Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Proper Look at Secondary Causes

I read something from the Puritan Thomas Brooks that deserves a hearty "Amen" and thought I would pass it along.  It is something that we at Sovereign Grace Baptist speak about often; not only that God is sovereign over all things but how this affects the way we as his people are to think.  Brooks points out Psa 39:9  "I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it."  Nothing reveals our faith in God like how we react to the adversities of life.  We, like the Psalmist, understand that God is the first cause of these things and so we are careful of what we say and our attitude under these circumstances.

What I particularly appreciated about this from Thomas Brook's perspective was that he pointed out some biblical examples where we see God's people demonstrating that they understood this.  I am not sure I have ever heard this referred to when listening to these passages being explained and I imagined more often than not these truths are not mentioned very often.  In Job 1:21 we read, And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."  The point is in what Job never once said.  He never complained of what those "awful Chaldeans" had done to him.  He knew from the start that God had done this to him no matter what means he used and no matter what evil motives Satan had while he did God's bidding.  He didn't focus on the act of hatred towards him by sinners, he focused on what God was doing.

Joseph clearly believed this when he said in Gen 45:8  "So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt."  If he didn't believe in God's sovereignty there is no way he could have returned good for evil to his brothers.  There has to be a greater principle involved in our thinking if we are to live godly in this present age.

Aaron knew this it seems when God struck down his sons in "Lev 10:3  Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace."  Although in this case God acted directly, yet at the heart of faith is to know that God can do no wrong and his ways are perfect.  Such faith will cause us to keep our mouths shut when it comes to complaining before God and man.  Yet it should also cause us to open our mouths to acknowledge the goodness and wisdom of God before others.  Is this not what the Psalmist does by telling us that he said nothing in Psa. 39:9?

I imagine it was hard for Eli upon hearing that his house would cease to produce priests and that it was going to mean the death of his sons found it hard to say, "It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him."  But this is all that those who have been enlightened to the glory of God and the sinfulness of man can say.  Yes, there is pain but at least our pain has a purpose.

The alternative is to think you have a right to critique the Lord which is surely a most grievous sin for a creature to commit.  Instead of having the mind of Christ like Paul exhorts us in Phil. 2 we have a mind that reflects the spirit of this world and its Prince.  We actually think we know better than God what we need and have the audacity to think we can tell him as much.  Is this not what Jonah did in
Jon 4:9  But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die."?  What an amazing God we have that he doesn't squish Jonah like a bug but graciously explains to him his error. 

Let us be like David who when Shimei cursed him David assumed God had told him to do it.  He knew that if God was in it the curse would stand and if Shimei acted alone, God would take care of him.  Either way God is behind it all; we can relax and not be sidetracked by offenses and let God take care of the results.  What else can produce such patience as understanding the secondary causes that God uses to train us in righteousness are firmly in the hand of God?

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Why We Love the Church", Part 2

I have had some people tell me that they hope I continue to refer to Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck's latest book, "Why We Love the Church" with some quotes and comments.  My problem is that every page is quotable and worthy of comment.  I point out some of them only to get readers to go and buy the book.  I believe it is one of the most important books I have read in a while and one that is vitally needed in this day and age.  I seriously encourage every Christian to read it so that we might be reminded of the importance of the local church and be reminded that this is what God has ordained for our spiritual growth.

As I quote a paragraph from the book below, remember that their point is to address the idea that since churches have problems and specifically they address those that "feel" their needs aren't being met by attending church so they opt out for whatever they think is better for them spiritually.  They remind us of what I referred to the last time when they used the example of a bad marriage.  Just because you aren't happy in your marriage doesn't mean you can ignore the institution of marriage for something you like better.  The same goes for the church because this is what God has ordained that we join ourselves to in order to serve him; the Lord just hasn't given us other options. 

They sum up the logic of these people with this statement, "If by your estimation church does not help you know God better, then you stop going to church.  To continue to would be hypocritical".  I thought Kevin DeYoung's answer to this was first rate.  I quote part of it.

"But what if belonging to the church is more serious than, say, choosing whether the new laundry detergent is 'right for you'?  What if your difficulty with church was God's means of sanctifying you and the church, instead of separating the two of you?  What if we aren't always the best judge of what will help us most in 'living like Jesus'?  What if, in addition to the church, we feel like marriage 'diminishes' our relationship with Jesus?  Or that poverty doesn't seem to be good for us spiritually?  Or our children get in the way of our walk with God?  What if we need something to guide us that is more sophisticated, more sure, and less subjective than our own 'freedom filters'?  And what makes us think that after nearly two thousand years of institutional church, Christians are suddenly free to jettison the church and try things on their own?"

Of course, one of the obvious problems with this kind of thinking is that it assumes you know better than God what kind of organization and atmosphere you need for spiritual development.  Another thing that I find particularly upsetting is our inability to face difficulty without turning and running instead of letting difficult things "sanctify" us as they referred to.  Is just because something is hard, difficult, humbling and uncomfortable mean we aren't to figure out a way to stick with it until the battle is won?

I am reminded of a story I hear about Abraham Lincoln and his turbulent marriage to Mary Todd.  It was felt that living with a difficult woman gave him the tools needed to deal with his difficult generals.  Had he or any of us decided that he didn't deserve to have to put up with such things and took the easy way out, we would suffer the loss of training and exercise needed to serve in other areas. 

No church is perfect for sure, but to have a place to learn God's Word and to find support and fellowship with a people who love you no matter what is one of the great joys of life, for a Christian at least.  It is also the primary place a Christian can find these things in this world and the only sure place where God will bless you to these ends.  John McCain might be a maverick but there are no mavericks in the church, only assemblies.  A body member that is cut off, dies; it doesn't become stronger.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christ's Kingdom

In the first couple of chapters in 1 Kings we read of the establishment of Solomon as the King of Israel.  His immediate concern is his older brother Adonijah who wants to be king. Having secured himself on the throne, he goes about and puts to death not only Adonijah but all those who supported him and installs into positions and rewards those loyal to himself.  1 Kings relates this in an interesting way that parallels the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

After the immediate threat to the throne is put down we read in 2:12 that "His kingdom was firmly established".  Then we read of him weeding out those who were loyal to Adonijah and after they were all disposed of it says in 2:46, "So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon". There was a sense in which Solomon was a reigning king with a kingdom but this kingdom had a lot of work to be done before it was what it was intended to be.

As we come to the New Testament this already, not yet aspect of Christ's kingdom is seen throughout.  In Acts 2 Peter teaches that when Christ ascended on high it fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of him being established on the throne of David.  Act 2:30  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, Act 2:31  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. Act 2:32  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Act 2:33  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. Act 2:34  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, Act 2:35  until I make your enemies your footstool.  Notice the word "until" in vs. 35.  He reigns but the kingdom is not in the final form.

Perhaps 1 Cor. 15 is one of the clearest texts where it says he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet.  Christ is calling out his people and they are reigning with him.  He is also judging rebels in various ways both in this life and when they die.  But on the last day he will take all rebellion and cast it into the Lake of Fire.  And then  1 Cor. 15 says he will hand that perfected kingdom over to the Father.  So 1 Kings 1-2 seems to be a shadow of the Greater Kingdom that was started when Christ came to earth and did his work of redemption.

But let me add a practical application.  If we are children of the kingdom and the essence of the kingdom is within us as Christ has said, then can we expect any less of a work of putting down rebellion as he is doing everywhere else?  In other words, we can expect that the Holy Spirit is mortifying our sinful passions and establishing his loves and desires in us.  Mortification is always painful; our rebellion doesn't die easily and suffering and trials are the general and most effective means the Holy Spirit uses to establish Christ's reign in our hearts.  So let's be aware of how the kingdom works and be ready to submit to his work.  And let's remember that he works in us as we help in the work.  We are told to put off the old self with its sinful passions and ways of thinking and to mortify this flesh.  We are to control it for the glory of Christ.

Living in the kingdom is bringing all things under subjection unto Christ.  That which first defines Christians is that their primary desire and the general direction of their life is to do all for the glory of God.  If this doesn't describe you, then the question remains are you a servant of the king or a rebel running loose for now but headed for destruction.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why Don't The Angels Sing?

I suppose that is a little misleading since we don't know whether angels can sing or not.  But it is interesting that the Bible doesn't say much of anything about angels singing (There might be one exception below).  I remember this dawning on me some years ago I think during this time of year when reading the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds.  It says that the heavenly host were praising God and "saying", not singing.  I know that some of the carols say they were singing but I imagine the writer assumed they did, I don't know, but I always assumed they were singing also.

Anyway, I started looking it up and could not find a place where they are said to sing, but only to speakThe exception might be in Rev 5:9  "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."  Since earlier the four creatures seem to be part of the elders (saints) who were worshiping with harps, it would seem fair that they were also singing.  It is interesting that the commentators speak of this whole section as men and angels singing songs but singing and song are only used in vs. 9 where later the word changes to that of speaking, not singing.  Every time the word for angels is used it specifically says they were speaking.

If there is any reason to think that perhaps none of the angels were singing it might be because of Rev 14:3  and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.  And again in Rev 15:2-3 "And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire--and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.  And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  I don't know how literally to take Rev. 14:3 but it seems to indicate that this new song that is associated with those who have been redeemed can only be sung by those who have experienced redemption.

As I went through the concordance of those who were said to sing or called upon to sing it was pretty much two different groups who were said to sing: the redeemed and creation.  Well, Romans 8 says that creation is awaiting final redemption along with the saints.  It benefits from the cross as do the elect; the angels have nothing in the cross to sing about.  1 Peter 1:12 says that the angels have a keen interests in the redemption of man.  After all, they have been watching all this from the Fall and no doubt find it incredibly interesting.  They had been with Jesus since he created them sometime around the creation of all things and have beheld his majesty for thousands of years and in Luke 1 they see him become a babe lying helpless in a stable manger; quite incredible!  But they are watching this with no real vested interest.  They are not fallen, they do not need a savior, but they will take every opportunity to praise their creator as any worthy creature should.

Now I have nothing against angels singing and they very well might.  If they do, it will sound amazing and will only enhance the glories of Heaven.  If there is anything my flesh really looks forward to in Glory it is listening to what promises to be the greatest choir ever assembled.  It will have perfect pitch and perfect words and best of all it will be sung with perfect enthusiasm.  I truly hope that angels will be singing.

But when you see how singing all through the Bible generally is used to praise God for his salvation and that the redeemed are almost entirely the ones called on to sing and then there is Rev. 15:3 that says there is a song that only they can really sing, then we at least have to admit that singing is a gift to man to be used to thank him for the Lamb.  I think there are going to be times in which this song of redemption shall be ringing out in Heaven and only from the voices of those who can sing from the heart because they alone have experienced what it is to be pulled from the fire of God's wrath.  I wonder if that song will stand out as sweeter than any other singing?

My main point is to the redeemed.  Do you appreciate the gift of song and do you take advantage of it when you can?  Do you sing loudly at church?  Do you sing as though you mean it?  Do you ever wonder why false religions have little to no singing and what they have is usually rather morbid chanting.  It is because they have nothing to sing about.  We do and let us follow David's advice, Psa 98:1 " A Psalm. Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.  Psa 98:4 "Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!"  

And perhaps one of the best is Psa 147:1  "Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting."  If it is fitting for us to sing praises to the Lord then we need to be a singing people and do it as best we can.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where Do We Find Christ?

As you can see under "Recent Reading" I am reading De Young and Kluck's book about the institution of the church and why it is biblical and necessary.  They made a great point on the first page.  No one would build a basement and be content to live in it and not finish the rest of the house; you don't drive by a cement foundation in the dirt and say, "Look, it is ready to be lived in.  The foundation exists to be built upon.  Yet those who say they love Christ but not the church do a similar thing.  In the same vein, if you love me you love my wife. ( It might be better for me to say that if you love my wife you will love me.)  Either way, if you love Christ, you love his people and the institution of the church is how we express and live in the love we have for each other.  In the book they are referring to the institution of the church, not Christians in general.

I think this book is important especially in our day and age because of the all the misinformation concerning the institution of the local church.  It is not unusual today to hear of someone saying that they have grown more spiritual or are better off spiritually since they left the church.  There are some fundamental flaws with such a scenario and I look forward to the rest of the book in the hopes it will deal with some of them.  But let me mention a couple.

No doubt there are a lot of churches that have so departed from the faith or so deemphasized the teaching of the Word of God that they do more harm than good.  If you are in one of these then get out.  But this has nothing to do with the institution that God has ordained anymore than because you have an unloving spouse or a bad marriage it is to be taken that God's institution of marriage is flawed and should be abandoned.

The second thing I would say to the above person is that while you might be better off spiritually by leaving that church you can be sure you are worse off spiritual by not joining a doctrinally sound church somewhere.  When Christ said that where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them, he was speaking of the institution of the church.  One in which saints have gathered to practice the preaching of the Word and corporate prayer and fellowship under the authority of ordained elders.  In other words, he was not saying that if you get together with some friends over coffee and talk about spiritual things you are basically "having church" and I will be there to bless your efforts. 

Jesus is to be found in the local church in a way he will not be found outside of it.  Yes, he indwells all believers but he commissioned churches to operate in an organized way by the rules of the New Testament as a place to systematically teach the Word and be a place of fellowship and encouragement and practice of the things taught. 1Ti 3:15  if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.  The immediate context of this verse is Paul explaining how things operate in the local church, not in Christians and Christianity in general.  He was speaking of the qualification of elders, deacons, the role of women in the church, etc. 

My point is that Christ by his Spirit meets with us as we gather as a body to feed on his Word and fellowship and love the brethren in a way that transcends our "quiet time" at home.  I have on several occasions had someone say to me that they can learn at home just as well as at church.  They can read the Bible at home and worship God elsewhere.  My answer is no, not really.  If you forsake the assembly of the church which God tells us not to, then why would you assume that he is going to bless your private reading, prayers and worship when you rebel against his plain revelation? 

Your pastor might not be the most gifted and your church no doubt is full of flaws, but this is where Jesus has promised to reveal himself to you.  Yes, he will be found at home or at work or in nature as you read his Word and pray there, but only in conjunction with obedience in the attendance and commitment to his ordained means of the local church. 

I look forward to reading this book and perhaps will share some of their insight as I go along.