Thursday, July 2, 2015

Downward Spirals

When confronted with the consequences of sin, most people react in denial or avoidance—much the same way as when confronted with the actual committal leading to this point.  Regularly, what begins as a rationalization for acceptance of conduct in relation to other societal behavior turns to disbelief and blame when faced with the ultimate ends of the behavior.  When a group has been complicit, the reaction intensifies exponentially, making clear thinking even more problematic.  Over past millennia, governments and nations have fallen insisting that their course of action is proper for the citizenry, when in fact, it is the opposite.  Peer pressure to accept or abide government-sanctioned sin works as an added control of dissident thought—truth.

Illustration by Harry Clarke
Eventually, the national situation becomes dire and extreme measures are required.  In order to avoid the worst, authorities have turned to their great thinkers for counsel: “How can the inevitable be prevented?  What should we do?”  Like the doomed vessel of Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” the nation is dragged into a continual downward spiral.  Unwise counsel will say, “Weather the storm.  We have done so before and can again.”  Those folding fast to the ship of state and such counsel for safety are doomed.  The scripturally faithful leader is able to ascertain the true condition and necessary corrective via the more secure, but counter-intuitive, promises.

National leaders with a modicum of spiritual understanding will seek out the biblical counsel, however their intentions may be masked until counsel has been given.  The wise leader will takes heed, acknowledges the national error, and throws himself on God’s mercy.  The vast majority, however, reject the truth, accuse the counselor of lying for personal or political gain, and instead attempt political means, even through foreign relations, to evade the undoubted fallout.  Yet in the midst of this political maneuvering, national leaders keep the godly leader close at hand, as if he might act as a lifeboat or flotation device to whom they might cling in vain effort to pulled into the abyss.  Once again, these measures will fail.

Along the way, people will ask why the calamity has come with no end of analysis on how this could have been averted and where we go from here.  The man of God will make known the truth of how the people abandoned Almighty God for idols of their own making.  The surprising retort comes that the leaders knew full well what they did and are glad of it, because their actions formerly led to prosperity—the very thing the people wanted.  They appeal to the goodness of the conditions that bring about collapse.

Reader, you may be assuming that I have been writing of the current woes in the United States concerning the validation of homosexual marriage by the Supreme Court.  That is not the case, nor is this a look at the economic collapse happening with Greece.  Either would fit, as might any past regime.  Some might even wonder if the U.S. is “too big to fail.”  (Where have we heard that before?  2008 anyone?)  The U.S.S.R. is a stark example of super-power that can fall almost overnight.  My example nation is much older than those from modern history.  It comes from the pages of the Bible through the prophet Jeremiah (42-45).  The vestiges of the small, but mighty, nation of Israel had fallen in ruin because they had forsaken their God.  If any nation could claim Scripture as the basis for their government, this is it.  Their constitution was the Scriptures, yet as a people, they had determined that the “welfare” of the nation superseded their allegiance to the Lord of all Who called them to be a people.  They tried to use their privileged position as a hedge and considered themselves too big to fail.  Regardless of how large or small the nation, when the people do not have a regard for biblical principles in their rule, implosion is inevitable.*

Can national repentance stave off the collapse?  Perhaps, but let us think more locally and pray that those who name the name of Christ in my city or locale will seek the Lord, so that the gospel might go forth in clarity.  The Great Shepherd will gather His flock: He will build His church.


*  Lest you think I am advocating something I have not said, let me state that America is not Israel.  It never has been, nor ever will be.  We are not, nor ever have been, a Christian nation.  The Founding Fathers did have a healthy regard for the Bible, which colored their approach to our governing principles.  Also, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not a promise for Americans to claim that God will heal the U.S.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Living in Light of That Day

If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  (1 Cor 3:14)

Recently, O blindness, I worshiped images produced from the furnace, gods made on anvils and by hammers, the bones of elephants, paintings, wreaths on aged trees.  Whenever I looked on an anointed stone daubed with olive oil, as if some power resided in it I worshiped it; I addressed myself to it and begged blessings from a senseless stock.  And these very gods of whose existence I had convinced myself, I treated with gross insults, when I believed them to be wood, stone, and bones, or imagined that they dwelt in the substance of such objects.  Now, having been led into the paths of truth by so great a Teacher, I know what all these things are, I entertain honorable thoughts concerning those which are worthy, I offer no insult to any divine name; and what is due to each, whether inferior or superior, I assign with clearly-defined gradations, and on distinct authority.  Is Christ, then, not to be regarded by us as God?  And is He, who in other respects may be deemed the very greatest, not to be honored with divine worship, from whom we have already received while alive so great gifts, and from whom we expect greater ones when “the Day” comes?

Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Pagans I.39

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Believers and Christ in Revelation

Overcoming Believers Overcoming Christ
Eat of the tree of life (2:7) The "water" of the tree of life comes from his throne (22:1-3)
Not be hurt by the second death (2:11) Holds the keys of death (1:18)
Will be given new manna and a new name (2:17) Is the new manna (cf. John 6) and has the greatest name (22:12-13)
Will be given authority over the nations as Christ was given from his Father (2:27-28) Has the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14; 19:16)
Will not have name erased, but Christ will confess it before the Father (3:5) Christ decides whose names will be confessed before the Father (3:5; cf. 1:18; 2:7; 22:12)
Will be made a pillar in God's temple (3:12) God and the Lamb are the temple (21:22)
Will be given a place to sit on Christ's throne as he overcame and sat on his Father's throne (3:21) Receives universal worship while sharing his Father's throne, which is the throne of God and the Lamb (5:12-14; 22:3)

Robert M. Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place

Monday, June 29, 2015

Law and Grace

A few thousand years ago, a nation of people descended from the same person were assembled at the base of a mountain in the Middle East, which was covered with thick, dark, thundering clouds.  In Exodus 20, God gave to Moses His “Ten Commandments” or more properly “Ten Words.”  If I would ask you how God, there at Sinai, began His proclamation, what would be your answer?  I dare say that 90% of you would respond, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  And you would be wrong.  The first words were, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Do you hear what He said?  YHWH introduced Himself as both the God of all power and the God of all grace!  The people were brought out of Egypt, not because of something they had done or merited, but because our God is a promise-keeping God. It was all for His name's sake.  Israel was the beneficiary.

Grace at the beginning of the Law—how can that be?  In giving the Law, God declared Himself to be altogether holy, demanding no less for His people.  The Ten Commandments encapsulate the Law with “You shall …” and “You shall not …”.  I cannot help but wonder if, when the Lord had finished the statements on coveting, the people may have wanted to retract their agreement: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Ex 19:8).  How will they follow through on their end of this?  Perhaps a better question is: How would you?

Because God is Lord of all, He is free to demand things from His people.  He sets stipulations and expectations, and we are obligated to fully follow and obey.  Go through the commandments and compare your life to the list.  How do you compare?
  • •  You shall have no other God's before Me – Have you placed something before God?
  • •  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain – Have you scandalized His name?
  • •  You shall honor your father and your mother – Have you dishonored your parents?
  • •  You shall not steal – Have you taken something that is not yours?
  • •  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – Have you passed along information about someone that was not true? Or turned out to be not true?
To these questions, you might reply “Yes” or “Too often” or “Sometimes.”  If you said “No” to any, you simply do not understand the problem.  An honest look exposes our inability to keep them.  How, then, would anyone uphold his end of the agreement?  He doesn't—God does.  These were written looking forward to a completion as God promised His active sanctifying work in the one who lived by faith.  But here too mankind failed, and the Law damns both them and us because none can keep it.

The Law is holy, righteous, and good, but was wholly inadequate in that it could never take away the root problem—our sin.  Sacrifices were prescribed to cover sin, one for one, as a constant reminder that none was sufficient to perfect the believer.  A final sacrifice needed to be made—one that could overcome the devastating effects and consequences of sin for all people and all time.  To bring this about, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, took on human nature and willingly went to the cross to die, and not just die, but gloriously rise again, to demonstrate His victory over sin, death, and the Devil.  The Law is fulfilled.  No condemnation remains for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Requiem for a Brother

Yesterday, there was a memorial service for a brother in Christ who had died unexpectedly and suddenly at age 64.  Occasionally, there is time at a memorial for those in attendance to share their remembrances, and so, as is my custom, I had prepared brief remarks.  The service was more scripted with appropriate music, a solid message sharing the gospel, and one eulogy that captured the deceased’s life in Christ.  That being the case, I decided to share below what I had.



I served with Steve Ball on the deacon board, and what I most noted of him was a constant refrain from all who remembered him: he was a servant.  Every willing and ready to help where needed, he was a tireless worker when the need arose.  He did his work without fanfare and exemplified the Biblical standard to do everything
not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ.  (Col 3:22-24)
That will be sorely missed.

I was also in a small group that Steve and Coleen were part of, and since his death, I have had multiple conversations in which the subject was broached that our study group was literally dying off.  You see, in less than a year and a half, three of our number have left this life and entered the presence of their Lord.  In a way, we are getting used to it.

As I considered this more, I could not help but be glad for those who have gone before.  Even now Steve and the others are joining angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in praising God for all He is and all He has done.  What joy for them, but not just for them, because each Sunday morning, we get to join our voices in the chorus of all who have died in Christ.  We look forward to a day when we shall also be with those who have gone before, not simply to reminisce or enjoy each other’s company, but to join with the throng in giving all glory, laud, and honor to our King.

Until that time, we await—sometimes patiently, sometimes not—to be with our Lord Jesus.  We long for the day of His return, but we may die instead.  Either way, we look forward to a resurrection and eternity with the One who died to save us.  And that is worth waiting for.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Disciple-Making and Worship

Recently, David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, identified weaknesses in what has become a de facto church-plant model and summarized it this way:
Beyond this there are little variations: a video clip here, a testimony there. But the look, feel and even the doctrine of these church plants are virtual carbon copies of one another. We haven’t had this much conformity in worship since the days of medieval Catholicism.
At first, that may appear to be a good thing.  After all, Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church (John 17:11).  However, may I suggest that the reason church plants all look the same is because the “mother” congregations are already using this organization; or those starting the plants are using the model as a way to break with traditionalism.  Pragmatism drives the push for this model: if it works, we need to catch the wave and follow suit.  It is a stage presentation meant to draw people into the building, not make disciples; or if they are being made, growth is sporadic or anemic.  What presuppositions drive the poor disciple-making practices?

In modern Evangelical parlance, the Christian life is a two-step process: 1) hear the gospel and believe, and 2) become a disciple by according to whatever biblical markers are used as systematized by a particular denomination.  These two are more properly referred to as justification and sanctification.  While scripture certainly does speak of them separately, they are not regarded so much as two steps for the believer, but as two works performed by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.  But believers are disciples.  We can see this when we look at our Lord’s closing instruction to the eleven:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (John 28:18-20)
A disciple is made by being baptized and taught.  There is no extra step.  You are a disciple, or you are not.  This is the same process used in Jesus’ ministry as He went out proclaiming “Repent, for kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17).  Those who repented were baptized (John 3:22, 26; 4:1-3) and taught, thus immediately becoming disciples.  We see this played out on the Day of Pentecost as Peter preached a sermon provoking repentance:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.… So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  (Acts 2:37-41)
Later in Acts, the growth of the Church is referred to as an increase in disciples, not as an increase in believers (Acts 6:1-2, 7).  These continued as disciples, though we do see that some turned back as when Jesus’ teaching became hard (John 6:60-66).  One can argue whether their faith was genuine, however all who were baptized and taught were called disciples as they actively followed Christ.

The two-stage approach of the Christian life has caused a mindset that all activities on Sunday morning be designed to bring people into the building and help them be comfortable.  If sin, righteous, and judgment are mentioned, they are presented as something keeping you away from a close, loving relationship with God; and while that is technically true, it leaves open the thought that the listener can try harder to improve the relationship by being a better person.  The truth is that only because of the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus can anyone hope to enter into or grow in those things promised through the gospel.

If Christ is to be preĆ«minent, why are clear Law and Gospel texts in song and sermon being replaced with texts that are about me and my life?  Why are people and programs promoted more than the Savior?  Should not Sunday worship be a complete immersion into all that God has wrought in Christ?  Isn’t that where the disciple is most enlivened?  Rather than a place of comfort, the worship service should be a place where Christ is presented, openly and boldly, for all to feed on and for which we return our praise.  Disciples are being formed and fed on Sunday morning.  When the full force of God’s Law is delivered, both believer and unbeliever will squirm in their need; and when the full sweetness of the Gospel is offered, both will see the abundance of grace for sin.  Though the response may vary, the offer is clear.  Whatever someone’s spiritual condition, Christ’s atoning work will have been proclaimed and the Almighty Triune God will have been exalted.

Why am I pressing this?  Let's face facts: many of those who sit in the pews on a given Sunday will not read their Bibles or study any catechetical material for the remainder of the week.  These need substantive spiritual nourishment from the shepherd of the local flock, since he is the only biblical source of their knowledge.  The remainder will eat in pastures of varying nutritional value—some beneficial, another sweet to the taste but souring the stomach, and possibly a few swallowing poison.  Here, too, the shepherd has a lead role, guiding the flock to where good pasture can be found.  The Chief Shepherd warned of both goatherds and wolves who care nothing for the sheep save for fleecing or chewing them up.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  (1 Pet 5:1-4)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Paradoxical Person


God … But Christ … And Yet He …
Is eternal (Psa 90:2; Isa 43:10) Was born (Matt 1:18) Always existed (John 8:58; Col 1:17)
Is immutable (Psa 102:26-27) Grew (Luke 2:40, 52) Is also immutable (Heb 1:10-12)
Is omnipresent (Psa 139:7-10) Was one place at a time (John 11:21, 32) Could act from afar (John 4:46-54)
Knows all things (Isa 41:22-23) Did not know the day or hour (Mark 13:32) Knew all things (John 16:30; 21:17)
Is incorporeal (John 4:24) Has a body (John 2:21; Col 2:9) Cannot be seen (1 Tim 6:16)
Is not a man (Num 23:19) Is a man (1 Tim 2:5) Is also God (John 20:28)
Cannot be tempted (Jas 1:13) Was tempted (Heb 4:15) Could not sin (John 5:19)
Does not get tired (Isa 40:28) Got tired (John 4:6) Did all God’s will (John 17:4)
Cannot die (1 Tim 1:17) Died (Phil 2:8) Could not have his life taken (John 10:18)

Robert M. Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place

Friday, June 19, 2015

He Is Worthy of Our Praise

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.  (Eph 3:20-21)

But in the meantime let us grant, in submission to your ideas, that Christ was one of us—similar in mind, soul, body, weakness, and condition; is He not worthy to be called and to be esteemed God by us, in consideration of His bounties, so numerous as they are?  For if you have placed in the assembly of the gods [those deities who discovered natural items and uses]—with how great distinctions is He to be honored by us, who, by instilling His truth into our hearts, has freed us from great errors; who, when we were straying everywhere, as if blind and without a guide, withdrew us from precipitous and devious paths, and set our feet on more smooth places; who has pointed out what is especially profitable and salutary for the human race; who has shown us what God is, who He is, how great and how good; who has permitted and taught us to conceive and to understand, as far as our limited capacity can, His profound and inexpressible depths; who, in His great kindness, has caused it to be known by what founder, by what Creator, this world was established and made; who has explained the nature of its origin and essential substance, never before imagined in the conceptions of any; whence life-giving warmth is added to the rays of the sun; why the moon, forever in her motions, is believed to alternate her light and her obscurity from intelligent causes; what is the origin of animals, what rules regulate seeds; who designed man himself, who fashioned him, or from what kind of material did He compact the very build of bodies; what the perceptions are; what the soul, and whether it flew to us of its own accord, or whether it was generated and brought into existence with our bodies themselves; whether it sojourns with us, partaking of death, or whether it is gifted with an endless immortality; what condition awaits us when we shall have separated from our bodies relaxed in death; whether we shall see or have no recollection of our former sensations or of past memories; who has restrained our arrogance, and has caused our necks, uplifted with pride, to acknowledge the measure of their weakness; who hath shown that we are creatures imperfectly formed, that we trust in vain expectations, that we understand nothing thoroughly, that we know nothing, and that we do not see those things which are placed before our eyes; who has guided us from false superstitions to the true religion,—a blessing which exceeds and transcends all His other gifts; who has raised our thoughts to heaven from brutish statues formed of the vilest clay, and has caused us to hold conversation of thanksgiving and prayer with the Lord of the universe.

Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Pagans I.38

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dealing with Blind Spots

Last month, Bob Heyton at Fundamentally Reformed mentioned a new book from Crossway entitled Blind Spots.  The intriguing part of his post was the ten-question quiz designed to identify in which of three basic categories one falls (courageous, compassionate, or commissioned) and its natural blind spot.  These quizzes often times use answers that do not apply, leaving one wishing for “None of the above,” but in order to get reasonable results, they give the most likely responses and ask for the reader to pick the closest one (think Family Feud).  Consider the first question in the quiz:

  • Which book is most likely to make your reading list?
  • A.  The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
  • B.  The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
  • C.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Alas, there was no choice that interested me.  Since none was available, The Hiding Place seemed the most likely.  After this initial bump in the road, the remainder was easier, though the questions would be problematic for those with other theological or philosophical inclinations.

Certainly, these quizzes can be “gamed” so that the outcome becomes what one deems, however I decided to play things straight and see what happened.  Not unexpectedly, the result showed that I was “courageous.”  According to the book author, the courageous person is steadfast for truth, having a passion to study “Bible, church history, and theology so you can know and defend the teaching of Christ.”  Guilty as charged.

With every strength, there is a blind spot or failing.  We are sinners after all, and none of us is thoroughly balanced in every respect, though we might look forward to that in the resurrection.  The courageous person has a propensity to be combative.

Who does the author think he is?  Jerk.
I’m not being obstinate, and anybody that says so is looking for a fight.
I’m out of here!

There is also a temptation to be a “lone ranger,” but that removes the voice of biblical perspective through education and experience from the discussion, which is the opposite outcome of what is needed.  The knowledgeable person has come to his or her level of understanding through diligent effort over several years time.  Other believers will not have apprehended the same insights, though they may be of the same chronological age.  They will not gain your perspective by osmosis.  The same effort to acquire that level of knowledge and understanding must be spent on instructing others.

There is a useful question to raise here: What if the person or group I try to instruct does not listen but continues in their faulty understanding of Christianity?  That is a real concern and needs to be addressed carefully. First, ask yourself some questions:

  • • Are you missing something in your own knowledge set?  There is a reasonable possibility that you are ignorant in some area.
  • • Are people not heeding, or do they instead need time to assimilate the instruction?
  • • Is another person giving some conflicting teaching?
Be honest and fair with this inquiry, after all, you may be the problem.  Or perhaps I should say—learn how much of the problem you are.

After gaining relevant input, determine who needs to be flogged into submission or eliminated altogether.
The issue of pride

The quiz results also state that the “courageous” person has a propensity for pride.  On the one hand I say, “No duh.”  I realize my inclination to be correct and win the argument at all cost.  I can deliver a “slam dunk” for the win without caring for the individual—and have done so in the past (no brag, just fact).  The temptation is strong to apply the winning blow without regard for the opponent so that the argument presented might be adequately vanquished once for all.  While bad teaching and understanding must be corrected, believers are to be winsome and patient in their approach:
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:6)

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus … reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim 4:1-2)

Yes, there are situations that require a harsh response (Tit 1:13), but we are discern how best to deal with the problem and move forward from there.  Do not bring in a bulldozer when a properly used spade will take care of the problem and do less overall damage.
Returning to the temptation for pride, why is this personality type singled out for pride?  Believers who are more missions-minded can be proud of their evangelistic fervor, and those more compassionate in their works of help and mercy can be proud of their service to those in need.  Pride is not the sole possession of one type of individual.

I understand and respect the author’s desire to address these relational aspects of the local assembly.  These blind spots can disease and cause division if allowed to fester.  As the body of Christ, we are each gifted in special ways for the building up of the body in love:
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (Pro 10:12)
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Pet 4:8)
May we desire to see our Lord Jesus exalted as He works in and through us, both to one another and to the world.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Election: A Cause for Comfort, but Not Complacency

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  (2 Pet 1:5-10)

And since the Holy Spirit dwells in the elect, who have become believers, as in His temple, and is not idle in them, but impels the children of God to obedience to God’s commands, believers, likewise, should not be idle, and much less resist the impulse of God’s Spirit, but should exercise themselves in all Christian virtues, in all godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, brotherly love, and give all diligence to make their calling and election sure, in order that the more they experience the power and strength of the Spirit within them, the less they may doubt concerning it.  For the Spirit bears witness to the elect that they are God’s children (Rom 8:16).  And although they sometimes fall into temptation so grievous that they imagine they perceive no more power of the indwelling Spirit of God, and say with David, “I said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from before Your sight’” (Psa 31:22), yet they should, without regard to what they experience in themselves, again say with David, in the words immediately following (as is written in the same place), “But You heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried for help.”


Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration XI.73-74