Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Doctrines of Grace are good news!

Some quotes to encourage the believing soul, from John Benton’s booklet, Evangelistic Calvinism: Why the Doctrines of Grace Are Good News (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 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)
I found this booklet a worthwhile little read (only 32 pages, and costing just $2 in the US). Benton will encourage you to not shrink from presenting the "full gospel". You can order it online.

Jonathan Edwards on the existence of evil

Dr. Sam Storms wrote a Reflection on the occasion of the 303rd anniversary of Jonathan Edwards’ birth, titled, “Edwards on Evil at 303”, which is at the Enjoying God Ministries website. Read it! Jonathan Edwards' writing on the existence of evil will definitely give you something to think about. Storms also applies Edwards views to the question of, “Why didn’t God elect all unto eternal life?” Check it out!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

There is more! (So, seek the Lord with all your heart)

“Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”

—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.
If we are to experience a deeper relationship with God, we must approach Scripture as we would approach God in prayer: with a conscious awareness of whom we’re approaching. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), wrote the apostle Paul. Scripture is, therefore, the Word of God. We should treat Scripture like it is the Word of God.
I want to close with just a few suggestions as we seek to draw closer to God through His Word:

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

There is (still) more!

After thinking some more about Sunday’s post—“There is more!”—I want to have another go at the subject. Like the title of that gospel song, “Before I take it back, I’ll add more to it”!

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: Email: 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.
(To be continued...)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The biblical view of homosexuality (Part 2)

[All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible]

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.”

And again,

“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 is more!

Should the Christian seek spiritual experiences? Isn't simply reading, learning and obeying the Scriptures enough to satisfy our spiritual thirst? Or is there more?

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.”

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The biblical view of homosexuality (part 1)

About three years ago, I was sent the following note by email:
Wyeth, I hope you don't mind my asking:
Where in the Bible are the words that make homosexuality so forbidden/sinful/wrong? I am interested in the current "gay bishop" controversy raging, especially here in NE, but don't know the Bible, and do not have the experience to find certain passages.

Probably a lot of people have this question on their minds, and wonder why is it that evangelicals are so opposed to homosexuality. I think calling evangelical Christians, or others who oppose homosexuality, "homophobic" is not helpful since it is doubtful we're afraid of homosexuals or homosexuality (at least, I'm not). We just believe homosexuality is sinful because it is a perversion of God's intended purpose for sex and sexuality, and it violates his commands regarding sexual behavior. What follows is my slightly edited response to the note I received. Perhaps something I wrote then might prove useful to you as you think through this issue in light of today's culture.
No, I don't mind at all. This issue, of course, is being discussed and debated far outside the reaches of the Episcopal/Anglican Church. Even in our nondenominational, evangelical church family...

It's also a relevant subject for me, personally, because [I've known and worked with people] who are gay, lesbian and transgender. I'm on good terms with all these people... And then, there are the black men I've met or known in the black church that were gay (generally known to be gay, but not "out-of-the closet" because of the negative attitude towards homosexuality in the black community, especially the black church)...

I'm also concerned about the issue of homosexuality because of the growing hostility towards those who, like me, insist on holding to traditional Christian teaching against homosexuality. Naturally, I'm a product of my cultural upbringing (the black community traditionally is rather conservative on "moral" issues—black politicians and "leaders" like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, notwithstanding), but I've also been shaped by my understanding of the Bible.

Anyway, here goes (Are you ready?). This is long, but I don’t want to just throw out verses without some context and explanation. Also I want to try to show how all of the Bible fits together on this issue and how all this relates to the Christian church.

I’ll start with the Old Testament. These are the passages addressing homosexuality that I know of (all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible [NASB] translation):

Leviticus 18:22 (written between 1446-1406 BC)—"You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."

This verse is one of a list of commands that God gave to Moses for the Israelites (God's people in the Old Testament/Covenant). It occurs in the context of a series of prohibitions concerning sexual behaviors (incest, verses 6-18; adultery, v.20; and bestiality, v.23) that I think most people and religions would recognize today.

Leviticus 20:13—"If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them."

Again, this is a command from God for His people (the Israelites) under the Old Covenant. The context is a list of sins (vs. 2-16) which demanded capital punishment under this law code: sacrificing children to idol gods, v.2; treating parents with contempt, v.9; adultery, v.10; incest, vs.11-12, 14; and bestiality, vs.15-16. The point of such harsh punishment was to emphasize the absolute holiness of God and God's demand that His people keep themselves pure from the sins of the people groups that lived about them.

Then, there is the record concerning the Mesopotamian cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in about 1900 BC, written in Genesis 18:16—19:29.

Here’s the gist of that passage: The patriarch, Abraham, is visited by three men—in reality, heavenly beings in human form (one of them is probably God, the preincarnate Christ, Gen.18:13, 17, 20). Abraham has a nephew, Lot, who lives in Sodom. Lot was righteous, in that he worshiped the true God of Israel, but he lives among wicked people. Concerning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God said, "Their sin is exceedingly grave" (Genesis 18:20). Two of the men/angels go to Sodom to see for themselves just how wicked the city is. The text reveals that the men of Sodom practiced homosexuality (Genesis 19:5). In the end, the angels declare that the place is so wicked it must be destroyed. Lot and his family are ordered by the angels to leave the area immediately, and God Himself destroys these cities by sending "brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Gen.19:24).

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God commented, concerning the guilt of Sodom (Ezekiel 18:49-50), "She and her daughters [i.e. surrounding cities] had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed [i.e. destroyed] them when I saw it." Sodom's sin was pride and arrogance; homosexuality (“committed abominations”, referring back to Leviticus 18:22 ) was the byproduct of their arrogance toward God.

Jumping to the New Testament, the apostle Peter writes (about AD 66), regarding Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:7-10),

“If [God] condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.”

These are the only passages in the Old Testament, to my knowledge, that deal with homosexuality. One thing is clear: homosexual relationships are nowhere endorsed in the Old Testament. Whenever homosexual conduct is mentioned, it is condemned.

Now, in the New Testament, there are only two passages directly addressing the issue of homosexuality, both of them in the writings of the apostle Paul (writing about AD 55-57).

From Romans 1:18-32:

(Verse 18) “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (Verse 21) “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Verses 24-25) “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

And here are the key verses in Romans 1:

(Verses 26-32) “For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural [literally, “against nature”], and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts [literally, “the shameless deed”] and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, hater of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death [remember Leviticus 20], they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

It is clear that homosexuality is being referred to in vs. 26 & 27, and the apostle Paul calls the orientation “degrading” and the acts “unnatural” and “indecent” and “error”. Homosexuality, along with other sins, is “worthy of death”, according to the Law. What the apostle also condemns, and what I believe is particularly relevant in light of the current controversies, is giving “hearty approval” to others who practice the same behavior. Today, gays and lesbians are encouraged to come “out of the closet”; teens are encouraged to embrace their same-sex attractions; through various media, the message is proclaimed, directly or indirectly, “Being gay is alright; it’s good!” The apostle roundly condemns the idea of “celebrating” sin.

The other passage from the apostle Paul’s writings is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

I think what is important here is that the apostle does not single out homosexuals. Rather, homosexuals are seen as one of many categories of sinners. The point is, those who have a lifestyle characterized by sin will not enter God’s heaven (will not “inherit the kingdom of God”). This is consistent with what the apostle John wrote (1 John 3:7-10) in about AD 90:

“Little children, make sure so one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness [we’re talking about lifestyle, here—the overall tenor of one’s life] is righteous, just as He [God] is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed [God’s Spirit or nature] abides in him; and he cannot sin [i.e. live a lifestyle characterized by sin], because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”

The apostle John makes clear here that the person “born of God” is the same person who also “practices righteousness” and is therefore a “child of God’.

Concerning “children of God” and being “born of God”, the apostle wrote a few years earlier (John 1:12-13),

“As many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man [i.e. physical birth], but of God [spiritual birth].”

And then, about AD 64, the apostle Peter wrote (1 Peter 1:23,25),

“For you [believers] have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God [i.e. Scripture, the Bible]. And this is the word which was preached to you.”

John and Peter, both part of the original group of 12 disciples whom Jesus taught, are merely borrowing Jesus’ words:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

So, in summary, the Bible nowhere speaks approvingly of homosexual desire or practice. Everywhere homosexuality is mentioned it is condemned. The Old Testament Law labels homosexuality as an “abomination” punishable by death. Under the “New Covenant”, homosexuality is no longer a capital offense, in terms of physical death, but the lifestyle would be a sign and symptom of spiritual death in those persons who embrace that practice. All sin, including homosexuality, is against God’s will for His people.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"It is good to give thanks..."

Psalm 92

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

How great are your works, O LORD!

Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;

the fool cannot understand this:
that though the wicked sprout like grass

and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
but you, O LORD, are on high forever.
For behold, your enemies, O LORD,
for behold, your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.

But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;

you have poured over me fresh oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thabiti Anyabwile writes: "A Pox on God's People"

Please read this post by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman Island: "A Pox on God's People", about television preachers. Pastor Anyabwile is telling the truth! Granted, there may be a few sound and reputable preachers on television, but my observations over the years show me that the vast majority of TV preachers (and I'm resisting the urge to name names)--the vast majority have absolutely no business being in anyone's pulpit, never mind on television where they can sow the seeds of false teaching throughout the land.
Personally, I wish Anyabwile's message could be broadcast throughout the Black church-going community. The false teachings of TV preachers have deeply infected huge segments of the Black Church--the church culture in which I was nutured, which gave me my first opportunities to exercise my spiritual gifts and calling, my original church home--and it breaks my heart.
Some of you know what I'm talking about. I wish I could tell it all to those of you who don't know, but I can't. However, I can pray. Will you pray with me? Will you pray with me that God would be merciful to send a thorough-going reformation to the Black Church? That God would raise up godly men to preach His word and lead His Church within the Black community? Do you mind me making such a request? Is it all right for me to be care about Black people? After all, these are my "kinsmen according to the flesh". Please don't interpret my request as disrespect for any other ethnic or racial group.
I'm just someone who has experienced for myself the crisis within the Black Church--a crisis exacerbated by television preachers who are, indeed, "A Pox on God's People", especially the Black Church.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Men and the church

I came across the following posts at Cerulean Sanctum (Dan Edelen). They are old (June 2004, April 2005 and August 2005) but, hey, I've only been blogging since October of this year! So, they're new to me. The first two posts address the shortage of men in the church, and the third post deals with men and humility. I think Edelen makes some interesting and valid points. But, don't take my word for it; read his posts for yourself: "The Church's Missing Men", "Another Look at the Church's Missing Men" and "The Humble Warrior".

"Thank God for an Inspired Bible"

One thing you and I can thank God for this Thanksgiving Day is the Bible--God's inspired Word. On the Desiring God website you can read (or listen to or watch) a message by John Piper entitled, "Thank God for an Inspired Bible".

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"The Jesus You Know"

This morning at church we heard a thoughtful message by Dr. Duane Litfin, the President of Wheaton College. Titled, "The Jesus You Know", the sermon was based on John 17:1-5. Take a listen, here.

A conversation with J.I. Packer

The November issue of Decision Magazine contains a conversation with J.I. Packer in which he talks about knowing God. Here is a sample:
Q: What are the disciplines in your own life that you have found helpful in experiencing the reality of knowing God?
A: For me, the stewing over the Bible has been a really formative thing. “Soaking” yourself in Scripture is another way of putting it. Reading, re-reading and thinking about what I’ve read in Scripture, frankly, just enriches me more and more as I get older. As I do this, I’m able to see each bit of Scripture that I read more clearly in relation both to the rest of what’s in the Bible and the moral practical realities of human life—my life and the life of people around me. That insight grows as one becomes more and more, shall I say, impregnated with Scripture, as the truth sinks down to a deeper and deeper level of one’s mind. As we take the Bible into our system by reading and re-reading and meditating on the truths, we see more clearly, and our minds are transformed at a very deep level. At any rate, and I imagine I’m not alone in this, I often find that I have faults, insights, perceptions, references to Scripture and applications of Bible truth that come out in discussion that I didn’t consciously know I had until the discussion pulled them out of me. We take in more than we know when we allow ourselves to read the Bible thoughtfully and meditate on what we discern.
I just love the rich expressions Packer uses: "stewing over" and "soaking" oneself in the Scriptures or being "impregnated" with the word of God. These expressions bring to mind the fact that God's word provides the believer with more than mere information.
I'm reminded of the polluting effect of life in this world. The Lord knows that in my work at a public high school I daily hear and see things which tend to pollute the soul. It can't be avoided. Can you relate? How necessary it is, then, for Christ's followers to regularly "soak" themselves in God's cleansing, healing word.
The word "impregnated" naturally speaks of an intimate relationship. Of course, there is no relationship with God apart from His word. However, if we, as believers, are to know God deeply, we must spend daily, unhurried time alone with God in His word.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Resolve: "Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in Thy Name"

Other than the word of God, few things stir my soul like a good hymn. Below is the final stanza from the hymn, "Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken", by John Newton (1725-1807). As you prepare to face an unbelieving world for another week, may Newton's words be your resolve:

Savior, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy Name.
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

A weekend potpourri

Below are some things I came across that you can read, ponder and pray about this weekend. I hope you have a blessed Lord's Day tomorrow, and that the word of God will be faithfully proclaimed where you worship.
Solus Christus has a post called, "Youth is Converting Time", which is a posting of a sermon by that imminent 19th century saint, Robert Murray McCheyne. If you have children (or if you are a young person) you ought to read this.
At Together for the Gospel, Mark Dever asks the question, "Haven't Had a Conversation with a Non-Christian Lately?" Society is changing rapidly, and not in favor of biblical Christianity. Read, and find out what many people think of the Chirstian faith.
In this country, at least, people are engaged in a love affair with the idea of "freedom of choice". This idea is what keeps support for abortion alive and is the driving force behind the push for homosexual rights, including the so-called right for homosexuals to marry. Tragically, many try to force their "freedom of choice" on God. John Piper has a sermon on, "The Pleasure of God in Election". Read and be reminded that we do not (and cannot) choose God; He chooses us.
Here are headlines from two prominent mainline Protestant denominations: "Charges droppead against Pittsburgh minister in same-sex wedding case" and "What are you: a Unitarian?!?". To all those who are truly saved, yet still a part of one of these apostate mainline denominations: What are you waiting for?!? Let me remind you of 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. In my opinion, you need to "Come out from among them"!
In light of the preceding paragraph, here's an article by John MacArthur: "When should a person leave a church?"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Blasphemous heresy...from an "evangelical"?

I've been reading (or wasting time reading?) various blogs this evening. One post I read tonight has really lingered in my mind. Justin Taylor of "Between Two Worlds" has a post titled, "The Gospel According to Bart". Not Bart Simpson, mind you, but Bart Campolo (the son of Tony Campolo). Bart Campolo wrote an article published in Youth Specialties' Journal of Student Ministries titled, "The Limits' of God's Grace" [*See "Update" Below!].
Read Justin Taylor's intro first, then click on the link to Campolo's article. I just want to warn you ahead of time, Campolo's article is blasphemous heresy. However, the tragic part is that Campolo is supposed to be an evangelical. I think it's important that we see what happens when we Christians fail to cling steadfastly to God's revelation of Himself in Scripture. I've written before about how we evangelicals are not being adequately taught doctrine in many of our churches, and also about the need for Christian parents to teach the Bible to their own children. Well, Consider Bart Campolo exhibit "A".
The Campolo article makes me wonder: How many of today's evangelicals could see or experience tragedy (as Campolo does in his work in the inner city) and still confess with Job,
"The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21)?
*Update: Youth Specialties removed Bart Campolo's article from their website, but you can still read the article here at The Journal of Student Ministries' website.

"Do not be wise in your own eyes"

Josh Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church, has a very worthwhile post on Proverbs 3:7--"Do not be wise in your own eyes".

I know I've been guilty many times of thinking I was "all that". This was a good and needed reminder for me. Read it, and let God speak to you about yourself.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Soli Deo Gloria

I trust that in this blog I’m not just “preaching to the choir”. I hope some who are reading don’t share my views. I even hope there are some non-Christians reading this blog. Perhaps you disagree with the whole idea of God’s sovereignty. Perhaps you embrace the idea of “free will”, that somehow our choices trump God’s choice, and you inwardly chafe at the notion of God choosing people to be saved. I want to share with you some Scriptures from the gospel according to John—all quotes of Jesus—which helped convince me of the truth of God’s sovereignty in Election, and which forever stopped me from thinking that I was somehow free to choose Christ.
* * * * * * * * * *

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)

Notice who it is that comes to the Lord Jesus: those whom the Father has first "given" to Jesus. Yes, people come to Jesus and believe in him, but that is only because the Father first gave them to Jesus. So, what good is this to you? Notice that those whom the Father has given, those who believe in Jesus, will never be lost—Jesus will “lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given". If you come to Jesus and savingly trust in him, you have this guarantee: he won’t let you go!
* * * * * * * * * *

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

So, I ask you, can you come to the Lord Jesus on your own volition? According to Jesus, you cannot. He says so right here: “No one can come to me unless the Father…draws him.” So much for making a “decision” to come to Christ. So much for "free will". Why does this matter? It matters because, if it was left up to us, we would never come to Jesus!

“The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)

I’m glad Jesus didn’t wait for me to come! I’m so glad the Father drew me!
* * * * * * * * * *

“ ‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ ” (John 6:63-65)

One of the hardest doctrines for many to accept is that the number of those who will be eternally lost has been predetermined by God. Nevertheless, I don’t know how one can escape that teaching after reading what Jesus has to say here (and what Paul writes in Romans 9:10-24). John tells us that “Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.” It was determined beforehand ("from the beginning"). Is this unfair? Absolutely not! None of us have any right to have a chance; all of us deserve to perish forever. The good news is that the Father has granted that some will come to the Lord Jesus. And, I thank God I was included in that number! Are you in that number to whom it has been granted to come to Jesus? Do you want to know if you’re included? Here’s what you do: Come to Jesus!
* * * * * * * * * *

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

Another doctrine that many find difficult to accept (and one that I didn’t accept until 6 years ago) is the doctrine of “particular redemption”—that Jesus died for the Elect. I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner. Here it is right here: “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus didn’t say he lays down his life for the sheep and the goats! He said “I lay down my life for the sheep”—for the Elect. Jesus didn’t waste a drop of blood. If Jesus died for everybody, then Jesus wasted some of his blood, because untold millions have already died without Christ. But my Lord didn't waste a drop! All that he died for will be saved—guaranteed!

I know someone will bring up John 3:16, so let’s look at that verse:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Does God love you? Yes, indeed he does! “God so loved the world”. That means everybody! But, did Jesus die for everybody? No. For whom, then, did God give “his only Son”? “He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Did you see that? Jesus died for those who would believe in him. Again, do you want to know if you’re included? Believe in Jesus! Trust in what he accomplished through his perfect life and perfect sacrifice!
* * * * * * * * * *

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ ” (John 10:25-30)

When it came to the doctrine of “particular redemption”, this passage clinched the argument for me. The Lord Jesus said to the Jews gathered around, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” Notice, he did not say, “You are not part of my flock because you do not believe.” No, no! Being a part of his flock precedes believing. God’s choice of you precedes your trusting in Jesus. If you trust in the Lord Jesus, it’s because the Father chose you “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) to be a part of the flock. Once again, if you want to know that you’re included, there’s only one way: Believe in Jesus Christ! Come to him! “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Do you hear Christ calling you? Will you respond to his call?
And, again, we have this wonderful promise: those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God (for he and the Father are "one"), "will never perish". And you can't slip away, either! "No one will snatch them out of my hand."
* * * * * * * * * *
I'm so grateful that God didn't have to whop me upside the head with a spiritual 2x4 in order for me to acknowledge these truths. These Scriptures were enough to convince me that my salvation is all of God and that the glory belongs to him alone. I can't save myself, and I don't have the power to stay saved.
Just like Jesus called Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43), the Father called me when I was "dead in...trespasses and sins" and made me "alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5). And, if you're saved, he did it for you, too!
To the non-Christian who may be reading this: If you hear Christ's voice, don't resist him. Come to him! Trust him! And know, if you do come, it's because the Father sought you...first.

Psalm 119:131

Picture this...

"I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments."


May the Holy Spirit create this kind of aching thirst in our souls for the word of God.

Psalm 119:136

"My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law."

Can you relate? Is your heart broken because of the unbelief of others...

...or are you just angry at them?

May God give us this kind of passion.

A Christian, first

I’ve had this question on my mind for a while now: Why do so many of us whose theology is Calvinistic or Reformed so often refer to ourselves as “Reformed”? Why don’t we just call ourselves “Christian”?

It reminds me of what I’ve observed about many Catholics that I’ve met. I don’t recall ever hearing a Catholic refer to his- or herself as a Christian. Always, their first response was, “I’m Catholic”. As I’ve surfed various Calvinistic/Reformed blogs, I’ve found a similar trait among the Reformed. Many of us, it seems, are Reformed before all else. When we get through explaining ourselves, there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we are thoroughly Reformed (and proud of it, too!).

Now, I think I’m as Reformed as the next Reformed person. In my opinion, if one reads the Bible correctly, one would have to agree that Calvinism or Reformed theology is right and Arminianism is wrong (and heretical, too). As someone famous once said, “Calvinism is simply biblical Christianity” (or words to that effect—seems like it was either Spurgeon or Packer—I’ve forgotten). In my view, Calvinism or Reformed theology is simply what the Bible teaches. Period.

However, I don’t want to make a practice of wearing my Calvinism on my sleeve. I’m a Christian. Now, if you question me about the details of my theology, I’ll tell you I believe in mankind’s total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement (or particular redemption), irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. I believe salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

But, bottom-line: I’m a Christian.

I used to enjoy reading biographical stories about being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” I’m thinking of the old, 19th–early 20th century, Wesleyan Holiness stories I’ve read, how the writers were saved for many years, but never knew what true religion was until that one glorious day when they were entirely sanctified or filled with the Holy Spirit and made free from all sin (according to their Holiness teaching). Personally, I always found those stories fascinating to read because they were exciting and, often, dramatic. It was obvious, despite some flaws in their theological understanding of sin, these dear people were sincerely hungry for God. Certainly, I empathized with their quest for holiness. But, I thought they made so much of the “second work of grace” (as the old Holiness folks called it), that they seriously minimized the “first work” of salvation. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if, perhaps, they had never been saved to begin with and that the “second work” they so highly valued was actually their being saved for the first time.

Well, this is the same sense I get reading some Reformed blogs. There are those that speak of being Reformed as if it were their conversion. I don’t want to criticize. I do understand their enthusiasm. I’ve been “fully Reformed” for about 6 years, and it has been a great blessing to me and my family. Reformed theology helped answer a lot of questions (I’ll write about some of those questions in later postings), and helped unify the Scriptures in my thinking. I’m convinced the “Doctrines of Grace” are, indeed, what the Bible teaches. Nevertheless, my full embracing of Reformed teaching 6 years ago doesn’t compare with my salvation 26 years ago. If anything, knowing God’s sovereignty in salvation makes me appreciate even more what God did in my life 26 years ago.

I suppose what I’m pleading for is less use of theological labels. Let’s not be so proud of being Reformed. “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me” (Jeremiah 9:24). Let’s be “Christians”—followers of the Lord Jesus Christ—first and foremost.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Christian's Response to Trials--James 1:2-12 (Part 3)

Finally, if we are to truly glorify God in the midst of life's inevitable trials and demonstrate to the world the superior value of knowing the Lord Jesus, we must...
GLORY (1:9-11)

"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits."

The verb translated “boast” (ESV) or “take pride” (NIV) can also translated, “glory”. This word refers to valid glorying or boasting; “the boasting of a privilege or possession” (MacArthur Study Bible).

What James is getting at in these verses is that believers cannot let their circumstances (brought about, no doubt, by the trials they were experiencing) dictate their moods. As you all know, circumstances change. You can be up today, and down tomorrow.

You can have a job today, and be jobless tomorrow.
You can have your good health today, and lose your health tomorrow.
You can have your possessions today, and lose everything tomorrow.
You can have your family today, and lose those you love tomorrow.

If our joy rests in things like these—in temporal, earthly things—we’ll eventually be in for a huge let-down. That’s why James tells us we must boast—we must glory—in our position in Christ. Who are we are and what we have in Christ is eternal—it’s stable and it won’t fluctuate with the passage of time. Who we are and what we have in Christ is secure because it’s rooted in God; it won’t fade away.

So, to the poor Christian or to the Christian brought low by suffering, James writes, “You may be brought low by your trials, but take pride in your exalted position in Christ.” To the rich Christian, James writes, “Don’t trust in your riches which, in the time of persecution, may suddenly vanish as a flower of the desert: boast in your humble position in Christ.”

The boasting James is urging is valid because it is not centered in the individual and what he’s done or earned. Boasting is sinful when it is self-centered, because such boasting attempts to steal the glory that belongs to God alone. It is sinful because, in ourselves, we have nothing to boast about. By contrast, the believer should boast in what, by grace, God has done for us in Christ.

The apostle Paul wrote (1Corinthians 1:30, 31),

"[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written [quoting Jeremiah 9:23, 24], “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Are you experiencing trials, difficulties, hardship, pain, suffering, persecution? Then, I urge you, get your eyes off your circumstances and look at who you are and what you have in Christ! “Boast in the Lord!”

Just listen as Paul tells us about all we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14):

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

"In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

In addition to all that, you are a child of God (John 1:12):

"To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."

You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21):

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Because of Christ, God will never condemn you (Rom. 8:1):

"There is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Because you belong to God, know that He will keep you (Psalm 121):

"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore."

I ask you, do we have any reason for despair? Is there any reason to remain under a pall of depression? Glory/boast in who you are and what you have in Christ Jesus!

We have seen that the apostle James outlined for us three ways we must respond to life’s inevitable trials if we are to truly glorify God and demonstrate to the world the superior value of knowing the Lord Jesus:

We must rejoice: “Count it all joy…”
We must pray: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach.”
Don’t doubt God; trust Him!
We must glory: “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation.” “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Look at all that is yours in Christ Jesus.

Finally, James writes (Verse 12):

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."

There are three things to notice, as I conclude:

First, in verse 2, we were told that it is “the testing of your faith [that] produces steadfastness.” Here, in verse 12, we’re told that the person is “blessed” who remains steadfast under trial. It seems, then, that the act of enduring trials is what God uses to develop in us the character trait of steadfastness. Much the same way that an athlete or musician develops physical or technical endurance through the physical strain and discipline of practice, so steadfastness comes about as we endure. There are no spiritual shortcuts to perfection and completeness in the faith. It’s not an easy road the Christian travels. We must remain steadfast.

Secondly, we never reach perfection and completeness/wholeness in this life. James says, of the one who remains steadfast under trial, that “when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.” This “crown” is the victor’s wreath received at the conclusion of the race. It is at the end of the race, when Christ returns, that we receive the “crown of life”, having stood the test and passed. Jesus, through John, told the Church in Smyrna, a church which was facing severe persecution (Revelation 2:10), “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The “crown of life” is not salvation (which is already ours through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ) but, rather, the eternal enjoyment of that eternal life which is ours in the very presence of God.

Thirdly, this word “blessed” can be translated “happy”, but it means more than just being merely “happy”. This word describes “one whom God makes fully satisfied”, or the state of “having God’s kingdom within one’s heart.” The meaning here is significant. The “blessed” person is one who “remains steadfast under trial” and can rejoice in spite of the trial because he has come to find his true satisfaction in God. Perhaps, this person is “blessed”, not because he remains steadfast but, rather, this person remains steadfast because he is “blessed”—because he has found a deeper satisfaction in God which triumphs over the trials of life.

Perhaps this deep satisfaction in God is the key to a right response to our trials. Notice, James writes that the blessed persons, the ones who remain steadfast, who stand the test and who receive the victor’s wreath, are the ones “who love him.”

This is salvation: loving God as our supreme treasure. Read carefully these words of the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:3-9):

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

This is why we must do what James has told us.
To "love him", "believe in him" and "rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" is the only legitimate response to trials for those who know the Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Christian’s Response to Trials--James 1:2-12 (Part 2)

The second way Christians must respond to life’s inevitable trials if we are to truly glorify God and demonstrate to the world the superior value of knowing the Lord Jesus is to...
PRAY (1:5-8)

Verse 5: “If any of you lacks wisdom…” The word translated “wisdom” here means “to know and understand godliness; to do what is pleasing to God.” This “wisdom” is “practical insight”. It is “the knowledge of how to regulate one’s relationship with God.” In other words, “If any of you lacks wisdom” as to how you should respond in your trials, in your suffering, in a manner that will please God—if you want to know what God would have you do—“let him ask God.” Let him pray!

Why would James go here? I think it’s because prayer is not necessarily our first response to trials. I think for many of us, humbling ourselves before God and seeking His will is not our first response. I think, perhaps, our first response might be to question God: “Why is this happening to me?” Think about it: When trials, of whatever kind, come your way, is your first concern God’s will, God’s glory, and how to please God? Or is your first concern how to stop the trial and relieve your discomfort? We don’t want to bring glory to God as much as we want to free ourselves from discomfort, pain and suffering.

And don’t let whatever the trial may be hang around too long or be too painful or severe. We might even become angry at God: “God, why did you do this to me?! Why did you let this happen?!”

But, we should not allow ourselves to be angry at God. Why?

First of all, because, if we are Christians, God is for us; He is not against us.

Look at verse 5 again. James says, about God, “[He] gives generously…”—you don’t have to wrest the gift from His hand. He doesn’t resent giving to His children that which is good for them, that which they need. He’s a good Father, and He gives “generously [or “freely”] to all without reproach.”

To “reproach” (according to Webster's New World College Dictionary) is "to shame, disgrace, discredit, or blame". James says that God gives “without reproach”. In other words, He’s not bothered by His children asking Him for help. He doesn’t criticize us for asking. He doesn’t give to us grudgingly and unwillingly.

In Matthew 7 and Luke 11, we have two similar accounts of Jesus teaching His disciples about prayer. Luke includes in his account an illustration Jesus gave regarding prayer (Luke 11:5-13):

"And he said to them, 'Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him"; and he will answer from within, "Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything"? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [or “persistence”] he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 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. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; of if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!' ”

The point Jesus is aiming to get across is this: if the friend in the story will get up and give the man what he asks because of his persistent asking and begging, and if parents will give their children food when they’re hungry (and we’re “evil” sinners in the light of a holy God), “how much more” will our heavenly Father who is good and without sin and without any trace of evil intent—“how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God gives without reproach: “How much more…” Our heavenly Father doesn’t begrudge His children: “How much more…”

Matthew ends his account (Matthew 7:11) with: “How much more will you Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”. But, I like Luke’s ending: “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Because, isn’t this what we need? In times of suffering and trial we need the Holy Spirit—the indwelling Christ and the wisdom He gives—so that we may know how to please God while we are in the midst of our trials.

So, we should not allow ourselves to be angry at God because He is for us; He is not against us.

Secondly, we should not allow ourselves to be angry at God because, if we’re angry at God, we’re implying there is something defective in the character of God.

Think about it: If we’re angry, it means we find some fault in God. Somehow He has failed us. In some way He has not kept His word to us. In some way God has done us wrong.

But, is this legitimate? What has God done that was unfair to us? We are—all of us—rebels and traitors against God. I suppose all of us would agree with Romans 3:23—“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But do we remember what sin deserves? “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That’s all we “deserve” from God: spiritual death! So, in what ways has God been unfair? The worst thing that any of us could experience in this life is still far better that what we deserve.

At its root, anger at God is a result of unbelief. In one way or another we doubt God when we’re angry at God. The one who doubts has no sure confidence in God, no secure faith in His word, no settled trust in His character. Look at verses 5 and 6:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."

The word translated “doubting” means “to be divided in one’s mind.” James tells us that the doubting person “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind”: shifting, changing, never the same.

Such a person, James writes, “must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” And why should he? To doubt God is, in effect, to call God a liar:

“You’re a liar! You can’t be trusted! You failed me! Now…give me what I ask for!”

Sounds foolish, doesn’t it? But, that’s what the doubter does. And James says “that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”

James goes on to write (verse 8) that the doubter “is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James may have coined this word, “double-minded”, for it is only found here and in James 4:8. The word is literally, “two-souled”. The double-minded man is inwardly divided, with one part of his mind or soul set on God, one part set on the world. As a result, he is unstable, torn between divided loyalties.

The doubter, the double-minded man, should seriously ask himself where his commitments truly lie. Either we’re with God or not. We have no reason to doubt Him. And if we doubt, if we’re divided in our loyalties, we should not be surprised that the heavens seem like brass, that God seems distant, that our prayers seem to be in vain.

O, my friend, when we’re going through trials, of whatever kind, don’t doubt God. Don’t pull away from Him; draw close to Him! Pray! The writer to the Hebrews put it this way (Hebrews 4:15, 16):

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

When we’re suffering, when our faith is being tried—whatever the trial may be—we need mercy, we need God’s “grace to help in time of need.” And James says we should ask for wisdom: the knowledge of how we may please God in the midst of our trials, remembering that the God to whom we pray—our heavenly Father—“gives generously to all without reproach.” And we have this promise from God: “It will be given him.”
(To be continued...)