Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Gospel – The Whole Point of Christmas
By Matt Wiser
                Roughly two thousand years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  The account of that birth is quite remarkable indeed.  He was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary while she was still a virgin.  His birth was announced to both his mother Mary, and the man who would act as His earthly father, Joseph, by an angelic messenger.  Angels sang and announced His birth to shepherds, and Old Testament prophecies led wise men from afar to seek Him out and offer Him gifts.  The true richness of these events, and so much more as told in the Bible, cannot be adequately captured by this brief summary, but for the sake of space I simply remind you of them at this time.
                As beautiful and compelling as the narrative telling of the birth of Christ is, we must come to recognize that it is not the main point, even of its own telling.  The account of the birth of Christ is not a stand-alone event, it is rather the fulfillment of a promise.  When Adam sinned, and placed the whole human race under the curse of sin, and was cast out of the Garden of Eden with Eve, his wife, God promised them redemption, even then.  The Gospel is not something that God came up with along the way, after everything else He tried had failed, or even in response to Adam’s sin, as if God had expected that Adam would not fall, and was surprised and left scrambling to come up with a plan B.  No, in fact the Gospel is plan A, it has always been the plan, and it is in fact the main point of all of Creation.  The first hints of this plan are revealed to Adam and Eve in the immediate aftermath of the fall.
                In Genesis 3:16 God tells Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And in verses 17 – 19 He tells Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  This is the curse of sin, under which we still live even to this day, but it is in His words to the serpent where we find a most wonderful promise, in verses 14 – 15, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field, on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
               In Genesis 3:16 God tells Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And in verses 17 – 19 He tells Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  This is the curse of sin, under which we still live even to this day, but it is in His words to the serpent where we find a most wonderful promise, in verses 14 – 15, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field, on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
                In the words “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” we find a prophesy of something which will happen, and a promise.  We will come to understand in time that at the very moment when it seemed that the Devil had won, that he had defeated Jesus, it was in fact tantamount to a simple wound on the heel, and in that moment what had in fact taken place was the crushing of the head of the serpent, his utter and total defeat.
                This promise is repeated time and again throughout the Old Testament.  In Genesis 22, when Abraham is called by God to sacrifice Isaac, and just as he is about to strike the death blow God intervenes and tells him to stay his hand and not to harm the boy.  Most of us who were raised in Church are quite familiar with this story, but there is something that we often miss.  While on the way to make the sacrifice Isaac says to Abraham, (in verse 7) “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” To which Abraham replies, (in verse 8) “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  This seems to be a throwaway line, something a father might say to pacify his son, so as not to worry him, but it ends up being a great prophecy, that “God will provide for Himself a lamb.”  This lamb of course will be His own Son.  Isaac, as a sinner, deserved death, and was spared, but the Son of God, who was utterly without sin and the only man who ever lived who did not deserve death would become the sacrifice (the lamb) that God would provide in his place.  So we see the connection to the promise that God makes to Abraham in verses 16 – 18, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  It is in Christ that all the nations of the Earth will be blessed, as people are redeemed by Christ from every tribe, tongue, and Nation.
                In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses tells the people,  “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”  While it is true God raised up many prophets over the centuries, and the people were supposed to listen to them, this is a prophecy of the ultimate prophet, the One that we would learn is also a Priest and King.
                Perhaps the most famous prophesy comes to us from the prophet Isaiah, in Chapter 7 and verse 14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Certainly it is enough for God to promise something one time, but we can see that He has promised the coming Messiah over and over again, and we have hardly even touched upon these promises here.
                As we can see, time and again, the promise is not for a baby to be born and laid in a manger in Bethlehem, although that is prophesied as well, the promise is for a redeemer who would bear the penalty due to us for our sin.  The Christmas narrative is the means by which God brought about the fulfillment of His promise.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he did grow into manhood, living a perfectly sinless and righteous life, which is credited to us, while our sins were charged to His account, and He paid the price in full.  We must not miss the fact that this was not a surprise to God, he did not make attempts and fail, the Gospel was the plan all along, and Christmas is a piece in that plan.  So as we celebrate the birth of our Lord this Christmas, let us not forget that He was born into this world for the purpose of fulfilling all righteousness and dying on the cross, and bearing the wrath of God in our place.


Monday, October 6, 2014

The Christian Gospel

The Christian Gospel
By Matt Wiser
                What is the Gospel?  This might seem like an odd question to some, especially for a Church newsletter.  Surely everyone knows what the Gospel is, don’t they?  It is, after all, the central message of the Christian Faith.
                Sadly, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding even this most basic and critical Christian tenant.  Across much of the visible Church today you will hear phrases such as, “live the Gospel,” or “be the Gospel.”  But as it turns out, these phrases don’t make any sense, in fact, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is correctly understood these phrases, popular as they may be, are meaningless collections of words. 
                The Gospel is good news, indeed that is what the word means.  It is a proclamation.  It is not something that can be lived, and it is not something that we can be.  It is a message, it is information, it is a truth claim about something that has been done, not something that we can do.  Let me explain.
                The Gospel begins with our sinfulness.  Why is the Gospel a necessary message?  It is because of sin.  Our own sinfulness must be understood in order for us to understand why the Gospel is good news.  A proclamation of the Gospel to someone who has no awareness of their own sin seems like irrelevant crazy talk.  Think of it this way, it’s the middle of the night, your house is on fire, and you don’t know it.  Some helpful, good hearted passerby sees that your house is on fire and runs up and starts pounding on your front door.  You get out of bed and answer the door, and immediately the person begins raving frantically that they are there to rescue you and that you must get out of the house right away.  Are you not going to think that this person is a lunatic?  Will you not be more likely to slam and lock the door and call the police rather than follow them?  But what if instead the first words they say are, “your house is on fire!” and then they tell you to leave it?  Now you know the problem, and you can see why a rescue was necessary in the first place.
                It is true of all of us that we are sinners.  The Bible says this in Romans 3:10-18, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”” And Isaiah 53:6a says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;”  And lest we be tempted to think that this is only true for some other people, but not for us, let us look at Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” 
                And what does sinfulness and unrighteousness earn for us?  The wrath of God, but don’t take my word for it.  Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  Moreover Romans 2:5 tells us, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.”
                If we were to end there, the news is devastating.  In fact it is meant to be.  This is far more serious than a knock on the door to tell you that the house is on fire.  This is the truth of God that demolishes all of our perceived self-righteousness.  We have been informed of the sinful condition of all of mankind, there is not a single one of us that escapes this condemnation.
                But praise be to God, the story doesn’t end there.  Enter the Gospel.  To put it as concisely as I know how, the Gospel is this:  Jesus Christ, God the Son, entered humanity, took on flesh, lived a perfectly sinless life, fulfilling all righteousness, all the demands of the law, and died upon a Roman cross, bearing our sins, and enduring the just wrath of God against those sins so that, for those who are in Him, there is no punishment left to be poured out upon us.  (Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”) 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  So, on account of Christ, and His completed work, when God looks at me He does not see the wretched sinner that I truly am.  Instead, my guilt, my shame, the wicked and evil thoughts, whatever they be, were placed upon Christ, and He was punished for them all, and treated as if He, and not I, were guilty of each and every one of them.  I deserve eternal damnation for these sins, but Christ, upon the cross, bore the weight of that eternal hell in my behalf.  Now, I am treated by God as if I had lived Christ’s own perfectly sinless life, having fulfilled all righteousness, every demand of the law.  All who reach out to Him with the empty hand of Faith will find Him to be a perfect Savior.
                Having seen our condemned state in Ephesians 2:1-3 (quoted above), we see the wonderful truth of the Gospel, beginning in verse 4 and following, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
                And finally, Isaiah 53:4-6 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.   All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Pastor's Wife

The Pastor's Wife
By Matt Wiser

                Did you know that “Pastor’s Wife” is not a Church office?  That’s right.  The Pastor’s wife is simply the wife of the Pastor.  The Bible nowhere defines any duties or roles which must be carried out or filled by the wife of the Pastor.  In fact, while qualifications for Elders (a word which is Biblically synonymous with Pastor) are clearly laid out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer [Another word for Elder or Pastor], he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” You will notice that his wife is only mentioned once in that he must be the Husband of one wife, and then by inference when it says that he must manage his own household well, even though it then speaks of his children, it would be reasonable to say that his wife’s godly character is also in view.  The very next section describes the qualifications for the office of Deacon, a Biblical office of one who serves the Church under the authority of the Elders.  1 Timothy 3:8-13 “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.  They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.  Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.  Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.  For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”  You will notice that even here with the fuller attention given to Deacon’s wives the description is of a godly woman who is a faithful wife and Church member, so even applying that standard to the Pastor’s wife you can say that she is to be a godly woman, a faithful wife (and mother if applicable) and a faithful Church member.

                When it comes to responsibilities within the local Church, and direct service to the Church, such as ministry leadership or involvement, the Pastor’s wife has no greater responsibility than any other member of the Church, in fact, she has less than some.  The people most responsible for the Church as a whole would be the Elders, one of which being the Pastor himself, or in the case of a small Church there may, for a time, be only the Pastor, in which case he would be the one most responsible for the care of the congregation and the functioning of the Church.  After the Elders would come the Deacon(s), once the Church reaches the point where that office is implemented.  After the Deacons would come each and every adult male Church member, since God has given men the responsibility to be leaders in the home and in the Church, they bear a greater weight than do the women.  Finally, after the men come the adult female Church members, who, as Church members do still bear responsibility to the Church and for its proper functioning, but less than the men, and under the authority of the Elders, Deacons, and their own Husbands if applicable, and all, from the Elders on down, under the authority of Christ, and the Bible.  Notice that the wife of the Pastor is one of the women of the Church and bears an equal responsibility with all of the others.  She has no greater burden of direct service to the Church than does any other adult female member, and for the health of the Church we may well want to keep her burden lighter than that of the rest.  Please, let me explain.

                The wife of the Pastor performs an indirect service to the Church, the worth of which is utterly beyond calculation.  This service is being the wife of the Pastor.  That is not circular reasoning.  I am saying that by being a faithful godly wife to the Pastor she enables him to be the Pastor that the Church needs.  By being his best friend and confidant, by being the helper fit for him that God intends each wife to be for her husband (see Genesis 2), by bearing the load of caring for the home and seeing to the children, by staying by his side and submitting to his God given Biblical authority in the home and loving and serving the Pastor as her Husband, something that only she can do, she encourages and strengthens him for the responsibilities of his office in a way that is critical, the importance of which cannot be overstated.  If the Pastor’s wife is burdened down by being over several Church ministries, or whatever other extra responsibilities or direct service positions some might expect her to undertake, there is a significant risk that it might impede or diminish her ability to fulfill what is by far her most important role, that of being the faithful, godly, best friend/confidant/helper (and so much more) of the Pastor.  The results of that can be devastating to a Church.

                While it is certainly important for each member of the Church to do what they can to encourage and strengthen the Pastor to be the Shepherd of the Flock of God that he needs to be, it is equally important to remember that we are limited in our ability to do so, and that his wife is the one who can encourage and strengthen him the most, and as such we must equally preserve and protect her, and her ability to be the wife that the Pastor needs, and that we as a Church need her to be to him.  That is the high calling and critical role of a Pastor’s wife.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Musings on Self Esteem

It seems to me that it is almost impossible to avoid hearing about self esteem these days.  Everywhere one turns there is the constant drumbeat of self esteem.  It would seem to me that the most common excuse for people doing bad things, or behaving in an inappropriate way, or whatever the case may be is that they have low self esteem.  If only their self esteem were a little higher, a little better, a little "healthier," then maybe they wouldn't do whatever it is they are doing that they shouldn't.

Now, it is not my intention to address any highly refined, intellectually sophisticated psychological definitions of self esteem or psychotherapy, but rather how it is expressed generally.  That is the common understanding, so if my presentation happens not to fit with what one might read in a psychology text book (and I don't know if it does or not), well, that's ok, because it's not intended to.

The way that "Self Esteem Issues" are represented in our culture is that people don't have a good enough self image, that they don't think highly enough of themselves, that they are better than they see themselves as being. 

It would be my contention that this approach is absolutely wrong.  The way that I see it, people who are most considered to have low self esteem in fact do have an incorrect self image, but not that they see themselves as being less than they should, but rather, quite to the contrary, they see themselves as being considerably better than they actually are.  That is to say, they esteem themselves too highly already.  Where they run into problems is that other people do not see them the same way that they see themselves.  Therefore they get negative feedback from other people which does not fit with their incorrect self image, and this is what causes them to feel conflicted.  Not that they don't esteem themselves as highly as they should but rather that other people do not esteem them as highly as they incorrectly esteem themselves.  They do not understand why it is that the image others have of them does not match up with the image that they have of themselves. 

The most common remedy offered for this problem is not to correct the self image of the person with abnormally high, and undeserved, self esteem, but rather to teach them to ignore the negative (and likely quite correct) feedback that they get from those people with whom they interact.  This does not breed better self esteem, or a healthy self image, or a even a healthy, well rounded person, rather, when effective, it breeds arrogance.  When a person already thinks too highly of themselves, and refuses to take accurate feedback, or even weigh and consider negative feedback, arrogance seems to be the only possible outcome.

It seems to me that it would be much more helpful to correct a persons' self image, to help them to weigh, consider and evaluate the feedback that they get from others, be it negative, positive, or relatively passive, to see what they might learn from that feedback.  An honest and earnest assessment of the reactions that others have to us would be beneficial in many ways.  For starters, it could very well help us to correct our self image, in either direction it is incorrect, such as, if you think too highly of yourself, you could come to realize that you are not actually as good as you thought and need to be brought down a notch or two, on the other hand, maybe you think you are not good at something, but due to positive feedback come to realize that you have an area of strength that you did not know you had.  It might help you to see an area of weakness that you didn't know you had, and thus allow you to ask someone for help in that area and get you on the right track, or stop doing something and allow someone better suited to it to step into a particular role.

Another related point is that this would require all of us to stop giving incorrect feedback.  First and foremost, the tendency to soften the truth, or flat out lie, under the guise of sparing someones feelings simply has to go.  For instance, if someone does a poor job of something, telling them that they did good, or alright, or not too bad, simply must go, rather we would be doing much more good for everyone to look them in the eye and gently point out what they did wrong, or what needed to be done better.  Don't misunderstand, I do not mean to berate and belittle someone, as this will do no good either.  The truth, gently spoken to someone who is willing to accept correction, and honestly evaluate feedback, will produce improvement for all involved.  Secondly, if we ourselves stop esteeming ourselves more highly than we ought, we might well stop being too hard on other people who do not measure up to our ridiculous ideas of our own perfection. 

Perhaps, no, certainly, the most important aspect of all is that the common teaching of this self esteem doctrine makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ quite unacceptable to the modern hearer.  After all, who wants to be told that they are a sinner, justly condemned before a Holy God, with nothing to offer, nothing that they can do or bring to stave off His just and Holy Wrath which will be poured out upon them for eternity if they do not repent and turn to him, reaching out with the empty hand of faith?  Does not the rebel heart, hyped up on self esteem say, "Wait, no, I'm better than that, why doesn't even God know how good I am, I deserve better than this?!"  In fact, isn't this just a rehash of all of the works righteousness religions that have existed throughout all of history?  People seeking to be seen by others (be it God, or gods or other people) as being as good as they see themselves is certainly nothing new, thus, self esteem, though the name is relatively recent, is itself nothing new, nor is it any more true in it's current form than it has ever been in any of it's previous forms.