Archive for October, 2010

Being Interrupted: A Lesson from Augustine

I am most definitely a “Type A” personality.  I like to plan, organize, and execute – preferably in a deliberate, linear, and flawless manner.  Yet, as anyone who has walked this earth for more than a second knows, life does not always proceed in a deliberate and linear manner.  And it certainly does not proceed flawlessly!  Interruptions, accidents, and personal catastrophes make life an adventure in which you never know what the next chapter will bring.

Perhaps it is my penchant for planning that makes me appreciate so much this quote from Augustine (pictured above):

But I am annoyed because of the demands that are thrust on me…arriving unannounced, from here, there, and everywhere.  They interrupt and hold up all other things that we have so neatly lined up in order.  They never seem to stop. (Peter Robert Lamont Brown, Augustine of Hippo:  A Biography, 468)

I can honestly say that I know how Augustine feels.  For when I get things “neatly lined up in order” and am then “interrupted,” I get “annoyed.”

But should I get annoyed?  I suppose a little bit of a human annoyance is inevitable.  And yet, I can’t help but remember the attitude of my Lord when He got interrupted:

Then Jesus took His disciples with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed Him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. (Luke 9:10-11)

Jesus desires to withdraw His disciples to get a little bit of rest and relaxation with His disciples.  But then, He gets interrupted.  Crowds, eager to hear Him teach and have their ills healed, follow Him so that He cannot get a moment’s rest.  They arrive “unannounced from here, there, and everywhere.”  They interrupt Him.

How does Jesus respond to this crowd’s insensitive interruption?  He welcomes them (cf. verse 11).  The Greek word for “welcomed” is apadechomai, meaning, “to accept,” or “to receive.”  Interestingly, this word is sometimes used to describe the forgiveness of sins (e.g. Genesis 50:17 LXX).  Thus, Jesus welcomes the crowd, and in His welcome, there is forgiveness.  And this too is our hope:  That in Christ, we are welcomed in spite of sin because we are forgiven of our sin.

Augustine pens his candid admission of being annoyed by interruptions as he is trying to write his greatest work, The City of God. And so it is understandable that, while working on such a weighty tome, he would be annoyed by the delays.  After all, his task is vital!  But so are his interruptions.  For a man named Vincentius Victor is interrupting Augustine, questioning him on his view of man’s soul.  And a man’s soul is a big deal – not only as the subject of theological debate, but in the eyes of God.  And so, Augustine takes a break from his work on The City of God to answer Victor.

Like Jesus, do we welcome those who interrupt us?  Yes, what we are working on at the time may be important, but the interruption may be just as important.  Moreover, how do we respond to interruptions?  With annoyance in our hearts or with the welcoming spirit of our Lord?  Although interruptions are bound to annoy us, especially if you’re a “Type A” personality like me, it is worth it to see some interruptions not simply as glitches in your plans, but as divine appointments for your soul.  So welcome an interruption today!  After all, the interruption may just be the most important – and even the best – part of your day.

October 27, 2010 at 10:52 am 1 comment

Sermon Extra – Jesus, Priceless Treasure

The foot bone’s connected to the leg-bone; The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone; The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone; The thigh bone’s connected to the back bone; The back bone’s connected to the neck bone; The neck bone’s connected to the head bone; Oh hear the word of the Lord!

I can remember singing the above words as a child, learning about the prophet Ezekiel and his encounter with God in the valley of dry bones in Sunday School (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-14).  Besides being a fun way to learn a Bible story, this song also had the added benefit of teaching me some anatomy, no matter how rudimentary it may have been.  At least I knew what was connected to what.

In our text from this past weekend in worship and ABC, we wrapped up our two week min-series on stewardship titled, “Give & Take” with a look at what we, as Christians, are called to take.  In Jesus’ parable of the rich fool, we encountered a negative example of someone who tries to take all the wrong things:

The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:16-20)

This man tries to take barnfuls of grain only to learn that he can’t take them where it counts – into eternity.

Tragically, the reason this man obsesses over his barnfuls of grain has to do with what they are “connected to,” to use the words of my old Sunday school song.  Two words in this text highlight especially well what this man’s windfall of grain is “connected to.”  In verse 18, when this man determines that he will build bigger barns to “store” his grain and his goods, the Greek word for “store” is synago, from which we get our word “synagogue.”  This man is building a synagogue, or a place of worship, for his stuff!  For this man, his grain is an object of worship.   Then, in verse 19, when this man says, “And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years,’” the Greek word for “self” is psyche, meaning, “soul.”  This man is not only talking in his head, he is talking to his soul.  This rich man’s grain has now taken up residence in his soul.  Thus, this man is indeed deeply “connected to” his riches.  It is the object of his worship and the resident of his soul.

Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  “Your heart will always follow your treasure,” Jesus says.  And so, if your treasure is grain, your heart will follow barnfuls of bran.  If your treasure is fame, your heart will lust after accolades and acclaim.  If your treasure is cash, your heart will yearn after portfolios and scratch.  Your heart follows your treasure.  So what is your treasure?

Just as a song from my Sunday School years taught me the fundamentals of anatomy, an old hymn reminds me of my true treasure:

Jesus, priceless treasure,
Fount of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish
Shall my spirit languish,
Yearning, Lord, for Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Naught I ask beside Thee.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Pastor Nordlie’s ABC!

October 25, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Joy of Giving

The other night, we had a friend and his daughter staying with us.  We enjoyed some lively evening conversation and then went off to bed.  My buddy’s daughter was getting over an illness, so she was not feeling well and, apparently, she did not sleep well that night.  I say, “Apparently, she did not sleep well that night” because, for the most part, I was oblivious to her whines, her cries, and general restlessness that night.  My wife, however, who is a light sleeper, was not.  “Did you hear her?” she asked me the next morning.  “I felt so bad for her.”  “I heard her one time…I think,” I stammered.

Being oblivious is nothing new for me.  I am well known for overlooking and under-observing things and situations.  My wife says it is because I am a guy.  And this much I’ll grant her:  guys don’t always pay as much attention as they should.

Although the prophet Malachi may have been simply speaking to a nation full of oblivious guys, I highly doubt that was the case.  The year is 430 BC.  Over one hundred years have passed since a decree went out from the Persian king Cyrus that the Israelites could return to their homeland from their deportation in Babylonia.  But few have returned.  And those who have returned are spiritually oblivious.  Israel’s worship is in a state of despair.  There are reports that the Israelites, rather than offering the best (cf.  Exodus 23:19) and the first (cf. Exodus 34:19) of their resources to the Lord in worship, are offering animals which are “blind…lame or sick” (Malachi 1:8).  And what’s worse, the Israelites seem completely oblivious to their state of spiritual anemia.  In fact, one of the most striking rhetorical features of the book of Malachi its use of divine declarations.   Throughout the book, God makes a series of lofty declarations, meant point out the complete oblivion of the Israelites to their state of spiritual peril:

  • “I have loved you,” says the LORD.  But you say, “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2).
  • “You, O priests, despise My name.” But you say, “How have we despised Your name?” (Malachi 1:6)
  • “You have wearied the LORD with your words.” But you say, “How have we wearied Him?” (Malachi 2:17)
  • “Will a man rob God?  Yet you are robbing Me.” But you say, “How have we robbed You?” (Malachi 3:8)

Again and again, the Israelites prove themselves oblivious to God’s love and faithfulness and to their sin and wickedness.  Indeed, in Malachi 3, God says that the Israelites even try to rob Him.  How?   “In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you” (Malachi 3:8-9).  The Israelites have been selfishly keeping for themselves what they should have been sharing with God.  And they didn’t even know it.  They were oblivious.

I often wonder if the vast majority of people are completely oblivious to their responsibility to give to God.  I quoted these statistics in ABC this past weekend:

  • More than one in four Americans give away $0 annually.
  • The median annual giving for a Christian is $200, just over half a percent of their annual after-tax income.
  • Among Protestants, 10% of evangelicals. 28% of mainline denominational members, 33% of fundamentalists, and 40% of liberal Protestants give away nothing.

Clearly, God’s command to give goes widely unheeded.  Yet are we even aware of how much we neglect His statute?  Or have we simply lulled ourselves into a state of oblivion, forever content to rehearse the same old chorus of all the reasons and excuses we can’t be generous?

God invites us to give to His work – not because He wants to take from us what we cannot afford, but because He wants to give to us what we do not yet have:

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.  And thereby put Me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, [and see] if I will not open the window of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:8-10)

At the core of His being, our God is a giver.  He loves to give!  As Martin Luther so eloquently reminds us:

God has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them. In addition, He gives clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods.  He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil, all out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. (Martin Luther, Small Catechism, First Article of the Apostles’ Creed)

What wonderful and bountiful gifts our Lord has given us!  And now, He invites us to share in His joy of giving by giving as well – to God’s Church and His people.  Will you joyfully receive God’s invitation to give?

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October 18, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Homosexuality, Hatred, and the Gospel

With both interest and sadness, I have been following the slew of recent student suicides by young men who were reportedly the targets of anti-homosexual bullying.  The most widely reported of these was Tyler Clementi, a promising eighteen year old freshman at Rutgers University who jumped off the George Washington bridge after his roommate secretly streamed his sexual encounter with another male.  Other recent suicides include those of Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas, both fifteen.  As these tragic stories have trickled through our news cycles, one word to describe the motive of the bullies who drove these young men to despair has been brandished about again and again:  homophobia.  Consider, for instance, the headline that ran in the Huffington Post yesterday:  “Homophobia:  The Plague That Is Killing Our Youth.”

It seems as though “homophobia” is a word that is used to describe just about every conceivable form of opposition toward homosexuality.  When New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino spoke to a group of Jewish children about being “brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option” and then followed his comment up by saying, “It isn’t,” his competitor, Andrew Cuomo, accused him of “stunning homophobia.”  The PBS newsmagazine show “Frontline” has a special titled, “Assault On Gay America,” complete with a web-based “Homophobia Questionnaire” that includes such statements as “Homosexuality is immoral” and “Homosexuality is acceptable to me” and then asks you to rate whether you “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree” with these statements.  Last week, the Christian Science Monitor ran an article titled, “Homophobia Hurts Straight Men, Too,” which equated homophobia with “intolerance.”

The stories of young men who have been driven to despair and suicide by anti-homosexual bullying are tragic.  But I am not sure that we help their cause, nor adequately impugn their attackers, by simply decrying the problem of “homophobia.”  I know how the argument goes:  Anti-homosexual bullying is really the product of deep-seeded anxiety concerning a person’s own sexual desires.  But in most cases, this connection is empirically indemonstrable.  It is merely an ad hominem accusation.  Moreover, taking a moral or ethical stance against homosexual activity cannot be mechanically dubbed as “homophobic.”  For, in many of these instances, the driver of such a stance is not one of fear, but one of concern for the effects of homosexual activity on individuals and on society.

Perhaps it is time to trade the epithet “homophobia” for a more accurate, and really more damning, driver behind those who bully homosexuals:  hatred.  Bullying another person for whatever reason can be driven by nothing less than a ghastly arrogance that disdainfully looks down on others who it considers “different” or “lesser” in order to build itself up.

Blessedly, Christians are uniquely poised to address such hatred, for our Lord has told us:  “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).  Christians are called to love others.  What does this mean?  In the case of those engaged in homosexual lifestyles, it means loving them in a way that “does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).  And the truth is that homosexual activity is immoral (cf. Leviticus 18:22) and unnatural (cf. Romans 1:26-27).  This needs to be said!  But it does not need to be said in a way that belittles, badgers, or bullies another person.  Rather, it needs to be said out of a love that is simply honest enough to offer a biblical assessment of sin coupled with an affirmation of God’s love for sinners:  “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  In the case of those who demonstrate hatred toward homosexuals by bullying them, showing love means, once more, addressing their sin in a way that “does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.”  And the truth is, those who hate are “in darkness” (1 John 2:9) and are murderers (cf. 1 John 3:15).  And yet, this biblical assessment of sin must, once again, be coupled with an affirmation of God’s love for sinners.

As I have read these recent news stories concerning the suicides of these young, homosexual men, I have noticed that they sound a note of deep ethical concern – and appropriately so – concerning the plight of the victims of these hoary anti-homosexual attacks.  Conspicuously absent, however, is any concern for the attackers.  Do they not need our love too?  For if we hate those who hate homosexuals, have we not fallen prey to their same sin of hatred?  This is the point that the news stories which cover these tragedies seem to consistently miss.

As Christians, we are called to be concerned not only for the victims, but also for the attackers.  This is our call by the gospel.  The gospel calls us, as Christians, to confront sin – all sin – and to love people – all people.  It calls us to confront even the sin that the world sanctions and to love even the people that the world hates.  And it calls us to show people the way of eternal life.  And in a world that has seen far too many suicides recently, I can’t imagine a more precious promise than life.

October 12, 2010 at 11:00 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – The Descent Into Hell

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we continued our “Credo!” series with a look at the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, based on this line from the Apostles’ Creed: “Christ descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.”  The fact that Christ “rose again from the dead” is the linchpin of our faith.  Indeed, the apostle Paul says it is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).  Without the resurrection, our “faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Thus, in ABC, I spent a great deal of time defending the resurrection’s historicity against skeptics would try to undermine this cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Blessedly, most Christians believe in Christ’s resurrection.  And they appreciate its centrality to our faith.   Thus, Christians proudly confess, “The third day He rose again from the dead.”  What many Christians do not understand, however, is the line that comes before this: “Christ descended into hell.”  In fact, the most common question I receive concerning the Apostles’ Creed is, “Does the Bible really teach that Christ descended into hell?”  And, if so, “Where does the Bible teach this?”  Though I touched on it in ABC, I wanted to take a slightly more in-depth look at the doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell in today’s blog.

The line, “He descended into hell,” is a relatively late addition to the Apostles’ Creed.  It first appears as part of the Symbol of Sirmium in 359 and reads, “Christ died, and descended to the underworld, and regulated things there, whom the gatekeepers of hell saw and shuddered.”  It first appears in the Apostles’ Creed in 570.  However, just because it appears in the Creed at a late date does not mean it does not have an early origin.  Consider, for instance, these quotes, from Irenaeus (c. 180) and Tertullian (c. 200):

It was for this reason, too, that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching His advent there also. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.27.2)

But it was for this purpose, say they, that Christ descended into hell, that we might not ourselves have to descend thither.  (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 55)

Clearly, the church fathers had no problem with the notion that Christ descended into hell.  Nevertheless, because of its late incorporation into the Creed, the phrase, “He descended into hell,” has caused much controversy among Christians.  Indeed, some even go so far as refusing to speak this line when they recite the Creed.  For those who do speak this line, there are multiple interpretations as to what this line means.

Some interpret this line simply as meaning that Christ descended into the grave, that is, He was buried and truly dead.  The Greek of the Creed reads, “Christ descended into ta katotata,” meaning, “the lowest.”  These interpreters take this phrase simply to mean not the lowest place of hell, but the low place of a grave in the ground.  Roman Catholic interpreters believe that Christ did indeed descend into hell in the traditional sense, but did so to free virtuous people who had gone before Him, but nevertheless could not be saved because they had been born before His advent.  The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church explains: “In His human soul united to His divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before Him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 637).

Finally, it is probably best to understand Christ’s descent into hell as it is explained in 1 Peter 3:18-19: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.”  The phrase “spirits in prison” is often taken to refer to the eternal prison of hell.  As I mentioned in ABC, the Greek word for “preached” is kerysso, a word that was used in ancient Greek games to declare the victor of a contest.  Thus, when Christ descended into hell, He did not do so to free the virtuous who had come before Him, for they had already received their salvation through faith in the promise of a coming Messiah (cf. Romans 4:3-8, 18-25).  Rather, He descended into hell to kerysso Himself the victor over sin, death, and the devil.  The descent into hell is Christ’s victory tour, for through the cross, He has conquered all things wicked.  And this is good news!

At Jesus’ empty tomb, the angels sing, “Christ has risen” (Luke 24:6)!  Perhaps it is appropriate to add as well, “Christ has descended!”  For His descent gives a reason for us to celebrate and for hell to shudder.  For Christ’s descent and resurrection, finally, point to the same promise:  Christ has conquered the cross and has secured for us eternal life.  Praise be to the One who descended and resurrected!

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October 11, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Atonement: Universal or Limited?

This weekend in worship and ABC, we continued our “Credo!” series with a study of the doctrine of the atonement.  As I mentioned in ABC, the word “atonement” comes to us via the sixteenth century, literally meaning, “at-one-ment.”  That is, the doctrine of the atonement teaches that whereas sin separates us from God, God makes us “at-one” with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul explains it well:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

With these words, Paul offers a simple, yet eloquent, definition of the doctrine of the atonement.  The atonement is God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself through Christ.  Yet, this definition has caused more than a little debate over the years.

Two opposite and equal errors have been made with regard to the doctrine of the atonement.  The first error is that of “universal atonement.”  “Universal atonement” teaches that, because God has reconciled the world to himself through Christ, ultimately, no one will stand condemned.  Everyone will be saved.  Indeed, this what the great church father Origen taught:

So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning…so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” (Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3).

Origen’s borrows the phrase “all in all” from 1 Corinthians 15:28 to assert that God will not just save “a few individuals, or a considerable number,” but all people!  Everyone will be saved!  This is the doctrine of universal atonement.  And it is a false doctrine.  Not all people will be saved.

The second error that has crept into the doctrine of atonement is that of “limited atonement.”  “Limited atonement” notes that, even though Paul writes “that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ,” not all are saved.   Some are cast into hell (cf. Revelation 20:15).  Thus, “limited atonement” teaches that God did not reconcile the whole world to Himself in Christ; rather, He reconciled only the world of the elect, or those He has chosen for salvation, to Himself.  Indeed, this is the teaching of many modern day Calvinists, although it is debatable as to whether or not Calvin himself taught this.

So what is the way through these debates?  Is universal atonement or limited atonement correct?  Actually, neither is correct.  Lutherans have long made a distinction between objective justification and subjective justification.  Objective justification states that when Christ died, He did so for the sins of the whole world.  God sought to reconcile the whole world to Himself in Christ.  Subjective justification notes that Christ’s objective work on the cross must be received subjectively, or personally, through faith.  This is what the Lutheran Confessions call “personal faith”: “Personal faith – by which an individual believes that his or her sins are remitted on account of Christ and that God is reconciled and gracious on account of Christ – receives the forgiveness of sins and justifies us” (Apology IV:45).  In other words, the Lutheran confessors teach that Christ’s objective work on the cross does you no good if you don’t trust in it for your forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation!  This is why the Scriptures contain constant calls to personal faith (e.g., Romans 10:9-10).

Both objective and subjective justification are needed.  Subjective justification is needed because it invites us to have faith and reminds us that without faith, we will be damned (cf. Luke 8:12).  Objective justification is important because it reminds us that Christ’s work on the cross is not just for some, but for the whole world.  Indeed, it is for you!  God not only reconciles the world to Himself in Christ, He reconciles you, for He loves you.  This is the true doctrine of the atonement!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
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October 4, 2010 at 5:15 am 3 comments

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