Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hope

I found a little article by Thomas Watson (1620-1686) on the topic of hope. Watson began like this, "Hope is a theological grace planted in the heart by the Spirit of God whereby a Christian is quickened to the expectation of those things which are held forth in the promise." There is a lot to ponder there. Here are a few thoughts on the subject of hope from this one sentence above that jump out at me.

1. Hope is a theological grace

I wonder exactly what Watson meant by this. I don't really know. I can suggest that it is a summarizing statement, stating that hope both has God-ward content, is God-ward in its focus, and is gifted by God Himself for our good. It is a "theological grace."


2. Hope is planted in the heart

Hope's "seat" is the heart. It is a seed that is planted there and sprouts forth and grows. It all begins in the heart. As it grows, it begins to poke itself through the heart and spill out into everything we touch, everything we do, and everyone we interact with.


3. Hope is planted in the heart by the Spirit of God

It is not something we can muster or create. It is, like faith itself, like repentance, something given by God. It is planted in the heart by Him. It is something worked in us by Someone else. This is an affront to our human sensibilities, like all of the truths are that illuminate the harsh reality of our spiritual inabilities, but it is good because it establishes hope itself, for we know that He who has the power to give it is gracious and merciful.


4. With hope, the Christian is quickened to the expectation of things held forth in the promise.

I am reminded of a series John Piper did called "future grace". Piper talked about how faith includes an element of expectation of the glory to come in our future. There is something of an eternal perspective to hope. There is a "quickening" involved. We were dead to these things, but then we are made alive -and we are made alive to, among other things, the expectation of things held forth in the promise of the Gospel.


5. The things hoped for, which are "held forth in the promise" are true things, external things, objective things.

All of those things promised to us in the Gospel are true things -even as simple as the promise of life and righteousness contained in Christ, Himself. The Belgic Confession reminds us, "For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely." (Article 22) With this salvation is hope of a bright and sure future. Paul said, "and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. " (Romans 8:30) All justified are glorified. We shall be glorified. We shall be with Him, like Him, conformed into His image, free from sin, free from corruption.


I long for more hope. I would like to not just know "I am safe now, I am forgiven and acceptable to God". I would like to have that eternal perspective, that the living hope would be brighter. Often it seems non-existent, or rather that I am just not considering it or being mindful of the hope that is ahead. There is a lot to think about here. What manner of sin and hardness is obscuring the hope that is so plainly and objectively laid out before me in His promises? May we fall in utter trust and dependence upon God, the Giver of all good gifts.

Lord, have mercy upon me and others who are so blind to hope. Plant this seed within our soul if it is missing, and if it is there and just hidden, then water this seed, Lord, and bring the increase. Grow it so that it would penetrate our hearts and send roots through our entire being. Overcome our dullness, our hardness, our worldly-mindedness and restore in us a burning and bright hope that would be for your glory. In Christ's name. Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Time for Urgency

It is 2:09am on Tuesday morning. About 30 minutes ago I had written a fairly lengthy post for the blog, but I lost it because the stupid internet connection died. Figures, right? Why am I up so early and unable to fall back to sleep? At 1:00am I was awakened by my wife. She came in to tell me that our friend, Barry, had died. He had been suffering for a while, terribly in the past two years, with lymphedema and hepatitis. I can't remember his exact age right now, but I know he was only in his 50's.

It was just two weeks ago that we last saw him. I don't think we all saw him together as a family since we moved back in February. The kids were so excited to see him, though he looked absolutely awful. We talked about all kinds of stuff, and nothing in particular. We talked about Italian food and the new Italian restaurant. He was so excited to hear about it that he wanted take-out right then, at 9:00pm! The worst thing, looking back, was how elated my 5-year-old daught was to see him. When we left, she skipped out the front door saying, "Bye, Barry! Get better soooooon!"

When my wife told me of his death, a bunch of things went through my mind. The first major thing was an image of him dying and then "waking up" to torment. Barry was not a believer in Jesus Christ, and, as we know, it is a sad fact that everyone outside of Christ receives justice for their sins from our Holy God. After we visited him two weeks ago, my wife and I discussed buying him a book that would touch upon some of his objections to Christ and would present Christ to him. I know Barry and my wife had some talks about God, Christ, and religion in the past, but we knew his time was coming soon. Did we end up doing it? No. We talked about it, considered different books. I began writing up a little something for him to read that I never finished. I even bought one book but then decided it wouldn't be ideal -so we sat on it. As great as that book is, I think I am going to keep it around as a reminder of this.

I know I cannot blame myself for his hard-heartedness toward God, something we all have prior to God's converting us and placing within us a heart of flesh. I did not make him feel the way he felt toward God. I am not responsible for any of it. But we were probably the only lights for truth in his entire life in this past few years. I was responsible for being a light to him, but I was scarcely a spark. I know God is absolutely sovereign over all things, including salvation, but I know this does not release me from my responsibilities. I am angry with myself.

I am not going to harp on this too much, since I already did in my previous post that was lost. I am writing this because I know other Christians probably have the same problem I have. Perhaps we are too comfortable in our comfortable little lives to see the urgency we should have for souls. Perhaps we have it too good, and because of this we have become dull. We are zealous in some parts, but not where it really counts. We contend for the truth of God, but we do not proclaim it to the lost. It is too easy for us to slide into neglect, into self, into our own little worlds. That is what is more frustrating. You might think this would change me, and for a time it probably will, but I know that the wickedness of my heart will slowly seduce me back, unwittingly even, into the comfortable dullness of sloth.

If I could say something to Barry right now it would probably go like this:

Barry, I am sorry. I know it is not my fault that you stand condemned, for they are your sins and your sins alone. But I am sorry that I was never a light to you in darkness when I should have been. I am sorry that I was too unconcerned to boldly proclaim the message of Christ and His cross to you. I am sorry that I did not solemnly warn you. I am sorry that I did not do all that I could -even pleading with you in the name of Christ- that perhaps the Spirit of God would have quickened your darkened heart to life.

I can't help thinking... who is next? Do my parents have to die in unbelief with me sitting here, talking to them almost daily, not saying barely a word of warning to them, for me to wake up out of my slothful, easy slumber? Can I really say I have earnestly sought to bring glory to God and love others by proclaiming to them the truth of Jesus Christ? I wish, in this case in particular, that I could say that.

I pray for myself and for others that we would be vigilant, bold, wise, gentle, truthful, and God-honoring in our evangelism -and a bit more urgent. I hope it does not take a death to provoke us to rethink things. There is something to be said for those Christians who live in countries where the Gospel it persecuted and Christians' lives are threatened and lost -seems to be like the apostles in some ways. It is not a rule, of course, but I know there is more urgency and seriousness in proclaiming Christ among people such as these who risk liberty and life to do so. I wish we were all like that. In America, on the other hand, we have immense freedom to speak the Gospel, but for many of us it is a reason for either laziness or abuse. Why are we not more serious about proclaiming the Gospel? It is not to push a human agenda like so much of the junk out there. It is for God's glory, ultimately, and because we care for our neighbors -sometimes literally our neighbors.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Another Testimony to the Inherent Wickedness of Man

I have one of those fancy little RSS reader programs -a free one, of course, because I am cheap- and I noticed there is an article in one of the feeds from Yahoo news dealing with the recent lawsuit against the University of California for "discriminating against Christians". Apparently the university does not want to give science credit to students from certain Christian schools who teach intelligent design as a model of origins. Of course, everyone misses the whole point by continually calling this a "religion" issue -it is a science issue, if you would only shove your puffed-up agenda to the side for a moment. Intelligent design is scientific, even if you don't like it, and it is based upon the very logical principles that guide us in our knowledge of anything at all.

That aside, I scrolled down to the bottom of the page and noticed there were some links under "Opinion & Editorial". I am not a bit surprised, though I am saddened, to see what is in there. If I follow either of the links (one from the New York Times of all place, and the other regarding a letter written to the Kansas board of education) I can see the musings of men who want desperately to silence and suppress their Creator. I see men who have to use sarcasm and mockery as their weapons, thinking that this takes the place of reason. I see men who like to think they are responding to the "arguments" of those "dang Creationists", but are like all of those who oppose the truth, glorying in themselves in setting up straw men to defeat -all the while going home to pat themselves on the back in sinful human pride. Is there a single honest interaction with someone who holds the creationist view that is knowledgeable and competent? No. And, of course, these men would probably mock all the more and say, "because there are none knowledgeable and competent."

Let us remember the words of Paul as he described the state of man:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. " (Romans 1:18-23)

We suppress the truth in unrighteousness. We have exchanged the glory of God for a lie. We profess to be wise, yet are fools. This is the "glorious plight" of the man who allegedly evolved from an ape millions of years ago, was the "fittest" of the other species, and thus survived. No, this is the man who rebelled against His creator and was darkened in his heart and mind. This is the man whose mind is hostile to God (Romn 8:7) and who seeks at all times to suppress the truth of God that is both clearly manifest around him and planted within him. We are all, unless we are rescued by God's grace from this bondage to death and hatred of God, like these men. The psalms speak of the wicked like this:

Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of their heart run riot. They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. (Ps 73:7-9)


All of this would seem so incredibly bleak and pointless, depressing and wasteful, if it were not for two things. First, God is going to vindicate His truth. "For the wrath of God is revealed against..." is the beginning of that passage above. It is being revealed, it will come, it is inetivable. He will vindicate His truth, and many will run and hide, wishing the mountains themselves would fall upon them in that day. It will be horrible, indeed, but God is perfectly just in it all.

Second, though we are sinners, hateful toward Him and actively seeking to suppress His truth, He sovereignly has purposed to save some from this hateful end and horrible destiny of righteous and holy wrath. He has chosen to rescue individuals, to come to earth as a man, to carry their sins upon Himself, to win true righteousness in their place, and hence to satisfy justice on their behalf. But this is not all, He has also chosen, by His grace, to pull these ones out of darkness, to change their hearts and turn them to Himself, and to bring them into His fold as His people to grow in grace and worship Him forever forward. This is the good news.

Let us listen carefully to the words of the Psalmist regarding the reign of the Anointed of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
"Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!"
He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
"But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain."
"I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, 'You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
'You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.'"
Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2)

There will be a day when the Lord scoffs back at the wicked, and it is imminent. How blessed are those who belong to the Christ, who take refuge in Him -not for anything in them or anything they have done, but because the Lord has chosen to pity them and rescue them according to His gracious will and purpose. For this I am grateful, for this is the only reason that I am not also writing in dripping sarcasm, mockery, and wickedness against the Sovereign Creator of the universe. Thanks be to God.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Why I Must Be a Christian

By this title I do not mean to give proofs to myself or others which demonstrate that I am a Christian. What I mean to convey is why being a Christian is a necessity. I must be one. There is no alternative. To abandon Christ would be to sever my own head from my neck. This is not meant to be a formal, historical, or philosophical defense -but it is a personal list of reasons why there is no alternative for me. And I do not mean this in a relitavistic sense, either. For there is only one truth, and it applies just as much to me as it does to everybody else.

I must be a Christian because I am a sinner and He is the Savior. When I was converted to Christ some seven years ago, the first thing that came to me was a knowledge of my sin. I did not know I was being converted or what was happening. It wasn't a personal choice or something volitional. It was something that happened to me by the hand of God. Evangelicals call this being "born again", but many evangelical Christian traditions rip the guts out of what this means with their un-Biblical doctrine of regeneration (presuming that being born again is something of a decision of ours and not the unilaterial work of God). Just as I was born into this world without my own choice, so I was born again by the work of God in my heart without any cooperation or permission. God needs none.

It was in this time that I began to feel the weight of my sin. It was not just "bad" to me, like I was being scolded. It showed itself to be altogether ugly to me. It was not that the sin changed -I was being changed. My vision was different. I was seeing the practices I secretly embraced and took all kinds of wicked pleasure in as filthy and horrible. I was seeing, beyond this, that they stemmed from within me. It was I who was horrible! I thank God that He did not reveal to me in those early days the full weight of my depravity, because I would probably have died from despair. No, thankfully He has been pleased to open my eyes to it more deeply in a progressive fashion. I can say with confident certainty that my own apprehension of my sinful heart is greater today than it ever was.

To most people this seems like silly talk, or even worse it seems like needless self-abasement and weird, almost frightening self-torture. But I was not bringing this upon myself, and I am not today. I cannot help that God would be pleased in opening the Bible to me and showing to me the great gulf of contrast that exists between me, as a creature, and Himself, as Creator. I remember being told a few things by a friend (who later become my wife) about who Jesus is and why He died. I had heard the things before, being raised Roman Catholic, but it never really dawned upon me. It went into my ears and never went down to my heart. Jesus died because I am a sinner. He died to take away sins because sin really deserves God's wrath. Those sinful things I loved and took pleasure in were hateful to God, the One I was for the first time in my life thinking about in serious ways. I saw myself to be a man who deserves hell. It was stunning to me. My sin, which I knew to be sin in the deep recesses of my heart, was known to God and was hated by God with a holy and perfect hatred. I saw only in part then what I know know -that I stood condemned under the bar of God's judgment.

Yet at the same time grew in me a sense of unmistakable reality about the Person of Jesus Christ. Though I loved to examine the many proofs regarding Jesus, I still knew then that He is who He claimed to be those 2,000 years ago. He is the Savior sent from God for sinners. He is God in human flesh. He is the One who came to seek and to save the lost, to call sinners, not the righteous (as if there truly were any righteous). He was immediately known to Me to be the Remedy of the horrible plight, the reality of which was forming only dimly before my eyes. For if I was a sinner worthy of death and hell, and Christ Jesus is the Savior of sinners, then there is a connection here. And the one I was speaking to told me the promise of God concerning salvation: everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.

This was news to me, and it was offensive to me at first. All of this was coming to me all at once. I was hearing that I am not as good as I flatter myself to be -in fact I stand condemned before God. I never smoked, never drank, never had sex, and considered myself to be morally good, but it was all an idol of my own making -a smoke-screen, a facade. I was coming to realize that these things were really not so good, and they certainly did not cover up for the horrible sins I kept in secret. She told me that it was by faith that we are saved and made right with God, not by our works or any doing of ours. Suddenly all the things that I thought were good about me before the eyes of God crumbled to dust. There was no place on which to stand, so I began to fall within. Could this be!? Have I been this foolish and blind my whole life? Yes. It was through a humble reliance upon the gift of God, Jesus the Christ our Savior, that we are saved. It was through giving up on our haughty thoughts of self-preservation and self-exaltation and embracing the only thing that will stand God's judgment and pacify His wrath toward us, which is the work of Jesus in the place of sinners.

All of this is much more clear to me now than it was then, thank God, but I still writhe in agony from time to time when I experience darkness and inner trials. Yet the truth remains that I am a sinner and Christ Jesus is the only Savior. This is why I must be a Christian, there is no hope anywhere else. In chapter six of John's Gospel it says:

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68)

And so it is with me. To whom shall I go? Is there Anyone else? No. This is why it is not just an option, a personal choice, or a personal preference. It is a necessity.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Unwholesome Talk

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Eph 4:29)

A few definitions are in order...

unwholesome: Gr. sapros - rotten, putrified, worn out, worthless, corrupt and unfit for use. Jesus uses this word in Luke 6:43 to describe the kind of fruit that cannot come from a good tree and the kind of tree that cannot produce good fruit.

edification: Gr. oikodomay - the act of building up, metaphorically edifying, the act of promoting another's growth as a Christian.

good: Gr. agathos - of good constitution or nature, useful, pleasant, upright, honorable, beneficial.


So we have unwholesome, rotten, putrified words that are useless, and on the other hand we have words that are beneficial, grace-imparting, needed for the moment, upright, useful for promoting someone's growth in Christ, and honorable. I picture the difference like the difference between a rotting carcass on the side of the road, leaking bodily fluids, filling the air with a horrible aroma, giving place for maggots to feast... and a well-thought-out, healthy, nourishing meal. I picture the difference to be like the difference between the flailing butchery of a madman and the skillful practice of a physician. The first has no use at best, and at worst brings harm. The second is something needed, something of benefit, something that has real use for good. It is something that, even if it stops us for a moment, points us upward to Christ.

Now, let me begin by stating the two biggest ways I personally fall short of this. There are basically two kinds of unwholesome speech that find their way onto my tongue frequently.

1. The kind that you spew forth out of your mouth but justify, somehow, as being right and in accordance with truth and godliness. This happens, often, when I am talking with someone about something or someone else (that should have been my first clue to stop). Since these people are so wrong, then I almost feel justified (since I am so concerned with the truth) in saying all kinds of things about them, condemning them, and focusing intensely upon every negative aspect I can find. It turns out that my concern is not really the truth but in putting my name forth as one who has the answer, and showing how miserably others don't. My audience is not God, my audience is men.

2. The kind that trickles out in casual conversation, especially with unbelievers, so as to sound "unbound" and "real" and "cool". We don't want to come across as being stuffy prudes, and we want to relate to our friends -even unbelievers- so we let it relax a bit sometimes and things come out of our mouths that are just plain ugly. I find this slipping out all over the place. It slips out once, we feel bad for it, but it comes out that much easier next time. We want to be funny, we want to make people laugh, but often it is through words that are utterly useless and rotten to the taste. The reason why anyone laughs is either because they pity us and don't want to hurt us, or, more likely, because they are sinners like us who strangely like the taste of that which is putrid and full of stench.

Notice that neither of these types of things are beneficial, good, useful, grace-imparting, or useful in the growth of anybody in Christ. There are a few things, I believe, that make our words unwholesome:

1. The content of our speech

This is the obvious one. Foul words, gossip, picking on someone who is unaware of it -these things are clearly unwholesome. I used to do this much as an unbeliever -and I still fall into it even now. Maybe someone walks into McDonalds where I am having lunch with some others. The person is grossly overweight and maybe is dressed funny. So I will point and giggle and make a comment to draw the attention of others. I wish someone would look me in the eye when I do that and say, "What is the point of this? Would you say this in the presence of Christ?

I think we try to beat around the glaring error in ourselves by saying things like, "I'm just having a little fun." I think this is because we know, inside, that what we are doing is wrong.


2. The way we convey it

The basic content can be good, but the way we convey it may be bad. It may put a spin on the content that taints our words as with poison. One way we do this is with sarcasm. Sarcasm can be an effective tool, and a humorous one, for conveying things to others, but it is often used maliciously. We us it to insult others, especially those who are not present to defend themselves. We do it often without even thinking about it.

We were in Target a few weeks ago, browsing the book section, and I saw copies of "Purpose Driven Life". I picked up a copy and ran over to my wife and said, "Ooooh. Look! Don't you want a copy?" She just rolled her eyes. This seems like a pretty harmless example, but when I think about it -there was absolutely nothing useful in what I said. And certainly there was nothing edifying for the moment, and nothing that would impart grace to others.


3. The intent bedhind it

The others really flow from this one. As Jesus noted, the foul things that flow from the mouth stem from a foul heart. We know the intent of our hearts, even when we try to mask it to ourselves and others. We know when we are saying something with absolutely no redeeming value, that is not meant to be constructive, beneficial, or fill a need, but only to be gossip, to tear down someone else, to build ourselves up, to be useless and petty. We know, but we can't help ourselves. We just have to say it. Maybe its because we live for the reaction, we want the laugh, or we want to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others. Whatever the reason, if our intent is not to say something useful and beneficial, then perhaps we would do well to just listen. :)



What about reproving others? Paul says in 2 Tim 2 that we are to not be quarrelsome but should reprove those in error so that God might grant them repentance. To this I answer, "What about it?" Is reproving others something that is unwholesome? If we are reproving and it is unwholesome, then we aren't reproving as the apostle instructs. We are puffing ourselves up in tearing down someone else. Is reproving not something that edifies in some way? This is the hard one, because reproving (gently) shines light upon a flaw in someone else. Can you edify and expose error at the same time? I believe you can. I think it has to do with that one word: love. Correcting someone in love is definintely seeking to promote their growth in Christ. And correcting someone who is deceiving others builds up the body of Christ because it is protecting them from things that would confuse or lead them astray.

But does this mean we are to speak in this way all the time? That seems a little far fetched. No, it's not. We aren't Christians just on Sundays. We are born-again believers. We have a new nature, and we are told over and over again to cast off the old nature, which so comfortably slips back in under our noses. We are told to put on the new self. This is the context that leads up to Paul's statement about not letting unwholesome speech come forth. One of the ways in which we show this is through our speech. Restrain those sinful passions, and bite your tongue!

This is much in line with the command in Romans 6 to resist the passions of the flesh. Notice that Paul says "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth..." I cannot make my sinful passions go away, I cannot make my heart perfect -only God can, and He is working in us to conform us to Christ as we speak, but by the Spirit of God in me, by the new nature that I have been given, by faith in Christ who has bought me as His own, I will resist the inclinations of the flesh. We will fall and fail, but if the Spirit of God is in us there shall be a battle. The new man shall not let these things continue to pass without a fight, and the Spirit leads us to overcome them (Romans 8). The question is, of course... "Do we?"

I was thinking about this, and I saw these words in a whole new light. I saw not just words on a page about how I am to behave. I saw the Lord Jesus Himself speaking to me, telling me to speak wholesomely to others, to impart grace, to build up others in Christ, to be loving, and to let my chaste speech be a light to unbelievers. Suddenly things were a bit different, for there is no one I want to please more than the Lord Jesus. I was not failing the "Christian standard", some nebulous and ill-defined norm for what Christian behavior should look like, I was personally failing my Lord. When I think about the things I have said, even yesterday, I picture the Lord listening in. My skin crawls! He does not just hear my words and the way they are said, He hears my heart and knows the blackness that issues forth from it with every evil motive, every self-righteous ploy to seem concerned about truth when really I am concerned with my own glory. It is a Living Lord we serve.

May this be the visible thorn in all of our sides, humbling us and reminding us of how grossly and constantly we fall short -that the knowledge of this might be a reminder to us that brings forth grace of speech and understading and compassion to others and a desire to build up others. And let this knowledge not discourage us but keep us vigilant against the evil passions that are excited within us, because Christ Jesus has taken away the curse, has rendered perfect righteousness unto God, and has covered us in His blood. We are bought unto Him and from the old things. Praise God.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Sweetness of Our Wounds

At the conclusion of John Bunyan's little autobiography of his spiritual journey are the words:

3. I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never so blessed a discovery of Himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirit so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed.

4. I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under, and yet at another time the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick; or rather, my heart hath been so dead and dry unto it, that I could not conceive the least drachm of refreshment, though I have looked it all over.

5. Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.

6. I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: (1) Inclinings to unbelief. (2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth. (3) A leaning to the works of the law. (4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer. (5) To forget to watch for that I pray for. (6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have. (7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves, 'When I would do good, evil is present with me.'

7. These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good. (1) They make me abhor myself.(2) They keep me from trusting my heart. (3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness. (4) They show me the necessity of flying to Jesus. (5) They press me to pray unto God. (6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober. (7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world. Amen.

This has really been hitting me hard lately. It is common and natural for us to panic in darkness, to begin to frantically try to dig our way out and scratch and beat at the blackened window so that light will come back in, but there is something sweet in our wounds that I have been seing. They are the path of the Christian.

This does not mean we should go out of our way looking for darkness, but we should recognize that there is a very good purpose behind it even when it is hidden to us. The God who sovereignly saved us also sovereignly sanctifies us -conforming us to the image of His Son. When I contemplate the vast gulf that separates my own sin-blackened soul from Christ, I can scarcely imagine what kind of power it will take to bend and hammer and forge my soul into His image. I picture a blacksmith sticking the metal into the fire, taking it back out, and then furiously beating upon it. For a while it may cool as he inspects it and finds any lack of conformity to the desired mold, but then it is off to the fire again to be heated so that it will be malleable. Only when the product is finished does the blacksmith take the finished work, a fine piece of craftsmanship, and plunge it into the cold water so that it will stay.

I long for that day -the day when the hammering will be over, and I will be plunged into the cool waters of refreshment as a fitting end for the whole of the process. I will be like Him. This is a thought that is far too wonderful to grasp, and far to abstract, in some sense, for me to picture. There will be a day when my mind is focused upon God alone, when my heart is filled with love and adoration for Him that expresses itself fully, without restraint and without the dead weight of the flesh, in loving others in His Kingdom. No more darkness, no more enying, no more jealousy, no more pride and arrogance, no more idolatry in the deepest places of my heart. The Law of God, which is expressed in its true nature in Christ Jesus, will be the stand upon which my heart sits, and the song which flows from it will be to Him who is holy.

But for now I see the great place for our afflictions, even our sins, in the grand scheme of things. There is no humility without seeing that we are filth when we should be sparkling gems upon His crown. There is no love without seeing that we are so much like Satan himself when we should be like Christ -who lived to please the Father out of the purest love, and without seeing that we are the most unworthy objects of love in all creation, yet God freely chose to lavish it upon us. There is no faith without seeing that, despite how weak and frail we are to trust Him He always proves Himself faithful, and there is no true faith at all without seeing that the heart in which we trust, our own, is full of poison and death, but the Creator and Savior who gives life to the dead has given us all we need.

It brings new meaning to Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." It's not a sentimental statement to give us a temporary sense of warmth in the cold deadness of winter. It is a constant flame that never goes out. He is the pillar of fire that leads us as He did with the Israelites out of Egypt. The Lord who called us holds us in His hand. He leads us through peaks and mountains where the sun shines brightly, and He leads us in through low valleys in the night where light seems all but extinguished. To think that God even uses the thorns in our flesh that He reveals to us (and probably even the ones He doesn't reveal to us) for our good is something that I am just starting to touch with the very tips of my fingers. It is something that is both amazing to me and extremely comforting. All of these things work to break us, to change us, to awaken us, to humble us, to grow up, to conform us into the image of His beloved Son, our Savior.

I have contemplated before whether it was more the Law or more the Gospel that was the primary agent in our sanctification. I see now that while this may be profitable to some extent to uncover, the real answer is that God is the Agent of our sanctification, and it comes through discomfort, brokenness, pain, affliction, trials, darkness, and having numerous things revealed to us that have remained hidden in the dust of our conscience for far too long. Praise God.

Bunyan loved this verse, and now so do I:

"indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead." (2 Cor 1:9)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Top 10 Ways You Know You are Desperately Clinging to Your Theological Tradition

10. You constantly have to keep telling yourself and others, "Nobody before [insert historical figure's name] believed [insert doctrine you don't like]."

9. Your first response, while interacting with someone about a certain text, leads you immediately away from it and to another verse. You won't handle the text on its own terms.

8. You have a list of pet verses that are "so obvious" that exegesis of them has never been necessary.

7. When interacting with honest exegesis that offends your beliefs, you find some obscure "scholarly" reference to disprove it, without ever following through to see what the text would actually say if this "scholar" was right.

6. You spend most of your energy trying to demonstrate why the text can't say something rather than determining what it actually does say.

5. You are glad you can come up with an isolated interpretation of a verse that doesn't force you to believe something you don't want to believe, but placing that interpretation back into its immediate context is something you just aren't ready to try.

4. The most common phrase uttered from your lips is, "But you have to take into consideration what the whoooooole Bible says!"

3. Accurately understanding and representing opposing views before you try to destroy them is optional.

2. If you can't overcome their honest exegesis of Scripture, you can always attempt to character-assassinate the exegetes who disagree with you. That way others will see that these men couldn't possibly be right since they are so "un-Christian".

1. You ask a myriad of questions, mostly philosophical in nature, that you have absolutely no honest desire to hear an answer to. You just hope it will throw the other person off so much that they will shut up. Because in the end, all that matters is not what the text really says, but that the other person's interpretation isn't right.


Let us all examine ourselves to see if we fall into these. This is something we all need to be watchful for.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

If there is one thing I wish for myself more than anything it would be this: that I would not just admire the beauty of the glory of God from a far, or how deeply God is concerned with His own glory and its shining over all creation, but that I would be utterly gripped by it. I want that. I want to be gripped in the most secret place of my soul so that everything I look at looks different. I have a taste of this, and I praise God for it, but I am so weak and so overcome with the things of the world and my own glory. I want to not just taste God and His sweetness and His majesty. I want to be drunk!

When I reflect upon the lives of great men in history who were used so mightily for the glory of God, I can't help but confess my infancy. When I read their words that convey their private thoughts, I am diminished to a fly on the wall. I can see, I can hear, but I am just a fly. It won't be long til I fly off to find a pile of excrement to land on and feed.

I do thank God for how He has really driven me to be a student ever since I first knew the truth, but I want more. I want my outward behavior to bring glory to His name. I want my private thoughts to be concerned with the heavenly beauty of Him and to be delighted and contented. I am not merely an infant, I am a sick infant who needs to be fed by tubes. I am premature. My zeal can be great, but often it is zeal for my own agenda even if at the time I believe I am doing right. It is that I have not been gripped and overpowered, blown away, by God's agenda for His own glory. So, my agenda seems good to me at the time...

I have weak faith. I struggle often -I want to be overcome with knowing that I am His, that I belong to the Lamb who was slain. There are times when I am, and it is sheer bliss. There is not a thing that can silence it in me when I am flooded in that way. Maybe what I seek is too subjective and concerned with feelings, but what I want is to be overwhelmed by God and brought to tears concerning His grace. It goes deeper than just feeling, and it is still there when the feelings are not -it is a deep knowing that embraces the soul. I want to cry in joy over the great High Priest who loves me and offered Himself without blemish to the Father to atone for every wicked thing in me. God have mercy and hear me.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Danger of the Da Vinci Code

This does not only apply to the Da Vinvi Code, but to other such literature that seeks to destroy some of the very foundations of the Christian faith. The deceptive danger of the Da Vinci Code is this: it is still to be considered "just a fictional novel" but sprinkled with many historical "facts" done by allegedly painstaking research. Therefore, since it is not a historical work, there is no need at all, the author and the reader believe, to validate claims, to interact with other historical research that counters the claims made, or to even acknowledge the existence of evidence that refutes or at least seriously challenges the "research" and "facts" presented. In short, this type of novel presents a forum for displaying inaccuracies, personal opinion masked as historical facts, and the author's biases without any checks and balances. Most readers will just pass over these claims as part of the story while at the same time accepting them at face value. The average reader will not research these things to evaluate the claims made. It's just not gonna happen -especially since most readers already reject the historic claims of Christianity by default. After all, its just a novel, right? Why bother? Out of one side of their mouth, most readers will say we are taking it "way too seriously" for demanding historical validation and the vindication of historical accuracy, but out of the other side of their mouth they are praising the "wonderful and in-depth historical facts." Quite a convenient position to be in!

This is why this book is deceptive. Dan Brown is probably a great writer, but for this reason alone I will have a hard time reading the Da Vinci code or any novel like it. I came face-to-face with the fallout of this deception in a conversation with my dad. Both of us are very hard-headed and stubborn. He was extolling the great "historical research" done in the Da Vinci code. I replied by telling him that the research is not as good as he thinks -that there are some serious untruths in there passed off as truth. This, of course, led to an argument as voices raised and emotions ran high. Immediately, according to my dad, people who write and speak against the Da Vinci code "have an axe to grind." We are all just fundamentalist fanatics of some sort. And although I tried to point out that it is Dan Brown who seems to have the axe to grind, I was becoming more and more akin to a fanatical religious book-burner or Spanish Inquisitor in his mind than anything else. I am biased, I have not read the book, and therefore I am just another one of those ignorant Bible-thumpers who try to suppress anything that challenges their way of thinking. Amazing! Looking back, I was admittedly a jerk. I reluctantly apologized, being still upset, but knowing that I did hurt his feelings and embarrass him in front of a few other people. That much was wrong. It still bothers me, though, that the prima facie assumption is that people who have something negative to say, if they are "religious", have an "axe to grind" and are somehow frantically trying to cover up things. It bother me even more that my dad, whom I love, has fallen into the same trap as so many others.

It is funny in a sad, distorted way. To have a widely circulated book come out that reinforces and shows the great historicity, reliability, and integrity of the Bible and the process of canonization would be scoffed at for sport, but if someone produces something that seeks to destroy the claims of the Christian faith, and we dare to speak against it, we are seen as complainers, at best. They say, "Oh, you are just upset because it doesn't agree with your view." We can't win. The world has a double-standard that will always put those who faithfully confess Christ in the wrong. The Bible is true in what it says about the human race. We hate God, we hide from Him, and we actively suppress His truth in unrighteousness. The world will hate us -Jesus promised this much- no matter how fair we try to be.

One lesson I have learned from this is that we can't address these things head on, really. We must learn to chip away at these assumptions in other ways -knowing that even if we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how false things like this are that we still may not persuade our hearers! Persuasion on these matters comes from the work of God in a man's life alone. We must be ready to defend the truth, but we must learn good and gentle and loving ways to do it. Let them think we are fundamentalist wacko's still -they will no matter what we say, but let us at least be known for our gentleness, fairness, patience, ability to listen, and ability to carry on a meaningful conversation on controversial topics and yet remain above reproach. Peter says we need to be able to give an answer with gentleness and respect so that those who oppose us shall be brought to shame. I have a lot to learn, and yet I am still angry about this. I pray God would use this as a productive lesson for me. Sometimes I just get plain sick of living in this world that hates God so much. I get sick of my gut-reactions to it, too!
The Freedom and Sufficiency of God's Grace

I was listening to a CD where the speaker mentioned this phrase. I though for a moment about what a remarkably brief and concise statement about God's grace it is. God's grace is free, and it is sufficient -a powerful thing to ponder! Many today will go to great lengths to extol God's grace and yet, in the same breath, utterly neuter it: removing its inherent freedom and inherent sufficiency as demonstrated to us in the Holy Scriptures. Still, it seems important to keep reminding us, despite how quickly we abandon it, of the true nature of the grace of God.

Paul was told, as he reports, that, "My grace is sufficient for you," while mentioning the agony of the thorn in his flesh and how he petitioned for its removal three times. Regardless of what this means in great detail, consider that God is essentially saying "I am sufficient for you." When we speak of God's grace, we are not speaking about a thing, we are speaking of, primarily, a part of who God is. He is gracious. The question then arises, "Is God freely gracious," or better, "Is God's graciousness toward us free?" Many of us will say, "Yes, of course," but then teach, "No way."

What does it mean when we say God's grace is free or that God has freedom in being gracious to us? We mean that God is not bound, by anything in us or any external principle, to be gracious at all. He is not bound at all to be gracious to any, some, or all. He chooses to, and He chooses to do so freely. So why do so many insist that God's grace is unfair if He does not choose to be gracious to all men equally or all men in the same way? We are seeking to limit the freedom of God Himself. We are passing human judgments and forgetting that God, and His grace, are by nature free. He is God. He does not need us, nor does He owe us anything. If He chooses to be kind to even a single man, it is an act of grace alone. He has the freedom to be gracious or not to be, for He is God.

Grace is free by definition. If grace is required or forced by compulsion or based upon anything in the objects of grace, then grace is no longer grace. Using the simple "free gift" analogy, is it still a free gift, given purely by our own free kindness, if we are then bound, by giving it to one person, to then give it to others in order to be fair? Of course not. Is the free gift free if we give it based upon something the person does that makes it more fitting for them? Of course not. It is no longer grace. Grace is a disposition of God whereby He freely bestows favor upon someone for no reason other than that He is pleased to do so for His own glory and own name's sake. Grace is intimately tied to the character of God, whose ultimate plan is to glorify Himself amongst His created order. It is not something fit for some and not others, not something earned, not something we can pull down from heaven. It is very simply the kind and free goodness of God.

We also say that God's grace is sufficient. By this we mean at the very least that when God chooses to be gracious to a person He will be gracious to them in the way He purposes. His graciousness, in whatever form it is designed and manifested, will not be lacking anything in its effect. We commonly mean this in the context of God's sovereign grace in saving sinners. This is a prime example. If God so chooses to save, purely by His grace, and He purposes to actually do so, then it will happen. If we mean that God only chooses to make His kindness known, but not to actually save, then this shall happen.

We can compare this with the very common understanding that God's grace in saving sinners involves potentiality only. God's grace can only take you so far. You must cooperate, usually by turning to Him, for it to actually save you. This kind of grace is insufficient, unless it can be demonstrated that God, in His grace, only purposed to make salvation potential and not to actually save men. It belittles the grace of God in saving men to a mere wish of God or to God trying to "woo" men to Him, but in the end being utterly helpless to accomplish His gracious purposes and intentions toward us. Again, this is not Biblical grace -this is insufficient grace.

The Bible paints a different picture of God's grace, thankfully. It displays a God who, from eternity past, has chosen to be freely gracious to particular men from out of fallen humanity, a prerogative that is His fully, by the kind intention of His will, to rescue them from bondage to sin, from His wrath, and from wickedness and separation from Him. It displays a God who, through the means He has ordained, actually does what He has graciously purposed. He saves sinners.

This idea is utterly foreign and is often hated, misrepresented, silenced, and fought against. We should not be surprised at this, knowing that what the Bible says about us is true. But we must come to see that to insist upon man's freedom (in the sense so many do, salvation) is to exclude God's. To center salvation around man is to destroy the Biblical teaching on the nature of God and His grace, which is both free and sufficient.

This is not meant, in any way shape or form, to be a Biblical defense -especially since I have cited no Scriptures and only made some bare and non-explicit references, but I hope that some reading this will recognize things in it that cry out to us and challenge our thinking. Is God free to save, or is He not? Can He do what He purposes, or can He not? Rather than pondering in our own minds what might be plausible to us or philosophically appealing, let us bow to the Holy Scriptures for these answers.