Jeffrey Stivason

Old Books & Present Problems

 I think it is about time we pick up an old book called the Bible. I have no doubt that old Book will give us the perspective we desperately need.

C. S. Lewis once wrote an essay to a very old book wherein he commended the practice of reading old books. He, as a modern writer, did not want people to stop reading modern books but to generously sprinkle their reading of modern books with old ones.  However, and this gets his point across, he said, “But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.” Now, he gave that advice because he didn’t want the reader being carried away unprotected into modern perspectives. So, Lewis went on to commend the reading of old books. It is an excellent essay and I highly commend it and the practice that Lewis commends in it, that is, intentionally reading old books.
There are a variety of reasons for this practice but I think Lewis sums up an important one in the essay. He writes, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” I would like to illustrate this principle in this little essay.
But before I tell you about that experience let me give you some cultural background. Our present Western culture has not abandoned morality. It has changed morality. For example, homosexual practice was once viewed as sin (and even illegal).  But the orientation was something that was considered a psychological problem needing to be corrected. If a young man dressed up like a woman he too was considered a candidate for mental health services. In fact, even the church has capitulated to this new morality. Granted, some have not gone as far as mainline liberalism but there are even Reformed churches flirting with the idea of allowing candidates for ministry who identify as gay (as if it were a neutral orientation) but celibate. What is more, criticism of these practices and orientations is considered to be a sin of the worst kind.  Enter an old book.
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Let’s Study the Beatitudes! Part 1, Introduction

The Beatitudes, as a whole, share with us the Christian life.  They communicate what is already true but what is not yet consummated.  For example, notice how the first and the last Beatitude (vv. 3, 10) are in the present tense. And then notice how the middle six Beatitudes (vv. 4-9) are in the future tense.  We are in possession of salvation but the consummation is yet to be. This is the already but not yet of the Christian life. 

Some passages of Scripture are better known than others.  How can they not be?  The Lord’s Prayer is recited across the landscape of Christendom along with the Twenty-third Psalm and the Ten Commandments.  But there are others. In fact, it’s interesting how the popular conception of a passage can leave a scar on the psyche for years!  Who can forget the book called The Be Happy Attitudes?  I’ve never read it but the title is emblazoned on my mind!  It’s like when someone hums a song out of tune and then you can’t get the corruption out of your head.  But I digress.
The Beatitudes are another well-known and well-worn passage among Christians.  It should be.  It has that gravitas.  It has that ability to summarize a good deal of Christian teaching in a very small nucleus of words.  It was spoken to be remembered.  And on Theology for Everyone we are going to take a look at those Beatitudes.  We are going to unpack them and their meaning for the Christian life. However, before we do, I want us to get the lay of the land.  I want to give you a guided tour through some obvious and some not so obvious points that give the scope of the beatitudes.
First, the Beatitudes are part of a sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.  In fact, they are the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount.  The Sermon is prefaced by Matthew 5:1, which tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain, sat down and opened his mouth to teach his disciples. The Sermon ends with chapter 7:28. There Jesus finished his sermon, got up from his seat and went down the mountain. What is more, the sermon is a beautifully structured message.  Too often we think of it as a stream of consciousness or the wise statements of a sage sprinkled about like seed on the ground.  However, that is a serious misunderstanding. But the structure of the Sermon is for a later time.
Second, these Beatitudes form a bridge between what has been said and what will be said. What has been said? Well, a lot has been said in the first four chapters of Matthew but the thing to notice is the baptism.  There John objects to baptizing Jesus.  But Jesus tells him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  We then find Jesus entering into temptation wherein He, as the Second Adam, did what the first Adam failed to do.  He obeyed.  He fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law.  So, why did Jesus undergo a baptism for repentance?  He did so as a representative substitute for the people He would save. Notice, the fourth beatitude, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.  By whose righteousness will they be filled?  Obviously, by Christ who came to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law for his people that once forgiven they may an alien righteousness imputed to them.
Third, the Beatitudes, as a whole, share with us the Christian life.  They communicate what is already true but what is not yet consummated.  For example, notice how the first and the last Beatitude (vv. 3, 10) are in the present tense. And then notice how the middle six Beatitudes (vv. 4-9) are in the future tense.  We are in possession of salvation but the consummation is yet to be. This is the already but not yet of the Christian life.  And the Beatitudes speak about that life and we are eager to listen.
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Transgender or Pretendgender?

Christians are called to face reality and the reality is that God created people male and female (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:20-25). There is no Biblical (or common sense!) category to support a non-binary view of gender. Biological males cannot become females and females cannot become males. There may be drugs to suppress hormones or drugs to introduce hormones but it will be contrary to the body’s desires.  The body knows its own gender even if the mind suppresses the truth in sin (Romans 1:18ff).  The sad truth is that the person who pretends to be a different gender will always be at odds with self. However, this adversity with self is rooted in a person’s war with God.

I have fond memories of growing up in my neighborhood.  I was raised in a little country town with one stop light. My friends and I played cops and robbers and the only girl in the neighborhood was as tough as any of us! We would run through the woods with our toy guns yelling, “Bang, bang!” and the better guns would make their own laser-like sounds.  But sounds or no sounds you could always hear someone angrily shouting, “I got you! Now play dead! Sometimes the one who was supposed to be the corpse would argue his case usually while running away and at other times he would just fall down and play dead for the time we had allotted for a player to be dead, which was usually a sixty seconds. Most of us could only last ten seconds before pulling out death’s stinger and getting back into the action.
Of course, we were pretending.  We were engaged in the childhood practice of make believe.  Were acting as if what was not real was real.  We weren’t really cops or robbers. Our guns weren’t real. There were no bullets. No one was really dead.  It was all pretend. Now, you didn’t need me to explain the obvious. In fact, you might be thinking that I am treating you, my reader, inappropriately.  You might think I am condescending and insulting your intelligence.  But why not take me seriously?  The answer is simple. It is common sense. You know that we were pretending.
So, why isn’t all of this nonsensical talk about transgender just as obvious? Think for a minute about the basic etymology of the word.  The prefix trans- is from the Latin meaning across, over or beyond. We have all sorts of words using this prefix: transatlantic, transportation, transfer, transport, transition, translate, transparent, transcend etc. If you are going on a transatlantic flight then you are going across the Atlantic Ocean. If I transport something I carry it from point A to point B.
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Tulip: Limited Atonement

The Son, the good Shepherd, lays down His life for His sheep.  The sheep for which He dies are His sheep.  In fact, the Lord says that He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him, even as He knows His Father and His Father knows Him.  That is incredible!  How should we understand such a thing?  Simply put, this is covenantal language.  God is not admitting to know certain facts about us and us Him.  No, the baseline of covenantal knowledge is that of intimacy; He loves us and He has enabled us to love Him.  As a matter of fact, He loved us when we were yet sinners and unworthy of His love.

A theological earthquake shook my life over twenty years ago.  I can still see the classroom lit by the afternoon sun.  It was mostly quiet and peaceful that day with one exception.  A classmate was standing in front of me trying for all he was worth to persuade me of definite or limited atonement.  If the terminology is unfamiliar to you just remember that it is standard nomenclature used to describe the nature and the extent of Christ’s atonement.  To flesh this out even further, a Calvinist believes that “God’s method of saving men is to set upon them in his almighty grace, to purchase them to himself by the precious blood of his Son, to visit them in the inmost core of their being by the creative operations of his Spirit, and himself, the Lord God Almighty, to save them.”[i]
My friend had an uphill battle to wage.  But that day he did something very simple.  He verbalized my own position.  He said something that I believed and had said myself many times before.  But that day when I heard him articulate my position back to me it sounded strange; it sounded wrong.  What did he say, you ask?  He said, “Jeff, according to your position Christ’s death only made salvation possible, which means that you must concede two hypothetical scenarios; the death of Christ could have saved everyone or no one.”  Yes, that was what I had believed and what I had taught but on that day it sounded erroneous.
God had given to me a new set of ears.  So, I went back to the Scripture and started asking a basic question; for whom did Christ die?  It didn’t take long for me to find the answer.  If you have a Bible handy grab it and turn to John 10.

Prayer Tips: A Good Book from Luther

Luther believed that the Lord’s Prayer was an excellent model for prayer.  In fact, said Luther, had the Lord known a better prayer he would have taught us that one as well![4]  That being the case, it’s not surprising to find that Luther’s method is grounded in the Lord’s Prayer. In other words, Luther would take each part of the Lord’s Prayer and pray through it. 

You are a pastor in a small city.  You’ve known your barber for almost twenty years.  One day while he trims he asks for help in prayer.  He, like many others, struggles in that area.  So, you decide to go home and write a brief thirty-four page guide for him.  You even incorporate your friend in the work.  Encouraging attentiveness in prayer you write, “So, a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting.” Once finished you decide to publish the work and it’s ready for popular consumption by the early part of the year.  Now, your friend and others have help.
What you just read is fact and not fiction. Peter Beskendorf, Martin Luther’s barber asked this very question.  In response, Luther wrote a brief book titled A Simple Way to Pray. It’s a little gem.  And it is exactly what you would expect from the pen of Luther, nothing more and nothing less. For example, in Luther’s pithy way he warns us not to become lax and lazy with regard to prayer because “the devil who besets us is not lazy or careless.”[1]
Luther also gives the sort of advice that you don’t hear very often today.  For instance, he says, “Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly.” He goes on to explain exactly what he means. As firmly as his amen, Luther says, “Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.’  This is what Amen means.”[2] I wonder how many of us need that simple but profound instruction.
But Luther does more than give encouragements and terse sound bites.  His simple way is nothing less than a way to pray. So, let me simply walk you through his method.
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Deacons: The Office & How to Decide

This is an important office given to the church and Paul takes care to describe the one who feels led to seek it…First Timothy chapter three and verses eight and nine contain five descriptions that either qualify or disqualify a person from serving as a deacon.

The office of deacon is an important one.  In one sense the deacon or servant is not distinctive. Christ described himself as a servant in Mark 10:45 saying, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The word serve is the verb form of the noun.  Followers of Christ must also serve.  Paul describes himself and other ministers as servants (Ephesians 3:7, 6:21). Even the magistrate is a deacon of God (Romans 13:4). The role of servant is, shall we say, all encompassing.
However, the Lord gifted his church with gifted people. Again, this does not nullify the obligation enjoined on all believers to carry out their God given responsibilities. For example, all people are to give joyfully (II Corinthians 8:6-7) but some people have the gift of giving (Romans 12:8). Those not given to contribution should not withhold saying they simply aren’t gifted in that area. They must give.  But the one gifted should exercise his gift liberally.  Thus, all who belong to Christ are servants. But there is also the office of servant (deacon) with its accompanying gifts.
This is an important office given to the church and Paul takes care to describe the one who feels led to seek it. I simply want to look at some of the things Paul says about the one who might occupy that office in the church.
First Timothy chapter three and verses eight and nine contain five descriptions that either qualify or disqualify a person from serving as a deacon.  First, a potential deacon must be dignified or worthy of respect. Their character must be stamped with virtue.  It is a mistake when a church asks a lazy member to fill the role of deacon in order to motivate more participation! This is laughable but it sadly happens. The potential deacon must be an upright individual. Let me put it another way, if we were voting on a potential deacon we might ask ourselves a simple question, what sort of person am I voting for?
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