Sunday, September 30, 2012

Started Series through Hebrews Today

Today I gave the first of who knows how many sermons on the letter to the Hebrews. It's not up on our website yet, but within a day or so it will be. You can listen to this sermon, and those that follow, here. Just to give you a taste, here's the opening portion of the message for today. I pray that God will use this most glorious and powerful sermonic-letter to stun us with the glory of Christ and shape us into his image. 

Over the span of about fifteen centuries before Christ, God spoke and spoke and spoke to the Jewish people through his chosen prophets, namely, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and every other person who was used of God to write what we now call the Old Testament. Although the speech of God through these prophets was genuine indeed, it was not an end in itself but rather pointed toward one who would be the fulfillment of every word God ever spoke. 

And so, when the time was full or as the author of Hebrews puts it, “in these last days,” God spoke in a decisive, once-for-all fashion through his Son and having done that he had nothing more to say. He still has nothing more to say. God the Father, through his Son, has said everything he needs to say, he’s revealed everything he needs to reveal so that the only sense in which its proper to say God is still speaking is that God is still speaking through his Son. 

If the Son of God is so central to God’s plan of self-revelation, and if the speech of God through the Son of God is as final as the author of Hebrews makes it out to be, then we better ask and answer a few questions: Who is this Son? Where did he come from? What did God say through him? What does God’s speech through him have to do with humanity, and especially with those who have come to believe in the Son? 

The letter to the Hebrews was written to address questions such as these which is why it begins with such an intricate, majestic, breath-taking, mind-blowing depiction of this Son. From the outset the author wants his readers to see and feel the fact that Jesus is very great, infinitely great, incomprehensibly great. As finite human beings, we have an instinctual propensity to make great things smaller than they really are so that we can grasp them and deal with them. At times, this propensity isn’t such a bad thing, in fact at times it’s a good thing, but when it’s applied to Jesus it’s a tragic thing. 

You may have heard the saying, “God created us in his image and we’ve been returning the favor ever since.” That’s true. As John Calvin said, our hearts are idol making factories, and one of the ways we make idols is by minimizing the reality of who Jesus is. It’s by domesticating him and making of him whatever works for whatever we want. And whether they realized it or not, the Christians to whom the letter to the Hebrews was first written had done this very thing. They had demoted Jesus from his rightful, lofty place and to some extent brought him down to a level they could understand. The tragedy of this is that when their lives took certain turns, they then didn’t find it hard to walk away from him and give themselves to other things. Since he was not a very significant person in their eyes, forsaking him was no big deal. 

The author of Hebrews not only understood these things about his first readers, he grieved deeply about it as well. He loved Jesus. He had eyes to see something of the height and depth and width and breadth of the glory of his being. He also loved these precious people for whom Jesus lived and died and was raised again, and so he wrote to jolt them out of their slumber so as to help them see and remember just how great Jesus is. He did not want to waste his time playing around with superficial things that were merely symptoms of the root problem. He did not, therefore, write and say to the Hebrews, “Wake up and try harder. Do better. Fulfill your obligations to God.” 

No, the author of Hebrews wanted to wield the sharp two-edged sword of the Word of God to cut deep into the soul, expose the root of the problem, and apply the healing balm of Christ where it counted, where it would transform, where it would cause an eruption of worship and humility and joy in the lives of all who received it. And so he begins this great letter with a depiction of the Son so rich and deep that I doubt the depths of it can ever be fully explored. There he tells us that Jesus is the rightful inheritor of all things. That he is the one through whom God the Father created everything that exists outside of God. That he is the visible display of the very glory of God. That he is the exact imprint of the depths of the nature of God. That he is responsible for upholding the entire universe and guiding it toward its appointed end with nothing more than the word of his power. That he himself made purification for sins with no outside help and by offering nothing more or other than himself. That he, having made purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high where he rested forever from his great work and where he took his rightful place as the sovereign ruler of all things. 

Beloved, this is Jesus and he is very great, infinitely great, incomprehensibly great. We are all given to the idolatrous impulse to pull him down from his exalted place and to make of him something we can understand or someone who is comfortable for us or someone who has no authority or claim over the particulars of our lives. And when we, like the first readers of Hebrews, do this, we are in fact committing idolatry. Even though we call him Jesus, we are worshiping a “god” of our own making. 

So it is that the author of Hebrews writes, not just so that we’ll ponder Jesus, but so that we’ll encounter Jesus. Of course, he and the Holy Spirit want us to think more carefully about Jesus. Of course, he and the Holy Spirit want us to plumb the depths of what is being revealed in this letter. But the point of thinking and pondering is encountering the living Jesus as he is. The point is to gain eyes to see him and hearts to cling to him, that we might ever bow before and love this awesome Son no matter what the cost. 

And this design was not just for the first readers, it’s for us, too. For months now I have had the sense in prayer that if we will humble ourselves in these days and open our hearts to the living and exalted Christ, he will use the truths contained in this letter to transform our lives. He will reveal himself to us in new and fresh ways, even to those who’ve been walking with Jesus for a long time. He will cause us to see something more of the height and depth and width and breadth of who he is. He will cause us to lose our taste for lesser things so that we’ll be freed from the sin which clings so closely. He will forge us together as a people and teach us more of what it means to live this life of worship together for the glory of God and the good of the nations. He will set our hearts aflame with love for him and send us out like flames to proclaim him, for our God is a consuming fire. 

Oh Beloved, don’t think small thoughts about Jesus and the letter to the Hebrews and the designs of Jesus in leading us to this letter at this particular time of our lives together. The Lord is moving in our midst, and so I call you to pray long and hard with me in these days, asking the Lord to fulfill all of his purposes in us and through for his glory and our joy. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Letter to the Hebrews

If the Lord gives me life, it will be my privilege to start a series of sermons on the letter to the Hebrews this Sunday at Glory of Christ Fellowship. It's been a long time coming! Ten years ago I had planned to preach through this precious letter in the church I then served, but after a season of prayer, meditation, and deliberation with my mentors I decided that the time wasn't right. So  I preached through the first part of the book of Luke instead, which was a great blessing, but my heart still longed for Hebrews. 

Without going into too many details, I have given vent to this longing over the last ten years by studying Hebrews on my own, taking a course on the letter (or sermon) at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and compiling my thoughts in a document that's already mushroomed into 142 pages--I mean it when I say that I've been longing to preach through this book for quite some time! 

As the time to embark on this journey has drawn near, I've given myself to reading, and re-reading, a load of commentaries (in case you're interested, I've listed them at the end of this blog entry). One of them was written by Harold Attridge, a brilliant and eminently learned, yet liberal scholar. Why, you might ask, am I reading a liberal commentary? Good question! 

On the one hand, despite his views on the veracity of the Bible and Christianity, he provides a wealth of accurate information about the world in which Hebrews was written, and he actually interprets the letter with amazing accuracy and erudition. He's bold enough to admit that he doesn't believe its claims, but again, he actually reads it as well as, or even better than, some  scholars who do! 

On the other hand, I grow from interfacing with scholars who do not share my view of the Bible, Jesus, the church, and so forth. I do not surround myself with such as these, but I like to have one or two of them at the table, if you will. It sharpens me. 

As a liberal scholar, Attridge approaches questions of the development of Hebrews from a literary-historical point of view. That is, he often makes statements like this--and just for the record I'm making this up because the commentary is in the other room and I don't feel like getting up--"here the author of Hebrews reflects or interfaces with the wisdom tradition, for his language is clearly reminiscent of Philo or whomever." 

It seems that several years ago, when I first read this commentary, I had had enough of this mode of argumentation by about page 40, for in the margins of that page I penned a fairly involved reaction to his analysis. (Yes, I write in my books, and I like it, though I will admit that this particular note got out of hand!) Here's what I wrote: 

"Statements like these ignore the reality of texts like 2 Cor 12 (which describes Paul's experience of being caught up into the presence of God where he was shown great and awesome things). The genesis and influences of NT texts are less about human traditions and more about the revelatory work of God through his Spirit. I do not deny that the learned author of Hebrews was aware of, and to some extent, influenced by a variety of Jewish and Greek traditions and texts, but I do deny that what he and other NT authors wrote can ultimately be explained by such influences. 

"The issue [of the development of Hebrews] is not fundamentally one of a  history of ideas, or the influence of certain texts upon another, but one of divine inspiration. Scholars like Attridge will from time to time acknowledge the divine aspects of the text, but they then proceed as if this is only a theoretical possibility or the juvenile claim of a mistaken author. The vital, living reality of the Spirit's influence upon the texts of the Scripture seems, for all practical purposes, lost on them. And yet, this is the key to understanding these texts: they have two authors, one divine and one human, the former being by far the most important." 

Yes, I wrote all of that, in pen, in the margins of my commentary! As I continued to read, and re-read, my other commentaries this week, I came across three passages by three scholars who, in one way or another, touched upon the issues I raised in my little rant. 

First, William Lane writes, “The writer [of Hebrews] may have become familiar with terms like ἀπαύγασμα [apaugasma] and χαρακτὴρ [charakter] from an Alexandrian education, but he has brought this distinctive vocabulary into the service of Christian confession” (13). My point exactly! That is, the way to understand the composition of Hebrews is not by tracing the education and influences of the author, then ascribing particular words and phrases to this or that apparent source, but rather to acknowledge that he was an imminently learned man who, having been influenced in a variety of ways, was used of the Holy Spirit to give unique and lasting expression to the great truths of the gospel. In this way, we can say that his background plays a part in the composition of Hebrews, but that it cannot fully explain the final form of the letter. Instead, we must look to its ultimate cause, namely, the Holy Spirit. 

Second, Peter O’Brien actually pushes the pause button on his commentary in order to address this issue. In a section entitled “Note 1: Christ as Divine Wisdom” (53-54), he argues that the author of Hebrews is not concerned with the wisdom tradition but with traditional Christology, and this with a view to providing a more solid and rooted foundation for it. Amen, my point exactly! The author is not so much interfacing with Greek or Jewish philosophical traditions, rather, he is exposing that biblical world in which Yahweh has been preparing the way for the coming of Christ, and in which Christ became the ultimate fulfillment, and end, of divine revelation. 

Finally, even John Calvin touched on these matters more than four hundred years ago! “But it is for the same reason that the Son is said to be ‘the brightness of his glory’, and ‘the impress of his substance:’ they are words borrowed from nature. For nothing can be said of things so great and so profound, but by similitudes taken from created things. There is therefore no need refinedly to discuss the question how the Son, who has the same essence with the Father, is a brightness emanating from his light. We must allow that there is a degree of impropriety in the language when what is borrowed from created things is transferred to the hidden majesty of God. But still the things which are indent to our senses are fitly applied to God, and for this end, that we may know what is to be found in Christ, and what benefits he brings to us. 

“It ought also to be observed that frivolous speculations are not here taught, but an important doctrine of faith. We ought therefore to apply these high titles given to Christ for our own benefit, for they bear a relation to us. When, therefore, thou hear that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, think thus with thyself, that the glory of the Father is invisible until it shines forth in Christ, and that he is called the impress of his substance, because the majesty of the Father is hidden until it shows itself impressed as it were on his image. 

"They who overlook this connection and carry their philosophy higher, weary themselves to no purpose, for they do not understand the design of the Apostle; for it was not his object to show what likeness the Father bears to the Son; but, as I have said, his purpose was really to build up our faith, so that we may learn that God is made known to us in no other way than in Christ: for as to the essence of God, so immense is the brightness that it dazzles our eyes, except it shines on us in Christ. It hence follows, that we are blind as to the light of God, until in Christ it beams on us. 

"It is indeed a profitable philosophy to learn Christ by the real understanding of faith and experience. The same view, as I have said is to be taken of 'the impress;' for as God is in himself to us incomprehensible, his form appears to us only in his Son” (25-26). 

Calvin's language and manner of reasoning can be hard to follow, but his point is simple and profound: the author of Hebrews writes, not to enter into the historic flow of some philosophical or literary tradition, but to lead his readers into a transformative encounter with the living Christ. What we have in the author of Hebrews is a man who was thoroughly educated, who possessed rare gifts of understanding and articulation, but whose writing is ultimately explained, not by his background, but by the Holy Spirit who chose and used him for this purpose. 

Wow, do I feel better! Hope this was helpful and upbuilding for you, too. 

Here's the list of commentaries I've been reading: 

Attridge, Harold W. 1989. Hebrews. Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 

Bruce, F. F. 1990. The Epistle to the Hebrews, rev. ed. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company. 

Calvin, John. 1549. Commentary on Hebrews, trans. and ed. by John Owen, 1853. Grand Rapids: Christians Classics Ethereal Library. 

Ellingworth, Paul. 1993. The Epistle to the Hebrews. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 

Hewitt, Thomas. 1960. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company. 

Lane, William L. 1991. Hebrews 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 47a. Dallas: Word Books. 

Lane, William L. 1991. Hebrews 9-13. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 47b. Dallas: Word Books. 

Leon, Morris. 1981. Hebrews. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Hebrews - Revelation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 

O’Brien, Peter T. 2010. The Letter to the Hebrews. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company. 

Owen, John. 1811-14. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, vols. 1-6. Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong. 

Wiersbe, Warren W. 2009. Be Confident: Live by Faith, not by Sight. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing. 

Wright, Paul O. 1986. The Epistle to the Hebrews. The Complete Biblical Library, Hebrews - Jude. Springfield, MO: The Complete Biblical Library. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Morality of Abortion in the Case of Rape

Last week a friend of mine forwarded me an article by conservative columnist Mike Adams entitled "Problems, Solutions, and Tradeoffs II." You can access the original article here, just scroll down the page and you'll see this title. It was written in answer to the many responses he received to an earlier article entitled "Romney and the Rapist."

My friend asked me to weigh in on the article which I eventually did. I’ve copied my thoughts below and invite your feedback, but first let me say this: I know nothing about Mike Adams and therefore cannot endorse his articles, books, or other publications. I am simply offering my response to one article. In the coming days, I will write about my own experience with abortion, the compassion I feel for those who have participated in an abortion, and the hope that is there for all who will call upon the name of the Lord Jesus no matter what they’ve done. But for now, here is my response to Mike Adam's article and my friend's inquiry.

Hi [Friend],

Sorry that it's taken me so long to respond to this, but I have just now found the time to read Adams' article. In brief, let me say that I agree with his general argument, though I may have stated certain things differently if I were in his position. Let me explain my point of view in a little more detail.

(1) I agree with you that we're all born into sin, and that we choose to sin as soon as we're able. In this way, every human being stands guilty before God by birth and by choice (see, for example, Ephesians 2:1-3). This is the historic, biblical doctrine of original sin, one which we must always keep in mind when discussing moral issues, especially those concerning life and death.

(2) However, the terms "innocent" and "guilty" still have valid meaning in a fallen world. I don't have the time to look up and quote various texts of Scripture, but it wouldn't be difficult to demonstrate that the Lord distinguishes between those innocent of crimes and those guilty of crimes, and that the Lord prescribes different treatment for the innocent and the guilty. For example, the death penalty is never required of one who has not sinned in some specific way that calls for that particular punishment, except in the sense that every human being will in fact die because of sin.

(3) I agree with Adams that the crucial starting place for this conversation is the biblical assumption that a child in utero is a human being: fashioned by God in the womb, made in the image of God, and therefore sacred. Granted, he or she is dependent upon the mother for his or her life, but his or her DNA, blood-type, finger prints, internal organs, external appendages, etc are unique and distinguishable from the mother. The two are not one.

(4) On the basis of this fact, to perform an abortion is to end the life of a human being. This is not always murder, because sometimes the procedure is administered under emergency circumstances where there was either no choice, or where the decision to abort seemed the lesser of two or several evils. For example, if the mother was in a terrible car accident and the child was severely or mortally wounded, aborting the child would not be murder but a necessary, and heartbreaking, procedure. Even if a case could be made that the child should not be aborted in this situation, one would have to concede the moral ambiguity and distinguish it from other situations wherein abortion is clearly murder, that is, the unnecessary and unjust taking of a human life.

(5) Since a child in utero cannot commit a specific, volitional crime, he or she is by definition innocent and not deserving of punishment. Therefore, as horrible as rape is, and as difficult as it is to carry a child to term who is the product of rape, murder is not a legitimate response to rape.

Years ago I mentored a new believer named [Bob--not his real name]. He became a very close friend of mine, and remains so to this day. [Bob's] mother was raped and she became pregnant with him. For whatever reason--I can't remember--she made the choice to carry the child to term, and in this way [Bob] was born. She and her husband then raised him, he later came to Christ and follows Christ to this day follows. [Bob] is a precious human being, an evangelist, a husband, a father, a son of God in Christ. The rape of his mother was horrible, and I palpably feel the pain even as I write these words. I do not make light of rape, but I cannot escape the conclusion that taking [Bob's] life would have compounded the tragedy and the pain. He did not deserve to die for the sins of another.

(6) I further agree with Adams that the consent of the mother is not a legitimate criterion to consider when weighing the morality of abortion. If we allow this criterion to enter into or control the debate, how then should we define consent? When does the mother have to affirm or deny her consent? Can the mother ever change her mind? What if she consents at first but then experiences problems in her marriage or relationship, and then declares that she did not consent? What if she removes her consent after the child has been born, and why is this morally different from removing her consent before the child is born? What if, as Adams queried, the mother consents to sex but not pregnancy? 

If we base abortive decisions on the criterion of consent, we find ourselves in a morass of ambiguities that only serve to confuse the essential issue: a child in utero is a human being and to abort the child is to bring a human life to end.

(7) Although the issues involved in this particular scenario are painful and difficult and tragic, I cannot escape the conclusion that murder is not an appropriate response to rape. If even the guilty rapist is spared the death penalty, how can we justify the killing of an innocent child who is being fashioned by God and made in the image of God? I cannot.

[Personal, closing comments deleted.] May the Lord grant us wisdom and insight as we seek to stand for life in our generation!

With hope and joy in Christ,
Pastor Charlie 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My New Book: "Preach the Word: Why I'm Passionate about Expository Preaching"

After years of labor, prayer and partnership, my book on preaching is finally out. You can get it in print or e-book at, or Here's the text from the back cover to help you understand what the book is about. May the Lord use it to glorify his great name and promote the worth of his Word in the life of the church.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
2 Timothy 4:1-2

Preach the Word: Why I’m Passionate about Expository Preaching tells the story of how one preacher made the transition from felt-needs topical preaching to systematic expository preaching, and why he’s so passionate about this change. It further offers…

·         An incisive but sympathetic critique of felt-needs topical preaching
·         Eighteen reasons why expository preaching ought to dominate the preaching ministries of the church
·         Five essential elements that go into creating expository sermons that glorify God and transform lives
·         A nine-stage process for developing expository sermons

Charles Handren is the Pastor for Preaching & Vision at Glory of Christ Fellowship in Elk River, Minnesota. He holds degrees from California Baptist University (Riverside, California) and the American Baptist Seminary of the West (Berkeley, California), and is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois). You can subscribe to his blog at or follow him on Twitter @CharlesHandren.

Glory of Christ Fellowship ( is a daughter church of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota (, and a member of the Treasuring Christ Together Church Planting Network ( 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Love You, Lord--R & B Style!

Here's a tune off of Jon Gibsons "Soulful Hymns." I wasn't sure if I liked it at first, but it's really grown on me and I find it hard to go to sleep at night if I don't listen to it! Amen, we are grateful to you, Jesus, for your amazing grace and mercy in this life!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Wicked Bible

No, the title is not a typo. And no, I have not lost my faith in the Word of God or the God of the Word. The title, "The Wicked Bible," refers to a particular edition of the King James Version published in 1631 that inadvertently omitted the all important word "not" from the seventh commandment.

The commandment was inspired by God Almighty to read, "Thou shalt NOT commit adultery," to put it in King James language. This version however printed 1,000 copies that read, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Ooppss!

The publisher was fined £300 of steriling silver, a sizable amount of money, and ordered to recall and destroy every copy. Unfortunately for them, around eleven copies survived, only one of which is presently for sale. But in order to acquire it, you'll have to have a few extra dollars in tow as it's presently offered at $89,500!

Like me, you're probably not interested in the purchase, but you can check it out here just for fun if you'd like.

And to be clear, the Lord has indeed commanded, "Thou shalt NOT commit adultery." He is faithful to his creation and his people, and he calls us to be faithful as he is faithful!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Nice Shoes, Big Blisters!

Yeah, they're nice enough. Fashionable for an old guy, comfortable, match just about everything I wear from day to day--but it turns out they're not designed to walk in for three hours! Accordingly, I have a happy heart as I reflect on my time in Washington DC yesterday, but sore feet--two huge blisters on the ball of my foot and one huge blister on the backside of my heel! Oh well, I'll survive. I'm off to walk around some more now, praying that the Lord will grant grace sufficient for the day and trusting that he will!

Friday, September 07, 2012

One More Song: Can't Live Without Jesus

It's been a long day: up at 7:00 after a late night last night, off to a meeting at 8:00, quite time and chores after that, finally got to work at 1:00 p.m., finally finished work about 11:00 p.m., listened to several worship songs for a while, and then just had to listen to one more from my old pal, JG--Jon Gibson. "Can't Live Without Jesus," an oldie but a goodie. True when I first came to know him, true today: I just can't live without Jesus anymore! Hope you enjoy the song and feel inspired to give your all to the One who gave his all for you!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Word & Prayer

Please join me in savoring these precious words on the relationship of the Word of God and prayer. They were written by E. M. Bounds over a century ago but still ring as true as they did the day he penned them! 

"The Word of God is a great help in prayer. If it be lodged and written in our hearts, it will form an out-flowing current of prayer, full and irresistible. Promises, stored in the heart, are to be the fuel from which prayer receives life and warmth, just as the coal, stored in the earth, ministers to our comfort on stormy days and wintry nights. The Word of God is the food by which prayer is nourished and made strong. Prayer, like man, cannot live by bread alone, ‘but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.’

“Unless the vital forces of prayer are supplied by God’s Word, prayer, though earnest and even vociferous in its urgency, is in reality flabby, vapid, and void. The absence of the vital force in praying can be traced to the absence of a constant supply of God’s Word by which to repair the waste, and renew the life. He who would learn to pray well, must first study God’s Word, and store it in his memory and thought.

“When we consult God’s Word, we find that no duty is more binding, more exacting, than that of prayer. On the other hand, we discover that no privilege is more exalted, no habit more richly owned of God. No promises are more radiant, more abounding, more explicit, more often reiterated, than those which are attached to prayer.”

Amen, Pastor Bounds! May we learn, then, to delight in the Word of God and  continue steadfastly in prayer.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Good Resource for Discipling

I am on the mailing list for 9 Marks Ministries, a ministry of Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Today they sent out the latest edition of their journal which is on discipleship. You can access the edition here, and I hope you will! It's very helpful and steers the church in the right direction, namely, toward obeying Jesus' command in Matthew 28:18-20.