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. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The God Who Stands Behind His Commandments

In Lev. 23:22 we have a command of God which is one of many in the OT.  Like many others it  ends with the statement "I am the LORD your God.  Lev 23:22  "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God."  

I find this last statement interesting.  On the one hand it is obvious why many of the commandments end like this.  God is their creator and more importantly, their Redeemer.  He has entered into a covenant with Israel which involved giving them a Law to live by.  When he ends a command with the words, "I am the LORD your God", it emphasizes the fact that he has the right to give the command and the right to enforce it and punish those who disobey.  But I am struck with something much more than just that.

This particular command is telling Israel that they are not to make an effort to reap every last kernel of grain when they harvest their crops.  They are not just to let stray stalks stay on the ground but they are to even miss whole rows so that the poor can have a little.  Having worked on farms for several years now, I know that a responsible farmer combines all the field.  First of all, if he left a lot of corn or oats in the field, the poor wouldn't get it, the deer and turkeys would.  Secondly, the other farmers would drive by his field and wonder at his combining abilities.  In our day and age in America this might not make much sense to us in the way we farm but there is a spiritual principle here from which I think we can "glean".

How is it that God can command his people to be "sloppy" farmers and leave money in the fields that their own families can benefit by?  How can he tell us that we don't have to be penny pinchers when it comes to our money and helping those in need?  How is it that Jesus can look favorably on the widow who gave her last "dollar" to the Lord, when anyone would agree she probably needed it more than whoever was going to benefit from it?  The answer is in the last statement of Lev. 23:22.  It is the great qualifier of all God's commands that specifically call on us to trust him completely.

He is saying that he is the LORD, Yahweh, their covenant God.  He has already promised good crops, a quiver full of children, protection from enemies,  healthy bodies and long lives all for just worshiping and loving him as the only true God.  It is because of who he is that they can be charitable and not consumed with making as much money as they can in life because he has promised to take care of them.

He isn't saying to leave some crops in the field whether you want to or not because I told you to; he is saying you can show love for each other and sacrifice for each other because I am great enough and good enough and loving enough to make up for it and then some. 

This is taught in the NT and there is one place where it seems to really stand out.  In 2 Cor. 8 we read, "We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,   for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."  These churches were poor and needy themselves, yet they trusted the Lord to take care of them as they gave to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Then in Phil. 4 Paul refers to them again, "Php 4:15  And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only."  And then in vs. 19 he adds the great qualifier, the New Testament counter part to "I am the LORD your God", "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."  The old saying goes, "Behind every command there is a promise".  Perhaps we can better say, "Behind every command there is a covenant keeping God.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guarding the Garden

In Genesis 2:15 we read,  The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  Since my experience with gardens and farming has always been one of hard work trying to keep the weeds under control, I have generally assumed that in some way Adam and Eve were to do something similar with the Garden of Eden.  Of course, this presents a problem on the pre-fallen earth.  Everything would grow perfectly and since man did not eat meat before the flood, (After the flood we read, Gen 9:3  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everythingNow this is interesting that before the Mosaic Law God said we could eat every animal on the planet.  Therefore the Law was only temporary and it is unBiblical to think of its dietary laws as binding on anyone; but I digress) all our first parents would have to do to eat is pick whatever was ripe.  Obviously they would not be tilling and working to take care of a perfect Garden otherwise how was the curse on Adam to work to produce food any different than what he had before?  In 3:23 Adam is told as he is cast out of the garden that he was to work the ground.  Granted that working the cursed ground would be more difficult than working the precursed ground but is this all there is?  Well, it is easy to provide problems but is there a solution, another way that we might understand this passage? 

The word "work" in the above text can simply mean to use something.  In this case I would see it as a command to use the Garden and by implication the whole earth in a proper, godly sense.  In other words, they were to enjoy creation as a means to glorify God in its beauty and provision and as it manifests the manifold wisdom and power of its Creator.  

You might be wondering about the next command where God also tells them to keep the garden.  That also sounds a lot like pruning dead branches and tilling but whatever it means it would seem to have to be something different than working it.  It is interesting that the word for keep is the same word as is found in chapter 4 and verse 24, He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Here it is used as guarding.  If God was telling Adam to use the garden to glorify his Creator and to guard it and make sure that everyone else does also, then clearly they not only fail to guard it but are the ones who first transgress the garden's (this world's) use.

My point in all this is that we have been redeemed out of sin so that we might live lives as they were intended.  We have been freed from sin's dominion as well as the burden of the Old Covenant laws so that we can use this planet, these bodies and everything God has given each one of us in our own particular situations as it was originally intended, solely for his glory.  We are to use our lives and we are to guard our lives to this end.  We are to be aware of Satan's attempts to lure us away from our First Love and consume our lives in selfishness.  We are to learn all we can about God and be consumed with him no matter what we are doing.  When we do this we "work and keep the garden" as we ought; when we fail, we cease to guard the glory of God and invite those around us to do the same. 

Man was given dominion over this earth to use it as a tool to serve God.  As soon as it became a tool to satisfy the flesh, he fell into ruin.  Our redemption is to restore us to a place that we can live life as it was meant to be lived; with God, not man, at the center of the universe.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why Do Hawks Perch Themselves on Power Lines?

So the other day I am driving down the road on a beautiful November morning and I see a hawk perched on a power line by the road waiting for a field mouse or some such critter to run out into sight in a freshly combined corn field and I begin to think about why he is perched there and why it might matter to me.  I came up with three reasons.

The first one I suppose I learned in grade school so many years ago I can't be sure when I learned it.  Birds of prey keep the rodent population in check along with foxes and coyotes and other things.  God created the earth's ecosystem to function in harmony with each other and a few species can even go extinct and it still works pretty well.  There are some insects though that if they disappeared life on earth would pretty much disappear.  The earth is an amazing place.

Then it crossed my mind that he is also perched there so that I can see it as I drove by and this might be a more important reason than the first.  Hawks are beautifully designed creatures from their looks to their function.  I love to watch wildlife and nature for this very reason.  So such things, actually all things exist so that man can see God's handiwork and have thoughts of praise and worship of God and just sit back and delight in his power and wisdom as he watches his creation do what it was created to do.  The hawk sits there so I can drive by and marvel at God!

Then as I drove further down the road thinking about all this another reason came to mind.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the hawk was sitting there because God finds pleasure in his works as well.  After all as he created this world he kept pronouncing everything good.  God was enjoying the hawk before I drove by but what a privilege to be able to join in.  I think I am going to try and put a little more effort into worshiping God outside the church as I do inside.  Do not all things exist for his glory anyway?  Everything that is going on around us is a reason to praise the Lord.  It might take a little thought to figure out how but believe me everything that happens is so God can be honored especially by the Redeemed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Do You Define Yourself?

Michael Horton and the guys at The White Horse Inn had another outstanding program that I thought deserved a link, so here it is:   The Parables, #5

One point they made was the importance of how we see ourselves or how we define ourselves.  For instance, when you think about yourself or are about to make a decision do you do so based first as an American or  according to your gender or whether you are white or black, young or old, rich or poor?  Of course, as Christians we should always see ourselves first as children of God, redeemed sinners and everything else should be secondary.  What we do should be done because we are servants in the kingdom of God and with the mindset that we are here to further the kingdom and glorify the Lord and not primarily for the considerations listed above. 

It isn't that these other situations are to be ignored.  Being a white American male or wife of a Mexican farmer are the situations God has placed an individual in but always to serve him in a unique way that few or none can do but you.  So if I am rich I cannot see myself as someone who has the world by the tail and my purpose is to have the maximum fun with my money while I can.  Instead, I am to first remember why I am here, Who gave me the money to begin with and that I am just as responsible as anyone to use what I have to honor the Lord.

We might take it one step further.  Suppose you were abused as a child.  You can't ignore or deny it but you must be careful not to define yourself as a abused victim all your life either.  God has given you this in his eternal wisdom to be used for his glory just as he gives riches to one and sickness to another.  It isn't given to let you off the hook in life and as an excuse to be bitter and angry at the world.  If you are a Christian it is your special "talent" (Mat 25:15  And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Mat 25:16  Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.)
that you are to figure out by God's Word how to overcome it and be a special tool for the kingdom. 

I know this is a big subject for a short article and I don't want to come across as if this is easy to do, but we have to consider the alternative if what I am saying is not true.  Then not just the "good" but the down right evil, awful, unfair experiences are beyond God's control and have no higher purpose.  If such awful experiences in our past cannot be used for eternal reward, then how is life worth living?  How we define who we are as humans is extremely important.

Here is a poem by John Wesley that I thought is a good example of how a Christian thinks:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to 
your pleasure and disposal.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why Grace

I was listening the Don Carson speak on the transcendent glory of God recently.  He was comparing the true God with the made up gods and religions of the lost.  Those gods had deficiencies of one kind or another that humans could meet with sacrifices, good works or rites of one sort or another and then their god would reward them with something.  This pretty much sums up most false religions it seems.  As Carson put it, you scratch my back and I will scratch yours; a kind of tit for tat arrangement. 

But as I was considering the transcendent glory of our God I began to see why God can only deal with us by grace if he is going to do us good.  The thought came to me that the "bigness" of God necessitates grace.  Because he is so glorious, he is self sufficient, he is completely satisfied in himself and therefore completely content with us or without us that he has no need of anything that we can do for him.  This is the essence of perfection it seems to me.  The aforementioned gods might be powerful but they can't be perfect by a long shot.  But that which is perfect can only give since it has need of nothing.  There is nothing man can do to "scratch his back".  So if salvation or any blessings must come by us making him our debtor we are in trouble.

It is because God is so great that he can only be gracious.  The only thing that can adequately display his perfection is not us giving him things but him sharing his glory with us.  His "bigness" necessitates his graciousness.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why We Say "Amen"

Every now and then it would do us good to consider why we use the word Amen when we hear the preacher say something we agree with and that blesses our souls.  We find the word used in Isa 65:16  "So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes."  In the Hebrew the word for truth is literally "Amen".  So here it is saying God is a solid foundation and sure; he is utterly reliable.

Jesus is referred to as the Amen in Rev 3:14  "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation."  Here we can see that he is referred to by the same name and glory as Yahweh in the OT.  It is interesting that when Jesus was about to say something that he wanted to emphasize as very important, so important that you can trust your life on it, he began with the words truly, truly or amen, amen.  It is important that we hear the Word with this in mind.  When He speaks, we listen; whatever he says is truth.  This must be our attitude towards the Bible or we will never understand it or be able to trust it.  God speaking always takes precedent over our teachers, parents or whatever weird thoughts pop into our mind.

But when we use the word "amen" we use it after God has spoken.  He proclaims what is true and we acknowledge his words as true.  We agree with God, confessing his words as truth.  We see this happening in Rev 5:13  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" Rev 5:14  And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped. 

When we by faith believe and obey what he has said, it will take root in us and produce godliness in us.  There is much in this world I do not understand, much that I am unsure of and nothing that I am willing to stake my life on.  But by faith I will stake my life on what God says even those things that I don’t fully understand.  When he says there is none righteous, no not one; I live my life standing on that truth.  When he says “no man cometh unto the Father but by me”, then that settles in my mind concerning the broad ways that men have come up with.  He says that he created all things out of nothing by the word of his power and so I can walk into the classroom already with more understanding of the origins of the universe than those who will not listen.  Let’s set the Word of our Lord as the foundation of how we think and live and see how he will work through us. Amen!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Church and Our Culture, Part 2

This is from my sermon notes this Sunday.  I thought it went along with my previous post.  It is taken from Romans 16 and the greetings from several saints to the Romans church.  It included a evangelist/pastor, a wealthy man, a local civic official and two slaves among others.

Why are these several men's names recorded in the Bible? I think a case can be made that there is at least one good reason for these names to find themselves recorded in the Bible.  The early church was composed of members from all walks of life and all segments of society.  And more importantly they were involved in all aspects of society including the government.  We are given a snapshot of history.  We see the reality of Christian fellowship when a slave sends his greetings to brothers and sisters across the sea.  Some gave their house, some their money, some used their writing abilities for the sake of Christ.  The main point to make here is that the primitive church saw their mission to go unto all the world and permeate society, not run from it.  Ideas that separation from this world meant to run off to some place where you didn’t have to be around the lost came much later and has no biblical foundation.  Such thinking will have no real impact on the world and God might as well had removed us from the earth for all the good such thinking is doing.  In fact one of our elders alluded to 1 Cor. 5:9-10, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--1Co 5:10  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world."   Here, even though they were being persecuted and outlawed they still went about their work.  They didn’t see persecution or the perversion of society around them as an excuse to run and hide but as a cause to get involved with people’s lives.  At the end of the day we have to trust the power of God to keep his people close to him and not think that the only way to keep ourselves unspotted from the world is to hide from it or to physically separate ourselves from it.  I challenge you to show me where Christ or the early church taught or did it differently.  This of course is no excuse to be in places that would ruin our testimony or to allow the lost to influence us over Christ, but we are to separate our thinking and the way we live from the thinking and the way those who do not know Christ live.

Separation from this world refers to our lives given over to glorifying the Lord as opposed to living for self like the lost does.  It comes as the Word of God bears fruit in our lives.  Walling ourselves up in a monastery or living in a hut deep in the woods won't make you holy.  In fact, I would think that having to learn to live for Christ among the lost would be more effective, both for us and them!  Knowing that they are watching you and listening to your words and waiting to see if you live what you confess would do more to drive us to the Word and prayer than thinking that bodily distance from a lost person can make you more holy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Afraid to Modernize?

I have been thinking lately about the attitude a church should have to the culture around it.  No doubt it is a problem that churches have faced ever since Pentecost.  It seems that we tend to go to one extreme or the other.  I remember one pastor I had saying that we should not be the first to embrace the new nor the last to give up the old.  There is probably some wisdom for us in that.  

I have seen churches and church leadership that seems to be obsessed with everything new.  New songs, new music, new techniques, new programs, new buildings and so on.  The problem though is that many times it takes time to see where new things will end up.  Certainly by now we see, for example, how easily emphasis on the song service and dramas and such can easily relegate preaching to the background.  It would seem that moderation should rule the day.  Leadership should be able to think things through and if necessary be patient until things can prove themselves one way or the other.  It seems obvious as well that taking the time to judge things by Scripture would save a lot of problems instead of assuming everything sold at the Christian bookstore must be Okay.

I am probably a little vague here but my main point is going to the other extreme.  I think a lot of churches that are on the conservative side of doctrine tend to assume that anything new is probably bad in some way.  They are so concerned with keeping doctrine pure (which rightly is their number one concern) that this bleeds over into thinking that new music and songs, new methods, updated buildings must be looked at with suspicion.  They resist change as if somehow it will cause them to fall into modernism or deny the faith. And so I think moderation, common sense and thinking things through has a place in the direction a church goes.  The building you meet in and the songs you sing and the venerable translation you use were the "new kids on the block" some where in history.  Everything was new at some point and that doesn't mean it is bad.

So I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to look like a church that is aware of what is going on outside its walls.  It is no excuse to fall into err or worldly practices that don't honor the Lord or edify the church.  But to have the attitude that "this is the way it has always been done", "if it was good enough for the previous generation it is good enough for me", or to misuse Pro 22:28  "Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set." as an excuse to stay out of touch with the current generation forgets that we are here to reach that generation.  We do this not by dumbing down the message or using techniques that dishonor God but by being able to engage people by understanding the culture they live in.  

If we say that the styles of 50 years ago and the songs and music of an extremely Arminian era of America  (1850-1970) must be insisted on as the only good way of dressing or singing and worshiping; all we are proving is that we haven't thought these things through very well.  There is only one thing that never changes and can never be allowed to change and that is the Word of God.  Modernizing the building or the hymnbook, acknowledging that 400 years of textual criticism has helped give us more accurate translations, isn't falling into modernism, its using mature thinking in how to reach the world and culture that God has placed us in.  It seems at least to be willing to acknowledge that there are gifted people even in our day that can write good songs and do accurate translation.

Test everything by the Word of God, if it doesn't pass, then we will pass on it.  But we must remember that everything was new at some time; newness doesn't mean it can't be good.  If people don't come back to our church because they have no stomach for God's Word I can live with that.  But if they don't come back because we want to be a church of 50 or 100 or 300 years ago, then it is our fault, not theirs.  I know God is sovereign but that doesn't mean we can be as offensive and obstinate as we want and refuse to live in the current generation and no one should have a problem with that.  Danger lurks in both extremes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Almost Christian"

Here is another program from the Micheal Horton and "The White Horse Inn" that I heartily recommend.  They are talking about a poll of teenagers and how they think about religion.  It offers some good insight into our culture and the failure of parents to take their responsibility seriously to teach their children about God and his Word.  I found it very interesting and think you will also.  It is a wake up call to Christian parents and what is involved in biblically raising your children. Enjoy.

 Almost Christian

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can You Be Saved and Not Know How?

Every so often I get in a conversation with someone about whether it is possible to be saved and yet not able to explain how you know you are saved or explain to someone how they can be saved.  Recently I was told of a woman who believed she was saved but couldn't explain the particulars but "felt" an inward witness of the Holy Spirit that she took as proof of being saved.  And I have come across many similar situations over the years. 

I am writing this article because based on what I know of biblical teaching I have a big problem with such confessions.  I do not deny that the Holy Spirit does witness to our spirits in such a way that aids in our assurance.  Romans 8:16 says, "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God".  Surely we have all been listening to some great biblical truth that has ministered to us in some way.  I would suggest that this is more objective than subjective since the witness is based on certain truths.  I would say the witness of Romans 16 is the witness of the Spirit as we read the gospel truths of Scripture.  It produced feelings but it wasn't based on feelings alone.  This witness might sometimes come in the spiritual connection we have with other saints and the manifestation of love we have between ourselves and them.  But this second witness is much more subjective and can also be produced by non Christians. 

But with the woman mentioned earlier, these inward feelings seem to make up her only real assurance.  I say this because she admitted to be unable to explain the particulars as to how she became a Christian.  As I understood it, she could not explain the gospel or at least her part in it.  The problem here is that the very nature of conversion is one in which we hear good news that salvation has been provided by God and that it comes by trusting in the finished work of Christ as your substitute for the forgiveness of your sins.  So while the gospel is an announcement of what Christ has done, it is also a command to repent and believe.  This in turn requires us to understand what we must do in order to be saved.  

One cannot wake up one day and feel saved.  Neither can one be around biblical preaching and Christians for so long that they just realize one day that they are on board with all this.  There has to come a point in which under the conviction of their sinfulness, they embrace Christ as their substitute and give themselves to Him.  

Now the whole point of this article is that one cannot do this and not realize that he or she has done it.  Under the Old Covenant it was possible to be born into it and perhaps never really understand what had happened.  You were circumcised as a baby and were "in" whether you ever understood it or not.  But Jeremiah makes the point that this is not how it works under the New Covenant.  "Jer 31:33  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jer 31:34  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."   

One enters the Kingdom of God hearing the bad news that their sins have separated them from God and the good news of how to be saved through repentance and faith.  These are things that we do with our understanding, not our feelings.  You just can't be saved without knowing why and how.  Yes, God must give us the capacity to understand and believe but understand and believe we shall or we shall not be converted.  Therefore you can't be saved and not be able to explain why and how.  This is why a church expects one to give a credible testimony of their salvation before baptizing them and adding them to the church.  Repentance and faith cannot be done apart from our understanding.  We don't expect to understand it perfectly but certainly you should be able to give the basics.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Do We Really Believe About the Resurrection

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

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's All About Christ

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fall Conference

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

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

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Some Reasons to Pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Welcome to Something New

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

A Christian's Relation to Politics and Culture

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

God in the Background

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

The Betrayal of Jesus

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

Jesus, The True and Final Prophet

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

The Great Experiment

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

An Important Discussion

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

Distracting Ourselves to Death

Spiritual Retirement

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

When Loss is Gain

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

Knowing Christ

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

Corroborating Evidence

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

This is a very interesting listen and I highly recommend it.
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How We Serve Means Everything

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