Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why Did God Do It?

My teacher and friend, Dr. Wayne Grudem, provides an excellent overview of some of the reasons for the coming of Christ, and I felt it was worth sharing for your own puporses of worship this holiday season. May we continually marvel of the miracle that God, who is Spirit, became a man and dwelt among us.

God Became a Man: Why was it Necessary?[1]

A. For Representative Obedience.
“Jesus was our representative and obeyed for us where Adam had failed and disobeyed. (see Romans 5:18-19)… Jesus had to be a man in order to be our representative and obey in our place.”

B. To Be a Substitute Sacrifice.
“If Jesus had not been a man, he could not have died in our place and paid the penalty that was due to us…it is important here to realize that unless Christ was fully man, he could not have died to pay the penalty of man’s sins. He could not have been a substitute sacrifice for us (on the cross).”

C. To Be the One Mediator Between God and Men.
“Because we were alienated from God by sin, we needed someone to come between God and ourselves and bring us back to Him. We needed a mediator who could represent us to God and who could represent God to us (1 Tim. 2:5). In order to fulfill this role of mediator, Jesus had to be fully man as well as fully God.”

D. To Fulfill God’s Original Purpose for Man to Rule Over Creation.
“God put mankind on earth to subdue it and to rule over it as God’s representatives. But man did not fulfill that purpose, for he instead fell into sin…Then when Jesus came as a man, he was able to obey God and thereby have the right to rule over creation as a man, thus fulfilling God’s original purpose in putting man on the earth. Jesus had to be a man in order to fulfill God’s original purpose that man rule over his creation.”

E. To Be Our Example and Pattern in Life.
“Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). The goal of the Christian life is to glorify God by becoming more and more like Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), who was our example (1 Peter 2:21), in whose steps we must follow.”

F. To Be the Pattern for Our Redeemed Bodies
“When Jesus rose from the dead he rose in a new body that was ‘imperishable…raised in glory…raised in power…raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15:42-44). This is the pattern for what our bodies will be like when we are raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:49). We now have a physical body like Adam’s but we will have one like Christ’s.”

G. To Sympathize As High Priest.
“If Jesus had not been a man, he would not have been able to know by experience what we go through in our temptations and struggles in this life. But because He lived as a man, he is able to sympathize more fully with us in our experiences” (Heb. 2:18; cf. 4:15-16).

[1] The following points were taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p.540-542. This is not an exhaustive list.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Great Exchange and The Moment a Believer Dies

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Luke 23: 39-43, NIV

The irony here is hard to miss. Here we have the Righteous One, the One who made the blind to see, who made the lame to walk, who cleansed the leper, and raised the dead – the One who preached the good news to the poor, who ate with sinners, who loved the unlovable – who was willing to touch the untouchable – here we have this Jesus being sentenced to death.

And this perfect man, this man so filled with love, who was gentle and humble in heart, is now bloody, bruised, and beaten, and nailed to a tree. And if that doesn’t make sense to you, then consider the fact that hoards of wicked, godless people were pummeling him with words of anger, and hatred, hurling every bit of sarcasm at him that they can muster. Matthew in his gospel tells us that at first both of the criminals who were being crucified beside him were reviling him and joining in on the taunting of the crowd, “He saved others, why not himself? What about this temple you said you would destroy and rebuild in three days? (If they only knew what was happening in front of them when they said that!) “If you really are the king of Israel, come down from there!” You see, the One who possessed words of life is now facing words of death.

Luke tells us that one of the criminals looked at him and spouted, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself, and us!” It is seemingly at that very moment that the Spirit of God does an amazing thing in the heart of the criminal dying on Jesus’ other side. For in a moment of self-reflection he realizes that his own sentence is just. He knows he deserves to pay for the guilt of his sin and he confesses his guilt with his own mouth – but this man, “what has he done?”

So in that one snapshot of history, we see the perfect example of the greatest exchange the world has ever known. A criminal confesses his sin, and confesses the truth about Jesus – that the man dying next to him was without sin, and that He was the King, the Messiah. And in this powerful moment, Jesus, who had an immeasurable amount of sin being placed upon his own shoulders, was willing to shoulder the guilt and sins of one more.

So for that criminal, in that moment, his sin and his guilt was transferred to our Lord who was hanging just a few feet away, and the perfect righteousness of the Son of God was credited to him in exchange. What a great deal that was for that criminal – at one moment he was spiritually bankrupt, and in the next moment his cup runneth over as God’s grace and perfect righteousness is given to him. And in an intimate moment he looks to His Savior and calls out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Now his statement is an expression of the Jewish hope that one will be delivered on the last day, that at the end of time he will experience life again. But Jesus makes an even better promise. For this criminal will not have to wait ‘til the end of time to experience fellowship and life with God.’ No, the Savior turns to him in the midst of his own suffering and assures him by saying, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

For all who truly believe, this is our hope...may your heart be filled with thanksgiving, and great expectation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Performance Based Spirituality that Leads to Emotional Chaos

It is so easy to fall prey to this, but “checklist” or “performance based” spirituality is perhaps the most dangerous killer to one’s genuine walk with God. What happens is that there is this subtle shift that takes place in our lives where we begin to think that blessings that come into our lives are a result of our own actions rather than that which is simply from God himself. Then we get puffed up thinking, “hey, I’m doing pretty good here,” and pride sets in. Not only that, but we begin to judge success by worldly standards (and things like suffering seems to feel like punishment when it may have nothing to do with it).

Have you ever fallen into this trap? Like Peter, you’ve stopped to look around and evaluate things and have taken your eyes off of Christ and before you know it your spiritual walk starts sinking (Matt. 14:30). You know you’ve done this when your prayer life starts to dwindle – your time in the Word gets crowded out by your schedule – and you start complaining more. Another symptom of this is the unending emotional roller coaster that comes daily simply from changes in circumstances.

If our daily attitudes are so very affected by circumstances, then you can bet we are spiritual wimps. We are called to live by faith, not by sight. Faith is not a religious activity; it’s not even a devotional practice. Faith is a certainty that you are united to Jesus Christ, that this world is not your home, that you are His servant, that you have died to yourself, that He owns you, and that He bought you at a price so that you would stop living for yourself but for the One you will worship for all eternity. Faith is sharing in the incarnation with Him. Faith is the belief that all this is true.

Gaze at Him. Worship Him. Plead and pray to Him. Call out to Him. Seek Him. Trust Him. Be satisfied with Him. Love Him. Fall on your knees before Him. He is glorious. He is mighty. He is sovereign. He is good and kind. He is safe. He is real.

When you approach your life and faith this way, all the rest of the checklist and performance based stuff takes care of itself, because the Holy Spirit brings it forth naturally and you don’t even realize it. Bottom line: Get your eyes off of yourself, and put it on Him, and then you’ll never have time to stop and say, “hey, I’m doing pretty good at this,” because you were never looking at yourself in the first place.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Political Season 2008

Ads in the mail, phone calls to our homes, signs in the yards, television commercials, messages on the radio – the political season is at a fever pitch. Even our email inboxes are overflowing with “forwards” with all the latest information, warnings, petitions, and desperate appeals to sway anyone with ears to hear. It’s all a bit surreal.

Yet don’t just blow it off. Voting in a democracy is an enormous privilege that we’ve been given and is a freedom that many gave their lives for. So we can’t just take it for granted. It is part of the many blessings that God has given this country – the right to choose our leaders, those that will govern and make laws for us. With such a privilege comes responsibility, and it is our duty and obligation as citizens of a free country and as believers to be a voice for truth in a society that is regularly hostile towards it. See the following link for a healthy perspective on this.

All this to say that as Christians, it is our responsibility to do the research and to discover the views of each candidate, and to vote in keeping with a biblical worldview. In issues where there are clearly moral issues at stake (such as stances on abortion, the definition of marriage, etc.), we must be willing to vote firmly for that which would honor God and be consistent with the voice of Scripture. The Bible is clear that all of life is sacred and that “personhood” begins at conception (Psalm 51:5; Psalm 139:13; Luke 1:44; Exodus 21:22-23) and that marriage is a commitment between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31). These are not just minor issues. These are major “watershed” issues – issues that stand out among the rest. They are more important than issues surrounding the economy, education, and many others. Why? Because they have to do with life and death itself and the make up of the building blocks of society and the home, two significant moral issues that are seen all throughout Scripture.

Therefore, each believer should be motivated during this critical election. For there is much at stake. Yet at the same time a caution – please do not think that the advancement and success of the kingdom of God is completely dependent on the outcome of the election. To do so would be to take a distinctly human point of view and would undercut a firm belief in the sovereignty of God. Though we should stand for truth in a hostile world, we should not expect that God will usher in His kingdom via the secular political system. God’s chosen vehicle is the Gospel of His Son. Our trust is always in God himself, not in any form of human government. Vote biblically, yes, but trust that Romans 13 will always remain true, that God has sovereignly ordained the governing authorities whose authority comes directly from God.

And finally – get out there and vote!

Monday, September 29, 2008

What does it mean to "wait upon the Lord?"

This question was recently posed in one of my Wednesday evening classes. Certainly on the surface we think of patiently trusting in God to come through for us in moments of need, whether that’s the need for guidance, financial provision, relational reconciliation, etc. “Waiting” on God has the same connotation as “hope,” which is a confidence in God to bring about the future he has promised (Thus the various translation of Isaiah 40:31 depending on what version of the Bible you use – the Hebrew word is qāwâ).

John Oswalt, an OT scholar, notes that “waiting on the Lord” implies two things.

1) Complete dependence on God
2) A willingness to allow Him to decide the terms

Oswalt writes, “to wait on him is to admit that we have no other help, either in ourselves or in another…[it is] to declare our confidence in his eventual action on our behalf. Thus waiting is not merely killing time but a life of confident expectation.” (Oswalt, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, p. 74).

Confident expectation – I like that. So practically speaking, what does this look like? Does it mean that I stop moving forward in my pursuit of discerning God’s will? If someone is unemployed, do they stop making phone calls to look for a job and simply “wait” on the Lord? Well no, because “wait” does not necessarily imply ceasing activity.

A person can wait patiently for God’s timing/God’s terms and yet at the same time do whatever is necessary and available to provide for one’s family. Maybe God wants to teach you something by serving and working for food in less "glorious ways" before He is ready to give you a greater amount of responsibility and income elsewhere. Besides, there are strong warnings against idleness in Scripture (see 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). So we should always be pressing onward and working out our salvation (some phrases from Philippians) – the operative idea here is “movement.”

Until God moves in a much larger way, I am going to serve him and work hard day to day, trusting that if there are greater needs then God will meet those needs in His own way and perfect timing. Sometimes he whittles us down to what we truly need first before He leads us and provides us with what we will need for later. We don’t always need what we think we need.

Waiting on God gives Him the opportunity to develop your faith and character, to shape your trust – the kind of trust that is surrendered, selfless, and obedient to Him. If we sincerely want to be followers of Christ, then we have to be submit to whatever God intends for us in order to make us that way – even if that means suffering and waiting. You don’t know what’s around the corner, but He does.

So to wait means ultimately to trust in the Lord with all your heart, leaning not on your own understanding, but in everything acknowledging His sovereignty and lordship over your life – and when you do, He will direct your paths. He wants you in His will more than you really want to be in it. So let Him work it out in your life, be patient, and wait on Him. Have that confident expectation in His power, and in His timing. He is faithful, and He will give you what you need when you need it. Is not your life worth more than sparrows? (Matthew 10:31)

Monday, September 22, 2008

People UNLIKE You - Relational Wisdom

Is it not true that one of the natural social realities of our lives is that we tend to surround ourselves with people who look like us, talk like us, and agree with us? We long to be liked, appreciated, revered, and understood – and finding someone who agrees with us is often the path we choose to find fulfillment in these areas.

Though this may feel good, I have found that this is not the most helpful way to grow. Abraham Lincoln was known for the fact that he had a Secretary of State and a Secretary of War that often did not agree with him. Yet Lincoln did not shun them or fire them, and in listening to their different point of views he actually found them to be helpful.

This all leads to some insights worth noting:

1) Never dismiss or write off someone from your life simply because they do not agree with the majority of your opinions or convictions. We are often unaware of the weaknesses of our views or blind spots in our lives that someone who is just like us would never pick up on or challenge us to consider.
2) Knowing that there are others who see things differently than you do has a way of reminding you that you are not the center of the universe, that your opinion is not the only one that may have value, and that God has made people differently, and there is something refreshing about that.

Having said all this though, I will tell you that when it comes to some things, there does need to be opinions that are equally shared by all – especially when it comes to truth claims. For there is such a thing as absolute truth, and there is no room for diversity when it comes to issues like the Lordship of Jesus Christ or the inerrancy of Scripture. But that’s not my point right now.

My point is: don’t be so quick to cling to people who always think just like you – that kind of friendship circle is not always conducive to your growth. Some of the most bizarre people I have met that have crazy ideas and preferences have strangely ended up bringing more excitement and joy to my life than I would have ever anticipated. And the more I rub up against them, the more it rounds off my edges – and occasionally, I’ve even changed my whole perspective on something. The bottom line: it’s not the most important thing to be right all the time. And sometimes, I am totally wrong.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone)

I am thankful today to know that one of my projects is now coming to fruition. I learned this past week that my doctoral dissertation will be published by a rather fast growing evangelical publishing company, known as Wipf and Stock publishers out of Eugene, Oregon. When I wrote this book to fulfill the requirements of the degree, I intentionally wrote it in such a way that it would be readable and usable not simply for academic minds, but I wrote it in a user friendly manner for the local church. I’ve never really talked about this that much, because I never wanted my discussion of it to seem self-serving or to be viewed as some kind of boast. But I do believe that God led me to write it. Perhaps in an upcoming blog I will share the gist of its contents – but in short, it talks about how God’s love in seen in the practice of church discipline. But right now I just want to praise the Lord for this, and to remind each of you that perseverance, patience, and a hard work ethic pays off, no matter what God has called you to do. If you do it with the motive of glorifying God rather than to simply make a name for yourself, then I believe God has a way of using it in His own way and in His own time. Just be faithful friend, and let God take care of the rest.
(The picture above is my brother-in-law Seth playing with my two sons Joshua and Andrew at the beach -- evidently they are working on a project of their own.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Call to be Satisfied With the One Who Fills

For those of you who know or attend my church, I have been preaching the last 4 months through the Gospel of Mark. It has been spiritually invigorating for me. I think the reason why is that I am getting a deeper snapshot of who Jesus is and am finding myself increasingly distanced from the temporal fallen world that I live in. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Is it not true that when we “see and savor” Jesus Christ for who He really is, our appetites ought to change? We should hunger and thirst for the One who is the Bread of Life and who quenches our thirst with living water. Furthermore, our taste buds change, and the sinful world we live in seems less appealing, unable to satisfy, almost foreign to us.

I hope this is what is happening to me. When I make a statement about how much I long for the 2nd Coming of Christ, I sometimes have to qualify it by saying that it doesn’t mean that I want “out” of my joyful life with my wife and kids or the ministry God has called me to. What I’m saying is that I long for the resolution that God has promised. I desire to see His wonderful plan of redemption unfolded and consummated in fullness – and at the height of it is seeing Jesus for who He is in all of His glory and splendor.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

My prayer is that I would become much more aware of those times in my life when I am settling for less than God’s best. Those things will never really satisfy. I think the more you look at Jesus, I think the more you become aware of those distractions, those fillers that really leave you wanting. I think more and more I agree with John Piper, who said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

His is the Bread of Life. And I’ve always loved bread. So I guess that’s where I ought to look and be filled.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Getting Lean, and Its Not about Meat!

These are lean times. But I don’t believe that’s all that bad. There is something positive about being forced to examine your priorities by taking a second look at where you spend your money. My guess is that most of us are a little too loose with the use of discretionary funds. Maybe it’s time to cut that caramel frappuccino from the treat list this week – time to discipline your impulsive whims.

It is right and good for us to perform a little introspection and self-examination. In this busy life we live, we don’t do this enough. The noise, commotion, and busyness of our schedules cause us to naturally forfeit this needed habit.

I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years, and there were many times in that span where my faith suffered from neglect. My walk with God has been stale at times, usually as a result of carelessness and too much focus on self. Apathy can creep up on you when you are not looking if you are not looking – looking to Christ that is.

Paul wrote this,

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” - 2 Corinthians 13:5

Jesus also said that where your treasure is, there is where you will find your heart. What do these times of money pinching and budget adjustments reveal about the affections of your heart? Take a minute to reply to this blog and tell me what this money tightening season of life is teaching you…

What’s its telling me is that I’m too self-consumed and undisciplined, and my spending habits show it. Lord forgive me, and teach me to number my days aright, and to watch the numbers in the process.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Joy of Life with God

There are many things in this world that can rob our joy. Jesus, in one of His parables, told about the person who hears the Word of God and receives it with great joy, only to watch it slip away when trouble or persecution comes. The point being the Word of God never actually took deep root in that person’s life, and external things had a way of washing that joy away. A superficial faith will never have real and lasting joy.

All this leads to the idea that one’s personal joy is not so much related to external circumstances as much as it is connected to a person’s deep spiritual roots in the person of Christ (who in another sense is the Word of God). He is a God and Savior who desires not to be seen as a genie in a bottle to pull out and rub when needed, but rather the Lord and Master of one’s daily life. He is the source of all joy, a joy that gives inner peace and refreshment that literally lifts one above and beyond any circumstances in life.

If you are depending on your success at work, your ability to have constantly obedient teenagers, Christmas bonuses, and even the prospect of people liking every word you say as your own personal source of joy, then you’re in for a rude awakening, and odds are you are probably going to be riding an emotional roller coaster most of the time with a shifting view of God’s goodness that changes with every slight turn of the wind.

Never confuse joy with happiness. They are not the same. Joy is much deeper than circumstantial blessings or outwardly dependent mood swings, and it is something that can never be robbed of someone who is walking with God. Not even torture or poverty can rob a Christian of their joy if God is their strength (Neh. 8:10). Obedience to Christ and His commands brings forth this joy in surplus. Listen to the Savior’s voice in John 15.

10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Life can be a joy, to be sure. But life with God is lasting joy. Eternal joy. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In this way, it is wholly of God, and surpasses all human understanding. It is why we can rejoice even when dying, and even when tragedy strikes, because it’s from God – it’s source is God himself, who is our inheritance (Rom. 8:17).

Does your life radiate joy, despite what’s going on? The real secret to joy is complete satisfaction in your relationship with Jesus. (Read Psalm 103:1-5) If you are looking for something outside of that to bring true joy and peace, you will be looking for a long time. He is your everything! Lean not on “stuff” and “happenings” and let your heart be lifted up by the Spirit that brings life.

11"But let all who take refuge in you be glad;let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. 12 For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. Psalm 5:11-12

If today your joy is lacking -- pray to God for it. Go ahead, ask Him. Would He not answer that prayer? Of course He would, and He might decide to rearrange a few things in your life to give it to you. (You can interpret that however you wish). But please know that joy in the Lord is what God's will for your life entails (1 Thess. 5:16-18, Phil. 4:4). Don't miss it by being caught up in "stuff." External circumstances change, but God never does.

(Oh by the way, the fella in the picture above is my brother-in-law Christian Motter, who loves to express his personality in unusual ways. This is classic, a picture taken at a family wedding -- and it fits him perfect, because this year Christian found Christ, and now his joy is quite literally captured by this picture! Thanks Christian, for making life with you and life together with God such a joy.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Scriptures that Make One Sit in Wonder

The following is a list of Scriptures that truly make me shudder, lead me to worship, grip me with fear, make me laugh, humble me, and cause me to shout for joy. Take a minute to read them and see if they don’t make you feel small. Let's start with Elisha's prayer that spiritually opened the eyes of his servant so that he could see the army of angels that were protecting them. Nothing like a glimpse into the spirit world to make one start thinking...and then there's the terrifying statement that started the whole Job situation. I'll just let you read from here. A night photo of the church where I serve is on the right.

16 "Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." 17 And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. - 2 Kings 6:16-17


8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? - Job 1:8

5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. – Genesis 6:5

28 Then the LORD opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"
29 Balaam answered the donkey, "You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now."

30 The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?" "No," he said. - Numbers 22:28-30


21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Corinthians 5:21


"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." - Revelation 5:9-10


27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. - Acts 4:27-28

9 Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also." 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. -Acts 5:9-10
23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. - Acts 12:23
6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. - Deuteronomy 7:6-9

Monday, July 14, 2008

Expectations on Unbelievers

Expectations. We all have them. We have them for ourselves and we have them for others. It has been my experience that often times within the context of human relationships, if there is ever any friction or tension between two people, it almost inevitably circles around the idea of unmet or unrealistic expectations.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, but in a little different context. It is my conviction that those of us who are Christians may sometimes place expectations on non-Christians that they are unable or incapable of meeting. Consider the following two Scripture passages:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14, NIV

What these two passages tell me is that within the unbelieving soul, there is absolutely no capacity to comprehend the deep truths of God without some form of illumination from the Holy Spirit. Now that’s not to say that non-Christians can’t comprehend the idea of God himself or contemplate spiritual things at some level, because surely they can.

In Romans 1:20, Paul said that “since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” And further, the writer of Ecclesiastes said that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (3:11).

So the idea of a God that exists and the concept of eternity are two things that all unbelievers should be able to ascertain according to the testimony of Scripture. Furthermore, the possession of a moral conscience (Romans 2:15) also testifies to the fact that even fallen humanity is still left with a basic capacity to know some measure of right from wrong.

But should we or can we expect more from them? If the above Scriptures are true, that the gospel message and the things of the Spirit are foolishness to the unbelieving soul, and that he or she cannot even understand these spiritual things because they lack the spiritual capacity to do so (because the Holy Spirit is not there enabling them to understand), then why in the world do we as Christians sometimes expect unbelievers to act and think like believers?

Ephesians 2:1 tells us that until one hears and receives the Gospel message by faith, they are for all intents and purposes to be regarded as spiritually dead. It is the Spirit who brings spiritual life to a soul (through faith in the Gospel). This is why Paul just a few verses later says,

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV

If you are a Christian and you read this, it ought to humble you to ponder the idea that God brought grace to your life and made you spiritually alive – you were once dead! But this still causes me to ask – do I consciously or subconsciously expect non-Christians to completely think and act like Christians when they have no spiritual capacity to do so? And then perhaps worse, do I inappropriately judge them for not being able to act like I think they should?

One thing is for sure, when it comes to the natural world, animals and even humans act according to their nature. We cannot expect a pig to act like a cat. Furthermore, we cannot expect someone with a totally depraved nature (which is what all of us are born with) to act like someone who has been given a totally new nature through faith in Christ. The contrast could not be clearer in Romans 8:8-9.

“Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.”

I’ve been thinking through the ramifications of this -- and I wonder if I have been guilty on more than one occasion of expecting someone to act in a way that is contrary to their nature. Taking this further, as a pastor of a church, another thought comes to mind. If there are people in the church who are not growing at all spiritually, could it be true that I have wrongly assumed that they are Christians when in fact they are not, and I am expecting them to behave like they are?

I suppose this is why it is important to never assume anything. It also tells me that I should be proclaiming and living out the Gospel both outside and inside the church. But I shouldn’t expect someone who has not embraced the Gospel to act like they have. I’m going to spend some more time thinking about this because I think it has some clear implications for how I think about and treat nonbelievers, and for the expectations that I may unknowingly place on them.

Ponder it with me if you would. My love and compassion for them ought to increase, that’s for sure. They are trapped (enslaved) in sin, with no capacity to get out on their own. I suppose this is why Scripture says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15).
But until the good news is brought to them and believed, we should not expect someone who is “dead” to act like they are “alive.” And we should not assume that someone who claims to be “alive” actually is “alive” if they are still acting like they are “dead.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Stunning Nature of the Cross

This is a quote that struck me this morning. It sent me into worship. I pray it does the same for you.

“For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.”

John W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, 160.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Slippery Term - "Evangelical" (Part 2)

The term “evangelical” is a fairly modern one (post World War II), though the major beliefs associated with it are not. In the early part of the 20th century, battles waged in America between a conservative/religious viewpoint of the world and a much more liberal, secular view of life. It was during this time that we began to see such things as the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” which was the famous trial that battled over the teaching of evolution in the public school system. We obviously know how that trial ended up, and now the pendulum has swung so far that even mentioning creationism in schools is to go against all “scientific logic” (though if you ask me scientists are becoming much more hostile and defensive because advances in modern science are seemingly bringing more support to the creationists viewpoint – but this is another subject for another time).

It was during those early 1900’s that biblical Christians were known as “fundamentalists.” Back then it didn’t have the negative connotation that it has “evolved” into today, where presently if you are a “fundamentalist Christian” then you have the demeaning tag of being labeled as legalistic. This is most unfortunate, because all true Bible-believing evangelical Christians should be able to wholeheartedly affirm that we believe in the “fundamentals” or “essentials” of the Christian faith.

Nevertheless, the term “evangelical” is the present label given to Christians that affirm the historic, orthodox tenants and beliefs of the Christian faith that have been held by all true believers since the beginning of the church in the 1st century. Further, modern day evangelicalism can rightly be said to piggy back the teachings and understandings of the faith that historically came out the 16th century Protestant Reformation.

The term is historically derived from Scripture itself, coming from the Greek noun euangelion, which translated means “glad tidings or good news.” In our Bibles the word is translated into the English word “gospel.” So the good news about Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4) is nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ. This original Greek noun with its accompanying verb euangelizomai, “to proclaim good news” is seen nearly 100 times in the New Testament. So right from the start we can conclude that an “evangelical” is someone who champions the message of the Gospel.

I would say then, that someone who claims to be an “evangelical” must be able to, at the very least, ascribe to and affirm the following beliefs:

1) An adherence to the absolute truthfulness of and the need to proclaim the Gospel message. In this belief one must affirm that the only way for humankind to be saved is through repentance from sin and faith in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was both fully God and fully man. His death was sacrificial (in that it justly atones for sin and satisfies the wrath of a holy God), and substitutionary (in the sense that Jesus stood in our place while undergoing the penalty).

2) Secondly, an evangelical must also believe that in order for one to be able to fully embrace and trust in the Gospel message for salvation, they must be spiritually reborn or “born again” by the Holy Spirit of God. In short, there must be conversion. We are saved by God’s grace alone. And it is only through faith that one experiences the rebirth (where the soul that was dead because of sin is now made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit – Titus 3:5). Therefore, belief in the gospel is a transforming belief that affects the mind, the heart, and the will, not simply an intellectual assent to a certain set of facts about God.

3) Finally, an evangelical is further defined by his or her commitment to the Bible as the inspired Word of God and the final authority in all matters of life and practice.

Spelling this out further, this means that an evangelical believes that the Holy Spirit inspired the original writers of Scripture such that what they wrote was wholly true (without any mixture of error) and that it was in keeping with the mind and will of God. Therefore, if we want to know the mind of God on any particular subject then we are to study and ascertain the original intent of those who penned the words of Scripture. This assumes our interpretation stems from taking Scripture in a literal sense, keeping mind its historical and grammatical contexts.

Are there more things that are distinctive and peculiar to evangelicals? Yes, there are many more things that could be said here – for example, we believe in a literal, physical or bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth at some point in the future – but of all things that mark us as evangelicals, it is the big three noted above. These are non-negotiable beliefs (note: there is nothing inherently political about them).

Looking back through church history, you can see many faithful believers who adhered to these essentials. And whenever these things were abandoned, history teaches us that the church (and might I even assert “society in general”) suffered. But for the people and the church who recognizes that these are essential truths which must be kept, there is surely blessing and favor from God.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Slippery Term - "Evangelical" (Part 1)

We’ve been swamped recently with surveys of the American religious landscape, and we have statistics flying all over the place. Inasmuch as these things are sometimes helpful, they are always limited in their ability to truly capture complete accuracy. Sometimes it’s how they ask the questions that will illicit what kind of response you get.

Nevertheless, a rather stunning survey came out last week that stated that of those who were labeled as “evangelicals,” nearly 57% stated that they believed that there may be alternative routes to salvation and that faith in Jesus Christ might not be the only way (contra John 14:6 and Acts 4:12).

There can only be a couple ways to interpret this.

#1 – the survey had such a broad definition of the word “evangelical” that many who were not genuinely saved responded/or were catagorized under that label and they set forth this rather unbiblical and heretical conclusion that other roads might lead to God.

#2 – the survey was accurate and it is genuinely showing that many who are “evangelicals” are being influenced more by the prevailing pluralistic culture than they are by solid biblical teaching.

Might I suggest that perhaps a combination of both may be a factor here? But something even bolder needs to be said here. If anyone claims that there is more than one way to heaven other than through faith in Jesus Christ, then they cannot rightly claim the label of “evangelical.” The exclusive claim of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation for the entire world, and this belief is a cornerstone assumption of all “evangelical” theology.

If there indeed are multiple paths into a saving relationship with God, then Jesus died for nothing, the cross has no meaning, the Scriptures are in blatant error, and we are all fools. (Look at the strong words of Paul in Galatians 1:8-9). Satan’s tactics are pretty bold – he’s going after the very heart of the Gospel itself, redefining terms and concepts (like he did in the Garden of Eden), exploiting ideas and making them sound “unloving.” It’s the same strategy that is used when some ask, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?” Such a view redefines love, and then takes that new definition and elevates it above all of God’s other attributes, pitting it against his other attributes like justice and holiness.

It is unfortunate that the term “evangelical” has been hijacked recently in American culture, where now it has been broadened to be more of a way to term a particular group of conservative voters – it has more political overtones than religious ones in some people’s eyes. I often hear, “how can the candidates court the evangelical vote?” To be sure, I do believe that Christians ought to be highly involved in voting for our leaders while standing up for issues that are in keeping with biblical truth so that we have a voice in society.

However, at the same time, I don’t believe that political action is going to change the world, only the Gospel of Christ itself could do that. That’s not to minimize our involvement, but to simply give it some perspective. But my hope is that we as evangelicals will be known for our faithfulness in believing, living out, and proclaiming the exclusive claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ more than we are known for anything else.

I am convinced that the church is suffering from lack of good teaching. These survey results are symptomatic of that. I am inspired all the more to see sound biblical teaching as the cornerstone of any ministry I am connected with.

But this still raises the question – what is an evangelical? What gives someone the right to claim that label? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, as we look at how Scripture defines it and how the church has historically understood what an evangelical Christian is and what they must believe that is in keeping with the Scriptures.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Helpful List of Theological Terms Defined

- taken from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine and Bruce Damarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation

Sin - Any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature. Man in his sinful nature, apart from any work of God, is said to be “totally depraved.”

Election - An act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved out of fallen humanity, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.

Common Grace - The grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation. It is God’s undeserved goodness to every person in the form of his general care.

Special Grace - The grace of God by which He exercises saving power. It brings forgiveness, gives us everything we need for life and godliness and is sufficient, free, takes various forms, abounds in scope, and endures forever.

General Call - Sometimes known as the “gospel call,” this is an invitation to all humanity whereby the Gospel or Good News is made known to all nations.

Effectual Call - An act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he inwardly summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith.

Regeneration - A secret act of God in which He imparts new spiritual life in us. This is sometimes referred to as being “born again,” where our spiritual nature has been “made alive,” restoring our intellectual, volitional, moral, emotional, and relational capacities to know, love, and serve God.

Conversion - Our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation. The turning from sin is called repentance, and the turning to Christ is called faith. (faith + repentance = conversion)

Union With Christ - A phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation. These relationships include the fact that we are in Christ, Christ is in us, we are like Christ, and we are with Christ.

Justification - An instantaneous legal act of God in which he 1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and 2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.

Adoption - An act of God whereby he makes us members of his family. In adoption, we have a new way of relating to God as our Heavenly Father.

Spirit Baptism - Refers to the activity of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Christian life when he gives us new spiritual life (regeneration) and cleanses us and gives us a clear break with the power and love of sin (the initial stage of sanctification).

Sanctification - A progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. This process begins at justification and is a necessary result of saving faith. The goal of sanctification is Christlikeness.

Perseverance - Means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.

Glorification - The final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunites them with their souls, and changes the bodies of all the believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Significance of Prayer

Prayer is talking to God. Prayer is also listening to God.

It is often the most neglected of privileges that a Christian has in his or her arsenal. But, when used properly, it is a mighty weapon. The God who listens is a God that can move mountains, a God who can change hearts, a God that can rearrange circumstances and overthrow tremendous obstacles. He is the God of the impossible, and many times our vision of who God is and what He can do is often way too small, and this is reflected in the amount of time we may spend in prayer.

It is true that God is sometimes less concerned with changing our circumstances and is more concerned with changing the heart and mind and perspective of the person praying. As someone has said, “Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes me.”

And if that is true then it is also true that the person who is most resistant to change and is satisfied in being self-sufficient and self made is probably a person who isn’t praying at all. When we become content with who we are (in terms of thinking we've "arrived" spiritually and are done with the need to grow), then prayer will seem irrelevant.

So when we bow our heads to pray then, we acknowledge several things. First we acknowledge our willingness to change. We also acknowledge a proper assessment of ourselves and our need for God.

But perhaps more importantly, when we bow to pray we acknowledge the Supremacy and Sovereignty of the Almighty God who grants us every breath and who holds our life utterly and completely in the palm of His hands. Prayer is a statement that says that God’s glory and His plans are far more important and necessary to know and experience than anything else. And prayer is often the way we come to know those things.

When you pray, be bold. Be specific. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by silence, and let the Holy Spirit bring to mind the things that need to be lifted up. Pray according to the truths that are revealed in Scripture. Pray with your heart and with your mind. Be willing to put your opinions before God so that He might change them or perhaps refine them. Pray with expectancy and pray with faith.

If you pray this way, then it is more likely that you will learn to pray more in keeping with God’s will. As someone has said, no one out on a boat in the water throws a rope onto a dock and expects the dock to be pulled out to him. Instead, the goal is to pull the boat to the dock. And in the same way, when we pray to God, we shouldn’t expect that God would be pulled more towards our will, but rather that our will is pulled over toward God’s.

So pray with joy, knowing that God is good, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Never Resist the Holy Spirit's Voice -- it is Life!

"Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful." - Mark 4:18-19

This text from one of Christ’s parables jumped out at me this morning.

It led me to ask the introspective question: what are the worries of life and desires for other things that may be restricting (or choking) God’s Word from achieving its purpose in my life?

Honestly, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a few things. But the next question was: what am I going to do about it? There is first recognition of the need to change, but then there has to be the willingness and desire to actually change, followed by action.

This is the dilemma one faces whenever they read something convicting from God’s Word. What does one do when the Holy Spirit speaks? Our first commitment must be to do what the writer of Hebrews emphasized when quoting the Psalmist.

"So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did.

That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' - Hebrews 3:7-10

So it is of utmost importance that we refuse to harden our hearts, or simply shake it off and ignore the Holy Spirit. If you are willing to turn away from the Holy Spirit when he puts his finger on something convicting, then how are you going to be tuned in to hearing Him speak when He has something wonderful and exciting He wants to show you (that you surely would be interested in)?

But hear the words of Proverbs 15:

"He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor." - Proverbs 15:31-33

Wisdom, understanding, honor. They are all things we would like to have. But before they are granted to us, there are things such as healthy rebukes, discipline, correction, reverence for God, and humility that must be embraced first.

Nothing is easy. Change is not easy. But change is at the core of the Christian life, and when the Holy Spirit speaks, there is blessing that awaits the one who listens and obeys. So when you hear Him speak, listen closely, fight off the urge to resist Him, and do whatever is necessary to act on it, even if it means writing it down as a reminder.

I pray that there is nothing in your life that is hindering the Holy Spirit’s voice, or as Paul says in Ephesians, I pray that there is nothing in your life that is “grieving the Holy Spirit.” Those worries, those unnecessary fears, those unholy desires – they are like spiritual cholesterol (of the bad type). They restrict the blood flow, hinder our growth, and render us ineffective, or as the text says, “unfruitful.”

Examine your life this morning. Refuse to harden your heart if God is putting his finger on something. Develop a regular pattern of listening and obeying, so that God’s blessing will never be forfeited.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Statement on Miracles

The following is a statement on miracles that is in keeping with my biblical understanding of them and their present day application to the Christian life. I post this in order to encourage any and all who are praying for miracles to firmly trust in the Sovereign God who grants them according to His will. My thanks to my Associate Pastor, Scott Hatton as we developed this statement together.

A Theological Statement On Miracles In Keeping with the Statement of Faith of Clearwater Community Church

As a church, we strongly affirm that God in His infinite wisdom and limitless power can and does act in ways that we would consider “miracles.” God is entirely sovereign over all of His creation, and can choose to work in ways that are beyond our finite understanding. In many cases, these miracles may be in response to the specific prayers of His people, yet they are always in accordance with His sovereign plans. The granting of a miracle is not simply dependent upon the faith of the petitioner, but primarily dependent upon God’s sovereignty and good pleasure in enacting His will.

We affirm, as well, that salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) is a miracle in and of itself. It is a miracle that God would choose to save and redeem sinful men and women, reconcile Himself to them, and grant them eternal life. The saving work of Jesus Christ at the cross is the ultimate example of God’s wisdom, love, holiness, and power working together for His glory and our good.

Furthermore, God acts in ways that are consistent with His character and will as revealed in the Scriptures. We acknowledge that the Bible alone is sufficient to teach us all we need to know about salvation and about how to live the Christian life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Our experience can never be a sure guide for the truth, whereas Scripture is always a clear guide for the truth and it should serve as the lens through which all experience should be interpreted.

We also acknowledge, specifically with regard to miracles of healing, that Jesus made healing – both physical and spiritual – an important element in his earthly ministry (Matthew 9:35; Luke 4:40). This use of divine power was one of the ways that our Lord expressed the love and compassion of God while at the same time substantiating Him as the Promised Messiah who had power over creation. Furthermore, the Scriptures record that the Apostles were uniquely gifted with the ability to heal (Acts 5:15, 19:12) as well. These miraculous signs occurred to glorify God and to affirm both the messengers and the message of the embryonic Christian faith. According to the New Testament itself, these sign gifts of healing and raising the dead were seemingly restricted to this particular apostolic era and were gifts that Christ himself delineated to His apostles (2 Corinthians12:12).

Yet the New Testament also gives evidence that believers are to pray for those who are sick and ailing (Galatians 6:2; James 5:13-14). It is evident that God chooses to use the prayers of His people as part of the means through which He may bring healing when it is His will to do so (James 5:16) Equally evident, however, are those instances where God did not grant a miracle of healing (2 Corinthians 12:7-9; James 1:2-4; Psalm 119:71) and these instances, too, serve God’s good purpose, and there is no indication that miraculous healing was withheld due to a lack of faith.

Christians are to have faith in God, and seek to be ever increasing in faith (Hebrews 11:6; 2 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). There is no contradiction whatsoever in placing our entire faith and hope in God Almighty, entrusting Him with our very souls, and still praying for Him to heal. God desires that we come to Him with our burdens, and that we also seek to bear the burdens of others. God, in his goodness and sovereign will may choose to answer such prayer with miraculous healing, or He may not. In either case, the weight of emphasis must always fall on God’s sovereign will, not the quantity or quality of the faith behind the prayer.

We ought to pray for greater faith, as we ought to pray for the physical and spiritual healing of ourselves and others; but more significantly we ought live and pray for the will of God to be done. The Christian woman or man ought to seek to conform her or his will to will of God; not the inverse.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Battle for Self-Discipline

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of our day as Christians is the ability to live a self-disciplined, self-controlled life. What is it that makes this practice so difficult? I would suggest at least two things. I want to be frank without sounding critical. So here goes…

1) We don’t live in a culture where this character trait is accentuated much. Americans are not known for their strict eating habits, their commitment to physical fitness, or any sense of “doing without” something. Culturally speaking, many people from foreign countries label us as rich and lazy, and so I think it is safe to say that the “quick and convenient, fast food, serve me attitude” that often can pervade our culture is not conducive to a lifestyle where self-control and self-discipline is encouraged, valued, and modeled. But when we see it, (like in the concentration level and intensity of Tiger Woods), we marvel at it.

2) Christians often struggle with the idea of what it means to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). There has not been widespread teaching on how to apply Romans 8 to the daily Christian life. But self-control is listed in Scripture as a Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). So in a sense, this makes true self-control a spiritual issue. If a Christian is walking with God and is relying on the Spirit through prayer, meditation, worship, putting off sin, etc., then God will naturally produce the kind of life that is bent towards practicing self-control. To be sure, it is very cyclical. The more you practice prayer and meditation the more the Spirit empowers you to practice prayer and meditation in a disciplined manner. This in turn will saturate the rest of your life (in many areas) so that you will then begin to notice the ability to be disciplined. They key is to start small. Take baby steps, pray about it often, find some brothers or sisters who will come alongside to encourage. But generally, simply ask God for help here, and then get started in small, tangible ways, and then the snowball will start rolling.

It is no mistake that the words discipline and discipleship come from the same root word. They are inextricably linked. As one follows Christ, the Spirit-empowered self-discipline will take hold.

A self-disciplined life is the key to freedom. That might sound contradictory on the surface, but it’s not. The life that reaps the rewards and benefits of self-discipline is truly invigorating. It is fulfilling, joy-filled, less swayed by outside circumstances (mostly because self-control gives such internal strength and stability), and is honoring to God. Self-control puts boundaries on the desires of the self, something that we fight all our lives on this side of glory. Therefore, the more we practice it the more like Christ we will become. It’s part of shedding the old and putting on the new.

On a side note, if a church is committed to practicing church discipline when necessary (in a restorative sense), then it also by nature has to be a church that emphasizes formative discipline in the lives of its members (in a constructive, discipleship sense). Be what it may, self-control may seem hard, but the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes…if you are leaning on the Holy Spirit.

Here’s a pray that we might want to pray together:

Lord, you know how hard it is. So please empower me with the strength to embrace a life of self-control. Apart from you I can do nothing. May the Spirit discipline my mind and heart. Help me to start small. Grant me the consistency to stay with it. In fact, please bring people into my life who will serve as encouragers and even role models for me in this area, so that I may glorify you with a self-disciplined life. Lord, I need victory here, and I know that it comes from a daily mind that is fixed on you. I want to experience the fulfillment that comes from this life, and I need your Spirit to help me. For as Scripture says,

“The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”

Proverbs 13:4

I pray in Christ’s Name, Amen.


As always, I look forward to your comments.

Monday, June 16, 2008

What does it mean to glorify God? (Part 2)

Ok, so what? How does this affect my everyday life? How does the command to glorify God impact my attitudes, actions, conversations, dreams, goals, and relationships?

I am reminded of the old hymn that we used to sing (and still do), which says “turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” If a person is striving to glorify God in everything they do, and wants to commit themselves to that end, then as they rely upon the Holy Spirit to help them change, there will be noticeable attitudes and actions that will begin to emerge. The things of this world will hold less appeal in comparison to “seeing and savoring” God.

Our goal is to develop an all-consuming “God-centeredness” to our lives. It is a focus that will gradually lead us towards a mindset that seeks to abandon the focus on the self (self-centeredness, selfishness, and self-sufficiency). In some older theological writings, this is the idea of “self mortification,” or just plain “mortification.” It is dying to one’s self by putting to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), something we can only do with the help and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So point one is this: in order to glorify God in my life I must be committed to doing away with or putting aside the things in my life that put the focus on or feed the desires of the sinful self. Those things are nothing but roadblocks that prevent others from seeing Christ in me. And how could God’s fame and reputation be enhanced by my life if I am involved in things that prevent others from seeing Christ in me?

So first practical application – commit myself to forsaking any known sin. Examine my heart. Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal it to me. Confess. Admit. Forsake. Stay away. Maybe even have someone else ask me and hold me accountable to it (a rather mature thing to do). This is essentially, repentance, which in itself glorifies God by putting the spotlight on the cross, where Jesus paid for sin. It is strange to think this, but yes indeed, a place where God was glorified was on the cross. Such a wrathful event also glorified God at the same time. And since Christ paid for my sin, then I in response should be willing to forsake it (see Romans 6).

Point two is this: in order to glorify God in my life, I must discover what God’s will for my life is and pursue it. This obviously includes point one above, but more than that, it is a commitment to understanding the positive character shaping power of the Holy Spirit as well as to commit myself to certain actions/activities that are designed by nature to exalt and glorify God. For example:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

I was in campus ministry for many years, and whenever a college student came up to me and told me they were struggling to know God’s will for their life this is where I would point them. For how could one be in a position to know the unknown and future will of God (regarding specifics) for their life when they have not first committed themselves to living the already revealed will of God for their lives? Wisdom comes from discernment, and discernment comes from being spiritually disciplined in what God has already said is clearly His will for your life.

So living and pursuing God’s will for one’s life is a means of glorifying God. Study and memorize Scripture, pray heartfelt prayers often, fellowship with other believers, serve others, be joyful and thankful, use your giftedness to encourage and build up the church. Live sacrificial lives, giving generously. As you do these things, you will find that the Holy Spirit will empower you for them and in the process will develop your character to become more like Jesus, which is the end goal of the Christian life – Christlikeness. And Christlikeness is a person’s life is glorifying to God.

This all may seem simple. Well, guess what? It is. It’s supposed to be. The Christian life is simplicity – simple satisfaction in Christ and less attachment to the world. Fixing minds on things above and not on earthly things. Dying to self and living for God, commiting oneself to obedience, walking in faith, trusting in God for all things. Living a life of love. Serving. If a person tries to make the Christian life more complicated than that, then stay away from that person – they may have an unhealthy interest in man-made rules and traditions that make one look more spiritual than they really are. You just stick to the basics, and let God get the credit for everything.

But still, isn’t there more application than this?

Listen, if you are walking with the Lord and are testing everything, forsaking known sin, reading the Word and letting it shape you, praying regularly, serving others out of love and joy, then guess who it is who is shaping the desires of your heart? God is. And God’s will for your life is being realized naturally. Simple? Yes, simple. Note the Scripture below:

“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
Philippians 2:12b-13

If you are working “out” your salvation as described above, then you need to understand that God is working at the same time, and he is the One who is (dare I say, “causing”) you to have certain desires and to perform certain actions that are in keeping with His will and that in the end will bring glory to God.

Ask yourself the following in the following areas:
1) Attitudes – does my attitude about something reflect God’s priorities in life or my sinful ones? Is my attitude shaped more by circumstances or by the internal relationship and trust that I have placed in Christ who reigns over me? Is my attitude similar to the selfless attitude that Christ had (see Philippians 2)?

2) Actions – is what I’m doing more inclined to enhance my reputation or God’s? This kind of gets to motives, which will always reveal itself eventually in actions. Are my actions then in keeping with the behavior and good works that exalt the name of Christ – because really, He has prepared some things for me to do that are specifically designed for that purpose (Eph 2:10).

3) Conversations­ – does this conversation build up others? Will it help someone else be inspired towards pursuing the things of God? Now wait here, aren’t some conversation neutral? Like isn’t it great that the Cubs are in first place? Well, yes, we can talk about that – and that conversation may not inspire someone to pursue the things of God, but indirectly it is building commonality, friendship, enjoyment of life, communication, and all those things are good – gifts of God I say. Perhaps more specifically here we can just watch to make sure that no

“…unwholesome talk comes out of our mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

- Ephesians 4:29

That seems to be a good rule of thumb for knowing if I am glorifying God in this area of my life.

4) Dreams and goals – pursuing what you know God has designed you and gifted you to do is a major aspect of glorifying God. For example, one of my wife’s gifts is photography, and the more she pursues and uses it the more her gift gives testimony to God’s glory since He is the one who gave her the gift in the first place. So in doing what we are good at, and doing it in such a way that it has a positive impact on others is all a way to glorify God with your life. Just remember, when we use our gifts we are “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

5) Relationships­ – committing yourself to purity, considering others as better than yourself, serving someone else with a sacrificial love that seeks to cause them to grow (Ephesians 5:25ff). All this is glorifying to God. Taking an interest in the spiritual growth of others is a priority that is often missed among many Christians today. But it is one of the main reasons why we exist – especially as a church.

All this is what it means to glorify God – to point everything to Christ and to encourage others in such a way that they do the same. Even being good stewards of creation is a way to glorify God because we are valuing what God has made, which places value on God himself as its author.

Sorry, this blog entry is too long. But the topic is so huge. I must learn to control myself a little better, lest I lose you. I’ll try to work on that. In the meantime, if you take the advice of John the Baptist, “He [that being Christ]must increase, and I must decrease,” then you are on the right path to what it means to glorify God. It is the greatest life in the world. Fulfilling, and ultimately rewarding – if not in this life, then surely the life to come.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What does it mean to glorify God? (part 1)

Good question. It is a phrase that is tossed around like popcorn in Christian circles. “It is our goal to glorify God in everything we do.” That phrase seems a little elusive until one understands what it really means. Initially, it leads us to ask the questions: why does God need to be glorified? Is He arrogant? Is He prideful? Is He missing something that He needs to get from us so that He feels better about Himself?

All of these questions are based on a false premise. They stem primarily from human experience, and in asking them this way we are projecting back on God things that we know are true from human life in a sinful world. The reality is, God is completely perfect and sufficient and is not in need of anything outside of himself. This is not true for us, for we are wholly dependent on outside sources for our very survival. We are dependent on food and water and air to breathe. God has no need for any of those things. He is perfect and deserving of all worship and praise since he is the source of all things (Col. 1:15-23).

So then, to say that we need to glorify God, we are not saying that we need to add something to God that is lacking in His who He is, as if He is empty and needy and is in dire need for others to revere Him so that He can become more complete. Nor is it to say that God has any sinful pride that needs fed. He is holy.

Ok then, what are we saying? What does it mean to glorify God? Simply put, to glorify God is to praise and worship Him for who He is and to enhance is His reputation above anything else in the universe. Thus, the Westminster Confession (a reformed statement of faith adopted by the Church of England in 1646) states clearly that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This says something about God and it says something about us.

What it says about God is that He alone is the One who is worthy of worship, adoration, and praise. He is the center of the universe and the purpose of all life. But it also says something about us and that is this: we are by nature designed and created for God’s glory, and so all that we do and say ought to be done towards that purpose. We live not for ourselves, but for Him. Consider these two Scriptures:

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth -- everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."
Isaiah 43:6-7, NIV

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16, NIV

(some versions translate it as, “glorify your Father who is in heaven.”, which is more accurate according to the Greek. Sometimes the NIV lightens things a bit).

So you and I exist for the select purpose of glorifying God, to enhance His reputation. We were made to worship Him, to revere Him, to find our primary sense of fulfillment and purpose in nothing else than in Him alone. That’s why we were made. Simple. In a crude illustration, if we want someone’s reputation be known or enhanced we talk that person up. We tell others about that person. We might make signs and billboards and do things that will get others to notice the person whose reputation we want to accentuate. (Dare I say, it’s like putting a sign in your yard to promote a candidate for office.) This leads me to my second point.

According to Jesus in Matthew 5, every good deed we perform ought to be designed towards enhancing the reputation of God. Every action, no matter how small. In fact Paul went much further. Not only our good deeds ought to do this, but practically everything should be for this purpose. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That’s pretty comprehensive.

Ok, so what? How does this affect my everyday life? How does the command to glorify God impact my attitudes, actions, conversation, dreams, goals, and relationships? Well tune in later, as this will be the subject of part 2 of this blog in the days to come.

John Piper calls glorifying God a “joyful duty.” Well said. This is not a command made to make us miserable, but in actuality, we are never more satisfied and fulfilled than when we are bent towards glorifying God. Like John the Baptist said, “He must become greater, I must become less.” More of Jesus, less of me. And when that starts to happen, then I will find the real me, the “me” God created me to be.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

What in the World is Going On?

Recent events have led people to ask, what is happening to the world we live in? Tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes (cyclones), tsunamis, earthquakes, disasters that kill thousands. Is it getting worse, or even more, are these the birth pangs of the end of this age and the Second Coming of Christ? A few truths that we must acknowledge are this:

1) Each day that we live is a day closer to the end. Plain and simple, the church age will not last forever. Prophecy will come true, and the time is drawing nigh. It is closer now than ever before, and may soon be around the corner. So we wait in anticipation and serve the Lord with a sense of urgency.

2) The earth is decaying. The older it gets, the more the effects of the fall from the book of Genesis will take hold. Don't expect the earth to renew itself on its own. Like us, it is suffering the results of living in a sinful world, and according to the book of Romans, it waits in eager anticipation for God to make the next dynamic move in history (Romans 8:19-22). Oh sure, the earth may go through different cycles where it has seasons of rest verses seasons of destruction or unrest, but it is getting worse, and will not be progressively getting better. So don't be surprised if these disasters seem to be more intense and more frequent. Jesus did say that things like this will increase towards the end (Matthew 24:7).

3) The effect of the split second ability to have breaking news from around the globe has increased our information in major ways. No wonder it seems like these things are happening more and more. Truth be told, these things have been happening for centuries. We just have the capacity to learn about them quicker and more often. Yet still, the earth seems to be really active, don't you think?

So now, with all of that being said, is there still a greater sense that the earth is communicating to us that Christ is coming soon? For me, I sense in my spirit that things are indeed moving much closer to His Coming. Jesus did criticize the unbelieving Jews for their utter inability to discern the times in Matthew 16:1-4 (as if He expected that they should be able to). We who are filled with the Spirit ought to have much more discernment capabilities than them. And you cannot help but look at the world situation (national disasters, wars, political posturing, unrest in the Middle East, etc.) and not "feel" in your heart that things are more intense than ever before in history. There is a lot of satanically inspired hatred for the truth of God that is much more widespread. And the earth is telling us something too.

Therefore, we should get ready. The Return of Christ, or the "Blessed Hope" as it is called, is indeed on its way... soon. Paul told us in Titus 2:11-14 that in light of His coming, and in view of our salvation (that is speeding towards its consummation in a deeper sense), we ought to be very careful and attentive to how we live. We should rid ourselves of ungodly and worldly passions, to live with profound self-control, so that we are blameless and godly before the world's eyes. Our lives ought to be a powerful testimony to the truth of God that we have believed in. As Christians living in the end days, we have a corporate witness to maintain before the world that is perishing. Therefore, we ought to be intentional and purposeful, committed to purity, and "eager to do what is good."

He is coming soon, so I say to you Christian, live hard after God's will. Pursue it passionately. Eagerly plead with others to turn to Christ. Watch your life closely. Guard your heart from the stains of the world that desensitizes our ability to have spiritual discernment. Pray regularly, and obey when conviction comes. God is speaking. He is speaking through nature, He is speaking through His Word, and He is speaking into the hearts of those who have the Spirit who are listening.

The Lord is near... are you ready? Does your life show it? Does your heart long for it? Birth pangs are happening. All I have to say is "come quickly Lord," not because I am discontent and unhappy with my life today, but because I long to see the face of the One who died for me, and I desire to see His justice, righteousness, and glory to fill the face of the earth in the fullest sense. So let's get busy...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Head Knowledge vs. Heart Knowledge

Let us not become foolish and think that a mere gain of intellectual knowledge or an assent to factual truths about God is enough to qualify us or make us fit for life in the kingdom of God. God requires more than head knowledge, but rather He looks upon the heart. The men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 were well aware of all the facts about Jesus – the fact that He was a prophet and even more – the hope of Israel. They even knew details about His resurrection.

But Jesus’ rebuke was firm and to the point. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe.” These men knew the truth, but their hearts were not engaged with it. They had seen and heard the Word, the One who was with God and the One who was God. Yet having met him, they were still lacking the very thing that God requires – simple faith.

There should be no misunderstanding of the primary lesson here. There is everything to be gained through the acquisition of truth whereby the mind is filled with the knowledge of God. Our minds must firmly be fixed on things above. Yet truth that is not believed and obeyed is meaningless. It is knowledge that simply puffs up, making us all the more accountable, condemned, and sentenced to judgment. We may think we can call Him “Lord,” but in the end we are just goats that never knew Him.

The Bible firmly establishes the truth that to know God is to experience Him, to believe Him, to submit and surrender to Him, to obey Him. This is such that the Apostle Paul even cried for a deeper walk with God when he exclaimed in his letter to Philippi, “I want to know Christ.” Here a man well reasoned and seasoned in the Law of God, first among his peers in education and training, and an Apostle with access to direct revelation, still pleads with an unquenchable thirst to simply “know” God. This was his heart cry, to be sure – not his head cry.

Therefore, let us not abandon academic pursuit, for this is how the Spirit transforms our minds and grants us insight into the will of God (Romans 12). Yet there is more to be gained in the kingdom than facts. To be sure, the essence of the kingdom is a reigning God in a surrendered and obedient heart. It is the cultivation of the life of God in a person’s soul, his character, and subsequent actions. It is a fountain overflowing. It is a life producing fruit that will last – a natural spring that yields that which is pure. And this is the balance we must keep, where head and heart work together, empowered and moved by the Spirit.

I would rather be a pauper working in the vineyard of my God where the fruit yields a rich harvest than a prince at a table of intellectual eggheads who feel very important that they know what epistemology or progressive dispensationalism means. Yet I do not toss the baby out with the bathwater. A growing Christian should know the truths of progressive dispensationalism – and then live out their place in the story. This is the heart of what it means to know truth – to know it, believe it, and live it out joyfully. This is the life that is truly life. May it be so. Amen.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

There is a Time for Everything...

'Tis time for me to blog. About time. Being a pastor, each day brings a whole hosts of joys and challenges. In some ways its a roller coaster. There are days when one rides high with the joyful news of great blessings upon God's people, and then there are those other days when one carries the burdens of those who are experiencing the dark night of the soul. Who is equal to such a task? Only the one who lives in fellowship and dependency on God's Spirit, who does everything they can to forsake confidence in their own flesh and abilities. Sometimes I can do this well and sometimes I fail miserably. But there is no greater privilege than to be a worker in the vineyard of the Lord, watching Him build His kingdom and change human hearts. My prayer is that this blog will not only be a place to capture the joys of life, but that it will also be a place where God is worshipped and others are blessed.