Sunday, June 29, 2008

God's Unconditional Conditional Love

One of the great things about re-teaching material that you wrote many years ago is that you get the opportunity to correct your own errors. Which is what I was doing this morning with my Sunday Bible study lesson. I'm teaching a study on the fruit of the Spirit that I wrote and first taught a number of years ago. And today's lesson was an investigation into the first fruit of the Spirit laid out in Galatians 5:22-23 - the fruit of love. Obviously, to rightly understand the nature of the love that the Spirit of God produces in the life of a believer in Christ, we must first understand the love of God. The self-sacrificial, other-centered, sovereign and gracious and merciful and righteous agape love that God Himself manifests, and that His Spirit produces in the life of His people. And that is what much of our lesson today was focused on.

So in the midst of this study, we came to a statement in the material I had written which described God's love as "unconditional." When going over the material prepping for this class, I had left this in the study, but knew that it would need some definite expansion and clarification. The problem with referring to God loving people unconditionally is that what the unrepentant sinner hears in this statement is, "I'm OK, God loves me as I am so I have no need of salvation or Jesus Christ." So I had spent some time the past few days thinking on this. And the understanding I came to was that God's love is both unconditional and conditional.

Scripture is clear that the love of God, the grace and mercy of God in salvation is unconditional in the sense that it cannot be earned or deserved. Indeed, any hint of merit or obligation has no place in love or grace. God's love is freely given as an act of His will. It can never be deserved by any person. It is a result of His sovereign grace. In this sense, the love of God expressed in the saving grace of God is completely unconditional and unmerited.

However, God's saving love and receiving the benefits thereof is most definitely conditional. As with many of the promises of God, there is a condition that He requires for receiving His salvific love. And that condition is faith - faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We know this so well but seldom think of it in terms of a condition for receiving His saving love. Yet it is clearly stated in so many passages. Including that great love of God verse, John 3:16. Paraphrased, it stated that God loved fallen people in such a way that He acted on that love and gave of Himself, in the person of His Son. And this giving had a purpose - so that those who meet the condition of believing in Christ will be free of the eternal punishment for their sin, and instead be inheritors and possessors of eternal life.

But as I considered this conditional aspect of God's love, it occurred to me that in and of ourselves we could never meet this condition. Depraved, sinful, rebellious and spiritually dead people (as we all are in our natural state) can and will never free themselves from bondage to sin and trust Christ. We must meet the condition of faith in Christ to receive eternal life, yet we are quite incapable of meeting that condition. But here's where the sovereign grace of God comes into play yet again. God Himself does what is necessary to meet the condition. He sovereignly chooses to grant spiritual life to His elect, enabling them to irresistibly run to Christ in faith and trust.

Once again, a deeper understanding of the sovereign will of God results in a further and deeper understanding and appreciation of the grace of God. In His unconditional conditional love, the manifest grace of God is most fully expressed. Amazing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Office Safety Tips

I was looking at an Employee Safety Manual from 1960 that belonged to my dad, from his career at Consumers Public Power District (now Nebraska PPD, my employer). Came across some interesting safety rules for office employees. Times have changed a bit. Here's a few excerpts.

Those darned envelope flaps can give a person a nasty paper cut on the tongue. And of course, high heels are naturally dangerous.

These days, it's more like "don't read your Blackberry while walking."

Yep, gotta remember to keep those cigarette butts off the floor. And avoid all those nasty sharp objects.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Who Asked Him To?"

I recently read a comment from a very anti-Christian celebrity (whose name and other details I don't recall). This person, responding to the claim of the Gospel of Christ that Jesus died for them, said this: "Who asked Him to?" For some reason this statement has been rolling around in my head ever since.

Now I don't want to get into the theological issues of particular redemption and all that entails here, but rather to examine this question as stated. Who, indeed, asked Jesus Christ to die for fallen men and women? Obviously, this response was meant to be a dissing of Christianity, in essence saying that they don't need Christ or His death for their sin. I understand that, and in fact I probably had the same response to this truth many years ago before God sovereignly graced me with the spiritual life and understanding to respond to the Gospel. This is really the cry of a heart hardened and dead in sin, steeped in self-sufficiency and rebellion against God.

But all that aside, let's consider the question on a Biblical basis. Who did ask Christ to die on the cross as a vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice to receive the just penalty of God the Father for sin? Here are a few passages that shed some light on this topic:

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)

For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:19-20)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Who asked Christ to die for the sin of the elect? The Scriptures are clear that it was God the Father who ordained that His Son would be the Lamb of God to bear the sin of fallen man, to be the propitiatory payment for sin that would satisfy God's justice. God the Father purposed that God the Son would make atonement for sin for His people. So in this sense, God the Father "asked" Jesus to die for us.

But this begs another question, doesn't it? If the Father asked, ordained and purposed that Jesus would die for sin, how did Jesus respond? Of course we know that He did in fact obey the will of the Father to go to the cross. But did He do so willingly? Did God the Son concur with the plan of redemption ordained by God the Father from eternity past, which included His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection? Did He resist the will of the Father in this? Again, let's consider the question Biblically.

"...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28)

"...even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." (John 10:15)

And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." (Mark 14:36)

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

As these and countless other passages point out, the sacrifice of Christ for the sin of the elect was not done grudgingly or with disagreement, but rather in total consensus with the plan of the Father, in complete submission to His will, and with complete joy in accomplishing the redemption that He and His Father had planned before the foundation of the world. There was no conflict in the Godhead in this, no hint of resistance on the part of Christ. In fact, He faced His mission with a sense of joy and fulfillment, knowing that the Father was to be glorified in His sacrifice. Far from the blasphemous statements of those who refer to the substitutionary atonement of Christ as "divine child abuse", nothing could be further from the truth. Christ was pleased to take on the chastisement for our sin.

Who asked Jesus Christ to die for my sin? God did - God the Father ordained it, God the Son agreed and performed it, and God the Spirit agrees and applies it to those who God brings to Himself. Meditate on these truths. Soak your mind and heart in the depths of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. And come to a new and deeper understanding of and appreciation for the amazing grace of God.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Old Two-Wheeled Friend

Seems I haven't had much of any theological or spiritual significance to post about lately. Guess that's just where I am right now.

But one thing that I have been doing lately, however, is getting back into road cycling. Over the past two weeks I've managed to put in around 200 miles, a good start on my goal of at least 1000 miles for the summer. I really enjoy cycling, the freedom and the connection with the road and scenery (yeah, there is some of that in eastern Nebraska), the exercise and the sense of accomplishment when you've finished a big ride. For me, cycling is at least as much a mental refreshment as it is physical. And I love the elegance and engineering of a well-designed and built road bike. Like my trusty old steel steed that I am riding, that has taken me many miles in the past and continues to do so.

My road bike is a 1986 Trek 400 Elance. Yes, that's right, 1986. I bought the bike new in May of 1986 for a whopping $375, a lot of money for a bike (for me at least) in those days. I have developed a great relationship with my Trek, it fits me better than any other bike I've ever ridden and the well-built Reynolds 531 hand-brazed steel frame rides smooth as silk. When I go out riding with some of the other guys around town, on their slick new aluminum and carbon fiber bikes that have all the cool technology and more gears than I can count and super-tanium this and that, I kinda feel out of place. Sort of old school. But I have yet to be out ridden on my old 400, at least against other riders of my ability.

Yes, I do run out of gears when it comes to climbing hills, with my old 12-speed drive train. Yes, I'm a little slower on the sprint due to the extra weight my old Trek has on it (23+ lbs) compared to the light newer bikes. Yes, I still have to reach down to get to the shifters instead of just flick the brake levers like the newer bikes have. But I'm so used to all this that it doesn't bother me that much.

In fact, I've been looking seriously at getting a new bike lately. One with an aluminum frame and carbon fiber fork, 27 speeds and other such features. But it seems the more time I spend on the old Trek, the harder it is to even think about getting rid of it. We've been a long ways together, and even though it's showing some signs of wear, it'll still take me anywhere I want to go. And today I came across a website dedicated to old Trek steel frame bikes. And there I found the original dealer brochure for my bike:

There she is, in all her original glory. And mine looks exactly like this, except for updated pedals and handlebar tape. And then I read about all the other cyclists who like me are still riding these old Treks and loving them and collecting them. I have to say, I am torn. On the one hand, it's a piece of machinery and can't last forever. Sooner or later I am going to need to spend some major dollars to keep it going, like for new wheels, etc. But on the other hand, my old 400 Elance is like a trusted old friend. It would seem like betrayal to replace it. So there's my dilemma.

OK, so those of you that don't love bikes and cycling probably just don't get this. That's alright. It's a cyclist thing. You wouldn't understand.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Our Firstborn's Birthday

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the birth of our firstborn son, Mike. Since Mike doesn't like attention regarding these kind of things, he probably won't like me posting this, so I'll keep it brief. We are very proud of our son, and the young man of God that he's growing into. Mike has sensed the Lord's call on his life to pursue pastoral ministry, and is currently entering his senior year as a Bible Exposition major at The Master's College. He's back at home with us in Columbus for the summer as he interns at Highland Park EFC. This fall will see Mike spending a semester at IBEX in Israel before returning to finish his last semester at TMC and graduation. And he's looking at pursuing an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School after that.

I've been so blessed to see the way that God's been shaping Mike these past few years, and the zeal that Mike has for the Word and sound doctrine and communicating it to God's people. I can only imagine how He will use Mike in the future, regardless of what path he goes down. Happy birthday Mike!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What's Goin' On...

Still a little blog-blocked, plus have had a busy week. So here's just some random thoughts on stuff going on with me and my family lately.

  • Son Matt finished his first week as a junior cabin leader (JCL) at Timber lake Ranch Camps, we picked him up yesterday. None the worse for wear other than a sunburned back and some bug bites, and a bit gamy due to only getting two showers all week. Sounds as if he had a good week, in a cabin with a bunch of 9-10 yr old boys, also helping with food service and cleanup, games and activities, etc. He even got to lead his cabin in a Bible study devotional one night. We take him back to camp tomorrow afternoon for his second and last week.
  • After dropping Matt off at camp, I and my lovely bride are heading for a little town in the middle of nowhere in northeast Nebraska and staying in a bed and breakfast there for the evening. Just kind of a getaway for a day, since it's her birthday, and Father's Day too. Will do a little sightseeing and probably some shopping on the way home Monday.
  • We started our reading group Thursday night. About ten of us reading through Sinclair Ferguson's In Christ Alone. It was a great time, lots of good discussion and insights learning and thinking together, and laughs too. A good mix of guys, some older, some young guys like son Mike and another college guy, a little cultural diversity with mi hermano Miguel, pastor Nathan from the little Baptist church north of town, etc. Looking forward to this group progressing through the rest of the summer.
  • Speaking of pastor Nathan, he is back now from his year-long Army deployment to Kuwait as a chaplain. I and several others helped with preaching and teaching last summer and fall at his church while he was gone. And next Sunday he is returning the favor, preaching at our church. And a couple of us are filling in for him at his church. So I'm teaching my normal class that just started on fruitful believers in Christ, then zipping out in the country to teach the adult Sunday school class at Shell Creek Baptist. Should be a busy morning, but fun. I really love the folks at SCB, it will be good to be with them again. I'm going to teach a study I wrote several years back on the parable of the prodigal son. Having recently read John MacArthur's new book A Tale of Two Sons, this is fresh in my mind.
  • Next weekend as a whole will be busy, not just on Sunday. Friday we pick up Matt from camp. Friday evening a friend's daughter is getting married and we will be attending the wedding. Saturday afternoon one of the guys I've worked with for the past year or two in the New Life program at the Rescue Mission is graduating from the program, looking forward to that.
  • Last week also included two of daughter Hannah's softball games. A solid win and a close loss. Barely missed getting rained on at both of them. It's fun watching her growing into the athlete of the family. She loves playing softball, basketball (she was out practicing shots this morning in the driveway to keep her form up), and now she's taken up running. Had me go with her to the high school track the other evening to time her running the 400.
  • In between all this and work stuff I've been trying to get some time on my bike out on the road. I need to get back in shape and drop some pounds. Plus, when I'm cycling I seem to do some of my best thinking. I did manage to get out this morning and do a 22 miler. I even passed some riders on the Bike Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) that were on the same road as me. Felt pretty good dropping a couple seasoned riders like that on a hill. OK, so they were going a lot farther than I was.

Guess that's enough for now. Hopefully soon I'll have something a bit more substantial to post about.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In the Presence of Mine Enemy...

I've had kind of a blogger's block the past week, in case anyone had noticed that there have been no posts here at the Den since last Sunday. Not much has really come to the forefront in my thinking that seemed blog-worthy. Even as I've continued reading through the Psalms, I've had a tough time identifying with so much of what David says to God there. There are so many references to David's enemies, those who are against him and pursuing him and speaking lies about him and the like. His repeated cries to the Lord to vindicate him and punish his enemies just don't seem to resonate with me. I mean, I don't have the likes of King Saul coming after me to kill me like David did. I don't have a rebellious son like Absalom trying to usurp my throne like David did. Heck, come to think of it, I really don't have any enemies at all. Or do I?

As I pondered this while mowing the lawn this afternoon (I do my best thinking while mowing), it occurred to me that I do in fact have an enemy. The same enemy that all who trust Jesus Christ for eternal life have. That enemy is, of course, Satan, the Evil One, the Accuser of the brethren. While he often seems much less tangible than the visible enemies like those who David referred to, he is no less real or formidable. He operates not in the realm of human relationships or authorities, but rather in the realm of the supernatural. He stands before the throne of the Most High God and attempts to bring a charge of sin against me, as he did twice against Job. He seeks to distract and deceive me, to keep me from the whole truth of the Word of God, to deter me from living a life that glorifies the Risen Christ. As Peter says, he prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking a victim to devour. While his time is limited and he knows this, he nonetheless continues to fight a guerrilla war against God's elect, and against God Himself.

So in considering all this, it seems that I really do have a reason to identify with the pleas of David regarding his enemies. And my real enemy is much more serious than any of those men who persecuted David. But at the same time, I do not fear my enemy, the Devil. For he has been defeated once and for all, at the Cross of Jesus Christ. Any accusation he may try to bring against me is covered by the blood of my Savior Jesus Christ. Christ Himself stands before the throne of God, interceding on my behalf as He already has done by His death in my place. He is now my Advocate, my Mediator, my sole defense against the schemes of the Devil. And He is the all-sufficient defense. He has provided the complete armor needed to respond to my enemy the Evil One, both defensively as well as offensively. Yes, I have a powerful adversary, but I have an infinitely powerful, gracious and merciful Savior who defends me against him.

Remember these truths, those of you who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. Never underestimate our enemy the Devil. But never fail to trust the One who has defeated Satan, Death and Hell forever. He indeed does prepare us a banquet table in the presence of our enemy.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How to Waste Your Theological Education

Here's a list of 45 ways to waste your theological education, from Derek Brown. While this list is sort of a "Screwtape Letters" for seminary students, there are a lot of points here that strike close to home for any of us that study and teach and preach the Bible, theology, ministry and the church.

1. Cultivate pride by writing only to impress your professors instead of writing to better understand and more clearly communicate truth.
2. Perfect the fine art of corner-cutting by not really researching for a paper but instead writing your uneducated and unsubstantiated opinions and filling them in with strategically placed footnotes.
3. Mistake the amount of education you receive with the actual knowledge you obtain. Keep telling yourself, “I’ll really start learning this stuff when I do my Th.M or my Ph.D.”
4. Nurture an attitude of superiority, competition, and condesension toward fellow seminary students. Secrectly speak ill of them with friends and with your spouse.
5. Regularly question the wisdom and competency of your professors. Find ways to disrespect your professors by questioning them publicly in class and by trying to make them look foolish.
6. Neglect personal worship, Bible reading and prayer.
7. Don’t evangelize your neighbors.
8. Practice misquoting and misrepresenting positions and ideas you don’t agree with. Be lazy and don’t attempt to understand opposing views; instead, nurse your prejudices and exalt your opinions by superficial reading and listening.
9. Give your opinion as often as possible - especially in class. Ask questions that show off your knowledge instead of questions that demonstrate a genuine inquiry.
10. Speak of heretical movements, teachers, and doctrine with an air of disdain and levity.
11. Find better things to do than serve in your local church.
12. Fill your life with questionable movies, television, internet, and music.
13. Set aside fellowship and accountability with fellow brothers in Christ.
14. Let your study of divine things become dull, boring, lifeless, and mundane.
15. Chip away at your integrity by signing your school’s covenant and then breaking it under the delusion that, “Those rules are legalistic anyway.”
16. Don’t read to learn; read only to refute what you believe is wrong.
17. Convince yourself that you already know all this stuff.
18. Just study. Don’t exercise, spend time with your family, or work.
19. Save major papers for the last possible moment so that you can ensure that you don’t really learn anything by writing them.
20. Don’t waste your time forming friendships with your professors and those older and wiser than you.
21. Make the mistake of thinking that your education guarantees your success in ministry.
22. Don’t study devotionally. You’ll never make it as a big time scholar if you do that. Scholars need to be cool, detached, and unbiased - certainly not Jesus freaks.
23. Day dream about future opportunities to the point that you get nothing out of your current opportunity to learn God’s Word.
24. Do other things while in class instead of listening - like homework, scheduling, letter-writing, and email.
25. Spend more time blogging than studying.
26. Avoid chapel and other opportunities for corporate worship.
27. Argue angrily with those who don’t see things your way. Whatever you do, don’t read and meditate on II Timothy 2:24-26 and James 3:13-18 as you prepare for ministry.
28. Set your hopes on an easy, cushy pastorate for when you graduate. Determine now not to obey God when he calls you to serve in a difficult church.
29. Look forward to the day when you won’t have to concern yourself with all this theology and when you will be able to just “preach Jesus.”
30. Forget that your primary responsibility is care for your family through provision, shepherding, and leadership.
31. Master Calvin, Owen, and Edwards, but not the Law, Prophets, and Apostles.
32. Gain knowledge in order to merely teach others. Don’t expend the effort it takes to deal with your own heart.
33. Pick apart your pastor’s sermons every week. Only point out his mistakes and his poor theological reasoning so you don’t have to be convicted by anything he says.
34. Protect yourself from real fellowship by only talking about theology and never about your personal spiritual issues, sin, and struggles.
35. Comfort yourself with the delusion that you will start seriously dealing with sin as soon as you become a pastor; right now it’s not really that big a deal.
36. Don’t serve the poor, visit the sick, or care for widows and orphans - save that stuff for the uneducated, non-seminary trained, lay Christians.
37. Keep telling yourself that you want to preach, but don’t ever seek opportunities to preach, especially at local rescue missions and nursing homes. Wait until your church candidacy to preach your first sermon.
38. Let envy keep you from profiting from sermons preached by fellow students.
39. Resent behind-the-scenes, unrecognized service. Only serve in areas where you are sure you will receive praise and accolades.
40. Appear spiritual and knowledgeable at all costs. Don’t let others see your imperfections and ignorance, even if it means you have to lie.
41. Love books and theology and ministry more than the Lord Jesus Christ.
42. Let your passion for the gospel be replaced by passion for complex doctrinal speculation.
43. Become angry, resentful and devastated when you receive something less than an A.
44. Let your excitement for ministry increase or decrease in direct proportion to the accolades or criticisms you receive from your professors.
45. Don’t really try to learn the languages - let Bible Works do all the work for you.