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Monday, March 31, 2008

A Plea to Women

Ladies, I'm writing this to you as a plea. I'm begging. I know you don't often hear a guy beg a woman -- we're much too macho for that -- but I'm begging. We men desperately need your help. We have some "design flaws", some gaps, some rough spots that we cannot seem to overcome. Oh, I suppose "flaw" isn't the right word. We were specifically designed this way by our Maker. So it appears that we have some parts, behaviors, tendencies built in that God intended to be matched, altered, and modified by women. And, ladies, we men are in desperate need of your help to do that.

What I'm asking for isn't an easy thing. It's frankly very difficult. Sometimes it will appear impossible. I am certain, however, that it will alter male behavior for the good and provide you with satisfaction, security, and a sense of well-being you hadn't anticipated.

You see, you have within yourself the capacity to make a radical change in the world. This is, as you might guess, somewhat rare. Most people don't have the ability to change the world. You do. Perhaps one of you can only change your world, but it would be no small change. And it cannot help but have a ripple effect. Others will see it and want it. Two of you doing this task can multiply the effect. The more that do it, the more massive the effect becomes. But it doesn't result in a simple "make my life better" in any case. It has far-reaching effects in your life as well as the lives of your children, your family, your marriage, your husband, even in his life away from home. It is a very rare power you possess and I am begging you to make use of it.

What is this power? It will sound strange, I suppose, even unnatural to some, but it is irrefutable. It may sound like nonsense, perhaps unwarranted, maybe even unwise. But it is a phenomenal power. Here it is: Wives, respect your husbands.

"Oh, that garbage," some of you might say. "Yeah, yeah, we've heard that from you guys for too long." Maybe ... but I'm not the one who said it. It's God's command: "Let the wife see to it that she respect her husband" (Eph. 5:33). Unless you want to suggest that the God we serve is a sexist, maybe we can drop that objection. I'm quite sure, however, that the other one is just at the tip of some tongues. "Respect must be earned!" Very popular line. Very popular feeling. And, if it is true, we have to conclude that for God to command it makes God a very unfair, unreasonable being. You can't command something if they haven't earned it. It's not right! Or is it? In 1 Peter 3 this same respect is called for "even if any of them are disobedient to the word" (1 Peter 3:1). Lousy husbands, according to God, still must be respected. It's a command from God.

But listen, ladies, I'm not begging for this because it's simply a command. I'm not begging for this simply because God says it and you must do it. Frankly, stated that way, that should be enough. But I'm not stopping there. I'm begging for it because of the benefits it provides for both us guys and you women. The effect of this type of behavior from a wife is truly phenomenal. Now, I know ... you don't get us men. We're a mystery. But let me clue you in -- a woman that shows us respect ... you have no idea what that does to a guy.

A man who has a wife who accepts and admires him unconditionally is a man who knows few limits. A man who has a wife who esteems him, who simply considers him a valuable person, is a man who is satisfied. This man would find adultery repulsive. He would find time with his wife to be a joy and doing things for his wife a pleasure. It's not necessary to nag this guy; he has a wife who is grateful for what he does for her. Seriously, do you know a guy who won't perform above and beyond when he is being cheered on by an adoring fan? I don't think women realize what happens to a man when a wife asks, "What do you think this passage of Scripture means?" and actually wants to know. I don't think a wife understands the effect on a husband when she says, "Why don't you go the way you think is best? I trust your driving." Women don't really comprehend the wonderful effect on a guy when she expects the best out of him and respects him.

Men aren't looking for doormats. They are in desperate need for respect. Some go seriously wrong in their search for it. Others simply stop looking. Most are someplace in between. But let me tell you, ladies, if you would simply do what God asks -- and I know that's not an easy thing to do -- and respect your husbands, there would be radical changes occurring. So I'm begging you. It's in your best interest. It's certainly in our best interest. It's in the best interest of your family. And it's in the best interest of our culture and society. You, women, hold this power and this key. Respect your husbands, and you have the potential to make big changes in all sorts of areas in life. How about it? Take a chance on God's command. Maybe He knew what He was saying.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Worship

Worship ... what is it? The dictionary is helpful: "The activity of worshipping." Thanks. That clears things up. But, seriously, what is it? Generally, worship is reverence, love, and honor. Technically it can be offered to anyone we care to reverence, love, and honor. A sappy guy may worship at the feet of his beloved girl. An idolater may worship anything at all. But biblical, Christian worship is focused solely on God. God alone is authorized in Scripture to receive that reverence, love, and honor that we refer to as "worship."

The word originally comes from the Old English term, "weorthscipe". Maybe, if you pronounce that, you can see its intended thought: "worth-ship." That's right, worship is intended to apply worth to the recipient. And for Christians, that "worth-ship" is supposed to be applied to God alone. The term for this is "latria," defined as "that worship which is given to God alone." Now, take that term, "latria," and stick it at the end of other terms and you'll find something interesting. "Idol"+"latria" gives us "idolatry" -- worship that is intended for God alone, but given to idols instead. Interestingly, the term has lots of English offsprings. "Autolatry" is the worship of self. "Astrolatry" is the worship of stars. "Demonolatry" is the worship of demons. "Arborolatry" is the worship of trees. "Hagiolatry" is the worship of saints and "heliolatry" is the worship of the Sun. What's my point? My point is that it is so incredibly easy for us to shift away from "latria" -- worship fo God alone -- to just about any other thing.

We are pitiful worshipers, actually. We can worship God, which is great, but we can also worship idols of all sorts. We can worship cars or women or money or sex or power or ... the list is endless, it seems. We all have our varieties of idols that we worship. The top of every list, however, is "self." We are, by nature, worshipers of our own desires, our own selves. The problem, unfortunately, is that we tend to inject just about anything at all in that space we refer to as "worship", even when we're trying to worship God. Instead of a sole focus on the Creator of the Universe, the Lord of lords, the God of gods, the Alpha and Omega ... we're paying attention to the praise band or the fine-sounding choir. With one eye on God, we have the other on the trappings, the sound, the feel. We forget that worship is assigning worth to God and begin to think that it's "feeling good" toward God ... which is simply self-worship -- How do I feel?

It is a confusing thing for us. I understand that. You see, when we draw near to God, He draws near to us. When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, it definitely affects our perceptions and feelings. When we turn our focus on the magnificence and glory of the Almighty, it cannot but change our emotions. But before long we seek that change in emotions rather than the glory of God itself and substitute the creature for the Creator.

When you worship today, keep that in mind. It's not about you. It's about Him. It's not about the music or the trappings. It's about Him. It's not about how you feel toward God. It's about God. Don't substitute idolatry for worship. Truly worship. He has sufficient glory and worth to demand it. To God be the glory!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Regulative Principle of Worship

One of the points in Reformed theology that is often overlooked is the idea called "the Regulative Principle of Worship". The principle is set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (WCF XXI:I).
While most of our behavior and living principles are viewed in terms of Christian liberty, the idea for worship is that it is highly regulated by God. In other words, the two -- Christian living and Christian worship -- are viewed in opposite terms. Christian living is viewed as "That which is not forbidden is allowed" while Christian worship is "That which is not commanded is forbidden."

There are reasons for this distinction. In Leviticus 10 we read the story of Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons. They brought "strange fire" to offer to God. As a result, they were consumed by fire from God. Their crime, it seems was that they "offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1). Aaron was horrified and complained to Moses. Moses's response was this: "It is what the LORD spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I will be regarded as holy, and before all the people I will be honored'" (Lev. 10:3). The answer made Aaron keep silent. From events like these it becomes clear that God has specific requirements in worshiping Him that are not for all people or all circumstances. The more popular passage that is quoted to support the Regulative Principle of Worship is God's words in Deut. 12:32 -- "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it." The prevalent view is that to offer to God any other worship than that which He has commanded is idolatry.

I think the principle has merit. (I wrote a series of blogs on it back in July , 2006, beginning with this post and ending with this one.) On the other hand there are problems with the principle. First, how do you apply it consistently? You see, there are no commands in Scripture for, as an example, churches. There was a Tabernacle followed by a Temple, sure, but no churches. God didn't have His people build places of worship in each town. No such command is offered. They did it, but it's not in there. If you look at the Westminster Confession, they list very few things for worship. There is prayer with thanksgiving (WCF XXI:IV). Then it includes this:
The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner (WCF XXI:V).
That's it, folks. Not only is your praise band excluded, but so is your contemporary Christian songs. But don't lose heart. So is the organ, the piano, and the traditional hymnal. Musical instruments are not allowed, and the only songs that may be sung are from the Psalms. The sacraments are in, but the offering is out. Fasting is in, but those announcements about what is going on at church are out. Preaching is definitely in, but those video screens some of you use or the dance or drama groups ... definitely out. And you know all those special gatherings some of you like to have? Out, certainly out. No Wednesday night prayer meeting. It's not commanded. You ought not do it. Some churches have Saturday services. Certainly not allowed.

And so it goes. This principle, if installed and followed to the letter, would result in a radical change in our churches. It would first require that our churches be consolidated. One in each city, I suppose, since we can find New Testament examples. Certainly not two, let alone hundreds. The "megachurch" concept would be a given in any large city because there would only be one in each city. Instruments would be gone. While many would cheer the end of the "seeker sensitive service", they would be surprised by the removal of all hymnals, pianos and organs. There would be no Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Thanksgiving, or any other service other than Sunday mornings. (I suppose you could stretch it to all day Sunday.) There would certainly be no Evolution Sunday, to be sure, but along with that we'd need to toss out all the other things we recognize such as pro-life or anti-racism days. I don't know how they do it, but those that argue for the Regulative Principle seem to comfortably ignore many of the rest of the Old Testament commands God gave regarding worship. They don't observe Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread or the Festival of Booths or ... well, you get the idea. These are all God-given commands for His worship, but they've conveniently decided that God ... well ... changed His mind about them.

I don't know. I have a great deal of respect for the principle, but I have a real problem with the application. Just as people can easily abuse the principle of Christian liberty, I fear that it is real easy to abuse the Regulative Principle of Worship. Unfortunately, when I make that suggestion, I sound like, "Did God say?" and will be ignored by those who hold to it. Too bad. I wish we could figure this thing out better. I think there's something there, but not necessarily what I'm being offered as "it".

Friday, March 28, 2008

Confusing Facts

There you have it. Is a transgender really transgender or is he/she still the original gender.

There is a news item from the London Telegraph about a couple in Oregon. The wife had previously undergone a hysterectomy, so she was unable to have children. So when she married her "husband" and decided they wanted children, the best option they came up with was to have "him" carry the baby.

"What??!!" you're surely asking. Yes, that's the story. You see, "he" is a transgender male. He was born a female. Feeling like she should have been a male, she underwent medical treatments to make her more "male". She had her breasts removed and took hormone therapy to make her more male. (She did not make any changes to her reproductive organs.) Then, as a "man", she married her wife. Now "he" has been artificially inseminated and is carrying a baby due to be born July 2.

Does anyone find this confusing? I know I do. Apparently "male" and "female" is defined simply as "whatever I feel like." It is not defined medically as "the gender your organs make you" or "the chromosomes you carry". It is simply defined as "how I feel." If you feel like you're male, you are male, and if you feel like you're female, you're female. Your body type, reproductive systems, hormone production, and all are simply ... wrong.

Of course, this is working out just about everywhere you look. Are we in a recession or are we not? Well, it all depends on how you feel. Are we at risk from terrorists or are we not? That depends on how you feel. Is there truth to the claims of Christ or is there not? If you feel like there is, there is; otherwise, of course not. Is marriage between a man and a woman, or is it between whomever wishes to call it "marriage"? Go with your feelings on that.

Slowly, but with gathering momentum, we are stripping out everything that has any meaning. When we get to the point that we cannot reasonably define "male" and "female" I think it's pretty clear that we cannot define much of anything. A rock is only a rock as long as you feel like it is. It could be a flower if you feel that way. I once raised a rabbit with my cats. It acted like a cat. It ate cat food and used the cat box. It felt like a cat. I guess it was a cat. Truth has no meaning when it is felt rather than reality. And all reality is being defined by our emotions. Talk about building a house on sand. Personally, I think I should be declared Emperor of America so I can clear all this up ... because I feel like it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Faith in Crisis

What is faith? If you talk very long to an atheist, you'll likely get a limited response. Archie Bunker suggests "Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe." One of the most common definitions of faith is "Believing something you know isn't true." Of course, both of these are inaccurate. Everyone knows that faith is really defined as "firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof." That's where it is left. That's where most people will go. That's even where most Christians will go. For many people "Faith is believing what you want to believe, yet cannot prove." It's a nice place for them to be. They don't have to give a reason for what they believe because there is no reason by definition. (Oddly, although they define faith as lacking reason, they will still try to use reason to defend their faith.) Of course, to a thinking person it would mean the death of the intellect, an act of mental suicide. So some reject faith out of hand.

To me, these are quite inadequate methods of defining or describing faith. For some reason, it seems, faith must be defined differently when it comes to religion than in other places in life. Religion tends to require "lack of evidence" but the rest of life has no such demand. If I tell my wife, "I have faith in you," I'm expressing trust. It would be foolish to trust someone without reason. I've spent sufficient time to know that she's trustworthy and, so, I trust her. That's evidence that produces faith. Faith says, "I know this up to here so I can expect this in the future."

There is a well-known story of a French tight-rope walker named Blondin. He made his name by walking across Niagara Falls on a rope. The story is told of a time when walked across and the crowd gathered to watch. Then he walked back and picked up a wheelbarrow. "Who believes I can walk across with this wheelbarrow?" he asked. Some raised their hands. And he walked across with the wheelbarrow. On the other side he picked up several large sacks of flour and made the return trip. Everyone applauded. So he asked, "Who thinks I could walk across with a man in this wheelbarrow?" Most raised their hands. "Who will get in the wheelbarrow and go across with me?" The story is told that only Harry Colcord, Blondin's manager, would ever consent to go across with him.

The story is told to illustrate biblical faith. It is an accurate illustration. What is biblical faith? It is not "that you believe what nobody in his right mind would believe." It is not believing something for which there is no evidence. Despite the popularity of such an answer, even among Christians, it is not accurate. In the illustration, the crowd had sufficient evidence. They saw him walk the rope without a problem. They saw him walk the rope with a wheelbarrow. They saw him walk the rope with weight in the wheelbarrow. There was sufficient evidence to convince them that it could be done. There was not absolute proof, but there was sufficient evidence.

Biblical faith is like that. It is not belief in a vacuum. It is belief with evidence. There are reasons for believing. Reasons do not negate faith. The only difference between biblical faith and the faith of that crowd is that biblical faith takes that final step -- it gets in the wheelbarrow. There are reasons to believe what we believe. Without such reasons -- without evidence at all -- the whole concept of apologetics is nonsense. Atheists demonstrate faith when they assert there is no god. They don't have proof. They follow their own line of reasoning and, believing this much is so, they conclude there is no god. They can't prove it; they believe it ... and place their weight on that wheelbarrow. But it is still unproven.

I'm tired of being told that faith is anti-intellectual. I'm tired of being told that faith and reason are incompatible. I'm tired of having my terms defined for me. "Here ... 'faith means belief without evidence' ... okay, now you work with that." It leads to the wrong questions and the wrong problems and the wrong answers. We who believe God should not allow those who do not define for us what we mean. It terminates any chance of explanation, of "being prepared to make a defense" (1 Peter 3:15).

It is true that we do not play on the field of physical evidence alone. It is true that we will run into things that are beyond our understanding. If there is a God, it is required. The finite cannot grasp the infinite. True Christians will always live in a world guided by faith. However, that faith is shaped and directed by evidence. It holds to reason, but doesn't allow reason to pass judgment on the content of faith. Instead, it allows reason to offer meaning and means for ways to pass on understanding of its content. Like Blondin, we walk a careful tightrope of faith. It is not devoid of reason, but it is not solely based on reason. When we subject faith to evidence, then evidence becomes our sole source. When we divorce faith from evidence, then the defense we are called to make for faith becomes meaningless. Reason will, at times, confront the incomprehensible. That doesn't damage faith because faith is the basis, with reason as its support. This type of faith has sustained theism for all time and despite the best efforts of the skeptic, it remains intact. So, what are you going to believe -- the anti-Christian's definition of your faith or the truth?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

President Bush's Resignation Speech

I'm not a big fan of President Bush, but neither am I on the "hate Bush" bandwagon like so many I know. However, this has been making the email rounds and I thought it was humorous. I also thought there was some points of truth to it that are worth thinking about.
_______________________

The following 'speech' was written recently by an ordinary Maineiac [a resident of the People's Republic of Maine]. Although satirical in nature, all satire must have a basis in fact to be effective. This is an excellent piece by a person who does not write for a living.

The speech George W. Bush SHOULD give:
Normally, I start these things out by saying 'My Fellow Americans.' I'm not doing it this time. If the polls are any indication, I don't know who more than half of you are anymore. I do know something terrible has happened and that you're really not fellow Americans any longer.

I'll cut right to the chase here: I quit. Now before anyone gets all in a lather about me quitting to avoid impeachment, or to avoid prosecution or something, let me assure you: There's been no breaking of laws or impeachable offenses in this office.

The reason I'm quitting is simple. I'm fed up with you people. I'm fed up because you have no understanding of what's really going on in the world. Or of what's going on in this once-great nation of ours. And the majority of you are too incredibly lazy to do your homework and figure it out.

Let's start local. You've been sold a bill of goods by politicians and the news media. Polls show that the majority of you think the economy is in the tank. And that's despite record numbers of homeowners, including record numbers of MINORITY homeowners. And while we're mentioning minorities, I'll point out that minority business ownership is at an all-time high. Our unemployment rate is as low as it ever was during the Clinton administration. I've mentioned all those things before, but it doesn't seem to have sunk in.

Despite the shock to our economy of 9/11, the stock market has rebounded to record levels and more Americans than ever are participating in these markets. Meanwhile, all you can do is whine about gas prices, and most of you are too damn stupid to realize that gas prices are high because there's increased demand in other parts of the world, and because a small handful of noisy idiots are more worried about polar bears and beachfront property than your economic security.

We face real threats in the world. Don't give me this "blood for oil" thing. If I were trading blood for oil I would've already seized Iraq's oil fields and let the rest of the country go to hell. And don't give me this "Bush Lied; People Died," garbage either. If I were the liar you morons take me for, I could've easily had chemical weapons planted in Iraq so they could be "discovered." Instead, I owned up to the fact that the intelligence was faulty.

Let me remind you that the rest of the world thought Saddam had the goods, same as me. Let me also remind you that regime change in Iraq was official US policy before I came into office. Some guy named "Clinton" established that policy. Bet you didn't know that, did you?

You idiots need to understand that we face a unique enemy. Back during the Cold War, there were two major competing political and economic models squaring off. We won that war, but we did so because fundamentally, the Communists wanted to survive just as we do. We were simply able to out spend and out-tech them.

That's not the case this time. The soldiers of our new enemy don't care if they survive. In fact, they want to die. That'd be fine, as long as they weren't also committed to taking as many of you with them as they can. But they are. They want to kill you, and they're all over the globe.

You should be grateful that they haven't gotten any more of us here in the United States since September 11. But you're not. That's because you've got no idea how hard a small number of intelligence, military, law enforcement, and homeland security people have worked to make sure of that. When this whole mess started, I warned you that this would be a long and difficult fight. I'm disappointed how many of you people think a "long and difficult fight" amounts to a single season of Survivor.

Instead, you've grown impatient. You're incapable of seeing things through the long lens of history, the way our enemies do. You think that wars should last a few months, a few years, tops.

Making matters worse, you actively support those who help the enemy. Every time you buy the New York Times, every time you send a donation to a cut-and-run Democrat's political campaign, well, dang it, you might just as well FedEx a grenade launcher to a Jihadist. It amounts to the same thing.

In this day and age, it's easy enough to find the truth. It's all over the Internet. It just isn't on the pages of the New York Times or on NBC News. But even if it were, I doubt you'd be any smarter. Most of you would rather watch American Idol.

I could say more about your expectations that the government will always be there to bail you out, even if you're too stupid to leave a city that's below sea level and has a hurricane approaching.

I could say more about your insane belief that government, not your own wallet, is where the money comes from. But I've come to the conclusion that were I to do so, it would sail right over your heads.

So I quit. I'm going back to Crawford. I've got an energy-efficient house down there (Al Gore could only dream) and the capability to be fully self-sufficient. No one ever heard of Crawford before I got elected, and as soon as I'm done here pretty much no one will ever hear of it again. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to die of old age before the last pillars of America fall.

Oh, and by the way, Cheney's quitting too. That means Pelosi is your new President. You asked for it. Watch what she does carefully, because I still have a glimmer of hope that there are just enough of you remaining who are smart enough to turn this thing around in 2008.

So that's it. God bless what's left of America. Some of you know what I mean. The rest of you, you're on your own.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Prayer Changes Things

It's a bumper sticker I've seen. It's a billboard I've seen. It's a common proverb I've heard. And, I have to agree, it's a truth. Prayer changes things. The sovereign God of the Universe has, amazingly, ordained that He would use the prayers of His people to bring about change. Using our requests as a key or an enabling of some sort, He chooses to answer prayers offered according to His will to bring about change.

What does prayer change? Prayer changes landscape. We know this from Jesus's comments about mustard seed of faith moving mountains. Prayer changes circumstances. We all have heard or even experienced divine healings, immediate rescue from painful events, or protection in hard times. One thing that prayer changes of which we are less aware is the person praying. When we participate in God's work by obeying the command to pray at all times and get the blessing of seeing those prayers answered, we are changed. When we pound the throne of God as we are commanded, whether or not the request is granted, we are changed. Prayer teaches us a more careful dependence on God. So, there is no doubt that prayer changes things.

I was recently reminded that there is one thing that prayer does not change, and, oddly enough, a whole lot of Christians don't seem to know this. Prayer does not change the mind of God. Now, lots of people will argue with that. It seems rational that if I ask and God answers it is because my request changed His mind. There are scriptural events where it appears that God changes His mind when His people ask. To be fair, there are even explicit scriptural statements like "the Lord repented" when someone begs something of Him. One of the prime examples is in Exodus 32. God told Moses about Aaron's golden calf. He was going to destroy Israel for her sin (Exo. 32:7-10). Moses begged God not to do it (Exo. 32:11-13). And the Scriptures report, "And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (Exo. 32:14). "Come on," you say, "can it be any clearer than that?"

Here's the problem. If, indeed, our prayers can actually change the mind of God, then we have no God. Here's why. God is declared by Scripture to be immutable (unchanging) and omniscient (all-knowing). Scripture states clearly, "I am the LORD, I change not" (Mal. 3:6). First, if He knows everything, what do you suppose we finite beings can tell Him that might alter His perspective? "Oh, thanks for telling Me that," you can imagine Him saying, "I hadn't considered it." Did the omniscient God not know that Moses would say, "Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth'?" (Exo. 32:12)? Had He not already considered His promises to Abraham (Exo. 32:13)? Did Moses actually tell God something God didn't know or had forgotten? Is that even remotely conceivable? If so, then we don't have an omniscient God. And if our prayers actually change God's mind, God lies when He makes the claim, "I change not." Further, if our requests change His mind, what about the times we don't ask? What did He miss then? If our prayers are capable of changing God's mind, then God is not omniscient, not immutable, and not faithful. He is an incompetent liar.

What alternative would I offer? I see these passages about God "repenting" as simple human language. It is simply a reference to human perception. God appears to be going in this direction ... and now He appears to have changed directions. It's not that He didn't plan the change of directions; it's that He appears to have changed directions. We use this type of language often, especially in regards to God. We speak of the eyes of God looking to and fro, although a spirit being has no optical sensors. We speak of the hand of God being on someone even though a spirit being has no hands. So when God changes directions, even if it was His plan to turn at Point X, we would speak of it in terms of "repenting". Newer translations use terms like "relenting". He removed the pressure He was applying.

You may wish to argue that prayer can change God's mind. You may like the idea. You may even insist that it's biblical. If it is, however, I think you'll end up without a God you can trust. Prayer does indeed change lots of things. It changes things around us. It changes us. But if it changes God, He is undone, and so are we. We ought to think carefully before insisting on that hazy-minded, changing god.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Live a Lot

Driving down the Interstate in southern Louisiana, I saw the billboard (multiple times) that said, "Live a lot." Now, if you looked closely enough, the small print said that it was an advertisement for a large casino in the area, but the bold print caught my eye. "Live a lot." It got me to thinking about Jesus's words:
I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Now, there are plenty of folks around that are happy to tell you that this is a promise from Jesus that we should live a full and happy life, rich in health and wealth. I'm not seeing that. I find that to be a narrow view of "life". Others feel like they've been shortchanged because their experience of the Christian life has been a life more restricted, not more abundant. They've experienced real suffering, real loss, real pain, real hard times, and they think, "This is life more abundantly???" I understand that feeling, but it makes me wonder if that reflects what Christ meant about having a more abundant life. And there are a lot of us that identify with Paul's struggles in Rom. 7. We want to live godly lives yet still agonize over our ongoing struggle with sin. Now, how is that "abundant life"? I've actually read some people who said that this was Jesus's call to take better care of yourself. That seems like a real long shot. So what was Jesus talking about?

There are several ways to apply Jesus's concept of the "more abundant life". First, of course, is the term "eternal life". That's what He came to bring. That's certainly "more abundant life" than "eternal death", the result of sin. Second, there is the fact that we have additional life in Christ -- the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. According to Phil. 2:13, God in us generates the willingness and ability to do that which pleases Him. Clearly those without the Spirit lack those components. Therefore, they lack that much life. Paul writes that we have died to sin (Rom. 6:2), and that we now have "Christ in you". That's the mystery (Col. 1:27) that sets us apart from everyone else. Now that is "more abundant life" -- having the resurrected Savior in us. The Christian life, in fact, is Christ's life then lived out by Christ now in us. Seriously, life in those terms doesn't get more abundant.

I suspect that one aspect of the abundant life that we largely miss is the one found in Ephesians.
Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).
Paul exceeds his capacity to express the size of the idea here. "Exceedingly abundantly above" is the phrase. "Super super beyond." Not really beyond. Not really really beyond. God is able to go really, really, really beyond. Beyond what? Beyond our requests; beyond our imaginations. You go ahead and dream about what God could do in your life ... and He can exceed it. Good stuff. But don't stop there. How does God exceed what you can even dream about your life? "According to the power that worketh in us." This isn't a theoretical. This isn't an "out there" thought. This is an actual power that is currently at work in us. God can exceed what you can dream by simply employing the power He already has at work in you. Imagine that! We struggle. We pray. We dream. We wish. We work and we fail. Everyday life can feel mundane, but the truth is that there is nothing that God cannot accomplish in our lives, even beyond what we can imagine.

So, go ahead! Live a lot! Push the boundaries of what you think you can do for God. Slip off those borders that you put on things. "Oh, I could never do that for God. That's outside of my possibilities." No, it's not. If you can conceive it, He can do it and more. "Sure, I've heard or seen Him do it in others' lives, but not mine." If you can conceive it, He can do it and more. Go ahead! Live ... a lot!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

If I was the only one

Something Joni Eareckson Tada said during the conference has stuck with me for several days now. She told of the kind hearted pastor who told her when she was a young person, "If you were the only person on earth, God would have sent His Son to save you."

We've all heard that, I suppose. I know I have. And I get the sentiment that is supposed to come across there. "God loves you so much! You're so special!" I won't try to debate the truth of the statement or the sentiment. I'd be arguing in a vacuum, just as the statement does. But Joni pointed out a very important truth in the statement. One perspective says, "You're so special to God that He would have sent His Son just for you." The other says, "Your sin alone is so heinous that it, all by itself, would have required the death of the Son of God to remedy."

Something to think about as we celebrate His death and resurrection on our behalf.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Where's the Experience?

It has been nice avoiding politics lately, but I just have to ask. I'm really not getting it. Someone, please, tell me.

Over and over in the Clinton v. Obama race I keep hearing that Hillary has the experience needed. She has laid claim to 35 years of experience. I even heard a retired general who supports her say that this was his primary reason for supporting her. She has 35 years of experience. What is she talking about? What experience is she claiming? What is the experience that has swayed the general to her side?

Hillary Rodham Clinton was born in 1947. She started out as a lawyer after graduating from Yale in 1973. In 1975 she did a brief bit as a Congressional legal counsel, then married Bill Clinton. She was the First Lady of Arkansas from 1979 - 1981 and again from 1983 - 1992. She was First Lady of the United States from 1993 - 2001. She was involved with organizations like WalMart as well as an organization that promoted children's health care. She failed to push through her "Hillarycare" plan for universal health care in 1994 but helped establish SCHIP in 1997. She has served as a senator for the state of New York since 2000.

I see some experience as a lawyer, some experience as a wife, and some experience in politics. Obama graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He has worked in community organizations and as a civil rights lawyer. He served the Illinois Senate from 1997 - 2004 and has been a U.S. Senator since 2004. It doesn't seem to me that there is a vast difference in political experience between the two. Further, it doesn't seem to me at all that Hillary can count up "35 years of experience" simply by virtue of having graduated from Yale 35 years ago.

There was a commercial that shouted, "Where's the beef?!" I want to know, "Where's the experience?" If we were looking to elect a First Lady, I'd say she has more experience at that than just about anyone I can imagine. But "First Lady" is not the same thing as "political experience". Now, back in Bill Clinton's era, I remember seeing bumper stickers that said, "Impeach President Clinton ... and her husband." Maybe that's it. But if that's it, she can only serve two terms ... can't she?

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Little Red Hen

When I was young, I heard the story of the little red hen. She wanted to make some bread, so she asked some of her barnyard animal friends to help her. The story goes through all the steps, from planting the wheat to baking bread. And at every step of work, her barnyard friends refused to help. Then she asked, "Who will help me eat my bread?" Of course, they all wanted to help, but she refused to let them. The moral was clear. If you aren't willing to do the work, don't expect to enjoy the rewards.

I work at a university. I was mulling over the strange fact that there are no students on campus this week; it's Spring Break. It used to be called "Easter Vacation". That was the origin of the week-long time away from school. It was to observe Holy Week. If you think about it, there is no rational explanation for Spring Break. The kids didn't get a break a month after coming to school in the Fall. They just came off Winter Break (which, of course, was originally called "Christmas Vacation"). They don't need the time off. But they get it because it is tradition. The same is true of Christmas time. They get a couple of weeks off school to celebrate ... well, nothing, really, because Christ has been banned from public schools.

It seems as if we didn't learn the lesson of the little red hen. We enjoy a great deal of benefits from Christianity. It was Christianity that spawned the United States. It was on the basis "inalienable rights" that were endowed by the Creator that this country was formed. It has been Christian morality that has maintained our form of government.

So, here we are, in 21st century America. We've decided we don't want to help plant wheat. We're not going to thresh the wheat. We're not even going to bake the bread. We're throwing the source of so many good things out the window as "bad religion." Still, we think it is our right to keep the good things without the basis on which we get them. We don't seem to realize that if we reject the basis of the blessings we enjoy, we will lose them.

It seems as if too many Americans never picked up the wisdom of one little red hen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama and His Pastor

It appears that Obama is successfully distancing himself from his "offensive" pastor without actually putting any distance between them. That's fine. His first cut at it was his assertion, "He's my pastor, not my political advisor." He went on to give that fine speech about race relations and that quite noble sounding "I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother" line of thinking, which, honestly, I understood. But that first line, that first cut ... is that bothering anyone as much as it is me?

Here's the thinking: "I choose where I go to church. I choose a church that reflects my views and beliefs. If I stay at a church, it's because I'm largely in agreement with that church. If I stay with a church for 20 years, it's because of solid agreement. But, I want you all to know, just because I went to that church for 20 years and listened to that pastor for 20 years, there's no reason to think that it will affect my political views."

I suppose in some circles that's commendable. "Don't let your religious worldview affect your political worldview. Keep religion out of politics." To me that's utter nonsense. A worldview is a way of viewing the world. If it doesn't affect my political worldview, it isn't a worldview. If your religion isn't a worldview, it is of no value.

You see, your religious view informs everything. It shapes your morality. It determines if it's right to abort babies or preferable to give mothers the option to do so. It sets your priorities on healthcare versus personal freedom, government control versus individual responsibility, which laws are good and which are bad, and on and on and on. If, on the other hand, it does not shape any of your perspectives, it's a lie. Either you are lying to yourself or you are lying to us, but if your religion makes no difference in your views on life, it's not real.

So, what are we to believe? Mr. Obama has tried to win over Christians by assuring us he's a Christian. Now he has tried to ward of racism charges by assuring us that, even though he's a Christian, it makes no difference in his views on life. That's not "Christian". (It's not "Jewish" or "Moslem" or any other religion you choose.) It's nonsense. So which is it? Is he a Christian who actually espouses the views he has repudiated and is lying about it, or is he not a racist but not a Christian? It seems to me he can't have it both ways.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Other Side of "Deserve"

I wrote the other day about "I deserve better". It was a reminder of what we deserve, a call not to think too highly of ourselves. There is another side of properly understanding what we deserve, a positive side.

In Paul's epistle to Rome, he mentions one of our problems: "Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks" (Rom 1:21). A lack of gratitude is a serious problem we all seem to share. The primary reason for this lack is our sense of self -- "I deserve". We buy into a sense of entitlement and, then, since we are entitled to what we get, we are not grateful for it.

I just returned from an extremely pleasant, very comfortable trip across the South. We were in a motorhome with all the amenities. I didn't suffer in any sense. However, when you're sitting in a church parking lot for several days without any electrical connection or water source (et cetera -- I won't mention what that is), suddenly you become very careful with your supplies. You use electricity carefully. Showering is less frequent. You don't wash things as copiously. You're careful with everything you have. So this morning, in my own shower, it was pure joy to run the water for as long as I wanted. Mind you, that wasn't a long time. Still, simply to not have to think about a water source with which to bathe or the hot water I needed was a privilege. Before the trip, it was an "entitlement", essentially, in my mind. I mean, I had it with me always. What's the big deal? So today I was grateful for a shower.

I wish I could maintain that position. I wish I could keep in mind that what I deserve is punishment. The more I could keep that in mind, the more I would be grateful. I would be grateful for a job that pays the bills rather than resentful of the neighbor who makes more money. (If my neighbor is reading this, I was talking figuratively, not literally -- generally, not personally.) I would be grateful for running water and electricity rather than complaining about rising costs. I would be grateful for a church to go to rather than bemoaning the fact that the ones that are available aren't "perfect" ... whatever that means. I would be glad for the clothes I wear rather than hoping to show off something new, glad for the food I eat rather than wishing for steak instead of hamburger.

I wish I could maintain that position. I would be more concerned about helping a neighbor with less than maintaining my own comfort. I would be more intent on comforting a coworker with a difficult situation rather than worrying about my own ... which I deserve. (My mother shared this little nugget of wisdom with me on the trip: "When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is ... stop digging.") I would be more available to my wife and kids and less concerned about the things that concern me.

Yes, I suppose it's a bit dreary to remember that I deserve nothing better than eternal damnation. I suppose it's daunting to think that every day I deserve nothing better than prolonged agony for my sin. Still, if I did, I think I would be better for it. I would be happier with what God gives, more grateful for what I do have, and more of a person who loves God and loves his neighbor. Oh, wait, I suppose I could say it would make me more like a Christian, couldn't I?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Home Again

Well, I'm home again. It was a great trip with wonderful fellowship with family (Seriously, I have a great wife and really exceptional parents and we enjoyed the time together far more than the average person would even dream is possible.) The conference in Florida was marvelous. If you missed any of my blogs in it, you can go back and read them. Better yet, go to Ligonier's blog of the conference. They apparently took better notes than I did. If you hurry, you can even watch the conference videos. Good stuff.

Last year I wrote a blog on Traveling Mercies where I asked what that meant. This year I realized that it was a perfectly suitable term if you keep in mind what we deserve. Life lessons, I guess. In the meantime, we enjoyed traveling mercies again.

So it should be blogging back to normal. I'll let you decided if that's good or bad.

The Lie

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Rom. 1:18-25).
This passage is Paul's initial description of the problem of sin. He goes on for a couple of chapters in Romans on this topic, but this is the first cut. The problem: The suppression of truth. What truth? Man knows who God is but refuses to honor or thank Him. As Man cut God out of His rightful place and assumes it himself, Paul says he "exchanged the truth about God for a lie." The Greek text isn't quite as broad. It actually says that Man exchanged the truth about God for the lie. What is the lie? The lie that all humans fall into is to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.

Horrible, isn't it? Don't you wish those evil humans would get that straightened out? Are you aware that you and I, believers, suffer from the same problem? We're clearly aware of the problem of the lie, but that dastardly error will constantly try to sneak into our thinking, and we need to be conscious of it.

A popular question is when people wonder how it is that a loving God could send people to Hell. Clearly the premise of the question begins with the notion that people are deserving of God's love and not deserving of Hell. That is "serving the creature rather than the Creator." What is your mental response? Is it to try to come to some appeasement of poor God, or is it to recognize the justice of punishing the creature?

Many times Christians will run into statements in the Bible that have God doing things that they find distasteful. "God couldn't do that," they complain. This is another instance of serving the creature rather than the Creator. "God would not do what I think He shouldn't do." Or, to put it another way, "My understanding of what God will or will not do is superior than what He has said." When I refuse to submit my understanding of God to what God has said, it is serving the creature.

Lots of Christians complain that God choosing to save some and not others or God destroying the Canaanites means that God is not fair. The story of Uzzah, struck dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant, is so incomprehensible to some Christians that they have to relegate it to myth or explain it as a misunderstanding of the people at the time. "He scared himself to death," I've heard them say, "and people attributed it to God." You see, the creature deserves better. The creature has the right to be chosen. The creature shouldn't suffer God's immediate wrath. We are serving the creature rather than the Creator.

Humans have a problem. They want to elevate themselves above their Maker. Unfortunately, it's a human problem. We who should know better often suffer from that very same problem. We concur with God in the inner man, but then have problems with God because He does whatever He pleases. "That's not fair!" We dare not offer such a fist in the face of God! It would be wise of us to rethink our outrage on behalf of the creature and clear the decks to fight for the honor of the Creator.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Deserve Better

Steve Taylor is one of my favorite Christian musicians. He did a song called "Cash Cow". The Cash Cow goes from the golden calf in the Sinai desert to the prosperity gospel today. He doesn't stop there. In the last verse he says, "I too was hypnotized by those big cow eyes the last time I uttered those three little words, 'I deserve better.'"

"I deserve better." It's a lie, you know. It's a product of our imagination, a result of our inflated view of our own importance. It's the natural end point of a thinking process that starts with "I will be like the Most High." We can conclude nothing different when we begin our reasoning with the unstated but common belief that the world revolves around me.

This mistaken position that is so common to most human beings leads to so many faulty conclusions. If we understood what we actually deserved, the question of "Why does God allow suffering?" would be instantaneously replaced with, "How can a just God allow the universe to continue another microsecond?" If we really grasped what we deserved, then arrogance would vanish and courtesy would be commonplace, a natural response from one lowly creature to another. If we could really get our minds around what we actually deserve, we would be on our faces thanking God for another single breath, another beat of the heart, another moment with a loved one. We wouldn't be sacrificing our precious life moments on getting ahead at work or trying to lord it over my wife or getting my husband to do what I want or complaining about that neighbor's barking dog. We wouldn't be assigning blame or taking credit. We would find, instead, a reordered set of priorities.

Maybe we need to pause at times in life and really consider, "What do I actually deserve?" If the wages of sin is death, if "the day that you eat it you shall die", if it is true that sin is an affront to the glory of God, perhaps we don't "deserve better". We don't deserve grace and mercy and love from God. We deserve the daily, unmitigated, ongoing wrath of God. The moment we forget that is the moment we drift into the morass of confusion in so many areas. Perhaps we should call to mind more often what we actually deserve. It would make us better, more grateful, more congenial people.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Gospel is Good News

This last week has been a good opportunity to review the Gospel that we claim. It starts with the bad news. I suppose most of us aren't really aware of the bad news, even those of us who know the Gospel. We know, we know, sin ... yeah, yeah, but how bad can it be? It is an infinite transgression against an infinite God by a finite creation that wishes to be God. It is an attack on heaven. Each sin we commit is an act of treason against God, rightly deserving eternal torment.

You know we don't really understand that. You know it because there are so many who argue, "Oh, there's not really a Hell." You know it because there are so many that argue, "God loves everybody; He wouldn't do anything like that." We know it because when my mom says, "I really suffer from the sin of pride," I respond with, "Is that all you got?" "Is that all you got?" That's sufficient for damnation. Isn't that enough?

It is only when we get a clear glimpse of sin, its vileness, and the just response of a holy God that we can even begin to appreciate the good news. We aren't "misguided children", making errors as we go. We're armed sheep seeking to slay the shepherd. And the shepherd knows it. So what does he do? He makes gracious, merciful provision for us to be forgiven.

It is often argued that Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship. For the most part, it's a moot point. Christianity, by definition, is a religion. Fine. But what a religion! We have a Savior who so loved us that He laid down His life on our behalf, receiving on Himself our sin and the just punishment for that sin. Then, on the basis of faith, He applies His own perfect righteousness to us and we arise, sinless in the eyes of the Father!

Imagine with me, for a moment, a little child. She stands shivering and alone in the rain. There is nowhere to go, no relief, no hope. Suddenly, in a lightning strike, a dark figure is illuminated in the shadow of a nearby tree. Frightened and on guard, she peers through the darkness. There is another flash and the little girl's eyes are opened. The figure is her mother, wrapped in a long, warm coat, waiting for her. She runs joyously into her mother's arms, holding tightly. The collision unfurls the coat and it settles around the shivering little girl, wrapping her in warmth and comfort. That's us. We stand without hope in the downpour. A scary figure appears before us -- Christ. Suddenly we are illuminated; He is for us! We run into His waiting arms, happy to be found by Him, and He wraps us in salvation and righteousness and peace with God.

When we cease to be amazed by grace, we can really get lost pretty easily. Remind yourself today of how bad sin really is and how amazing God's grace really is. Grasp, once again, the Savior as He calls you to cling to Him. The benefits are marvelous, but the relationship is without parallel.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Evangelism According to Jesus - Saturday

Sinclair Ferguson taught this morning on The Nature of Saving Faith. His text was Rom. 3:19 - 5:11. "Faith," he said, "is my whole soul's entrustment of Christ as my sole source for salvation." He spoke of several aspects of salvation, including propitiation, forgiveness, justification, and imputed righteousness. Faith is our means at arriving at a resting place where all of these are appropriated.

Dr. Ferguson brought out a special point. Saving faith is in Christ, clothed in the gospel. Salvation is not something given apart from Christ. We receive Christ, and salvation is included. We receive who He is, and the rest is included. Faith is "believing into" Christ, receiving Christ. The rest of the aspects of salvation are found in Christ.

The other main point regarding saving faith was that it is actively involved in pursuing Christ. God doesn't believe for you. And saving faith is not inactive. It is obedient.


The final message was from Dr. Sproul on Imputation. He used Gen. 15:1-6 and Rom. 4:1-8 for his text. Imputation, in the sense of these passages, refers to a legal assignment, a legal declaration. "Abraham believed God, and He imputed it to him as righteousness."

There are three aspects of imputation. 1) Adam's sin was imputed to all. 2) My sin was imputed to Christ. 3) His righteousness was imputed to me. The Bible uses a few terms to illustrate this concept. One is "covering", as in Gen. 3:21. One is the concept of the scapegoat, where Israel's sin was imputed to the goat and then removed from the people. One is being clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Without imputation, we don't have a gospel. Imputation is required for anyone to be declared righteous.


Well, the conference is over and we're heading out. I enjoyed it. I'm guessing that you didn't get quite as much out of it as I did. Next year, maybe you ought to come out yourself. I thought it was worth it.

Evangelism According to Jesus - Friday afternoon

For the afternoon session, we had two speakers: C.J. Mahaney and R.C. Sproul. For some reason, it was two people without first names.

Mahaney is a speaker "for the common man". He has no doctorate, nothing beyond a high school education. Yet, when he preached on The Resurrection of Jesus. He started with 1 Cor. 15:17. His starting point, however, was not the Resurrection. We needed an understanding of death.

Death is no accident. It is God's just response to our sin. Death is God's limit on our arrogance, creatures who would be God.

The Resurrection, then, announces the forgiveness of sin. It demonstrates the satisfaction of God's wrath. If Jesus had simply died, it would have been death like any other. But the Resurrection announced that sin was paid and wrath was averted. The Resurrection announces freedom from the fear of death and future wrath. We will grieve, but not without hope.

It is easy to simply acknowledge without applying the Resurrection. are you certain of your forgiveness, or do you feel you need to add to it somehow? How grateful are you for your forgiveness?


Dr. Sproul spoke on one of his strong suits -- Sola Fide, reading from Gal. 1:1-10 and 2:14-16. It is important to note that a faulty or substitute gospel is not "misguided" ... it is accursed.

The question is, given the power of God to save, the person of Christ, the imputation of righteousness, the substitutionary atonement, and the Resurrection, how are we to appropriate all this?

Much of Sproul's sermon was on the error of Rome. There's is a justification that starts with faith but is dependent ultimately on works, culminating in Purgatory. Gal. 2:14-16 makes it abundantly clear that justification does not occur by any sort of works.

The answer, instead, is sola fide -- faith alone. We are justified by faith apart from works. Faith is the singular method by which justification is appropriated. Faith has no merit. It is the basis on which justification is imputed.


The evening ended up with a concert by Jennifer Velazquez on organ and the Westminster Brass.

By the way, they announced next year's spring conference. You'll need to check the details when they become available, but the list of speakers is phenomenal, and the topic is the high point of Ligonier: the Holiness of God. I was considering skipping next year, but the line up for this is too good to miss.

Okay, well, there are still Saturday's morning sessions ...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Evangelism According to Jesus - Friday morning

The first speaker this morning was John MacArthur - Simultaneously Righteous and a Sinner. He offered an initial illustration: Lazarus came out of the grave, wrapped in stinking grave clothes, alive.

He showed from Scripture that we are freed from slavery to sin (Rom. 6:5-7). The faulty conclusion might be what is called "Entire Sanctification" (Sinless Perfection). The only way to maintain this position is to redefine sin to handle reality.

Justification occurs at salvation; Sanctification begins immediately and continues for life (1 Cor. 1:30).

Similarities between justification and sanctification:
Free by grace
Present at the same time
Simultaneous start
Necessary for glorification

Differences:
Instant versus Ongoing
No works versus Works
Finished versus life long
Full versus becoming

This dead body of sin continues to be a problem for life (1 John 1:8; James 3:2; Rom. 7:14-24).

Sanctification is the process of battling sin for life, the putting to death of the flesh (Rom. 6:12-13; 8:13).


Joni Eareckson Tada was next, speaking on Proclaiming the Gospel to All Nations. The gospel must be preached everywhere without regard to race, religion, creed, or any other characteristic. It must be preached by all means. It must be offered with "ornamentation", good works and acts of charity that display the character of Christ, good works by which all mean shall see and glorify God. Here's the thing: Joni makes a practice of what she preaches. A message is all well and good, but when you see someone in a wheelchair who is telling you about incredible sacrifices and steps she takes to take the gospel to anyone she might come in contact with, it is very convicting.


The final speaker of the morning was Sinclair Ferguson. If you haven't had the chance to hear him speak, you're missing out. He has a way of laying out a passage with all its biblical vitamins and minerals for you to absorb, so to speak. His topic was The Substitutionary Atonement of Christ. He chose as his passage Isa. 52:13 - 53:12. This is "the gospel according to Isaiah."

The passage is made up of 5 stanzas. The key to the passage is found, as is often the case in Hebrew literature of this type, in the middle stanza.

Stanza 1 (52:13-15) tells us that the suffering Messiah's triumph was wholly unexpected. He was marred as a man to repair the marred image of God.

Stanza 2 (53:1-3) explains how he is the shoot of a tree found in dry ground.

Stanza 3 (53:4-6) is the key to the whole "song". It explains the suffering Messiah's sufferings. It lists a variety of suffering, from pierced to crushed to chastised to scourged ... all for our iniquity. There are 4 components here:
1. Imputation. The atonement involves my sin imputed to Christ and His righteousness imputed to me.
2. Substitution. "In my place condemned He stood." Christ didn't merely represent me; He took my place.
3. Penalty. The penalty was paid for my sin on my behalf.
4. The hand of God. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. It was God's plan and God's doing.

Stanza 4 (53:7-9) emphasizes the obedience of the suffering Messiah. It was this obedience that so pleased God, even as God was pleased to strike Him.

Stanza 5 (53:10-12) explains that, in the end, the suffering Messiah is ultimately exalted.

When you end a sermon like that with the hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, well, maybe you had to be there.

Evangelism According to Jesus - Thursday

The two speakers for Thursday evening were Steven J. Lawson and John MacArthur.

Dr. Lawson spoke on The Saving Power of God. He chose as his text Rom. 1:1-17. Dr. Lawson is an expositor. He preaches the passage and, oh, by the way, if he covers the topic, so much the better. He covered his topic and much more.

1. The Source of the Gospel
The gospel is God's gospel (1:1). He originated it. He owns it. It is, therefore, authoritative, gracious, powerful. And we must not tinker with it.

2. The Stability of the Gospel
The gospel has been from the beginning (1:2). There has been only one (Gen. 3:15).

3. The Subject of the Gospel
The sole subject is His Son (1:3-4), the Man (1:3) and God (1:4) (both of which are necessary if He is to mediate between Man and God). Jesus died and resurrected (1:4). He is the sole source of grace (1:5).

4. The Success of the Gospel
The gospel cannot fail because of God's effectual calling (1:6-7).

5. The Service of the Gospel
Those who receive the gospel want to serve, to share it with others (1:8-9, 14-15).

6. The Strength of the Gospel
The gospel is the power of God to save (1:16) from God's wrath (1:18).

7. The Scope of the Gospel
The gospel is for everyone (1:16).

8. The Substance of the Gospel
The primary concept is God's righteousness applied to us (1:16).

9. The Simplicity of the Gospel
The gospel is simple: Faith. Faith from start to finish, the sole means by which God applies His righteousness to us.


John MacArthur spoke on "Who is Jesus?" He chose as his text Luke 20:41-21:6.

In Luke 20:41-44 Jesus gives His last invitation. He asks the Jews about the prophecy concerning the Messiah being David's son. The clear concept is that the Messiah must be both Man and God. The partial understanding of the Pharisees was insufficient ... and therefore inadequate.

Jesus goes on to pronounce judgment on the Jewish system. Since it is corrupt and inadequate, it is to be destroyed.

MacArthur's primary point was that Jesus was God and Man. You can't have a "part right" Jesus on which to believe for the Gospel.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Evangelism According to Jesus

The conference is on here in Orlando. We've finished up the pre-conference with three speakers and a Q&A session.

Steven J. Lawson spoke on The Foolishness of Preaching. His text was 1 Cor. 1:18-25. Lawson drew a comparison between the orators of Paul's day versus the heralds. An orator was highly esteemed. They were successful by using technique, skilled language, show, drama, and anything that would persuade. A herald, on the other hand, was called to bring a message. A herald succeeded at his task when he properly pronounced the message he was commissioned to deliver. Paul was a herald.

Dr. Lawson gave 5 important points on the job of herald from the passage.

1. Preaching gives the truth. There will be those who disagree and those who don't, but the truth is unvarnished (v 18).

2. The truth of the cross is exclusive (v 20).

3. Preaching ignores methods and relies on God to produce results (v 21).

4. Presentation is simple and straightforward, not ornate (v 22-23).

5. The Sovereign Call (v 24-25). The success of preaching relies totally on the power of God.

In conclusion, the preacher is not an orator. He is a herald, commissioned by God to bear a "foolish" message -- the crucified Christ -- faithfully, leaving the results in God's powerful hands.


R.C. Sproul Jr. spoke on how to evangelize your children. He assured us that all children need to hear the gospel, need to repent, need to believe. This is part of the parents' responsibility. They are to tell them the gospel. They are to live the gospel. They are to demonstrate the gospel.


There is no one in the world like Joni Eareckson Tada to speak about how suffering justly reflects the horror of sin in a fallen world. She spoke on how it is wrong to minimize the gospel because it doesn't answer the problems of a fallen world. She explained that most of us have a small view of the vast offense of sin and the justice of God in providing suffering to any human being He pleases. We need to give the full gospel, unvarnished, including the offensiveness of sin all the way to God's answer of His Son.

Jude on Church Growth

Remember Korah? He was a Levite who, in Numbers 16, he gathered a group of 250 chiefs from among Israel and complained to Moses that he was lording it over the people. "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" (Num. 16:3). Korah and his brothers went to war against Moses's authority and claimed it for themselves. In response, God opened up the ground and swallowed them up. Fire from God consumed the 250 chiefs. Then, instead of being quite clear on who God had intended to represent Him, the people complained, "You have killed the people of the Lord" (Num. 16:41). The result was 14700 dead in a plague that was only cut short by Moses and Aaron quickly making atonement for the people. It's a cute little story, isn't it?

Or how about Balaam (Num. 22)? Balak, the king of the Midianites, was afraid of Israel, so he sent to hire Balaam, the prophet, to curse them. God told Balaam not to go. Balak sent more people with more money and after a couple of entreaties, Balaam went on. He encountered some problems with his donkey who, as it turns out, saved his life. When Balaam went to curse Israel (Num. 23), he ended up blessing them instead. In the end, however, he told Balak how to disable Israel. He told Balak to introduce them to foods sacrificed to idols and to sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14). For a few dollars, then, the prophet of God conspired with the enemy of the people of God to cause them harm.

And everyone remembers Cain (Gen. 4). Everyone thinks that Cain was rejected because he offered grain rather than animal offering. I tend to disagree because no one had ever said that animal offering was the way to go, and because grain offerings are actually commanded later for Israel. The distinction between Cain's offering and Abel's offering, according to Hebrews, was that Abel's offering was by faith (Heb. 11:4). Cain knew this (Gen. 4:7), but instead of remedying the problem of faith, he chose to kill his faithful brother.

So ... what does this have to do with anything? Jude writes about false prophets. It's important to note that these are false prophets in the Church. These false prophets "pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4). Jude lists certain characteristics of these false teachers -- ways to recognize them. Because they prefer to follow their own plans and imaginations, they defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme those whom God has glorified (Jude 1:8). He lists, also, the three I've listed above.
Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah (Jude 1:11).
What are these three distinguishing characteristics of a false teacher? They go through the motions of religion without faith, resenting the fact that true believers have God's attention. They want riches and power and, while appearing on the surface to follow God's instructions, ally themselves with the enemies of God's people to do harm to God's people. They rise up against God's appointed authority and claim their own authority in outright rebellion against the established authority.

The thing that bothers me is that this sounds so much like the most popular approach today to church. The "Church Growth" and "seeker friendly" strategies have us going off in marketing directions, asking people, "What do you feel will make you come to church?" "Feel." Then we make it a "sensual" experience. No, not a sexual one, but one that appeals to the senses. Make it look nice. Make it sound nice. Make it feel nice. And whatever you do, do not say anything about sin! And grace is perverted, and the Master is denied. Following their own dream instead of anything remotely biblical, they focus more on the flesh, push the Bible farther out the door, and dismiss those who cry out that this is wrong. Like Cain, they go through the motions of "church" without actually inquiring if that is what it should be. They look for numbers rather than spiritual growth and, like Balaam, determine success by purely earthly means. Their methods are purely worldly, the enemy of God's people. And when challenged, they refuse to bend like Korah. "Go along with us or get out."

Now, I'm always cautious about naming names or jumping to conclusions ... but these sound an awful lot like the characteristics in Jude for false teachers. Read the entire book of Jude. (It's only one chapter.) I think it's amazingly close to what I see is very prevalent in the "Church Growth" movement. And Jude urges us, instead, to "contend for the faith." When do we start?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Biblical Manhood -- Husband

When considering biblical manhood, there is the role of father and there is the role of husband. Our best example of what a husband is supposed to be is likely found in Christ as the Bridegroom. The Bible portrays the Church as the Bride of Christ. Paul likes to use this parallel when instructing husbands:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:25-32).
Before we start saying, "Husbands, you ought to ...", let's look at what it says about Christ. First, we see "Christ loved the Church." Second, we see that He "gave Himself up for her." There is a list of things that follow. He sanctifies her. He cleanses her by the washing of the water with the Word. He makes her "without spot or wrinkle." A little farther down Paul says Christ "nourishes and cherishes" the Church. There is, in fact, a profound mystery in the union of Christ and the Church.

How is all of this applicable to husbands? What does this tell us to do? Well, clearly it tells us to be overlords, masters, cruel taskmasters that drive our wives to submit and closely controls everything in her life. Or not. Somehow, even though there are some men who find that here, I find nothing of the sort.

"No, no," the other side will say, "husbands are to submit to their wives. It's a mutual submission thing. Men need to be more in touch with their feminine side. They need to be doormats if they are going to love their wives as God intended." Odd, I know, but neither do I find that there as well.

The command is, first and foremost, to love. The rest is an explanation of that love. It is multifaceted. And we'll examine it in a moment. But understand this; if a husband loves his wife the way this passage describes, no woman should have any reason to complain. "Submit" under these conditions (Eph. 5:22) would be a joy.

The love that husbands, then, are supposed to have for their wives is first and foremost a choice. It cannot be commanded if it is a feeling. Feelings will follow, but it is first off a choice. The primary characteristic of this choice is a setting aside of self. If you are thinking that loving your wife means getting what you want, you've already short-circuited love. If you believe that treating your wife well will result in her treating you well, you've already missed the idea. Christ "gave Himself up for her." So ought we. This love, then, is first a choice and second a choice that is seeking her best, not my own.

Loving her is largely involved with her entire well-being. It is mandatory that husbands be the primary spiritual influence in the home. Paul says of wives, "If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home" (1 Cor. 14:35). If that doesn't give you husbands pause, you're not paying attention. You need to be prepared to answer every question your wife might have. It is your responsbility. You are to assist in her sanctification. You are to wash her with the water of the Word. You should be assisting her toward blamelessness.

Paul suggests in Ephesians 5 that this isn't really a difficult concept. You love yourself. Love her the same way. You feed yourself; make sure she gets fed. You clothe yourself; make sure she is clothed. You know your needs and try to meet them; make sure you know her needs and meet them. Peter says, "Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). You are to understand your wife. You are to be a student of your wife. Then, just as you carefully attend to your own needs, you can "nourish and cherish" her.

There are a couple of hitches that occur in this dialog. One I've already addressed -- some men tend to think this is permission to lord it over their wives. If you're seeing that, you don't understand love. One common thing you'll hear is exactly what God heard when He asked Adam how he had managed to sin: "It's that woman You gave me, Lord" (Gen. 3:12). Oh, no, we won't often put it that blatantly wrong. But it's common. "Me? Be the primary spiritual influence to her? You don't know my wife. She's _____" and there will be a list of reasons why that can't be. She's too godly or too stubborn or too smart or too stupid or ... a whole list of reasons. Can you imagine that coming from Christ? "Father, I want to love her, I want to sanctify her, I want to wash her with the Word, I want to meet her needs ... but have you seen her?" It won't be heard from Jesus's lips, and we are to imitate Him.

Husbands, love your wives. That means that you set your personal needs aside and seek her best interests. Sometimes that means giving her what she wants and sometimes it means withholding what she wants, but always it is a choice to seek her best. Her best is first and foremost tied up in her spiritual well-being. It's your responsibility to be intimately involved in that process. Most importantly, the model that Christ offers is the same concept of the first marriage: "The two shall become one." Intimacy -- a complete openness and sharing of all aspects -- is your responsibility as a husband. Husbands ... love your wives -- as Christ loved the Church.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Biblical Manhood -- Father

There are always limitations when comparing God with anything. He is, after all, infinite and everything else is finite. That being said, I think there are things that we can learn about what a father should be from the Father that God is.

What we see first is that God is intimately involved with His children. He speaks to them. He works with them. He teaches them. He disciplines them. Fathers ... pay attention. He disciplines them. (Often there is a mentality that says, "Mothers are there more often than fathers, so mothers should do that." Not the case.)

It's interesting to note that God's intimate involvement with His children is not always firsthand. He speaks to them, but sometimes through intermediaries. He works with them, but sometimes through various means and vehicles. He teaches them sometimes directly but far more often through emissaries. He disciplines them by using others to do so. This is something for fathers to keep in mind. (More later.)

God as Father takes ultimate responsibility for His children. For instance, while we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) (our responsibility), we do so because He is at work in us giving us both the will and power to do it (Phil. 2:13) (His responsibility). It is He who started the good work within us and He who will complete it (Phil. 1:6). We are responsible for our sin, our choices, our lives, but in the end God is ultimately responsible, just as fathers are ultimately responsible for their children.

This, then, is the "more later". There is a tendency to think, "If I am responsible for things, I must be the one required to do them." You may choose to believe that way, but God doesn't work that way. When Habakkuk complained that God needed to do something about the sin in Israel, God promised to punish Israel ... using heathen nations. God uses a variety of means and devices to accomplish His plans. He is always ultimately responsible, but not always involved firsthand. When He planned to kill Ahab (1 Kings 22), He accomplished it by sending deceiving spirits to the prophets, and then by a "random" arrow. Means and devices. Fathers, we are ultimately responsible for our children. We may not always be involved firsthand. When we think, for instance, of teaching our children to love God (Deut. 6:4-7), it would be through multiple means. We would tell them and show them. We would gather teachers around them that would tell them. We would reinforce it and train it through as many methods as we can find. But we wouldn't always be the only ones doing the teaching. It would be our responsibility, but not necessarily our direct job.

God is described in Scripture as immutable. "I the LORD do not change" (Mal. 3:6). This is so crucial in the lives of our children. God is often described as faithful. What He promises He will do. There is no doubt. If He promises salvation, He gives it. If He promises blessing, He gives it. If He promises discipline, He gives it. Children desperately need to have a father who is not given to change, a father they can always count on. They need to know that their father will love them even when they do something bad. They need to know that he will discipline them when he says he will. They need boundaries they can rely on as well as love they can rely on. They need the security and safety that a father provides who is reliable and unchanging. There is no substitute for this. It is your responsibility as a father to be that stable, reliable, secure, safety blanket that every child needs.

Another important lesson we learn from God as Father is that God always provides His children what they need. Note that I said "need", not "want". God certainly has the capacity to tell His children "No" when He doesn't want to give them what they want. But He promises to give them what they need. And that is not always pleasant. Sometimes the need is for discipline.
"For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Heb. 12:6-7)
Discipline is the responsibility of the father. That may be administered by various means, but it is the father's responsibility. There is one, absolutely vital aspect of discipline that we need to keep in mind:
He disciplines us for our good (Heb. 12:10).
Discipline is always intended for the benefit of the child. It is never to soothe the embarrassment of the father or to ease the frustration of the parent or to finally obtain instant obedience. It is for the benefit of the child. For those of you who think that it is best not to discipline children, you don't understand discipline. For those of you who think that discipline can be applied for a variety of reasons, you don't understand discipline.

Sometimes it is pain. Sometimes it is silence. Sometimes it is comfort. Sometimes it is a lack. Sometimes it is an overflow of good things.

In the Old Testament, Abraham refers to God as "El Shaddai". It is translated as "the Almighty", but the origins of the term "shaddai" is actually found in a mother. It means most literally, "The double-breasted one." Just as a mother provides all that her child needs out of herself, God, the Almighty, provides all that His children need.

God is our Father. Some people complain that their poor experience with their fathers leaves them with no useful information about fatherhood. The truth is that we all have a reasonably good idea of what a father should be regardless of our own experiences with our own fathers. The Bible hasn't left us in the dark here. God is our Father. He is intimately involved with His children. He is ultimately responsible for His children. He is faithful, a constant in the lives of His children. He provides all His children need. We need more fathers of this variety.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sacrifice of Praise

It has been a popular tune. "We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord." We clap our hands and sing joyfully ... and I'm not complaining. After all, it is praise.
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name (Heb. 13:9-15).
I suspect, however, that we've missed the point of the phrase, "sacrifice of praise". You see, if things are going well and we're pleased with God and tell Him so, where's the sacrifice in that? In what sense is that a sacrifice?

So when would praise be a sacrifice? Praise becomes a sacrifice when you're struggling over a tough situation and, instead of fretting over it, you praise God for it. You see, at that point you've made a sacrifice -- the sacrifice of self-control. You've relinquished the problem and praised God for it and it's now something that is for the good rather than bad. Praise becomes a sacrifice when you don't feel like praising God and still do it. You operate perhaps on duty or perhaps on head-knowledge, but you know that He is worthy of praise and even if you don't feel like expressing it, you do. Read some of the Psalms. More than once David spends time complaining to God about His lack of action and how terrible things are and how he probably won't make it and ... God is worthy of praise. He always seems to end up there. That's a sacrifice of praise.

We need to bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. It's good for us. It's good for Him. It's good for those around us. When things are uncomfortable (or worse), when you don't feel like it, when praise isn't the first thing that comes to mind, praise Him. It's well worth the sacrifice.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Biblical Manhood

I wonder. If a real, honest-to-goodness, biblically-sound father and husband came into our sphere of consciousness, would we recognize him as such? I don't really know, but I tend to think not.

We've been twisted and pushed so far away from biblical manhood in the 21st century that the real thing is probably so obscure that we would think it bizarre, perhaps even wrong. One side would call him too masculine and the other too feminine. One would say that he's too domineering and the other not forceful enough. He would definitely be too involved with his children; that's the mom's job. And so it goes.

It is my conviction that there is such gaping hole where "biblical manhood" should be that it is costing our families and our society in ways we don't even realize. We are failing to raise children as we should. Our failures as husbands are dismantling marriages not only on an individual basis, but also as the world understands it. God holds men responsible for the things going on in the world. Adam was responsible for Eve's transgression and, by extrapolation, for bringing sin into the world. God always seems to go to the men to get moving. Women are held individually responsible, but men are held responsible by God for a much larger group. We cannot afford to continue as we are. Crime, drug use, imprisonment, suicide ... there is a long list of things attributed largely to fathers and husbands who fail to be what God calls us to be.

Biblical manhood. What does that look like? What is God's ideal for a biblical father and husband? One is tempted to look at a variety of biblical figures. Maybe Noah, who was blameless in his time. No, Noah got drunk, passed out, and embarrassed his sons. How about Abraham? He's pretty good ... except for that whole fiasco with Ishmael ... and the way he treated Sarah... twice. "No, she's my sister, not my wife." Good stuff, Abe. David? No, the Bathsheba incident and the way his family fell apart disqualifies him. And the list goes on.

No, clearly the ideal father and husband are not found in biblical characters. So where do we go for these? Of course, interestingly, we find that the most common term for God in the Bible is "Father" and there are multiple references to Christ as "bridegroom". Maybe that's where we should look.

Obviously, the subject of biblical manhood is too vast for a blog post. I'm going to take a couple of posts to try to see what we men can learn from God as Father and Christ as Bridegroom to teach us to be fathers and husbands. In the meantime ... consider what you might find that could be something you could work on.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Love to Hate

I came across a website devoted to hating Rachel Ray. That's it. Everything Rachel is everything hated. She's a TV cook, and someone is dedicating time and effort to hating her. It's not hard to find websites devoted to anti-Christianity. Whatever Christians believe will be the topic of how stupid Christians and Christianity are. No rational human being can believe in Christianity. There are websites devoted to hating homosexuals and hating black people and hating Jews and ... just about everything you can imagine.

I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose, when I come across Christian blog devoted to telling us everything that they hate about Dr. Al Mohler. The Southern Baptist Convention has had to make efforts to silence several blogs complaining about the SBC. I know of one blog that is dedicated to telling its readers (which are international, by nature of the Internet) what is wrong with a single church in southern California. Day to day gossip and complaints here are considered valid fodder for posting, all in the name of "tattling" (their word) on the evils of this church.

I'm not the least bit surprised that the world hates. I'm not the least bit caught off guard that the world hates Christians. And, to be fair, I'm not surprised that Christians hate. It's just disheartening when they decide to air their complaints out there for everyone to see. They speak self-righteously about how evil their pet project is and lace their "true reports" with anger, bitterness, and sarcasm. I think, "Is this trip really necessary?"

I wonder ... where, exactly, will I find a biblical support for this? Where do I find Scripture that will prosecute the crimes of those I dislike while excusing my own anger and bitterness? I'm thinking that if all I intend to do is tell the truth about what my pet peeves are doing, I can sin all I want ... right? Maybe not. I'm thinking that I need to guard my own heart and mind ... you know, take the log out of my own eye ... before I practice the very fine art of speaking the truth in love.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

No, Lord

I got the chance to observe my grandkids this week. Cute kids. Not well behaved, I suspect, but grandparents aren't as concerned about that as parents must be simply because ... well ... we can leave. Kidding ... I'm just kidding ... mostly. But I have always found it interesting how much we can learn about ourselves and how we relate to God by looking at these little ones.

The oldest one is at that "Why" stage. You know the one. Regardless of what it is, if he is told, "No", he will ask, "Why?" And the answer doesn't matter because he will follow that with, "Why?" And if you still haven't acquiesced to his demands, you will get another, "Why?" You see, he doesn't actually care why. He is hoping that he'll wear you down and you'll give in. But parents (and others) indulge it because, "He's finally asking good questions."

I find that he is a perfect example of most of us. You see, we are rarely concerned about why. We are rarely concerned about what's best. We are rarely concerned about anything except that we want it and we should have it. Look, for instance, at the efforts to which we go to find out about when it's okay to get a divorce. We're not asking, "What does God think is best?" We're not asking, "What would be the best for me?" We're asking, "Under what circumstances can I get away with what I want?"

Sometimes, of course, it's too late. Then we're asking, "How can I justify what I've already done?" We'll search the Scriptures. We'll take apart what appears to be clear passages that explain, "God hates divorce" and we'll try to apply "known exceptions" to the unknown. "Well, if it's okay to divorce if an unbeliever deserts a believer, what if he deserts her emotionally? That's the same thing, isn't it?" It seems that we never ask, "Dear Lord, what is best? I will do whatever you think is best, regardless of how painful that might seem." Instead, we are more likely to say, "No, Lord," an absolutely nonsensical sentence.

There is a fear, it seems, among many Christians that they will do too much for God. They're afraid that they'll stick with that spouse and love them for the rest of their life because they are required to, only to get to heaven and hear, "Well, you really didn't have to do that." They'll give too much or love too much or obey too much and ... well ... waste some of the fun they could have had. Wouldn't want that to happen, would we?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Revive Us Again

Government isn't the answer. Many people seem to think that the right person in office or the right party in place will certainly solve our problems. Get the right justices and the right laws and we'll be fine. Nice idea, I suppose, but no matter how we revise our laws, things don't seem to get better. People still kill people. Crime rises. Problems deepen.

Money ... that will help. If we can put more money into education, education will improve. Make more money available and we can end poverty. Throw more money at the health care situation and things will certainly get better. More money, of course, doesn't actually fix anything.

Pass better gun control, we think, and we can end murders. Nonsense! Make abortion illegal and the problem of abortion will go away. Not really! Legalize drugs and the drug problem is gone. No. Legalize gay marriage and things will be great. Or they will be the end for marriage.

No, government won't solve our problems. Our answers aren't in a better economy. Better laws or getting our particular way isn't it. Since our problems don't originate in our circumstances, better circumstances won't help. The problem originates in human beings, so the remedy lies in a renovation of the human heart. Of course, no legislation, no government entity, no environmental movement or economic package will cause a change in the human heart; that is a job limited to God.

The term I have in mind is "revival". Of course, many people have a different concept of the term than what I'm thinking. The common idea of "revival" is a tent meeting where charismatic speakers will bring the gospel to unbelievers. "Revival" doesn't actually fit that concept. "Revival" has its root in "vivere" -- to live. The "re" at the beginning says, "again." Thus, to "revive" is not "to bring new life" as would be the aim of sharing the gospel, but to bring back to life. So revival is for believers, not unbelievers. A lot of people have heard of the Great Awakening in the early part of America's history. What they don't realize is that the message wasn't being preached to unbelievers; it was being preached to churches, and the overflow spilled onto unbelievers.

What are the components of revival? I'm not sure that it is that simple. Since the life of which I speak is limited to God, it's up to God to provide it. It is a work of the Holy Spirit at any given time. And since God is not a "tame lion", it's not something you can program. There is no "twelve-step revival" plan available. What we can do is find out what is common to revival and we can seek revival. So what are some of the common elements in revival?

One of the largest revivals in the Bible took place in Ezra and Nehemiah. The people came back from captivity and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. When they had finished the initial task, the people gathered "as one man"on the first day of the seventh month and stood and listened to the reading of the Law. The response to this reading was a "camp out", where everyone pitched tents to stay and listen to more of God's Word. As a consequence there was a nationwide repentance. On the 24th day of the month, "the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads" (Neh. 9:1). They separated themselves from foreigners and "stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers" (Neh. 9:2). The prayer that follows (Neh. 9:5-38) us a prayer that magnifies God and minimizes Man. It is a prayer of adoration and thanksgiving and of repentance. It speaks of how wonderful God is and how sinful Man is -- specifically Israel ... "us".

There are several component in this revival that would be common to all revivals. First, there is a desire. The people gathered. They had a purpose. They sought God. They set aside personal comfort and personal schedules and sought God. Second, there was God's Word. God speaks. It is necessary to engage God's Word. It God must say what He wants to say. The third component is critical and, in my opinion, desperately lacking today: Confession and repentance.

We are really good at recognizing the sin in the lives of other people, but it seems as if we get comfortable with a certain level of sin in our lives. We call it "bad habits" or "shortcomings" or "little vices" and we think, "I'm not as bad as that" whatever "that" might be. We set our standards at the level of those around us instead of God who is holy. We're not that bad. And if we are, it seems like we are alone. I mean, I have problems, but it looks like no one else does, so there's no way I'm going to tell you that I have problems since I'm all alone in my problems. I only wish I could be as perfect as the rest of you appear to be. Confession and repentance. We don't do it. We don't admit to our sin. We aren't mortified by our sin. We don't hate our sin. We don't change from our sin. Still, we sit in church and think, "Why is the Christian life so stale so much of the time? Why is it that God so often seems so far away?"

We need to seek God with other believers. We need to listen to God's Word with all our might, setting aside all other distractions. We need to recognize our sin, confess it, and repent from it. We need life again, that "first love", revival. It can happen one at a time. It can spread across churches. When God gets hold of His people, they begin to infect others. It spreads. It overflows into the world, where God uses the enthusiasm of His people to splash over onto those around and bring some to Him.

Government isn't the answer. Better justices or better laws or better economics are not the answer. We need changed hearts. We need revival. We need people to come to life again. We need to return to that first love. It is the people of God that need to turn, to seek Him, to devour His Word, to confess and repent. "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14).