Friday, December 19, 2014

Getting the Cart Before the Horse

Rev 13:8  and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Rev 17:8  The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.

For those of us who were raised with the KJV, we would immediately recognize that the ESV makes a major change in 13:8.  The KJV has the Lamb as the one slain from before the foundation of the world while the ESV applies this to the names of the elect being written down in the book of life.  Commentators state that both are true and so the ones I checked anyway don’t make much of the difference.  While I agree that there is a sense in which one can apply it to both biblically, I think there are good reasons to take the ESV’s translation as best.

The first one is because John later in 17:8 uses this phrase clearly in relation to the elect’s names being written in the book of life and so we should assume that he would be consistent here especially when with the rest of the Bible would support this in the fact that God elected some to be saved from before the foundation of the world, Eph 1:4  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  

Secondly there is no other place in the Bible as far as I know that refers to Jesus as having been slain in eternity.  Was he predestined to?  Yes, but being predestined to die is not the same as actually being slain which is what the KJV’s rendering says.  Again, if we look at how John describes the Lamb in the book of the Revelation we see that he is referred to as a Lamb that bore the marks of crucifixion but in such places he clearly is referring back to the literal death of Christ in time, Rev 5:6  And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  Rev 5:12  saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

The third reason why I believe it is best not to refer to Jesus as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world is because some have twisted this to teach doctrines that are clearly unbiblical.  This in itself does not prove which translation is right because sinful men easily pervert doctrine in the clearest texts, but to me it seems that John is describing the reason why the elect cannot fall.  His point is not that Jesus was destined to die for us but that our security lies in the eternal councils of the Sovereign Lord.  We were destined to believe and so we shall not be deceived.  Conversely in ch. 17, the reason the lost will marvel at the beast is because they were not elected unto salvation. 

The dangerous error that some have used Rev. 13:8 to teach is the idea that election unto an end is the same as the end; in other words, Hyper-Calvinism.  Some have the idea that once God decrees something to happen, then it is as good as done.  But this is only half the story and it is not the biblical view.  Their reasoning might go something like this: since God has decreed that the Son was to be crucified, then in his mind it is as good as done and whether he actually is slain or whether the elect actually repent and believe, it doesn’t matter because God’s will can’t be stopped.  It is not unusual for preachers to say that we were saved when Christ died for us on the cross.  Yet the Bible teaches we were born under wrath and are “saved” when we believe in time.

While thinking they are guarding and extolling God’s sovereignty, they are actually selling the Lord short.  God not only determines the end but the means to that end.  And he is fully capable of making sure that all the steps to the end take place.  So we don’t have to make excuses for him by saying that even though this man died before he believed he is saved if he was elected.  This is the old example the Hyper-Calvinist uses when he says something like: if the man on the battlefield is elected to be saved and a bullet is about to take his life, God will regenerate him or give him faith just before the bullet hits.  But this is adding to what the Bible teaches about how we enter the kingdom where Jesus says over and over again that we are saved through repentance and faith.  It might be better to assume, especially when considering one’s own salvation and not someone else’s, that if you die before you believe you will be eternally lost; of that we at least have solid biblical teaching. 

Now I know that good men warn us that we don’t necessarily know whether and how God saves infants and the retarded and those not able to understand the gospel and so we must leave room for the fact that God might save in other ways.  I don’t have a problem with that.  My point is merely that we must be very careful of changing the way God has told us things work by pointing to election but ignoring the equally ordained means to the end.  God has it all worked out from beginning to end or he really doesn’t have anything worked out at all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Religious Hypocrisy

Isa 58:3  'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Isa 58:4  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Isa 58:5  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? Isa 58:6  "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Isa 58:7  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

There are two errors that need to be addressed from this passage.  The first one being addressed in these verses plainly stated it is religious hypocrisy.  It is the idea that we can live any way we want and “fix it” by religious observances.  This is a common misconception among Roman Catholics but prevalent among others as well.  I used to work with several Catholics who were extremely ungodly and made no bones about it but would attend mass Saturday night to have their sin slate wiped clean so they could start all over.  This is pretty similar to what the Jews were doing in Isaiah’s day.

There are a couple of doctrinal failures that would allow someone to do this.  First of all they fail to realize that if someone is truly converted they have been transformed and so now they hate sin and love God and so to continue to live a deliberately sinful life thinking that the sacrifice of Christ can be used so there will be no consequences is to use Christ to dishonor Christ.  It is to completely miss the point of salvation and only serve to demonstrate that one was never saved to begin with.

The second failure is to fail to understand the glory of God and therefore not get caught up in the glory of God.  It is to think so little of the Lord that you think that you can jump through some hoops a couple of hours a week, some meaningless rituals and that he should be happy for the “worship”.  The very essence of our falleness is to not give him our entire life and do everything for his glory, including all our thoughts and actions.  To think no more of God than to throw him a bone now and then is tantamount to how we treat our pets when we pet them now and then because they are starved for attention.

One way we could find such hypocrisy in our own lives might go like this: We will do whatever our bosses want during the week in order for them to give us some money and perhaps ignore our families and live primarily only thinking about self and so on and then come to church and suffer through singing that doesn’t mean anything to us and is not in our hearts to start with or we will endure a message from the Bible about things that we won’t give another thought to during the week and then we find ourselves asking the very questions these people did in vs. 3.  That is the first error (sin).  Basically it is to despise the Lord.

The other error some make in the above verses is to ignore the point Isaiah is making and conclude something not intended.  It is a trap that is easy to fall into today and is prevalent among theological liberals.  It reads the above text and comes to the conclusion that what God wants is for us to go around doing charity work and not worship.  It assumes that formal worship and Bible study (doctrine) and tithing and the like is just “religion” and that it just leads to coldness and has little value.  What God wants is for us to do “practical” things like feed the poor and do good works to those in need.  On the surface it might sound like this what the passage is saying, 5-6.  Is God saying that he isn’t concerned with us going to church and taking a posture of humility, instead he wants us to open a soup kitchen?  One catch phrased used today by those that hold such a view is “Deeds, not Creeds”.

Of course, this is pretty much the same sin as the first; it sees little value in learning God’s Word because it places little value on the Lord to begin with.  It sees religion as something that makes us good people by following principles and not firstly as how to get right with God.  In fact most liberals don’t believe we are sinners under God’s wrath to begin with and so the cross isn’t a way of atonement but an example to follow. 

What would cause someone to not be attracted to gathering with the saints, hearing from the Lord, praying and singing to him, giving to his work, etc.?  Why would they find more pleasure in doing charity work and see church as of little value?  Why do they think they are doing the “more important thing”?  The sin here is to not see the worship of God and instruction in his word as important.  It therefore doesn’t find much glory and value in knowing God but puts the physical needs of man ahead of God and in so doing does the most harm to man.  Some might think that at least they aren’t being selfish because they are serving others.   But the problem is that they are being just as selfish in the sense that they are putting their own desires ahead of God by ignoring what he says and doing what they think is right.  So they end up putting man above God and so in both cases God is despised. 

The answer is of course that both are important and both are how we worship and serve the Lord.  Jesus said as much when he said the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor.  Learning to know, worship and serve the Lord will result in doing good works towards our neighbor.  But loving our neighbor while having little time for God is just so much idolatry.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Why, not so much How

Isa 55:7  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isa 55:8  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Isa 55:9  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isa 55:10  "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, Isa 55:11  so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Let me make a couple of observations concerning these verses.  I am not sure that I have ever heard vss. 7-9 used for anything other than to express the transcendence of God.  They are generally used to express how far God is above our ability to think and understand him.  But if we read these in context they aren’t really expressing this at all.  The transcendence in the statements isn't about how much smarter, mysterious and more powerful than us God is but instead his righteousness is infinitely beyond us.  This isn’t just a statement that God’s ways are inscrutable by man, in fact, in this sense we are being commanded to think and act like God.  It is a statement of God’s nature or morality compared to ours.

The ways and thoughts of vs. 8 are connected to our ways and thoughts in vs. 7.  The point is that as sinners we are unrighteous and think and do unrighteous things and God is calling on us to forsake our ways and thoughts for his ways and thoughts.  It is not saying that we cannot know his ways and thoughts but it is our duty to think and live after God.  Again, it is not a statement that God’s thoughts are too deep for us to understand but his thoughts and ways are to replace our sinful ones.

So these verses cannot be used to excuse ourselves from being unable to know God and do his will because we can’t understand him.  Quite the opposite they suggests that God has revealed himself in the Scriptures and we are to forsake our ways for his.

The second thing I came away with from these verses comes from vss. 10-11.  Here God says that the reason things happen on earth is because they have their origin in Heaven.  As rain comes down to earth and gives life, so God’s will or his word is the power behind all that happens on earth.  So life isn’t us doing whatever we want and God reacting to us but everything happening on earth is a result of the eternal decrees of God. 

I could go on and on with that subject but let me just point out one thing.  What this truth does is point us to the main question that mankind should be asking.  Unfortunately fallen man generally asks the wrong one.  It is seen often in the scientific fields of study such as String Theory which looks for that one piece of energy or matter that all things hold in common.  They think that finding out the how will explain everything else.  Man looks for the how when God hasn’t given us the answer to that.  What he has given us is the answer to the why. 

How this universe works is interesting and when we get little glimpses such knowledge can be useful.  But far more important is that we get the answer to why all things exist.  All things exist by God and for God and if we fail to understand that then nothing else adds any meaning to life but instead will only serve to distract us from what is truly important.  

The Lord is accomplishing his purpose and those that don’t acknowledge that and turn to Christ are just rebels living on his earth and one day will be condemned.  But for the grace of God you and I would be running Hell bent to perdition only asking how but not submitting to the why.  I praise the Lord that one day his Word came down and produced life in me so that I might quit looking around and start looking up; quit wondering how everything works and start to understand why everything works as it does.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Purpose of the Church Service

1Co 14:23  If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 1Co 14:24  But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 1Co 14:25  the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

If there is anything crystal clear in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, it is that unless you understand the speech of whoever is preaching or speaking in tongues and are being edified there is nothing profitable going on.  To use this chapter to justify tongues without an interpreter or “private prayer language” in which you don’t understand what you are saying is to completely miss Paul’s point it seems to me.  In vss. 14-15 Paul says plainly that if he doesn’t understand with his mind what he is saying in tongues, it is unfruitful; he doesn’t make any exceptions; 1Co 14:14  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 1Co 14:15  What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.

Vss. 23-25 go on to show that if someone comes into the service and all he sees is confusion, which in this context is people speaking in languages he doesn’t understand, he won’t know what is going on and won’t be able to be edified and glorify God.  Instead he will think everyone has gone insane.  It seems to me that we are justified assuming the same thing in many of the services of Charismatics in which the very same thing is going on.  If they aren’t insane we can at least assume it isn’t a work of the Holy Spirit but another spirit.  I mean, Paul says it himself, how else can you take these verses?

But it is vss. 24-25 that are even more important.  Paul goes on to show why prophecy or the plain proclamation of the Word of God is much more profitable for everyone including a lost person who comes into the service.  What these two verses do is remind us what the services are for and it isn’t emotional hoopla for its own sake.  The clear proclamation of the gospel brings serious reflection of the state of one’s soul, conviction, repentance and proper worship and service of God.  This is to be the goal of what we do in the services.  Anything that doesn’t produce that is unfruitful.

And I would add that it isn’t just those that practice tongues that fail here.  Many use music and entertainment and even preaching in the very same way.  I have seen services where no one was speaking in tongues but the music had them dancing in the aisle and in an emotional state that had nothing to do with the truth of the Word of God.  Unfortunately I have seen preaching that accomplished a similar state.  I remember a preacher who had a big name in Fundamentalism preaching for us at a chapel service in college.  He began by quoting Ecc. 12:13, closed his Bible and never referred to it again and proceeded to tell us story after story, joke after joke along with other antics that brought no conviction of sin or any exposition of any text at all.  It did have everyone laughing and was a nice break from our classes, but preaching it was not.  I remember a seminary student I knew telling me afterward that he literally had tears of sadness rolling down his face as he witnessed the spectacle.  My point is that there are many ways to fail to edify God’s people and honor the Lord in our services and the one thing they have in common is to make light of or ignore biblical exposition.

The last part of vs. 25 seems to be important in this discussion, 1Co 14:25  the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.  Again, the implication would be that if there is confusion and no edification, there is no proof that God is among us.  The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Word of God in the language of those who are present.  Proof of his presence is the understanding and application of the Truth.  

Should not our goal in our services be to see the manifestation of the Holy Spirit?  Where ever we read of the fruit of the Spirit it is always understanding and holiness, not emotional hoopla. 1Co 14:26  What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1Co 14:33  For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.  1Co 14:40  But all things should be done decently and in order.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When is Self Love Not Bad?

1Co 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Mat 22:39  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The word “bears” has the idea of covering to protect.  Those that we love we want to protect from ridicule and harm.  We don’t want their weaknesses exposed but instead we want to build them up and see them prosper.  Another passage that carries this idea is 1Pe 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Unfortunately it is very easy for us to say we love someone but do very little to prove it.  Often I think we assume we are loving someone if we don’t do them harm but we too many times put little emphasis on actually doing something good and useful for someone.

There is a good way to test how well we love.  Jesus, who knows us better than we know ourselves pointed it out to us when he said that the second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I think what he was getting at is to treat each other as we would like to be treated which is well termed: “The Golden Rule”. 

One of the easiest ways for me to know if I am loving someone well is to put myself in their place.  Would I appreciate it if someone said to me what I just said to them?  Would I want that little tidbit that I just told someone said of me?  Would I appreciate that look, that attitude, that tone if directed towards me?  If I will spend the same effort in hiding other people’s faults and the same effort in improving other people’s situation in life as I do my own, I think I would be well on my way to true Christian love.

I have always wondered about the second Great Commandment in the sense that it assumes self-love and so I wonder if we are to look at it as okay or sinful.  I think on one hand Jesus knows that we have a certain self-love instilled in us that is not sinful and part of the human experience; it is something God has put there.  God certainly uses the subject of rewards often enough in the Bible that we have to assume it is okay, in part, to obey him for the promised reward.  Certainly those motivations have to be very carefully controlled but equally clear is that they must be okay if God uses them as part of our motivation to serve him.

At the same time our biggest problem is self-love; not the desire for good things to happen to us as just stated but the desire to love ourselves more than God and everything else.  I don’t believe it is sinful to want to be happy, pain-free, fulfilled, etc.  But it is sinful to see yourself as the center of your universe.  If we pursue our desire to be happy in knowing and serving the Lord, our self-love will be the means to glorify the Lord.  Now that is a strange statement but I think biblical when properly understood. 
If we love each other, we will want others to be as happy as we are by knowing the Lord.  What we must guard against is using others for our own interests but not their good or the Lord’s honor.  Having said all that I find it ironic that I can use self-love to gauge how well I love others, but that is what Jesus told me to do.  But, of course, it means I must love the Lord supremely, otherwise I can’t love myself or others as I am supposed to.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

True Righteousness

Isa 53:7  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
Heb 12:2  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

In several places the Bible points out that Jesus went to the cross voluntarily.  I have been thinking about that lately as to why this point is revealed to us; what is the significance?  On the one hand we know that the second Person of the Godhead had to be in perfect agreement with the will of the Father because that is the nature of the Trinity.  There are not three Gods, independent of each other but three persons that make up the being of God who are in perfect harmony and love.  But I think there is more to all this than just the fact that the Son agreed in eternity to be the Lamb of God. 

In fact, Jesus didn’t just have to agree to do the will of the Father but had to delight in obeying the Father in order for him to be a suitable sacrifice and to produce a righteousness that could be imputed to us. 

Consider for a moment Heb. 12:2 above.  What was the joy set before Jesus that enabled him to endure the cross which wasn’t so much his physical pain but knowing that he would have to endure the wrath of God against sin and separation from the Father?  Some tend to think it was the salvation of sinners and no doubt that element was there.  But the joy points to the delight he had in doing the Father’s will and the glory that would come in his redemptive plan being carried out.  Redemption and everything else that exists is about God glorifying himself firstly; it is about saving sinners to the extent it glorifies God. 

We see this also in Joh 4:34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.  What we are seeing is a remarkable look at the heart of Jesus and what true righteousness and true law keeping is all about.  The only thing that motivated him in everything he does, both eternally and while on earth is to please and glorify the Father.  There was nothing more important than that to Jesus.

There is another passage that is helpful here.  Joh 8:28  So Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. Joh 8:29  And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him." 

Jesus taught that keeping the Law means to love God with all of your person.  If anything is clear in the OT it is that lip service and outward conformity means nothing if the heart isn’t in it.  So my point in all of this is that in order for Jesus to be perfectly righteous in the true sense of the word, the absolute love for the Father had to be the driving motivation behind everything he did.  Anything short of that would have been sin.  In this we see that submitting to the cross was much more than just doing it because he had to or because there just wasn’t any other way to save sinners, etc.  For there to be one instance in all of his 33 years in which his motivation wasn’t perfect, sin would have been found in him.  The righteousness we need on our account in order to be accepted by God is the kind that loves God supremely and lives accordingly. 

Not only does this give us a glimpse at just who Jesus Christ was as the God/Man but it should make it crystal clear how far from righteous we are.  I am not sure that I have ever done anything purely out of love for the Lord without self getting involved somewhere.  And I am sure that my motivations for what I do are often more about me than the Lord.  The last thing I want is to stand before the Lord in my own righteousness. 

Praise God for a wonderful Savior in Jesus Christ who always did things that pleased the Father!  Because Jesus is always righteous he will never be forsaken by the Father (And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him) then those in Christ can know that we will never be forsaken.

Friday, November 7, 2014

How Are Sinners "Convinced" To Turn To Christ?

Luk 16:27  And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house--
Luk 16:28  for I have five brothers--so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' Luk 16:29  But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' Luk 16:30  And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' Luk 16:31  He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"

As I was thinking about this passage about Lazarus and the rich man I thought there was a point to be made.  There is something in these verses that completely destroys the idea that everyone has the ability to accept or reject the gospel; Arminianism to be precise.  Dives makes the mistake that so many do, even many Christians, which is that it is possible through convincing evidences, miraculous displays or some kind of human reasoning to convince the natural man that he should repent of his sins and trust in Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

The problem is that the Bible is quite clear that until one is regenerated, is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he cannot exercise faith.  Simply put one cannot demonstrate signs of spiritual life until one is given spiritual life and we are all born spiritually dead, 1Co 2:14  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Notice that Dives says that if Lazarus rises from the dead or appears in some way to his brothers they will take his warning more seriously than the Scriptures that they already have.  The presupposition is that they can be convinced; they just need strong enough evidence.  He assumes that the written Word is not enough but to see someone raised from the grave is a sure fire way to prove that there is a God and his Word is true. 

But Jesus’s rebuttal is crystal clear and if one is honest with the Bible he must deal with this doctrine.  The Word of God, the good news recorded in it, is sufficient to convert sinners and the most spectacular miracle will not convince sinners when the gospel cannot. 

The reason is expanded on later in John 3 when Jesus explains to Nicodemus that one cannot see the Kingdom of God until he is born again.  There must be an inward work because a work from without falls on deaf ears and blind eyes. 

Christians often are tempted to think that simply preaching Christ isn’t enough but we have to convince sinners through “proving” the existence of God or entertainment or by performing miracles or something that will catch their attention.  But the text above is unmistakable that all they need is the gospel for it alone is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  The reason God saves only through the gospel is so that when a sinner is converted God alone gets the glory for it was his power not our mental abilities.  If Lazarus came back from the grave and convinced the brothers to repent it wouldn’t have been Christ who would have been the focus but Lazarus.  

In fact someone did rise from the dead and the issue for sinners isn’t really proving whether he did or didn’t rise, it is that the natural man doesn’t want to submit to his God.  It takes a new heart to repudiate who we are and turn to Christ and until that happens, miracles and proof aren’t the issues, repentance of our sinfulness is.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Living in Reality

Isa 47:10  You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, "No one sees me"; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, "I am, and there is no one besides me."

Isaiah 47:8-15 would be a great passage for family worship and good for all of us to consider from time to time.  In this section of Isaiah he is prophesying that soon the Babylonians will have to answer for the way they lived.  Since that is a general theme in Scripture it has application for us all.  What we have in this passage is a look at the two ways we can approach life. 

Notice along with vs. 10 above, vss. 7-8 also, Isa 47:7  You said, "I shall be mistress forever," so that you did not lay these things to heart or remember their end. Isa 47:8  Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, "I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children":  We see that the Babylonians didn’t have any sense of reality.  They assume that they can do what they want and never answer for how they live and that they can continue like this forever.  It is to live in the moment and for the moment as if there is nothing more to life than doing whatever you want.  It is interesting that in both verses they refer to themselves that way God refers to himself, “I am”.

And of course this is the problem.  They see themselves as accountable only to themselves and ignore our accountability to God.  One reason why I see this as a good family worship passage is because parents are to train their children to be able to live on their own when they leave the house.  It is sad to me that even many Christian parents assume that being a good parent is to train their children to get a good job and be able to have money in life and if they do that, they were successful parents.

Unfortunately many of them evidently think that spending inordinate amounts of money and time (which always means missing church services) so that their children can play sports is their primary role as a parent.  My point is that neither of these should be the main goal of a Christian parent; it is to live in the same state of denial that these Babylonians did.

We are to train our children to know and serve God to the best of our ability.  This is done firstly in teaching them in God’s Word so that they can understand what life is all about.  Life is about getting right with God and glorifying him with the life he gives us.  It isn’t about country, family, job or sports; these are merely the circumstances God puts us in so that we might serve him. 

Part of physical adulthood and spiritual maturity is to be prepared --first prepared to meet God and second prepared for retirement and those physical needs.  It couldn’t be more evident that to many Christians these are reversed in importance.  Even more unfortunate are those that live in the moment and not in light of the future consequences. 

The Bible says we wrestle not against flesh and blood but spiritual enemies.  The only legitimate worldview realizes that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God.  How much time do we spend preparing for our spiritual enemies compared to the time spent to ward off hunger and physical needs?  None of us are going to escape deep and painful trials.  Ignoring reality is not preparing for it.  We must build ourselves up in truth and train ourselves to think biblically so that we can be strong in those days.  We are still going to go through them but we want to go through them to the praise of the Lord and not look like every lost person around us.  I fear that many of our children are better soccer players than students of God’s Word.  If this is the case we have failed our children.  ( By the way, I like sports but they are well down on my list of priorities)

In the latter part of Isaiah 47 God tells Babylon to keep checking their horoscopes and see if this helps them prepare for judgment, Isa 47:12  Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed; perhaps you may inspire terror. Isa 47:13  You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you. 

And so again we are reminded of the two ways to approach life, check the daily horoscope or daily check the Word of God.  Only one prepares us for reality.  God’s Word makes it clear that there are two vastly different ends that await these two groups of people.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

When We Don't Have Handles

Isa 45:9  "Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles'? Isa 45:10  Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' or to a woman, 'With what are you in labor?'"

These verses and the whole context of Isaiah 40-48 are classical passages used by those who believe that God is utterly sovereign (I agree that is a redundancy but a necessary one when dealing with people who believe God is “sovereign” in everything but salvation or “sovereign” only when good things happen, etc.).  To support our position, even Paul uses them to prove his point in Romans 9 that God is sovereign in salvation as well as everything else.  These verses teach us a fundamental fact that God has every right to make us for whatever purpose he desires and that it is sinful for us to dare question his purposes in such a way that questions his wisdom.  It is one thing to question the Lord so that we might understand and appreciate him more; but it is quite another to stand as his judge.

At once we see both a statement of doctrine but also a huge “clue” as to how we are to understand ourselves and the world around us.  So there is no doubt that the above passage couldn’t be more important for us creatures to know and to understand and believe if we are to live God honoring lives. 

What these verses are telling us is that it is not enough for us to stand up during praise time at church and affirm that God is sovereign in all things.  They are also teaching us that we must be willing to submit to these truths when we find ourselves in adversity instead of just when watching someone else going through great trial.  We must be careful of putting all the emphasis on believing the doctrines of the sovereignty of God as if all God cares about is whether we believe truth but he cares little if we live out truth in our lives.

Plainly stated, can we be content when God makes us “without handles”?  When every pot around us has handles and we don’t, will our love for our Savior enables us to be content and useful in the kingdom of God?  I was recently reminded of this when some good friends visited us with their son who has Williams Syndrome.  They have been faithful parents for 40 plus years with a child who requires much energy and patience to care for.  When I see situations like this the thought naturally comes to me as to whether I would have been such a good parent.  Would I have been able to accept God’s will in my life and my family’s life and the life of my child graciously and fully embrace such a thing as an opportunity to serve?  Or would I be consumed with complaining to God for making my child “without handles” and so demonstrate an attitude that God doesn’t know what he is doing and I could have done better?  

And that really is the awful sin of the above verses.  Sour attitudes ultimately question God’s wisdom and love.  It not only causes unbelievers to question our faith but discourages saints who have to listen to you and watch you live out your life.  Right now I can think of Christians who are not handling adversity well at all and I see the discouragement and spiritual harm they impose on others.  And I see others saints who are such great testimonies of the Lord’s grace in the midst of the fire and I have been greatly encouraged by them. 

I don’t know why the Lord allows some of us to fail miserably and others to excel in these things but my prayer is that I will be used to encourage others in the kingdom by honoring the Lord in my life and not be one who constantly struggles to accept God’s providence.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Buffeting the Flesh Vs. Transforming the Heart

Php 4:11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Php 4:12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Php 4:13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

While reading for a second time “To the Golden Shore”, a biography of Adoniram Judson, I came across an interesting time in his life.  Now before I challenge something he did during a particularly difficult time in his life, let me state that this is one of a few books that has had a profound effect upon my Christian life and so I heartedly recommend it.  Judson was a great man of faith and used mightily in the kingdom of God but there is an important point to make and something he said serves as a good illustration.

After his first wife died in Burma he got to thinking about the co-workers and his own children that had also died along with very little fruit for their efforts up until that time in Burma.  He began to wonder if in his zeal to do great things for God he had brought others into harm’s way and so began to feel guilty for his wife’s and other’s deaths; all to make a name for himself.  For a while I think he fell into one of the great traps that many in the name of Christianity fall into which is that he must punish himself and the best way to do this was to eradicate the pride in his life basically through self-denial. 

Let me quote him so you can see what I am writing about.  “…and the way to dispossess self-love is to cease indulging it; to regard and treat self as an enemy, a vicious animal, for instance, whose propensities are to be thwarted, whose indulgences are to be curtailed…”   When I got to this quote I knew pretty much what I was going to read next because you can see the Monasticism creeping into his thinking.  Certainly self-denial is a biblical teaching but it is all the extra-biblical things he says that shows he has gone well beyond healthy self-denial.  It is significant that during this time he moved off into the jungle to live by himself with only the absolute necessities to live on.

The Bible teaches that we are to deny ourselves that which does not serve to honor the Lord but if we are children of God who have been given new natures I don’t think that we are to think of ourselves as an enemy and a vicious animal.  Yes, we have corruption that remains within but denying ourselves the good things of life evidently because we can’t be trusted with them kind of misses the point I think. 

Notice in a further quote that this is exactly what Judson says that we are to do, “Adopt a course of daily, habitual self-denial…fast often; keep they body under…cease adorning they person…occupy a poor habitation; suffer inconveniences…Not only be content, but desirous, to be unknown, or being known, to be condemned and despised of all men…”   You can see his attempt to punish himself in these words as well.  But we also see that he believes we must basically take vows of poverty to battle sin in our life and it is better to wear rags and be offensive to people rather than being liked by others.

There are two problems I wanted to point out in this type of approach to the Christian life.  It falls into the mistake of assuming that being poor is the best way to battle the flesh.  But Jesus never taught that anyone had to deliberately be poor or make life as miserable as possible.  For sure we should be willing to live under such conditions if the Lord providentially calls us to it, but in reality being poor rather than rich or even “middle class” only exchanges one set of trials and temptations for another.  In either and all cases a child of God should be able to serve the Lord well.  Didn’t Paul say that he had learned to be content with little or much as the above verses show?

Secondly, I think this has our approach to sanctification somewhat backwards.  The only real way to control your flesh is to love Christ more than what your flesh desires.  This is how Paul could say that no matter what we do, do all for the glory of God.  We are always going to have sinful passions in this life but only by transforming our minds into conformity to Christ can we control them.  Merely denying your flesh what it wants will only stir up the desires all the more as 2000 years of Monasticism has shown.   Our body will only do what our mind allows it.  So the only way of sanctification that best honors the Lord is by developing a heart that loves him above all the things this world offers.  

It is interesting that just before Paul says that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation in 2 Cor. 5, he said that the love of Christ controls us.  At the end of the day, our love for the Lord must be what rules our life.  Moralism and self-denial without that motivation is just so much legalism.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Are We Ruled By Emotions?

1Co 13:4  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.  1Co 13:5  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 1Co 13:6  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

I am preaching through 1 Corinthians in church and right now we are in chapter 13.  We are all familiar with this chapter as it is one of the most beautiful and descriptive passages on love in the Bible.  I want to focus in this article on what is one of the most common misconceptions concerning love that we face which is defining love as an emotional feeling.  We can expand on this as we tend to live our lives based far too much on the way we feel rather than based on the truth of God.  Let’s face it; it is easier to be guided by emotion rather than taking the time and spending the energy to be guided by thinking through the Word of God in every situation.  But this is also one of the biggest areas of failure I believe Christians have.

We notice in these verses that love is not described as a series of feelings and emotions.  Actually these are all in the verb form so, as many have said before me, the focus here is not so much on what love is but what love does.  Much like faith which can only be evidenced by a faithful life, not by adhering to a set of doctrines; so love is proven by actions, not feelings.

So to display love towards a person and towards God as well, it should not be driven by how you feel but what you do.  Unfortunately too many times what we do and say is based entirely on how we feel at any given time.  But we need to remember that we are created in the image of God and if we are saved we have his Spirit indwelling in us.  We are human beings not animals and so we must not live by instinct and passion but by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. 

The epitome of our depraved nature is deciding, or perhaps better, “sensing” how we feel about someone or some situation and then acting out those feelings rather than acting out the love of God.  This is much easier than being driven by love for the Lord because of the love shown to us in Christ Jesus and this motivating us to think through the Word of God and what action or word would honor the Lord the most.  But this at least in part is behind the ideas of taking up our cross and following the Lord and dying daily.  It is not about how we feel but we die to those passions that are only concerned for self and we live unto Christ.  How often is your speech guided by your feelings rather than your mind being transformed by your love for the Lord? 

Biblical love is to do good for its object.  In God’s case we love him and so want to glorify him in all things.  In our neighbor’s case it is to meet needs starting with spiritual needs.  If we believe the Lord to be the most wonderful and fulfilling person there is and the only Savior then if we love our neighbor we want to help them know and serve him.  My point here then is that acting out feelings toward people ignores all that and just focuses on how they affect me.  True Christianity thinks through how to best serve the Lord and others and makes life about God and not just self. 

Romans 12:17 ESV brings this out, Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  We must train ourselves to give thought to what we do and not just react to things like animals.  Verse 4 above says that love is patient and kind.  A person filled with the love of God doesn’t strike back in retaliation but considers what honors the Lord the most and can control himself to that end.  Love is not rash, love is calculated.  That might sound a little cold and I am not denying the gift of emotions and all that romantic love brings for instance, but I am merely saying that Christians are to be ruled by thinking, not passions; by a renewed mind, not the old man.  It is what separates us from the rest of creation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why Go It Alone?

Gen 4:9  Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"

It seems part of the ministry of the gospel minister is to deal with those who don’t think they need the local church, the fellowship of the saints and the accountability that joining a local church involves.  We all know someone who thinks that all they need is “Jesus” and that the church is just full of hypocrites and that they can take care of themselves.  I cannot remember a time even before I entered the Ministry that I was not dealing with this attitude.

The NT knows nothing of maverick Christianity and the very idea that we don’t need other people stems from the same error as hyper-Calvinism.  It ignores the means God has ordained to work out his sovereign plan.  Just because God ordained the end doesn’t mean it will happen apart from the means he ordained to get there.  This holds true when it comes to the Christian life.  The Lord has graciously given us means to grow and serve.  They include the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, human teachers and Christian influence and accountability to name a few.

In the above passage I find it interesting that Cain’s heart is exposed by the fact that he did not want to be held accountable for his brother.  Obviously this was worked out in murder.  Those that are under the misguided impression that they don’t need to be under the authority of the local church and in fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ are basically telling the Lord just what Cain was saying. 

We see it today not just in the lack of church support but in how so many refuse to commit to marriage and children; because they don’t want to get tied down to someone else.  But it couldn’t be any clearer that this is the epitome of selfishness as well as arrogance because to think you don’t need help in this life is just misguided foolishness.  We need accountability, we need to have a sense in which others need us and we need them to have a measure of fulfillment and satisfaction in life. 

Another way I know we were not meant to live in such arrogant isolation is because we are created in God’s image.  The Trinity belies such an independent spirit because even the persons of the Godhead have always existed for each other.  There has never been a time in all of eternity (and never will be) in which anyone existed by himself without a relationship with another.  Part of being human is needing others.  As Paul points out in 1 Cor. 12, we have much to offer others and we need what they offer to us, 1Co 12:21  The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."  The desire to be independent to the point in which you refuse to be accountable to your brothers and sisters in Christ merely exhibits your remaining sin but it is not being conformed to the image of the eternal Godhead. 

As always, the commands of God are always for our good.  Our Maker gave us the local church that we might prosper as children of God; as a place to serve and grow and it is the ultimate support group.  Submitting to the will of God always works better than trying to go it alone.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Preparing the Way for the Messiah

Isa 40:3  A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isa 40:4  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

The Gospels are very clear that these verses are referring to John the Baptist.  Even John quotes them when he is asked who he was.  He doesn’t use his given name but refers to himself as this voice that was preparing a way for the coming Messiah.  His whole identity is wrapped up in his relationship to God which is an important lesson for us but I want to go in a different direction in this article. 

In the days of Isaiah the custom was to go out and smooth out the road the coming king would be traveling on for his comfort.  But this begs the question, how was John preparing the way for the Messiah.  We know that he didn’t actually smooth an actual road for Jesus so what is being referred to here?  He is called a voice, not a bulldozer operator.  That is a big clue that he is preparing the way through preaching.  As we study what John did do we begin to piece it together.  He preached a coming King who was going to set up an everlasting kingdom and one entered it through repentance and faith; pretty much the exact same thing Jesus preached.  In fact, we could say that he prepared a people for the Lord by preaching the gospel not unlike today.

So he was preparing a people for the King since this kingdom only exists in people.  Jesus makes the spiritual nature of the kingdom abundantly clear when he said that if anyone says it is here or there don’t believe them because it is within a person.  It wasn’t about smoothing a road for a king to come to a location but creating a kingdom in the hearts of people that he can reign over them spiritually.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that one could only enter it by being born again, not by being a Jew or any other way.

To see John’s ministry as trying to get the location of Palestine ready for Christ to rule sort of misses the point.  Jesus didn’t come to offer the Jews the chance for him to reestablish a kingdom in Jerusalem.  He came to set up an everlasting kingdom in the hearts of the elect that will ultimately see its final form in a new heavens and new earth. 

So while Christians for the most part know that these verses are fulfilled in John the Baptist, there are some who completely miss the point of what kind of kingdom is being prepared by John and Jesus.  Even though the kingdom terminology is always couched in the spiritual terms like those used above, some insist that Jesus was indeed trying to set up a kingdom in the location of Palestine; that the kingdom prophesied in the OT was for the Jews with the Messiah physically sitting on a throne in Jerusalem.  This kingdom, they say, was rejected and postponed until a later time.  There are many ways to refute this take on the kingdom but let me point out one just from Isaiah 40.

The problem is that there is no biblical suggestion that the Lord was ever going to come and offer anything that could be rejected.  In fact, the next several chapters are some of the clearest passages in all the Bible of God’s sovereignty.  Notice just in the next few verses that deal with God coming at the time of John the Baptist that there is no hint that he might get rejected but if anything is clear it is that he is going to come in power and do just what he intends to do.  Notice particularly vss. 10-11, Isa 40:10  Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Isa 40:11  He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.  Remember, this is prophesied in the context of John the Baptist’s ministry.  Isaiah is telling the people that the Lord is going to come with a show of strength and gather a people.  One thing is clear, he isn’t saying that the Messiah is going to come in a show of weakness and offer the Jews a kingdom and that they will override his will in order to do their own will!

Where is even the possibility that none of this is going to take place until much further along in time found in Scripture?  Are we to assume that the Jews of some future date are going to be more willing to accept Jesus than the Jews of 2000 years ago?  Do the plans of God only come to pass if man allows it?  Does not the theology that man has the deciding factor in deciding whether to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior sound a lot like this theology that the Jews can decide when and whether Jesus will set up his kingdom? 

I would challenge anyone to read Isa. 40-48 and find anything other than a sovereign God who does his will among men and not the other way around.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is Peace a Dangerous Thing?

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Rom 8:1  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The verses above speak of the two aspects of peace that come with conversion.  The ones in Romans refer to having peace with God whose wrath formerly was against us due to our sin.  Having our sins forgiven in Christ we are no longer condemned but now enjoy a relationship with God as being perfectly righteous having Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us.  We stand in Christ sinless because he has given us his righteousness. 

This in turn clears our conscience knowing that our sins are no longer separating us from God and so we have peace within.  We can enjoy life without constantly worrying about death and the judgment.  All this is pretty basic stuff for most saints but is completely hidden from those outside of Christ.

I recently learned of a leader in the Roman Catholic Church during the Counter Reformation in the 1500’s.  He made an interesting and telling statement concerning the Reformation led by Luther and Calvin.  He said that the most dangerous thing about the Reformation was that it gave peace!  Think of it, why would anyone consider having peace with God a dangerous thing?

It isn’t hard to see the thinking behind this statement once you realize the theology that produced it.  The last think any cult wants is for their adherents to have assurance.  Once you are sure of your salvation they lose control over you.  As long as you think your salvation is in the hands of your leader you will do whatever they tell you.  There were a couple of problems (of many) with Catholicism that inspired Luther to start the Reformation; both deal with this very issue of peace.

One was the fact that he was never sure he had done enough and was sincere enough to merit salvation.  In other words he constantly worried that he had fallen from grace if he was ever in it to begin with.  Catholic theology aided this thinking because one was supposed to constantly have your sins forgiven by taking mass and confession and any number of things.  So if you constantly need to have the sins you were committing daily forgiven how could you ever know that the slate was clean?  Of course, you can’t and that is why another teaching of the Roman Church is that everyone gets to spend time in purgatory to “finish up” the atoning of your sins.

The other thing that bothered Luther was all the indulgences.  There were any number of works and purchases one could make to have your sins forgiven and shorten time in Purgatory.  Of course, each and every one of these was established by the Church but not mentioned in the Bible.  In fact the Bible only speaks of one way to have your sins forgiven and have peace with God, through faith in Christ’s work and it specifically says not our works, Tit 3:5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

It isn’t hard to see that the basis for our salvation has everything to do with our ability to have peace.  If it is up to me I am floating in a sea of doubt; if it rests on Christ’s righteousness I couldn’t be safer or more at peace.

Unfortunately this same peace is the enemy of many Arminians.  I speak especially of those that believe you can sin away and lose your salvation because it was up to you to believe to begin with.  We might call them consistent Arminians since those that believe that we have the freewill to believe and once we do God won’t let us lose our salvation are trying to have their cake and eat it too. 

The reason these don’t like the doctrine of eternal security or peace is because they think to believe you can’t lose your salvation destroys your incentive to obey God or behave.  So by hanging over their heads the threat of losing your salvation if you don’t behave they keep one worried if they are doing enough to stay saved.  And it is very easy to see that this is pretty much the same stance as Roman Catholicism.  They might not all be doing it with the same sinister and crass motives that Rome has throughout the church age but in both cases they see peace and assurance as an enemy. 

At the end of the day this is all about exalting Christ and his finished work or exalting our efforts.  One is Christianity and the other is man centered religion.  One gives peace, something this world desperately needs; the other keeps one in bondage to his own goodness and that is certainly nothing to trust in and can never bring peace. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is the Gift of Tongues Important?

Rom 12:6  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; Rom 12:7  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; Rom 12:8  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians and find myself in the middle of chapter twelve and the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; a daunting task to say the least.  While the debate of which gifts are to continue throughout the church age continues there are certainly some practical things to consider no matter on which side of the subject one might come down. 

I find it interesting to see that there are only three times in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed for us in the NT.  In 1 Cor. 12 alone are tongues, miracles and healings listed.  In the other two places as seen in the above verses the listed gifts are exclusively gifts of service and exhortation and edification.  I find that a little more than interesting.  Similar gifts are also found in 1 Corinthians and none of the lists are the same indicating to me that there might be any number of different gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the church as they are needed.

What I find important is that the bulk of gifts mentioned in the NT are ones of serving each other in the church family.  Even what I and others would term the “sign gifts” were given to help in the church and they were not to be used in the church if they didn’t edify.  Paul takes pains to point out that speaking in tongues in which no one understands is pointless in 1 Cor. 14.  To me this indicates that the most important gifts are ones that help us serve each other.  When we think about how all this is played out in the modern Charismatic Movement a couple of red flags arise in my way of thinking.

Now I know that we cannot paint all Charismatics with the same brush and that not all practice what I am speaking of here but there is a general principle it seems among what I would see as traditional Pentecostalism that the most important gift is tongues.  They are told to pray for it because that is kind of the litmus test of whether one has the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It is an important part of their worship services and we won’t even get into healings and “words of knowledge” and the like.  Now I think a good, sound case can be made that the whole idea of being baptized by the Spirit in the Charismatic sense is completely unbiblical but there is a fundamental problem with all this that in my mind reveals a flaw in how they view and use spiritual gifts.

My question, having said all this, is why are they so concerned with the gift of tongues when admittedly there is seldom any interpretation (and if there is, who can verify it beyond question) and so there is no edification?  At least one of the reasons Paul mentions tongues in in 1 Cor. 12-14 is because they saw themselves as more spiritual than others because they had this gift and so were using it to elevate themselves.  This is one reason why Paul says they need to be seeking the gift of prophecy because that was much more beneficial to the church because people could understand and be edified. 

Why the big emphasis in tongues and showy, potentially prideful gifts rather than the gifts that are mostly mentioned in the NT which are clearly serving gifts?  Why don’t we hear of people being exhorted to seek the gifts of cleaning the toilets in the church or being patient with the weak saint and helping them overcome problems in their lives?  How about seeking gifts of humility or the ability to teach clearly and faithfully our brothers and sisters the Word of God instead of being consumed with gibbering in a language that at best can only impress the poor confused person next to you in the pew who can only wish the Holy Spirit would display such amazing things in his life? 

Is not the Holy Spirit called “Holy” because he is to create Christlikeness in us and that is his primary function?  Even if tongues are to continue today is it not obvious that tongues are a minor gift that pales in comparison to gifts that cause us to serve and edify one another?  If we want to be Pentecostal in our theology then let us at least grasp what is important and what is not.  Unfortunately another abuse of gifts is to emphasize them over the careful study of God’s Word and so it becomes a vicious cycle of studying mainly the book of Acts and passages that deal with spectacular gifts and failing to put tongues in their proper relation to the other gifts.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Walking in the Spirit

Act 21:4  And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

This is one of those verses that forces us to stop and think for a while and compare to other passages.  There are at least a couple of questions that arise.  First of all, for the last few chapters it is clear that Paul is headed for Jerusalem and no less “through the Spirit” as well, Act 19:21  Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."  So the first question is what does perceiving through the Spirit mean in these verses and second, why did Paul not let himself be persuaded since these men told him not to go through the Spirit? 

Without getting into the gifts of prophecy I think we can rule out that the Holy Spirit told these men specifically that he didn’t want Paul to go to Jerusalem.  If this was a “word” from the Lord then Paul clearly is sinning by going to Jerusalem and the rest of the book is merely an account of Paul in disobedience and clearly that is not the case.

I think we get some light on this beginning in verse 10.  While staying with Phillip, Agabus visits and had a prophecy of his own.  Just as with some OT prophets he acts out the word of the Lord, Act 21:11  And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"  Notice that the Holy Spirit does not say that Paul shouldn’t go to Jerusalem but merely lets them know what is going to happen when he gets there.  As we read further, while everyone was telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem, he is even more determined even if it means imprisonment.  He says “Let the will of the Lord be done”, showing that he understood God’s message of what was going to happen.

I think this explains the verses above.  While these men did receive a word from the Holy Spirit, it was not that Paul was not to go but merely revealing what was going to happen.  One good benefit for this revelation would be that when they saw this actually come to pass then they would have to give glory to God for his sovereign direction in all things and they would be built up in their faith.  It also certainly showcases Paul’s faith for even after repeated warnings he is happy to go and suffer for the Lord.

It is interesting that in my study Bible for instance it is assumed that the prophecy of vs. 4 was inaccurately understood and so these men were wrong in telling Paul not to go.  They then go on to apply it to those who had the gift of prophecy and that even with that it is possible to misinterpret it and so the early church had to be really careful, etc.

The problem I have with that is it makes God the author of confusion.  I find it unacceptable that the Holy Spirit would go to the trouble to give these revelations to his people only for them to completely miss the point.  A lot could be said how this applies to supposed gifts of knowledge and prophecy today but we will refrain.

I see no reason to assume anything other than that the Holy Spirit very clearly told them that Paul was going to suffer in Jerusalem and they did what anyone would expect them to do, warn Paul not to go.  But Paul was responsible to do what he believed he needed to do for the cause of Christ and so he did the right thing for him.  If anything this teaches us that at the end of the day each one of us is responsible to serve the Lord directed by our own conscience, guided by the Word of God and not to follow someone else’s opinions on what you should do. 

I believe that for us today the “through the Spirit” instances are when we are led by our knowledge of the completed canon of Scripture.  After considering all the information, as Paul did, we must make up our minds as to how best to obey.  For this to work well we must have a heart full of Christ and not ourselves and Paul is a great example of this.  This is New Covenant living.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hiding in the Garden

Gen 3:7  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Gen 3:8  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Gen 3:9  But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" Gen 3:10  And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself."

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith states that when Adam and Eve fell they not only fell into sin and death but they lost communion with God.  Spiritual death is separation from the source of all life, God, not just bodily and legally but also to be at odds with him spiritually.  We would expect, and I believe the Bible supports this, that our salvation would fix this communion problem.  Unfortunately many want to ignore or deemphasize this today and the result is easy beliefism or a complete jettison of the gospel entirely. 

It is clear that God created us to have a relationship with him in which we know him, love him and do all in light of pleasing him.  He did not create us just so we can live forever and so our salvation did not just secure for us the forgiveness of sins so that we can get on with our lives (see post below).  When we center our existence and our salvation around man and how much God loves us rather than around God and getting back to a life of glorifying him, we begin to redefine what conversion is all about. 

In the above verses clearly Adam and Eve became guilty sinners seen in their realization that they were naked and the accompanying guilt and shame.  But the other result of this was that they hid from God rather than look for him for help.  One of the identifying marks of the unregenerated is that they are still hiding in the world rather than coming to God.   I see this every Sunday and any number of ways throughout the week.  Instead of our churches filled to capacity, the golf courses, bars, lakes, sports arenas,  workplaces, etc. are filled to capacity.  The lost hide from God because they are at odds with him.  Apparently a lot of “Christians” are hiding from God also! 

But the effect this has on the gospel is that when we think God merely wants us to make it to Heaven so we can have “eternal life” then we don’t have much of a call to repentance and we don't expect a completely different kind of life if one is truly saved, we merely tell them that God loves them just as they are and wants them to accept his love seen in the cross.  In other words, "Just believe that Jesus died for you and then if you want to stay out and hide among the trees, that is okay".  Never mind that it displeases and dishonors the Lord; he will let you live “carnally” as long as you “get saved”. 

I don’t think so.  Jesus said that anyone who is worthy of him must take up his cross and follow him; they will love him with all their heart.  Mat 10:37  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Mat 10:38  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  I can’t see how one can hide out in the world on Sunday or any other day for that matter and still be described as a saint of God.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How Do We View Gods' Word?

Isa 28:9  "To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast? Isa 28:10  For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little."

Mat 4:4  But he answered, "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

At first glance one might wonder what these two passages have in common.  In fact they both are addressing different attitudes toward the Word of God.  The context of Isaiah 28:9 is that Israel is making fun of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning their sin and coming judgment.  They are basically saying that his words are only fit for children.  If you look at vs. 10 in the Hebrew it visually looks like baby talk and the commentators say that is on purpose.  They are equating the word from the Lord as nursery rhymes suitable only for young children. 

As I was thinking about this passage it dawned on me that I see this attitude all the time, and if I can stereotype for a moment, I see it more often in men unfortunately.  I have known many men who clearly see church as something for women and children.  They have more “manly” things to do like jobs, yard work, hunting and fishing, watching sports on TV as they drink too much and become silly and stupid, you name it, but going to church and listening to someone talk about God for an hour and usually less isn’t for them.  They also have no interest in praying to that God much less singing about him and spending any time around people who love God.  They are much happier and more comfortable hanging around people who are profane or who don’t want to talk about the uncomfortable subject of religion.

They don’t have time for all that so they can do what life is “really” about.  All that preaching and singing isn’t for men.  Well, I am sorry your parents didn’t sing with you when you were young and teach you to pray and to sit still and listen to the Word being read and taught but all that reveals is that you don’t know God!  And it clearly reveals one who will not be happy in Heaven and is not headed to Heaven.

Nothing should be more stupefying to us than a creature who has no time for his Creator and his only Savior.  What kind of world view must one have who thinks he can live life by ignoring the One who gave him that life for the express purpose of glorifying God with it?  It is interesting that in the Isaiah passage they think they can outwit the Lord with their clever words but the Lord says that he will have the last laugh.  When they hear what sounds like babble (baby talk) it will be an unknown language from foreigners that are invading their land and carrying off their families.  Then they will too late understand the futility of rejecting God.

Notice in Matt. 4 that Jesus has a completely different view of the Word of God.  And it isn’t one that the Bible should just be one of many influences in your life but that we are to live by every word that comes from God.  Instead of seeing it as something for the weak minded he says that it is to be the rule of life and not just some of it but every last word.

How different from Adam and us many times for that matter.  Adam was willing to live by those words of God that suited him.  He dressed the garden and ate from all the trees and named the animals but he also wanted to live by his own words or will.  He was not willing to live by every word but by the convenient words and the rest is history.  

Church is where God has ordained that his Word be expounded for us.  To stay away or come when it is convenient is to despise the Lord himself.  In fact, one of the “words” of the Bible is that we are to gather together to preach, pray and sing.  May God cause us to love these things and see the need of them.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What Do We Get With 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."

These are familiar words to any Christian who cares about what we are in Jesus Christ.  He told us when he instituted the Lord’s Supper that by his death the New Covenant was established.  This immediately makes it of primary importance to those redeemed by the cross. 

The above verses explain four things that the New Covenant does for Christians.  Two are mostly agreed upon by saints in general but the other two interestingly are not always seen the same by all saints.  This is too bad because of the importance of the subject.  As I said, these are the four effects of the cross obviously foretold in the OT.  Let me give my understanding especially of the two not always agreed upon.

The two that are generally agreed on are the forgiveness of sins and the writing of his law on our hearts.  Most would understand this writing of the law on our hearts as taking place when he gives us a new nature when the Holy Spirit indwells us at conversion.  We are no longer rebels but now love the Lord and love his law or his will for us.  A lot can be said of the different takes on the forgiveness of sins but that is not my point in this article.

This article is mostly about the other two points.  Firstly, in vs. 34 we are told that everyone under the NC will know the Lord, everyone!  Under the OC one was born into the covenant and was circumcised as a baby, if a male, to show that you were in.  In this sense the child had no idea who his God was but it didn’t matter because his father brought him into this covenant by his will when he circumcised him.  We are being told that the NC is not physical and so one doesn’t enter it by the will of man or a physical act, Joh 1:12  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, Joh 1:13  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  We enter the kingdom by the will of God as he enables us to repent and believe.  Because of this even if a young person is saved he must understand the gospel and enter through belief.  Someone else can’t do it for him or force him in like in the OT.  If you are saved you know who God is and you know how you were saved.  Someone won’t come along later and explain how you were brought into a relationship with God because it can’t happen apart from your understanding it in the first place.

In this the NC is fundamentally different than the OC because it is a spiritual kingdom not a physical one.  You can’t enter it by moving from one place to another but by spiritual rebirth, not physical birth; it couldn’t be clearer.  And this is why we stand with millions throughout church history who suffered horribly but would not baptize their children and would re-baptize converts who had been sprinkled as babies.  For an unconverted person to be baptized (and eat communion as well) is to act out a lie because they are illustrating something that they have never actually had happen to them.

Paul explains this clearly in Rom 2:27  Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. Rom 2:28  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. Rom 2:29  But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

The fourth point in Jer. 31 is that he will be our God and we his people, 33.  The end result of forgiven sins is peace with God and a new nature in which we love him and come to know him and all this in turn restores to us the right relationship with him that we were created to have; we are no longer rebels but worshippers.  It isn’t just about us making it to heaven instead of hell even though we don’t really like God, but we “get saved” because being around him is better than burning.  This seems to be the attitude of many professors who don’t have any time for God.  They “become Christians” to get him off their backs so they can get on with worshipping the true love of their lives, themselves. 

So what we have in the NC and why it is so much better than the old one is that by giving us his Spirit we are empowered to love God and serve him as he desires to be served.  The OC which was one of exterior law did not come with power to change a sinner and so was ineffective.  Too many today think that Christianity is merely God forgiving sinners and completely fail to realize that the great promise in the OT concerning the New Covenant was God in us which causes a transformation of life, Col 1:26  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. Col 1:27  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 

Any form of Christianity that doesn’t teach and demand a transformed life isn’t biblical Christianity.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Gen 2:20  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. Gen 2:21  So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. Gen 2:22  And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Gen 2:23  Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."

1Co 11:7  For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 1Co 11:8  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 1Co 11:9  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

As Paul refers back to Genesis chapters 1 and 2 he makes a pretty profound statement about the creation of man and woman.  He kind of answers the age old question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg”.  Actually the Bible answers this very clearly, the chicken came first.  We can understand this question coming from the confusion of the lost man who assumes evolution.  But evolution can’t explain the origin of life; at best it is an attempt to explain where we find ourselves today or the process of life.  Darwin wrote “The Origin of the Species” not the “Origin of Life” because he and the lost have nothing to say on the subject of how life began other than it just happened.

But naturally speaking if the egg came first then we wonder what produced the egg since only an adult hen can do so.  If the chicken came first… well, the naturalist can’t even think like that or their whole worldview collapses.  So they pontificate about the “process” of evolution and more or less ignore the elephant in the room, how did it all begin.  Paul speaks to all this when speaking of male headship and female submission when he reminds us that the first man was not born by natural process from a female but that he already existed first and that the female was taken from him.  In other words, the natural order God set in motion after creation was completely undermined in the beginning.

Humans could not have come from lower species; they were created fully formed and completely contrary to the natural order.  So this is huge in the area of science and anthropology and how we understand ourselves and we see that God made man first because he was to have that position of headship and the woman came next as she was made for man.  For a man and woman to understand who they are they must understand how they came to be and why.  Man was created and then woman was made to help him serve the Lord.  That is something we need to meditate on for a while, especially in this day and age.

I would finish by reminding us as well that both Jesus and Paul quote from the first two chapters of Genesis and they do so taking them literally.  There is no question that they believed Adam and Eve to be the first humans.  And we need to be very careful of trying to play games with these two chapters which is so fashionable today.  One thing is clear; Adam was created fully mature and ready to assume the role of a responsible adult.  So why could not the universe and the earth be created at the stage in which they were fully capable of being the dwelling place of man with everything they needed to sustain us? 

If God unquestionably did this with Adam and Eve then why would we assume anything different for the rest of creation unless we don’t like being dismissed by the evolutionists?  But we are given light so let us walk and talk and think like children of light and not darkness.