Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
My experience was that old people checked the obituaries mainly to see if any of their peers had died. My great-grandmother would cut out the obituaries of people she knew and keep the clippings in a box. I still have her box of obituaries. I also have her sister’s collection of obituary clippings. And, yes, I have my own collection of obituary clippings.
Although I occasionally run across the obituary of one of my peers (a phenomenon that, unavoidably, becomes less rare, the older I get), mostly, I check the obituaries to see if anyone I’ve known has died, regardless of their age. You see, I hate to be totally out-of-the-loop, when it comes to the death of someone I’ve known. This is how it usually happens: I’ll be talking to a friend or acquaintance and, somehow, the death of a mutual acquaintance comes up. When I express surprise upon hearing the news, the other person will start off with, “Oh, didn’t you know?” It’s almost like everybody in the county knew, attended the funeral, the burial, and the dinner at the church afterwards, but somehow forgot to let me know. “Oh, didn’t you know?” Well, no! How could I if someone doesn’t tell me?!
So…I read the obituaries.
Well, I was reading the obituaries today and, lo and behold, there was an obituary for an older gentleman I’d known all my life. This gentleman had retired some years ago and moved to another state, so the obituary was mainly to inform people in this area, who had known him, of his death. I was reminiscing about this gentleman to my wife, and mentioned that I thought his late mother had been a member of our former denomination because I can remember her visiting our church when I was a boy, whenever she would be in town visiting her son. My wife asked me, “So, what church did he go to?” I told her I didn’t think he was affiliated with any church. At least I don’t remember ever hearing about him being a part of any church.
I was thinking about that later, and it occurred to me that if, indeed, this gentleman was not a Christian, he’s in hell right now. I had to pause and let that thought sink in. Then, I wondered, “How many of the people, whose obituary I read today, died in a lost condition and are, therefore, in hell today?” That’s a very sobering thought. But, that thought led to yet another one: How many people do I know who are in hell today?
Have you ever thought about that? Do you know anyone in hell? You knew them in this life. Perhaps, they were good, decent people: An older person from the neighborhood when you were a child growing up; a friend who died tragically in an accident or as the result of a lingering illness; or, maybe, a beloved relative or family member. You know this person never professed faith in Christ. They never even pretended to be a Christian. They’re dead now. Where are they? If they died outside of Christ, they must be in hell. You knew them in life, but now they’re in hell.
This makes me think about people I know who are still in “the land of the living”. They don’t profess to know Christ Jesus. They’re not associated with anything Christian. Some of them are good, decent, honest people—upstanding citizens, a credit to their communities. But, by the standard of Scripture, they are lost—they, like you and me, “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Good people, but traveling on the wide and easy way that leads to hell (Matthew 7:13). Some of them are coworkers, neighbors and relatives. If they died, I would never see them again, because they would be in hell.
Do you ever think about the reality of hell? Do you ever consider that every person—every soul—who is outside of Christ Jesus, will spend a conscious eternity in hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48, quoting Isaiah 66:24)? Are you aware that hell is not a myth? Jesus said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and, praise God, that is true. But, do you also see that it is equally true that whoever does not believe in the only Son of God shall perish, and that eternally?
I used to think of hell as a place of literal “fire and sulfur” (Revelation 14:10; 20:10; 21:8; Psalm 11:6), a “lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15), where the lost burned forever without being consumed. I now see that hell is infinitely worse than that. I am of the opinion that “fire and sulfur” and the “lake of fire” are symbolic expressions. We all know that symbols are less that the things they symbolize. The reality is always greater than the symbol. As horrible as eternal burning in literal “fire and sulfur” or a “lake of fire” would be, hell is infinitely worse. I am of the opinion that “fire and sulfur” and “lake of fire” are symbolic of nothing less than the terrible fire of God’s wrath.
“For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24).
“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’” (Isaiah 33:14).
The eternal and unquenchable fire of God’s wrath against sinners will make burning in a literal fire, as we know fire, seem tolerable by comparison. What “fire and sulfur” and “lake of fire” symbolize is infinitely worse than anything we can possibly imagine.
“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:15-17).
In contradiction to those who would pit a loving Jesus against an angry Old Testament God, please notice that in that day people will be trying to hide themselves “from the wrath of the Lamb” as well as the wrath of the Father “who is seated on the throne”. The “great day of their wrath”—the Father and the Son—is included in the wrath of God that I’m talking about.
I also used to think of hell consisting of separation from the presence of God. But, that can’t be right because it isn't possible to be totally separated from the presence of a God who is omnipresent.
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7-8)
If we read Scripture carefully, I think we will see that the lost are not separated from God’s presence.
“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb’” (Revelation 14:9-10).
Here, I not only see an association of “God’s wrath” with the “fire and sulfur”, but I also see, instead of being separated from God, the wicked are “tormented…in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Where the “holy angels” are, isn’t the Father there, also? I’m speculating here, but could it be that the same light of God’s holy presence that will bring eternal pleasure to the redeemed will be experienced by those in hell as tormenting fire?
There are some, even among Bible-believing evangelicals, who would shrink from facing the reality of God’s wrath. But, face it we must. Yes, the wrath of God is frightening and horrible, but it is a reality clearly taught in Scripture. Some, trying to avoid the full force of God’s wrath, flee for refuge in an unbiblical doctrine of annihilationism. Well, if the wicked simply cease to exist, that isn’t so bad, is it? Might as well live it up in sin now, because in hell you will just cease to exist. Nonsense! God will not be mocked like that. Hell is never-ending:
“The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Revelation 14:11).
Eternal, conscious torment under the wrath of our God who “is a consuming fire”. This is a reality for everyone “whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain” (Revelation 13:8):
“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
I think I know some people who are now in heaven. Based on their profession of faith and what I knew of their life and doctrine when they were living, I trust that these people are now in heaven and that one day I shall see them again as we rejoice in the presence of our Lord and Savior. But, there are others, based on what I knew of their life and doctrine when they were living, I am not hopeful about. Sadly, I think I know some people who are now in hell.
But, what troubles me the most is that I know some people yet living who will also end up in hell, unless they turn to Jesus Christ. Do you know people like that? I’ve often thought that if it were possible to coerce a soul into salvation, I’d be willing to force my unsaved relatives and family members into the Kingdom under the point of a gun—anything, just to get them to flee to Christ. Sometimes, it’s so frustrating trying to talk about Christ with people whose hearts and minds are hardened against Christ and against the gospel. Yet, to be unconcerned, when millions upon millions are on their way to an eternal hell, is most unloving and totally unacceptable for those of us who, but for the grace of God, would also be hell-bound.
So, what is the Christian to do about those we know who are in eternal danger?
“Go…and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
“Preach the word…always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).
And, there is something else believers can do: pray! Only God can save. Only God can open spiritually-blind eyes. Only God can bring the spiritually dead to life. Therefore, pray for unbelievers, that God would cause them to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Pray that God would shine in their “hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Pray that the Spirit of God would bring to the unbeliever conviction “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)—their sin of unbelief, Christ’s righteousness, and the judgment of the wrath to come.
You and I can pray. We must not stop praying for the lost. We can’t save anyone, but listen to the words of Jesus: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). I feel like I’m speaking mostly to myself (because I need to hear this), but I also say to believers who are reading this: “Trust God!” “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14). Is anyone too difficult for God to save?
If you need some motivation, just think about hell.
Friday, December 29, 2006
In my devotional time this week, I’ve been trying to read through the prophecy of Zechariah. At first I was feeling a bit discouraged because, honestly, the book didn’t make any sense to me. I grabbed a verse here and there which seemed understandable and from which I could draw some personal application, but the majority of the text was just simply confusing. Believing in the perspicuity of the Scriptures and the priesthood of believers, I trudged on, yet I wasn’t getting anywhere, as far as understanding the message of Zechariah. I felt like the Ethiopian eunuch when Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” That’s where I was.
Finally, I decided to turn to someone for help and went to Mark Dever’s book, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made (Crossway Books). I hoped Dever might provide me with a general overview of Zechariah (At this point, I didn’t care if I got any of the details!). To my relief, I found Mark Dever's message on Zechariah very helpful in making the message of this prophecy much clearer (Thank God for His gift of theologians and teachers "to equip the saints"!).
I was almost immediately encouraged when I read (p. 906) that Zechariah was “the most obscure minor prophet. Old Testament professor Douglas Stuart had said that most people find it ‘an especially difficult read, even for a prophetic book.’” Well, at least I was not the only one! In his message/chapter on Zechariah (“The Message Of Zechariah: Does God Give Second Chances?”, pp. 905-923), Mark Dever focuses on Zechariah’s message that God would give His people, recently come out of Babylonian captivity, a second chance.
God says, through Zechariah, “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD” (Zechariah 1:4). After all, the Jews had been sent into exile because of their sin and disobedience:
“They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. ‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.’” (Zechariah 7:12-14).
Yet, despite their past, God entreats the people, “Return to me…and I will return to you…” (Zechariah 1:3). Notice how God takes the initiative to bring His people back:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness” (Zechariah 8:7-8).
“I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them” (Zechariah 10:6).
Aren’t you grateful that God takes the initiative? Look, again, at Zechariah 10:6. We come to God because He has acts first: “I will bring them back…” Not only does God act to bring us back, but he restores us: “…they shall be as though I had not rejected them…” He not only will restore, but God will strengthen us: “I will strengthen the house of Judah…” Zechariah 10:12 adds, “I will make them strong in the LORD, and they shall walk in his name”.
All these blessings are made possible because of the “fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1). Of course, this prophecy finds its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
"There is a fountain filled with bloodDrawn from Immanuel's veins;And sinners plunged beneath that floodLose all their guilty stains."(William Cowper)
Do you feel far from God? Have you failed to follow God obediently as you know you should? Because God takes the initiative, you can respond to Him. Please, heed God’s voice; respond to His call:
“Return to me…and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3).
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I. Through the Incarnation, God came near
14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
II. Because of the Incarnation, we can experience the fullness of Grace
16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
III. Because of the Incarnation, we can know God
18No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
Surely, the Incarnation of the Son of God gives us our best reason to celebrate Christmas. Having received so much in Christ Jesus, how can we not praise Him?
Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity!
Hail the heaven-born Prince of peace! Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I think, perhaps, Owen’s is the most insightful writing I’ve ever come across on the subject of sin. Right now, I’m in the middle of Of Temptation. Today, while reading, I came across the following passage (on page 171). When I read it, I thought, “I must post this!” I never saw the weakness of my flesh this way before, but it is so very true:
“Let us consider ourselves—what our weakness is…
“For ourselves, we are weakness itself. We have no strength, no power to withstand. Confidence of any strength in us is one great part of our weakness; it was so in Peter. He that says he can do anything, can do nothing as he should. And, which is worse, it is the worst kind of weakness that is in us—a weakness from treachery—a weakness arising from that party which every temptation has in us. If a castle or fort be never so strong and well fortified, yet if there be a treacherous party within, that is ready to betray it on every opportunity, there is no preserving it from the enemy. There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close [consummate, bring to a conclusion] and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them; yea, to solicit and bribe temptations to do the work, as traitors incite an enemy. Do not flatter yourselves that you should hold out; there are secret lusts that lie lurking in your hearts, which perhaps now stir not, which, as soon as any temptation befalls you, will rise, tumultuate, cry, disquiet, seduce, and never give over until they are either killed or satisfied. He that promises himself that the frame of his heart will be the same under a temptation as it is before will be woefully mistaken. “Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?” says Hazael [2 Kings 8:13]. Yea, you will be such a dog if ever you be king of Syria; temptation from your interest will unman you. He that now abhors the thoughts of such and such a thing, if he once enters into temptation will find his heart inflamed toward it, and all contrary reasonings overborne and silenced. He will deride his former fears, cast out his scruples, and contemn the consideration that he lived upon. Little did Peter think he should deny and forswear his Master so soon as ever he was questioned whether he knew him or no. It was no better when the hour of temptation came; all resolutions were forgotten, all love to Christ buried; the present temptation closing with his carnal fear carried all before it.”
O my! Did you get that? That, sadly, is so true of me. The line that really struck me was, “There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them.” The enemy is not outside, said Owen, the enemy is in me. Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
Oh, how crucial, then, it is for us to “watch and pray”:
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
I found these meditations a needed rebuke...and a sign of sonship from a loving heavenly Father who's committed to my sanctification (see Hebrews 12:5-11). So, please read. I think you'll be blessed if you do.
By the way, while you're at GospelDrivenLife, look around. Mark writes many thoughtful, cross-centered meditations that, I think, will bless your soul.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
There is also the issue of contentment. Are we content with God’s order for the family and the church? Or do we think we know better than God how the family and the church ought to function? The apostle Paul wrote, “Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17). He also wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). The problem is, some church women, influenced by the worldly feminism of our culture, are no longer content to be and function as God created them. It’s the curse playing itself out in the church: Rather than finding fulfillment as “a helper fit for [or “corresponding to”] him” (Genesis 2:18), these daughters of Eve strive and fight to prove they’re “just as capable as any man.” Isn’t this what God said would occur? “Your desire shall be for [or “against”] your husband…” (Genesis 3:16). Not only is there the sin of discontentment in this push for female pastors and teachers in the church, there is the sin of covetousness.
Anyway, be sure you read Part 5 of Adrian Warnock’s interview of Dr. Wayne Grudem. If you missed the other parts, you can read them here: Part 1/Part 2/Part 3/Part 4. Also, there is this response of Dr. Grudem to a critic.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
Shed in my heart abroad:
Then shall my feet no longer rove,
Rooted and fixed in God.
O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow;
Burn up the dross of base desire,
And make the mountains flow.
O that it now from heaven might fall,
And all my sins consume:
Come, Holy Ghost, for Thee I call;
Spirit of burning, come.
Refining fire, go through my heart;
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole.
My steadfast soul, from falling free,
Shall then no longer move;
While Christ is all the world to me,
And all my heart is love.
—Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I pray not so much for graces as for
the Spirit himself,
because I feel his absence,
and act by my own spirit in everything.
Give me not weak desires but the power of
for this is the surest way to have all his graces,
and when I have the seal I have the impression
He can heal, help, quicken, humble suddenly
can work grace and life effectually,
and being eternal he can give grace eternally.
Save me from great hindrances,
from being content with a little measure
of the Spirit,
from thinking thou wilt not give me more.
When I feel my lack of him, light up life and faith,
for when I lose thee I am either in the dark
and cannot see thee,
or Satan and my natural abilities content me
with a little light,
so that I seek no further for the Spirit of life.
Teach me then what to do.
Should I merely humble myself and not stir up
Should I meditate and use all means to bring
not being contented by one means,
but trust him to give me a blessing by the use
depending only upon, and waiting always for,
thy light, by use of means?
Is it a duty or an error to pray
and look for the fullness of the Spirit in me?
Am I mistaken in feeling I am empty of the Spirit
because I do not sense his presence within,
when all the time I am most empty
and could be more full by faith in Christ?
Was the fullness of the Spirit in the apostles
chiefly a power,
giving the subsistence outside themselves
in whom was their life and joy?
Teach me to find and know fullness of the Spirit
only in Jesus.
from The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur G. Bennett (Banner of Truth Trust).
Thursday, November 30, 2006
“What we need to grasp…is that limited atonement means a definite atonement. It means that through the all-sufficient death of Jesus the sin of every believer is blotted out once and for all. This has taken place not in a notional or potential sense, but really, truly, and historically.” (p. 15)
“How vital it is for us to understand…that saving faith is all about trusting a Person (believe in the Lord Jesus Christ) and not a Proposition (believe that Christ died for you) spoken to men and women.” (p. 20)
“When the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who hear the gospel, they find themselves longing for what they never desired before.” (p. 25).
“In Mark’s Gospel we are given the account of how Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. Christ’s command to him was, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ But this is the very thing a person with a withered hand cannot do: the muscles have atrophied. Yet the man found that the divine command brought with it the power to obey, and his withered hand was restored. Just so, the call of Jesus comes to us to repent and believe the gospel and God’s irresistible grace enables us to obey.” (p. 25)
“When a sinner takes hold of Christ by faith, God takes hold of him and will never let him go.” (p. 27)
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
—Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Book of Common Prayer
We’re still looking at what I believe is God’s desire for His people to seek more of Him, to seek to know Him more intimately and deeply—to experience God, if you will. I believe we dishonor God, and cheat ourselves, when we settle for cold, purely cerebral, passionless, emotionless religion. There is more to Christianity than that.
In my first post on this topic, I looked, briefly, at three passages of Scripture (Luke 11:9-13; Philippians 3:7-14 and Hebrews 11:6) to illustrate that seeking God means seeking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In my opinion, some of us conservative, Reformed, evangelical-types need to get over our fear of Pentecostal/Charismatic excesses. As I said, it seems some of us are more afraid of the Holy Spirit than we are of sinning against God! The Holy Spirit is God, and we’re not placing ourselves in danger of fanaticism if we speak of seeking the Holy Spirit. In Luke 11:13, Jesus declared, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” So, let’s seek the Triune God in all His fullness.
In my second post, I discussed seeking God in prayer, and encouraged us to pray like we truly believe God is real, is listening, and will answer us when we pray. If we don’t watch, our prayers can degrade into just talking to ourselves, merely saying words. Or, we can set our expectations too low, and settle for formal prayers that ask for nothing, expect nothing, and obtain nothing, as a result. I urged us to drop our pretences of respectability, and “get real” with God.
Lastly, I believe we can seek God and actually experience Him in life-changing ways through His inscripturated Word—the Bible. How do we usually approach Scripture? Do we just read through the assigned portion for the day, as outlined in some reading plan, then go about our business without ever encountering God? Do we take a superstitious, “verse-a-day-to-keep-the-devil-away” approach, never reading in depth, never reading through a book (I’m thinking of people I’ve met who, I gathered from talking to them, read the same favorite Psalm every day. And, that was all!). This will never do.
Make time for God’s Word. In my experience, it’s awful difficult to get the most out of my reading of God’s Word when I’m in a hurry, rushing to get out of the house in the morning (for instance). I think we’re more apt to benefit from our reading when we take time. Don’t “rush” God (as if we could rush Him). Slow down and allow Him to speak to you. This may involve some time management, so we can fit adequate time into our busy days.
Pray before reading God’s Word. If God is the ultimate Author of Scripture, doesn’t it make sense to ask His assistance when you approach His Word? Before you read, ask God to speak to you, ask Him to help you understand. The prayer of Psalm 119:18 is very appropriate: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
Pray while reading God’s Word. Maybe there is something you just don’t get. Pray for understanding. Perhaps something you read fills your heart with rejoicing. Pray back to God praise from your heart. If what you’re reading brings conviction of sin, pray a prayer of confession and ask God’s help to obey His Word. I think you get the idea. Turn your reading of Scripture into a dialogue or time of a communion with God. Turn your reading into worship.
Pray after reading God’s Word. Thank God for what He has spoken to you, for what you’ve learned. Ask God to help you be a doer of His Word and not a hearer only (see James 1:22-25). Pray for the Spirit’s power to obey.
I want to know God better, don’t you? I want to be closer to Him. Let’s not simply “go through the motions”; let’s seek God with all our hearts:
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the LORD… (Jeremiah 29:12-14)
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
In my first posting of this topic, I encouraged you to not become complacent and comfortable with a Christian experience that may have become cold and dull, but to seek more of God. I affirmed the need to move beyond mere “head-knowledge” of God to a “heart-felt” experience of God. I tried to show, from three brief passages of Scripture (Hebrews 11:6; Philippians 3:7-14 and Luke 11:9-13) that it is biblical to desire more of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
However, a question arises in my mind: How do we go about seeking God? At first glance, this seems an easy question to answer: We seek God through prayer and through Scripture. In one sense, that pretty much sums it up. But, let’s be real. I think all of us struggle with prayer. At least, I’ve never met anyone (that I know of) who was satisfied with their prayer life. Then, as far as the Scriptures are concerned, it is possible to study Scripture and still be left cold. One has to only think of apostate seminary professors who, in one sense, know their Bibles well but, as is evident from the unbelief they spout in their writings, have never experienced God at all. So, how do we seek God?
I think the first place we need to start is in our concept of God. Do we actually conceive of God as being real? After all, God is invisible to our mortal eyes. We can’t experience God with our five senses. So, how do believers experience God? Again, let’s go back to Hebrews 11:6:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
According to the text, faith is the key to our experiencing God.
“For whoever would draw near to God…”
This is what we want to do; this is what seeking God is all about!
“For whoever would draw near to God must believe…”
Here is where faith comes in: we must believe God, trust God, have confidence in Him. What are we to believe or trust God for?
“For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists…”
When we pray, are we consciously aware that God exists? Are we consciously aware that we are talking to Some-One? As a fellow seeker, I would suggest that when we pray, we ought to talk to God like He’s actually there. Do you know what I mean? It’s so easy to get into the habit of just mouthing prayer words without actually talking to God. If we want to experience God in a deeper, more intimate way, I’d suggest that the first place to start is with a conscious recognition that God exists—He is present when we pray.
I think the second point we should consider in seeking to know God in a deeper, more intimate way, is found in the rest of Hebrews 11:6.
“For whoever would draw near to God must believe…that he rewards those who seek him.”
Do we really believe God will respond to our prayers? The text says, “He rewards those who seek him.” So, God will respond. But, how does God respond? God responds by rewarding the seeker with Himself! Did you see that in the text? The verse speaks of “those who seek him.” The seeker is seeking God (“those who seek him”) and God rewards the seeker with that which he seeks: namely, with Himself.
The question is, do we really believe God will respond to our prayers? I believe that our experience of God can be limited by what we expect. We don’t expect God to do anything in response to our prayers. We don’t expect our lives to change. We look for “practical” solutions to our spiritual lethargy rather than pray. However, consider James 4:2:
“You do not have, because you do not ask.”
In the context, James is telling believers that, instead of envying what others have or fighting others to obtain gifts from the world, they should ask God. But, I think there is a principle here that can be applied more broadly: there are things that we need for the doing of God’s will that we lack only because we’ve never asked God for them.
Do we ever ask God for help…and expect his help? Have we ever asked God for a renewal of our spiritual life…and expected life change, as a result? Do we ever pray this way?
Now, I know prayer is about more than asking God for stuff, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that most of the teaching of Jesus recorded in Scripture, relative to prayer, concerns our asking in prayer. Jesus encourages us to ask God. And, I’m suggesting, God wants us to ask for more of Himself.
I wonder what could happen if we started to pray to God as if He was real, and actually listening? What if we prayed as if our life depended on it?
Truth is, our spiritual lives do depend on prayer. If we want to move beyond mere “head-knowledge” of God to a “heart-felt” experience of God, we need to seek God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in prayer. I suspect we’d have to get rid of our pretty words and calm composure, and become passionate in our seeking of God.
Have you ever really looked at the Psalms and noticed how David and the others spoke to God? The Psalms are full of passion. I have a cassette tape of a sermon by the late Alan Redpath, where he speaks about the lack of “O!” in our prayers. Well, in the Psalms there are plenty of “Os!”
“Have mercy on me, O God…”
“To you, O Lord, I call…”
“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!”
“Deliver me, O Lord…”
“I cry to you, O Lord…”
Is there an “O!” in our prayers?
I also think I see passion in prayer expressed in Romans 8:26-27:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Rather than try to put into words what I think these verses suggest, I want to quote at length from a sermon by John Piper: "The Spirit Helps Us in Our Weakness, Part 2". He expresses his points so well, there’s no need for me to try to say anything. Read what Piper says about it:
“In the last part of verse 26 Paul says, ‘The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.’ What does this mean: ‘With groanings too deep for words’? Literally it simply says, ‘with wordless groanings.’ What does that refer to? Does it refer to groanings that we make? Or groanings that we do not make but the Holy Spirit makes? Or is there a third alternative – the one that I want argue for, namely, these groanings are our groanings which are also the Spirit’s groanings because he inspires and directs them in us?
“Here’s why I think this and why it matters.
“If the Holy Spirit is simply communicating with the Father about what we need, I cannot imagine why he would have to use wordless groans. He knows exactly what he wants to ask for. There is not the slightest confusion in his mind and he is never at a loss for how to communicate with the Father. So I doubt that these groans are groans that the Spirit addresses to the Father which are not our groans.
“A second reason for thinking this is that the one who hears and understands and answers these groans is said in verse 27 to search our hearts. I think that points to the fact that the groans are in our heart. That is where they are experienced as groanings and heard. ‘The Spirit himself intercedes for us with wordless groanings. (27) And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit.’ In other words, the Spirit doesn’t send his groanings to the Father in heaven directly. He registers them in our hearts. That is where they are experienced as groans – in our hearts. I think this suggests they are our groanings, not just the Spirit’s groanings.
“A third argument is that groaning in this context is something that marks the fallen world, and the Spirit is not fallen and does not need to groan like the creation and the saints. In verse 22 Paul says, ‘The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.’ And in verse 23 he says, ‘And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.’ So groaning is part of the weakness and futility and pain and decay of this fallen world. That suggests that the groans of verse 26 are also part of this weakness and fallenness. They are our groans, inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit.
“The fourth argument comes from the analogy of the witness of the Spirit in verses 15-16, ‘You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a Spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.’ Who is saying, ‘Abba! Father!’ here? Well we are. But not only we. This is the witness of the Spirit. This heartfelt cry that God is our Father is inspired and directed by the Spirit. It is his witness!
“So here we have a helpful analogy and parallel with the groaning of the Spirit in verse 26. The Spirit groans the same way the Spirit witnesses: he inspires the groaning, and he inspires the witness. The groaning is his groaning, and the witnessing is his witness. But we experience the witness of the Spirit as the heartfelt, authentic welling up in us of a cry, ‘Abba, father!’ And we experience the groaning of the Spirit in the welling up within us of groanings for the glory of Christ, but in ways and means that we do not know.
“So my answer to the question: How does the Spirit pray for us, is that he moves powerfully in our hearts to create groanings – his groanings experienced as our groanings – which are based on two things: 1) a deep desire and ache of heart that Christ be magnified in our lives, and 2) a weakness that leaves us baffled and unknowing as to how this is going to happen or should happen. So we are not sure how we are to pray, but we are sure that we want Christ to be magnified in our bodies.
“The Father searches our heart and he hears this groaning. He hears the Christ-exalting yearning in it, and he hears the Spirit’s clear intention that certain decisions and circumstances come about in the exact way that will bring the most glory to Jesus.”
(By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: http://www.desiringgod.org/. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.)
Do you see the passion involved in this kind of praying? I think if we ever learn to get real with God, and talk to Him like He really exists, we’ll frequently find ourselves confessing, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought”! This is when the Holy Spirit gets involved, interceding for us (and through us). And, I believe, when this happens, we’ll experience God in ways, perhaps, we’ve not known before.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Let’s see if I can pull all this together:
Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites—the children of Abraham—were God’s people. God revealed Himself to them and spoke through their prophets (who, in turn, recorded the Old Testament Scriptures). From the beginning, however, God’s intention was that Abraham’s offspring would encompass “a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5, 6), not just Israel. Jesus said, “God so loved the world [i.e. humanity], that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus] that whoever believes in Him shall not perish [experience eternal, spiritual death], but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Under the New Covenant, God’s people are those “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7:9) who through faith in Jesus Christ “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). What Israel was, in the Old Testament, the Church is now. And by “Church”, I do not mean a particular denomination, but a people: the “children of God”, “believers” in Jesus, those who have been “born again”—in other words, true Christians.
So, about the Episcopal Church controversy: homosexuality (both the “orientation” and the practice and lifestyle) is totally inappropriate for Christians. It is clearly against God’s will as expressed in the Scriptures. The Christian is to resist sin and, if he or she “falls” and commits sin, to repent of [i.e. turn from] the sin, not embrace it and celebrate it as a lifestyle. To embrace the lifestyle is to prove oneself not a child of God, and therefore, not a Christian (remember 1 John 3:10, above).
I believe unrepentant sin—in this case, a homosexual lifestyle—would justify excommunication from church membership, according to the words of Jesus (Matthew 18:15-18):
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector [i.e. pagans, excluded from the community of faith].”
It follows, therefore, that a leader of the church should not be involved in an unrepentant, sinful lifestyle. The apostle Paul lists the qualifications for those who would serve as leaders (elder/bishop) in the church (1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:7-9):
“An overseer [bishop/elder]…must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
(Note: The Christian pastor/elder/bishop is not at liberty to reject any of the Bible’s teaching but, rather, he must know, believe, teach and defend it faithfully. Plus, in what sense can one be “Christian” and reject Christian teaching?)
I think I know most of the arguments, from within the church, against the view I’ve presented. It is said that the writers of Scripture were 1) not addressing committed, monogamous gay and lesbian relationships, 2) were only condemning heterosexuals who engage in homosexual acts, and 3) did not know about sexual orientation or the biological basis for homosexuality.
To answer, briefly:
“Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
“All Scripture is inspired by God [literally, “God-breathed”]” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The writers of Scripture wrote what God the Holy Spirit led them to write. Surely God knew what He was talking about when He led these men to write what they wrote. If one is going to argue from Scripture, one has to know and believe that the Scriptures are the “Word of God written” (a phrase from the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith). I think the plain, ordinary meaning of the words show that “committed, monogamous” relationships are included in the scriptural denunciations of homosexuality. There is absolutely nothing positive written about homosexual activity. And, certainly, there is no verse supporting same-sex relationships.
As far as homosexuality having a biological basis, or, as I’ve heard said, “I was born this way”. This seems to be another way of saying, “If you have a problem with my homosexuality, blame God; He did it.” First, as far as I’ve heard, there is no conclusive scientific data supporting such a view. Other scientists can produce data supporting the opposite conclusion. So, I’m not convinced. Scripturally, the best answer seems to be James 1:13-15:
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’ [“God made me this way.”]; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone [Don’t blame it on God.]. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust [The fault lies within.]. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”
Theologically, feelings of same-sex attraction from a young age only prove what the Bible says: We are born sinners.
“By a man [Adam] came death” (1 Corinthians 15:21).
“In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).
We’re all tempted, although we don’t all experience the same temptations. However, we should resist wrong, not give in to it.
The best news is that change is possible for the homosexual person. Following 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which I quoted above, the apostle Paul goes on to state this wonderful fact about some of the people at Corinth (verse 11):
“Such [fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, etc.] were some of you; but you were washed [made clean], but you were sanctified [set apart from sin unto God], but you were justified [declared righteous] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Change is possible, but only in Jesus Christ. The “Spirit of Christ”—the Holy Spirit—the third Person in the Trinity comes to live inside when we are “born of God”. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the Christian the power to say “No!” to the flesh. For some, total change is immediate. For others, it’s a gradual process as, little by little, sinful habits disappear with the Spirit’s help. For still others, they struggle the rest of their lives. But, that’s alright. To struggle means you want to be free, it means there’s a fight going on. The alternative to struggle is surrender to sin. The child of God—the Christian—will never surrender in the struggle against personal sin. He or she dare not. Hell is real.
Well, I’m sure I gave you more than you asked for. But I hope this helps explain more fully the biblical position and why some of us are so opposed to some recent developments in this country, Canada and Europe. Our pastor said that love means caring enough about someone to tell them when they’re wrong. “Tolerance” is not loving when what we tolerate is endangering someone else. What’s at stake, as I see it, is the eternal destiny of people who've given up the fight against homosexual temptation. God does not issue idle threats:
“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters [anything that controls our lives, other than God, is our idol] and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
I don’t want anyone to miss God’s heaven.
There are those who would issue stern warnings against seeking spiritual experiences of any kind. They would point to verses such as Colossians 2:10 (NKJV)—“And you are complete in Him [Christ]"—with the assertion being that if we who are in Christ are complete, then we presently have all we need and don't need to seek anything else.
I would agree that to seek anything besides Christ is wrong. To seek anything besides Christ is to imply that Christ falls short as a Savior, and that salvation includes more than just "Christ alone". To seek any experience outside of Christ is to suggest that the one who claimed to be "the bread of life" (John 6:35) really cannot satisfy our deepest needs.
However, does the fact of being "in Christ" rule out seeking more? I don't think so. In fact, I believe Christians are encouraged to seek more—to seek spiritual experiences, if you will.
Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in that 3rd chapter of Philippians (verses 7-14):
7“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Notice: the apostle writes about gaining Christ. Now, Paul already knew Christ (verses 7, 8a), therefore, he was already saved and the Spirit of Christ already lived in him (cf. Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:7). However, though Paul already had Christ, he yet sought to “gain Christ” (verse 8b).
Paul wanted to be fully conformed to the image of Christ (verse 10): he wanted to “know [Christ]”, he wanted to experience Christ’s resurrection “power”, “share [Christ’s] sufferings”, be “like [Christ] in his death” and, ultimately, reach perfection at “the resurrection” of the body, at Christ’s second coming. It is this ultimate goal of conformity to Christ towards which Paul pressed (verses 12-14; cf. Romans 8:29).
So, we see Paul seeking more than he already had—seeking further spiritual experience. Yet, what Paul sought was not a spiritual experience detached from Christ, but rather, an ever-deepening, fuller experience of Christ himself. Christ is the “prize” (verse 14).
Christians should not be complacent in their spiritual lives. Christians should want and seek more; but the more we seek is more of the Son of God.
We see something similar in the letter to the Hebrews (chapter 11, verse 6):
“And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Notice (And I must give credit to John Piper, through whose writings I came to see this truth): It is God who is both the Rewarder (“he rewards”) and the Reward (“those who seek him”). It is God that we are exhorted to seek. Notice, further, that God is pleased when, by faith, we seek him. I don’t think the act of seeking God is only for lost people who are seeking salvation. Absolutely not. God the Father wants believers to continually seek him and desire more of him. We are to seek more of the Father.
Finally, in Luke 11, we see Jesus teaching on prayer, giving his disciples the model prayer (verses 2-4), illustrated with a parable about the friend seeking bread (verses 5-8). What fuels my hope in the possibility of something more is what Jesus says at the end of that parable:
9“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The Amplified Bible translates the present imperative verbs in verse 9 this way:
“Ask and keep on asking…; seek and keep on seeking…; knock and keep on knocking…” The idea is one of continuous action.
And what is it that we are to be continually asking, seeking and knocking for? (verse 13):
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask [Amp., “and continue to ask”] him!”
Did you see that? Jesus encourages us to seek the Holy Spirit! Now, as soon as I mention the Holy Spirit, many evangelicals get nervous. Some of us picture fanatics participating in wild, out-of-control meetings, rolling in the dust and handling snakes. Honestly, some of us are more afraid of the Holy Spirit than we are of sinning. Child of God, let me remind you that the Holy Spirit is God. Let’s not give over this ground to the Pentecostals and Charismatics. Experiences of the Holy Spirit are meant for all believers in Christ. Peter exhorted the crowd at Pentecost, saying (Acts 2:39), “The promise [i.e., the gift of the Holy Spirit] is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” The Apostle’s Creed states, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”. Let’s act like we believe that, and seek the Holy Spirit!
In these brief examples, we see that believers are encouraged to seek God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We should never be satisfied with what happened “way back when” at the time of our salvation. Rather, we should seek ongoing experiences of that which God began in us at salvation. We should seek to experience more of God in all his fullness, which I understand to mean more of his gracious working in our lives: conforming us to the image of Christ, increasing the fruit of the Spirit, making vibrant our witness before an unbelieving world, deepening and making more effective our prayer lives, enlivening our worship, and increasing our knowledge of him through Scripture.
The “old folks” used to sing, “I wouldn’t have religion I couldn’t feel sometime”. I agree with that! I’m not satisfied with a cold, passionless, emotionless faith. And why should I? I don’t feel passionless about my wife. I don’t feel emotionally detached from my sons. As a musician, I have deep feelings about the music I perform. So, why shouldn’t I feel passionate about my faith in God? Why shouldn’t I seek to experience God in a deeper way than ever before?
“O God, you are my God;
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)
“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
So pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
For the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)
Do you feel this passion for God that David and the sons of Korah felt? Has God created a deep thirst for himself in your soul? Do you long for God to satisfy you with his very self? Don’t be indifferent about your relationship with God. Don’t become complacent and comfortable with a Christianity that has become cold and predictable. There is more. There is much more! It is biblical to experience God. Seek to experience God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Remember, God “rewards those who seek him.”