio program, "Gospel, Gifts & Grace." We were able to discuss Biblical paradoxes in some depth. May God be glorified through this. Here's a link if you'd like to listen (the interview starts about 20 minutes into the hour-long broadcast).

The show is hosted by Jeff Fuller and Chris DeVidal from

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Psalm 32:7 - Hidden

You are my hiding place;
You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance.

David takes us a step further into God’s boundless mercy, showing us that God not only forgives repentant sinners, but actually receives them into His protection. He does not merely cover our sin with His grace – He covers US with HIMSELF. Dear friends, needy ones such as you and I will find no better refuge than the Lord.

David expands the idea of a hiding place in two ways: as that which preserves us, and as that which surrounds us.

GOD PRESERVES US. A notable characteristic of sin is that it destroys, decays and deteriorates what God has made. Apart from grace, we would be literally consumed by sin. Sin always brings trouble with it. But God preserves those who trust in Him. This word “trouble” can also be translated “adversary” or “foe.” Sin always fights us, opposes us, deceives us, pursues us, flatters us, lies to us, accuses us, harms us, binds us and tries to destroy us (see Romans 7 for a detailed description of this). Sin is indeed our greatest enemy, but God has become our Great Friend. He has become our Protector, our Advocate, our Defender and Savior from the very sins we formerly chose and cherished. He has taken sin’s destruction off of us and placed it on a substitute Who suffered in our place.

GOD SURROUNDS US. Every saint who has fought the daily battle with sin knows that it comes at us from every side, it appears unexpectedly, it reinvents itself, it snipes at us and it intimidates like a hell-bent terrorist – all in an attempt to make us its slave again. God is prepared for our struggle, and responds by surrounding us with loud cries of deliverance. What comfort we feel as we are encompassed not only by the enemy, but also by the truth of divine grace! What joy and hope as we hear the songs of the Lord! What encouragement as we are filled with the knowledge of His delivering power! Intimidating and enticing voices call out to us from every side, but our ears also hear TRUTH.

Who sings these songs? Is it God Himself? Is He singing over us in “Surround Sound?” Is it the angels? Are they telling of the wondrous deeds of the Lord, even as they marvel at God’s redeeming grace at work in us? Is it other believers? Are they all around us, testifying to the mercy they have received? Are they telling about their sinful ways and God’s redeeming love? Is it perhaps all three – God, angels, and our brothers and sisters in Christ? Who is telling YOU that God is able to save?

If you are a repentant sinner, you are preserved and surrounded by a God Who is a Hiding Place for all who come to Him in faith. And there are only two kinds of people in the world: repentant sinners who live by amazing grace, and unrepentant sinners who abide in their chosen condemnation.

Psalm 37:39-40 But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

These Lutheran Liturgists Put Many of Today's Evangelicals to Shame

I'm in Houston this week, and I was privileged to attend church with a business associate. Lutheranism was the faith of my youth, but I never saw a Lutheran church as big or as orthodox as Trinity Lutheran Church in Klein, TX. It brought back memories to see the altar rails, the acolytes, the robed ministers and the gigantic pipe organ. My father often tells the story about the pastor of the Lutheran church we used to attend holding up a Bible. "You can't believe half of what's written here," he said, "it's full of mistakes. You have to pick and choose." Trinity Lutheran Church is evidently not of that persuasion. For me, this is a shockingly different kind of Lutheranism.

The first shock came when Zephaniah 1:7-18 was posted on the video projection screen and read aloud by the pastor. The passage includes these words:

Verses 14-18 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

How many of today's Evangelical churches would unflinchingly present this to their "emergent" or "seeker" congregations? My shock deepened as I listened to the pastor preach a solid 30-minute message in which the righteous judgment and wrath of God against sinners was expounded clearly. The Gospel was explained as the remedy for this, and Christ's work on the cross was preached without compromise. I kept waiting for it to be watered down, but all I heard was straightforward truth from God's Word.
Here's an excerpt from the bulletin: "Today's Old Testament reading presents us with one of the most frightening passages of Scripture dealing with the wrath of the Lord on Judgment Day. God will not long tolerate the unbelief, immorality, false religions and selfishness of any society. History is replete with examples of the fall of powerful and advanced empires and cultures. And, ultimately even our world will be destroyed with fire. . . . But what is to be the fate of the believer? Need we live in fear? NO! For we are Sons and Daughters of the Day. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . . (I Thessalonians 5:10-11)"

During the service, three extended passages of Scripture were read. The prayer time included a responsive reading with these words said by the entire congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

Imagine a room full of well-dressed and respectable people uttering these words. All in all, I was impressed an edified by what I experienced at Trinity Lutheran Church. What amazed me the most was the boldness and clarity of the message - something many of today's Evangelical churches have left in the dust. Oh, and did I mention the Hymn of the Day? "The Clouds of Judgment Gather." I don't think that one's on the latest WOW Worship CD.

What a joy to find Lutherans who have not strayed from the spirit of the great reformer!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Compatibilism - a Term for Biblical Balance and Paradox

It's always encouraging to find examples of thoughtful Christians humbly embracing paradox in a way that gives honor to God and holds to His Word in an uncompromising way. Recently, Barry Wallace did this on his blog, Who Am I?

Check out this post on Barry's site for a great discussion of "COMPATIBILISM" - a Biblical approach to the dilemma of human responsibility and divine sovereignty.

Compatibilism differs strongly from Neo-orthodoxy's dialectical theology and the Hegelian concept of THESIS-ANTITHESIS-SYNTHESIS. If we take the Scriptures seriously, the dialectic method of producing a "synthesis" becomes unacceptable. Dialectical theology requires us to take something away from each side in order to find a working alternative somewhere in the middle. This forces us to deny some of the things God has said in His Word. Such an approach should never be called paradox. It would be better described as reducing Biblical truth to the lowest common denominator (a.k.a. "liberalism"). Compatibilism, on the other hand, assumes that everything taught in the Word of God is completely true. It refuses to reduce any of God's revelation. It resists the temptation to rip pages from the Bible to make our own paper-mache truth. Instead, it declares the human mind incapable of reconciling all that God has said. This conclusion exalts God, and in this way theological paradox becomes the best friend of orthodoxy - not a path to liberalism.
God is TRUE, and every man IS a liar until he surrenders to the Truth of God.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Psalm 32:6 - The Prayer of the Godly Man

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.

The wording of this verse seems confusing at first. “Therefore” refers us back to what David has already said: bring your sins to God and He will forgive you. It's a call for sinners to confess their sins. So, what's the connection between this and the idea that a “godly” person should pray while the Lord “may be found”? And what does it mean that there is a time when He may be found? Is there a time when He cannot be found? I was under the impression that He finds us, so what is this saying, anyway? The confusion partly stems from a misunderstanding of the word "godly," and our sense of this verse hinges on the meaning of that word.

In Hebrew, "godly" is the word HASID (ever heard of a Hasidic Jew?). This word is related to the Hebrew word HESED, which some scholars consider to be the most important word in the Old Testament. HESED is usually translated as mercy, lovingkindness, kindness, merciful kindness, steadfast love or loyalty. It is a rich Hebrew word that calls for prayerful study. Don't assume a mere lexicon or Hebrew dictionary can teach you the depths of its meaning, but seek this word out in the text of the Bible and find its usage according to the Holy Spirit. Having said that, let's look at a few helpful observations from the scholars and have a brief Hebrew lesson about this word, HESED:

“. . . [It is] one of the most important words in the Old Testament . . . the basic idea is that of an act of kindness, love or mercy shown to someone. The quality of the kindness shown is usually that reserved for close friends and family members, but [it] can be shown to anyone. . . . [It] is central to God's character. It is closely tied to His covenant with His chosen people; in fact the covenant may be thought of as the relationship from which [HESED] flows.” (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Old Testament, Lexical Aids article for Strong's number 2617)

“The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. . . . In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: “Strength,” “steadfastness,” and “love.” Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. . . . The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship. But HESED is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. HESED implied personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law. . . . It is one of [God's] most central characteristics. . . . The entire history of Yahweh's covenant relationship with Israel can be summarized in terms of HESED.” (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Old Testament section edited by Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., article on Loving-Kindness)

“The nearest New Testament equivalent to the Heb. HESED is CHARIS (grace q.v.), as Luther realized. . . . God's loving-kindness is that sure love which will not let Israel go. Not all Israel's persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel be faithless, yet God remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash his hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Heb. word which is translated loving-kindness. . . . The story of God's people throughout the centuries is that her waywardness has been so persistent that, if even a remnant is to be preserved, God has had to show mercy more than anything else.” (A Theological Wordbook of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson, article on Loving-Kindness)

The word HASID is usually translated with words like “godly” or “saint,” but it actually means “one who trusts in God's HESED mercy."

“The adjective HASID, derived from HESED, is often used to describe the faithful Israelite. God's HESED provides the pattern, model, and strength by which the life of the Hasid is to be directed.” (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words)

The truly godly people are those who live by God's mercy. So the verse might read, "Therefore, let everyone who trusts in Your mercy pray to You . . ." Ah, that makes more sense, doesn't it?

When should these mercy-dependent people pray? David's answer is, "In a time when He may be found." The phrase could also be translated "in a time of finding out." David's sin was "found out" rather embarrassingly when Nathan said "You are the man" and revealed that David's hidden sin was not hidden at all. The time when God may be found IS the time of finding out. In fact, God will only allow Himself to be found by sinners. Jesus said "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." When you find out you are a much worse sinner than you ever thought possible, when you find out your flesh is still warring against God, when you find out your heart is indeed sinful and unbelieving - then you must pray! This is also the time of finding out about God, that He is more merciful, kind, patient and generous than you ever imagined. That He is indeed nothing like you. If you find yourself without finding Him, you will collapse under the weight of your sin.

What is the result of this discovery, this "finding out"? The HASID who finds his own weakness and prays to the Great Giver of Mercy is protected from harm. The toxic sea of self-knowledge does not overwhelm him. The great flood of condemnation doesn't even touch him. He is set on higher ground and kept by the power of grace.

In Psalm 117, we find these words "His HESED prevails over us." Prevailing - isn't that the very same thing the waters of Noah's flood did to the earth? Prevailed over it? Now that's some kind of mercy! Instead of sin flooding over us, grace prevails.

It's no wonder David cannot contain his jubilation through the next verses. I'll bet he danced before he ever finished writing this love poem to his Lord. And so shall we . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Neo-Orthodoxy, Paradox, The Bible, and Bonhoeffer

Here's a little diversion from our study on Psalm 32 . . .

I just listened to Curt Daniel's lecture on Neo-Orthodoxy, found here:

Lectures on the History and Theology of Calvinism (

Concerning Neo-Orthodoxy, Dr. Daniel states, "It is not paradox, it is simply unbiblical contradiction. It is also theological fiction. It simply does not match the facts of Scripture." Although his criticism of supposed paradox in Neo-Orthodoxy is harsh, in other lectures I have found Dr. Daniel to be fond of theological paradox within the framework of true orthodoxy.

I once believed the Neo-Orthodox idea of paradox was quite in line with what I write here at THEOparadox. Now, I am horrified by that thought. Let me officially state for the record: THEOparadox has no relation whatsoever to Neo-Orthodoxy. If Neo-Orthodoxy is even half as bad as Dr. Daniel makes it out to be, I am forced to disavow it completely.

Many things in Scripture strike us as contradictory, or at least illogical to a certain degree. These things are not errors or mistakes, they are signs which call us to dig into the text and discover God's brilliant logic. His logic is above ours, so it sometimes leaves us in mystery and wonder. But it is NEVER NEVER NEVER in error. God's Word is THE TRUTH. The point of THEOparadox is precisely opposite to that of Neo-Orthodoxy. It is the weakness of man and man's logic that leaves us sometimes in a place of paradox. To God, everything makes perfect sense and there are no real contradictions in His self-revelation, the Bible. How could there be, if God is its source?

I'm still a big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings, especially The Cost of Discipleship. In Christ the Center, I find him speaking the language of liberalism, but shredding its foundational premises at the very same time. Life Together is simply a masterpiece. Whatever Bonhoeffer may have learned from Karl Barth, I have not yet encountered Barth's more obvious errors in his writings. I now know better what to look for, however. Perhaps if Bonhoeffer had survived the concentration camp, we would know more of his thoughts. But those he left us have great value as far as I'm concerned, even if he proved himself to be comfortable with liberals and a friend of the Neo-Orthodox. In any case, he was a better disciple of Christ than I am, by at least a hundred times.

So let us find inspiration in many places, but ultimate TRUTH in God's Word alone. And let all things - including our lifestyles (especially our lifestyles) - be tested by the Word, lest we ourselves go astray.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Psalm 32:5 - Confession and Forgiveness

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”
And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

David reaches a turning point here. The work of conviction which God has accomplished in His soul has reached its culmination, and David takes action. He does not begin with an attempt to reform himself, trying to clean himself up or making promises to change. He begins instead with a simple, honest confession of sin. And God responds.

David uses the same words for sin found in verses 1-2.

SinHeb. CHATA’AH – The general word for sin, missing the mark, inability to reach God’s requirement. This shows sin as that which generally characterizes us.
IniquityHeb. AVON – deep depravity, intrinsic sinfulness, evil nature, perversity, twistedness. This shows sin as that which corrupts our nature.
TransgressionHeb. PESHA – an act of sin, a crossing of the line, a deliberate act against God’s command. This shows sin as that which motivates and defines our actions.

It is interesting to see the way David builds a triangle out of these words, and the order in which they are mentioned: SIN - INIQUITY - TRANSGRESSION - INIQUITY - SIN. Hebrew poets were fond of this type of construction. It serves as a literary device that lends emphasis and calls our attention to the subject. David is fully convinced of his sin and he is earnestly confessing it.

Notice the way David approached each facet of his sin.

First, he acknowledged - or knew - his sinfulness. As sinners, we are prone to avoid this. We would rather not KNOW our sinfulness. We tend to focus on whatever good we see in ourselves instead. Or we strive to grow in other areas of knowledge, taking pains not to know ourselves. But knowing our sinfulness is the first step toward godliness. The knowledge of one’s sinfulness is a great gift from God - a gift to be cherished and received with gratefulness. Why? Because apart from this knowledge we never overcome our sin – it overcomes us. And apart from this knowledge we remain deceived, never realizing what it is in us that makes the cross a necessity. The best way to discover one's sinfulness is to spend time in the Word of God and to stay close to Jesus Christ. Focusing on the sins of others does not help at all. Oddly enough, sinning more does not always show us our sinfulness, either. When we practice sin, we generally become blind to its presence. This is known as "the deceitfulness of sin," and it leads to a hardened heart that gradually grows insensitive to evil.
Second, David did not hide his iniquity. When we see our deep depravity and the fact that we are by nature bent utterly toward evil, the typical reaction is to cover up. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did after they fell into sin in the garden. They found some fig leaves. By covering their bodies outwardly, they were painting a picture of what was going on in their hearts. They did not want to be known intimately, to be seen for what they were. Outwardly and at the heart, their most sensitive and emotionally responsive parts were now hidden from view. Between one another, they could decide if and when the outward parts would be seen. And between their souls and God, they could decide when their inward parts would be exposed. God has allowed man this capacity to hide from his Creator. We can separate ourselves from Him, hold back our honesty, and remain hard-hearted. Of course He still knows everything about us, but He doesn't KNOW US. It is sobering to realize that many will hear those very words, "I never knew you." The alternative is to lay our hearts bare and let Him truly know us as we are. Unbelievers NEVER lay their hearts bare before God, and indeed they cannot do so. As believers, we have the choice. And God’s response to our self-disclosure is to know us, love us, share Himself with us, and cover our unpresentable parts through His own self-sacrifice.
Third, David confessed his transgressions. He named the specific ways he had acted according to his depraved nature. He brought it into the light by speaking it with his own mouth and hearing it with his own ears. Our sins strike us in a new way when we hear ourselves tell of them in complete honesty. We can never confess all of our sin – that would be impossible. But laying out before God all that we know of our wicked acts is both healthy and necessary. The Puritans encouraged this as a daily habit. But we must never do this with the cross out of focus, or we will drown in a toxic sea of self-knowledge.

Note God's quick response. Before David even finished confessing, his sins were forgiven. He had only "said" he would confess his transgressions, but God had already rushed to meet Him in his repentance. God always meets repenting hearts, just as the father RAN to meet the prodigal son.

Note also the extent of the forgiveness David experienced. God forgave the INIQUITY of his sin. David was not only forgiven for his sinful acts, but for his depraved nature. God accepted him AS HE WAS and removed his guilt right down to the roots. See this clearly: Our great high priest does not merely forgive sins - He JUSTIFIES SINNERS! Let this fact settle in on your guilty heart for just a moment, and your joy will be unquenchable. Go ahead, let the truth about grace saturate your mind and heart! The Gospel IS Good News, my friend! God lavishes grace upon us (Ephesians 1), gives us more grace (James 4), pours His love into our hearts (Romans 5), and stands at our side as the One Who is FOR US (Romans 8)!

Up to this point, Psalm 32 has placed a lot of emphasis on the bitter experience of sin. Now, as David speaks of his repentance, we begin to see the wondrous blessings of grace displayed with a fresh and captivating beauty. As we move ahead to examine the benefits and results of repentance, may God break our hearts and draw us to Himself with a renewed appreciation for Who He IS and what He does in the soul of every penitent sinner.

The bad news of our sin is tough to face, but it makes the good news REALLY GOOD! Before offering us a complete makeover in the image of His Son, God sets us in front of the mirror. It's a very ugly mirror indeed, because it's perfectly accurate. But this is only the launch pad for what lies ahead.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Essence of the Gospel

Here's something I've been contemplating, and I'd like to make this a running discussion for the THEOparadox community. The following is a statement that captures the essence of the Gospel to the best of my understanding. This came from asking myself, "If I had to summarize the Gospel in a single statement, how would I do it?" Here's what I settled on:

God gave His Son,
Jesus Christ,
for sinners
to be saved from sin
and sanctified
and secured forever
to the glory of God

It starts and ends with God, His love for sinners and His eternal glory. It concerns Jesus Christ and His work in behalf of sinners.

Those are the strengths of this statement. Do you find any weaknesses in it? I'd like to incorporate something on grace, faith, repentance and other related concepts. Please use the comments section to respond with thoughts on this, to offer your own statement describing the essence of the Gospel, or to draw our attention to classic statements on the subject. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Praise God for saving sinners! Soli Deo Gloria!

Derek Ashton

EDITOR'S NOTE: Based on the comments received, my improved Gospel summary currently looks like this:

God lovingly sacrificed Jesus Christ,
His only begotten Son, on the cross
for a depraved, law-breaking humanity's
only means of salvation from His just wrath -
and through His resurrection sanctified
and secured forever those who believe -
for their eternal good and His eternal glory.

Feel free to comment further.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Note To My Readers

I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who reads this blog. Considering the myriad of great blogs and websites available today, it's an honor to have your attention and interest here. I pray you will be blessed through these studies. I hope that the Word and wisdom of God come alive to you in new ways, or at least in ways that help to keep your thoughts focused on His greatness.

You won't typically find a new post everyday, mostly because my time is limited. Instead, I strive to offer one or two quality posts a week. More when I can manage.

It's almost impossible to say anything original. Yet each Christian's words uniquely express the gracious way that God has worked in a particular soul. I am only one of many whom He has poured mercy upon, and I gratefully acknowledge the Blessed One for Whom this blog exists. Its ultimate purpose is to bring glory to Him, but its temporal purpose is to edify YOU, the reader. And you, also, are for His glory.

Grace & peace,
Derek Ashton

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Psalm 32:4 - Dried Up

"My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah." (NASB)
"My strength was dried up (Heb. changed) as by the heat of summer. Selah." (ESV)
"My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer. Selah." (ASV)

I was employed by an orthodontist for several years and often had the privilege of putting braces on peoples' teeth. It was interesting work, to say the least. If one learns anything working in an orthodontic clinic, it's that bonding metal onto teeth requires extreme dryness. We went to great lengths to ensure that the teeth we were working on stayed dry, often resorting to elaborate setups that included cotton, bursts of air, suction, plastic lip retractors, and even chemical drying agents. All of this paraphernalia was deployed with the intent of keeping the teeth extremely dry. If a patient happened to move his tongue and swipe a tooth, the whole process had to be started over again. For me, this was a bit frustrating at times. But after a brace has been bonded to a properly dried tooth, a great deal of force is required to remove it. It typically requires a special pair of plyers to take the brace off, followed by high speed drilling at over 20,000 RPMs to clean up residual adhesive. In many cases, braces will remain in place for 2-3 years before being removed. However, if the slightest bit of moisture is allowed to remain, the brace will usually fall off within a few minutes. If you think about it, most bonding processes involve some type of drying. Paint, caulking, glue, paste and flooring adhesives are all good illustrations of this. Heat is also commonly used in bonding processes such as hot laminating, window sealing, automotive finishes, etc. And most bonding process involve the application of firm pressure at some stage.

What does all of this have to do with Psalm 32, you ask. It's a great question. To answer it, let's consider the elements of verse 4: A heavy hand. Heat. Moisture evaporating. Drying out. Sound familiar? Could it be a bonding process of sorts? Is it possible that God's work in David's life during the time of tormenting guilt was preparation for a stronger bond between the two of them? Was God perhaps transitioning David from a mere taped-on attachment to an orthodontic-style union? Was God pressing him, heating him, and drying him out in order to make his repentance stick? Perhaps I'm applying a modern concept to a primitive text, but the parallels are unmistakable.

David felt like he was dying. He sensed his life and strength draining away. His feelings reflected a sobering reality: every step away from God is a step in the direction of eternal death. God takes this seriously, and if He has lain His hand upon you it is with the purpose of uniting you to Himself and keeping you near Him forever. He will let you die a thousand humbling deaths in the knowledge of your iniquity if that will ultimately draw you closer to Him. We appreciate grace much more when once we have lived for a season without it. Even as believers, we may have these experiences where grace seems absent. In reality, we know we have not been abandoned, but we nevertheless feel the sting of what could be if we were lost eternally.

As one of the great Puritan authors noted, "Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet." (Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance)

Dear friend, if God has allowed you to die under the weight of your guilt, believe and know that His intent is to draw you to Himself, to sanctify and transform you, to securely fasten you to Himself. What blessedness there is in this! Take hold of this truth and flee to Him now - with the resolve illustrated by David in the next verses of Psalm 32.