Second Reformed Church

Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: "NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible"



NIV Kids Visual Study Bible published by Zondervan is a recent repackaging that I would encourage you not to buy or recommend.  For the things it has going for it, I cannot recommend it for the following reasons:
I believe it is a mistake to start kids with a dynamic equivalence translation.  A word-for-word translation may be a little stiffer, but dynamic equivalence can border on paraphrase – or, at least, mislead – intentionally or unintentionally.
Second, in the first chapter of Genesis, the study notes say that the “days” of Creation could be 24 hours days or they could be long periods of time.  In putting it this way, it gives kids the impression that the Creation is a story, not history, and allows for evolution as an acceptable add-on to God’s work.
Similarly, the study notes dismiss a mythology or make ridiculous claims about creatures such as “Leviathan.”  The notes on page 806 say that Leviathan was likely a crocodile or symbolic of evil powers.  Really?  With scales as large as shields.
In an effort to provide a study Bible for kids, Zondervan has produced a confusing study Bible that dumbs down and mythologizes sections of the Scripture.
Let us teach our children to read and think, and not to pander to popular culture and the need to make everything bite-sized and comprehensible.
#NIVKids’VisualStudyBible
[This review appears on my blog and on Amazon.com.  I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: "Our Church"



Our Church:  a Personal History of the Church of England by Christian and philosopher, Roger Scruton, is a fascinating and unusual read.  There is memoire – as the reader learns about Scruton’s belief in the Church of England.  There is history – as Scruton explains how the church came to be and how it different from other churches (denominations).  And there is theology – as Scruton explains what the church believes and why its beliefs are more acceptable to him than others are. 
In contradistinction to non-Christians, Scruton states that Christians “accept Christ as one Person of the Holy Trinity and the living Word of God” (176).  And he states that “Christians are better fitted to endure [persecution] than most religious believers.  Their model and example is a man who was ‘despised and rejected’, and although they are commanded to love their neighbors, they also know that the person who commanded this was crucified for doing so” (186).
As far as the denomination itself, one might find the sum of his attachment to the Church of England in that other denominations were “nothing, for me, save doctrine” (105).  The liturgy of the Church of England makes up an essential part of the expression of Scruton’s belief.
Throughout the book, Scruton argues that the Church is not something that is invented but coalesces around the foundation of doctrine or practice – that is, the Church exists, first, as a community (12).  The beliefs and rituals of the Church make for a “strict compliance to a community-forming code” (54).  The Church, then, is organic and only exists in community.
Scruton has not written an apology, per se, for the Church of England against other denominations, so there is not an intensive comparison amongst them.  He does, however, look both historically and doctrinally at the Puritans who thrived at the same time as the formation of the Church of England – and he does not care for them – which is not a surprise.  (Though his dismissal of the Puritan understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a “merely symbolic ritual” falls short of their explanation of “real presence,” and, thus, Scruton is in error here.)
This is an unusual and largely sound work of memoir and historical theology.  I believe I understand more about the Church of England and Roger Scruton having read it – and it encourages me to read more of his work.  However, as always, don’t assume authors are always correct.
#OurChurch

Monday, August 07, 2017

"You get MORE time off?!"

The pastor is on vacation through August 28th.  If you are in need during this time, please call a member of the Consistory or thee church office.  The church office will be closed, but the phone will be checked.

"Blessed Unseeing" John 20:19-29



“Blessed Unseeing”
[John 20:19-29]
August 6, 2017, Second Reformed Church
            On that first Easter Sunday, the women go to the tomb where Jesus lay and find it empty.  Peter and John check the tomb, and it is true – the tomb is empty – and God opens their minds and hearts and causes them to understand that Jesus has physically risen from the dead, just as the Scriptures say He must.
            And then Mary Magdalene goes back to the tomb and meets angels and then meets Jesus and she believes in Jesus’ physical resurrection – and then the rest of the women come and meet the angels and see the resurrected Jesus and they believe.
            And then two disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus – and though they do not recognize Him at first – He reveals Himself and the truth of His physical resurrection – and they believe as well.
            As evening comes that first Easter Sunday, the Eleven – minus Thomas – are hiding in a locked room.  Peter and John tell the others that Jesus is alive, but they don’t know where He is.  They wonder what their enemies are planning, and they have locked the door to the room where they are waiting – hoping some information would reach them – and it does.
            Jesus appears to the Ten, and they believe in Him savingly.
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
            John stresses that this is the same day – they day the earth shook and the guards fainted and the angels appeared and Jesus physically rose from the dead and made Himself known to Peter and John and Mary and the women and the two disciples on the road.  Jesus does not leave them in fear and wondering – He comes to them to assure them in the truth of what they have been told.
            Notice, John makes the point to say that the doors are locked – and Jesus comes and appears with them in the room – in the room with the locked door – which is locked.  And He gives them His peace.
            Some people have argued that Jesus was hiding in the room all along and He waited until the door was secure to pop out and greet them.  But that doesn’t fit the emphasis that John gives the text.
            Others have said Jesus walked through the door – but the text doesn’t say that – and human bodies – even glorified human bodies can’t walk through doors.  So, if Jesus still has a human body – and He does – and He must – for the sake of our salvation – Jesus cannot walk through doors.
            So we take the text as it stands – Jesus came to them and stood among them.
            Well, that doesn’t answer anything, does it?  The fact of the matter is that we are not told – and we may never know – it may be of the secret things of God or something that we just can never comprehend – but He was there.
            Still, some will say – it was a ghost or a mass hallucination.
            We know that can’t be true – especially with the detail that Luke gives us about this event:
“As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:36-49, ESV).
Jesus appears to the Ten and their first thought is, “It’s a ghost!”  So Jesus tells them to touch His body and see that He is really flesh and bone – He is not a ghost.  And they touch Him – but they are in shock – they are joyful – but they are afraid, because it just doesn’t compute for them:  “How is Jesus here?  How is He alive?”  So He asks them for some food – and He eats some broiled fish before them, because ghosts can’t east food.
            And then He opens their minds to the Scripture and shows them exactly what the Scripture means about the Savior and how He has completed the work to save the people God gave Him.
            Jesus tells the Ten that in the same way that the Father Sovereignly sent the Son to incarnate in the person of Jesus to save the people God gave Him – in this same way, the Father Sovereignly sends the Ten to go forth with the Gospel message of Who Jesus is and what He has done.
            These are the first ministers – the first pastors – of the Christian Church.  These men were chosen by God and gifted by God and sovereignly called by God to preach and teach His Word.
            As Jesus prays:  “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
            “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:18-21, ESV).
            We’re not going to go into detail about this now – but just notice that becoming a pastor – becoming a minister – is not a choice – it is a calling.  God calls – commissions – sends – and gifts – people to be ministers.  A minster who is truly called ought to feel that he has no other choice but to be a minister.
            So, Jesus tells them the Father is sending them, and Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them.
            In Greek, the word for “spirit” can also be translatd as “breath” or “wind” – as we see when Paul says that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” – the Bible is a divine creation, superintended over by God as the human authors wrote it using their skill and language.
            And Jesus tells the Ten:   “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
            And you will rightly wonder how this can be, since the Holy Spirit was not received by the disciples until the day of Pentecost – which occurrs fifty days after Easter.
            The answer is that God the Holy Spirit did not indwell the disciples at this point – but there was a corporate gifting to the Ten to enable them to do the work they needed to do between Easter and the day of Pentecost – at which point – and forever more – God, the Holy Spirit, indwells believers.
            The work they needed to do – the work that all ministers are called to in one way – and all Christians are called to in a similar way – is to proclaim the Gospel – Who Jesus is and what He did – to the whole Creation.
            As we proclaim this One Way of salvation from every part of the Scripture – it is in this way and this way only, that we are able to forgive sins or withhold forgiveness:  as we proclaim the Gospel, the person either believes or rejects it.  In this, forgiveness is given, or it is not given.
            No mere human being has the authority or ability to forgive or not forgive sins in the way that Jesus does.  He Alone is the God Who made atonement for His people.  Only Jesus can save us – only God can cause a person to believe – raising him out of his spiritual death and granting him spiritual life.  We cannot do that.  We proclaim the Gospel – and then – based on how the person responds – their sins are forgiven – through the work of Jesus Alone – or their sins are still held against them.
            Does that make sense?
            Jesus is not saying that the Ten – or any Christian – has the ability or authority to cause God to forgive or to not forgive someone’s sins.  What Jesus is saying is that we are to tell other people the Gospel – and their response shows whether God – based solely on the work of Christ – has forgiven their sins or not.
            So, Jesus appears to the Ten.  Proves that He is alive and a real human being.  And then He commissions them – in the power of the Holy Spirit – to preach and teach the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.
            Second, Jesus appears to the Eleven, and Thomas believes.
“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’
            “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
            Thomas is one of those guys who has to “see it to believe it.”  “Unless I can see Him myself and touch Him myself and see the wounds are real and … I don’t care what anyone else says…”  We know people like that, don’t we?
            And in His Mercy, the next week – when the Eleven are meeting in the locked room – Jesus comes among them and greets them with His peace.  And Jesus tells Thomas – who is now staring at Jesus – “Put your finger in My wounds.  Place your hand in My side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
            Jesus tenderly leads His little lamb – comforting him – showing him that the Good Shepherd knows the way – He is the Way – everything that has been written about Him is the truth and comes to pass.  God humbles Himself yet again, submitting to the requests of Thomas.
            And God opens Thomas’ eyes and renews his mind and gives him a heart of flesh – and Thomas understands and believes that Jesus is the Savior, and He has physically risen from the dead – just as the Scriptures say He must.  But that’s not all.
            Thomas exclaims two things:  “My Lord and my God!”
            Exclaiming “my Lord” is not controversial – he is proclaiming that Jesus is his Master, his Teacher, his Superior – even the One to Whom he owes everything.
            But when he proclaims, “my God!” – that is something else.  Judaism is a monotheistic religion.  God has revealed Himself to be One God and Only One God – there are no other gods.  So what Thomas is saying is that he understands and recognizes and proclaims that Jesus is God Himself in the flesh – which is Who He must be to be the Savior of His people.
            And this is a mystery:  the Bible tells us that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human in one person.  And we can understand that He must be to be the Savior – in order to take our place under the Law and to be our substitute in paying the debt for our sins, He has to be a real human being – no one but a real human being can be a substitute for real human beings.  And He must also at the same time in the same person be God, because only God can keep the Law perfectly and only God can survive the penalty for all of the sins of everyone who will ever believe in Him.
            How can that be?  It is.  It must be.  And we don’t know.  It is a mystery.
            But Thomas believes and proclaims that Jesus is his Sovereign Lord and Master and, also, the One True God.
            One of the reasons we began looking at the Gospel of John almost three years ago was to set before us – again and again – the truth that Jesus is a real, perfect, holy human being and at the same time and in the same person, the One True God.
            Do you believe?
            Third, Jesus says that those who do not see Him physically in this life, but believe, are blessed.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
There is a gentle rebuke in Jesus’ words, because it should not be necessary to see Jesus in the flesh to believe that He is God the Son and Savior.
Understand: we ought to desire Jesus – and He is here with us now, ministering to us and giving us His grace, but we will not be with Him in the flesh until the last day when the Creation is restored.  And our relationship with Jesus is not any less because we do not see Him in the flesh – yet – than those who did see Him in the flesh on earth.
Sometimes the question is asked, “If you could spend an afternoon with someone – living or dead – who would it be?”  And sometimes, people answer, “Jesus.”  And surely, the people who say that are well-meaning, but they miss the point that Jesus is right here, right now, in the midst of His people and what He wants us to know and believe is found right here in His Word.
There have been times that people have said, “Well, if Jesus were only here now, things would be different.”  Really?  Jesus is here.  He is sitting sovereignly on His throne causing His plan for all of history to come to pass.  Again, this may be expressed in a well-meaning way, but it shows a lack of understanding.
In the musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” this kind of thought is put in the mouth of Judas:  “Every time I look at you
“I don't understand
“Why you let the things you did
“Get so out of hand
“You'd have managed better
“If you'd had it planned
“Now why'd you choose such a backward time
“And such a strange land?
“If you'd come today
“You could have reached a whole nation
“Israel in 4 BC
“Had no mass communication.”
No.  We see over and over again, Jesus waiting for the time or the hour to be right and then saying when the time or the hour is right.  Now it is right for Jesus to be seated at the Right Hand of the Father.  For thirty-three years, it was right for Jesus to be on earth.  When Jesus returns, we will forever be in His presence – a joy to look forward to!
One other thing to note about this:
John Calvin says that true faith is founded on the Word of God and rises from the Word of God to the invisible Kingdom of God (Commentary on John, 279).  In other words, it is not seeing the physical body of Jesus that causes us to believe in Him as our Savior and receive the Whole Word of God as true.  No, we come to faith through the reading and hearing of the Word of God – and as God causes us to read and hear and understand His Word, we are lifted up in the spirit to believe everything that God has said and commanded and promised – and we look forward to the Kingdom to come.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).
And Paul writes, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV).
And, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17, ESV).
And Peter writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9, ESV).
Beloved, if we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are blessed.  We have not seen Jesus in the flesh, but God has gifted us with faith and belief – and we are precious and holy redeemed in His sight.  And in due time, Jesus will return in the flesh – with the fullness of the Kingdom with Him, and the unseen will become seen, and we will be received into His Glory to worship before Him for all of eternity in unspeakable joy.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Jesus to the Eleven in His physical body to comfort and commission them.  And we thank You for Jesus’ witness to Thomas that we are not lesser Christians for not knowing Jesus in the flesh.  We thank You for being with us and ministering to us and calling us to proclaim Your Gospel to the world.  Use us to You Glory and fill us with Your joy as the Holy Spirit guides our tongues and minds.  And keep the hope of Glory drawing us ever in faith and obedience.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.