Friday, December 28, 2012

"Senseless" Tragedy

Heb 11:4  By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.   

I would like to focus on the last few words of this verse for a moment, “He still speaks”.  These words could end each section since each person’s faith in this chapter is being commended to us from God as an example of faith.  So in this sense each one’s faith still speaks to us of our great God in which we can still trust explicitly.  Abel gives us an example of a believer dying prematurely, in this case by murder.  These three words give meaning and comfort to such people and their survivors.  We might say that these words direct the preacher at Abel’s funeral as far as what he can say and what he cannot.   

What any preacher cannot say when they stand over anyone’s casket and even a very young person is that this is a “senseless” tragedy.  To die young or violently or “before one’s time” is tragic but it is never senseless.  Potentially Abel could have faithfully served the Lord for many more years and it would have been better for Cain if he had repented of his offering and gotten right with God but when things don’t turn out in the happiest or most fulfilled or even godliest way or even in the worst possible way doesn’t mean that they serve no purpose and are wasted. 

This must be true because God is working all things according to his perfect and righteous ends.  Sometimes those who deny God’s sovereignty over all things try to justify their view by saying, “If God ordained everything, then he ordained evil and if he ordained evil he is responsible for evil”.  Of course, they assume too much because the Bible never attributes evil to God in any way; it is always because of man’s or Satan’s will.  And yet the Bible makes it abundantly clear that all things are ordained by God, Isa 45:7  I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, Isa 46:9  remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, Isa 46:10  declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'  I am the LORD, who does all these things.   

But think for a moment that what they say is true.  They are saying that God only intends good things to happen and that evil or sin is something he does not want to happen.  Not only then must God be weak because he could not stop such things as the holocaust from happening but even worse, there is no purpose at all for evil to begin with because God didn’t want it to happened in the first place.  Every bad thing that happens to you and everyone else was not God’s intention, he wished it wouldn’t happen but couldn’t stop it and so there is no God honoring purpose for it.  It only serves Satan’s evil intentions and man’s but that is it.   

With the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn. We saw this very thing being promoted by the “religious” counselors and commentators.  Such things are always attributed to evil (whatever they mean by that) or mental illness or perhaps Satan, but all are very careful to tell us that God had no part in this at all, that he is saddened by such evil and wishes we would do better.   

To be sure such actions are against his revealed will to us; such people who perpetrate such things are held accountable by him and will be judged; they are truly sinful actions.  But to deny that God had no purpose in decreeing such things to happen as he allows men to carry out their sinfulness is to think that there are other determining forces in the universe besides God alone.  It is clear in the Bible that God intended man to fall while not being responsible for it because allowing sin into the world was part of his overall plan to glorify himself.  Evil is not a second god doing things that the other God doesn’t like and therefore serving no purpose but it is ordained under the limits that God imposes to bring the entire universe to God’s desired end.  Thus all things, even evil, serve the Lord and has meaning in our lives.  There is no part of our life’s experience that isn’t completely under the Lord’s control working toward a good and purposeful end for us even though it might hurt at the present time.  

Let me give one Biblical example to prove the point.  In Isa. 10 God makes it clear that he is sending the Assyrians against Israel because Israel has forsaken the Lord.  Yet, he condemns the Assyrians for doing what he has ordained them to do because they are not trying to serve God in this but are just murderous plunderers and rapists and so he tells them they will be judged for their actions.  God ordained the very actions that he will judge.   

But my desire here is not to explain the unexplainable; how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility work in his providence.  But we must accept what God says about how this world works and find comfort in the fact that even in the evil and hard things of life there is purpose and meaning and that someday it will all make sense.  

The very last thing we must say about the Sandy Hook tragedy is that it is senseless and that God was unable to stop it.  In fact it is because of what the Bible says about fallen man that helps us understand why such things happened at all.  It reminds us of just how much we need to preach the gospel because we live in a world living in rebellion to God and unless we repent, we shall all likewise perish just as these did.  This after all is what Jesus pointed out when a similar murderous rampage happened in his day, Luk 13:1  There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Luk 13:2  And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? Luk 13:3  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luk 13:4  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? Luk 13:5  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."   

He didn’t use it as a way to distance God from the events of our lives but to remind us of sin’s consequences and the need to get right with God.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Filling the Wedding Hall

Mat 22:9  Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' Mat 22:10  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Here Jesus gives a parable to explain the ramifications of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and for that matter the results when anyone makes excuses for not attending the wedding feast of the Son.  One aspect of this parable that doesn’t get much attention is the reason why the King sends out servants to “compel” and gather a second group into the feast.  It is found in the last sentence of verse 22, “So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  
While God’s election unto salvation isn’t the main topic here, there is certainly a veiled reference to the eternal purposes of God in saving a people for himself, “wedding feast for his son”, vs. 2.  Verse 10 points out that just because some, in fact most, vs. 14, refuse to answer the call doesn’t mean that there is any possibility that Heaven won’t be filled with sinners saved by grace. 
Some teach in essence that the cross of Christ was a shot in the dark with God hoping that some would exercise their “freewill” and believe.  This fails for a couple of reasons.  First of all the Bible very clearly teaches that all men’s wills are by nature depraved and in bondage to sin and they cannot do good, Rom 8:7  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Rom 8:8  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  If God merely sent Jesus to die for our sins and then called out to sinners to come, none would because none can because none want to.  It is only by overcoming our will as he gives us a new heart that the elect come.  This is the “compelling” that Luke uses in this parable.  Matthew uses the word “invite” and we know that the gospel is at the same time an invitation and an enabling power in the case of the elect, Rom 1:16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Secondly this fails because, as our texts states, God had no intention of the wedding hall being even partially filled let alone empty.  He didn’t leave it up to man to answer the call but chose those who would fill it before the foundation of the world.  One thing that seems unavoidable in this text is that once God determined to fill the hall, the servants (Spirit) were commissioned to do whatever is necessary to bring people into it.  Salvation rests in the will and power of God, not that of man. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Power of the New Covenant

Mat 21:33  "Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. Mat 21:34  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. Mat 21:35  And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned anot7her. Mat 21:36  Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Mat 21:37  Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
Mat 21:38  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' Mat 21:39  And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Mat 21:40  When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" Mat 21:41  They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."

As Jesus condemns the Jewish nation for their failure to keep the covenant God made with them he relates this parable that gives us a synopsis of their history of failure but also explains one reason why there was a Jewish nation to begin with.  It turns out that the Jews were kind of a test case of humanity much like taking a water sample out of a well to see if the whole well is polluted or not.  What we find is that they prove that sin has ruined the entirety of humanity and they also prove that the only way to be saved from sin is not by human effort but by a substitute.

What the parable teaches is that God separated the Jews from the rest of humanity and gave them every possible blessing if they would honor him as all men should.  The OT constantly refers to this as Israel being a vineyard that is given good ground and water and hedged in from being trampled but this vineyard never produces any fruit; fruit being seen as taking these privileges and glorifying the Lord with them.  What we find them doing for 1500 years is dishonoring the Lord in every possible way. 

There are a couple of important lessons for us here.  First of all we see the need for a better covenant that empowers us to live for the Lord.  The main thing Israel does is prove that even if God promises them every physical blessing and even gives them a detailed set of rules so they know exactly what he wants, the natural man cannot love and obey what he by nature hates.  It is only through a new heart or nature that we can love and serve God as we should. 

Secondly this gives us a clear concept of what the Christian life is all about.  In Christ we have been given every imaginable blessing of any value.  Not necessarily physical blessings but meaning and fulfillment in this life and perfect bliss for eternity enjoying all the fullness of God forever.  And all God asks is that we take these blessings and prove our love for him during this life even amid its difficulties.  In this sense we are to do what Israel never could because the new covenant gives us the power to do what the old could not.

This means that as fallen creatures we can do what even our first parents could not.  Although placed in a perfect environment they failed to serve the Lord above themselves.  The power of the new covenant enables us to serve the Lord in the worst of circumstances.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The New Nature of Every Saint

Heb 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 are going through Hebrews 11 at church right now and learning what it is to live by faith.  One point that many are confused on is that this is not optional for a few “super saints”.  All who have saving faith continue to live a faithful way or they were never saved to begin with.  Let me expand on this a bit.

The Westminster Confession of Faith states that we are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that comes alone.  There are lots of people who unfortunately believe that one can be saved by faith and not lead a fundamentally changed life afterwards and so would disagree with the Confession.  They see the Confession and those who agree with it as adding works to faith for salvation.  Of course this is not what the Confession is saying and it isn’t because it is poorly written that is the fault but the shallow, unbiblical thinking on the part of those who disagree; but let me try to clarify what the Confession is teaching and of course what I believe the Bible teaches very clearly: Faith without works is dead.

What Hebrews is teaching is that saving faith comes with a new nature.  The problem with thinking that we can believe some fact of the cross and presto, we are saved is that the Bible is clear that when God converts a sinner he gives them a new nature; a new heart that loves God more than sin.  So this is more than just saying that if you are really saved you will be good.  It is saying that if you are saved you are a different person all together and so you can’t help but act differently.  So it isn’t just that faith comes with good works as if it is up to us to behave once we are saved but faith comes with a totally new nature; we are converted or changed into a new kind of person.

Let’s illustrate this.  If a cat is given a new nature we still see a cat’s body but it is a dog inside so we must assume some things will automatically change.  If this “dog” still meows and still scratches the furniture and goes up trees and can’t get down, if it still remains aloof and lets you pet it when it feels like it instead of living to be petted and gladly being a nuisance in order to be petted and get attention then it is clear that it is a “doggy hypocrite”!  Let’s face it, what is the most obvious difference between the natures of cats and dogs?  One doesn’t need you and the other does and doesn’t mind proving it!

This is exactly why James could say faith without works is dead or is no saving faith.  The new heart we are given is one that honors Christ over self and lives to that end; imperfectly but also unquestionably, 1Jn 3:9  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  1Jn 5:1  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 1Jn 5:2  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 1Jn 5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1Jn 5:4  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith.  It is just hard to see any exceptions; all who are saved are lovers of God and live by faith.

And so the point is this: every true saint is striving to live as a new creation in Christ or they are just fooling themselves.  As with the cat and dog; either you are perfectly happy to do your own thing coming to “god” when it suits you or you need Christ to live and if you don’t have the smile of his face on you, you cannot be happy in this life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jesus Claimed Divinity

Mat 21:15  But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant, Mat 21:16  and they said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, "'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise'?"

Ever since Christ was on earth there has been no shortage of those who refuse to believe that He is the divine second person of the Trinity.  It seems a lot of this is because of the assumption that there can be no trinity because they don’t understand it rather than a lack of biblical support.  Over and over again we hear that Jesus never uttered the words, “I am God” therefore he never claimed to be God as if he must claim it as we expect him to or it doesn’t count.

The above text provides one of many ways the Bible teaches Christ divinity as well as provides a place where Jesus makes the claim himself.  The Jews were indignant because the children were asking Jesus the Son of David to save them in a Messianic sense.  They were claiming him to be the Messiah and that didn’t go over too well with the Jewish leaders and so they basically are telling him to tell them to stop.  Their unbelief is made worse because they had just watched him perform miracles that only the Messiah could do.

But Jesus’s response is interesting.  He says that what they are doing is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 8:2, Psa 8:1  To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psa 8:2  Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. Psa 8:3  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, Psa 8:4  what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psa 8:5  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. Psa 8:6  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, Psa 8:7  all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, Psa 8:8  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. Psa 8:9  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8 is all about praising the Yahweh; notice the LORD of vs. 1 and then read the rest of the psalm.  If Psalm 8 is prophesying that Yahweh will be praised by children and Jesus says that it is speaking of him being praised at that time; what other conclusion can we come to other than Jesus sees himself as one with Yahweh.  And if we are going to be followers of Jesus and his teaching then to deny his divinity is to call him either deluded or a liar and in either case it makes no sense to follow him for any reason.

A similar conclusion can be made from his earlier discourse with the Rich, Young Ruler.  In showing him that indeed he hasn’t kept any of the 10 Commandments, Jesus commands him to sell all and follow him.  In other words Jesus puts himself in God’s place by telling him to have nothing in his life but Jesus; to have no other gods but him; prove that he keeps the first four.  He doesn’t tell him to follow Yahweh by name but tells him to follow himself.  Since Yahweh always made it clear that he will not share such devotion with any other and Jesus is demanding it of this man, then again, Jesus puts himself on par with Yahweh. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Leafy Fig Tree

Mat 21:19  And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. Mat 21:20  When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" Mat 21:21  And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. Mat 21:22  And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."

The account of cursing the fig tree is interesting for a couple of reasons.  It comes on the heels of Jesus cleansing the Temple because they had turned it into a house of merchandize rather than a house of prayer.  It is not difficult to see that he uses the fig tree to illustrate Judaism during his day.  When a fig tree had leaves fruit should have been present.  Since it wasn’t this tree wasn’t living up to its purpose and so is cast aside; it was claiming to have fruit but did not.  Similarly Judaism had a show of religion but it was not producing any fruit and thus was cursed by God and was about to be abandoned by God both its house and covenant. 

The more difficult part is Jesus’ response to the Disciple’s question.  They clearly didn’t get the connection at that time but Jesus doesn’t try to explain further but makes a short statement about faith and prayer and one that he has made before.  Why does he do this?  I will suggest one possibility. 

The Context is the misuse of the Temple that was supposed to be a place of prayer, or a place in which God’s will is sought after, not a place where man does his own will.  The Jews as many today had gotten this completely backwards.  Church and religion has become a tool for us to ask God to give us stuff.  But the fruit of true religion is sinners getting right with God, listening to him and obeying him all with the purpose of honoring him in all things. 

Jesus is teaching that what is important about genuine religion is not how prosperous our “temples” have become but whether we are actually communing with God and growing spiritually by it.  Biblical faith is not just belief in the power of God to do what we want him to but it is based on the revelation of God.  It doesn’t just believe he is but that he is truly as he reveals himself.  Simply put, the faith of the Bible is not so much believing God can do what we want him to do but believing we can do whatever he wants us to do by his strength. 

This is why so many have been disillusioned by false teachers that have told them if they believe hard enough God will give them the desires of their hearts.  The problem is that to approach God with your agenda shows the desires of your heart is evil; it is asking “amiss”.  Yes, the Bible does say that he will give us the desires of our heart but notice the conditions set forth, Psa 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.  A true saint who is bearing fruit has a new heart that comes to God for help to do his will, not their own.  A true saint’s heart’s desire is for the very things God wants to give.

Another way to illustrate the new heart of a Christian is with the old charge legalists sometimes make against others when they call them antinomians.  They say that the antinomian believes that since they are saved by grace alone they can do whatever they want to.  The mature Christian realizes that in a very real sense this is true.  We have been freed to do whatever we want but the reason this doesn’t result in more sin but instead less sin is because we have been given a new heart that desires to do all for the glory of God.  The person who tries to use grace to sin more has never known grace. 

Thus proper prayer that produces fruit is that which approaches God in faith for help to serve him, not for help to serve self.  If we make faith some sort of ticket to get God to serve us, we sin just like the Jews of the first century as they merchandized in the Temple.  We make our faith one of merchandize but not one of fruitfulness unto the Lord.  True faith removes the leafy but fruitless show and gets to the heart of the matter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Transcendence of Christianity

1 Cor. 7:17-24 offers some great and practical instruction in the Christian faith. 1Co 7:17  Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.   7:18  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 1Co 7:19  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 1Co 7:20  Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 1Co 7:21  Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 1Co 7:22  For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 1Co 7:23  You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 1Co 7:24  So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Basically Paul is saying that once God saves you and gives you the Holy Spirit along with the Word of God a Christian can serve the Lord under any and all circumstances.  He gives two examples, circumcision and slavery.  His point is that whatever situation you find yourself in when you are converted does not need to change now that you are saved.  The Law has passed away and so there is no need to be circumcised if you aren't nor try to undo it if you are.  Vs. 17 explains that we must accept the providence of God that has put us where we are and realize that this is the place God wants us to serve.

Then he uses slavery as an example.  I suppose many would find these words astonishing that if you are a slave when you are converted don't assume that you must be freed in order to be a faithful servant of the Lord.  Yes, if you can be freed by all means go for it.  But if in the providence of God you cannot change that then the beauty of Christianity is that it works under every circumstance.  We should assume this because we know that nothing happens apart from the sovereign will of God.  So if any enemy invades our land and I am taken as a slave then it is God who has put me there and it would be contrary to my profession to think that he has put me in a situation in which I cannot serve him.

So even if I am a slave to men, I am first of all a slave to Christ and he is the one I serve.  So Paul says even a slave has been freed from sin so that he can serve the Lord and so I must not let men stop me for obeying the Lord.  In vs. 23 he isn't saying don't allow yourself to become a slave but don't let any circumstance, even literal slavery be used as an excuse to become bitter against the Lord and not glorify him to the best of your ability.

But let's apply this in a little more practical situation.  Many a married partner or disgruntled employee would do well to think about this.  Just because you are not in the relationship you would like doesn't have anything to do with being great in the kingdom.  If a slave doesn't need to force his freedom to be an effective Christian then certainly a wife or husband isn't to seek to be freed from a spouse that might not meet every need you think you have.  An under paid or under appreciated employee can still serve Christ while he has that job.

Too many times because we find ourselves under circumstances caused by the sinfulness of others we assume that we must get free of it in order to serve the Lord.  But when doing that causes us to have to disobey the clear teaching of God's Word we have taken more upon ourselves than we have a right to.  So we submit ourselves to marriage with a lost partner or one who might not love us like they should and see it as God's will for us because nothing can disqualify us from serving the Lord.  Well, what can disqualify us is becoming bitter at the situation and at God and feeling sorry for ourselves, discontent and refusing to figure out how to serve the Lord in the present trial. 

Again, that is the beauty of being saved.  Whether we are rich, poor, healthy, sickly, young, old, a slave, free, an unloved housewife or unappreciated employee we have a great privilege of serving the Lord.  Perhaps some of us need to remember this just in case the election doesn't go as we would like and our country keeps sliding down the socialist path and even worse becomes more and more secular, ungodly and anti Christian.  Don't get caught up in the idea that if we aren't free or in charge God's work can't be done because it can.  Christianity flourished under Roman rule and it can flourish under Marxism or any other circumstance.  Our God reigns!   

Friday, October 12, 2012

Being Great in the Kingdom

In Chapter 19 of the Gospel of Matthew we find Peter comparing himself to the rich, young ruler.  Peter feels like he has given up much for Christ and wants to know what is in it for him.  While Jesus tells the disciples that there is ample reward for those who give up this world for him, he then gives the parable of the laborers to warn us of comparing ourselves to others. 

In the case of the laborers who were hired first, they assume that they should get more for working longer in the kingdom of God.  And they and Peter make a couple of mistakes.  Getting the same reward reminds us that there is no real difference between saints.  All are unworthy sinners and none deserve anything but God’s wrath so we are all saved by grace and will all see Jesus.  Perhaps Peter’s greatest mistake is to compare himself to someone else which seems to be what the “first” are doing in the parable.  He looks on the outward and assumes he has done more and giving up more than this man but Jesus says, “Not so fast, God looks on the heart”.  Anyway, what did he really give up, some old boats, some holey nets?  Even though he gives up some time with his wife and earthly stability and eventually his very life, what is all that compared to an eternity in Hell which is what he has been saved from.  In reality he has given up very little while this young ruler was being asked to give up much more.  Comparing ourselves to someone else will never end well.  We just don’t have enough information.  None of us are really asked to give up much compared to Heaven.

I got to thinking about how we so often compare ourselves to others.  It usually goes something like this: “Lord, why is it that so and so has a better job, or is healthier or has fewer problems than I do?”  But I can’t say that I have ever heard anyone, including myself, complain to the Lord that so and so doesn’t have all the blessings we have!  “Lord, why is it that I seem to have an easier time than they do, why is it that I don’t get as sick as often as that person, why is it that my marriage doesn’t seem to suffer like theirs, etc.”  Clearly we are a selfish people that only compare ourselves to others to complain against God’s good providence most of the time. 

Secondly, I think the heart of the matter is that the first group didn’t see the labor as part of the reward.  If the reward to you is after death and you don’t see and live in the privilege of knowing Christ now you are missing out on a big part of the reason the Lord saved you.  He doesn’t save people just to get them to heaven but to be examples of his grace and love even before this world.  A bitter, mean, miserable Christian is a contradiction of our profession.  You are telling everyone that knowing God isn’t life (even though that is what is says in Joh 17:3  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.) you are telling us that the only worthwhile reward for serving the Lord comes later, not now.  And you are saying that the things of this life are so important that knowing the Lord and having his Spirit have no ability to help us now and I just don’t think that is why the Lord saves us.  My experience has been just the opposite and I think this parable reminds us of this.  They should have been rejoicing that they had longer to work for their Lord!

I want to live and die content in Christ before this world and it is only by the grace of God that we will.  Finally, at the end of the day our work has nothing to do with our final reward, all are paid alike and more than they deserve.  The question is will you be joyful as you work?  Will you serve out of a thankful heart?  If so you will be great in the kingdom.  If the opportunity to serve the Lord even in more difficultly than others isn’t enough for you, you will be least in the kingdom.

Friday, September 7, 2012

We Are Sanctified in the Gospel

One thing that has become increasingly clear over the years is that one of the most important things to remember in the Christian walk is the need to remember that I am just a sinner saved by grace.  I don't mean that every day we need to hear it and believe it to be saved but that we constantly need to keep reminding ourselves of what has happened to us.

The way I usually relate this to my congregation is that we must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday.  At the very least we must train ourselves to keep it before us and make it part of the way we think about things.  Not only does this cause us to keep a humble and thankful heart before our Lord but it also helps us maintain the proper attitude in which we can interact with others in Christian love.

Matthew 18 is a chapter in which this is taught to us by the Lord.  He begins with the reminder of how only through childlike humility and dependence can we enter and live effectively in the Kingdom of God.  Then he teaches us of the necessity of humility and a forgiving spirit when it comes to living with those in the church and exercising church discipline.  Finally he ends with a parable that shows us how to be patient and forgiving with others or to do all the things he has just taught us.

It is the story of the unjust servant who was forgiven a debt that could never be paid yet was impatient and unloving towards those who had but a relatively small debt to him.  We see it in the Lord's word to him as he calls him to account for the way he treated his fellow servant.  Mat 18:32  Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Mat 18:33  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'  

What he is telling the wicked servant is that he should live his life in light of the mercy and love shown to him by his Lord.  A lot of our problems with relationships arise because we think we deserve something we don't.  By reminding ourselves that it is only by the grace of God that we are not in Hell at this moment and so every breath we take is undeserved, we are reminded of the greatness of our God and seek to please him by showing the same love to others.  When we make ourselves the center of our lives we immediately come into conflict with everyone else who lives the same way.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The New Litmus Test

With the events last week concerning the owner of Chick-fil-A we see some of the results of the spiritual climate in our country.  For merely taking the biblical stance that marriage is only between a man and woman he is being ridiculed and told by some cities that his business is no longer welcomed.  Christians need to understand that the homosexual agenda has every intention of making this the new litmus test in society as to whether you can “buy and sell”; much like the Romans did when they required all citizens to utter the words “Caesar is Lord” to expose who was a Christian or not. 
Right after this came out in the news I heard some in the national media refer to him as a bigot and a hater thus demonstrating their inability for rational thought.  But remember, he merely stated a biblical position.  It is obvious that the left doesn’t want any position but their own stated in the public forum and are even trying to enforce it through legislature.  As someone rightly stated, “They have two tenets, free speech and shut up”.  Everyone is allowed to speak freely except those who disagree with them.
The ramifications are chilling when one will think back to Nazi Germany when all opposition was silenced and we are seeing America and western culture take the same road.  Already in Canada they are passing laws that makes saying anything negative about the homosexual lifestyle a hate crime.  Mind you, not doing physical harm but merely disagreeing with them.
I fear that many Christians are too used to having it easy in America and will be unwilling to take a stand in these areas.  Perhaps we might try to justify it by thinking that this isn’t about Christ and the gospel so why make a big deal over it.  But my point is that it is being forced on us and deliberately so and to compromise by accepting homosexuality as not a sin is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture.
Just because someone comes along after thousands of years and says that they believe the sky is all of the sudden red doesn’t mean that it is no longer blue.  Jesus stated very clearly that marriage is between a man and a woman and it was pronounced so at creation.  Those that say he didn’t address homosexuality then are just showing their refusal to think rationally let alone respect other opinions.  Remember, the Bible also teaches that any sexual intercourse outside of marriage is sinful so same sex intercourse can never take place in an acceptable way before God.
But isn’t this what happens to generations that are told that the Genesis account isn’t to be taken literally; that there was no Adam and Eve because there is no God and therefore no Law?  Any way you slice it all this is an attack on the authority of God’s Word and therefore God himself and Christianity.
I know there are those who through the years have disagreed with pastors who try to show how important it is to study the Bible, to be faithful to all the church services when possible thinking that we make too much over all this.  But we see the result of not taking God and his Word seriously and therefore not being careful to teach your children the Bible and to make the preaching of God’s Word a big part of their life.  Just as bad, they then send their children to the public schools to be taught the exact opposite from what God’s Word teaches and make little to no effort to combat this. 
The Bible alone gives man the proper worldview and to remove yourself from its influence is to condemn yourself and the culture to secular humanism which always implodes on itself.  It is like the law of physics that states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  You can’t deny what the Bible says and you can’t live like it isn’t important without serious consequences.  It is a Christian’s calling to state clearly what the Bible teaches about any subject come what may.  I fear many times Christians are silent because they don’t know what the Bible even says about many subjects.  To be silent dishonors God’s Word and eventually will bring down a society.  I offer America as a prime example.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just As I Am?

Sometimes it is good to keep not only a biblical perspective on things but also a historical one as well.  In the early church under the Roman Empire all Christians understood that one of their primary missions was evangelization.  This meant they were to go to their neighbor and the entire world and tell them that unless they repent of their sin and trust wholly on Christ they would parish in their sins, period; no other options were available.

The first half of this has been forgotten by many professing to be the church today in America.  We love to tell people to “add” Christ to their life so that they can be everything God wants them to be; kind of like the U. S. Army adds, “Be all you can be”.  But we are failing to make it clear to them that Christ doesn’t just “accept them as they are”.  Perhaps we sang “Just As I Am” too many times growing up so that we have come to think that Christ is offering to save us regardless of how we are living.  He just wants us to include him in our life so we can find fulfillment.  But I doubt the writer of that song meant it that way.  I would suppose she meant that we can offer nothing of our own works when we come to Christ.  It is his work alone that saves; like another song says, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling”. 

The fact of the matter is that it is precisely because we are filthy sinners that God will not accept us but, instead, will cast us from his presence forever unless our sins are forgiven in Christ.  The early Christians understood this and so they called on the ancient pagans to turn from their wickedness, to repent, to turn away from it and follow after Christ.  In case we have forgotten, this didn’t go over too well.  For their willingness to point out that people were ruined sinners who were offensive to God and must turn from those sins they were slaughtered by the millions.  But the flip side was that people were saved by the millions.  This came by repentance and faith, not just faith.  Their converts likewise turned from lives given over to doing their will and started to live for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

My point is then that we need to understand that nothing has changed for us today.  But Satan has learned a thing or two over the years and so he has gotten our culture to start redefining our sin as sickness, disorders, phobias and the such.  But just as evil he is getting some to say that certain activities the Bible defines as sin are not really sinful at all but to be celebrated.  And so one of the agendas of the homosexuals is to say that there is nothing wrong with being a homosexual and they would like it to be unlawful to even suggest it is sinful. 

What bothers me the most though is that many in the church are falling prey to this mindset and are welcoming those who are living in open sin into the churches as if God loves them and will accept them for who they are (read: how he has made them).  But we need to be very careful here.  If we start redefining sin we lose any reason to call on people to repent which in turn relinquishes any need for a cross to trust in. 

I think we have too many running around today trying to cuddle up to the world instead of standing apart from them calling them to leave one kingdom and enter another kingdom.  What the homosexual and all sinners need to hear is that unless they repent of all they are and trust in Christ as both their Lord and Savior God will not accept them as they are but, in fact, his wrath rests on them at this very moment.  This is how each one of us was converted if, in fact, we are converted.  We are all equally born ruined sinners who must be saved the same way.

This will bring their wrath and persecution but God never said to expect anything else.  But let us be encouraged it will also bring about converts and I don’t read of any other way to make this happen.

Friday, July 13, 2012

There Is More Than One Way To Get Drunk

Eph 5:18  “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit”.  As I was considering this verse the thought came to me that it is generally easier for Christians to make the easy and obvious applications from the Bible without meditating long enough to make the more difficult applications. 

Even on the surface this verse is doing more than just telling us not to get drunk.  It is also telling us why drunkenness is sinful.  We are to be under the control of the Holy Spirit by growing in the Word of God so that we might lead God-honoring lives.  Being controlled by the flesh defeats the whole purpose God saved us for and this is made even worse when we are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Paul says elsewhere that it is our duty to bring our bodies under control lest we waste our lives for the wrong reasons, 1Co 9:27  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified

But like I said, that is the easy and obvious application and there have been plenty of Christians who have taken this verse so seriously that they won’t drink at all.  And that is all well and good as long as we don’t stop there and think that this is all Paul is getting at.  If we move from this example to a more general application I think we find out that even the teetotalers can easily miss the overall point of how to apply this principle. 

The overall principle to follow here is to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word all the time and not to let anything else influence the way we think and live.  For example, I might not have ever even tasted alcohol or taken any illegal drugs but if I am so weak in the Word and have so little discernment that I lap up every book I read or movie I see or I let the culture around me influence my thinking as much or more than the Bible, I am guilty of walking “under the influence” of this world rather than my Lord. 

There are plenty of Christians who would never think to get drunk on alcohol but believe everything they read or hear as long as it claims to be Christian and many times it can be clearly unbiblical.  They spend countless hours in front of the television or getting most of their info off the internet or lapping up the latest pop psychology from their therapist but haven’t been careful to grow strong in the Faith and so cannot discern many times truth from error.  The point I am making is that this is just as dishonoring to the Lord as someone staggering home from the bar at 2:00 in the morning.  Consider what the Bible has to say about being in darkness and living in this world stumbling around because we will not live by the Light: Rom. 13:12  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Eph 5:8  for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

1Th_5:5  For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

1Jn_1:6  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

There is more than one way to stagger around like someone who isn’t thinking clearly.  Yes, it might be because you have drunk too much but it might also be because you have drunk too much of this world’s vain philosophies that cause us to live apart from the light God has already given us to guide us on our way.  The lost do not need Christians who think like they do and live for the same things and for the same reasons they do but they do need to see Christians who are walking in the Light and not stumbling around in the same darkness they are.  Christians should live and think as differently from the lost as light is from darkness.

Lord help us not to be drunk on false teachings but to think clearly by the Word of God and judge all things in its light.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

When is it Better to Be Dead?

Mat 18:6  “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Mat 18:7  Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”

As I was preparing a message from Matthew 18 I was struck by the words of Jesus here.  He is pronouncing woe on any and all who cause others to sin.  While vs. 7 seems to speak specifically to the lost world, vs. 6 has no such distinction and seems to include anyone, Christian or not.  He certainly is saying that it is a very serious sin to not just sin yourself but to cause his saints to sin will bring even greater judgment. 

But what was impressed on me was Christ’s view of life itself.  It is clear that as far as he was concerned life was about doing the will of the Father which is the opposite of sin.  In fact, this is why God made this earth and gives mankind life; to serve him in all things to his ultimate glory.  By saying that those who tempt others to live in the rebellion of putting their own will first are better off dead, Christ seems to take a radically different approach to life than many do today. 

Historically I believe that Christians understood that life was a gift from God in which we were to be good stewards of everything we have for his glory; much like a slave’s primary purpose was to serve his master.  Thus to live for yourself defeats the purpose you were created for.  For many today life is seen as something that we are to pursue for our own happiness and well-being and God’s primary purpose is to help us be happy and fulfilled.  Some have labeled this, “Your Best Life Now”. 

But notice that Jesus is saying not only that we are here for the Lord first and foremost but if we aren’t fulfilling that purpose but are instead being an influence the other way, we don’t deserve to be alive at all!  Far from human life being the most important thing--God’s honor is.  And if we don’t live for that purpose we are better off dead.  And not only that, it is better to die a violent death than to continue to live! 

He isn’t telling Christians to kill people of course but he is saying that if life isn’t lived for God we don’t deserve it and don’t be surprised if he takes it away from you as he was doing in 1 Cor. 11. 

One final question might be how is it better to be dead rather than alive in this situation?  Perhaps one answer might be that for a Christian it is better to have life cut short lest we do more harm than good in the Kingdom of God and for the lost person it is better to have life cut short lest their judgment be worse by being allowed to commit more and more sin against the Lord.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Not Everything is an Issue

We read in Matthew 17:27 "However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself."  Many commentators use this passage to address paying civil taxes but actually this tax has nothing to do with paying taxes to the state but that isn't to say there aren't some applications to make.  Actually the tax here began back in Moses' day.  All adult men paid a tax to help support the Tabernacle construction.  There is no biblical mandate for this to continue after the first tax but by Jesus' day it was the custom to pay it for the Temple upkeep.

What is important to understand is that this tax was even then voluntary but socially assumed.  It was as much a cultural custom as it was religious, but for sure it was not commanded in the Bible.  The point I want to make here is that Jesus pays it not because God's Word expressly commands him to but because he didn't wish to offend those around him who he was trying to minister to.

I suppose that the majority of people and even Christians tend to live more by the customs of the culture around them than they do the Bible many times.  Our greater danger is usually to compromise with the world more than standing firm in the Word of God regardless of what people think of us.  This is a problem for sure.  But some tend to the other extreme.  Many of us stand against any and everything that isn't expressly commanded in Scripture and see it as compromising if we participate in some custom or activity that perhaps an unsaved person or culture came up with, not because the Bible forbids it but because it isn't found in the Bible.  And so they find a fight on every hill and a reason to condemn just about any and everything simply because it can't be found in the Bible.  Many times they spend a lot of time telling other Christians that they ought not be doing this or that and are mysteriously absent when such things are being done by other saints; I suppose in "protest".

It seems Jesus offers us some moderation here.  He was not under any obligation to participate in the unbiblical customs but he does so and he tells his disciples to do so as to not needlessly offend the world for a reason that had nothing to do with him or the gospel.  Paying the tax simply was neither here nor there; it didn't make a difference one way or the other so why make a big deal over it.

Yes, we are to live by the commands of Scripture and if it means living differently from those around us then our love for the Lord causes us to gladly be considered odd by the world.  But when the Bible doesn't deal with something or considers it a non issue then I believe it is best for us to not make an issue over it as well.  There are plenty of hills to take a stand on without offending people for no good reason.  May God give us wisdom to be able to tell the difference.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mutton or Pets

Rom 8:35-37 says,  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?   As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  At the risk of jumping into the middle of Paul's thought in this chapter, let me make a few comments.

One thing verse 35 is teaching us is that trials and tribulation won't cause God's elect to become nonelect or to fall from grace.  God's grace is too powerful for difficulty to cause sheep to become goats again.  Verse 36 not only explains one reason why but by inference it teaches us that these trials are purposely sent by the Lord to fulfill his purposes in us.  There are a lot of Churches that seem to miss one or both of these truths.  Many believe you can move in and out of salvation primarily because they see salvation as something we have a part in securing.  And then even more believe that good things come from God and all unpleasant things come from Satan.

But what is vs. 36 saying?  For the purposes of God we endure all sorts of tribulation and he regards us as sheep to be sacrificed, not pets to be pampered.  The early saints knew when they became Christians that it was a call to suffering, not a call to an easier life, nor was it the end of their life.  They weren't going to get caught up to glory but were going to go through some fires before that happened.  Much of our discontentment, complaining and bitterness today is a result of the fact that we don't regard ourselves as sheep to be slaughtered.  Vs. 36 is telling us that we have been marked out for these things; this is what being a Christian is all about!  

To make matters worse for many of us Jesus says in Luk 6:22  "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Luk 6:23  Rejoice in that day, and leap (lambs) for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Is he being unreasonable or not?  

Notice it says we are being killed all the day long.  If one is martyred it can happen only once.  And while in a sense it can speak of the church in general I think it goes beyond that.  We have two things spoken of here, the suffering of this life (the groanings of earlier in the chapter) and suffering for being a Christian.  In all these things we are to triumph.  Every day, all day we must endure hardships for Christ because that is what we are called to do.  Verse 37 answers the question of whether these things will do us harm with a resounded NO because these things are actually part of how we serve him; they certainly aren’t going to destroy us.  They are not signs he is against us and they will not cause a sheep to become a goat.

We tend to say that we would gladly suffer for Christ if asked to and even think that that would be easier than suffering the normal trials of life.  But why then do we live in such a way so as not to bring suffering upon ourselves?  If you think that you would gladly suffer for Christ, live in such a way that your friends and family tire of being around you because you must speak of Christ and must live for him and not let them dishonor him without a challenge.  You don’t have to be a jerk, just live for Christ.  But we don’t because suffering for Jesus is a hard thing.  What makes it hard in one sense is because it is completely up to us as to whether we will or not.  We must decide whether we will openly confess to be a Christian or whether we will say something or challenge something or give an answer that will not go over well.  But we have no choice when God sends affliction and so we are forced to deal with submission in that instance.  But when it comes to suffering as a Christian one must consciously decide to take up that cross and we choose to do it less rather than more. 

But I think this explains what is going on here.  We don’t wake up on the morning considering ourselves as sheep for the slaughter but princes and princesses to be pampered; we see ourselves as show ponies, not beef cows!  And that attitude causes us to be conquered not to conquer these things.  Sheep that conquer is just one more paradox of scripture.   Naturally it just doesn’t happen. 

 Vs. 37 tells us that we aren't to muddle our way through the difficulties of life just barely coping and somehow ending up in Heaven.  The Lord sends these things to us that we might demonstrate to this world his glorious person and power.  We are to be more than conquerors or super conquerors which is what the word means in the original. We are to by his might openly be victorious over suffering.  They cause us to trust him more and to enjoy him more.  When he takes away a prized possession and you learn that Christ is better than the lost thing, your love is enhanced where before it might have been overshadowed by your devotion to the other object.  We are super conquerors also because we are lifelong victors who daily must die to self.

But this only happens if we consider ourselves to be sheep marked out for slaughter and not household pets to be coddled and petted.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Gates of Hell

Last Sunday I spoke on Matthew 16 and Peter's confession, the rock upon which the church is being built and the gates of Hell.  I had a number of comments that some had never heard my interpretation of what the reference to the gates of Hell was so I thought I would post it in case others were unfamiliar with it.  It is by no means original with me and I was surprised that some were unfamiliar with it as I have heard this for years.

I take the stance that the rock upon which Jesus is going to build his church to be referring basically to Christ who is presented as the rock in the OT and also in Matthew and elsewhere in the NT.  Two in Matthew include: Mat 7:24  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." and Mat 21:42  Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"  Some have seen it as referring to Peter's confession of Christ but to me it is all the same and need not be separated.  Christ and the gospel of his work is the rock; we don't need to try to separate him from his work of redemption.  This is why in Eph. 2 the prophets and Apostles are seen to be the church's foundation because it is their witness of Christ in the Bible upon which the church is built. So the Lord is actively building the church and he builds it by the proclamation of his Word which is all about him.

So I think Jesus by stating the fact that Peter's name means rock and then referring to himself as a rock is using a pun of sorts, a play on words, to teach of the foundation of the church.  If he meant that he was going to build the church on Peter's authority as a pope then he said it in such a way that even the disciples didn't get it and it is clear from the rest of the NT that they never got it.  Even Peter in 1 Pet. 2 refers to Jesus as the rock and never mentions himself as having anything to do with someone's salvation either in Acts or in his epistles.

This brings us then to the statement about the gates of Hell.  The context is how the church is being built on the Rock and so it seems his next statement is making it clear that when someone takes a stand on Christ there is no worry of being shaken off.  In fact Christ is the only sure foundation there is for anyone to cast their soul upon.  I believe the context is all about the gospel of salvation in Christ which will help us understand this statement.

For some reason a popular interpretation has been that the church (God's people) will be able to withstand Satan's onslaughts and not be overcome by him.  While this certainly has biblical support I do not think this is what Jesus is referring to.  Gates are defensive weapons, not offensive ones.  Cities don't move around and cast their gates at other cities; they keep enemies out.  So whatever Jesus is saying he is suggesting that the church is attacking the gates of Hell and that it will be able to break through.  OK, so what does that mean?

The term "gates of Hell" was an ancient way of referring to death  When one died he was said to pass through the gates of Hell in that he went to the place of the dead.  Spiritually, of course, we are all born in the place of death and need to be delivered from it.  So as the church proclaim's Christ as witnessed in the Scriptures God delivers his people from the place of death.  All men are born in the bondage of sin and death and it is only through the gospel that they can be delivered.  So Jesus is proclaiming the victory of the cross even before he gets there.  Later as he sends his disciples into all the world to seek and to save that which is lost by preaching the gospel, they can go with confidence that God's Word will accomplish just what God wills it to because the gates of Hell cannot keep the Holy Spirit from breaking in and delivering the elect because our God is too powerful.

There are an amazing amount of passages in the NT alone that refer to this; here are but two: Heb 2:14  Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. and 2Ti 1:10  and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  All this reminds me of the old hymn we sing, "Victory in Jesus"; at the end of the day I have to believe that Jesus is referring to himself in Matthew 16.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Redefining Christianity

I recently heard that a large percentage of supposedly Christian people under 30 are leaving their churches for taking a stand against homosexuality.  They argue that they have good friends in this community and they are tired of divisions and cultural wars and exclusivism, etc.  They are tired of Christians being narrow and judgmental an so on.  It is even more disturbing when real Christians buy into this type of reasoning.  One reason I find this disturbing is because they show that they have no idea what Christianity is.

Christianity is Christ dying to pay the price for our sins that would send us to Hell otherwise.  It is also those who have been redeemed now living for his honor and being sent by Christ himself to go into the world, read culture, and tell others who are lost in their sins that there is a way to find peace with God and the forgiveness of their sins.  These people have turned all that on its head.  Christ has already told us that this world will hate us for telling it that their sinfulness offends God and condemns them.  The early church was marginalized and considered fools and "narrow" because they dared to tell the prevailing culture that the things they were doing were not right but instead were sinful.

All of the sudden today so called Christians are telling us that we should not suggest that those living in sin are sinful but accept them and include them and, worst of all, do not make them feel inferior.  I am sorry, but evangelism at its heart is to tell people that there is something wrong with them.  I am also sorry if some Christians forget that they are also sinners saved by grace and so evangelize in a somewhat unloving way but that doesn't change the facts.  I am glad that at some point in my life someone didn't worry about offending me but told me plainly that if I didn't repent of my sins and turn to Christ I would suffer the wrath of God in Hell.  The gospel is by its definition offensive to sinners.  Yet today we are being told that the worst thing we can do is offend the world.  I am sorry that these people's parents didn't train them very well in the Faith and I am sorry that they and many Christians as well, don't love the Lord enough and care enough about their faith to study these things out and study the history of our Faith enough to realize that Christianity is always counter-cultural and confrontational to sinners.  Christians weren't massacred in ancient Rome because they went around reaffirming the goodness of man.  Just as Christ invaded a world of sinners to bring salvation so we are to invade our culture proclaiming him to all.  Why are we being told that our ministry should be accepted while his was not?  Was he a bad evangelist?

Of course it doesn't help when our President says that some Christians have a narrow definition of marriage.  It should be obvious that this is a direct attack against the Bible and so our Faith.  Christ made is crystal clear that marriage is defined as between a man and woman.  He was not narrowing the definition, he was restating the view our Creator established for all men and women.  President Obama and those whose world view is like his are trying to redefine marriage but biblically all this does is to make it something other than marriage.

If I define my bicycle as having two wheels and someone comes along and criticizes me for being too narrow in my definition and says that they have broadened their view of a bicycle to have as many wheels as they want, all they have done is to make it into something that is no longer a bicycle.  His criticism is an attempt to make me look narrow for defining reality the way God has made it.  But Christians do not have a narrow definition of marriage, we simply are stating the definition that God has given us.  To go beyond this is to openly rebel against God's rule and that is exactly why they need the gospel.

To refuse to tell people that they are sinning is to remove any need of the gospel itself which another thing Christians are being criticized for because it is clear that to call upon someone of another faith to repent and believe in Christ is suggesting that their faith is wrong and this is the worst of all sins in our culture today.  Satan has cleverly made the very act of evangelism a taboo in western society.  We should not be surprised by this but we also must be aware of what is going on and not be intimidated by this world's godless way of thinking.

1Co 1:23  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.  The idea that Christians can minister to this world by not offending but instead coddle them in their sin is the opposite of what it is to be a Christian.  If you are not ready to suffer the consequences of this then you are not following Christ.  The use of the words "narrow" and "broad" in the cultural conversations today give me a fresh understanding of what Jesus was speaking of when he said, "narrow is the way that leads to life and broad is the way that leads to destruction".  God has laid down the parameters of what pleases him and what does not.  When mankind decides that anything goes, they attempt to broaden the way but it is our job to tell them where such a lifestyle is leading them, not to make them feel good about the choice they have made.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Writing Our Lament

The first chapter of 2 Samuel gives the account of David hearing the news that Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle.  What strikes me about David's reaction is that there are two aspects of his mourning.  The very first thing he does is grieve until evening.  We know that Jonathan was his best friend and that Saul was his avowed enemy but the text makes it clear he grieves for both of them.  This is remarkable in itself because most people would celebrate the fact that Saul was dead because it meant they were about to become king.

But David doesn't do this but instead is sincerely sad that Saul was dead because he has a bigger picture of his life than just immediate gratification.  The king of God's people had been slain by their enemies and God's reputation was in question while his people appear in disarray.  He grieves for the Lord's work and for himself and so we learn that there are times to grieve as well as times to rejoice.  We aren't to dance through life as if nothing matters other than having a good time but we aren't to spend all our time being sad just because this life is full of sadness.

I was raised with Charley Brown and perhaps that is why I use the expression "good grief" some times.  But what we find in this account is that a Christian is called on to grieve well.  I think David does this.  He is deeply saddened at these deaths but his grief does not stop him from taking care of business.  That evening he executes the Amalekite for supposedly killing Saul.  His grief might last all his life but his desire to serve the Lord over rules his grief from paralyzing him.  So Paul says that we should not grieve as the world grieves.

But there is another part of his grieving process that I believe we should be careful to incorporate into our own experiences.  In vs. 17 & 18 we read, "And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son", " and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar."  17 and 18 tell us a couple of things.  First of all this is an official lament; it is written down and so expected that others should read it and thus it would be beneficial for them to think about it.  A lament is a formal expression of grief and sorrow as opposed to spontaneous outpouring of emotions, 11-12.  There is nothing wrong with spontaneity in such things of course, but David sees this as an opportunity to instruct God's people about the Lord. 

Often in spontaneous grief words are poured out in emotion but not much thought; it is not unusual for one to say things that if he was thinking clearly he knows isn’t actually truth.  The same thing can be said of when calamities come upon us suddenly; our initial thoughts are words that are emotionally driven rather than biblically thought through.  But this lament 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.

The point to be made here is that it would be profitable, and 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.

One thing we see here is that David is concerned with God and his children’s reputation.  The death, especially of Saul, was going to be a reason for the heathen to say and think ungodly things and dishonor the Lord; like many funerals today.  How many of us have been to a funeral of a lost family where all sorts of things were said that didn't reflect reality at all?  Part of his mourning was over the spiritual outcome not just his loss.  Grief as all things in life is sent for us to use for the Lord not for us to use only for self.

And I don't think this applies only to the times we experience the death of a loved one.  Many of the trials of life cause us to go through traumatic times in which God has much to teach us about himself.  These also can be times in which we openly express what we have learned from the Lord so we can encourage others.  As John Piper's popular book title suggests, "Don't Waste Your Life".  Can we not apply this to seizing the opportunity to glorify the name of the Lord by the experiences he brings us through?  To grieve as the world grieves is to waste your grief.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dan Savage

Here is a link to James White's podcast where he deals with the Dan Savage debacle and he makes some good cases for how Christians should approach the voting booth.  It is definitely recommended and profitable.  Click on the "here's the program" link.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Deeper Life"

Having been raised in Fundamentalism I had some exposure to the Deeper Life Movement.  Slowly through the years I have seen some of the problems with this line of reasoning and how the Bible approaches godliness from a different way.  I am sure most who hold to Deeper Life views are sincerely trying to live godly lives but at the end of the day we want to do things the way God has taught in his Word and not try to improve on them.  For this reason I think one of the flaws of the Deeper Life is similar to Hyper Calvinism.

Both ideas want to cast everything into the Lord's hands instead of taking the responsibility God has given us in our service to him.  Some Hyper Calvinist don't even believe we are saved by faith in Christ but by the faith of Christ.  In some why we are given Christ's faith as our own.  Thus some teach that God can save people apart from hearing the gospel since they don't have to personally trust in Christ.  The idea behind it is that if we make anything dependent on man or give him a part in anything we take away from the Sovereignty of God.  I don't have time to go into all that but basically I believe they go to extremes of biblical teaching to try and resolve problems that aren't ours to resolve.

Similarly Deeper Life proponents teach that if we get out of the way, "let go and let God", then God can work through us.  When we try to serve in our own strength and wisdom we just mess things up.  This sounds pious but by not being biblically balanced I think it causes more problems than it solves.  The issue for me is how is God most glorified by our service.  Is his power, majesty and holiness glorified by us emptying our minds and just sitting there waiting for him to do something?  Do we point to his glorious person best by being puppets for him to move along solely by his power, putting thoughts into our minds and so forth?  Does the Lord want to "drag" us along so it looks like our hearts aren't really in it or we obey merely out of duty.  My position is absolutely not.

I believe the Lord is most shown to be worthy of praise and love by us pursuing him with all our heart because we love him supremely.  I am not saying that we don't need the energy he gives but it is only when we serve out of a burning desire to serve that we display the fact that he is worthy to be worshiped.  To come across as I don't need to do anything but wait on him and just let him do it all sounds a lot like "I don't care that much and am not particularly motivated".  At least it seems one could easily fall into a state of lethargy.  I am sure this isn't what motivates much of the Deeper Life Movement but they don't seem to be about passion but sitting and waiting.

We don't serve by emptying our minds but by filling it with his Word and then acting on what we know about God; not by waiting for him to "move" us.  Again, I am not saying that the Holy Spirit never prompts us but I have seen plenty of Christians "prompted" to do what the Bible never told them to do.  I don't think Paul sat around and waited for promptings but it was the God given burden to tell others of his glorious Savior that caused him to pursue God and his work.  He didn't wait for God to pick him up and take him where he wanted him to go.  God in his providence gets us where he wants us but he mysteriously does so by motivating us through his Word as the Holy Spirit impresses Truth on us.  God has "prompted" already in his Word; there is his will, now does your love for him "prompt" you to go out and live it?

The bottom line is that God is most honored when God's people are pursuing life passionately because they love the Lord supremely.  Their pursuit is to use life for his glory, not as a way to indulge the flesh.  It is our desire to glorify him because he is so wonderful to us.  Serving the Lord effectively then cannot be done by simply obeying him because he has told us to.  Even the lost can do that to some degree.  Even they can sit and wait for him to move them but they cannot be motivated to go out and work for him because they love him.

I think something I said to my people the other day illustrates all this.  If I was going to try and motivate them to pray I suppose I could tell them where the Bible commands us to pray and how we should pray and then tell them that you need to pray.  It might get them praying for a while but I don't think this is the motivation the Bible uses to New Covenant saints.  We might ask ourselves why do I not want to pray?  How is it that I don't feel the pressing need to carry all my needs to the Lord and seek his will in all that I do?  Why is it that I don't have enough burden for my brothers and sisters in Christ or a burning burden for those I know who are lost that I can't help but pray often for them?  What is there about my relationship with the Lord that I don't talk to him often?  Get these things right and you will not need the preaching constantly reminding you of your duties.

You see, motivation is everything.  The Lord has given us new hearts that we might live in such a way that demonstrates that he is the reason for everything we do.  This love works out its salvation with fear and trembling not as puppets but as sons and daughters who have been enabled to serve not just out of duty but because they just can't help themselves.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Gospel of Grace

This post is a follow up to the previous one on mortal and venial sins.  If you read that one you know that I was addressing statements made by a Roman Catholic when he called into a podcast hosted by James White.  In the previous post I questioned the Roman idea of degrees of sins but today I want to address the main reason he called into the program.

His main point was that if salvation is by faith alone with no requirement for good works then how do we keep people from sinning all they want to.  It seemed to him that to say all one has to do is trust in Christ through faith and that you cannot lose your salvation encourages them to care less whether they do good or not.  Now let me say from the outset that such a line of reasoning fails immediately because it isn't concerned with what the Bible actually teaches but supposed results or logical deductions.  This is always a dangerous way to approach Bible study.  Our first duty is to believe God's Word whether it immediately makes sense to us or not.  All doctrine makes sense and flows together if we will take the time to study it thoroughly but trusting our sinful reason as the litmus test for biblical teaching is arrogant humanism.

Secondly one cannot help but be somewhat amused that his argument is the very one Paul addresses at least twice when he speaks of the gospel.  In Romans 6 and Galatians 2 after stressing that salvation comes only through faith and no works of the flesh can be added to grace and grace remain grace, Paul anticipates the very objection the man above uses.  The objection simply put is that if salvation is simply a gift God gives and we don't have to be good to get it and that we can not lose it then what stops us from just being as bad as we want to be?  Paul's answer in Gal. 2 and most clearly in Rom. 6 is that salvation is accompanied by a new nature in the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This new nature loves God and is no longer dominated by our sinfulness so that we now strive to serve and honor the Lord instead of rebelling at every turn.  We might say the gospel has a built in godliness factor.

Now think about it.  When the Bible clearly states the gospel as a free gift apart from works, the immediate anticipated reaction is that it seems to encourage sin.  So I find it amusing that this man sees the same thing as Paul's objector did.  But this should make it clear to him that this is the true gospel and his objection proves it.  But instead he doesn't read Paul's answer and so seeks to corrupt the gospel with his own built in way to keep people in line.  His solution is that you can fall from grace by sinning and so must try not to sin in order to stay out of Hell.  It is little different than groups such as the Church of Christ who also believe one can lose their salvation by sinning and must constantly confess and "get saved" over and over or face Hell.

A gospel that comes with conditions is no gospel.  But as stated above this will not lead to a more sinful lifestyle but a godly lifestyle because of what we get with the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The answer to holiness is not putting people in fear if they don't behave.  One cannot please God by being good out of fear.  Love is the fulfillment of the Law.  God is honored by those who obey because they want to because they hold him dear not because if they don't behave God is "going to get them" like an unfortunate 70s sitcom used to say.

But now let me quickly come to my main point which is that the Roman Catholic system that supposedly subdues sin actually works against godliness.  This man thought that by constantly holding the possibility of Hell over someone that it will keep them doing good works.  The idea is that if you sin the "Church" has a number of prayers, payoffs, penances that you can do so that your sins are forgiven and you are back in a "safe" state; at least until you sin again.  While there are those who try to take this seriously and outwardly maintain some semblance of a moral life, it doesn't take too long before the majority see that just the opposite works.  I have worked with several "good" Catholics through the years that lived like the Devil during the week because they knew that at Saturday Mass the slate would be wiped cleaned by their local priest.  In short the Roman system doesn't produce godliness, it only gives people who are religious but still sinners by nature a way to keep on sinning.

Godliness is not outward reformation; it comes by inward renewal.  Law keeping and doing good in order to find favor with God is "moral godlessness".  That might sound like a paradox but I think if you will think it through you will see that it is possible to be moral and yet far from the kingdom of God.