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.