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Evangelist, Baptist, Husband, Father, Mid-30's.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Writing, Reading, and Communicating versus Texting, Skimming, and Gisting

I am utterly blessed through God’s providence in my education and upbringing. For example, I played the trumpet from sixth grade through my first year in the Air Force, 9 years total, and while I never really got any good at it, due to tone-deafness and no internal rhythm, the breathing techniques I learned have caused me to be one of the loudest preachers I know, combined with a stamina at full volume that constantly surprises.

Likewise, an instilled love of history has produced in me a hermeneutical principle which is sorely lacking in the church today; I want to know the full history of the events before I care to learn the application. It utterly frustrates me when someone wants to know what a passage means before they know what it says. I’m not against application, but history and context must have prevenience. John Calvin so beautifully said, “People come not to the preaching merely to learn what they do not know, but to be incited to do their duty.”

But the reason I have been contemplating this recently is in a discussion I had with a dear friend about the writing style of Ernest Hemingway. Sitting in my library on my secular bookshelf (as opposed to my overflowing religious bookshelves) are a dozen Hemingway books, my favorites are The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Sun Also Rises. Before becoming a Christian, there is no doubt that my favorite writer was Hemingway, followed closely by Ron Carlson, A Kind of Flying et al, Ray Bradbury, Dinosaur Tales et al, and George Orwell, Animal Farm et al.

To let you know how deep my respect and admiration for Hemingway was, I’ve been to and drank (pre-Christian) at the Rotonde in Paris, walked on the Concha in San Sebastian, and run from the Curva de Telefonica to the Plaza de Toros in Pamplona (albeit there were no bulls). The man was a master writer; I would even go so far as to say the best writer who has ever lived who was not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

As I would read Hemingway I was captivated, even implored, to love each individual word, it never occurred to me, nor do I think it occurred to Hemingway, that the beauty and deference of language points to a God whom communicates with precision and authority. Hemingway would spend hours ensuring the words he wrote were meaningful, worthwhile, and powerful, and the man literally discarded dozens of works which failed to meet these criteria. Hemingway had a reverence for words; he would spend hours cutting and molding his sentences to say precisely what he wanted them to say, removing every superfluous phrase and word, seeking to make each sentence direct and vigorous. One will never find an unnecessary adjective in a Hemingway book. He wrote, most definitely being self-aggrandizing, “The greatest writers have the gift of brevity, are hard workers, diligent scholars, and competent stylists.”

In recent years many of these reprobate manuscripts have been compiled and published as posthumous titles and “lost” works. Oh how he would cringe if he knew that were occurring, and so I cringe vicariously for him in his absence.

Hemingway’s desire for literary purity influenced my own writing and reading immensely. I am constantly offended by both the written and spoken word when used irreverently and superfluously. In recent years, my desire for literary accuracy has gained a higher purpose and has transferred perfectly to an infinitely better writer, who said, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,” and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Hemingway was concerned with each individual word, the Author of Life is interested in each individual letter, “Truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law...

T. David Gordon has noted a nearly complete failure in the modern day preacher’s ability to be pithy, to put together a coherent thought, and to communicate a point. His book on this, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, is intriguing as it focuses on how the modern preacher no longer writes sermons, at best he types them and at worst he adlibs them; he doesn’t send letters, he sends e-mails; he doesn’t write treatises, he sends text-messages. Gordon surmises that all of these have destroyed the preacher’s reverence for the word and ability to communicate using it.

Noah Webster compiled his dictionary under the assumption that if God takes language seriously, then men ought to take language seriously. If faith comes through hearing, and hearing the word of Christ, then it ought to be the preacher’s highest calling to ensure that what is being heard is totally worth hearing. Charles Spurgeon said, “We cannot play at preaching. We preach for eternity.”

Gordon gives suggestions on how to improve communication; they are not easy, but they are not impossible. He first recommends writing, with pen and paper, in order to foster forethought and deliberateness, since pen cannot be edited and requires commitment and permanence of thought. One of the best venues for this, he recommends, is writing letters. His next suggestion is that undergraduate students major in literature in order that they learn the basics of structure, plot, and style. To this effect David Platt laments that Bible translation has become a failing art because it is impossible to understand another language if you don’t even understand your own.

I recently read Greyfriar’s Bobby by Eleanor Atkinson (and then I watched the movie) and I was utterly impressed by her command of the English (or more actually: the Scotch) language, the intersecting plotlines, and the recurring themes; she sets out to tell a story, but deep within her plot are the definite agendas of animal rights and human equality. It reminded me somewhat of the writings of the Apostle Peter, who in any given passage is working at least three themes and who has a very specific agenda on his mind of growing his reader, pointing their affections outwards and upwards, and glorifying the Saviour of mankind.

So that leads to a question, ought the Christian reader read books that are patently unchristian? Hemingway, although many of his books bear biblical titles, had no such belief system, Orwell was a fantastic visionary of things to come but not from a godly standpoint, and Unitarian Universalist Ray Bradbury holds to an evolutionary old-earth despite his Christian upbringing. To answer this question scripturally, the Apostle Paul was well acquainted with the poetry of Athens, and the Christian is called to study to show themselves approved; avoiding irreverent babble. It is more than possible, from a discerning standpoint, to read a well-written non-christian publication and glean from it, but the main diet ought to always be scripture.

When read from the Christian standpoint, some of the themes of non-christian writers should instantly jump out as wrong. Take Hemingway for example, the man is one of the perfect examples of Neo-Epicureanism, living a life bent on pleasure and experience through the height of gourmet pleasures, both physical and scholarly. As a young writer I knew how Hemingway’s life ended, that he seriously injured his back in a plane crash and was in constant pain, then, as the results of a lifetime of alcohol abuse and a genetic iron-deficiency disease, he lost a fair amount of his brain function; faced with the loss of both physical and scholarly pleasure, Hemingway shot himself in the head. Yet, even with this knowledge, I felt that his life was one worth emulating and that my life would certainly end better than his. Now with the discernment of the Holy Spirit, it is more than obvious that such lives only prove parables which speak of the foolishness of trusting in worldly delights, like the one Jesus spoke which is recorded in the seventh chapter of the gospel according to Matthew. But even with the fatal flaws of secular writers, for another example the bawdy tales of Ron Carlson (of whose books I have several signed copies), there is much to be learned by someone who is able to communicate a point, skillfully wielding language, and who has honed their skills and writings to say what they mean. Even if what they mean is an affront to the Living God.

Most importantly, in an age where most don’t know the difference between their and they’re, and the numeral 2 can replace to, two, and too, these writers prove that words have meaning, and demand that respect be given to the vernacular and the rhetoric by which it is presented. The Christian need only to apply one step further, that the Giver of dialect and logic be respected.

And finally, this all leads to my application. I preached my first sermon to a large Christian audience this past Sunday. My sermon was prepared to run just under 30-minutes. Since this was the first and possibly only time I would have an opportunity to address this congregation, more time than normal was spent on preparation in order to ensure my passion and heart was delivered to this precious church through the precise exposition of the Word of God. I spent a great deal of time in honing the word choice, structure, and movement of the sermon in order to deliver a message that was eternally significant and memorable. In the zeal of delivery, I realized something that I didn’t anticipate; some of the deliberate pauses were ill-placed and so I skipped them, and in my impassioned delivery I managed to cut about seven minutes off of my sermon. In an effort to lengthen the delivery in the second and third services I tried to find areas in which material could be added or expanded, but realized that due to the attention I had given to pace and movement, any on-the-spot editing would have severe implications on the structure of the message, possibly impeding movement in a fatal way.

Overwhelming, the response was positive. One suggestion was that I hadn’t spoken from my own heart enough but had quoted too much scripture and let others speak for me (Calvin, Ravenhill, Luther, Spurgeon) and should have given my own opinion more. Several told me that it was too much information too quickly. But what I didn’t hear was that it was boring, that anything was unnecessary, or that I missed the intention of the text. The question that I am most concerned with, “Was God glorified and his people incited to do their duty through this message?” was an unqualified, “Yes.” I believe, and I don’t credit myself, that I let the text speak, I didn’t impose myself on it, and I gave my utmost for Christ’s highest glory. The only exception is that I should have anticipated the length issue, but, knowing that the sermon was full of content, I will count this towards experience and will improve in the future.

It is against literary policy to add new information in the conclusion, but allow me this liberty. Ernest Hemingway was a Neo-Epicurean hedonist, John Piper has coined the phrase, Christian Hedonist, which he defines as, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." The Christian, I guarantee you, receives infinitely more pleasure than the Epicurean because they live a life with their affections set on Heaven, working for the King, devoting life and effort to increasing the joy of the church and her Bridegroom. God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints. The happiness of the Christian Hedonist is not dependant on the stature they achieve, but rather in what they achieve through the faculties God has given. But, beloved, what I implore you to, and I hope you are incited, is to hone those faculties, earnestly desiring that God grows them in sanctification; do so through reading, writing, and preaching, for Paul wrote to Philemon, “I pray that through the sharing of your faith, you become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 6)

So beloved, I pray that you will take the language you speak, and the languages that the scriptures are written in, seriously; that you revere the words that you use because they are a reflection on the God who gave them. Read, write, and communicate to the fullest, don’t take shortcuts. Study yourself approved and never be found with any reason to be ashamed. I pray that through the sharing of your faith, your effectiveness in the good things of Christ will blossom to be used for his utmost glory, for he is worthy, and he alone.

Recommended Reading
Famine in the Land, A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching by Steven J. Lawson
Why Johnny Can't Preach, The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon
The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson
The Way of the Master by Ray Comfort
Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til
Desiring God by John Piper

Monday, October 5, 2009

Saving The Law From Legalism

None of us seeks after God, we like sheep have gone astray after our own lusts, we have worshipped the creature over the Creator, we have set our mouths against Heaven and declared war on the God who made us, trying to make a name for ourselves and blaspheming his name among the nations.

Beloved, we’ve blown it, and these are just the first four Commandments. There are six more and they don’t get any easier, and if you’ve broken one, you might as well have broken them all for the exceeding guilt of your soul.

Where can we turn for life? The Psalmist says we ought to turn to the very law that has made sin come alive and which killed us.
I will never forget your precepts,
__for by them you have given me life.
I am yours; save me,
__for I have sought your precepts. – Psalm 119:93-94
Legalism! Or so it seems, but it’s not a good idea to call the Gospel of Grace legalism; that might just border on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Christ said likewise, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51) If we separate God from the word, the law, then indeed we are legalists, but the law is the embodiment of truth and knowledge and so is Jesus Christ. (Compare John 1:1-2 and Romans 2:20) The Pharisees were condemned for searching the law without acknowledging the Son (John 5:39ff), but beloved, the law as it points to the Son is able to save.

How then? It is the exact four Commandments that have utterly condemned us which are now our response so that we can cry, “Save me, for I have sought your precepts!”

Commandment 1 – You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me. Paul really states this one well when he says, “We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10) There is one Saviour of humanity; besides him, there is no saviour. (Isaiah 43:11) You must set your hope on this Saviour, the Saviour who put on flesh, lived a perfect sinless life abiding by every Commandment, tempted in all ways yet without sin, and who willingly substituted himself for you on Calvary, canceling your debt against the law by nailing it to the cross. You shall have no other gods besides him.

Commandment 2 – You Shall Not Bow Down to Idols. Peter says that we are to set our hope perfectly on Christ, forsaking every former lust. (1 Peter 1:13-14) The Commandment tells why we must turn from idols, for your God is a jealous God and will visit iniquity on all idolaters. But for those who turn from idols to him, who set their hope on the Saviour, he promises steadfast love (Hebrew Chesed, alternately translated Grace) to those who love him and keep his Commandments.

Commandment 3 – You Shall Not Take the Name of the Lord Your God in Vain. Even when we have blasphemed the name of God in thought, word, and deed, his salvation is available through this Commandment when the repentant blasphemer holds fast to their confession of hope in the Risen Christ. But be assured that if you deny him before men, he will deny you before his Father. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)

Commandment 4 – Remember the Sabbath, to Keep it Holy; On It You Shall Not Do Any Work. Jesus Christ is the Sabbath Rest of the New Covenant, raised on the eighth day of the week beginning the New Creation. (Hebrews 4) The saying is faithful, that Jesus plus nothing equals everything, but Jesus plus something equals nothing. If you are trusting partly in yourself and partly in Christ, know that your hope is not complete and you have not entered into his rest. Cease from working for salvation, rest in Christ, and be saved; for if we have indeed come to share in Christ, then we have rested from our works just as God rested from his works.

These four Commandments which promised life have slain you and I, but they are still the Living and Active Word of God, able to save, able to make alive, never to pass away, and in them is salvation if you look to the God to whom they point. Make him your God, he is the only Saviour of the world, and if you trust in him, he will be your Saviour. Repent of false gods and false salvation systems, confess Christ with your mouth and hold fast to the confidence in him. Trust not in your works, but rest from them, and trust in the works of Jesus Christ, him who died for sins, but lived again, who lives eternally to make intercession for his saints.

Make this your prayer,

Let your hand be ready to help me,
__for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, O LORD,
__and your law is my delight.
Let my soul live and praise you,
__and let your rules help me.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
__for I do not forget your commandments. – Psalm 119:173-176

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'd Sell my Soul for a Bowl of Soup

Original Context

The birthright during the patriarchal period was something important; it brought its holder honor, authority, and inheritance within a family. The firstborn was guaranteed a double-honor in the inheritance of his father; that is, when the estate was split up, the one with the birthright was given twice what his brothers received.[1]

This is considering a normal birthright which it is not to be despised, not to be sold for any small price. But, an infinitely bigger birthright is at stake in Genesis 25:29-34 with Esau and Jacob, of the line of Abraham. Abraham was specially promised by God to be a blessing on all the world, given a name called great among nations, and given dwelling in the promised land. (Genesis 12:1-3) This is the birthright which Esau despised and Jacob inherited.

A brief background of the event is set some years after Abraham died. Before he died he blessed his son, Isaac, by giving him great amounts of riches and real-estate (Genesis 25:5), and the Bible is specific to say that the promise of the covenant was passed onto him by God himself. (Genesis 25:11) Isaac prayed for children, and God gave him twin sons. While the babes were yet in the womb, God revealed to Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, that in her belly were two nations, and that the younger would rule over the elder. God knew before they were born that the elder would not receive the blessing but that events would transpire to lead to the younger receiving the blessing. God, before Esau or Jacob had been born, had set his face against Esau, declaring his hatred for those whom he has not chosen; a long running theme throughout the Bible. (cf. Psalm 5:5, 11:5, 73:20, Romans 9:10-13, Hebrews 1:8-9, et al.)

Esau became a huntsman, and his father’s favorite; Jacob apparently had no great mental or physical abilities of which the narrator sees fit to tell, but he was his mother’s favorite. One day, Jacob made a pot of stew, Esau came in from hunting without having captured any game, and by his language, likely literal but possibly only figurative, claimed that he was starving. Seeing a pot of red stuff (Holman Translation) he asked his brother for some. Jacob, seeking the firstborn’s blessing, set the price for the stew as his brother’s birthright. Esau, seeing only his temporal survival, had no problem selling his birthright to his brother.

Later, Esau claimed the birthright was stolen from him, and he sought the blessing of his father with tears, but the damage to his eternity had been done, and there was no way he could inherit his birthright.[2]

Bridging the Context to You

"The birthright was Esau's by providence but Jacob's by promise."[3] Consider how God could have arranged this transfer of blessing from Isaac to Jacob. Jacob could have come out first, been the rightful heir to the promise, and lived a life of peace with his brother. Was this within the sovereign ability of God to perform? Of course, but where is the lesson in that?

Here we see one of the earliest denials of the Resurrection and everlasting life.[4] Esau had an eternal promise from God, yet spurned it by asking what good would it be if he died? But what did he spurn? John Gill puts it this way,
"The birthright was reckoned sacred; it was typical of the primogeniture of Christ; of the adoption of saints, and of the heavenly inheritance belonging thereunto; all which were despised by Esau..."[5]
Esau sold his eternity for the fleeting pleasures of sin. The meal which he paid so dearly for only sustained him for a matter of hours before he was hungry again, and soon provided him no solace. The Psalmist Asaph says that the earthly delights of the wicked are like dreams after one awakes (Psalm 73:5), and no sentiment captures Esau's loss better than Zophar's declaration that everything will be lost, "This is the wicked man's portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God." (Job 20:8) Once the stew was gone, any pleasure Esau had derived from it was quickly fading to a mere memory embittered by the cost he had paid.

Esau sold eternity for a single meal (Hebrews 12:16), so do so many condemn their souls for holding onto a single sin. A person who has kept the law in many points yet who will not repent of a favorite sin will not see the kingdom of Heaven. Towards this end John Owen said,
"He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so will he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to death. Sin will after a while revive, and the man must die. It is a great and fatal mistake if we suppose this work will admit of any remissness or intermission."[6]
The Christian must repent of all sin, not desiring the things of this world, but set their affections on heavenly things, namely the Resurrected Christ who ransomed them from the domain of darkness. A single sin was enough to lose Esau his birthright, since he did not esteem God as worth more than satisfying his appetite. Even when he received more for his bargain than he expected, namely a piece of bread, even the bigger portion was infinitesimally small in comparison to the grandeur, joy, and peace found in the Lord of Glory.

Life Application

Why did Jacob make that pot of stew? Was it solely for the purpose of tricking his brother out of his birthright? Of course not, Jacob planned to eat it, but when he was presented with the choice of a temporal tasty fleeting delight or the eternal blessing of the Lord God Almighty, he gave up the temporary to inherit the eternal.

Beloved, if there is any sin in this world to which you are clinging, be sure that it will be your downfall. To those sins which are not pleasing to the eye, we have little trouble repenting of, but it is those tasty bowls of soup that can so easily tempt and be our undoing. Owen says, "Lusts that pretend to be useful to the state and condition of men, that are pleasant and satisfactory to the flesh, will not be mortified without such a violence as the whole soul shall be deeply sensible of."[7]

Woe to you who justify your sins, for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15) Think to yourself quietly, which sin was it that you originally sold your soul into sin for? Which sin is it that keeps it in bondage there?

Conversely, which sin is worth so much as to reject Heaven? Any riches or pleasures which you are able to accumulate on this side of eternity will be consumed by moth, rust, time, or fire; for whatever is not eternally useful is entirely useless. Jesus asks, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?" (Matthew 16:26) Most of us have sold our souls for so much less than the world; a bowl of soup, perhaps? A uncontrollable appetite for the opposite sex? A self-esteem, pride, being able to speak and act how you want to satisfy the desires of the flesh? Beloved, whatever you are holding onto is not worth it. I implore you, store up your treasure in Heaven, set your affections on Christ, seek the glory of the Father, and the Son will set you free and you shall be free indeed.

No matter how long your sin lasts, it will perish in the end, it will bring you no solace, just as a dream brings no solace after you awake, and what you have sold and despised will haunt you forever. Beloved, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, make no provision for the flesh, to satisfy its desires. Mortify your flesh, flee from sinful desires, hold fast to what is good, be not tempted by temporary satisfaction. Truly it is as John Owen said,
"Be killing sin, or it will be killing you."[8]

[1] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 551.
[2] Charles Spurgeon, Jacob and Esau (London: New Park Street Chapel, 1859). Available from http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/0239.HTM
[3] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary (Hendrickson Publishing, 1991), 1:125.
[4] John Gill. Exposition of the Old & New Testament (London: 1809; repr., Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc: 2006), 9:477.
[5] Ibid.
[6] John Owen, The Works of John Owen (London, 1826), 546-547.
[7] Ibid, 547.
[8] Ibid, 336.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Privilege of Prayer

We have a problem.
We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. – John 9:31
We want to talk to God, commune with him, find favor in his eyes, for in him is life and peace, apart from him is death and eternal pain. It is important to know God, because Jesus tells us, this is eternal life. The requirements for knowing him are strict.
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. – Psalm 34:15-16
If we’re not righteous, then we have no audience with God, indeed, he considers our prayers to be sin. (Proverbs 28:9) It was to this effect that George Washington wrote,
I have called on Thee for pardon and forgiveness of my sins, but so coldly and carelessly that my prayers are become my sin, and they stand in need of pardon. I have sinned against heaven and before Thee in thought, word, and deed.
Jeremiah records that God does not listen to the prayers of the ungodly, but that he has wrapped himself in a cloud so that prayers cannot pass through. (Lamentations 3:43-45) There is something to that old adage, “My prayers seem to be bouncing off the ceiling.” When God doesn’t respond to prayers, is it because he is unable to respond or that he missed the request? Of course not, and Isaiah finishes the thought,
Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. – Isaiah 59:1-2
We have a problem. Our sin has made a separation between us and God, he has promised to neither respond to, nor even hear, our prayers. If we pray to God as sinners, he doesn’t hear us.

In our dilemma, God knew that we would all go astray, that we would be unable to approach his Throne of Grace, so he made provision for us to be righteous. He sent his perfect sinless Son to be made sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) The reception for this, some think is through the sinner’s prayer, but we’ve discovered that God is not listening to our prayers, so for a sinner to pray for salvation is foolishness beyond foolishness. If we will repent towards God and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, then defeated death, and lives today, then we will be reconciled to God through his death, and made alive through his life.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. If you sin while in front of the Throne of God, you will die instantly. Check out Exodus 28:31-35, if Aaron sinned and hence died while in the presence of God, the priests outside of the Holy of Holies would know because his bells would stop jingling. Some have thought that a rope would be tied to his ankle to get him out, but beloved, if your high priest died in the presence of God because of sin, you’d have bigger problems than getting his body out.

I’m guessing that none of my readers have ever died while praying; yet being in the presence of God, who describes himself as a Consuming Fire, should be a tremendously dangerous place to be. I was praying once in a group out of doors when a cat attacked me. I screamed, then laughed, in the middle of the prayer. Even worse yet, Ergun Caner tells the story of hearing a prayer, “Father, we worship and adore you; Jesus, we thank you for dying for our sins; Holy Spirit, we ask you to work in our midst; and Satan, stay out of our meeting.” Several in attendance looked up, all thinking the same thing, “That dude just prayed to the devil.” Yet we don’t die when we sin in our prayers…why not?

Because the prayers we pray and the prayers that are delivered to God are radically different from one another. Our permanent Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is there to make intercession for us.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:23-25
He purchased us on Calvary’s cross, he defeated death and lives forever, making intercession for his saints. His prayers and ministry keep us alive despite our sin. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is fixing our prayers enroute.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27
So we ourselves are made righteous in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, our prayers are infused with his righteousness as they are presented at the Throne of Grace, and the Holy Spirit rewords them to ask God the Father for what it was that we really meant to pray, that is, if we knew what we needed.

We had a problem, but God has provided the solution. This is a privilege purchased at so great a cost on Calvary’s cross, so then what should we do?

Pray unceasingly. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) How should we pray? There are five kinds of prayer, and I suggest praying all of them regularly, even unceasingly. They are:

Petitioning – Asking God to do something for you
Intercession – Asking God to do something for someone else
Supplication – Asking God to do something through someone else
Thanksgiving – Acknowledging God for what he is doing and has done
Imprecation – Asking God to put an end to evil through violence

And should we shoot these prayers up meekly, assuming that our High Priest who, being God himself, is not able to sympathize with us? By no means! We are able to approach boldly to the Throne of Grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need, for our High Priest was tempted in every way we’ve been tempted, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Likewise, we should pray with expectation. If our prayers are in line with the will of God, and we know that the Holy Spirit has aligned them, then we will receive an answer. Be assured that the answer is one that will grow us in holiness, driving us towards purity, making us able to discern the will of God in our lives, what is good, acceptable, and perfect; all of which lead to our sanctification. (cf. Hebrews 12:14, Romans 12:2, 1 John 3:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Acts 4:31, 1 Peter 1:16)

We had a problem; we have a solution. So let us pray.
We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. – John 9:31

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Not All Who are Descended from Israel are Israel

Recently I have noticed a pandemic of child-abuse within many facets of Christianity. It began a few weeks ago when I was privileged to preach the gospel of grace to a fifteen-year-old daughter of a pastor. She told me that her dad frequently asks her to go to church and tells her that he is praying for her. I was appalled and astonished that a pastor would give his child the option to go to church or not…it’s not like her eternity is at stake or anything.

Much of this stems from the official religion of the United States, Disneyism, that as long as your children are better people than most, God will reward them with Heaven. Since humanistic happiness is of utmost importance, when eternity suffers for temporal happiness, it is justified on the altar of Mickey Mouse. After-all, the popular preachers of today all agree that since God loves you, you’d better help him in his wonderful plan for your life, and this certainly extends to the vicarious success of your children…at least in the imagination of these ear-ticklers. (See 2 Timothy 4:3-4)

God doesn’t have any grandchildren. Satan has multitudes. Just because you have been adopted into the family of God through the imputed inheritance of his Son doesn’t mean your children have an instant affiliation or affection with, from, or towards God. It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:8)

The Bible is replete with commands to raise up children in the way of righteousness. Are you actively participating in their upbringing, or at the very least, ensuring that they are in the godly care of an able teacher? Jesus Christ was lost only one time in his life. It occurred when he was twelve years old while returning to Nazareth from Passover in Jerusalem. His parents assumed he was in the group, and when they discovered him to be lost, they sought him among their relatives. He was not there. (Luke 2:44) Don’t assume your children are in the group or that they are being cared for by others. Christ was lost for three days, your child could be lost for eternity.

Whosoever causes one of these little ones to stumble would be better off to have a mill-stone tied around their neck and be cast into the sea than to face the judgment of God for this heinous sin. (cf. James 3:1) A person given the option to choose God will choose bad every time. It is human nature. (See Joshua 24:15-19) Letting them skip church, that is, letting your student walk in the twilight, is a sure way to indict yourself in their stumbling. (Jeremiah 13:16-17)

Another sure way to sell your children into eternal death is to swim in transgression. (Revelation 2:23) Your children will see your sins and will reject your God. Are you prepared to answer his question, “You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire?” (Ezekiel 16:20-21)

How do we fix it?

First, become an imitator of Christ, an ambassador of his kingdom in your home. Repent of any sins and trysts with the world you may be having.

Second, esteem their eternity higher than your own. Paul leads by example, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.” (Romans 9:2-3) “My little children, I am in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19)

Third, godly instruction is a requirement, not an option. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) Training in godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8) “We will not hide them from our children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Psalm 78:4) Teach in your own home, as well as find your child a godly minister, a focused teacher, and make sure your child is led in the truth. Follow-up; when your child is not with you, ensure that they are indeed in the care of others.

Fourth, pray for them. Beloved, your child’s name should be presented at the Throne of Grace daily. “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) Behold, a man from the crowd cried out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.” (Luke 9:38)

Fifth, he commands fathers to teach the Bible to their children, that the next generation might know his statutes, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. (Psalm 78:5-7)

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21) How much greater then is the reward and joy of the rebirth? Christ receives the glory for the sorrow, the anguish, the work of redemption, the sanctification, and the glorification; if we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too, for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (2 Corinthians 1:5, Romans 8:18)

So for Christ’s, yours, mine, and their sake, won’t you please think of the children? After all, it’s not like their eternity is at stake or anything…oh wait, it is.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Should We Stay, or Should We Go?

It is often assumed that Christ’s last command to the world was “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

This is very near to the last command given by Christ on earth, but it is not quite the last. This command was spoken in Galilee (Matthew 28:16), Christ ascended into Heaven from the Mount of Olives in Judea a few days later. (Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:12) Did he say anything important or profound in those days? Undoubtedly he said many important and profound things in those days, as it is impossible for Christ to speak idle words. Many of his sayings have been recorded in scripture, but if all of them were, there could not be found a library large enough to hold all of the volumes that would be written. Every word in the Bible is hand picked by Jesus Christ to reveal himself to humanity; he chose his words carefully so that only his people could understand. (Matthew 13:10-13)

Therefore we should expect that Christ’s last command to be there on purpose. Was his last command to go and preach the Gospel? Quite the contrary.

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:46-49)

Luke words it a bit differently in his introduction to Acts.

While staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5)

Christ’s last command to his disciples was to stay in Jerusalem, to wait for the Holy Spirit. They obeyed him and the outcome was an incredible evangelistic outpouring that touched every nation and corner of the Roman Empire, extending from Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria, and extending to the ends of the earth.

Our command is “Go”, but is there a caveat? Indeed there is, the go is modified by the expectation that our going would be led, fueled, and tempered by the Holy Spirit. It is easy to stand on a street corner and scream at people, it is easy to shove a Gospel tract into someone’s hand, it is easy to corner someone and preach Gospel truths to them, it is easy to buy someone lunch at tell them "God bless you", it is easy to mow someone's lawn and invite them to church, and certainly the Holy Spirit can use all of these things, but Christ isn’t a numbers kind of God, he says Heaven rejoices over a single sinner who repents. If Christ were in the numbers game, he could rearrange the stars to quote Acts 4:12 and the whole world would be saved tomorrow, but he’s not, he’s in it for the glory, of proving that his grace is sufficient and his strength is made perfect in human weakness.

So, beloved, before you “Go”, why don’t you stay? Make sure your motives are right, that you’re seeking the glory of the Son, that you are working in tandem to the Holy Spirit, the Paraklete (literally, he who walks alongside), and not fighting him and his efforts.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love…the former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerity… (Philippians 1:15-17)

Many have taken the command to “Go” seriously, and they’ve gone, but they’ve gone without the Holy Spirit. This is sweet to the tongue, but bitter in the belly, for I rejoice that the truth is proclaimed, but I worry about their souls. Many will knock on Heaven’s gates and when denied access will ask, “Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name?” and the answer will be that God never knew them; they refused to stay and wait for his Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth, instead trusting in their own ability to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ.

What is your end goal? Evangelism or a right preaching of the name of God? Multitudes proclaim a made-up free-will god, others proclaim a god who has given America over to her homosexual tendencies and refuses to save anymore, some preach a 19th century pronunciation of an Old Testament tetragram; they have gone without the Holy Spirit, instead of preaching truth they preach lies.

Do your efforts sound more like Second Timothy 2:24-25, The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

Or First Corinthians 3:1-3, I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

Perhaps your efforts to be a minister of the Gospel of Grace are well under way, but you never stayed and waited for the Holy Spirit, you've never humbled yourself under the exceeding goodness and kindness of the Lord of Glory, you’ve never knelt at the foot of a blood stained cross acknowledging that your ways can only end in death, that apart from Christ’s resurrection there is no life, and apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, your efforts in evangelism are in vain.

You are but a laborer in the harvests of God, you may plant, or you may water, but unless God grows the seed of faith, your efforts are in vain. Therefore, once you are clothed with power, baptized in the promise of the Father, that is, the Holy Spirit, then lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that is set before you, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Loving God and Loving Others

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
These are two of my favorite verses in the Bible. They sum up the earthly pay-off of the Christian life; our love is people, not things. Things will be destroyed by moth and rust, but a soul quickened in the love of Christ will persevere forever.

Charles Spurgeon put it this way,
A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.
The girl that cut my hair today was not interested in spiritual things at all, she said, “I’m happy, and that’s all that matters.” It reminded me of a movement that has swept evangelicalism, that might be called the Ephesizing of America. (Revelation 2:1-7) Our love has turned inwards, the command is, “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor…” and yet from pulpits nationwide on Sunday morning we hear that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life.

It has become me-centered Christianity; love is lost. We’re not really certain of what the word Ephesus means in Greek, it means one of two things, either desire, or remission, depending on which root you follow. The church at Ephesus had forgotten her first love, they were in remission from loving God and their neighbors, and they had replaced that love with something else which the Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly, but it doesn’t take much of an imagination to suspect that they had reverted to loving themselves.

Inward focused Christianity, as sold by the Osteens, the Warrens, the Hybels, the Ortbergs, the Fosters, and so many more, doesn’t fulfill any of the biblical mandates to love one another, and its pay-offs are so piddly that one wonders if these are the threat that Jesus Christ gave to Ephesus, that if they didn’t repent, he would take their lampstand away. Christ was actively warring against Pergamum, but he let Ephesus suffocate themselves in their self-centered anti-love atmosphere.

Paul was a great lover of his churches. He loved Christ first, but he loved the body of Christ just as much. In his boasting fit of 2 Corinthians 11 he tacks onto his physical suffering, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” After the church at Lystra went apostate following after works-righteous antichrists, Paul would write to them, “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” (Galatians 4:19-20)

Paul loved his churches, which is why he could call them his “glory and joy,” and later, “For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 3:8) In this outward love, Paul was rewarded infinitely more than if he had sought to love himself into such a state of euphoria. Near the end of his ministry, he recorded the words of Jesus Christ, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Our love should NEVER be inward. Love yourself? Anathema! Beloved, Christ summed up a 613 statute Law in two commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Our love should be outward, loving in deed and truth, not just in word and talk.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen new and old Christians step out of their own worlds to give to others, expecting to receive nothing in return.

I’ve seen students preach Christ and him crucified to their classmates, caring more for the eternal security of their friends than if the friendship would be ruined because of the offense of the cross.

Others have given up weeks and weekends to organize and participate in outreaches to the homeless, the elderly, the afflicted, and the perishing.

I’ve seen teenagers step outside of their comfort zones to work with toddlers and dance with seniors, expecting nothing more than that in their obedience their Saviour would be glorified.

Students have asked how they can help their deceived friends see that Mary and science cannot save them, but that only Immanuel who willingly drank the Father's cup of wrath and defeated death can revive and reconcile their soul.

This is a mere taste of the love in action of a church motivated by a Saviour who loved them first; a Saviour who instituted a new command, “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Paul was in love with his church at Thessalonica, he couldn’t stop boasting about them, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)

I understand his sentimentality perfectly; I have not mentioned any names in this post, as I would hate to leave anyone out, but my beloved coworkers in Christ, what is my hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are my glory and joy.

If you have been seeking the peace beyond all understanding by trying to bribe God through prayer, reading his word, attending Sunday School, beloved, you are doing as Hosea said, you are feeding on the wind, (Hosea 12:1) and you should expect nothing for your efforts. (cf. Acts 8:20-23) You have abandoned love; repent, and do the works you did at first. Loving others will, by promise of the Living Christ, be a bigger blessing to you than anything you could receive.

Paul writes to his friend in Colossae, “I pray that in the sharing of your faith you become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 6) Christ was really onto something when he commanded his followers to love one another.

So, where is your ministry? Are you loving God by loving others? God doesn’t need anything, and even if he did, he wouldn’t tell you. Therefore, in order to love God, you love him by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, befriending the stranger, and visiting the imprisoned, both in the spiritual and natural sense, for when you do something for the least of these, you do it unto Christ.

Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Compared to Other People...

I was recently speaking with someone, whom I respect, concerning the Way of the Master style of evangelism. (Click the “Hells Best Kept Secret” link to the right) It brought up an interesting question on our subjective goodness, which this treatise will address.

As we were speaking, a disagreement arose on showing people their sinful situation so fully and so quickly via the WotM method. In our conversation, there was no doubt that against God’s standards we are vile, desperately wicked, only evil continually, enemies of God who prove so by doing wicked works, but the conversation swung to us considering how bad we are in the subjective sense against other people. The statement was made, “I’m not that bad compared to other people.” I agreed, but that assertion continued to reverberate in my brain and various verses kept coming to mind.

The two verses that I was meditating on are when Paul refers to himself as the foremost of sinners and the least of saints. (1 Timothy 1:15, Ephesians 3:8) Now, the Bible is not short on hyperbole, the practice of making obvious and intentional exaggerations in order to demonstrate a point, and that’s what I thought these two were. A simple example is, “I’d kill for an In-N-Out Burger,” which obviously I would not kill for an In-N-Out burger, but I’d like one so much that I’d go a long way to get one. I have always assumed that Paul’s two statements about his chief-of-sinners and least-of-saints roles were hyperbole, demonstrating his understanding of the human condition of sin and his personal responsibility of it. But now I am not so sure; actually, I think I was flat-out wrong.

Jesus Christ is going to judge the thoughts and intents of our hearts, as well as our actions. Deeds done in the darkness will be brought to the light. He will judge haters of men to be murderers at heart (aka revilers), and those that lust extramaritally as adulterers at heart. His standards are perfect and his judgment impeccable.

As any good law requires, a minimum of two witnesses are required to indict a criminal. We are the first witness against ourselves, there is no law against self-incrimination in Heaven; the second witness is the Holy Spirit, he convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. On the outside we often see people do bad things and it is easy and right to judge them. But on motives, on the inside, it is not so easy and right to judge, because we are not privy to the inner workings of their minds.

The only two people who are privy to our inner thought lives are ourselves and the Holy Spirit. If we judge ourselves rightly, we should realize that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful beyond all things, for our spirit searches our thoughts and intents (1 Corinthians 2:11a), and we are found lacking.

Are we genuinely good in comparison to other people? God looked down on mankind and saw that the thoughts and intents of their hearts were only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-12) He didn’t say, “Everybody except you,” or “the thoughts and intents of the non-God-lovers,” he said it of all of mankind, of which you and I are imputed with a fallen condition and a bonded nature to wickedness.

We can look at Adolf Hitler and say, “I am way better than him.” But do you know his thoughts? You do know your own thoughts. He was directly or indirectly responsible for 60 Million people entering into eternity, thoroughly evil in manifestation, but Paul Washer says so astutely that without God restraining our actions, we would make Hitler look like a choir boy. How many people have you been unjustly angry towards, how many have you put yourself in a judgmental role over, how many times have your eyes indicted your soul, how many times has your mouth declared war on Heaven? You may be better than Hitler in manifestation, but in soul-condition you are on par with him, or perhaps even worse.

Beloved, I don’t know the thoughts and intents of your heart, but I do know mine, and I know that if I were the standard against which righteousness were measured, every last person on the planet would be welcomed into Heaven with open arms. I am the chief of sinners and the least of saints. In comparison to others I fall so very short that my soul can be counted as nothing other than loss. In measurement against the glory of God no hyperbole can be conceived to demonstrate the distance of my fallenness.

So it is settled, I am the chief of sinners; but beloved, don’t be so quick to judge. I am quite certain, my dear reader, that we are tied for this title; it is not a race, it is not a competition, it is a sad testament to the destroying power of sin.

Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who for us took on and defeated death, bearing the full weight, condemnation, and shame of our sin. I am the chief of sinners, but I have been made the least of saints.

Can you say the same? Christ did not come to save the righteous, but to save sinners. He will cast the self-righteous to the ground, they will have no part nor lot in his kingdom. Repent at the feet of the Lamb, cast off of any hint of your perceived goodness, of which we are deprived utterly, then receive the goodness and grace of our Goodness Gracious Sovereign.

Beloved, in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Can We Fix It? Yes We Can. But Should We?

I'm taking a class in secular psychology as it relates to the Bible as it relates to Catholic Mysticism.

Trust me, it's way more confusing than it sounds.

One thing that is jumping out at me is that every effort to conciliate psychology and biblical counseling is based on the assumption that we are supposed to be happy, and that when we are not happy, something is broken and it must be fixed.

Prior to me becoming a Christian and God taking our economy away, I made a decent amount of money through stock owned in Barr Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, and Tyco International; the effort to make ourselves feel better through any means available is big business. Antichristian author Thomas Jefferson set the ball rolling two-hundred years ago when he wrote that we have the right to the pursuit of happiness. Certainly we have the ability to pursue happiness, but should we?

Recently I had several events come together, most of them my fault through scheduling errors, overscheduling, lack of rest, lack of forethought, letting down friends on accident, a girl, ect. not necessarily in that order; Beloved, I felt awful. For weeks. The only thought on my mind was, "How do I fix this?" I did indeed fix it, and now I'm back to my old jocular self. And I'm sort of angry at myself for having fixed it, but it has proved to be a valuable learning experience.

Paul writes that we are to rejoice in all circumstances. For some reason I read that and thought, "Be happy in all circumstances." But that's not what he said. While I was seeking to be happy in all circumstances, what I ought to have been doing is rejoicing in my sadness by remembering that this present evil age will not last forever, that Christ has defeated death, reconciled me to God, and given me a peace beyond all understanding. I should have sought not to cut my season of sadness short, but to rejoice in it that as Paul says, "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

In instantly setting out to fix my suffering (albeit suffering may be too strong of a word to use), I inadvertently deprived myself of growing in endurance, growing in character, and growing in hope. I'm reminded of my dad's words that "just because you are a character doesn't mean you have character," and beloved, we can all use more character, more hope, more endurance, not for our own sake, but for the sake of those we minister to, and ultimately for Christ's sake that he receive the glory by proving that his grace is indeed sufficient and his power is made perfect in weakness.

So, this is easier said than done, but I encourage you to rejoice in all circumstances, know that God will use all things for good to those that love him. Don't let happiness be your end goal, if Christ had sought to avoid pain to the exclusion of all else, beloved, we would be entirely deprived of hope, but because he had the glory of God as his ultimate goal, we have become more than conquerors through him who loved us and gave himself for us.

So, when faced with affliction, hardship, and sadness we can pop pills from Pfizer (whom I no longer own stock in), or we can look in the mirror and say, "I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and [Don'tcha Know] It, People Like Me!", or we can trust in God who raises the dead, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God, even when we despaired of life itself.

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. Let us not shrink from bearing the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. For he will use all things for good to those that love him.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. For the sake of Christ, then, be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

Can we fix those things? Indeed we can, but for your sake and Christ's, please don't be so brash in doing away with suffering. God created this world with the purpose of demonstrating the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and if we go around happy to live in a sin-soaked and destroyed world, we miss the point completely.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wisdom and Eloquence in Preaching

An interesting trend has unfolded over the past week in five venues. In my homiletics class we are studying how to display wisdom with eloquence in our preaching; in my missions class we are examining how to conform ourselves to the world; in a Greg Stier book I'm reading, he recounts a time in his childhood in which he was trained to preach with style in order to win a 'preach-off' for his school; Phil Johnson's testimony describes how he was utterly crushed by the reading the first chapter of First Corinthians, which denounces the wisdom of men; and finally I was interviewed on camera at Kennesaw State University, having preaching for about fifteen minutes, by a man completely astonished that I would do something so foolish.

It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. - 1 Corinthians 1:21

I vacillate frequently on my favorite book of the Bible. Last week it was Psalm 73, the week before that it was Romans, before that it was First John, and before that was Acts; but the most useful book which I always return to is the Epistle to Galatia, against a church that abandoned the wisdom of God in order to seek after the wisdom of men, thoroughly content to reject Paul as an Apostle, excited to be perfected by their own works. Truly, they called themselves a church of Christ, but were not, but were a synagogue of Satan. A variety of quotes jump out at me as pertinent to those who would reject the foolishness of preaching in order to win the world through their own eloquence and wisdom, completely content to empty the cross of Christ of its power.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel... - Galatians 1:6

Oh you foolish Americans! Who has bewitched you? Did you receive Eternal Life through words of eloquent wisdom or baptism? Or through hearing the word of faith as it was proclaimed? For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. And if I, or an angel from Heaven, would preach to you a Gospel different than this, let them be accursed, though they bring interesting stories, relevant to the world, indistinguishable in word or talk from the world, let them be accursed.

Paul, in one of his "unprofitable" boasting fits, states this, "I worked harder than any of [the other Apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed." (1 Corinthians 15:11) Paul, THE Super-Apostle, whom could have come with every manner of eloquence and wisdom of speach, is so quick to point at the grace of God as the source of the gift of faith.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. - 2 Timothy 4:1-2

Rely not on yourselves, but on God who raises the dead.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pray This Prayer...and Really Mean It...

This morning, in order to prove a point, I prayed that God would give me a billion dollars, a beautiful wife with which to demonstrate the Ephesians 5 marriage, a Ford GT, the “Low Coolant” light in my truck to go off (it isn’t low on coolant), and just to tempt God a little farther, I prayed that work would call and tell me not to come in for a week or so.

I really, genuinely, absolutely, sincerely meant this prayer. And nothing happened...I didn’t even get struck by lightning, not so much as an inconvenient static discharge.

A few months ago I was preaching in the open-air and a young man came up and declared, “God is not real, I asked him to strike me dead and he didn’t.” I don’t propose to know the genuineness of this young man’s prayer for suicide-by-invocation, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose he was probably pretty sincere. My response to him was that he “ought not presume on the patience and forbearance of God as slackness to act, but that the kindness of God was meant to lead him to repentance.” I concluded by telling him that God does not like him and will not answer, nor even hear, his prayers.

Now, for the church application,
“If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!”
writes one author practicing a form of simony. God does not accept bribes, moreso if he were hungry or needed anything, he would not tell you.

Josiah is one of the more famous kings of Israel, having discovered a long-lost copy of Moses’ sermons (Deuteronomy) in the rubble of a once-great temple. Manasseh, his grandfather, was possibly the all time chiefest of sinners causing untold damage to the nation and souls of Israel, but he was saved and started a reform throughout the land, but his son, and Josiah’s father, Amon once again wrecked everything. Josiah inherited a godless and pagan land, but upon reading the Revelation through Moses, attempted to reform the people. He went so far as making a covenant with God (2 Kings 23:3), and Israel and Judah were cleansed of much unrighteousness, but still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. (2 Kings 23:26)

Why wasn't God's wrath turned? Did Josiah not genuinely, sincerely, and actively mean his prayer? Of course he did, but men are not able to make covenants with God.

To the wicked God says:
"What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.

"You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

"Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!" – Psalm 50:16-23

This salvation was purchased on Calvary by the Lord of Glory who canceled the record of our debt when God nailed him to the cross. There is one mediator between God and men, that is the man Jesus Christ; to all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God, who are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Call out to Jesus Christ to save you, ask him to be your advocate to broker the peace-treaty between you and God, ask him to intercede on your behalf that your sins have already been to the cross and that by faith in the Son of God you may be saved.

But beloved, I don’t care how much you mean it genuinely, sincerely, really in your heart...if the Son of God does not mediate for you, then you are dead in your sins. Unless he applies the covenant to your sake, the wrath of God continues to abide on you.

To conclude, take a look at an exceedingly beautiful Psalm, number 34, especially verse 6:

This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.

Notice the action, the poor man cried…the Lord heard…and who did the saving? The Lord, not the man, not the cry, but the faith in God results in the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the sinner. Your prayer doesn’t save you, your faith doesn’t save you, your sincerity doesn’t save you, quit trying to bribe God, and trust in the grace of God by which you are saved; his works, not yours.

The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:15-18

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Christian Humanism

Before reading any farther, Paris Reidhead has addressed this topic infinitely better than I can, and so I ask and urge you to listen to his incredible sermon on the subject: 10 Shekels and a Shirt by Paris Reidhead

For as incredible as his sermon is, I’ve sometimes wondered if Reidhead’s sermon might have had a wider audience or a bigger impact if he had chosen a better-known text to preach from. Granted, the title would not be so catchy, but when I first heard it, shallow as I may be, I thought, “Why does he have to go into a relatively unknown text to prove his point?” Before I go farther, know that I esteem the Book of Judges as the inerrant, infallible, inspired, timeless Word of God and that it is entirely useful for doctrine, reproof, and training in righteousness. Judges is one of my favorite Old Testament Books, along with Joshua, Isaiah, Nahum, Proverbs, Deuteronomy…and Thirty-Three others.

While reading through Matthew, I found a better known, and even a more direct passage against Humanism, and I’d like to do a brief exposition on this passage. Before beginning, I suppose I ought to define Humanism.

Humanism has three big definitions, that of human-worth, that of the happiness of men on earth being of utmost importance, and that of the happiness of men in eternity as the end goal of Christianity. All of these are fallacy and antibiblical.

The human being, sold under sin, is worthless. (Romans 3:12) The worth of the Christian is not found in the worth of the man, but in the price paid for the redemption of that man. Just as a pancake imprinted with an image of a pagan deity of Roman Catholicism is worthless, it can be esteemed as worth thousands if a pagan purchaser via eBay can be found. Men are worthless except that the God of Creation decides to purchase them at so great a cost on Calvary’s cross. (Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 1 Corinthians 7:23) Of this, the Swiss Brethren practiced a sort, not esteeming any man as worth more than another, for truly, God is no respecter of persons, but that each man stands before God equal to every other man. (Compare Galatians 3:28)

The worldly definition of Humanism is making men happy while on earth, this assumes that there is no life to come, and therefore treasures are stored up on earth where moth and rust destroy. Richard “Dinky” Dawkins is a practitioner of this religion, and yet he ought to read Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, for there is nothing new under the sun, and Solomon already tried this religion under God’s guidance in order that Solomon would gain a godly wisdom to share with you and me. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

And finally, that which Paris Reidhead stands against so ardently, which is by far the most damning of the doctrines of Humanism, that of Christian Humanism, or making the eternal happiness of men the ultimate goal of evangelism. In the words of Reidhead, “You don’t want to go to that ole filthy nasty burning Hell when there is a beautiful Heaven up there, now come to Jesus so that you can go to Heaven!” The terrible part of this doctrine is that it turns God from a goal to a means. Christ had to die to make me happy. Heresy! Christ’s purpose above all was to magnify the name of God (Psalm 69), redeem the honor of his name (1 John 2:12), and demonstrate his glory for all to see. (Isaiah 43:7) The salvation of sinners was high on his priorities, but it was not his first priority. (John 18:37)

So, open your Bible to Matthew 22, verses 1 through 14, to see just how much God hates Christian Humanism.

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

"But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are

Now, besides the abandonment of the Jews in this parable and their indictment for the ignoring and ultimately killing of the prophets and the saints, we see in this parable the invitation of the Wedding Feast to as many as can be found. Here we see an indiscriminate call to those who would come to honor the Son.

Before going any farther, there is a bit of cultural context needed. These men called indiscriminately from the highways and hedges could not be expected to be prepared for a Wedding Feast; I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I don’t carry a tuxedo with me, and neither did these men have the wedding garments with them to be acceptable to be in the presence of the King and his Son. Now, our King is a gracious king, he knows that we are naked in our sins and our best efforts to clothe ourselves are as itchy fig-leaves, and so he has made provision for our being clothed in righteousness, to provide us with a wedding garment, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14), which I don’t think can be said any more beautifully than Isaiah put it,
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. –Isaiah 61:10
Without this robe of righteousness, this wedding garment to honor the Son, then we see what happens. The King looks upon those who have been offered his robe, seeing that the one without must have refused it, and he becomes irate. Maintaining his patience, he asks, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” When the man was speechless, the King had him cast out of the party, which Christ is quick to point out in the context of the kingdom of Heaven is to be cast into Hell everlasting.

What was the man’s offense? He had come into the party, he was invited by some evangelist, and was glad to have found rest, food, wine, and even fellowship, but what was he missing? His motives were wrong, he was there for all of these good things while forsaking the honor of the Son. Humanism. There are many in our churches who are seeking reprieve from Hell, an everlasting respite in Heaven and all of the good things that come along with it, but who could care less if the Son is honored, let alone even attends his own party.

This selfishness and wanton disrespect to the King and the Bridegroom will not go unpunished. Christ said elsewhere, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) The Psalmist said, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.” (Psalm 2:12)

Seated even on either side of the man who had refused the wedding garment were the other guests who were there to honor the Son; notice that they were privy to the wedding feast; the fatted calf, the oxen, and everything else, and they were not removed forcibly from the party.

Beloved, the kingdom of heaven is like this: the glory, honor, and name of the Son must be honored above all else. He is the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Glory, and the King of kings; he was dead, but he is alive; he was, and he is, and he is to come. Unless you approach his throne in humility with his honor as your goal, his Father will cast you into the outer darkness. Unless you are clothed in his righteousness, (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:21) his wrath will consume you and the smoke of your torment will waft before his throne forever and ever.

Repent towards God, and trust in Jesus Christ, make his glory your eternal goal, that when sufferings come, you praise his name, that you hunger and thirst after righteousness, that you tell of all his wondrous works. If you have come to him only to escape the wrath to come, only come to him to enjoy the good things that are to be inherited in him, then you have come into the kingdom under false pretense and you will be found out.

For some real world application, sometime ago I wrote this example against an evangelism class which was teaching Humanistic garbage, ala Billy Graham, as the evangelism method, and how the biblical evangelist has to approach men,
I've found a certain wisdom in the world, that while public speaking you ought picture your audience naked. I have found this to be exceedingly applicable and I now picture my audiences naked, in their sins, on Judgment Day; their shame exposed, the book of their conscience thrust open, and them speechless in their lack of a wedding garment. I've been able to get over my fear of them by placing my fear for them at a higher priority.
Beloved, don’t be speechless in your lack of a Wedding Garment, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Set your affections on the Son, not on yourself, make him your highest priority. Once you have done this, a unique thing happens, that when the Son is honored, you will receive his blessings, you will be seated in the heavenlies with him, your place in the Mansions of Heaven will be prepared, you will be more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. But if his glory is not your utmost reward, then you will not hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” You will instead hear the command to the angels, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness, in that place there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Lord Jesus, I’m going to obey you, and love you, and serve you, and do what you want me to do as long as I live, even if I go to Hell at the end of the road, simply because you are worthy to be loved, obeyed, and served; and I’m not trying to make a deal with you. – Paris Reidhead