Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Fullness of the Time

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

This to me sums up the perfection and purpose of the incarnation of Christ, which we celebrate this season. The birth of Christ was not a randomly timed event, not a chance happening, not a divine Plan B. Far from any of those, it was according to the fore-ordained plan of God the Father. The timing of the the birth of the Messiah was just right, it was planned and executed by God "when the fullness of the time came." For thousands of years, God had been preparing His people, the world, the entire universe for the time when He would enter that creation in Person. At just the right time, the time He Himself had chosen before the foundation of the world.

And we see here the purpose of the incarnation as well. It's right after the "so that" in the passage. To redeem the people of His own choosing, who were condemned by ("under") His perfect Law. And to what end? So that those people might be adopted into His eternal family as children. To receive the rights and privileges of sonship to the Most High God. Incredible grace.

As we celebrate Christmas, remember the perfection of timing of the first advent of Christ. Remember the perfection of purpose of His coming. And remember the privileged relationship those of us who have trusted in His Gospel enjoy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Monopoly Afternoon

While sequestered indoors this afternoon due to the cold and wind outside, we decided to play a game of Monopoly. I really don't like games like this, that tend to go on and on and on and... Well, anyway, I and my three children decided to play. And as we played, it was interesting to me to see how the game brings out the best - and worst - in everyone who plays it.

Of course, the objective of the game is to amass the most money and property, while at the same time oppressing your opponents. And inevitably, someone will gain more wealth and property than the others, although usually in our games more out of sheer circumstances rather than due to skill or strategy. And today, that fat cat player was daughter Hannah. Our 12 year old material girl. And what effect did having those stacks of cash have on her demeanor? What was her response when one of us lesser beings landed on her property with the hotels? Sheer, unadulterated greed. She reminded us continually of how rich she was, and reveled in our misery, like when one of us had to mortgage properties to pay her off. Now, my little princess is not like this all the time. But like I said, Monopoly tends to magnify and reveal people's attitudes towards money and power. It was a good reminder that I need to be modeling for her godly and Biblical attitudes towards material things, and be teaching her in the ways of grace and stewardship and servanthood.

So what about the other two kids? Well, it did the same for them. Middle son Matt, the creative but somewhat scatter-brained 15 year old, exhibited his usual challenges with just keeping track of his money and properties. But he did OK. And the oldest Mike, being more mature and wiser, even showed grace to his opponents on a few occasions. And I guess I was somewhere in between.

Like I said, Monopoly tends to expose our attitudes towards wealth and power. So what have your experiences been playing this game?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Yearly Seasonal Tribune

A little behind the curve this year, but just sent out the email version of our yearly family Christmas greeting & newsletter. For the few of you who read this blog on a semi-regular basis and that aren't on our email list, you can view the aforementioned letter here. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breaking News: Church Following Biblical Mandate

I just came across this news item about a woman in Florida who is upset because her church is disciplining her due to her unrepentant sexual relationship with a man outside of marriage. Now, let me say at the outset that it's very hard to tell if this particular church in this specific situation is pursuing the Matthew 18 process of believer's discipline correctly from this story. The narrative of events in the article is only given from the woman's point of view, with little if any response from the pastor or elders of the church. However, there's nothing in the letter from the church leaders included in the article that would indicate that they haven't got the process right and are following the Biblical mandate correctly. She's been dealt with individually, by a larger group, and now the matter is going to be "told to the church." Having been involved in more than one of these situations as an elder I can testify that they are never easy, mechanical or entered into lightly. And they are always a last resort. I have to assume that the church in question is engaging this process in this spirit.

But all this aside, the thing that really amazes me is that this is a news story at all. Here we have what looks to be a local church that is Word-focused and Christ-centered, and is doing what true local churches must do from time to time. Of course, we can't expect the culture at large or the media to understand this, to them this is just another instance of Christian intolerance and hatred, rather than the act of love that the Bible calls discipline of this kind. And of course, the culture around us has no category called "sin", thus making the need to confront and address sin in the body of believers that much more irrelevant. But that alone doesn't make this newsworthy, does it? No, I think what makes this stand out and show up on Fox News is that this is such a rare occurrence. It's an anomaly, an enigma, an anachronism is these days of seeker-sensitive and socially-responsible churches. If all the Bible-believing churches in the country were exercising discipline like this where and when needed (hopefully not often), this wouldn't be news at all. But alas, that's not the case.

So here we have a church ostensibly carrying out the Biblical mandate on it's leadership to keep the body holy and follow the Christ-commanded process for doing so. And it's national news! That alone seems to be a sad indictment of the state of the American evangelical church. But then, it's also just a symptom of the findings in a recent report commented on today by Al Mohler. Most of the people who are in American evangelical churches and profess Christ have no understanding of the Gospel of Christ by which they claim to be saved.

Which raises another question. If so many professing Christians in our churches don't really believe the essentials of the Gospel - are they really Christians? And are our churches really churches? Questions to consider another day...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Silent Evangelism"?

In writing yesterday's post about keeping Christ in Christmas, I came across this web site run by a chapter of the Knights of Columbus (a Roman Catholic paramilitary organization :-O) promoting the sale of the magnets I've seen so many of locally the past few weeks. Apparently this KC chapter sells these magnets in bulk to be used in local church fund raising efforts. And here's what their website says about the program:
Now, I'm not going to comment on the propriety of this kind of fund raising approach, or even on the contradiction in terms that "evangelization" (is that even a real word?) and "Roman Catholic" are. There are so many ways that this whole thing is just...wrong. But what I am going to comment on is the notion of there being such a category as "silent evangelism."

Is there such a thing in the Biblical model of evangelism? Do we see any evidence in the Scriptures of the silent communication of the evangel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is that even possible? Methinks not. The Gospel is always seen in the Biblical narrative as something to be communicated with words, as a propositional truth to be proclaimed and witnessed to.

Of course, it's really popular these days in evangelical circles to talk about "witnessing with our lives." A form of silent evangelism, so to speak. Of course, we are called by Christ as His people to live holy lives, to conduct ourselves in a manner that honors and glorifies Him. A life marked by sin and unholiness makes our claims of knowing Christ ring hollow to a skeptical world. But has a life lived in silent godliness capable of communicating the truth of the Gospel of Christ? It can certainly be a testimony to the reality of salvation, of the changed life true faith brings. But apart from a clear testimony of the reason behind that changed life, namely the new birth that comes through God's grace, there's no possibility of salvation. No one will ever be saved from their sin apart from an understanding of the essential truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And these truths must be communicated, testified to, proclaimed.

In fact, the whole idea of "witnessing with our life" seems to miss the entire point of the Gospel. Because the Gospel is not a life-improvement strategy, or a self-help program, or a means to live a more moral life. But if all we ever "witness" with is our lives, that's the message we give. That's what people will be drawn to. A life well lived by faith in the Son of God may be something God uses in His pursuit of sinners. But it is only the truth of the Gospel, communicated in words and not in silence, that will save anyone.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy Holidays Musings

With the advent of the Advent season, we once again are faced with the controversies due to referring to the Christmas season as the “holidays”. Retailers, media, you name it – the use of the term “Christmas” seems to be in full retreat. And of course, we evangelical Christians get our stockings all in a knot over this politically correct rejection of the true name and meaning of the holiday, because the name of Christ contained in it is intentionally avoided by the politicHuh? I didn't know He left!ally correct speech police. We seem to see them everywhere, from government leaders who won’t allow manger scenes displayed on public property, to overly sensitive public school administrators expunging any Christmas references from children's programs, to threats of boycotts against retailers who opt for generic holiday terminology in place of Christmas. And then there’s the perennial “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign that seems to be even more prevalent this year, as I see many cars with these magnetic signs attached. More pop-Christian kitsch.

Now, I am not a fan of politically correct speech rules that are so often applied to remove any reference to anything Christian from the public square or the marketplace. In fact, this so-called “tolerance” movement results in the least-tolerant, most exclusionary exchange of ideas in public discourse in the US and the West as a whole that has ever been seen. We do in fact live in a country that enjoys religious freedom of expression, and we as Christians should exercise that right in every way that is appropriate, that the name of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ be made known.

But why is it that we get so cranked up about the name of Christ being ignored at Christmas? I mean, we don’t make any real issue of the unbelieving and anti-Christian world around us ignoring Him, in fact blaspheming Him and His followers the rest of the year. What is it about Christmas that brings out the defender of the faith, or at least the name of Jesus, in so many Christians? Could it be that we feel like Christmas is the one of “our” celebrations that the unbelieving world has always nominally participated in, and now that they are turning into something it’s not we’re upset? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to me.

But let’s think a bit deeper about what we mean when we exhort the world to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Is it more than just retaining the use of the name Christmas rather than “the holidays”? Is it keeping a focus on the birth of Christ as the “reason for the season”, rather than the mass commercial event that it’s become? My point is that even if the largely un-Christian world starts using the term “Christmas” for the holiday, even if those who celebrate Christmas do so with an increased recognition that it is a celebration of Jesus’ birth, how does that really honor Him? How does a sentimental celebration of the birth of Jesus, apart from an understanding of the Person of Christ and the work of Christ, accomplish anything of eternal value? How does that advance His agenda, the Gospel of Christ? How can unbelieving, spiritually dead people giving nominal assent to the name of Jesus and the event that supposedly is celebrated at Christmas be pleasing to God? The plain truth is, they can’t. And if our expectation as evangelical Christians is that this superficial recognition of the name of Jesus somehow glorifies God, or is in any way a testimony or witness to the Gospel, then we are deluding ourselves.

The bottom line is this: the reason we want to “keep Christ in Christmas” in this way is to make ourselves feel more comfortable with the pagan world we live in, more accepted and liked by the decidedly anti-Christian culture that surrounds us. We want to be accommodated, to have a place at the table, to be seen as OK by the world. All of these are desires that are natural, but that are also decidedly un-Biblical. We’ve lost sight of the clear teaching of Scripture that the name of Christ (and His people) will be mocked, degraded, despised.

We need to stop expecting, in fact demanding, that a culture and a world opposed to the real, true Jesus Christ give Him some kind of assent one day out of the year. We need to refocus ourselves on the Christ of Christmas, who is the Christ of the Cross. And we need to be fulfilling His command and commission to us to proclaim His Gospel to any and all as He gives opportunity all year long, for His glory. This is how we keep Christ, not just in Christmas, but in truth.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What Not to Give

If this cartoon needs explanation, read this.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Try Jesus for 60 Days..."

Purpose Driven...Rick Warren was on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes the other night, talking about his new book "The Purpose Driven Christmas" or something like that. In the words he was able to get in he surprisingly did come close to communicating at least part of the Gospel. But then, he goes and makes a statement like this one in his exchange with Alan Colmes:

COLMES: All right. Let me ask you: you talk about, OK, so you think everybody needs a savior.

WARREN: I do.

COLMES: Well, what about those people who don't — you know, I happen to be Jewish. Not everybody — and Jesus, by the way, I have a lot in common with. Same religion.

WARREN: Absolutely.

COLMES: So not everybody necessarily goes that route.

WARREN: The thing is, Alan, I believe Jesus Christ came for everybody. I don't think he came for Christians. The Bible says take this good news to the whole world. I don't care whether you're Baptist, Buddhist, Mormon, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, or no religion at all. Jesus Christ still loves you. You still matter to God.

COLMES: True, and I think that's a wonderful message. But if you don't accept Jesus, if you're not something who goes that route religiously...

WARREN: Yes.

COLMES: ... can you find your way to heaven? Can you still be — go to the same place when it's all said and done?

WARREN: I'm not the authority on that, but I believe Jesus is. And everybody's betting their life on something. Jesus said, "I am the way." I'm betting that he's not a liar. I'm betting that he told the truth.

COLMES: What about — what does it say for all those people who do not accept Christ as their personal savior?

WARREN: I'm saying that this is the perfect time to open their life, to give it a chance. I'd say give him a 60-day trial.

(CROSSTALK)

COLMES: Like the Book of the Month Club.

WARREN: Give him a trial. See if he'll change your life. I dare you to try trusting Jesus for 60 days. Or your money guaranteed back.

OK, so first he says he's "not the authority" on who receives the gift of eternal life and who doesn't, but points to Jesus as the authority. OK, I'll accept that, although as a pastor - or even as a Christian - he speaks for the One who is the authority. It's not above his pay grade, so to speak. But when he presents faith in Jesus Christ as something to be "tried", he passes the bounds of Gospel clarity by a mile and enters the realm of therapeutic deism. "Try trusting Jesus for 60 days"? That's a completely wrong picture of what Biblical faith even means, on so many points. Conditional trust? I'll have faith if Jesus holds up His end of the deal? Not even close to truth. Biblical faith in the person and work of Christ is life-consuming, all-or-nothing, complete and unequivocal trust in who He is, what He accomplished, what He promises and how He commands to live. Nothing less. In fact, the Gospel writings are full of references to people who followed Christ for a while to see what He could do for them, like healing sicknesses and giving them food. But when He confronted them with the hard truths of real repentance, they followed Him no more.

But look at what he says is the test of reality, the motivation someone should have for "trying Jesus." It's to "change your life." Now, God is certainly in the life-changing business. Or more Biblically speaking, the life-granting business. The Gospel of Christ is the message He uses to resurrect spiritually dead sinners to life everlasting, and to reform lives spent in sin and rebellion into lives of righteousness that glorify Him. But the benefits of trying out Jesus given here are all about self-improvement, self-actualization, self-fulfillment. Have you noticed how the phrase "change my life" is used as an advertising testimony these days for everything from weight loss plans to self-help books to laxatives? So by using this as the test of the reality of Christ, what Warren is doing is what so many others do today - market the Gospel as another self-improvement option to be tried out. And hey, if you don't like the results you get in a couple months, you're free to go try some other option like liposuction or Scientology or Oprah. Whatever works for you, that's what counts. After all, the individual is the arbiter of truth, right? Unfortunately, in our postmodern world, that's the perception.

When the Gospel of Christ is peddled as a cure for whatever ails you to be tried out, rather than as the absolute truth of eternity that we each must face, there are three losers. First, the person being marketed to loses because they have been denied the life-giving truth of the Gospel. Second, the marketer loses since they are knowingly or unknowingly communicating a false Gospel. And most importantly, God loses as He is denied the glory He so richly deserves in the faithful proclamation of the Gospel of His sovereign grace in Christ.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Economic Perspective

With all the conventional wisdom these days being that "the economy" (whatever that means) is in the tank, in a recession, melting down, in a crisis, in a downturn, or any one of a hundred other gloomy or apocalyptic terms, it's hard to get a proper perspective. The consistent drumbeat of the media is having the desired effect, convincing most of us that we are in an economic Armageddon of historic proportions, that of course requires government action of historic audacity. And of course, the effect all this has on most of us is that things must be really bad - even though maybe our own economic well-being is pretty much the same as it was last year or the year before (401k and other investments notwithstanding).

So to help keep some proper perspective on this whole situation, here are some tidbits and numbers borrowed from a current article by George Will.

  • Sales the day after Thanksgiving were 3 percent higher than last year. Over the weekend, 172 million people, shopping in stores and online, spent an average of $372.57, a 7.2 percent increase over a year ago, when 147 million shoppers spent $347.55 per person. (Note that is more people shopping, and each spending more dollars.)
  • This is a reflection on personal consumption, which normally is 70 percent of economic activity.
  • This seems to be evidence of underestimated strength of an economy in which more than 93 percent of those who want to work are employed, and more than 93 percent of mortgages are being paid on time.
  • This may be related to the decline of the price of a gallon of regular gasoline from $4.10 in July to $1.81 today. Over a year, every 1 cent decline in the price of gas is a $1.5 billion saving to consumers.

One of the interesting things to me about how people are responding to the economic news is the fact that the personal savings rate - which has been declining for decades to an all-time low - has now begun to rebound. People are spending, to be sure, but they're also being wiser about how and how much they spend, and are saving more. This is undoubtedly a good thing, as it increases the financial stability of individual households. Seems that a lot of people may be reassessing their financial priorities a bit.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ten Good Reasons Not to be a Christian?

I inadvertently came across the following in a discussion forum on Amazon. Interestingly enough it was related to the new John MacArthur book that's coming out (Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong). I've also seen this same posting tied to numerous other Christian books on Amazon, so obviously the writer (who calls him/herself Celsus) has an agenda and wants everyone to know it. So here's their list of ten "good" reasons not to be a Christian. Enjoy, and then we'll discuss.

1) Numerous Biblical errors and contradictions (a list provided on request)
2) Biblical absurdities such as talking animals; magic trees; houses that suffer from leprosy and can be cured by potions of birds blood; one man killing 1000 with a jaw bone of a donkey; a man who lived in a whale; a woman who was turned into salt; Noah's flood, etc.
3) Bible prophecies, which all suffer from at least one of the following:
a) Taken out of context
b) Extremely nebulous - could apply to many events
c) Made to mean something other than what they say
d) Based on miss-translations of the original text (as with the Septuagint)
e) Based on non-existent text (Nazareth prophecy; Judas prophecy).
f) Made after the fact (Prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel)
4) A picture of God that is obscene. In the Old Testament He condones or is responsible for: wholesale murder, slavery, cannibalism, lying, deceit, discrimination against disabled people, discrimination against women, issuing bad laws, adultery, irrational killing of innocent people, rape, drunkenness.
5) There is no historical record of a man named Jesus Christ outside the Bible, where such a record SHOULD be found if in fact he existed.
6) Christianity has nothing that is unique. Its teachings and doctrines are largely borrowed from pre-existing Pagan beliefs - Zoroasterism, Mithraism, Osiris, Dionysis, Attis etc. This is confirmed by the early Church fathers, who tried to explain such parallels as Satan's attempt to counterfeit Gods plan in advance.
7) The NT scriptures were produced in a time and place where forging of scriptures was a common pastime among those who were literate, as evidenced by the numerous apocryphal works.
8) The 4 Gospels were written by unknown authors, in a language foreign to the one spoken by Christ and his disciples, based on hearsay from unknown sources, 40 to 80 years after Jesus death.
9) The doctrine of eternal Hell (borrowed from Zoroasterism and ancient Egypt) is morally corrupt.
10) The fruit of Christianity shows it to be the most violent and corrupt of religions, responsible for millions of deaths. It set back science 1500 years and issued in the Dark Ages.
Now, I've seen some much more off-the-wall objections to Biblical Christianity before. These are at least somewhat rational, mostly focused on the veracity and historical accuracy of the Bible. And mostly mistaken, easily answerable and having been shown to be false many times over. But obviously this person doesn't want to be confused with the facts. His or her mind is made up. No room for evidence to the contrary.

But then, they're just like the rest of us, aren't they? Apart from the sovereign grace of God, quickening us to life and enabling us to see the truth of the Gospel of Christ and respond to Him in faith, we are no different. We can't help it. Spiritual truth can't be discerned by those who are spiritually dead. It's foolishness. So we respond in our unbelief just like Celsus here. Oh, maybe not so antagonistically, or so systematically, but in our own way we do the same. We can't do otherwise.

This is what is so amazing about God's grace. That He is able, and willing, to take such a person who opposes Him so strongly like Celsus here, or the Apostle Paul, or me - and in an instant change us from persecutors of Christ to embracers of the cross and the Gospel. From being antagonizers to being true worshippers of the One True God. Not because He is obligated to, but because He wants to.

Amazing. Soli Deo Gloria...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Do It Again"

The other day I was listening to some old records (yes, remember vinyl?) and came across my Best of Steely Dan album. Started playing it and one of my old favorite songs was on it. Remember that classic "Do It Again" from 1974? A haunting melody to be sure, but the lyrics always puzzled me. Here they are:

In the mornin' you go gunnin' For the man who stole your water
And you fire till he is done in But they catch you at the border
And the mourners are all singin' As they drag you by your feet
But the hangman isn't hangin' And they put you on the street

Chorus:
You go back Jack do it again
Wheel turnin' round and round
You go back Jack do it again

When you know shes no high climber Then you find your only friend
In a room with your two timer And you're sure you're near the end
Then you love a little wild one And she brings you only sorrow
All the time you know shes smilin' You'll be on your knees tomorrow

Now you swear and kick and beg us That you're not a gamblin' man
Then you find you're back in Vegas With a handle in your hand
Your black cards can make you money So you hide them when you're able
In the land of milk and honey You must put them on the table

Listening to this song again, it seemed that the words actually do make sense - at least from a Biblical standpoint. Look at the gist of the story line of the song. A man engaging in a series of sins - first vengeful murder, then sexual lust, and finally addictive gambling. And what is the result from each of these encounters with temptation and sin? As the chorus says, he goes back and does it again. The wheel of human depravity and sinful bondage keeps on turning. The cycle of sin goes around and around. And "Jack" is powerless to break the chain. He just keeps on going back to do it again. Sounds a lot like Proverbs 26:11, "Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly."

Now, I'm not saying that Steely Dan is a source of good theology. But I am saying that even in the most mundane of cultural expressions we can see the truth of God's word and the Gospel of Christ represented. We can see and testify to the utter depravity of man and the bondage to sin that all of us, like Jack, are subject to. And we can glorify God that He is the only means by which that bondage can be broken, that we can be set free from slavery to the endless downward spiral of sin. For His glory.

Living for God's Glory

I just received a pdf of a new book from Reformation Trust by Joel Beeke. Living for God's Glory - An Introduction to Calvinism is the title. It looks to be a great explanation of not just the Doctrines of Grace from a theological point of view, but also of the implications of Calvinist doctrines for the life of the church, for evangelism, for personal holiness and for practice in all areas of the life of the Christian. The book also includes contributions by others such as Sinclair Ferguson, Michael Haykin and Derek W. H. Thomas. Looking forward to digging in to this book, but it may take some time as it's a little more than 400 pages, and reading that much on a computer may get tedious. At any rate, I plan to post a review here when finished. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, live for God's glory.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Emergent Clarity?

In a rare show of clarity in stating a position on an issue of belief, Emergent leader Tony Jones says this:

I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.
(In case you need translation, GLBTQ = gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual/transgendered, and queer people).

Read the whole thing here. Seems to kind of go against Brian McLaren's call for a "five year moratorium" on making judgments regarding homosexuality. Tony seems to be going against the grain of the emerging/emergent postmodern vagueness and stating a belief. Of course, with no basis (Biblical or otherwise) for it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Sharing My Faith" - Is It Biblical?

One of my personal irritants (e.g. pet peeves) is the use of buzzwords and buzz-phrases in contemporary Christian culture. Those things we say without thinking clearly and Biblically about what it is we're saying. One of these phrases tha's been on my mind lately as I've been doing some studying on the subject of Christian apologetics is "sharing my faith." This phrase is used often and casually by so many of us. There are even books and classes about "how to share your faith." But I've always felt a little uneasy about the phrase. And so I thought about it for a while and did a little deconstruction to discover if the phrase stands up to Biblical scrutiny. And my conclusion is - no, it doesn't.

Now before you accuse me of semantic snobbery, let me say that I have used this phrase myself and bear no ill will or ground axe against anyone who continues to use it. But I am becoming more and more convinced that far too many of us who name the name of Christ do not like to engage our minds very much, and too easily fall into the habit of using these kind of terms without clear thought.

So what does someone normally mean when they speak of "sharing their faith"? Well, mainly they are saying that they are witnessing to someone. That they are presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving person, as an exercise in evangelism. That they are in fact proclaiming the good news, the "evangel" that we are all dead in our sin and justly headed for eternal punishment, but God has acted to send His Son to fulfill the righteous and just requirements we could not, substitutionarily dying in our place as a sacrifice for our sin, and by trusting in Him and His finished work we can receive eternal life.

But is this "sharing"? Is the Gospel of Christ a message to be "shared"? I can share my lunch with someone, I can share a taxi, I can even share my feelings with them. But the Scriptures picture the Gospel not primarily as something to be shared, but rather something to be proclaimed. To be heralded as an announcement, to be presented as a propositional truth statement that demands a response. A message of eternal life to be communicated boldly, clearly, and repeatedly to as many as possible. My concern is that when we reduce the communication of the Gospel to an interpersonal "sharing", it can become simply another "this is what I think" message, rather than a "this is what God says to be true" message. A sharing of "this is what works for me" rather than "you must be born again." A me-centered sharing of my experiences, rather than the command and plea of God to be reconciled to Him. Regardless of how we communicate the Gospel, it is not our message - we are simply the herald of the King, called to proclaim His message of eternal life.

And this brings me to the second part of the buzz-phrase: "sharing my faith." Just what is it that we are communicating? Is it my personal belief in this Gospel, my personal faith? Now that is something that I most definitely cannot share with another person. Indeed, the Gospel is not mine, it is God's. My faith is simply my personal trust in the message and the Christ. Everyone has to exercise their own faith in that message and Person. They can't share mine.

The best sense I can make of using the term "faith" when describing evangelism is in saying that we are communicating the faith. As it is described in Jude v. 3, it is "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." The faith, the definite article. The Gospel of Christ as contained in the body of apostolic teaching that we as believers are commanded to defend and earnestly contend for. This is what we are communicating, sharing, proclaiming to unbelievers. In reality, we have nothing else to share or proclaim. We are not commanded to communicate our own personal experience of faith in Christ - although that can often be a God-glorifying testimony to His grace. But it's not by admiring or trusting in what God has done for me that gains eternal life for another person - it is by trusting in "the faith", the truth of the Gospel and the person and work of Jesus Christ. If my evangelism amounts to nothing more than sharing what God has done for me, I have not really communicated the truth of the Gospel. I have simply shared my experience. Again, not a bad thing. But not sufficient to fulfill the Great Commission.

In place of "sharing my faith", I propose a new buzz-phrase. How about "proclaiming the faith." Or there's always that old saw, "preaching the Gospel." Seems that was the way Paul liked to express it. Can't go too far wrong there, can we?

Thank you for letting me share that with you...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Religon or Theology - Same Thing?

Started reading R. C. Sproul's What is Reformed Theology?, and came across some insightful words in the introduction regarding our tendency to consider theology and religion as interchangeable terms. Sproul says this:

...there is a profound difference between the study of theology and the study of religion. Historically the study of religion has been subsumed under the headings of anthropology, sociology or even psychology. The academic investigation of religion has sought to be grounded in a scientific-empirical method. The reason for this is quite simple. Human activity is part of the phenomenal world. It is activity that is visible, subject to empirical analysis. Psychology may not be as concrete as biology, but human behavior in accordance with beliefs, urges, opinions and so forth can be studied in accordance with the scientific method.

To state it more simply, the study of religion is chiefly the study of a certain kind of human behavior, be it under the rubric of anthropology, sociology or psychology. The study of theology, on the other hand, is the study of God. Religion is anthropocentric; theology is theocentric. The difference between religion and theology is the difference between God and man - hardly a small difference.

Again, it is a difference of subject matter. The subject matter of theology proper is God; the subject matter of religion is man.
Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Legislating Morality?

While reading Dr. Mohler's excellent blog article this morning looking at the results of the voting on the various initiatives defending the traditional definition of marriage (one man, one woman), it occurred to me that this is a perfect example of the classic argument that you can't "legislate morality." Mohler makes the point that while ballot initiatives defining traditional marriage passed strongly in California, Florida and Arizona last week, this hardly means that the issue is settled, or even agreed upon.

For example, consider the demonstrations in California last week protesting the vote there. Consider the legal challenges already filed in that state claiming unconstitutionality because the initiative "revised" the state constitution rather than "amended" it. Consider the statements made by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger encouraging homosexual activists to continue to fight the issue, and hoping that the courts will overturn the initiative once again. Consider the statements of liberal clergy who assert they will continue to bless and perform same-sex unions regardless of the law. Consider the statements of Nancy Pelosi, who essentially seems to think that her constituents in California were too dumb to understand what they were really voting on.

Now all these things have huge political implications. When elected leaders express their desire for courts to overturn the will of the people, that is a serious thing. When religious leaders consider their moral authority above the rule of law, that's a serious thing. When the will of the majority has been voiced clearly but yet is summarily dismissed by the political leadership, that is a serious thing. While the voice of the people has spoken, and the law has been set, the very people who are tasked with establishing and enforcing this law are opposed to doing so on moral grounds.

And herein is why you cannot legislate morality. Because morality, the making and holding of moral judgements and the conformance to those judgments, is a personal issue, not primarily a political issue. Moral standards are held individually, based on the condition of one's worldview and one's heart. And no law can change the worldview, will or heart of man. Only the Gospel of Christ can do this.

Does this mean that we should never strive to ensure that the laws of our land are based on the righteous moral standards of God's Word? Absolutely not. In a real sense, we in fact do legislate morality in many areas. That's why we have laws against murder, theft, and a host of other immoral acts. Since God created the world with a moral order, a society whose laws most closely reflect that moral order will be the most in tune with the way God intended the universe to operate. The entire nation is blessed when its laws are aligned with the moral precepts of God's law. But, we must never cross the line into thinking that this is the final answer. Indeed, this is the problem in much of today's evangelical movement. Substituting political action and influence for proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And expecting the nation to be transformed. The only transformer of a nation is the transformer of individuals - God Himself, as He purposes through His Son. When we forget this truth, we start down the path to forgetting to be the Church.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Election Reflections

I've had a few days now for thoughts about the presidential election to float around and lump together in my head, so it's time share a few of them.

  • First and foremost, I agree that as a Christian I am commanded by God to pray for the leaders that He Himself has sovereignly appointed for us. The Biblical commands to do so are perfectly clear, and I don't get a pass even when I don't like or agree with God's choice. There's no room for the "he's not my president" mentality. God may indeed have placed Obama in the presidency to demonstrate His ability to change and redeem. We must pray to that end.
  • However, that said - that does not mean that Christians are to take a deterministic "whatever, God's in control" attitude and not hold our new president accountable to governing righteously. Just as I don't get a pass in praying for Obama, he doesn't get a pass from me in being criticized where it's due. That's the freedom, even the responsibility we have as followers of Christ in a democratic republic.
  • Much has been and is being made of the election of the first African-American president. I have to agree that this in and of itself is a significant event. While it's hard for me to identify with the full importance of it to the Black and minority community, I recognize the historical impact. But it seems that all the talk about this event being a nail in the coffin of racism in America, a moment that puts us in "post-racial" times, seems to be making just the opposite point. So many references to Martin Luther King's dream being fulfilled. But was it? Remember King's words, looking for the day when a man was "not judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character." But to listen to so many before and now after Obama's election, that is indeed not the case. There's been an underlying assumption all through the campaign that any questioning of Obama's policies, positions, experience or past was somehow a racial attack. Is this really "post-racial"? Seems to me to be just the opposite. A point well made by Diana West in a recent article, where she begins "if we really inhabited a "post-racial" world, the news of the week would be that a Democrat has won the White House." Exactly.
  • I don't think anyone can plausibly deny the Obama-ward tilt of the media in this election cycle. The lack of depth in coverage of issues like Obama's background and relationships with the likes of Ayers, Wright and Rezko, the complete pass given someone like Biden, and in return the nit-picky and intrusive attack journalism agaisnt Palin were all clear signs that any illusion of an objective, watch-dog mainstream media in America is long gone. It remains to be seen whether Obama and Pelosi/Reid will pursue a return to the "fairness doctrine" to further quash any dissenting media outlets.
  • And the really interesting - and telling - events have been Obama's actions since being elected. As he begins to show his real colors, which were so well hidden by his media lap-dog during the campaign. First pick for chief of staff - Rahm Emanuel. One of the most partisan and abrasive personalities on the Dem side of Washington. So this is unity? Hmm. I think it's clear that Obama's brand of unity only comes by agreeing with him.
  • On the other side, though, is the fact that the Democrats received nowhere near the "mandate for change" that was predicted. Obama's narrow win in the popular vote (52-48) and the less-than-expected adds to both houses of Congress show that even though the election leaned Dem, the country is not firmly behind the people and policies espoused by the left end of the political party. And reality is that due to the current state of economic stress, Obama and company will have precious little ability to expand government revenues and reach. The Democrats were largely the beneficiaries of timing of the economic problems and dissatisfaction with Bush. They would do well to keep this in mind as they plan their first steps.
Challenging, interesting times lie ahead. And for those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, yet more fresh opportunities to proclaim His Gospel and glorify Him as we continue to trust not in our government, but in our King.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Results...

Yes, it's that fateful date when the American people exercise their right to respond to all the lies and hype and emotionalism of the presidential campaigns and vote their conscience, or their pocketbook, or their ideological agenda, or their worldview, or their ignorance or whatever. And when millions of people will be glued to their TV sets all evening and probably late into the night to get the results of the election. So much at stake, and even at this late date the outcome is still far from sure, regardless of what the polling pundits tell us. Because elections really aren't about voting, are they? They're really all about the results. Who, at the end of the day, gets elected? Who gets chosen?

Well there's another kind of election that I am happy to say is not dependent at all on the vagaries and fickleness of human campaigns and hype. An election which has results that are absolutely sure and certain. And an election with stakes that are infinitely high, a matter of eternal life and death. Of course, that is God's gracious election of those to whom He will grant eternal life in Jesus Christ. I am thankful that there is only one vote needed in this election, and that vote is His. I am grateful that there is no need to campaign for His election, since I would have nothing to claim as a reason He should elect me. In fact, I have nothing to claim at all other than my slavery to sin and my utter rejection of Him. Yet God purposed to elect me, and all who will believe in Christ, to the position of eternal life. To the position of being justified before Him, adopted as His child, free from condemnation, a dwelling place of His Spirit, a member of His body. Not on the basis of any qualifications we possess for that position, but only on the basis of His gracious choice. And He elects His people to that position, not for a 2-year or 4-year term, but for eternity. And He Himself insures that we will remain in that position all the way, never to be impeached or removed from office, even when we fail to fulfill our duties at times. And He does so, not with some superficial knowledge of us like political candidates, but will complete and full and intimate knowledge of who we are. We are foreknown by Him from eternity past.

So as we await the results of the elections, let's not forget the one election that really counts. Let's not lose perspective as followers of Christ. If you are in Christ, it is because God has sovereignly and graciously elected you to be His, He has placed you into that position, one that supersedes all the earthly presidents and nations that may come and go. He has elected you to a Kingdom that is not of this world. Let's be sure that we live like that kind of Kingdom citizen. For the honor and glory of the One who elected us.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The End of Democracy as We Know It?

Read these words from Scottish jurist and historian Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler, penned over 200 years ago. And consider them in relation to the 'promises' being made by Barack Obama.

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence; from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again into bondage."

A vote for Obama is a vote based in complacency, a vote for moving toward apathy and dependence. Make no mistake - this is the "change" that he has in view. And millions of Americans are buying the package like sheep. Never thinking about what the long-term direction is, only focused on what's in it for me in the short term. "Spreading the wealth around," as B. Hussein Obama puts it.

One of the worst aspects of a democratic form of government is that we get the leaders we deserve. I'm reminded of God's response to the Israelites when they wanted a king like the other nations around them. God indeed gave them what they asked for - Saul, a king who led God's chosen people astray. And they continued to select similar kings for generations. Just read 1 Kings and 2 Kings for a refresher. Could He be doing the same thing now?

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Mighty Fortress, Indeed

On this Reformation Day, the day that we remember Martin Luther's act of nailing his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, launching the emancipation of the church from her Roman captivity, my mind goes to that great hymn which he penned during the strife that followed. The words are still true, more today than ever. Regardless of what kind of opposition to the Gospel of Christ, the Church of Christ or the people of Christ that may come, our Fortress is and always will be God Himself. Regardless of presidential elections, economic downturns, terrorism and wars, He is our sole and strong defense.

A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God's own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.


Amen. Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grace Upon Grace

As I was traveling this past week, I was contemplating possible future Bible study classes to develop material for. One that I am playing with is an examination of the many aspects of God's gracious nature. I think this is an area that we (post) modern Christians do not spend nearly enough time considering. We instead settle for a superficial understanding of the vast and superabundant grace of God. And in the process settle for a less than adequate understanding of the person and character of God. And as a result, offer up less than full and appropriate worship of and love for God.

My objective in this class would be to help all of us who have been the recipients of God's grace in Christ to drink more deeply of that fountain, and to be challenged to live a more grace-filled life. Here's a working list of the major lesson topic areas I'm considering:

  • Grace Defined - what is this thing we call "grace"?
  • God's Common Grace - how does God's grace extend to all creation and people?
  • God's Covenantal Grace - how is God's covenant-keeping nature a demonstration of His grace?
  • God's Electing Grace - how are God's choices of people and nations gracious?
  • God's Redeeming Grace - how does salvation exhibit God's amazing grace?
  • God's Preserving Grace - why is God's preservation of His people a gracious act?
  • God's Sustaining Grace - how does God graciously provide power for daily living?
  • God's Eternal Grace - is God's grace in all it's facets temporal or eternal?
  • God's Restraining Grace - how does God graciously restrain evil in the world?
  • God's Disciplining Grace - how is God's correction of His children gracious?
  • Our Response to the Grace of God - how then shall we live in a gracious manner?
  • ...

I'm interested in feedback on these topic areas, and suggestions for additional ones. Comments please.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Confessing, or Compromising?

Read this article about a trend among churches to 'confess' their lack of accommodation to culture. Here's a few snippets:

Kensington Community Church, a seeker megachurch in suburban Detroit, is bringing a whole new meaning to “confessing church” by joining the bandwagon of churches who think the time has long past for the church to apologize to the culture for being the church. On Sunday, October 19, 2008 this church began a weekend message series titled, “Confessions of a Sinful Church.”

It should be noted that this idea of begging the cultures’ pardon didn’t originate with Kensington Church. Google their series title and you’ll be introduced to a dozen or more churches across the country that have discovered the latest fad sure to increase your worship attendance created by the psychologically-driven church growth movement: be sorry—be very sorry—for preaching a gospel that rubs the culture the wrong way. So just how has the church so offended the culture that it warrants such a public apology? Well, it seems there are variations of seven or eight sins the church is guilty of... the church has been self-righteous and hypocritical, supported racial segregation, mistreated homosexuals, fought bloody crusades and argued that the earth is flat...judgmental, sheltered, too focused on getting converts and too political.

Any church that takes a stand in defense of the unborn and for traditional marriage will be accused of being “too political.” Any church which has homosexuals in a list along with thieves, alcoholics and adulterers (as the word of God does—1 Corinthians 6:9-11) will be accused of mistreating homosexuals. Any church that teaches a literal six-day creation and a young earth will be viewed as archaic and out of touch with the mainstream of scientific research (read: evolutionary theory).

This is who we are: we are the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. The church is defined not by the failure of some in living up to this high calling. We have been eternally defined by the infallible, inerrant and perfect Word of God personified in the Word made flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our mandate is to preach the Word, not waste our time apologizing for it to a self-obsessed culture under the guise of “humble orthodoxy.”
Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to Write a Bad Worship Song

Came across a great article this morning from Bob Kauflin (the guy from Sovereign Grace Music), outlining the Top Ten Ways to Write Bad Worship Songs. Up front, let me say that I am not musical, lyrical, or even very creative. And I have great respect for those people who God has equipped with these gifts to serve His Church by writing good worship songs that facilitate my worship of the One. People like Bob Kauflin, and the writing team at my own church. They are a gift to the body of Christ. And unfortunately, as Kauflin's post reminds us, they are rare these days. Maybe that's why what he has to say resonated with some things I've been thinking lately regarding this whole genre of popular worship music, and where it seems to be now, and headed.

Among these top ten ways to write bad worship music that Kauflin lists are: Aim to write the next worldwide worship hit. Don’t consider the range and capabilities of the average human voice. Never let anyone alter the way God originally gave your song to you. Cover as many themes as possible. Use phrases and words that are included in 95% of all worship songs. But the one that I really connected with was number 6: Make sure the majority of your songs talk about what we do and feel rather than who God is and what he’s done.

Maybe it's the strong doctrinal and theological bent in me, but this is a trend that I see in so much of what passes for worship music these days, and it bothers me. In fact it bothers me so much that I find myself evaluating worship songs as I hear them, sometimes even in church. I find myself counting the number of "I" and "me" words over against the number of "You" words as an indicator of how Christ-centered and Godward-directed the song is. I sometimes even find myself altering words as I listen or sing, so as to focus more on the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done, what He will do, His glory, His power, His majesty. Because in a real sense I think this is what a worship song, by definition, must do. Declare the worthiness of Christ, be directed towards Him. Focus my mind and my thoughts and my heart on the glory and person of Christ, so that I may praise Him rightly. It should facilitate and guide me to into my own personal worship of the King. To be sure, a part of that is remembering what He has done for me and in me. But that's only a means to an end - the end being honor to Him.

Unfortunately there seem to be far too few 'worship' songs being written that do this. Not that this is a new issue - many of the old hymns are at least as bad, theologically and directionally. But I would challenge us all to think about these things as we listen to worship music, or any music for that matter. When we engage in worship, both individually and corporately as the Church, let's be sure that we actually do engage. Worship is an act of the whole person, and must start with the mind and the will. It is not primarily an emotional act, or a rote ritual of singing along with whatever song or words are put in front of us. Let's be sure that we worship with discernment, in spirit and in truth.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

End of the Season

It's in the 40's and raining outside. The forecast calls for the same to continue rest of the week, even getting colder and possibly becoming snow. The wind is blowing. The leaves are falling. All of these are signs that I can't deny - the end of biking season is at hand.


So I caved in last night to this sad reality. I cleaned up my bike a bit, brought it in the house and set it up on my indoor trainer. You know, the kind that locks onto the rear wheel and has a resistance roller to 'simulate' wind and road resistance? I really detest using the trainer. It's like riding with training wheels, except you don't actually go anywhere. It's boredom taken to a new level. Even worse than running on a treadmill - at least there you have to stay alert so you don't fall off. But ten minutes on the trainer feels like an hour on the road, mentally. Even listening to great music or podcasts on the iPod doesn't help much. Which probably is why I rarely use my bike on the trainer. Oh sure, I set it up faithfully every fall, but only use it a few times during the winter. That's just the way it is. Good intentions, but...

But maybe this year will be different. I mean, I have that sweet new Lemond Buenos Aires to ride on the trainer. And I set it up facing the computer in the family room with the big 22" widescreen monitor. Maybe I can throw in a movie DVD and watch it with the full surround sound and keep myself mentally occupied. Maybe even get some DVD's of bike races like le Tour. And trick myself into thinking that I'm not really spinning the wheels on a bike sitting in my family room. Maybe. It could happen.

Of course, there's always the hope that there will be a day or two where the fall and winter weather breaks a bit and the temps get up into the 50's, the sun comes out and the wind slackens. Days when, with the flick of a release lever, I can free my carbon fiber steed from the steely grip of the trainer and for a brief moment enjoy the road once more. Once more, before reality returns and I and my two-wheeled freedom machine must go back to the family room and the trainer.

"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven..." - Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, October 20, 2008

Satisfaction

In Sunday School yesterday I was teaching on that marvelous truth of the freedom of the believer in Christ from condemnation for sin. As the apostle Paul so directly puts it in Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The born again Christian is completely, totally and eternally freed from the just judgment of God on their sin. The demands of God's holy and righteous justice were satisfied fully by the death of Jesus Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice in our place. The complete payment has already been rendered, imputed to the believer's account through faith. There is no more payment for sin required, or even possible. Hebrews 10:18 says it this way: "Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin."

The theological term for this satisfaction of God's justice is propitiation. This is in fact a legal term. It refers to the complete and satisfactory payment of a judgment. If someone sued me and the court rendered a judgment against me of, say, $1000, and I paid the full $1000 dollars to the plaintiff, then the judgment would be said to have been propitiated. In other words, fully paid, satisfying the demands of the judgment. There would be nothing left to pay, and the offended party could never come back and ask for more. In the same way, God has judged my sin and found me guilty. And as a result, He, the ultimate Judge, has rendered the sentence in accordance with His character and His law - death, eternal death. As stated in Ezekiel 18:4, "The soul who sins will die." Reiterated in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." I, like all people apart from Christ, am under the condemnation for my sin. But due to Christ's penal substitutionary atonement and my faith in that atonement, His perfect death and righteous life is imputed to me. As an act of God's sovereign grace. And therefore God is satisfied with His payment on my behalf.

But why is the idea of propitiation such a big deal? Why does it matter that God's justice has been completely satisfied? Well consider for a moment what it would mean if your sin was not completely paid for, if God was not fully satisfied. Suppose that Christ's death on your behalf was sufficient to make payment for 99.9999% of your sin. Leaving you having to make payment for just .00001% of your sin. That's not so much, right? Well, consider that any sin, even those that we would consider inconsequential, are an act of rebellion against an infinitely holy and righteous God. And as such, any sin is justly deserving of infinite punishment. In other words, eternity in hell. If Christ's death is not fully satisfactory, then you and I are still in our sin, still accountable before God's just condemnation, still guilty and sentenced to eternal punishment. Anything less would be a violation of a perfectly just and righteous God. If Christ's death on our behalf is not propitiatory, then the Gospel is not good news. Praise God that this is not the case!

So then how do we apply this doctrinal truth in our daily lives? Is this just some academic theological premise that has no practical value? Well, have you ever been in the midst of a trying time in life, and thought to yourself, "I am being punished by God for some sin."? Truth be told, I think all of us have at least entertained this idea at one time or another. But according to this great doctrine of propitiation, can that be true? Does God punish His people for their sin? Absolutely not. Again, if He did, then that would mean Christ's sacrifice was not satisfactory. And that would also mean that our punishment would not be just some crisis or trial, but eternal death. To be sure, God may be allowing the consequences of our sin to remain with us, as a means of disciplining us in order to train us in righteousness and show us the seriousness of sin in our life. But this is not an act of justice, as punishment is. Instead it is an act of love. It is a sign of His perfect fatherly love for us, as stated in Hebrews 12:7: "God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?"

So don't ever let the lies of the evil one convince you that God is punishing you for some past sin. The promise of Jesus in John 5:24 is truth that will dispel this lie: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." Praise God for His amazing grace that has completely satisfied His justice for your sin through Christ. Praise God for His loving discipline, a mark of your position as His child.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Marching Bands in the Dome

Spent yesterday in Vermillion, South Dakota watching the Quad State Marching Competition. It was held at the Dakota Dome on the University of South Dakota campus, kind of a cool place. There were some amazing bands there from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. The Columbus High band (including son Matt on alto sax) performed well, here's a video.

video

Just one more competition for CHS this season, the state marching contest next Saturday in Lincoln. And then a trip to the Alamo Bowl to perform in December.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sanctified

Talking with son Mike several times recently about his impressions of Israel and his time there got me thinking. He said that one of the things that he has come to understand is that there is really nothing special about the land or the places in Israel. As he's traveled about and seen so many Biblical places, he's observed that these are just mundane and unspectacular hills and valleys and cities. Just plain old rocks and trees and dirt and sand and rivers. Not the magnificent sites that we tend to have in our minds when we read and think of these locations in our Bibles, or in "Holy Land" tour literature.

But what is it, then, that makes these places special? What is that that makes the Holy Land, holy? As Mike noted, it's not the land in and of itself, but the One who chose that land and those places as the locale in which He would demonstrate His mighty works and His character for all to see and know. The land we now call Israel is just another chunk of land in the middle-east, undistinguished geographically from the area surrounding it. It is only holy because God chose, first a people to be His own, and then the land for them. It is the Lord God Yahweh who makes the people, the land, or anything else He chooses to be His, holy. Set apart for His possession, His purposes and His glory. As He told His people the Israelites long ago, "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you." (Exodus 31:13).

As I thought about this, I realized that this is exactly what He still does in the case of those whom He brings to faith in Jesus Christ. He first chooses those who will be His, according to His will, from eternity past. Not because they are or will be anything special or praiseworthy or deserving. But rather because He unconditionally purposes to do so. Just like the unremarkable land of Israel, every one who God chooses for faith in Christ is likewise unremarkable. It is only the fact that He chooses that makes them anything at all. His work is all of grace, undeserved favor. Hebrews 10:14 says this so well: For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

If we are in Christ, we are sanctified. We are declared to be holy. Not always in our practice, but eternally in our position. Not due to our "merit", but because of His sovereign grace. Chosen as His special possession, declared to be holy and set apart in Christ. Sanctified in our standing before Him, and growing in our practice of that sanctification by His Spirit for our entire lives. For His glory alone.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Political Convictions

And that's all I have to say about that...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Serious Responsibility

The Pulpit magazine blog has a great quote today from Richard Baxter on the seriousness of the task that any of us who teach or preach the word of God and the Gospel of Christ have.

For myself, as I am ashamed of my dull and careless heart, and of my slow and unprofitable course of life, so, the Lord knows, I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men’s salvation or damnation is so much concerned in it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men, and lest in the best sermon I should be guilty of their blood.

Me thinks we should not speak a word to men in matters of such consequence without tears, or the greatest earnestness that possibly we can; were not we too much guilty of the sin which we reprove, it would be so.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Inheritance That Needs No Bailout

One of my favorite Scripture passages is 1 Peter 1:3 and following. So much great and powerful truth contained in so few words. Consider just v. 3-5.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Note what's stated as a purpose for God the Father's bringing His people to new birth in Christ - "to obtain an inheritance." This passage says that one of God's main reasons for sovereignly saving His people is to provide for them an inheritance. The inheritance of God Himself, and His Kingdom. Based on His covenant promises. In fact, we're told in Romans 8:17 that since we are adopted children of God, born into His family, we are "heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." What an amazing truth, to be inheritors of all that God has promised Jesus Christ.

So what do we tend to think of when we hear the term "inheritance"? More than likely we think in terms of real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and such. Tangible property passed on from father to children. But in these times of economic and financial uncertainty, there are many of us who see the value of our assets dwindling, fading away, shrinking. And it can be frightening, can't it? Times like these can give us small hope of being able to pass on an inheritance to our families, or of receiving one.

But that's not exactly the kind of inheritance the first century readers of Peter's epistle would have thought of. Notice back in 1 Peter what kind of an inheritance is described that God provides for His children. First, it is imperishable. The Greek here is ἄφθαρτος, referring to that which will not decay or rot. One of the most valuable commodities in Biblical times was grain, often stored up by wealthy farmers as a long-term asset, something to be passed on. But grain that begins to rot is worthless, losing it's value entirely. But not so the inheritance of God for His people. It is eternal and of infinite value, never subject to decay.

Second, the inheritance of God's people is referred to as undefiled, from the Greek ἀμίαντος. Meaning that which is unspoiled and pure. Another valuable commodity in the ancient near east was olive oil, or good wine. But if either of these became tainted with impurities, they would, like rotted grain, be worthless. But again, not so with the inheritance God the Father provides for His children. It is pure and untainted and will remain so.

Thirdly, the inheritance God promises is described as one that "will not fade away." The Greek is ἀμάραντος, describing something that is perpetual and not subject to loss. One of the most prized possessions that could be passed on to a son from a father in a wealthy family in Biblical Palestine was the father's robe. A sign of power and prestige and authority, only worn on extremely special occasions, and usually of a bright fabric that was very costly. But like all fabrics, subject to fading of those bright colors over time. And with the fading came a loss of value. But not so with the inheritance of God's people. It is perpetual, unfading, unchanging. We are inheritors of the royal robe of Christ as we are clothed with Him, permanently and eternally.

And lastly, this eternal inheritance is described as being ours already. Peter states that it is "reserved in heaven for you." It's in the bank, so to speak. The Greek translated reserved here is τηρέω, meaning guarded or kept secure. God has deposited this inheritance in a heavenly account with our name on it, and is reserving it for us. And note where the power comes from to preserve this reserved inheritance. It is God Himself, who is keeping us and protecting us all the way through the perils of this life and this world to His ultimate destination for us where our inheritance will be consummated with Him.

So meditate on these truths, Christian, when the uncertainties of Wall Street make it seem as if there is no certainty of tomorrow's finances. Because there isn't. Regardless of whether the Dow is up or down. But instead, focus on the infinitely superior inheritance that the Lord Jesus Christ has determined to share with those He has redeemed. The inheritance of the Kingdom of God, of an eternity in worship and fellowship with Him face to face, the sure and certain blessings of eternal life in Christ. And rest in those truths and that position, and take joy in it. As Peter goes on to say in v. 6-9:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

Amen. Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Well Done, Discoverer Marching Band!

Saturday was the 34th annual Columbus Marching Festival, which saw over 20 high school bands come to town to compete in a parade through downtown and a field marching competition. The host band, the Columbus High School Discoverers, did a great job in both. And they received a division I (the top grade) rating for their field performance. Son Matt is a freshman at CHS and plays alto sax. And I was helping all afternoon with doing video of all the bands, up in the 'crows nest' at the stadium. So here's some video of the CHS band in the parade and field competition.

video

The Discoverer band will be traveling to San Antonio in December to perform at the Alamo Bowl. Good job, band!

Friday, October 3, 2008

God's Faithfulness, Fore & Aft

The focus of the worship service at our church this Sunday is going to be considering God's faithfulness to our church, looking back and looking forward. We are currently in a stage of transition from our previous senior pastor to the man that God will bring to lead us in the next season of ministry, so this is an appropriate time to consider the past faithfulness of God in the history of our church, and considering how He will continue to be faithful in the future.

This got me thinking today about how in a very real sense, the spiritual life of our family is a micro-testimony to God's faithfulness, expressed through Highland Park church. Now, there's nothing particularly noteworthy about our family, and there are dozens of other stories at HP that demonstrate the amazing gracious faithfulness of Christ. But I still felt compelled to testify to what He has done in our family through the ministry and people at HP.

When our oldest son Mike was in kindergarten, a friend invited him to attend the Awana club at HP. We were unbelievers at the time, but didn't see any harm in Mike learning some Bible verses. And as I and my wife Tammie helped him memorize these passages, God faithfully used that time to get His word into our home and into our hearts. I had never heard the gospel of Christ before expressed in those direct Biblical terms. And in due time God sovereignly brought both I and my wife to faith in that gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ. And eventually He also brought Mike to faith in Christ, as well as our other two younger kids.

Of course, that little kindergartner Mike is no longer a Sparky in Awana. He's a senior at Bible college now as he pursues God's call on his life to go into full time ministry. In fact, he's studying this semester in Israel. God has been faithful in this so far, and it remains to be seen where Mike will end up serving Christ. But one thing is sure - God will continue to faithfully lead and equip and challenge him as he follows His leading.

As for the rest of the family, we rest in that assurance of God's continuing providence and faithfulness to us as His people. He's placed in me a desire and passion for teaching His word and discipling His people. He's placed into my wife a love for ministering to kids, as she works in helping lead that same Awana program that God used all those years ago. I look forward to seeing how He will faithfully mature and grow our two younger kids, now 15 and 12.

All this to say that our God is faithful. Faithful to His promises, faithful to His purposes, faithful to His character, and most of all faithful to His people. And we are here to declare His glory as He faithfully works in and through us.

Soli Deo Gloria...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Worldwide Classroom from CTS

Noted on Justin Taylor's blog today that Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis) now has as many as 20 of their courses available on the web, at no cost. Classes include titles like Biblical Theology, Calvin's Institutes, Christ-Centered Preaching, Hebrews to Revelation, NT History and Theology, and many others. The lectures are in mp3 format with the course materials in pdf. And they can be used and shared with no cost or limitations. I'm thinking of checking out a couple of these courses, as CTS is a solid Biblically sound and reformed school.

You can find the CTS Worldwide Classroom here. Enjoy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Financial Ruminations

So what is one to think of the current state of the financial markets and the failed 'bailout' by the government today? What does it all mean? And how should we respond to the whole situation, especially as Christians? These are some of the thoughts that have been meandering around the recesses of my mind the past week or so.

Now, there are many 'experts' and media mavens and political opportunists who will gladly answer these questions for us, in an effort to promote some agenda or grind their axe. Which only adds to the lack of clarity and the abundance of confusion. But while I don't claim to be any kind of an economist or financial whiz, I do know that there are a few clear root causes to the current meltdown in the credit markets. The first is the poorly thought through policies of the federal government over the past twenty years, forcing lenders to make loans to unqualified home buyers and in the process taking on more and more risky credit. Which also drove home sales, driving up demand, thereby driving up prices. In short, an unsustainable market condition that was a ticking time bomb. Once again, the problem is not too little government intervention, but too much.

The second root cause is the lack of lack of restraint on the part of those home buyers. They took on much more debt than was advisable, bought bigger and more expensive houses than they needed, financed the whole thing at artificially low adjustable interest rates, and generally got in way over their heads. You can blame the lenders for not advising them better, but it boils down to personal responsibility. They knew what they were signing up for. Again, a ticking time bomb.

So now the whole thing has come crashing down. The housing bubble burst, the artificially inflated values of homes has come down, the balloon payments on those adjustable mortgages have come due and can't be paid, the mortgage default rate has gone through the roof, and the big mortgage banking institutions are holding a huge portfolio of bad loans. And the ripple effects have spilled over into the broader credit market, which is a key part of the world financial markets. The modern global economy runs day to day on credit. When it's limited, there are untold effects across the board. Not the least of which is reflected in the equity markets, as has been seen recently in the behavior of the stock markets. Like today, when the market indexes dropped 7-10% due to the failure of the House to pass the 'rescue' package.

Regarding that package, I have to say that I received the news with mixed emotions. The fiscal conservative, limited government part of my brain did not like the idea of the American taxpayers taking on $700 billion in bad debt. Let the markets correct themselves, and recover from the effects of too much government intrusion, not adding more. But on the other hand, from a personal standpoint I know that my retirement fund (largely invested in stocks) and other investments have taken a large hit over the past 6 months, and will continue to as the market goes down further if the 'bailout' isn't enacted. It's rather unnerving to watch literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of value disappear from your accounts. I might even have to delay retirement. And there are many, many people in this same situation.

And here is where I come to the question of how we should respond as believers in Christ. First and foremost, this situation should be a checkup for each of us on where our sense of security lies. Are we trusting in our stocks, bonds, 401k's and the like for our security, or are we trusting in our sovereign Lord and Savior who has total control over even the Dow and the Nasdaq? It's times like these that call that question. Second, have we fallen prey to the pervading sense of greed and entitlement that has been part of the reason for this current crisis? Have we been among those who made unwise financial decisions in an effort to 'get our piece of the pie', and are now paying for it? If so, we have violated Biblical principles of contentment and stewardship, and may be seeing the Lord's discipline for it. And finally, are we viewing people caught deeply in this crisis with compassion, and praying for their well-being, asking God to show Himself clearly to them as their worldly security fails them?

Let's consider these application points in this time of financial uncertainty. For our good and our growth. And for His glory.