Monday, May 28, 2007

Calling All Men!

A series of recent experiences, compounded with some things I have read, have really impressed upon me the importance of men stepping up to the plate to be the men that God has called them to be.

Here are a few things that have come to mind:

1. Persue Christ in the Word of God and persue holiness. Get on your knees, beg if you must, so that Christ would be larger in your vision every day. Find Him in the Word, and then seek to obey God intensely, trusting in Him both for the supply and for the results.

2. Love your wife intensely. Cherish her, water her like a delicate flower, gush over her, adorn her, beautify her, protect her, provide for her. Think of her often, even when she isn't there. Seek to do things for her that show her how much you cherish her. Take her hand, hold her, enjoy activities with her that you might not otherwise do. Have sex with her daily, if possible. Love her radically. Die to yourself, daily, for her. Embrace the self-denial and even the discomfort. You will come to love it, even when it hurts. Love her because loving her in this way is serving God -every day, not just when things start going bad.

3. Stop playing church. Commit to church. Get in there and work, volunteer, pray, etc. Find out what the mission/direction of your church is and get on board with it. You are part of something much, much greater than yourself -the Body of Christ. Stop the Sunday-morning-only games. Live as one in the Church. Seek to serve, to build, to display Jesus to others, to love, to welcome, to bear up with others, to engage your community with the gospel, etc.

This is not "manning it up to Jesus." This isn't about bumping chests, pulling up our bootstraps and saying "Yeah, let's be 'real men' for Jesus." This is about seriously thinking about the high callings God has for us, being broken under the weight of them, falling on our knees in dependence, trusting daily in the cross and His live-giving power, and endeavoring to seriously obey Him -trusting in Him for the results and the supply.

I am reminded of something I read in Mark Driscoll's "Confessions of a Reformission Rev." There is a part where he remembers how he chewed out a lot of men at a meeting, calling them to basically stop being either pansies or perverted jerks, and, as they left the meeting, he handed them each two stones saying, "Today, God has given you your balls back..." Amen.

O God, unite my heart to fear Your name. Make me the man you want me to be.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Things I've Learned Lately

There have been some things going on in my life that have been tough. I know that God means them for my good, but sometimes it is hard to see how. Still, we trust that He does. I have learned a few essential lessons in the past month or so. They are things that I would have certainly agreed to, in the past, but I would have lacked experiential knowledge of them -at least in degree. I'm sure, as life goes on, I will learn these again and again in higher and higher degrees.

1. I must always seek to obey God and trust Him for the results. I cannot do what I should to try and control the responses of others, because... I can't control the responses of others. God must be my audience, alone, and I must seek to obey Him even when a) I don't want to, b) it is painful, c) times are dark and it seems the enemy is all around me, and with all of these, I must trust Him in it. I must trust Him to help me and keep me following Him, following after His ways, and I must trust Him for whatever the results are. Trust Him. Obey and trust.

2. Jesus must be my main joy, hope, and stay. It cannot be others. It cannot be their responses to me. It cannot be their relative obedience or rebellion in the responsibilities God has given them, especially those which overlap in my sphere of life. It cannot be the spiritual state of others. It cannot be my relationship to them. Those will all sometimes be favorable, sometimes not be so favorable. In the end, as good as things can be, these things are still temporary, prone to disappoint, and covered with imperfections. The soul that hangs on them will sooner or later be desponded and miserable. They are not foundations of joy, hope, constancy,or security. None of them. This world really has nothing to offer like that. There is only discouragement or half-heartedness.

I've also learned that both of these things must go together.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

How can I trust in Jesus if I don't know if He came for me?

Some of us, either honestly learning the doctrines of grace from Scripture and struggling with them, or throwing out objections so that they don't have to take them seriously, have asked this question. If you are like me, and you see things like total depravity and unconditional election from Scripture, then you may have struggled with the gospel and with assurance? Perhaps this is owing to me not having a solid foundation upon which to build more meaty doctrines, such as unconditional election. I have no idea. I just know that the particularity of sovereign grace in salvation has at times been a source of comfort and at other times been a great source of confusion, despair, terror, and a stumbling block for assurance.

Here is my attempt to answer the question, "How can I trust in Jesus if I don't know if He came for me or not?" It sounds logical. If Jesus only came for some, and I don't know if I am one of them or not without having God zap me and say, "Tim, you are elect," then how could I ever even trust in Jesus? It seems to strip the basis for trust, kicking the legs out from under it. How could I confidently fall upon Jesus if I don't know if He really came for me? How on earth could I have any assurance that He is truly there for me to rest upon? It sounds like He is there for some and not for others. Unless I have a golden list, and I know my name is on it, why would I have any assurance that He would catch me? Knowing that I need Him is one thing, but knowing that He will catch me is something else.

The answer, as I understand it, is found in the promise of the gospel. I think a fine text to look at, which wrestles with both the promise of the gospel and the sovereignty of God in salvation, is John 6. In this chapter, Jesus explains the unbelief of those who see Him yet don't believe -those He is speaking to when He says, "I am the Bread of life." He says there are those who will come to Him, whom the Father has given Him, and He will turn away none that come to Him. The father draws men to Jesus? How? By supernaturally revealing to them, first, that they are elect? No. By convincing them of their dreadful condition and of the identity and sufficiency of Jesus.

One major point to grasp is that all men are permitted to come to Jesus. Jesus did not keep any back. He even told them to believe in the One the Father sent. Our problem is that we are not able. This is not a physical inability, like that we have a broken leg and can't stand up, even though we really want to. No, this is an unwillingness. It is like when someone has terribly hurt you, and a friend comes and says, "You need to forgive them," but you reply in bitterness and anger, "I can't!" Even if you know you should, your heart is too hardened.

The secont point, with this, is that the promise, "Whoever eats of this Bread will live forever," is objective and sure. It says much. It says that life belongs to all who eat of Him. Those who do see Him as Bread from heaven, the "Bread of Life." The promise serves as its own "invitation," of sorts. If you are a man under the full weight of conviction, knowing that God's wrath awaits you, that you are surely dead if God does not intervene in His mercy, and then Jesus, the One sent by the Father, says this promise in your hearing, you will do what? You will flee to Him. Why? Because in that moment you knew and saw that He is all you will ever need and He is free. The promise assures you that a) you indeed may have Him, and b) you will never lack anything with Him.

Where does the sovereignty of God fit in? Well, why do you think you saw these things? Why did you see Jesus as He is, see your need for Him, hear that promise and believe it, and therefore treasure and embrace Him as your all-in-all? Because the Father drew you. You are not necessarily conscious of it at the time. All you know is your trouble and that Jesus answers it. But it is still nonetheless true that the reason you saw is because of God. God did for you, in His mercy, what He did not do for others.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Is Finding a Reformed Church What it is All About?

A few years ago, when we moved to Grants Pass, I came here a Christian man with very Reformed distinctives. In fact, I could barely stomach things that weren't in line with the doctrines of grace. One of the first orders of business was finding a church. We shopped around here and there. We stopped for a while, discouraged (mostly me). I would look again. I found there was a very traditional Reformed church outside of town. I was thrilled. I went there for a few months, but then left because we weren't all into it. Soon after, we met up with some like-minded folks and began a friendship and Bible study. They, too, had shopped around. Things were looking up, but we still had no church. It seemed like our main goal (at least mine) was to have a good church of our own, and preferably Reformed in doctrine.

A year or two later, we came to know the folks at Bear Creek Church and they showed interest in planting a church here in Grants Pass. Finally, a Reformed church -and "nice," too. It wasn't the crusty old dusty kind of Reformed thing that we hear about -you know, "frozen chosen." God gave me (us) what I had been looking for and whining about. What a brat I am!

Within the past year, however, I have come to a painful realization. That was virtually the substance, the pinnacle of my view of Christian existence as a Reformed believer. Get a Reformed Church. Now I get to hear things "more Biblically" and not have to feel like the odd-man-out for believing them. I don't have to put up with Arminianism. I can talk about reading John Owen, and most people actually know who I am talking about. Yay! We have our Reformed church! Now, we get a place to go to every week and hear things we like and... and... now what?

Is that the be-all-end-all of being a Reformed Christian (or, more broadly, a Christian at all)? Aside from raising our family in the school of Tedd Tripp, is the chief end of Reformed Christians to find a good Reformed church home? I came to realize that I was foolishly naive at this point. Church is not a club. Being Reformed is not a status symbol. If what we believe is true, then we have come to see these things by pure grace, and we have a much greater responsibility to fulfill Christ's purpose for us... if we can remember what that actually is.

Has our concern for "orthodoxy" and a safe, doctrinally-sound church-home eclipsed our calling as members of the Body of Christ, called for a purpose -to live for and enjoy Christ, displaying Him in this world in our families and in our communities, for His glory? What is the purpose now that we have our good little church? Is there a single, unifying purpose that transcends Sunday-morning and becoming a "mutual admiration society?" Are we just the same as all those faceless church-consumers we talk about who need a place to "feel fed," but that is it?

Here are a few things I have come to realize when I look at myself:

1. Jesus isn't going to high-five me when He returns, just because I am Reformed. He is probably going to be concerned with why I, having been given this light, have sat on it under a basket.

2. I am called, as a Christian (Reformed, non-Reformed, whatever) to a life greater than myself. What does that mean? I think it means that I am a member of the Body of Christ, which has a transcendent purpose and a glorious Lord and Head. This transcends Sunday morning into all of life, into how I engage and relate to people in my home and on my street.

3. The Church has a purpose. It behooves us all to actually think about what it is. I might be able to say why I show up on Sunday mornings, but can I think of exactly why and what it means to be a part of the Church, manifest in a local congregation? What does it mean for my life?

4. Being "Reformed" should give me pause to consider how much more greatly I ought to be about Jesus Christ and placarding Him everywhere, with love, humility, joy, and thanksgiving. There is absolutely no excuse for the "holy huddle" attitude. These truths ought to go very far in humbling me and producing joy, rather than becoming a means to sectarianism and exclusivity.

These things necessarily push questions on me that I must answer. How does this impact how I view myself in this world, in this community, in this congregation? How does this impact how I love my wife, my kids, and my neighbors? How does this impact how I use my time and talents? What should I be doing differently? What is it all about?

I know some readers might be thinking, "This isn't a problem uniquely with Reformed Christians, though." Sure, I never said it was, but I think this particular manifestation of it might be most friendly to us. Perhaps it is because we are so concerned for doctrinal purity. Perhaps it is becuse we are such a relative minority in the American evangelical landscape. So, we become imbalanced and miss the whole point. I know I do. Do you, too?

There is more. Being "Reformed" isn't enough.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Contending for the Truth to the Blind

I have really put this together for myself, to keep myself grounded in dealing with certain individuals from a certain cultic group. It can be very painful, frustrating, even angering to deal with folks who are blinded and in a cult like this. I hope the following thoughts might help someone else out there in a similar situation:

1. Don't rely upon your own strength. Present facts, think about how they might reply, try to be convincing, but limit or tension that with the fact that the power to persuade is out of your hands. You can't do it. God must.

2. Realize that they are blinded. They don't see glory (2 Cor 4). The battle you are on is a spiritual battle, and God must win it to release them from captivity.

3. God is sovereign. We shouldn't presume upon what His sovereign plan is, but He is sovereign over all of it. We are just called to give a defense and leave the rest to Him.

4. Be prayerful. This relates to #1. God must do it. God must supply words, truth, and wisdom to even present the truth faithfully, much less convince them of it. Trust God, seek His face in prayer.

5. Don't fall into the trap of feeling like you are the sole representative of Christianity, and if you don't "win," then it will just show that Christians can't defend what they believe. You aren't meant to carry that kind of burden, and you can't. Many of these cults have been around for a while, and they are "professionals" at coming up with stuff to stump people. You won't be able to answer everything, and you can take your whole life trying to. You don't have to answer everything, though.

6. Don't let their unwillingness to be convinced make you think what you have to say or what you believe isn't convincing. It can be a nasty trap of discouragement. You start thinking that, unless you are able to answer every single tiny detail and get them to admit it, then you don't have anything convincing at all.

7. Likewise, don't let their constant responses against it make you think that what you believe or are presenting is uncertain. Did you really expect that they would just say, "oh, you are right?" No, they will respond against it, and they will continue to, unless God opens their eyes. This doesn't necessarily mean that what you believe is uncertain. It may just mean that they are unwilling to accept it, which is what we already know. The fallen mind will always make rationalizations to convince itself it is right in rejecting and suppressing the truth, until God Himself shows up and is revealed to them.

8. Don't always allow yourself to fall back into a defensive position. It is very easy to find yourself in one. Suddenly, you are receiving dozens of questions and responses. There is just too much information, too many issues, and you feel totally overwhelmed. Let them give an apologetic for their beliefs. Ask good questions. Let them explain themselves. Let them answer. They have a burden of proof, too. Don't assume it is always your job to fully disprove their doctrines, and if you can't disprove them then they are ok. No, they bear the burden of proof, too. Let them prove them.

9. Ask good questions! Relating to #8, often we find ourselves in the defensive position because we are doing all the talking. When you make an assertion, you have the burden of proof. The more assertions you make, the more "proving" you need to do. Suddenly, the you are under the microscope. We all know, however, that unbelief is not the absence of belief. It is belief in something else. Asking good questions exposes their underlying beliefs for what they are often far better than making a series of statements. Asking good questions also allows you to steer the conversation.

10. Realize that there is a point where you should probably "shake the dust off your feet" and move on. When is that, exactly? I don't think there is a hard and fast rule, but I do think there is a point when you must just say, "Hey, listen. I have shown you many things, but it is obvious that you aren't really interested in examining evidence. You already have your mind made up."

11. Consider how you can demonstrate to them that they do already have their mind made up. This may or may not be useful. Are they using different standards when looking at what you present? Are they blindly accepting things from their cult organization, believing they are being "true Bereans," but then being highly skeptical of anything that tries to disprove what they are taught? Can you demonstrate it to them?

12. Fix your mind upon the LORD, always. Isa 26:3

13. Make your goal to glorify God. Point out false teaching and declare His truth, but have your ultimate goal be to glorify God, not to "win."

14. Be broken-hearted. I almost forgot this one. It is something to be sorrowful for when someone is blind. Though they are responsible, they are still captives -just as you once were.