Monday, December 2, 2013

Preparing For Advent

As we prepare for the Advent season, the time when we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, I thought it might be helpful to take a moment to look at how those who were present at His birth viewed the event. I fear that if we are not careful, we can easily get so caught up with all of the commercialism of the holidays that we lose sight of the real reason that we as Christians celebrate.

With the shepherds we notice that Christ served as the reason for their rejoicing. After the angel appeared to them to tell them the wonderful news of the Savior who had been born that day (Luke 2:8-14) and when they had found the baby lying in the manger as the angels stated, we read that The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them (v. 20). The arrival of the Messiah led them to worship God. They responded in praise and adoration.

For the magi, Christ served as the object of their search. They followed the star that indicated that His birth had come (Matthew 2:2). Perhaps they were thinking of the prophecy uttered through Balaam recorded in Numbers 24:17. A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel. They “traversed afar” (as we often sing) to finally reach the promised Christ child. And we witness further rejoicing by them and their worshiping of Christ Himself. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him (Matthew 2:10-11).

Luke highlights two individuals that come in contact with Jesus in the Temple. Their names are Simeon and Anna and Christ served as their hope. The Messiah was what Simeon had been waiting for. We are told that he was looking for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). He was hoping for this One to come to comfort and deliver his people and God revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen Him (v. 26). He even points out that the Messiah would be the hope for all the nations, both the Gentiles and the Jews (v. 32). Anna also was in the Temple and upon seeing the Messiah, was giving thanks to God (v. 38).

There are a few things we notice with all of those who first witnessed this monumental event in the course of history (really His-story). They all were centered on Christ. The shepherds rejoiced on account of Him, the magi sought after Him, and Simeon placed his hope in Him. It was all about Him. Also, they worshiped God on account of Him. This worship also can be seen with several others who had the special privilege of coming in contact with the Messiah such as Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph. And I think that it is very important to note that their celebration was not merely over the fact that God came to earth in the person of Christ but in what that Messiah would accomplish. It was not about the manger that cradled the baby as it was the cross that He would grow up to hang upon. The shepherds were rejoicing over the truth that the angel conveyed that this Messiah is the Savior (Luke 2:11). Simeon exclaimed that my eyes have seen Your salvation (Luke 2:30). Anna continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). Mary exclaimed, My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47). Zacharias likewise praised God for the salvation that this Messiah would bring. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant (Luke 1:68-69).

So let’s not lose our focus this Christmas season. While the “most wonderful time of the year” often becomes the “most stressful,” may we keep Christ at the center of our celebrations, worship and praise God for Him, and look past the “away in a manger” that we sing about to the purpose of His birth, salvation through His death in the place of repentant sinners and His resurrection three days later. In fact, it is because of Christ’s death on the cross that gives us the reason to sing of His birth. As one song properly puts it, “The beginning of the story is wonderful and great, But it's the ending that can save you and that's why we celebrate.” And this focus and celebration should not be limited of course to this time of Advent but one that we should have year round for the glory of God.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Friday, October 18, 2013

What Does It Mean To Address God As Father

Following Jesus’ teaching on how to pray, we rightfully address God as our Father (Matthew 6:9). But have we taken the time to reflect on what it actually means to call God our Father? What are the implications of Him relating to us as our Father?

God serving as the Father of believers means that He will take care of His children. The reason why Jesus tells us that we are not to be worried about our life is because the same God who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers will take care of our needs as well. for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things (Matthew 6:32). The remedy to our constant worrying is to remind ourselves that we have a Father who cares for us and will provide for our needs. To worry is in all actuality to distrust our heavenly Father. It indicates that we doubt His care and provision and think that we need to rely on ourselves or something or someone else. We can confidently ask God to give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) since He is our Father. Because He has promised to meet our needs (not our wants mind you). True rest for the weary can only be found in recognizing God as our Father.

The same is true in regard to our trials. When the most awful affliction or the most turbulent tribulation comes upon us, we have strength to bear it, understanding that our heavenly Father has ordained and arranged it. He does nothing intended for our ill but only for our good. As the author of Hebrews points out in relation to our earthly fathers, For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10-12). The discipline of our trials are for our good, serving to grant us the privilege to become holy. So know that while you may not understand the pain of the trial you currently experience, you have a Father who knows what is best and intends it for your good. He loves us so much that He is willing to make us experience some of the most difficult seasons in order to teach us to trust Him more (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and for us to have a greater understanding of Him (Job 42:5). What a great comfort to have such a Father in control!

It is because God serves as our Father that we can move forward with great confidence when our plans fail, when the “yes” we were hoping for turns into a “no,” or when our dreams may shatter. There is no such thing as coincidence and ultimately we do not chart our own course in life (Proverbs 16:9, 33; 21:1; Daniel 4:34-35; Ephesians 1:11). When a door closes, knowing that God is our Father softens the blow because we then realize that He knows what is best and promises to give us what is best. That those who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing (Proverbs 34:10). The closed door signifies that whatever it was, was not good or the best for us at the moment. Oh, how often we fret when things don’t go our way when really we should rejoice that our Father is looking out for us and seeking only to give us what is best for us. Since we don’t know what is best for us (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25), it is such a blessing that we have a Father Who does and gives what is good to those who ask Him! (Matthew 6:11). These are things that God knows is good, not necessarily what we may falsely think is good for us.

Let’s not take for granted the privilege we have to call God our Father nor forget what that actually means. Thomas Watson was right when he said, “There is more sweetness in this word ‘Father,’ than if we had ten thousand worlds!” And this is not a privilege that everyone in the world shares but only those who have been born again by God’s Spirit and placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13). Do you have this privilege to address God as your Father? And if you do, are you resting in it?

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Friday, September 27, 2013

Figuring Out Foreknowledge

If you want to start a quick and fiery theological debate, just mention the words "election" or "predestination." Two sides will clearly be drawn; those who hold to the view that man's salvation hinges completely upon the work of God alone ("monergism") and those who see salvation resulting from a cooperation of both God and man's work together ("synergism"). The former view holds that man has no power in and of himself, as a result of the fall, to come to faith in Christ and the faith that he exercises to do so must have been given from God Himself and results entirely from the work of His Spirit while the latter sees man as containing the ability to believe, often due to a work of God's grace equally done to all men that allows them to freely come to Christ or reject Him (often referred to as "prevenient grace"). This debate often centers on the word foreknowledge which is connected with the Bible's description of election (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The question is what does foreknowledge actually mean. Is it that God looks forward into time, seeing who will believe in Him, and then in turn choosing those ones to be saved? Or does it indicate something else? I would argue that a closer look at the word and how it is used in Scripture indicates something different which might aid in solving this current argument over the role that God and man plays in man's salvation.

Object of Persons
The term foreknowledge basically means to know beforehand. It is having knowledge of a fact or event that has not yet occurred. The word is used a total of seven times in the Bible (Acts 2:23; 26:5; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:2, 20; 2 Peter 3:17). One thing that we notice about the word is that it often has select persons as the object of what is known beforehand. For instance, in Acts 26:5, Paul states that the Jews knew him beforehand and thus could testify of his former life as a Pharisee. Paul states that God knew the people of Israel beforehand (Romans 11:2), not anything specific about them regarding their faith or faithlessness. And Peter points out that God knew His people beforehand (1 Peter 1:2) and Jesus Himself (1 Peter 1:20). We must be careful to note that in one of the classic passages that this debate centers on, Romans 8:29, the apostle states explicitly that it is those whom He foreknew that God predetermined to be made into the image of His Son. It is the persons that He knew in advance and not anything specific about them such as whether or not they would be receptive to Him or place their faith in Him. The people themselves. Nothing else about them and their will is even mentioned. The focus is on God's work in the lives of His people with the all things that occur in their lives (Romans 8:28). His people who are called according to His purpose are those He knew in advance.

Close Connection With God's Plan and Purpose
Another thing we notice about this word foreknowledge is that it has a close connection to God's plan and purpose. In Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, he states that this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (Acts 2:23). It was not only according to God's foreknowledge that Christ was handed over to be crucified but also a part of His predetermined plan. It would not make sense here to say that God knew in advance the actions of Judas and the high priests which would result in Jesus being nailed to the cross and therefore described it as His predetermined plan. That would be God taking credit for the work of man instead of showing Him as ordaining all things that occur which would be consistent with the rest of the teaching of Scripture. Logically, God would certainly know all that occurs if it is part of His predetermined plan. Also, the fact that the phrase predetermined plan precedes the term foreknowledge in this verse may indicate that God's plan preceded His knowledge. In fact, through the pen of the prophet Isaiah, God argues that the very reason that He knows the future with complete certainty stems from the fact that He serves as the cause of all events in the future. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (Isaiah 46:10). According to this verse, why does God say that He can declare the end from the beginning? Because His purpose will be established and He will accomplish all His good pleasure. Because He is in control of all that occurs in the future. This point is communicated even more powerfully when one realizes the context of Isaiah 40-48; a sermon making the case why God is supreme over man-made idols. A wooden statue is powerless to predict the future because it has no control over the future unlike God who orchestrates all things and that is demonstrated to the people at the present time with His prophecies of what is to come, particularly concerning this bird of prey from the east, Cyrus, whom God intends to use to free the Jews from their coming Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 46:11). God's foreknowledge cannot be separated from His predetermined plan. God knows all that He plans to do and since He works all things according to His will (Ephesians 1:11), He thus knows all things. He knows those who are His people because He planned for them to become His people.

Significance of the Term "Know"
Something that is often forgotten about in an examination of the term foreknowledge concerns the use of the word know that serves part of this compound word. In several places in the Bible, know often conveys the idea of an intimate relationship. When we read that the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain (Genesis 4:1), we certainly have to understand that Adam must have known a lot more about Eve than just her existence for this conception to happen. He had an intimate relationship with his wife. Jesus uses the word know similarly in His Sermon on the Mount to describe those on the last day who did not trust in Him. He states that He will say to such I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:23). Jesus, being fully God, knows every single person whom God brings into existence, so this cannot be referring to cognitive knowledge of the people. Again, the idea is that Jesus did not have an intimate relationship through faith with this group. Perhaps the key in properly understanding Paul and Peter's use of the word foreknowledge can be found in Amos 3:2 referring to Israel. You only have I known among all the families of the earth. Now God certainly knows the existence of every single nation or people among all the families of the earth as He is the one who forms and gives each individual their life (Psalm 139:14-16; Jeremiah 1:5). The point here is that out of all the families of the earth, God has chosen to have an intimate relationship with the people of Israel and not those of any other nation at the time. According to Deuteronomy 7:6-8, God chose the nation of Israel to be His people solely because He chose to love them. Not because of anything about them at all. When Peter refers to the scattered saints that he wrote to as God's chosen people according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, he uses the language of the Old Testament to describe God's people of Israel. They were consistently referred to as being chosen to be God's people. Peter begins his letter as acknowledging that these Christians are also part of God's chosen people. In fact, later, Peter will use several titles that originally belonged to Israel and that now also apply to the church (1 Peter 2:9-10). In light of these connections, it appears that Peter very well may be indicating that God chose these people who trust in His Son according to His intimate relationship He determined to have with them beforehand, His love He chose to bestow upon them beforehand in eternity past (Ephesians 1:4), by the work of His Holy Spirit in the new birth that He causes within their heart and through the shedding of Christ's blood in the place of these for the inauguration of the new covenant they become part of. Paul's use of foreknowledge in Romans 11:2 confirms this understanding. God's foreknowledge of His people Israel would resemble Amos' reference to the type of intimate relational loving knowledge of that people earlier. God loved His people whom He chose beforehand. More likely, Paul would best be understood to use the term the same way a few chapters earlier in Romans 8:29. It is those that He has chosen to bestow His love upon beforehand that He has predetermined to be made into the image of Christ and whom He ultimately will glorify (v. 30).

Know (without any pun intended!) that my main goal is to seek to understand what God's Word says about this matter. The preceding is the result of a few years of study of Scripture concerning this topic. I encourage you to evaluate this argument and most importantly what the Bible itself says to help you come to your conclusion of where you may fall on this much important debate concerning God's and our role in our salvation. We want to make sure that we give God the full credit for His salvation that His deserves and appropriately be humbled at His full grace and mercy in doing the full work of redemption in our lives. And if you have not trusted in Christ to save you from God's wrath through His death on the cross and following resurrection, I encourage you to consider the claims of Scripture pertaining to Who He is and what He has done. I call you to repent and to look to Him alone as your only hope; not in who you are or anything that you may do. If, by God's grace, you respond to this call, then you can rejoice and praise Him for saving you, recognizing that you have been chosen according to the love He has had for you before the very foundation of the world. To God ALONE be the glory!

In Christ,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

God's Sovereignty and Human Responsiblity

One issue that many Christians struggle with concerns how God can be described as sovereign over all things and yet man be held responsible for his actions and decisions. Many mistakenly view these two truths as being contradictory. If God is absolutely sovereign, then they reason that man could not be faulted for his sins or since man makes choices and is held accountable to those choices, then God could not be properly described as sovereign and in control of those choices. However, Scripture clearly teaches both points without any hint of them being in opposition. One cannot deny either truth. Often they are displayed side by side. The following are several examples in Scripture where both God is shown to be fully sovereign and determining that everything occurs according to His divine plan while man is identified as being guilty of specific sins that he committed under God's sovereign reign. My hope is that these examples and my explanations that follow will aid those who struggle with this issue.

The Treachery of Joseph's Brothers and the Triumph of God's Promise

After the death of Jacob, Joseph's brothers feared that Joseph would get them back for their treachery against him when he was a kid (Genesis 50:15). They had sold him to the Ishmaelites due to their jealousy over their father's greater affection for the young man (Genesis 37:25-28). Instead of retaliating, Joseph says to them: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19). Notice here that there is one event and two intentions. Joseph's brothers meant evil in their action of selling him to the Ishmaelites but God, in permitting the brothers to do it (He could have easily stopped it in some way), meant it for good. God had a greater purpose in His sovereignty. His purpose was to preserve many people alive and keep His promise to Abraham. Think about it. Had Joseph not wound up in Egypt through the means of his brothers' sin, Jacob and his children would have all died in Canaan. Thus God would not have been faithful to His promise to make a great nation with many descendants from Abraham (Genesis 12:2) and to bring about the promised Redeemer from him (Genesis 12:3; 22:18). It was due to Joseph being in Egypt and having been given the ability to interpret the Pharaoh's dream that predicted seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, that he found himself placed into the position of being the second highest rank in Egypt and able to save and distribute food to those who would be hurting in the time of the famine. This would include his father and his brothers. Without God's provision in this manner, Jacob and his sons would have perished without the twelve tribes of Israel developing and then Abraham left without any descendants. This means of provision through the brothers' sin was exactly how God planned for it to happen as seen with the dreams given to Joseph when he was a young boy (Genesis 37:5-10). While the brothers were held responsible for their treacherous action, God is shown to triumph through His sovereignty over them. In no way is God accused of evil in His intentions or actions in His allowance of the brothers' deeds.

The Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart

Ten times Scripture describes God as hardening Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8,17) and ten times it refers to the king hardening his own heart (7:13,14,22; 8:15,19,32; 9:7,34,35; 13:15). I think that the best way to understand this is to view God as withholding His grace from Pharaoh which would result in him hardening his own heart. God certainly cannot cause someone directly to sin because it goes against His holy character (James 1:13). God in His sovereignty could have sent His Spirit to soften Pharaoh's heart and move him to release the Israelites sooner. However, God desired to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16). Pharaoh is held responsible for the hardening of his heart and God is shown to have planned for it to occur. In fact, the first mentioning of this hardening refers to God determining that I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go (Exodus 4:21).

The Planned Rejection of God

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel sin by demanding that the prophet Samuel appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations (v. 5). This would be a sin because they in essence rejected God as their king (v. 7). They were indicating that they thought that God was not sufficient to lead them and that they would rather be like all the nations instead of being the set apart nation devoted solely to Him that God had called them to be. However, a kingship for Israel, although a sin due to it indicating their rejection of God, was planned from early on. In fact, it was part of the promise that God gave to Abraham. He told the patriarch that I will make you into nations and kings shall come from you (Genesis 17:6). Furthermore, through Jacob, God determined that The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Genesis 49:10). Thus, God planned for man's rejection of him through their demanding of a king. As was with the case of Joseph and his brothers, God permitted this disobedience to serve as the means of accomplishing His plan.

Another planned rejection of God can be seen with the Jews in their rejection of their Messiah. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him (John 1:11). Although Jesus was the "king of the Jews," the Jews rejected Him and had Him crucified on the cross. They failed to recognize the time of your visitation (Luke 19:44). However, Paul tells us that this rejection had been planned by God from the beginning. Speaking of God's righteous dealings with His chosen nation of Israel, he quotes two Old Testament passages that demonstrate that God planned for their hardening (Romans 11:8-10). This hardening was clearly God's doing as Isaiah 29:10 states that God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day (emphasis added). The truth of Who Jesus was and His importance was hidden from their eyes (Luke 19:42) Yet, the Jews are held responsible for their rejection. God's purpose in their rejection was to provide salvation to the Gentiles (literally in Greek the nations) and in turn the extending of salvation to the other nations will result in bringing a large remnant of Israel to obedience (Romans 11:11-12, 25-27). God once again used human actions, which man was held fully responsible for, to accomplish His divine plan for His glory.

The Punishers and Their Punishment

Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares the nation of Assyria as the rod of My anger; the staff in their hands is my fury (Isaiah 10:5). To punish His people, the nation of Israel, God plans to send the Assyrians to capture them. Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of My wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets (v. 6). While God intends to use the Assyrians to attack the people of Israel and take them into captivity, they have a different intention. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few (v. 7). Instead, they desire to make themselves look great through the conquering of the nation of Israel. Just as God used the wicked motives of Joseph's brothers for a greater intention that He had, here He uses the wicked intentions of the nation of Assyria. However, the Assyrians were still held responsible for their sinful intentions and punished. When the Lord has finished all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes (v. 12). It may be important to note that this states that God punished them for their attitude and intentions and not necessarily the act of capturing Israel. They are faulted for exalting themselves over God and not recognizing Him using them for His work (v. 15). God used wickedness to punish wickedness and made sure that none of the wicked went unpunished.

Judgment Through A Judge in Marrying The Unmarriable
The strong judge Samson has a strong desire to marry this daughter of the Philistines. (Of course his life can mostly be characterized by a desire for some woman!) Even though his parents attempted to try to talk him out of it, he was determined to take this one to be his wife because she looks good to me (Judges 14:3). This marriage would be a sin since God clearly commanded the people not to marry the ungodly outside of the nation of Israel(Deuteronomy 7:1-3). However, the author provides for us a very interesting insight in the following verse: However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines (Judges 14:4). Did you notice that? This desire to marry one that Samson had no business marrying was ultimately of the LORD. While Samson was concerned about his own happiness, God has a greater concern with His holiness and glory and thus uses Samson's sinful desire to defeat the Philistines who currently were oppressing His people.

Saving the Shipwreck

While caught in a storm sailing towards Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, Paul tells everyone on the ship that an angel had appeared to him, promising that God has granted you all those who sail with you (Acts 27:24). Due to God's word on this matter, Paul could boldly state that there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship (v. 22). However, when some of the sailors were attempting to leave the ship in fear that it would hit the rocks, Paul tells them Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved (v.31). Paul certainly did not forget God's promise that He would preserve everyone's life of those who were on the ship. The next day he reminded them of that promise. for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you (v. 34). Instead, he recognized that God not only ordains the end of His plan but also the means to that specific end. Had the sailors left the ship in their small boats, no one would have been left on the ship who were skilled in directing the ship to its intended destination and who would have been able to handle the shipwreck they would experience. God used the means of the sailors serving on the ship to ensure that they all made it safely to the land. In fact, God also used the means of the centurion to ensure that the prisoners would not lose their lives when the soldiers desired to kill them in case they tried to escape during the shipwreck (vv. 42-43). Through the means of the sailors staying on the ship and the centurion convincing the soldiers to spare the lives of the prisoners, all were brought safely to land (v. 44). God kept His promise through the means of these men's actions. Had the sailors left or the centurion remained quiet, lives would have been lost.

Our and God's Work in Our Sanctification

Paul commands believers to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). This is clearly a command as the Greek verb is in the imperative mood, which indicates a command being given. However, Paul goes on to explain that God also is at work within them both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). The implication here is that, although Paul commands us to work and live out our salvation, we cannot obey that command without God's work in us. We can work only because God is working in us to enable us to do so. Augustine understood this when he stated "Give what you command and command what you will." In other words, "command me to do whatever you wish, but give me the ability to obey that command." Thus, man is responsible for this "working" and God is sovereign over it.

The Predetermined Sin to Take Away All Sin

As part of his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter refers to Christ's death as a product of both God's sovereign plan and man's sin. He describes Jesus as being delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). Thus, Jesus' death occurred as planned and ordained by God. This plan was definite, meaning that God intended for it to occur and would ensure that it would occur. It was predetermined as indicated by it transpiring according to God's foreknowledge. He formulated this plan before hand. Yet, man is held responsible for the sin that was done according to the divine plan. Peter states that this Jesus . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God ordained the sin of the murder of His Son to serve as the means to take away the sins of those who would trust in Christ. Basically, God conquered sin with sin!

The One Written Beforehand Who Would Have Been Better Not to Have Been Born

In the upper room with His disciples, Jesus warned the Twelve that one of them at the table would betray Him. He then states that this betrayal serves as part of God's divine plan written down previously. For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him (Mark 14:21). The Old Testament contained many prophecies which spoke of the coming Messiah's death; Isaiah 53 arguably one of the greatest of such passages. However, the one who served as the means of this betrayal does not have his responsibility in the crime neglected. Jesus goes on to say that, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. Though part of God's plan to send Jesus to the cross to die for the sins of the ones who would trust in Him, the consequences for such a grave sin Judas would commit that very night were so dire that Jesus could say that he would wish that he had never been born. Of course, God intended him to be born and to use him as a means to bring Jesus to the cross. We read that Satan entered the disciple's heart and persuaded him to turn Jesus over (Luke 22:3). From Job 1:12; 2:6; and Luke 22:31, we learn that God serves as sovereign over Satan and must grant him permission for him to do anything. Thus, this means that God had to allow Satan to enter into Judas' heart. God did not directly cause this but permitted it so that He could bring redemption to the world. Though He did not deny acknowledging Judas' sin that resulted from his following of the devil's enticements.

Some Final Reflections

In all of these passages, we see God presented as sovereign over every person and event, yet people still being held accountable for their actions. In each case we have one action, two actors, and two intentions. Often the human actor's intentions differ from God's who serves as the other and really ultimate actor. One action results from the two actors and their two intentions. God uses the human actor with his intentions, though often sinful, to accomplish the action of His intention. He thus can be described as the "primary" cause of the action with the human actor deemed as the "secondary" cause. The human actor only does what God allows or enables the human actor to do based on the human actor's desires and situations. This human actor is still held accountable for his sinful intentions and desires. God does not place those sinful desires in man but they inherit that from their father Adam. However, God uses the actions that result from such sinful desires to accomplish His plan and to bring Him glory. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this point well: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

As students of Scripture, we must affirm both that God is sovereign and man held responsible for his actions and decisions, exercised under God's sovereign hand. We may not fully understand how these two fit together but we cannot deny either. One of my fears is that too many people bring God down by limiting His sovereignty or elevate man by placing him in a position where he can mess up God's plan which is an idea completely foreign to Scripture (Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11). Let's always remain true to the text of Scripture, especially in regards to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Is God A Gentleman? Why A Proper View of God and Man Matters

John Calvin begins his signature work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, with "Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." Proper wisdom comes from the right understanding of Who God is and who we are as humans. In fact, getting these two topics wrong results in living our lives incorrectly. A.W. Tozer was right in stating, "I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God." As a pastor I am constantly reminded of the importance of teaching the truth of Scripture concerning Who God is and the nature of man. It becomes more and more evident to me the need for this as I converse with people and hear their common faulty views of God and man. Just this weekend I was listening to a popular "Christian" radio station where a man called in and mentioned how "God is a gentleman" in regards to our salvation. The idea is that God waits for us to come to Him and does not impose Himself upon us. Unfortunately, far too many people hold to such a teaching, not realizing that it misportrays God and misunderstands the nature of man after the Fall. So what is the proper view of God and man according to Scripture in regards to man's salvation? Can we rightfully say that He is a gentleman according to what His Word says about Him?

The Proper View of God
The idea that "God is a gentleman" conveys the picture that God paces back and forth in heaven, hoping, waiting, and longing for sinners to come to Him. He knocks on the door of man's heart, standing outside and wanting to hear the knob turn. However, such a view does not match the description that God gives of Himself in His own Word. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not the story of man's search for God but rather God's search for rebellious man. He is not a God who waits for sinners to come to their senses and turn to Him but One who relentlessly pursues sinners, turning their hearts to Him. Consider the following examples we find in Scripture:

-God did not wait for Adam to come to Him after the Fall but approached him first (Genesis 3:8-9). Had He waited, Adam may never have went to Him but continued to attempt to hide from Him in shame. To this day, all of Adam's offspring are born running and hiding from God in similar shame.

-For Noah to have found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8) and to be described as a righteous man, blameless in his generation (v. 9), God first must have approached Him and done a work in his life for him to place his faith in the coming redemptive seed promised after the Fall (Genesis 3:15). We know this because Noah would have been included in God's statement on the universality of the wickedness of man in Genesis 6:5. Noah, after all, was a [hu]man. And God imposes on Noah's life to build an ark in order to save him and his family (v. 13).

-God did not wait for Abram to "come to his senses" and leave the gods of his fathers (Joshua 24:2) to go to Him but instead He went to the Patriarch, commanded him to obey Him, and then told him of His plan for him (Genesis 12:1-4; Joshua 24:3). The same is true for Abraham's children. God chose Isaac over Ishmael and approached him (Genesis 26:1-5; Romans 9:7-9). He chose Jacob over Esau and came to him to share His promise and plan for him (Genesis 25:23; 28:10-17; 32:22-32; 35:9-15; Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:10-13). There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that these men would have turned to God apart from His first coming to them and directing them to Him.

-Jesus handpicked those who would follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-51). Even the one who was intended to betray Him (Mark 3:19). These men were busy minding their own business and tending to their own affairs when Jesus imposed on them to leave their comfortable lives and forsake everything to follow Him.

-Jesus certainly was no gentleman when He stopped Paul in his tracks on the way to Damascus, blinding him and changing not only the literal direction he was heading but also the direction of his heart (Acts 9:1-9).

-Notice that God is described as piercing the heart of those who heard Peter's sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:37). The Greek form of the word for pierce indicates something that happened to the listeners from outside of them, not something that they did to themselves. (The verb is in the passive voice.) They received this piercing of their hearts. They did not do it themselves.

-And Luke is careful to specify that God added to the number of converts to the church and not that people added themselves as God sat back observing in the shadows with His fingers crossed (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 11:24).

-Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this can be found with the conversion of Lydia. Luke tells us specifically that the Lord opened Lydia's heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). Not that Lydia invited Jesus into her heart by the specific words of some prayer. The certain implication here is that had God not opened her heart, she never would have responded to Paul's presentation of the gospel message. In fact, with just these examples alone (and much more could be given), we see that God always takes the initiative. He is not a gentleman in the case of waiting for sinners that He saves by grace. His action determined their response. It is understanding the proper view of man that it makes sense why God cannot be a gentleman concerning our salvation. Why He has to relentlessly pursue sinners in order for them to forsake themselves and throw themselves upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus and rest upon Him alone to save them.

The Proper View of Man
The very reason that God has to take the initiative with man is due to man not being able to come to God on his own as a result of the curse of the Fall. As Jesus puts it plainly, No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). Without God's drawing of a person, he or she is not able to come to Christ. So if God would wait on man, none would ever come to Him. And man cannot come to God because he is unwilling to do so (John 5:40). He will not come because he does not desire to. Man is unwilling to come to God in Christ because he loves his sin and therefore hates God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19). Why does man not come to the light? Because he loves the darkness instead. If you placed before me a bowl of strawberry ice cream and a bowl of chocolate ice cream and asked me to choose between the two, I will always choose strawberry ice cream. The reason for this is that I love the taste of strawberry ice cream and I absolutely despise chocolate ice cream. The only way to get me to choose chocolate ice cream over strawberry would be to change my tastes and desires. Chocolate ice cream would have to taste a whole lot better to me and strawberry ice cream would have to become repulsive. Likewise, the only way a sinner can view God as wonderful and sin as repulsive which goes against their very nature would be for God to change their desires. This is what Scripture describes to occur in the new birth which is a work of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 1:12-13; 3:1-8). As Paul Washer puts it, the issue with man is not their "free will" but their "ill will." A "will" heading in the wrong direction towards sin instead of God. If God does not do the work of the new birth in one's heart, their will does not change and thus they continue to defy God instead of glorify God with their sinful and morally bent wills.

Why This Matters
Should you still be reading this you may be wondering why this matters. What is the big deal about referring to God as a gentleman in regards to our salvation? Why stay up so late to address this issue? It bothers me for two primary reasons. First, it robs God of His glory. If God deserves the credit for 100% of our salvation and we only recognize 90% or 95% of it being His work, then we rob Him of 10% or 5% of His glory. We take some of the "amazing" out of grace if any part of our salvation is up to us. Since Salvation belongs to the LORD as Jonah pointed out (Jonah 3:9), then seeing God as waiting for us to actively come to Him instead of seeing Him as relentlessly pursuing us and turning out hearts towards Him minimizes the glory He deserves for His work and provides for us something to boast in. William Temple said it well, "The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary." Everything else we contribute regarding our salvation stems from God. It is His gracious work in our lives. I want to make sure that we seriously mean soli Deo gloria, Latin for to the glory of God alone. Second, viewing God as a gentleman in relation to the salvation of men can lead to some faulty evangelistic practices. Charles Finney is a clear example of this. If you think that man has the ability in and of himself to come to a God who sits back and waits on him, you will try everything possible to manipulate a person's will and move them to come to Christ. You will try every method imaginable to motivate them, whether that would be dimming the lights or playing "Just As I Am" for the eighteenth time. However, if you recognize that man cannot come to God but God must come to man to change their heart and desires, and that He has chosen to do this through the preaching of the gospel message, your focus will not be on the person you are evangelizing to as much as it will be on the message itself. You will seek to communicate the message clearly and as accurately as possible, seeing it to be the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). You will spend more time handling the message and praying for the Lord not to be a gentleman but to pierce the person's heart and draw them to Christ. Your evangelism thus would be more effective.

I'm personally thankful that God is not a gentleman. Otherwise I never would have been saved. Let's make sure to study God's Word to understand both Him and ourselves rightly.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Finding Contentment

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction ~Philippians 4:10-13

Many people today struggle to find contentment in their lives. They are not content with their job, their marriage, or their singleness. We often think that if things were different for us, that then we would be fulfilled. If we had a bigger house or a better car, life would be more worth living. Or if we just had more money to get by with. However, this certainly cannot be the case as we notice that those who do have a lot never appear to be content with what they have. They continue to desire more and more. Just look at the popular actors and actresses in Hollywood who have the fame and fortune and still lack contentment. Our problem with not being able to find contentment comes from us looking for it in the wrong place. We are looking to be fulfilled in "what" instead of "Who."

At the close of his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul expresses his appreciation for the church in supporting his ministry financially. But he quickly points out that he does not speak from want or lack. This is because he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself in. The Greek word used here means content, self-sufficient, or satisfied. Basically, Paul makes due with whatever circumstance that the Lord may have for him to be in. Whether he has little or much, is full or hungry, he has learned to be satisfied and live within such means. Not to complain or wish for different situations. But to glorify God where He has placed him. Commenting on this text, Jeremiah Burroughs defines Christian contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” This is the attitude that Paul exhibits here. It is the attitude that all believers should have regardless of what God has ordained for them in their lives. Irrespectively concerning the situations they may face. A look at what we know about Paul's life certainly indicates his rejoicing in the Lord in any and every circumstance that he may have been in. Now, how could someone have such an attitude? Obviously, it must be due to him finding his contentment in something other than his circumstances. In fact, Paul shows us the secret to such a content attitude in v. 13.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. The reason that Paul could be so content when full or hungry and having more than enough or being in need, was due to him finding his contentment in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Him who enabled Paul to keep going in whatever circumstance he might have been in. He was the one who provided him with the strength that he needed to persevere in the most bleak of situations. He is sufficient and He is enough! While circumstances may change, He does not. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (13:8). Paul says that he does not speak from want because he has all that he desires in Christ. He really does not lack anything. If one finds their contentment in Christ, then their circumstances do not matter. They will be able to say with Paul that regardless of what they have or don't have, Jesus is all that they need. That they really lack nothing because they have Him. As John Piper states in his poetic paraphrase of the book of Job, "He is not poor nor much enticed / Who loses everything but Christ.” Jesus fulfills all of our deepest longings and so no matter what you may face in life, you can always be content in Him.

So what should you do if you find yourself longing for better circumstances or lamenting something that you currently don't have in your life? Read about Christ in God's Word. Spend time meditating on Who He is. On how great He is. Remind yourself of His precious love for you. That regardless of what you may think that you might be lacking on this earth, that you have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). That you have a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). One who will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5; Notice too that this is given as the reason to be content instead of being greedy.) You will find that you will have the contentment that you lack as you redirect your focus from the things that you think will bring fulfillment to the only One who truly does bring contentment. Run to Him now to find the satisfaction which you long and the strength to plod through whatever situation you may be in.

In Christ,
Solus Christus!
Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Happy Birthday John Calvin!

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and I will praise your name
for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

~Psalm 138:2

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
~2 Timothy 2:15

Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God
~John Calvin

Today marks the 504th birthday of John Calvin, one of the instruments God used to spread the Reformation throughout Europe. One could easily argue that he is one of the most influential theologians in history next to the apostle Paul and possibly Augustine. Personally, he is one of the "Johns" whom God has used to greatly impact my life and aid in teaching me His Word. (The other two being John MacArthur and John Piper). Regardless of whether you agree with him theologically or not (while through my study of Scripture I wholeheartedly affirm, embrace, and cherish the doctrines of grace he purported, I differ with him on his understanding of infant baptism and amillennialism), there are things we all can learn from his life and ministry which had at its heart the glory of God. A fresh look at Calvin teaches us several things:

1) The Importance of the Word of God
The backbone of Calvin's ministry was the Word of God. This was central to his work in Geneva. In fact, upon seeing the many problems which existed in the church at Geneva, Calvin concluded that the only remedy to the problem would be to preach God's Word and let God straighten the people out through it. Calvin labored at teaching the flock that God had entrusted to him what God had communicated to them through His written Word. He preached ten sermons every two weeks at the same time writing several commentaries which he has blessed the church with today. His belief on the centrality of God's Word led him to preach through the Scriptures verse by verse. Such a commitment is shown in his return to Geneva after his banishment to start preaching from the exact verse he left off at his last sermon three years prior. He is known as the "prince of expositors." Every minister would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of his ministry. Every born again believer would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of their life and work; whatever God has called them to do.

2) The Importance of Embracing, Proclaiming, and Sharing the Glory of God
Calvin had one thing which drove his actions. This was his zeal for the glory of God to be made manifest and shared. The impetus for the strong commitment of teaching God's Word just discussed came from Calvin's perspective that to honor the Word of God would be to honor the God of the Word. He felt that the best way to display God's glory to the people was to preach God's Word which revealed His glorious work of redemption throughout history. He even stated at the end of his life that "I have written nothing out of hatred to any one, but I have always faithfully propounded what I esteemed to be for the glory of God."1 Such a commitment to living for the glory of God should be one which envelopes our lives as well. Paul tells us that Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Nothing should be a higher priority for the Christian than seeking to bring glory to God in everything that he or she does.

3) The Importance of Scholarship
Calvin was a pastor-theologian; something many claim today can't exist. In one moment he could write a treatise explaining what Scripture actually says about "free will" and then in another minister to one who was grieving the loss of a loved one. In fact, Calvin at first could not see how the two went together. He desired to be a scholar and write books concerning the faith. His whole purpose in writing The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his "magnum opus" respectfully, was to teach the pastors who were suffering persecution in France the faith that they were dying for. However, God continued to direct the Reformer to the pastorate where he used his scholarship in his teaching. He was not only a pastor shepherding his flock but a scholar seeking to teach God's Word as thoroughly and clearly as possible. It is interesting that for many decades historical scholars were perplexed with what translation of the Bible Calvin used in his teaching. It was not until recently they realized the reason for their mystery. Calvin did not use a translation but translated the original Hebrew and Greek on the spot from the pulpit without ever mentioning a Hebrew or Greek word! Such scholarship is usually laughed at today with ministers who desire to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and pine over what God originally spoke in the original languages with them being accused of wasting their time on frivolous matters. I actually think the church would benefit more from scholarly pastors such as Calvin as well as Jonathon Edwards and John Piper which have followed him.

4)The Importance of Dedication
Calvin's hard work in ministry is enough to make the busiest pastor today in 21st century America appear lazy. Not only did he keep up with his extensive preaching schedule and strive relentlessly to write his commentaries, he also visited people in their homes and managed his administrative responsibilities at his church. He also had a wife and kids to minister to, some kids which I believe he took in. He never would have had time to waste hours in front of a TV or playing video games (not saying that these are wrong but we do need to be careful how we spend our time-Ephesians 5:15-16). These would have slowed him down from the work of ministry. Upon his latter years in poor health, people begged him to take a break. He was even preaching in his bedroom when bedfast. The Reformer's answer was "What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?"2 Unfortunately, and not admirable, he occupied himself so much with the work of the church that he did not take care of his health. (Something the current commentator as well as others would be wise to take heed about.) Calvin's dedication to what God called him to do reminds me that no matter how overwhelmed I feel with what God has on my plate, I can accomplish what He would have me to do if I rely on His strength through His grace.

5) How God Uses Men Despite Their Many Flaws
Calvin is another reminder of how God uses the most flawed men to do His perfect work. The Bible is full of those who had several weaknesses which would have hindered their effectiveness if it had not been for God's supernatural work both in and through them. Abraham had wavering faith, Jacob was a trickster, Moses couldn't speak, Jeremiah was too young, Gideon was unsure, David committed adultery and murder, Samson was a womanizer, and Peter denied his Lord. Yet, inspite of all of these and possible because of them, God chose to use such weak vessels so that He might get the glory. Calvin is no different. He had his flaws. Just the mention of the name "Michael Servetus" brings the sober reminder of Calvin's role in his execution and no discussion of the church's role with the state is complete without a reference to Calvin's Geneva and how the merging of the two entities was disastrous. This birthday is not a celebration of Calvin. He was a mere man who was nothing. Instead it's a celebration of a great God who sovereignly chose to work through such a weak vessel to bring reform to His church for His glory as He had purposed. Calvin was just an ordinary man who was used by an extraordinary God. Just as we also are. Praise God for John Calvin and the work that He accomplished with his life and ministry. May God use us, as insignificant as we are, to further His Kingdom for His glory as He sees fit.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

1 John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1975) 110.
2Preface to John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009) xiv.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ten Shekels and a Shirt

I was in Africa recently on a short term mission, and this really resonated with me, so I wanted to share with you.

Excerpt: Ten Shekels and a Shirt; by Paris Reidhead

If you'll ask me why I went to Africa, I'll tell you I went primarily to improve on the justice of God. I didn't think it was right for anybody to go to Hell without a chance to be saved. So I went to give poor sinners a chance to go to heaven. Now I haven't put it in so many words, but if you'll analyze what I just told you do you know what it is? Humanism. That I was simply using the provisions of Jesus Christ as a means to improve upon human conditions of suffering and misery. And when I went to Africa, I discovered that they weren't poor, ignorant, little heathen running around in the woods looking for someone to tell them how to go to heaven. That they were MONSTERS OF INIQUITY!!! THEY WERE LIVING IN UTTER AND TOTAL DEFIANCE OF FAR MORE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THEN I EVER DREAMED THEY HAD!

They deserved Hell! Because they utterly refused to walk in the light of their conscience, and light of the law written upon their heart, and the testimony of nature, and the truth they knew! And when I found that out I assure you I was so angry with God that on one occasion in prayer I told Him it was a mighty ..... little thing He'd done, sending me out there to reach these people that were waiting to be told how to go to heaven. When I got there I found out they knew about heaven, and didn't want to go there, and that they loved their sin and wanted to stay in it.

I went out there motivated by humanism. I'd seen pictures of lepers, I'd seen pictures of ulcers, I'd seen pictures of native funerals, and I didn't want my fellow human beings to suffer in Hell eternally after such a miserable existence on earth. But it was there in Africa that God began to tear THROUGH THE OVERLAY OF THIS HUMANISM! And it was that day in my bedroom with the door locked that I wrestled with God. For here was I, coming to grips with the fact that the people I thought were ignorant and wanted to know how to go to heaven and were saying "Someone come teach us", actually didn't want to take time to talk with me or anybody else. They had no interest in the Bible and no interest in Christ, and they loved their sin and wanted to continue in it. And I was to that place at that time where I felt the whole thing was a sham and a mockery, and I had been sold a bill of goods! And I wanted to come home.

There alone in my bedroom AS I FACED GOD HONESTLY WITH WHAT MY HEART FELT, it seemed to me I heard Him say, "Yes, will not the Judge of all the earth do right? The Heathen are lost. And they're going to go to Hell, not because they haven't heard the gospel. They're going to go to Hell because they are sinners, WHO LOVE THEIR SIN! And because they deserve Hell. BUT, I didn't send you out there for them. I didn't send you out there for their sakes." And I heard as clearly as I've ever heard, though it wasn't with physical voice but it was the echo of truth of the ages finding its' way into an open heart. I heard God say to my heart that day something like this, "I didn't send you to Africa for the sake of the heathen, I sent you to Africa for My sake. They deserved Hell! But I LOVE THEM!!! AND I ENDURED THE AGONIES OF HELL FOR THEM!!! I DIDN'T SEND YOU OUT THERE FOR THEM!!! I SENT YOU OUT THERE FOR ME! DO I NOT DESERVE THE REWARD OF MY SUFFERING? DON'T I DESERVE THOSE FOR WHOM I DIED?"

Find the full sermon below:

Monday, June 24, 2013

How Great is our God

~Silly Things~

~Silly Things~
God so often I walk trying to do it my way
this only tends to lead me astray
I try and try this or that
Thinking that I am the big cat
Each thing I do ends up a mess
Because it's not something you have blessed
Lord teach me to daily trust in you
That these silly things I bid adieu
Lord your ways have always been
Perfect, and seamless from beginning to end
~Sidney Driver

Friday, May 17, 2013

The New Tolerance and Christianity

I have been noticing an interesting trend in our country the past several years. First, the definition of the word tolerance has changed. It has went from meaning one believing that everyone has the right to hold to their view regardless of whether they agree with it or not to one affirming that all views must be valid. In fact, now, even if one recognizes one's right to hold to a certain view, if they declare that view wrong or invalid they become labeled as intolerant. As Bob Dylan once sang, "the times they are a-changin.'" Second, what is even more interesting about this new tolerance espoused today, is that it appears that two of its primary targets are Christians and Christianity. Allow me to point out some examples that demonstrate this.

The CEO of popular restaurant chain, Chic-Fil-A, makes a statement that expresses his position on marriage that has been the church's understanding of the sacred union based on the Bible for the past 2,000 years. The next thing you know, people are talking about how intolerant he is and are calling for a boycott. Some companies decide against supporting the restaurant chain because of the view of it's CEO. Most laughable of all has to be the mayor of Boston publicly refusing to allow a Chic-Fil-A restaurant to be in his city due to the CEO's statement violating it's stance as an "open city," a "city at the forefront of inclusion." What he must have meant to say was that Boston serves as an "open city" and "at the forefront of inclusion" for those who agree with what the mayor considers appropriate and that they are actually "closed" and "exclude" those they do not agree with. Ironically, in the name of tolerance they cannot tolerate the CEO's position!

In the last inaugural ceremony for President Obama, evangelical pastor Louie Giglo was originally invited to give the benediction for the service. However, after some sleuth work uncovered that he had preached a sermon about 15 years ago or so stating that homosexuality is a sin, he was quickly pressured to back out of the invitation with the White House issuing an apology due to them not knowing his views on human sexuality. (Though what would you expect from an evangelical pastor who holds to the Bible as God's inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word?) Controversy also surrounded Pastor Rick Warren when he was asked to give the benediction for President Obama's inaugural ceremony for his first term. People cited his views on homosexuality (which are the same as Giglo) and his biblical position on the exclusivity of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. They just could not tolerate these views. Yet both Giglo and Warren were the ones being described as intolerant for their views! Interestingly enough, little was said about Obama also choosing Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal denomination. He believes that his view is right and that Warren and Giglo's are wrong. Yet the same ones who were concerned about Warren's views upsetting others didn't seem to mind Robinson's.

And to note a more local case, we can look to the stir that has been caused in Connellsville, PA when a Jr. High School was sued to remove a 10 Commandments monument that had been on the school grounds for about 55 years. Why the lawsuit in the first place? Someone complained about it. I guess it must have offended them. However, removing it appears to have offended several others within the small community as 10 Commandments signs now can be found all over Connellsville and the surrounding Mt. Pleasant area where I live. Plus, several complaints have arose over taking it down or moving it. If this really is about being cautious concerning offending anyone, then what about the many offended over taking it down? What about their rights? This new tolerance certainly appears to be very "one-sided."

To make any statement about homosexuality being a sin and so-called "same-sex marriage" to be against God's created plan for the family leads to being called names such as "bigot" and the accusation that one is discriminating against homosexuals. However, these people either fail to understand what "discrimination" is or they have redefined it since by such name calling and accusations they actually discriminate against the Christians who hold to such views. Talk about a double standard!

Now none of this should surprise Christians. After all, Jesus did warn us about this. He said, If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:19). Those who bear Christ's name will also be ridiculed as He was on this earth. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:20). I often wonder if this new tolerance might be the start of the persecution of Christ's true followers in America. Regardless, we need to continue to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ unashamedly while it may be labeled intolerant and our freedoms to do so may become more and more limited. Many are heading to Hell and need to hear the good news!

In Christ,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Bible on Homosexuality: Revised and Updated Edition

About three years ago when I had just graduated seminary and had more free time on my hands than I knew what to do with, I did an intense study concerning the Bible's teaching about homosexuality. At the time, the denomination in which I served was debating the issue and I thought that I would write a paper to educate those who might have been confused about what God said about the issue. Turns out that God has a lot to say about homosexuality and so called "same-sex marriage." With the current two cases being heard by the US Supreme Court and many discussions pertaining to the issue ensuing I thought that I would take some time to "update" and "revise" that paper. My hope is to help people understand what Scripture says concerning this topic so that they have the proper perspective. The link to the paper can be found here:

God bless!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Do Not Abandon the Gospel!

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! ~Galatians 1:6-9

Paul begins his letter to the church of Galatia in a way that is different than any of the other letters that we have which he wrote. If you look at his letters to the churches at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, and even to the individuals of Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, you will notice a consistent pattern that is not followed in this letter. Normally Paul starts his letters praising God for the recipients to which he writes, expressing his thanksgiving for them, and acknowledging his prayers on their behalf. However, after a very brief greeting, without any hesitation, he addresses an issue he has heard about in the church of Galatia. The issue is so important that the apostle does not even have time to share his usual common commendations and courtesies. What issue could be so pressing? Neglecting the true gospel message to follow a false counterfeit.

The problem plaguing this church was that a group known as the “Judaizers” insisted that the Gentiles (non Jews) who had, by God’s grace, come to faith in Christ, be circumcised as prescribed by the Old Testament law to actually be saved. Thus, salvation became based not solely on what Christ has DONE experiencing God’s wrath by dying in the place of those who trust in Him on the cross but also on something that one must DO. This could be described as a different gospel which serves as a distortion of the gospel of Christ (vv. 6-7). In fact, Paul says that this serves as no gospel or good news at all. The true gospel of Christ is that one is saved by God’s wrath that they deserve for their sins through their faith ALONE in Christ ALONE to save them. Not in anything they have done or can do but only on what Christ has done on their behalf and them placing their only hope in Him and His death and resurrection to be saved. As Paul reminds the Galatians of this true gospel: a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; since by the works of the law no flesh will be justified (2:16). God only declares a sinner to be righteous who has placed their trust in Christ to save them through His death and resurrection, not those who think they might be good enough or do a substantial amount of good deeds to earn God’s favor. The Galatians were abandoning the truth of this gospel and being enticed by the teachings of these Judaizers that the act of being circumcised served as a condition of being saved.

Paul views distortions of the gospel of grace as being so serious that he rebukes those who proclaim them with some of the strongest words available. He states that if anyone, even an angel from heaven or himself, preaches a gospel different than the one found preached by the apostles and recorded in Scripture, that he is to be accursed (v. 8). The Greek word for accursed basically communicates the idea of being devoted to destruction and brought under a curse. And he not only says this once but twice (v. 9). A false gospel is no laughing matter or something that one can cast a blind eye towards. After all, one’s eternal destiny depends on their reception to the true articulation of the gospel.

Several “Judaizers” exist today. They may not be demanding the necessity of people to get circumcised in order to be saved but they distort the gospel by teaching that one must DO something in order for God to save them. The truth of the gospel lies in the facts of what Christ has DONE to save those who by faith look to Him alone as their hope and basis to stand before a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. The moment that someone places the focus on you for your salvation instead of pointing to Christ and His life, death, and resurrection as what saves, they have distorted the gospel of Christ and presented another gospel which really isn’t good news at all. Let’s make sure that we do not make the same mistake as the Galatians and desert Christ by following any of the false gospels that are so prevalent today. Repent of your sins and place your trust in Christ ALONE to save you, not in anything you do.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Creation Controversies

It appears that everything in the Bible promotes controversy. Man with his natural tendency of hatred towards God strives to question everything that He says in His Word. Much like the serpent in the garden, many ridicule, "Did God really say that?" Perhaps no other book of the Bible creates as much controversy as the book of Genesis; especially the first eleven chapters. Scholars and laymen alike have attempted to cast doubt on several things which serve as foundational to the entire Bible, our understanding of God and ourselves, and the very history of redemption. I have already looked at one of these issues with The Necessity of A Literal Adam. As I have begun to lead my Sunday School class in a study of the book of Genesis, I continue to encounter other issues that have spawned no small amount of controversy. However, as I take the time to examine the text closely (as any serious Bible student should do), I find no reason for such controversy. This can be seen in several of the controversies surrounding the creation account in Genesis 1. The length of a day, the issue of evolution, and the so-called discrepancies between chapter 1 and chapter 2 are all easily answered within the text itself.

The Duration of A Day
One issue that has come up regarding the creation account in Genesis concerns the idea of just how long were the six days of creation. Some have suggested that the term day refers to a period of a great amount or age of time since the Hebrew word for day does sometimes refer to a period or age of time such as the day of the LORD. Others have argued that it means 1,000 years based on 2 Peter 3:8. Interestingly, while many modern day scholars and students want to view these days as a much lengthier period of time, several of the church fathers and theologians such as Augustine actually shorten them. In fact, they believed that God created the heavens and the earth in an instant since He stood outside of time.

This mess can be solved just by looking at the text itself. Moses does not leave us hanging as to what he means by the term day in Genesis 1. In fact, he even defines it for us. We are told that each day is categorized by there was evening and there was morning (vv. 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). For the Hebrews which would first read this account, what do you suppose would come to mind with the phrase there was evening and there was morning to define a day? The literal 24 hour day that they were accustomed to of course, where there was evening and morning, and another day began with the next evening. (The Hebrews and Jews calculated their days from evening to evening.)And if that itself is not enough to prove that day here means what we commonly understand day to indicate today (pun not intended . . . this time at least), then just look at Exodus 20:11. In giving the command to keep the Sabbath, Moses points back to the account given in Genesis 1 as its basis. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Now to be consistent here, we have to understand Moses to mean the same thing with day in v. 11 as he does throughout Genesis 1 which he refers and in vv. 9-10. If Moses meant 1,000 years with the term day in Genesis 1, this means that he also means that in Exodus 20:11, which means that he also meant that in vv. 9-10. This would indicate then that this commandment states that the Hebrews should work 6,000 years and then rest on the 7,000th year. He has to refer to a literal 24 hour day in all three cases. Otherwise we are faced with something absurd that does not make sense and that does not fit the context at all. So a day, understood from the text itself, refers to a literal 24 hours.

Enter Evolution
Another controversy we find concerning Genesis 1 deals with the THEORY of evolution. (Notice that I highlight that it is a THEORY and not a fact. It has NEVER been proven. The so-called "missing links" are still missing. Questions as to why monkeys still exist after man supposedly evolved from them have yet to be answered.) Genesis 1 does not allow the possibility of macroevolution at all. Genesis clearly states that God made the animals according to their kinds (vv. 21, 24-25). He did not make them according to one kind that evolved into another kind and so on. Furthermore, the author delineates between the species. He explains that God made the fish of the sea and the birds of the air on day five (vv. 20-21) and then the livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth on day six (vv. 24-25). It does not say that God made the great sea creatures which grew legs and wings to become the beasts of the earth or the birds. Instead, He created each species separately and distinctly. Adam is shown not to have been created from the changing of a monkey but instead out of the dust of the ground itself (Genesis 2:7). In fact, the Hebrew name, Adam, comes from the same root of the Hebrew word for ground, adamah. God formed Adam from the adamah, not from any other creature. There is no way to harmonize the idea of Darwinian evolution with the account of creation we find in Genesis.

Dueling Double?
Several have claimed that we actually find two contradictory accounts of the creation narrative side by side in the book of Genesis. They postulate that Genesis 2:4-25 serves as a separate account of creation that we just read in Genesis 1:1-2:3. Some have even went so far as to argue that this indicates multiply authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) instead of the sole author being Moses. As we have noticed with the other two controversies surrounding the creation account in Genesis, a closer examination of the text reveals there to be no problem here at all. The reason for the numerous differences between these two chapters actually stems from them not being the same account. In fact, the author never claims them to be.

Genesis 2:4 actually begins a new section in the book. This is indicated to us by the phrase, This is the account of/These are the generations of _____________. (The Hebrew word used here is toledoth, meaning origins or generations.) Such a phrase occurs in the book a total of 11 times and appears to divide the work into 11 sections. Thus, the first section of the book would serve as the Prologue or Introduction (1:1-2:3), this section would run from 2:4-4:26, the third section would be 5:1-6:8; the fourth 6:9-9:29; the fifth 10:1-11:9; the sixth 11:10-26; the seventh 11:27-25:11; eighth 25:12-18; ninth 25:19-35:29; tenth 36:1-37:1; and eleventh 37:2-50:26. Just a cursory reading of these first two sections in succession should indicate that their context is very different. Genesis 1:1-2:3 gives the overview of God's creation of the heavens and the earth in six days and His resting or ceasing from work on the seventh day. Genesis 2:4-4:26 focuses on the creation of humanity specifically, his start in the Garden of Eden, his fall and degeneration into sin, and the hope found in the seed of Seth. It does not present itself as being a separate or additional account of creation at all. In fact, it serves to fill us in on some details pertaining to the creation of man itself and his start.

Now the question remains concerning the supposed difference in the order of creation in comparing the two sections. Those who have viewed this as double like to point out that the order of what was created here is different. In chapter 1 plants and animals were created before man while here in chapter 2 it is man first and then the animals. However, we must realize again that chapter 2 does not give us an account of the creation of the entire heavens and the earth but only man and his start in the garden. Genesis 1:1-2:3 certainly is chronological as indicated in the progression of the days (day 1 followed by day 2 followed by day 3 and so on) while Genesis 2:4 is topical with man as the center. Everything is described in relation to man. Moses already informed us on the order of God's creation. Now he wants to provide us with more details concerning the crown of God's creation, man. Also, we need to keep in mind that chapter 1 refers to the entire heavens and the earth where here we are focused on one garden within this earth; a place called Eden (2:8). The Garden of Eden serves as the scene from 2:8 until 3:24 when man is kicked out of the garden due to his sin. In fact, the plants that are mentioned are those specific to this garden (2:9). It is not referring to the creation of all the plants of the earth. Thus, this does not reverse the order of the plants being created before man that we read about in chapter 1. So what about 2:18-19 which appears to indicate that God created the animals after His creation of man? The biblical text says no such thing. The Hebrew form of the verb for make in v. 19 is what is called a waw consecutive imperfect, which should be translated as a past tense. It is often used for the "past tense narrative sequence." A good translation of the verse would be something to the effect of out of the ground the LORD God formed [or] had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky. Read properly, no contradiction can be found between the two chapters.

Such controversies are only controversial because of a failure to actually examine what the text of Scripture says. When studying Scripture we must labor to understand what the author originally intended to say. This takes time and work! But if we are concerned about what God has to say to us, then it should be a "labor of love" for us. Let's not continue to make such mistakes but study to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Membership Matters

As I reviewed the new church directory for this upcoming year, I noticed something very interesting. Several names that are listed as members I have never met because they never attend the church or no longer have any connection to the fellowship. On the opposite side I recognized names I see every Sunday who have yet to become members. Does membership to a local church consist of more than just having your name on a roll? What does the Bible indicate that membership actually entails?

Membership Entails Affirmation
In Matthew 16:18, we find the first mention of the term church in the New Testament. Right after Peter gives the proper identification of Who Jesus is, that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), Jesus states that He will use him as an instrument to establish the Church. He will serve as a rock for this living organism that He will build. The other apostles would also help lay this foundation with Christ serving as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus also tells Peter that He will give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (v. 19). This indicates an authority bestowed upon Peter and probably by extension, the other apostles. It is the authority of heaven itself. In a very real sense here Jesus could be indicating that the church that He will establish through the apostles will be the earthly representation of His heavenly kingdom. That the church will serve as an ambassador of heaven. An ambassador communicates the will and decisions of their king while in a foreign land. Any decision the ambassador makes is only the decisions that the king had already made. Thus, whatever the ambassador binds, will be only that which has already been bound by the king. (The Greek phrase used here is unusual. It is a combination of a future verb with a perfect participle. It appears to indicate a future reality that has already been settled in the past. One could translate it as whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.) We see this ambassadorial work with the apostles as Jesus goes about the business of building His church throughout the book of Acts. When the first group of Samaritans came to faith in Christ, the apostles, representing this new church that had begun construction, had to come to pray for them, lay hands on them, and a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit occurred (Acts 8:14-17). The question should be raised as to why a few of the apostles had to come from Jerusalem to do this. Why Philip did not take it upon himself to do it. I think the reason actually goes back to the authority that Jesus gave Peter and the apostles as Christ’s ambassadors. We are seeing here the keys and the binding and loosing at work. Peter and John merely affirmed the faith of these new converts through the prayer and the laying on of hands. God had saved them through their reception of the message but this sought to confirm their profession of faith. Likewise, church membership serves as a way that the church affirms one’s profession of faith based on the evidence of the fruit of a changed life which should be visible if one has truly been born again. It does not save but the church acts as God’s authority on earth, under the authority of Christ and His Word, to basically say with receiving one into membership: “We recognize you as belonging as part of us. You too join us in representing Jesus on earth.”

Membership Entails Commitment
God never intended for the Christian life to be lived alone. He does not save anyone individually and expect them to be “free agents,” roaming here and there. His desire is for them to be committed to each other in the context of a local congregation of His followers. How else can one live out all the one another commands in Scripture (Leviticus 19:11; John 13:14, 34, 35; Romans 1:12; 12:10, 16; 13:8; 14:13; 15:7,14; 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 11:33; 12:25; Galatians 5:13, 15, 26; 6:2; Ephesians 4:2, 16, 32; 5:19, 21; Philippians 2:3-5; Colossians 3:9, 13, 16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11, 13, 15; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24, 25; 13:1; James 4:11; 5:9, 16; 1 Peter 3:8; 4:8, 9; 5:5; 1 John 1:7; 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12)? Perhaps the clearest picture we have of this is found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. In this chapter, Paul describes the church using the imagery of a human body made up of its various parts. God’s Spirit has given each believer a specific gift that should be used for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). The purpose of any spiritual gift is to edify or build up each other in the faith and to be used to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). This indicates something that cannot be done at home away from other believers and something that would be difficult to do hopping from one church to the next. Committing to suffer with the members of a local congregation in their suffering and to rejoice with them in their rejoicing can only be done if you have taken the time to, in a sense, live among those members and get to know them (1 Corinthians 12:26). Keep in mind that Paul writes to a local congregation in Corinth when he gives this instruction. Sitting at home and not joining a church really is not an option that the Bible gives (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Membership Entails Accountability
In the second mention of the term church in the New Testament, Jesus explains the accountability the church has upon its individual members. As recorded in Matthew 18:15-20, He lays out the steps in the process of what to do if you notice a fellow member in sin. The first step would be the point out their fault to them individually (v. 15). The hope is that this will lead the believer to see the error of their way and run back to Christ in repentance. However, if he or she refuses to repent and leave the specific sin, we are told to approach them again, this time with two or more witnesses (v. 16). If this still does not result in their repentance, they are to be called before the church and the entire congregation should reach out to them in love, calling for them to leave such a sin behind. However, if they appear to be so hard hearted that he or she still refuses the reproach, drastically they are treated as if they were outside the church and thus do not belong to the body of Christ (v. 17). Jesus then mentions the authority that He has given the church in these matters with the mention once again of them binding and loosing on earth what will have been already bound and loosed in heaven (v. 18) and that He stands with them in such a decision (vv. 19-20) (assuming that the church followed His procedure as He had outlined of course). I must mention here that the goal of such a process is actually restoration. This can be seen in the fact that Jesus’ teaching follows His parable of the shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to retrieve the one that has gone astray (vv. 12-14) and that it precedes Peter’s question concerning forgiveness (vv. 21-35).

When one becomes a member of a local congregation, they are actually saying that they want that body of believers together to hold them accountable for the way in which they are living. If they have an area of unrepentant sin in their life, they want the church to lovingly point that out. Any true believer who desires to live the holy life that Christ saved them for (2 Corinthians 5:15) would want this. Being a member of a local congregation is to say that I submit to this congregation and want them to hold me accountable for my spiritual growth and discipleship. I submit to their teaching and discipline. And discipleship consists of both teaching and correction. As you can visibly see, disciple and discipline are closely related.

So membership certainly consists of more than just having one’s name on the roll at such and such church. It involves having a local congregation affirm their profession of faith and recognize them as one of its own. It includes a commitment given to others in the congregation and their work together for the sake of the gospel. It is submitting to the congregation’s authority, which it enacts under the authority of Christ and His Word, to be held accountable for one’s growth and discipline in grace. Is this true of you as a member of a local congregation? Have you found a good Bible teaching local church in which to join and labor for our Lord? If you have been attending a local church but never made steps to become a member, what might be holding you back? Let’s be obedient to Christ and become members of His body in the localities in which we live for the glory of His name.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!