Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Do We Really Believe About the Resurrection

I am reading through Conrad Murrel's book, "Faith Cometh".  This paragraph really puts faith and the Resurrection into a good perspective.

"Many people subscribe to certain truths of the Bible superficially.  The resurrection for instance.  It is a beautiful thought in the spring of the year when the birds are singing and the flowers are blooming, life is springing forth from the seeming death of winter.  But what does the resurrection of Christ in its true perspective mean to a sinner?  It means that if he rose from the dead, then he was crucified as the Bible said.  He was buried, a mangled, bloody mass of flesh and bones after having suffered an indescribably horrible death.  It means that horrible death displays the wrath of God against me in my sins.  It means that I have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified the Son of God.  And it means that that same Jesus whom I have crucified has been made my sovereign Lord and I am at His mercy (Acts 2:23, 36).  This old natural man cringes from those facts.  He had rather find an excuse to not believe them.  The evidence abounds for its truth everywhere but he still cannot believe it.  He doesn't want to.  He had rather have pleasure in his own unrighteous ways.  Therefore, he will refuse the well proven truth and believe an unsupported lie."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's All About Christ

The other week in church we were looking at Joab, David's Commander in Chief.  Outwardly it looked like Joab was loyal to David, even fiercely so but whenever David's will was different than Joab's, Joab did what Joab wanted.  It seems Joab was firstly loyal to himself.  It was like he was committed to David's kingdom but not truly loyal to David personally.  

We asked ourselves whether it was possible for us to acknowledge Christ as our God and King but still make Christianity all about ourselves.  Could we be very active in religion and doing good but not really be consumed with Christ.  I think that answer is yes and worse yet, to be like this is to miss the whole point of Christianity.  How many churches and professing saints are busy with all sorts of religious activities but spend little if any time listening to what Jesus says.  They are Marthas but not Marys because they don't realize that our first duty is to be consumed with the One we say we love and then let that love be spread abroad in our hearts and form the basis for all we do.  Our Lord is not impressed with ritual and activity but wants us to find him to be our primary delight.  From this love our lives begin to be transformed into true holiness.

Another way this can be worked out is in our desire to have Christian virtues.  Too many times we separate fruits of the Holy Spirit like peace, love, joy, contentment from Christ.  It is like Jesus hands us these things if we jump through the right hoops instead of realizing they come with Christ.  We feel we don't have enough joy so we grab the latest book on joy and follow the latest methods and expect to be more joyful.  

My point is that these things come by worshiping the Lord who is peace and joy and love.  Grow in the knowledge of him, grow close to him; develop a life of worship and all these things shall be added to you.  If you are not at peace with yourself and seem to be at odds with your brothers and sisters in Christ it is because you have a weak relationship with Christ.  If you need to work on your loving spirit crucify yourself daily by remembering the cesspool Christ lifted you out of by grace; get full of Christ and you will be full of peace and love.  It is amazing how we can make Christianity just another religion or some self-help activity and leave out the most important ingredient.  Christianity is not about making us better people, it is about knowing and loving God, John 17:3  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fall Conference

Our annual Bible conference is almost upon us.  It begins Friday night Sept. 24th at 7:00 PM; then Sat. night at 7:00 PM.  There will be two messages each night.  Sunday times will be the same as usual.  Bro. Breed will be speaking at the Sunday School hour.

Our speakers will be Pastor Gene Breed from Georgia and Pastor Barrett Holloway from Alabama.  Please mark this down on your calendars and invite someone to the services.   I will link the messages on this post when they are available, thanks

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Some Reasons to Pray

It is sometimes difficult for saints who believe that God is completely sovereign in all things to reconcile why we need to pray.  We know that our prayers won't change the unchangeable, eternal decrees of God but yet Christ taught us to pray and said it would result in good things for us.  To a point we know that there will always be aspects of God's sovereignty and our responsibility that we won't be able to grasp on this side of glory but I think there are some biblical reasons why we should pray that we can wrap our minds around.  Let me suggests just four:

1. Much like faith in salvation; prayer is the means God has chosen to accomplish some of his will.  While he has ordained all things to come to pass, he has ordained many of those things to come to pass through the prayers of the saints.  Which means if we don't pray they won't happen.  By this I do not mean that God depends on our obedience but I believe he will move his people to pray for certain things before he does them and if he doesn't move them, he isn't going to do it.  Likewise, if a person doesn't believe he will not be saved; we don't have to worry whether he was elect or not because God saves when he moves men to call upon him for salvation.

2. Another reason we should pray is because it keep us involved in the Lord's work and helps keep us from apathy.  When people fail to see this they easily fall into hyper-Calvinism.  "God doesn't need me to witness or anything else or I might rob him of glory.  He can do it all by himself".  While there is truth here it is not full truth.  What results are churches and people who are content to sit by and coldly watch people die and go to a Christless eternity.  This is why some prayers are petitions.  God has graciously and wisely given us the opportunity to pray for each other which in turn gives us cause to exercise our love to each other which is the Second Commandment.  It helps us from being totally consumed with ourselves which is one of our great tendencies anyway.

3. It gives us opportunities to praise God in our hearts and with our churches as we tell of answered prayer.  It is one thing to praise him for his wisdom in providence but when he answers prayers poured out by burdened hearts this gives us the opportunity to give him heart felt, loving praise that would not come apart from the opportunity to pray.

4. Lastly it helps us grow in the grace of God and mature as saints.  When Paul tells us to rejoice always and be anxious for nothing in Philippians 4 he follows it up by telling us to pray for everything by supplications and thanksgiving.  I think it would be hard to rejoice always and trust fully on him without the invitation, ability and opportunity to lay everything at his sovereign feet.  In fact right in the middle of this passage he says, "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand".  I think this is not so much a statement that the Lord is about to come back but that he is with us ready to help us in every situation.

If God is going to work in our churches it will not be apart from a burdened, praying people.  He will not bless people who don't care enough about his work and glory to ask him to bless.  If we don't care enough to ask, he won't bless because he does it to be glorified, not taken for granted.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Welcome to Something New

I have moved my blog to the Blogger site in the hopes of making it easier for people to access without having to sign in and all that.  All my past blogs are here and the last two messages.  All my old messages can be accessed at the previous site which is still up and running.  I will get the other links updated as I can.  Please let people know of the address change, Thanks

A Christian's Relation to Politics and Culture

I recently came across a couple of podcasts from Ravi Zacharias’ website that I strongly recommend you listen to.  Os Guinness and Stuart McAllister are interviewed about how the church should relate to the culture around it.  The name of the programs are “Evil and Modernity”.  What I really found helpful was their take on the American church amid the political and social mess we find ourselves in.  I think they correctly called on us to focus our attention on Christ and the Gospel and not getting involved in the culture wars.  If you find yourself wondering what your role as a Christian is in American politics and other cultural situations, this will be a most helpful program.  They also deal with the different way Christians in other parts of the world under persecution look at the church in America.  It is in two parts and the second one really brings it all together.  Enjoy.
Evil and Modernity, Part 1
Evil and Modernity, Part 2

God in the Background

We all probably would like to understand how God’s sovereignty works with man’s responsibility better than we do.  It seems it is God’s purpose to make us believe what he says about his sovereignty more than explain it to us.  But there are plenty of texts that give us the insight we need to be able to fully trust in his power and care.  Some do this by speaking directly about it such as in Dan. 4:34, At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; Dan 4:35  all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"
Some do it by letting us watch historical narrative unfold and letting us watch God in action from behind the scenes.  One of the great passages that does this is the account in 2 Samuel as we watch the Lord restore David’s reign after his Son Absalom has led a coup.  Chapter 17 is where it all comes to a head.  Verse 14 lets us know that what is happening has always been God doing his will, 2Sa 17:14  And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, "The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel." For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom. 
This is helpful because surrounding this verse has been an account of men seemingly doing only their will.  And so vs. 14 is reminding us that God accomplishes his will in such a way that uses man’s will but does not override his will.  In this case Absalom must choose between two different advices given to him; that of Ahithophel and Hushai.  Ahithophel told him to let him lead an army immediately and kill David before he gets time to regroup.  All along we have seen that Ahithophel always gives the best advice and had Absalom followed his advice it would have been successful.  Of course, the big problem here is that God didn’t want Absalom to win so what does he do?  In this case he doesn’t merely Intervene and destroy Absalom’s army, he uses human ordinary means to accomplish his will which is his normal mode of operation.  He controls the little thing as vs. 14 reveals to us which is to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel so that he could control the big thing which was bring harm on Absalom.
The interesting thing here is how he does this by using human will and not by overriding it.  If you read the two advices given to Absalom you notice one big difference.  Ahithophel’s advice was for Ahithophel to lead the army and thereby get the glory.  Hushai gives bad advice that allows David to regroup but why does Absalom follow Hushai when Ahithophel had never let him down?  Because at the heart of Hushai’s advice was for Absalom to lead the army so that he would get the glory.  We have from the start been taught in 2 Samuel that Absalom was a very vain man. 
So how does God get Absalom to choose what God wants him to while all along Absalom is doing exactly what he wants to do and so will be held responsible?  By giving him the option to do what sinners can’t help but do, glorify himself.  Place before a dog a plate of raw meat and a plate of delicious vegetables and which one will he go after?  God didn’t override Absalom’s will like some robot; this would make sinners not responsible for their sin.  God merely gives him a choice to give someone else glory or himself and there was only one thing Absalom could do. 
So while we don’t see God intervening directly in some outward show of power, this account reveals that he is always in full control even while it looks like evil men are doing exactly what they want to do; and they are!  God has ordained our lives to be lived with him in the background.  By that I don’t mean that he isn’t to have first priority in our lives but that living by faith means that we believe and act upon those things unseen by the naked eye.  It is believing what God says about life and not being fooled into thinking that only what I see is all there is.  His sovereign purposes might be hidden but they are quite real.
When you get a chance, read the verses after 14 in 2 Samuel 17.  We immediately see David’s spies hiding for their lives and all the intrigue that is normal in our lives.  And this comes right after we are told that God is in full control and doing his will all along.  We are reminded here that while we might not like all the nail biting uncertainty of life, this is part of God’s will for us.  His sovereignty doesn’t overrule our responsibility, it uses it.  He hasn’t ordained that we sit back and watch him do everything for us; he has ordained that he will do everything for us as we do all things for his glory.  The glory of this passage isn’t in the flashy intervention of God but it is seen in how we can be patient and calm, rejoicing always because he so easily causes man to do only what he wants him to do.

The Betrayal of Jesus

In 1Co 11:23 we read, “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.”  The word “betrayed” literally means to hand over and is translated both ways.  Rom. 8:32 is an example of it being translated to hand over, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  Here the word delivered is more appropriate than betrayed.  Obviously the Father did betray Jesus in that he deceitfully turned him over to his enemies.  Yet the same word is used for both what the Father did and what Judas did concerning Christ and there is a good reason why.
What we learn as we put all the scriptures together that speak of this is that when Judas was handing over Jesus to his enemies, it was actually the Father handing him over to death to deliver us from death!  Judas acting wickedly by betrayal is the way God hands his Son over for us.  This is explained more fully in Acts 4:25-28, “Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?  The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.  For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” 
The wicked Judas hands Jesus over to them to kill him because he hated him but notice vs. 28.  The hand of the Father was controlling it all from start to finish. Judas was trying to remove God’s Anointed from the throne by handing him over and this was the way the Father hands him over to the same men in order to redeem his people and enthrone him as Savior and King!  Is it not the ultimate humiliation for all who oppose God and his kingdom to serve and to glorify the very One you are trying to dethrone and destroy and for God to use the very plans they make to do so?  Even as sinners sin, all they ultimately can end up doing is only what God has determined they can do for his glory.  As Judas hands over Jesus it is actually the Father handing him over for us.
What great comfort we can take from this.  Not only did this “betrayal” lead to sin’s atonement but this same sovereign God continues to work all thing, both good and evil, for our good and his glory.  These things are recorded in his Word not just to astound us but to give us the faith to live godly amid all the circumstances of life because this same God never changes.

Jesus, The True and Final Prophet

There was under the Law some rules laid out for knowing if a man, claiming to be a prophet sent from God, was telling the truth or not.  First of all whatever he said was going to happen had to actually come to pass.  Obviously if God had told him something was going to happen it had to come to pass or the man was mistaken or lying.  Either way God is never mistaken so they at once knew he was a liar and he was to be stoned.  We read this in Deut. 18:20-22:  But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.'   And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'-- when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
But what if someone came along and not only claimed to be a prophet, but he did some miracles or what he prophesied actually came to pass?  Deu 13:1-3 speaks to this scenario "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,  and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,'  you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 
The proof then of a false prophet is that he tries to turn them from the true God.  In both cases such a false prophet was to be rejected and stoned.  Now we come to Jesus who was under this same law.  He came with all the right credentials doing signs and wonders but he passes the two most crucial tests.  His mission is to get people to worship the God of the Covenant; thus the true God and he prophesies.  There is one such prophecy that is especially important found in John 2:19 “Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  He puts himself on the spot; if I don’t rise from the grave then according to the Law you must reject what I say.  But, if I rise from the dead, then I have legally passed all the requirements, my credentials come from God himself. 
Then, far from rejecting him, they are required to believe him; all he said becomes our moral obligation to believe and obey.  The resurrection proves all that needs to be proved about the Bible.  The God who spoke it sent his prophet to confirm it.  Everything Jesus taught must be believed; He is equal to the Father, the second Person of the Godhead, we are justified by faith alone because the Father accepted the sacrifice of his Son; the given of his Spirit gives us the power not to sin but actually be able to please the Lord, he is the final and fullest revelation of God to man, and on and on it goes.  Ironically the Jews killed Jesus not because he was proven to be a false prophet but because he was the True Prophet but they would not have a suffering King as their King.  When he rises from the dead confirming his office, they remain firm in their sin and make up a lie that he was not raised but his body was stolen.  Historically the Jews of Jesus’ day knew the grave was empty and however it happened, it did so while a company of Roman soldiers watched.
It all just goes to show how the Bible fits together in all its parts and there are no parts that are unimportant.

The Great Experiment

Have you ever wondered why didn’t God just destroy Satan when he sinned or Adam and Eve when they fell?  Why allow sin and all its consequences to continue on.  The saint of course knows that for whatever reason God did this, it has to be a good one because God can do no wrong.  Nothing suggests an unregenerate heart like holding God to our depraved standards and when we don’t understand his ways having the audacity to question what he has done.  This probably doesn’t get done more than when people consider why God allowed sin and suffering (sin’s consequences) into existence and to continue.
I won’t pretend to know all the reasons or even to be sure that the one I offer now is correct, but I think that the Bible implies it at least.  The Lord could have wiped Satan and humanity and sin out from the outset.  He didn’t need us to be happy and would not have lost or missed anything if he did.  But if we consider the arguments of Romans 9, we might conclude that there would have been aspects of his glory that would not have been displayed had he not let sin continue and this alone is a good reason for him to have done what he has done.
Had he wiped out sin from the start and threw Satan and Adam and Eve into Hell, he would have displayed his power over them and his justice in punishing sin but what would not have been established?  Who was right.  Sin’s whole point is that we can be happy and fulfilled doing our own thing and not God’s.  That led to Satan’s fall and man’s.  By allowing sin to continue for a time (even a long time) gives the moral universe the opportunity to see and experience the misery of living for self and not for God.  As sinners continue to reject what God says about reality and try feverishly to be happy apart from him, they continue to slide into a deeper moral abyss and in the process become more and more miserable.  Thus God is vindicated in the directives he gave Adam in the Garden and the essence of his law, namely that life consist in loving God with all our heart.  His Word stands true throughout human history and sin’s lies are exposed with each generation.  Surely we are without excuse.
He even has created much in the physical universe to remind us of the futility of life apart from God.  Does not your stomach remind you of this everyday?  It is a hole that must be filled with physical things constantly.  For a while it is full and satisfied and we have an illusion of contentment but within a short time it asks for more.  The same can be said for pretty much any other fleshly need or enjoyment that we can experience.  Truly, nothing satisfies like Jesus.  There will never be a need that he doesn’t take care of fully and this will be fully realized in glory where the whole concept of want, dissatisfaction and need are forgotten.  
The wisdom of God is displayed all around us whether it is in your body or on the local news.  True life is only realized in knowing and having Christ.

An Important Discussion

Here is another link to the White Horse Inn that I highly recommend.  They discuss the dangers of our technological age and what it is doing to our ability to think and concentrate.  I see this as a must for all of us but especially if you have any young people in your home who love to do email and Facebook, etc.  They aren’t anti-technology, but offer insight and wisdom that we need to know to guard ourselves from being unable to think through things, mediate, sit through sermons and read your Bible.  In short, technology today can easily stop us from being able to live the Christian life if we aren’t aware of the dangers.  Enjoy:

Distracting Ourselves to Death

Spiritual Retirement

Php 3:13  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.
This is one of those verses that when asked what exactly was Paul forgetting about that was in his past, we might get several answers.  It seems the context is all about Paul concentrating on the present, fulfilling the tasks that Jesus had saved him for, namely conforming to the image of Christ in mind and body.  So whatever was in his past that would keep him from living a godly and productive life needed to be forgotten.  So in that sense I think it covers a broad range of things, but let me approach it from one specific direction.
Let’s think about how an elderly, retired person tends to approach life compared to someone around the age of 20.  We’ve all heard the line from an older person who says that he can remember things better that happened when he was young than the things that happened the day before.  For this and other reason such a person tends to think more of the “good old days” and not as much as the present time.  This can be especially troubling when we hear so many of older generations complaining of how badly times have changed.  It is not unusual for old and young alike to speak of how America is no longer a “Christian nation”, whatever that means.  What seems to often happen here is that they have given up as if since we live in a secular society all of the sudden the church has become toothless, the Lord has vacated the throne and the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.  One wonders how the church thrived in godless Rome.
A young person though tends to look forward with at least guarded hope, because his life is mostly ahead of him and so he has goals and dreams and anticipations of things not yet realized.  So the retired person can easily fall into the trap of sitting on the front porch rocking himself to sleep as he remembers the good times of his life and in the process he spends little if any time trying to accomplish anything in the present time.  The young person, though has the completely opposite lifestyle.
It seems to me that Paul is saying that there is no way he is going to retire spiritually and by inference he is telling us that this is how Christians are to think and live.  It doesn’t matter what failures you have in the past and remember, Paul persecuted the church; as long as God gives you breath there is work to be done in his service.  We can spend our time complaining that America isn’t what it used to be or the youth group isn’t as well behaved or people aren’t as friendly as they used to be and you can live in the past to the point that you don’t care about the present.  You might even live in the future in the same way.  You might have given up on life and are just sitting around waiting for the Lord to take you home.  But my point is that if this is the case, in one sense you aren’t ready to meet the Lord.
Paul who was an older man when he wrote these words is telling us that he continues to live as a young man.  He looks for ways to serve the Lord, he is listening for the Lord to speak to him, setting goals and so continues to have purpose in his life.  He can even say this while sitting in a filthy prison. 
There are people all around us dying in their sins; there are brothers and sisters in Christ that we see every week who need the gifts that God has given us; there are children and grandchildren to raise; there are the sorrowing to comfort, the weak to lift up.  There simply is no time, any age or circumstance in which we can sit back and say we have done enough.  Notice what Paul says to us in vs. 17, Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  He doesn’t qualify it by addressing the young but he speaks to us all.  There is no retirement for the saint of God.  Even when we reach heaven we will be given bodies that do not tire so we can serve in perfection for ever!  But in the mean time it is the mature ones in Christ who have the most to offer in the Kingdom of God.

When Loss is Gain

Mar 10:28  Peter began to say to him, "See, we have left everything and followed you." Mar 10:29  Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, Mar 10:30  who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
There are some things about Peter that we learn of in this text.  One is that he considers what he has given up for Christ impressive to the point that even Christ should be impressed.  Jesus’ answer also is interesting in that he teaches us that we are unable to deny ourselves anything for Christ that he will not make up for many times over.  Peter still hadn’t learned this lesson after the resurrection because John 21 he seems to indicated that it wouldn’t be fair for him to by martyred and not John also. 
It seems that the important thing to remember is that to have Christ is to have the greatest glory, joy and fulfillment that is possible.  Therefore to lose anything in this life cannot compare to what we have in Christ.  This isn’t to say that there isn’t real suffering and loss in this life; after all we are told to count the cost before we follow Christ.  It is just that physical loss can’t compare to what he supplies both now and in eternity.
My point to make here is that for our self-denial to be of the kind that pleases the Lord, we have to consider it as not loss but gain; we have to see this world as God sees it, futile.  If we suffer loss and yet think we have really done something for the Lord; that we have really given up much for him and so such loss causes us despair and discontentment, then we are bemoaning our loss more than we are rejoicing in what we gain in Christ.  Paul gladly suffered the loss of all things so that he could know Christ, Phil. 3:8.  If we can’t rejoice in our trials then are we not saying that we cannot be completely happy unless we have Christ plus something else?  Until we see loss as gain we don’t really glorify the Lord of glory.
2Co 8:9  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.  Here is the truth.  However spiritual maturity can be defined, surely until you see yourself as rich no matter what loss you have suffered, you haven’t gotten there yet.

Knowing Christ

Php 3:10  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…  Whatever Paul meant when he said he wanted to know Christ we know he didn’t merely mean that he wanted to know about Christ.  A lot of people know about him and have not been affected at all because it is a head knowledge that came apart from a heart transformation.  The knowledge that Paul is speaking of is one that will affect him profoundly.
Perhaps one way to think of this knowledge of Christ is to think of knowing in the biblical sense.  Just as Adam knew Eve goes well beyond knowing about her or knowing she existed; so is the way a Christian knows Christ.  Yet the marriage relationship might help illustrate it since it is often used to teach of our relationship to Christ.  Biblical “knowing” is to know in a deeper, intimate, complete way in which you do not know anyone else.  This is why God’s foreknowledge in election uses the same word.  To know Christ is to experience him in a way that profoundly affects one’s life that transcends all other relationships.  To know about Christ is to remain unattached to all that he is; when one gets married they are no longer unattached.
I can remember the time right after I got married thinking that I am no longer single; I can no longer think of myself in the same way I did before.  There was another aspect to my life; I could no longer make decisions solely based on what I want to do.  I was two and no longer one.  To me this was a great and fulfilling addition to life and it is a sad commentary on our society that so many young people think they must be unattached to be fulfilled.  But that is another subject for another day.
Unfortunately it is easy for a Christian to think about Christ as many do about their marriages.  They might be legally married but they walk around mentally like they are still playing the field.  They don’t live with their spouse in mind.  As Christians we will readily admit that a man who is married but lives as if he is unmarried is committing a great sin before the Lord.  But my point here is that we often are quite guilty of doing a similar thing when we live life as if we are still single spiritually. 
When I get up in the morning I do not think only about what I want to do that day without also considering my wife and family (back when the children still lived with us).  To do so would be a breach of my marriage vows because I know that I am no longer one, but two.  So as a Christian we are no less obligated to think and make decisions based on our “Spiritual Spouse”.  We are no longer our own, we have been bought with a price.  We have come into a relationship with Christ, a vital union through the Holy Spirit and we know Christ, not after the flesh but after the Spirit.  So it is no surprise that the Lord uses language of spiritual adultery when people who are supposed to be his have the idea that they can find satisfaction in things other than the one to whom they belong and live accordingly.
We want to know him in all his offices, prophet, priest, king, Lord, strength, hope, wisdom, etc. and live in light of this knowledge.  Is it not telling that we would have a strong reaction if our spouse lived as if we didn’t matter, without taking our feelings and needs into consideration, yet we assume the Lord doesn’t care if we go all day long without listening to him and talking to him and living with him in mind.  And, of course, we need to remember that we are speaking of our God and Savior, not just our spouse.  Our most intimate, personal needs and desires should be laid out before him and nothing in this world can take his place.

Corroborating Evidence

Here is a link from a recent White Horse Inn program which deals with historical evidence from hostile witnesses of Christianity.  These witnesses confirm much of what the Bible says historically.  The importance isn't to confirm biblical truth but to show that many of the so called experts (Dan Brown, Bart Ehrman) running around today telling people that things didn't happen as the New Testament says are simply lying and there is much evidence to prove this. 

This is a very interesting listen and I highly recommend it.
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http://cid-44ae0092f72de4ff.office.live.com/self.aspx/sermons/Corroborating%20Evidence.mp3

How We Serve Means Everything

We have spoken much at our church about how important our motivation is when we do something if God is going to be pleased with our efforts.  In the everyday scheme of social interaction this isn’t particularly important at all.  If you have two farmers who both are able farmers, who plant at the right time and fertilize the same and have the same work ethic and same amount of rain, will they not both have successful farms?  Does is matter if one does his work joyfully while the other hates farming yet does is well?  It is the results that matter.  I don’t care if my surgeon is a happy man or not just as long as he is good at what he does.
But when it comes to how a Christian serves his Master it is a different story.  I do not mean that we are not to do our best in whatever we do, but we must also keep in mind that it is God who has given us our various abilities to start with.  But in Christian service the most important thing to consider is our motivation for our work.  It must be done joyfully as unto the Lord (which is a biblical way of saying that it must be done out of love for the Lord).  If we are merely doing our duty I don’t believe God has any use for whatever we are doing.  On the other hand, if this is our motivation then we will do our best in whatever our hand finds to do.
1 Peter 5:2-3 show how this works with Pastors.  “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”  It is no secret that it is possible to in many ways be an able pastor and preacher even if your heart isn’t always in it or if your motives are less than godly.  Even the best of us can lose some of the joy of our calling when we don’t feel appreciated or we grow cold in our relationship to Christ or we fall into routines, etc.  We can continue to go through the motions and many times still come up with profitable messages, counseling and leadership.  But I think what Peter is saying is that this isn’t the way God has called pastors or any Christian to serve.  Don’t do it under compulsion or don’t do it out of duty or just to get paid, but make sure you have the glory of God in front of you.  Make sure love for him and for your sheep are before you.  Do it joyfully because serving the Lord and his people is the greatest pursuit there is.  Do this because obeying the Lord for any other reason does not honor him. 
The same thing is seen in the second and third exhortations, “not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”  He follows this by saying that, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”  I think an underlying point here is that if you are to receive the crown of glory, the “well done” from the Lord, you are going to not just have to answer the call to preach or to serve but you are going to have to do it joyfully, as unto the Lord or there is no reward for it.  If a Christian’s heart isn’t in whatever he does, his actions are no different than those of the lost.

Sermon Notes from Romans 14:7-8

Rom 14:7  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  Rom 14:8  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.
The idea of dying unto the Lord here is not just about being a good testimony when you die but that in death you must give an account before the Lord.  This in turn shows why living for the Lord is a very serious pursuit.  But first let’s admit that we do have a responsibility to die as a Christian.  We all would like to die quickly but the fact remains that this won’t always happen and we must not make excuses for “losing our religion” when such things happen.  God is in control of not only our lives but how we die and when we die so no amount of pain, whether it is physical or emotional, can justify not dying as unto the Lord.
Are we then to consider untimely deaths as a cosmic mistake?  Not if God is sovereign; the timing and the manner are his to determine.  Calvin put it like this, “Thus too we are taught the rule by which to live and die, so that if he lengthens out life in the midst of continual sorrow and weariness, we are not to seek to depart before our time.  but if he should suddenly recall us in the prime of our life, we must always be ready for our departure.”   And if you study up on the last ten years of his life you will find that he knew whereof he spoke; he suffered horrible physical afflictions those last several years.
Part of our duty as Christians in living for the Lord is preparing for trials and thinking about and preparing for our departure so that we can say with Paul that we have fought the good fight and will do so until the end. 

Maybe I am Missing Something, But...

I heard something interesting the other day while talking to another pastor I know.  He related that at a national meeting of a conservative denomination a few years ago, they ruled on their official position on the Genesis account of creation.  They saw four positions acceptable.  One was that the creation took place in 6 literal days and the others were that the days were long time periods in one way or another so that the Lord could have created the universe by some “process”.  So while they were willing for Christians to hold to some form of evolution or another, they did draw a line in which they believed if you crossed this line you had moved into heresy.
The line they drew was that you couldn’t hold to Adam and Eve as being a result of evolution.  So basically the means God used to create the material universe could be a process but when it comes to man, this had to be seen as happening at once, as the Bible relates.  So the sixth day has to be literal, not necessarily the first 5 (my interpretation).  Now let me say that long ago I realized that not every Christian believes in a literal 6 day creation.  It was hard to accept but I know that it is the case that some good solid saints have bought into some type of evolution and this doesn’t make them heretics.  So while I am not crazy about the position this denomination took, I realize that such things happen among people who love the Lord.
But what interests me is where they drew the line in the sand.  You could hold to evolution of some sort as long as you don’t see man as evolving.  Now I certainly agree that the line had to be drawn here if you going to draw one.  If Adam and Eve had an ancestry behind them, there are all kinds of theological implications that would end up undermining the Bible, original sin, etc.  But what bothers me is that we are willing to hold fast to the fact that God had to make Adam and Eve with the appearance of twenty or thirty years of age, but because the universe has an appearance of age, we simply cannot buy into the fact that he could have just as easy created the universe and the natural order to have the same appearance. ( For those who say that the fossil record sometimes seems to discount the Genesis record, I would say that it is much harder on evolution than it is on the Genesis record.)
Macro evolution has never been seen in nature, it has never been proven in the lab, there has never been any missing link found of which there should be countless millions and yet for some Christians it seems impossible to stand up to this world and say that the 6 day account is every bit as plausible as any evolutionary position.  To say that evolution couldn’t have happened except with humans to me is an inconsistent position.   If we insist it couldn’t have happened with humanity but could have with every other life form begs the question, why would God not have created everything else just as he did man on the sixth day?  If he used ages to create the universe, then was the sixth day also an age?  It would have to be if the others were which again begs the question, why would he need an age to instantly create man?  One might say, that before he created man he used the age to develop animal life which also came on the sixth day (which had one morning and one evening by the way).  But anyway we slice it, we are admitting that God could have instantaneously created everything and he did do so with man, but he chose to create life in two different ways but then not let us in on this at all. 
I guess my main thought is this: I doubt the lost evolutionist is impressed with such Christian positions that both hold to some from of evolution and creation; I know I don’t.  I know that no matter what position you take, even the six day position, there are questions that cannot be answered to anyone’s satisfaction.  But if God can create some life instantaneously, he can create everything just as he said in Genesis.  If we ask ourselves what position gives the Lord the most glory, then the answer is obvious.  That might not be final proof of this issue but it is one I am willing to use to guard my thinking.  I know there are people out there who can point out problems with my position that I cannot answer, but the problems with other positions seem to have far more serious problems.

What Shall We be Rewarded For?

As I was meditating on Matthew 25 and the account of the judgment of Christ and the sheep and the goats something struck me.  The things that brought out the “Well done” and rewards of glory from the Lord was not the big and showy works of service but the little things in life.  In fact, the goats had done some mighty religious activities and instead of pleasing the Lord they had incurred his wrath.  Now this isn’t to say that preaching and casting out demons and many “mighty works” aren’t good things that will be rewarded if done in the right way by the right people; but clearly these great works aren’t necessary to please Christ and have reward.  In Matt. 7 the lost boast of doing great religious works but Jesus casts them into Hell anyway.
What I find interesting about this is that the Lord sees even the smallest and most mundane things done out of love for him as something worth rewarding.  Too many times we think that we must do some great thing for him if we are to be profitable servants and this simply isn’t the case.  I used to hear preachers tell us as young people to let the lost be doctors and lawyers and pursue other “secular” occupations, you young Christians should preach and be missionaries; you should pursue “full-time Christian” service.  I am surely not disparaging preaching and missions in any sense, but is it not unbiblical to see such callings as these as doing more for the Lord than being the best housewife or carpenter or janitor that you can be? 
Why is it that Jesus didn’t mention preaching in Matt. 25?  I think it is because the important thing in doing his will is that no matter what we do, we do it for his glory out of love.  So if you are a missionary who gives up all to serve in the jungle for the salvation of souls, that is great.  But if you serve in a factory your entire life and are faithful to do it for Christ and look for ways to serve him and others even in the most menial and mundane tasks, the reward is the same.  And this means that Christ is equally served and glorified in even the little things as much as he is in the glorious calling to preach the gospel.  The implications are tremendous.  No matter what gifts you have, what age you are, what station in life you find yourself, what occupation you have, you are just as able to please Christ as the Apostle Paul was as he penned the book of Romans or suffered martyrdom. 
So will this not be a cure from discontent and complaining in whatever lot we find ourselves in?  Does it not save us from constantly wishing we were doing something else and instead give us reason to look forward to every task we have to do, even changing the baby’s diapers, because Christ is pleased with these things also and that is what we are here to do; please him.  David said in Ps. 19 that in obeying the Word of the Lord there is great reward.  And it is possible to obey his Word even while taking out the trash.

Holding This Life Loosely

1 Cor. 7:29-31 is an interesting passage, “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”   This is certainly not a text you would want to isolate and interpret by itself.  It is interesting that many have actually interpreted it exactly opposite of what Paul is teaching us here.  I am thinking of the debacle of 1844 and 45 where the false teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist which included the idea that Christ was going to come back during those years caused the adherents to sell everything, don white robes, climb a mountain and wait for Jesus.  In essence they turned their back on the lost world so they could be enraptured with Christ and in the end was of no value to either the world or Christ.
So what is Paul saying then when he says that if you are married you are to live as if you are not, etc?  He clearly is connecting it to the 2nd Coming and the idea that time is short and that we are in a temporary situation.  Well he isn’t saying that a man can ignore or mistreat his family, even for the sake of Christ.  Pastor’s kids have gotten their reputation because they have many times been ignored for the “sake of the ministry” as if a man’s call to preach somehow takes precedent over his first calling to be a husband and a father.  A man with a true desire to serve and honor the Lord will be the best husband and the best father he can be. 
What I think Paul is saying in this context is that you have to understand that neither your family nor any of the other things listed are the end of life nor are they the meaning of life.  They are given to you as a means to serve the Lord just like everything else you have.  He is not saying any of these things are sinful but as Christians all these things are sanctified for the Lord’s use.  I think this is the general meaning back in vs. 14, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” 
So we are being told that we must hold on to these things loosely; we must be ready to let them go at a moment’s notice.  We don’t let them go in some selfish, misguided notion that we can serve the Lord better without them, but if the Lord sees fit to take your husband away in martyrdom or sickness, then that is his business and we must remember that we are here for him first and foremost.  We love our families as dear as life itself, but we have been given these things only for a season.  In eternity there will be no families and marriage for Christ has always been destined to be our eternal spouse.

Every Knee Shall Bow

In Philippians 2 we read that in the day when all rational creature stand before Christ, all will bow their knees before him and confess him as Lord.  We were recently discussing in church whether they will be forced to bow and forced to confess him as Lord.  I think most people that I have talked to assume that the lost will be forced to bow their knee to him and equally forced to confess him as Lord with their mouths.  And generally I think most of us have always assumed that they will be cast kicking and screaming into Hell. 
Now it might very well be that this is true and I am not stating a dogmatic opinion on this issue (something that will surprise many who know me!).  But I think there is another equally valid way that all this might turn out as well.  Perhaps in the day in which all stand before the Triune God when he has fully and perfectly accomplished all he set out to do and no enemy was able to even slow down his intentions; that all will be able to do nothing but confess that God is all that he claimed to be and that all past rebellion was fruitless and utterly sinful and God is perfectly holy and just to judge all those who refused to repent and trust in Christ.  They must willingly acknowledge and confess this, because for this we were created to do and in that day it will be obvious to all.  God is the only glorious and perfect and wise God and all rebellion is the most reprehensible sin imaginable but in that day it will be pointless and irrational to pretend that there is any glory equal to or greater than God’s. 
To me this glorifies God more; not that sinners were forced to confess this because forced confession doesn’t make it true.  But if all creatures willingly confess and bow the knee then God is fully vindicated and proven to be all that he said he was.  If this in turn is true then it would make sense that all those in Hell are not still in rebellion but know that they are there justly for their sin.  So all sin and rebellion are effectively dealt with by God either through the cross or Hell but in such a way that in the eternal state there will be no pocket of rebels where sin is allowed to reign but even in Hell all those suffering will be confessing that God is just and holy and good. 
I haven’t thought these things through long term and so I would look forward to hearing from anyone who can add to this or suggest problems with this kind of scenario.  Thanks

Thoughts on Romans 13:9

I have always found it interesting that when Paul speaks of us keeping God’s law, he never completes the list of the 10 Commandments.  Such is the case in this verse, For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."   A case could be made that he follows Jesus’ lead in this; Mat 19:18-19  He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,  Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Jesus lists only the second table which the man quickly states he has kept from his youth.  But when Jesus adds for him to sell all he has and follow him, which sums up the first table, the man as much as admits he has failed completely to love and honor God at all.  In both of these passages it is clear why love as God defines it is the equivalent of keeping any and all law.
I think there are a couple of reasons why these lists deliberately are never completed.  When Paul finishes the partial list of commands he adds the phrase, “if there be any other commandment”; he is saying that once you define love as God defines it then that is all you need to know.  Every command is an act of serving another in some way. Every principle in the Bible either helps us glorify God, help our neighbor or is good for our own souls. Every restriction keeps us from dishonoring God or hurting ourselves or our neighbor.  One does not even need to know the 10 Commandments or any other specific law to have a basic idea  of what God expects of us.
Another reason I think Paul never lists them all is because we, as many do, would make those 10 the entirety of our obligation instead of looking for every way we can to love both God and man. Living by the principle of love is much harder than living by rules written in black and white. So it isn’t enough that I not steal or kill but I must not want to because I love God and my neighbor and so I must do them service, not just do them no harm. And so by never finishing a list he saves us from the error that Peter wanted to fall into. He asked Jesus how many times do I have to forgive. Jesus’ answer is as many times as is needed.  It is never a matter of this much and no more; “we will always owe a debt to our neighbor”.  So by always leaving the list open, he saves us from the idea that we can define what serving the Lord is and once we check off these activities we have completed our obligation to the Lord.  The fact is that every living moment is to be lived with love to the Lord and our neighbor as the goal and the list of ways to love cannot be exhausted.  Verse 8 seems to be saying this; there is one debt that we can never repay and that is love or what we owe God.
This goes a long way in explaining sanctification. It is not just cleaning up the outward man. Is there anyone that is thinking that since you and your family are basically good people, you pay your bills and don’t participate in your list of vices that you are fulfilling your duty to Christ? If your heart isn’t given over to the Lord and he isn’t the love of your life then you are not practicing holiness.
So Paul is by no means denying that Christians are to live in obligation to the commandments of our Lord but he is showing how to accomplish this. Just like there are only 7 notes that compose a scale but even the greatest composers cannot exhaust their combinations, so love is a simple concept that we can never fully utilize and live out in this life but as we try to, our lives will play out different melodies unto the Lord because no two of our lives even begin to look alike.

Good Grief

I found something interesting in 2 Samuel 1.  The entire chapter is basically an account of how David dealt with the death of Saul and Jonathan.  We actually see him expressing his grief in two parts.  In verse 11 we see his and his men’s initial reaction upon hearing of their death.  They tore their clothes, mourned, wept and fasted.  We can all relate to our initial response to hearing that someone we love has passed away.  There is an overwhelming emotional response which is normal. 
The problem with such spontaneous grief is that thoughts and words often come based more on emotion than thoughtful consideration of the Word of God.  The same thing can be said when the Lord sends any kind of calamity upon us suddenly.  It sometimes takes some time before we are able to carefully meditate through biblical truth so that we might deal with such situations in a God-honoring way.  I think this is to be expected to varying degrees with anyone.  But there is something else here that brings some resolution to the initial sorrow.
In verse 17 we learn that at some point after this (many of the accounts in this book are not necessarily in chronological order so a considerable amount of time could have passed) David writes a formal Lamentation that was to be used to instruct the children of God.  . A lament is a formal expression of grief and sorrow as opposed to spontaneous outpouring of emotions.  It was written when David had time to think about what had happened and consider it in light of the Word of God.  And so I think there is something good for us to consider in his example.
First of all, like we learn in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to mourn and a time not to mourn, so emotional sorrow is normal.  But the book goes on to say that it is better to be in the house of sorrow rather than the house of mirth;. Ecc 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.   We know that being forced to face our mortality and consider eternity is more profitable than being amused so that we don’t have to consider what is truly important.
Next, there is something about a lament that is profitable in that it is done later when words can be carefully chosen so others can be instructed. The intensity of emotion and sorrow unites with the discipline of one’s mind as it meditates on truth and we are given insight into how a child of God deals with grief. It is coherent, careful and honed to express the experience for others to see.  This allows our experience of sorrow to be more than just a coping mechanism but a way to serve God’s people and give praise and honor to the Lord.  Perhaps we are being instructed here that it is the duty of all saints to get to a point where they can use such things as a way to help others and glorify the Lord. Why not write down a lament and offer it up to God and if so led offer it up to others as well? We know that difficult times aren’t miraculously healed by God after a short time. It takes time to reflect on truth. A lament assumes that grief is ongoing and invites us to enter into the process.
To me this is what it means to be more than conquerors.  Being made new creatures in Christ means that we don’t just cope with life but that we reign over it; we use even the hard times as a way to serve; we aren’t overcome by them.  We can bring others into the house of mourning for a while that they might consider their souls.

Does Your Christianity have anything in Common with Islam?

OK, that is a provocative title and maybe a little overstated, but I recently saw a video clip that should be a little thought provoking to many Christians.  It was of a Islamic cleric holding a “service” in Australia in which he ended by calling on any unconverted to come and convert to Islam.  Already you begin to see something familiar.  Here come several people who have decided they want to be Muslims.  Interestingly enough most are women.  To me this is interesting since woman are little more than chattel in Islam as far as I can see.  I recently heard of one Muslim authority who said that Hell would be mostly filled with women!  But I digress. 
When all the converts were gathered down front the first thing he did is have them say a prayer of allegiance to Allah.  Of course, this has to be said in Arabic or it isn’t accepted which in turn means that none of the new converts really know what they are saying and it obviously doesn’t matter to Allah or anyone else whether they do or not.  Heartfelt obedience with understanding is not the kind of obedience they are looking for.  So they are converted by saying a prayer they don’t necessarily believe and everything is fine.
What is bothersome is that many “Christian” services end the same way.  People come forward to become Christians and are told to repeat the “sinners prayer” and then told they are saved and never let anyone convince them otherwise.  But, like the Muslim service, in many cases they don’t really understand what is going on and even worse many times really wouldn’t agree with the prayer if it was explained to them.  As a junior high student I experienced this first hand.  We were given a soul winning class and then taken out to a neighborhood and turned loose on the unsuspecting neighbors.  After spending maybe five minutes “explaining” the gospel to them we did our best to get them to “repeat after me this prayer”.  We needed not to worry too much if they really were convicted and convinced of the truth of the gospel because as long as you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord”, as long as you ask him to save you by repeating this prayer then that is all that matters.  So having gotten the proper response, I marked down in my Bible that another soul had been saved wanting to keep a record of my soul winning exploits and off to the next house we went.  Perhaps humorous but quite sad as well. 
I know many parents who have no real concern for the waywardness of their grown children because they cling to the fact that sometime as children, they walked an aisle, said a prayer and were baptized and so whether they really look like Christians or not, they have to be saved regardless of the lack of evidence. 
Look, it might be Okay for a Muslim to mindlessly go through some motions and be considered a Muslim but that doesn’t fly in Christianity.  Our God is too glorious for us to wave a passing salute of allegiance to him without giving him our hearts.  Those whom he saves he imparts new natures so that they no longer serve the same gods.  Muslims care more that you fear Allah and mindlessly go through your religious paces; the True God is concerned that you love him because of his grace.  If you think everything is Okay between you and God because at some point you said the sinners prayer and nothing really has changed since then, perhaps you have more in common with Islam than Christianity.
Whether one learned the altar call from another is not important.  The point is that Christianity is not just another religion that you can convert to if you want; it is the power of God to change lives through the gospel; it changes hearts; it isn’t just another set of rules to live by.

Is it Good to Serve the Lord for Reward?

We are going through Philippians 2 on Wednesday nights and dealing with having the same mind of Jesus when it comes to serving each other and God.  We read there that Jesus was glorified for his faithful work in the incarnation.  Many times we read that those who faithfully serve the Lord in this life will be rewarded in the next and this is clearly said in the context of these rewards serving as a motivation to serve the Lord.  But probably to most of us this sounds a little self-serving and perhaps an unworthy motive for our service. 
Certainly if you go about trying to do what the Bible teaches and your mind is primarily on what the Lord will give you in Heaven there might be cause to examine such a motive as unworthy of service to the Lord.  But the fact of the matter is that the Bible does use rewards as a motivation; so what do we make of this?  To begin with, we must also remember that everything we do must be first of all motivated by our love for God.  That is the first and greatest commandment and without love all of our works and words are so much empty noise and of no value to God.  So however rewards figure into this, our primary motivation must be thankful hearts for God’s grace shown to us sinners. 
Another thing to add to the mix is Hebrews 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  We can’t please him without faith and faith involves believing that God is and that he will reward us if we seek him.  To me, this puts an interesting slant on what a worthy reward is.  Perhaps how we define rewards will help us in this matter.  If we think of rewards as primarily something God will give us rather than God himself, if we separate God from the reward, we might have a difficult time seeing how working for rewards is a worthy motive.  If we see being able to stand in his presence and enjoy him forever as the essence of our reward then all this begins to make sense.
Going back to Hebrews, faith believes all that God says about himself.  It causes us to believe that if we give up all now for him later, the glory to follow will be worth the effort.  So in that day as we stand before the whole moral universe and testify that seeing our God and Savior is worth all the effort and we would do it all over again; God is pleased with us and rewards our faith by sharing his glory with us.  If we are working for a big pile of gold in our mansions then we are missing the point because we have separated our reward from our “Rewarder”. 
When I think of all this I always think of one of Piper’s great illustrations about this subject.  If, on your anniversary you tell your wife that it would make you the happiest to celebrate your anniversary by spending the evening with her, would she accuse you of thinking of yourself and not her?  Of course not, because the fact that you get the most pleasure by being in her company is the greatest compliment you could give her.  The fact that you can only be happy in her company “glorifies” her and gives you your greatest reward.  And this is exactly why serving for reward when it pertains to the Lord is anything but selfish.  If we are to do all for the glory of God, driven by our love for him and God promises that if we are faithful to such a calling he will reward us by giving himself to us, then it is our desire to be with him (for reward) that will motivate us to obey.  Not only is the hope for reward not being selfish but it is impossible to please God if we don’t look forward to the reward!

Without the Resurrection there is no Christianity

The resurrection of Jesus Christ sets Christianity apart from mere religions for different reasons, but there is one that is particularly important.  It is not uncommon today to hear even those who claim to be Christians say that it doesn’t matter if they find Jesus’ bones in a tomb they would still follow his teachings; that Christianity helps them live a good life and so all that matters is that we try to follow his teachings and example.  It is precisely this error in thinking that marginalizes Christianity and makes it no better than just another religion.
One reason they make this error is because they think that Jesus came to just show us a good way to live.  But the Bible teaches that his primary purpose in coming was to secure the forgiveness of sins for all who believe.  He came and died and arose so that sinners could have peace with God.  Without this work his teachings don’t matter at all.  What difference does it matter how good I am if I am going to die like a dog?  It doesn’t really matter at all.  On the other hand the Buddhist doesn’t really need concern himself with whether Buddha ever lived or taught what he believes because all that matters is his teaching.  If he is following that then that is all that matters to him.  The same hold true with every other false religion; the important thing is that you follow the teaching.
But this is exactly backwards from what Christianity is all about.  What Jesus did literally in history in the flesh gives us the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life in Heaven.  Without his work we are still in our sins and without hope.  Another reason why it is necessary for him to be alive is because it is through his life by the indwelling Holy Spirit we are enabled to live godly lives and follow his teachings.  If he is still in the grave we are just deluded sinners trying to reform the outer man to make life a little better for a short time and we become just another useless religion trying to get men to do good but removes any higher reason than man.  We might reform man some but we can offer him no hope of ever being perfect.
Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15 that if Christ be not risen we are to be pitied.  We have denied ourselves for no good reason.  Take away the resurrection and we are still in our sins, we are unable to have victory over sin both in this life and the next. Take away the resurrection and you take away any useful aspect of Christianity and it just becomes another manmade religion that tries to reform sinners with no power but the power of our sinful natures.
The social gospel is only concerned with making this world better but doesn’t care if you ever repent and believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  It sees all religions as basically the same, trying to get people to behave themselves.  But this is the very definition of false religion.  This makes man and his life the focus instead of the Holiness of God and its vindication from the rebellion of man as the most important pursuit.  In the end the social gospel and every false religion fails to prepare sinners to meet God.  Thus Jesus’ teachings are irrelevant if he isn’t real, didn’t come to earth as the God-Man, didn’t die on the cross and didn’t rise again as proof of the sufficiency of his sacrifice.  Being like Jesus but still dead in your sins will not prepare you to stand justified in the Day of Judgment.

Why Sheep Believe

In John 10 Jesus has some interesting things to say about why sheep believe and whether they can ever stop being sheep.  He first of all in John 10:26 says “but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” The Bible clearly sets forth that faith is a result of something God has done in us.  Therefore regeneration results in faith, our faith doesn’t result in regeneration.  In this case the reason they don’t believe is because they are not sheep,  He does not say you aren’t my sheep because you don’t believe. Believing or not believing is a result of who you are, it doesn’t determine who you are.  He is stating why they don’t believe; their power isn’t in view.  This is one of those verses that people have a tendency to get backwards. 
Acts 13:48 is another verse some tend to read backwards. And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.  It doesn’t say that as many as believed were appointed unto eternal life, but in fact the opposite.  God’s appointment or election is not based on our works but his good pleasure.
If you read this wrongly, verse 27 won’t make much sense, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. .  The difference in verses 26 and 27 is the election of God.  The Bible doesn’t recognize different degrees of sinners. We are all shut up under sin until he releases us.  But as he goes on in John 10 we see one of the great benefits of our salvation is that it is of his power and doing and not ours; we can never be lost! 
He says that no one can pluck the sheep out of his hand nor the Father’s hands.  Just as believing was a result of God determining to save us so he has already made the decision not to let any of us escape.  Notice again verse 27 and 28 in light of our security, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  Being a sheep results not only in believing but in following.  What it is not saying is that following results in eternal life, much like believing results in being a sheep.  It is all a work of God and sheep will follow; he will see to it.  Therefore we don’t have to worry that at some point in our lives we will decide not to follow!  This is great news about our security in Christ. 
Our hope is in whether we have a good Shepherd, not whether we are good sheep.  And yet it is the following (being good) that will assure us that we are in fact safe in Christ.  Let me illustrate.  How do you know if you were a literal sheep? If you walk like a sheep and say baa that is evidence of being a sheep. In the same way you don’t know you are alive because the doctor told you so.  Life is proved by living. You had better be looking for signs of life. Are you getting hungry; do you love;do you tire? Then that is pretty good evidence you have physical life. Trying to find assurance of spiritual life by ways other than following is how some use 1 John 5:13. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you are or aren’t saved just because you believed some facts about the cross of Christ. This is not very reassuring. He has created the natural order to illustrate spiritual truths if we will just think about it.  We wouldn’t think of calling a corpse a living person and we need to be careful that our theology isn’t doing just that when it comes to men’s souls.  Eternal life comes with our union to Christ.  It isn’t some substance he gives and takes away.  Once he is in us we are completely new creatures and he will see to it that we come to the full end he has predestined for his sheep.  Yes, we are saved through faith alone but faith without works is dead; it is not saving faith.
He is telling us that the life within us is greater than the sin in us. “Greater is he that is within us than he that is within the world”.  If his life is in you, then you follow him; if you don’t, then his life is not in you.

About Rick Warren Speaking at the Desiring God Conference

If you are like me, you were surprised and somewhat concerned to hear that John Piper had asked Rick Warren to speak at his conference this year.  There can be little doubt that Mr. Warren has some problems when it comes to interpreting and applying the Bible and most conservative evangelical leaders are pretty much in agreement I believe on this.  Here is a link where John Piper defends and explains his reason for asking Rick Warren to speak.  I think it at least shows that Piper has not run off into error.  He makes good points at the end so if you watch this, watch it all the way through.  While I can’t see myself doing what Piper did, I am comfortable with the notion that Piper hasn’t abandoned his orthodox positions.  Enjoy

John Piper's Explanation

Will Christians be Judged According to Their Works?

Have you ever read passages like this and wondered how it fits into salvation by grace, through faith alone? Rom 2:6  He will render to each one according to his works: Rom 2:7  to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; Rom 2:8  but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  We read something similar in 2Th 1:4  Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 2Th 1:5  This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 
Probably the best known account that is similar to these is in Matthew 25 where Jesus separates the saved and lost according to their works.  Mat 25:33  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Mat 25:34  Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, Mat 25:36  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  
It would be easy to see salvation as something we earn if all we had were these verses to go by.  Fortunately we don’t and we know that in a very real sense what matters most at the judgment is whether one is found to be in Christ.  This happens when we believe on him for the forgiveness of sins and that happens solely by the grace of God as he empowers us to believe.  This much we can be sure of.  But it is interesting that every account of the judgment in the Bible always has our works as what separates the saved from the lost and what we are judge by; the aforementioned verses being an example of this.  So do we get into Heaven based on the work of Christ on the cross or based on our works.  I think the answer is both!
Now before you write me off as a heretic, let me explain.  First of all, these verses have to mean something and they are found too often in the Bible to dismiss because they don’t easily fit into our neatly defined Calvinistic position.  Also, I think it is not simply a matter of saying that this is in relationship to our rewards or loss of rewards.  Jesus admits into the kingdom based on this.  Rewards are part of it but I think there is more involved here. 
The work of Christ is the only merit that we can stand on to be accepted by God, but our works or lack thereof, is proof that he has indeed saved us.  What these passages do is offer a safeguard to the idea that once we are saved we can live any way we want to because no matter what we do, we can never be lost.  These passages tell us that when we stand before God, only those who offer proof of the new nature are going to “pass the test”.  Our good works will be proof that we belong in Heaven; for the lost, their works will be proof they deserve and are under the wrath of God.
So God allows us to suffer trial and temptation in order to purify us so that we won’t fall under the same judgment as the lost, Mat 10:22  and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  I am not denying the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as our only hope.  What I am saying is that this is looking at the end or purpose of our justification which is good works or Christlikeness.  God isn’t going to glorify himself only by pointing to the Son’s death as the only difference between the saved and the lost but he will be looking for the change he invoked in his justified ones.  The judgment will be looking for the results established by God or the means in which we prove that knowing God has made a difference in our lives.  No one is getting into Heaven who has found the Lord to be the All Satisfying One.  I truly believe that God would not be honored much if he admits a bunch of people into heaven who loved the world more than the Lord.
We will never be worthy of Heaven but we are called to walk worthy of this calling.  I am not talking about Romish “Infusion” which teaches that God gives us grace so that we can do good works and merit salvation.  I am saying that I believe the Bible makes it very clear that God saves us to glorify him by living for him and we all will evidence this to some degree or we will not be entering the kingdom “prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. 
Why is this an important thing to point out you ask?  I think it shows the fallacy of Easy Beliefism and the Carnal Christian theories that some use to dupe many a soul into thinking they have peace with God when, in fact, they do not.  It was never enough to “just believe” in Jesus in order to be saved.  Salvation comes with a new nature; it is a package deal and if you don’t evidence a new man that loves the Lord by living for him you are not ready to stand before the Lord!  The easy proof is that no one can believe until they have been given this new nature.  This is why Jesus said, “Ye must be born again to see the kingdom of God”.

Chewing the Cud

I imagine many Christians might think of different things when they hear someone say that they meditate.  Perhaps they think of someone trying to reach a “higher” state of consciousness or someone trying to visualize some object or goal believing that if they meditate on it hard enough it will come to pass.  But the Bible has much to say about meditation and it isn’t nearly as mystical as we might tend to think.
For instance, we read in Psalm 19:14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.  And in Psalm 119:97  Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.  And Psalm 119:99  I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.  It is pretty clear that David, who had only a fraction of God’s Word to meditate on and did not have the measure of the Holy Spirit that we do today, did a lot of meditating.  One thing is obvious and that is that he meditated on God’s Word; not on objects he desired and not mindlessly chanting words with no meaning and certainly not to clear his mind of all thoughts, but actually just the opposite.
Christian meditation has one primary goal.  We contemplate the meaning of scripture and how to think and live according to its truth.  J. I. Packer put it like this, “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes of God.”  I think this is what is involved when Paul tells us to put on the mind of Christ.  We must come to think like Jesus thinks and that is a tall order.
When we become Christians, our spiritual I. Q. doesn’t immediately move to genius.  In fact, it might not move much at all.  This is what spiritual growth does.  Peter exhorts us to grow in the Knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Meditation takes information and does something with it.  It is assimilating truth into our minds so that we can assimilate it into our character.  It is an operation we do through the power of the Holy Spirit, but do it we must.
We have all probably heard one preacher or another use the illustration of a cow chewing its cud to illustrate meditation and I think that does a good job.  If a cow eats its hay in one gulp and doesn’t bring it back up to chew on it later, it will pass through and do no good; it certainly won’t produce the fruit it is supposed to, milk.  In fact, I have no doubt that this is just one more example of how our Lord created the natural world to illustrate spiritual truths.  (Think of how many times Jesus uses nature to illustrate something)
My point here is that we must be careful in thinking because we have done our duty and attended church this week and managed to stay awake; that somehow the Holy Spirit must bless our “effort” and make us more spiritually minded; more consumed with Christ.  If we don’t take the time to think (meditate) about the message or God’s Word until the next time it is kind of like by-passing our stomachs when we eat.  Meditating takes God’s Word seriously.  The one who meditates understands that God has a purpose in each text of scripture and so is not content until he learns what it is and what he is to do with that information.  This means we will meditate on much of the Bible all of our lives, but the rewards are worth it. 
Just as with eating, when we learn to use the Word to be the light that we live by, we are given the strength to do the work of the Lord.  No wonder Jesus called himself the Bread from Heaven.  Feeding on him is where our strength lies.  He said that his food was to do the will of the Father.  I bet he did a lot of meditating.  If one spends all night in prayer as he did, you will learn to think deeply on the Word of God.  Hearing from the Father was what satisfied his soul.  Let’s be diligent in our duty to meditate and see he satisfies our souls as well.  Hopefully we won’t be like the Disciples in John 4 where Jesus tells them that he had food that they didn’t know anything about.  Have we learned to properly feed on his Word?

Thoughts on the Eternal State

We recently had an interesting discussion at our men’s meeting on the extent of knowledge and memories we will have of past suffering and evil while in heaven and whether we will be aware of the suffering in Hell while in the eternal state.  I dealt with this briefly on a Wednesday night as we were looking at Malachi 4:3, And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.  I also brought in Isa. 66:22-24, "For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain.  From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.  "And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
I read one preacher who saw this as referring to the possibility that Hell will be in full view of all who are in Heaven during eternity.  Basically his point was that since the judgment of Hell is the fullest manifestation of God glorifying himself in his righteous judgment of sinners it would make sense that it is ever before us and not forgotten so that that part of his glory is ever before us.  Clearly there is some speculation here but the above verses might open up the possibility.  But this actually led us to a related topic which is whether we will be able to remember past suffering and the evil that existed in the fallen world while we are Heaven or will all such “bad” memories be erased. 
One of our men had a conversation with another saint who was talking about God wiping away our tears when we get to Heaven.  This man believed that this would be done basically by removing all bad memories of sin and suffering because such memories and thoughts would cause tears and sadness, etc.  I don’t want to be dogmatic in this discussion since we are told very little of the eternal state and so there is some speculation in all such discussions but I tend to see it a little differently.  First of all, as our earlier verses suggest, in our sinless state of glorification we will be able to look at and think about things in a completely different way than we do now.  So then we will be able to deal with the judgment of sinners and the memories of the past without all the baggage of sentiment and sinful thought patterns that cloud our thinking now.  One of our elders illustrated this well by referring to how we will interact with our wives in Heaven.  It is impossible now for us to imagine how we will be able to see our wives in glory and see and deal with them as we would with any other saint and not think of them as our wives.  Yet we know that we shall be able to do this.
I think this holds true when dealing with our ability to contemplate evil and the suffering of even those we love who are in Hell.  With minds that are free of sin we will be able to consider such things only in light of the glory of God and be able to praise God in them and not get depressed or sad in considering them.  So even if Hell was in full view while in Heaven, in our glorified state it can only give us another reason to glorify the Lord.  I think we have to admit this to some extent as we consider the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  While the OT saints weren’t in the final glorified state, they were still in a situation in  which there was a gulf between them and those suffering and they were able to see and speak back and forth.  And this was done while they were in what is referred to as Paradise.  So it was not distracting them from the full enjoyment of being in Abraham’s bosom. 
One more reason why I believe we will be able to think about evil and suffering in the eternal state is that it will make sense of the world as we experience it now.  If our memories of this life and therefore human history in general are erased then it would seem to marginalize the whole creation and everything that God is doing now in his redemptive plan.  Are we really to think that earth and human history and the cross of Christ will be forgotten or should we not believe that we will be able to look back on all this and see the perfection of God’s plan being fully carried out both in overall history and in our own lives and experience?  History becomes a way to praise God.  We will be able to think about all these things, even the evil things like the holocaust, and it will not ruin our experience and cause us to cry and be sad but we will be able to use it to further and more perfectly worship the Triune God.
And I don’t think it helps to think that only the bad things will be forgotten.  This would seem to give us an imperfect memory that would be full of holes and cause this life to make little sense.  All of God’s works are glorious, even the ones in which he judges sinners and causes his children to suffer under trials.  I tend to believe that in Heaven we will be able to look back and fully appreciate why things happened to us as they did.  Of course, regardless, however things are in Heaven, none of us will have any complaints!
I know this subject is not a definite science so any other thoughts are welcomed.  It has certainly led to some good discussion with the church folk.