Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The American Experiment

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” -- John Adams

Who You Really Are

“What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.” -- Robert Murray McCheyne

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sez who?

Whenever an individual or a society faces some crucial cultural, ethical issue there is, looming in the background an absolutely critical question:  Sez Who?   That is, if you assert that  marriage is [fill in the blank], then who's to say you are right in your assertion?

Theists -- people like our Founding Fathers who believed in a Creator -- can plausibly answer the Sez Who question by saying, "God says....."  (And that's just what Christians do on this matter, relying on passages like Gen. 1:27; 2:24 and Matt. 19:4-6).   Now of course secularists don't find this convincing, nor do they accept this answer to the Sez Who? question.  But what almost always seems to go unnoticed is that they do not appear to have a coherent and compelling answer themselves to "Sez Who?"

Is their answer to, "Who says your concept of marriage is the right one?" -- is their answer merely, "I do...I and the people who agree with me"?   Would that be Justice Kennedy's answer?   So are we down to merely "we do, and majority rules"?  But our founding documents' understanding of inalienable rights (endowed by the Creator, and recognized, but not given, by Government) -- that understanding was precisely intended and designed to protect these fundamental rights from the dictates of the majority.

And yet, it seems like "majority rules" is what has happened here.   There is, in this world-view, no transcendent "Who" (God) -- Justice Kennedy's opining does not, because it cannot, go there.  There is only 'us' -- and so, "majority rules" after all.  And it's not the majority of the populace (via referendum) nor the majority of duly-elected legislators (via political process) -- no, it's the majority of Supreme Court justices.

So 'who says' that marriage is what we were told yesterday that it is?  Five judges, that's who.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Denney on Understanding Christ's Death

The death of Christ could not be proof of God's love for us unless it was actually necessary to save us, as this classic analogy from theologian James Denney illustrates: "There is something irrational in saying that the death of Christ is a great proof of love to the sinful, unless there is shown at the same time a rational connection between that death and the responsibilities which sin involves, and the responsibilities which sin involves, and from which that death delivers.

"Perhaps one should beg pardon for using so simple an illustration, but the point is a vital one, and it is necessary to be clear. If I were sitting on the end of a pier, on a summer day, enjoying the sunshine and the air, and some one came along and jumped into the water and got drowned 'to prove his love for me,' I should find it quite unintelligible. I might be much in need of love, but an act in no rational relation to any of my necessities could not prove it.

"But if I had fallen over the pier and were drowning, and some one sprang into the water, and at the cost of making my peril, or what but for him would be my fate, his own, saved me from death, then I should say, 'Greater love hath no man than this.' I should say it intelligibly, because there would be an intellibible relation between the sacrifice which love made and the necessity from which it redeemed."

-- James Denney

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Yesterday's Faithfulness Brings Today's Encouaragement

A wise, against the grain perspective from Erik Raymond...

"...Think about your own congregation, if you were facing such a pressure packed situation, do you think you would you point them back to the previous generation? It is common today to embrace the prominence of the now. We tend to act like we think that we are the most important generation. We rarely look over our shoulders unless we are looking down our noses or tickling our curiosity. However, for Christians, looking back is vitally important for marching ahead faithfully. There is great value today in looking back to yesterday...."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Questioning and Faith

“Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.”

― Elisabeth Elliot, "A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael"

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Source of Our Every Good

"...it will not suffice simply to hold that there is one whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. . . . For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him — they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him."

-- John Calvin (Institutes, I, 2, 1)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Why Are So Many Christians Unhappy?

A wise and helpful post from Jim Johnston of Desiring God Ministries:

Joy is the emotion of salvation. We rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8). If you’re a Christian, the Spirit gives you soaring delight in Christ. His beauty and greatness thrill your soul.

But quite a few believers struggle to experience joy. Why is that?

Some people by nature tend to be sad, and joy is an ongoing challenge. When I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s classic, Spiritual Depression, I was surprised that he mentions temperament or personality as “the first and foremost cause.” He may be right.

But there are other reasons. Young moms are often surprised at how tired they are — sleepless and exhausted — and they wrestle to find joy. If you are grieving or suffering, you may not realize that God has specific joys for you in your present circumstance. And don’t forget that our enemy hates us and will steal every ounce of joy he can.

But the most miserable Christians I’ve seen are those who live with a foot in both worlds.

They hedge their bets. They have one eye on heaven and one on earth. They call on the name of Christ, but they still try to find security, satisfaction, pleasure, or fulfillment from this world. They’re riding the fence. And they’re not happy.

Is that you? The only way to have joy is to say a full “Yes” to God. Which means saying “No” to the world.

The Great Yes

It is important for every Christian to be convinced that God is good. And what’s more — God alone is good.

If we are not absolutely convinced that God alone is good, we will not be able to say “No” to other gods that promise joy but deliver sorrow. We don’t dare to imagine that there is even a sliver of good apart from God and his will for our lives. Not a shred.

The Psalms drive this truth home.

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:2)
And again,

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)
And again,

I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are . . . my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)
In the New Testament, James writes,

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:16–17)
Every ounce of good in this world comes from God. Nothing can possibly be good unless it comes from God. A joyful Christian believes this truth. She banks her life — and her joy — on it.

Calvin put it this way:

it will not suffice simply to hold that there is one whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. . . . For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him — they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him. (Institutes, I, 2, 1)
God is good. God alone is good. And all good comes from God.

Best of all, God gives us himself. And he is our joy — the unspeakably glorious delight of our hearts. David says,

In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)


The Great No

Satan tempts us to think we can find something good and satisfying apart from God. But we must declare a strong, resounding “No” to anything that promises good without him. This great “No” is at the heart of Christian joy.

The essence of sin is looking for good outside of God and his will. That is how our mother Eve was deceived.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis 3:6)
We stumble in the same way she did. When I dig beneath the surface of any sin in my life, I find that I am trying to get something good apart from God and his ways. That good thing might be pleasure, security, significance, satisfaction, justice, belonging, comfort, some physical need, etc. But I try to get it without God.

In the end, it is idolatry. I am looking to something other than God to meet my needs and satisfy my desires. These gods promise joy, but they deliver misery.

That is why a half-hearted Christian cannot have ongoing joy in Christ. David says,

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply. (Psalm 16:4)
And again,

For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity. (Psalm 31:10)
We run after other gods to find joy, but we find sorrow.

A young woman knows that she shouldn’t marry a non-Christian, but she thinks she will find love and security in this relationship — even though God is not in it. She wants something good, but she is looking to another god to provide it, and her sorrows will multiply.

A man thinks he will find fulfillment in pornography or hooking up after work. Sexual pleasure is a good thing in God’s way. But this man is looking to another god to give to him, and these brief seconds of pleasure will turn to gravel and ashes in his mouth.

A woman looks for significance through gossip. She feels important when she talks about what other people are doing. She is not finding her worth in Christ. She is running after another god for her sense of value.

An unforgiving man holds a grudge. He thinks that it is his responsibility to make things right. Justice is a good thing, but he is not looking to the “Judge of all the earth” to give it to him. He is running after another god.

So choose today whom you will serve. Look to God and his will for every good gift in your life. Say with the psalmist, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup” (Psalm 16:5).

Half-hearted Christians are not happy Christians. Hope in God, and don’t run after other gods. That is the path to joy.

-- Jim Johnston, "Desiring God Ministries"

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Freedom through Subjection

"It's gonna cost us everything
to follow one Lord and King
true love endures everything
--to be free"

@JoshGarrels "The Resistance"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Elisabeth Elliot on 'Faith'

"Faith is not an instinct. It certainly is not a feeling – feelings don’t help much when you’re in the lions’ den or hanging on a wooden Cross. Faith is not inferred from the happy way things work. It is an act of will, a choice, based on the unbreakable Word of God who cannot lie, and who showed us what love and obedience and sacrifice mean, in the person of Jesus Christ." -- Elisabeth Elliot

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Kyrios Christos

"...true discipleship is about dutifully and faithfully living out the lordship of Jesus Christ. Discipleship means ordering our lives according to his story, symbols, teaching, and authority. Evangelism is not about asking people to try Jesus the way they might try a new decaf moccacino latte from Starbucks. It is more like declaring the victory of the Lord Jesus over sin and death, warning of the judgment to be made by the Lord Jesus over all rebellion, and inviting people to find joy and satisfaction in the life and love that come from the Lord Jesus Christ...."

From "Kyrios Christos: The Lordship of Jesus Christ Today"

-- Michael Bird

Saturday, June 13, 2015

If not to God....

“If not to God, you will surrender to the opinions or expectations of others, to money, to resentment, to fear, or to your own pride, lusts, or ego. You were designed to worship God and if you fail to worship Him, you will create other things (idols) to give your life to. You are free to choose, what you surrender to but you are not free from the consequence of that choice.”

-- Rick Warren

Packer on Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Penal Substitution Revisited
-- J. I. Packer
Throughout my 63 years as an evangelical believer, the penal substitutionary understanding of the cross of Christ has been a flashpoint of controversy and division among Protestants. It was so before my time, in the bitter parting of ways between conservative and liberal evangelicals in the Church of England, and between the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (now UCCF) and SCM in the student world. It remains so, as liberalism keeps reinventing itself and luring evangelicals away from their heritage. Since one’s belief about the atonement is bound up with one’s belief about the character of God, the terms of the gospel and the Christian’s inner life, the intensity of the debate is understandable. If one view is right, others are more or less wrong, and the definition of Christianity itself comes to be at stake.

An evangelical theologian, dying, cabled a colleague: ‘I am so thankful for the active obedience (righteousness) of Christ. No hope without it.’ As I grow old, I want to tell everyone who will listen: ‘I am so thankful for the penal substitutionary death of Christ. No hope without it.’ That is where I come from now as I attempt this brief vindication of the best part of the best news that the world has ever heard.

It is impossible to focus the atonement properly until the biblical mode of Trinitarian and incarnational thought about Jesus Christ is embraced. The Trinitarian principle is that the three distinct persons within the divine unity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always work inseparably together, as in creation, so in providence and in every aspect of the work of redemption. The incarnational principle is that when the Son took to himself all the powers and capacities for experience that belong to human nature, and began to live through his human body, mind and identity, his sense of being the Father’s Son was unaffected, and he knew and did his Father’s will, aided by the Spirit, at all times. It was with his own will and his own love mirroring the Father’s, therefore, that he took the place of human sinners exposed to divine judgment and laid down his life as a sacrifice for them, entering fully into the state and experience of death that was due to them.

Then he rose from death to reign by the Father’s appointment in the kingdom of God. From his throne he sent the Spirit to induce faith in himself and in the saving work he had done, to communicate forgiveness and pardon, justification and adoption, to the penitent, and to unite all believers to himself to share his risen life in foretaste of the full life of heaven that is to come. Since all this was planned by the holy Three in their eternal solidarity of mutual love, and since the Father’s central purpose in it all was and is to glorify and exalt the Son as Saviour and Head of a new humanity, smartypants notions like ‘divine child abuse’, as a comment on the cross, are supremely silly, and as irrelevant and wrong as they could possibly be.

As in all the Creator’s interacting with the created order, there is here an element of transcendent mystery, comparable to fog in the distance hanging around a landscape, which the rising sun has effectively cleared for our view. What is stated above is clearly revealed in God’s own witness to himself in the Bible, and so must be given the status of non-negotiable fact.

Again, the atonement cannot be focused properly where the biblical view of God’s justice as one facet of his holiness, and of human willfulness as the root of our racial, communal and personal sinfulness and guilt, is not grasped. Justice, as Aristotle said long ago, is essentially giving everyone their due, and whatever more God’s justice (righteousness) means in the Bible, it certainly starts here, with retribution for wrongdoing. We see this as early as Genesis 3, and as late as Revelation 22:18-19, and consistently in between. God’s mercy to guilty sinners is framed by his holy hostility (wrath) against their sins.

Human nature is radically twisted into an instinctive yet deliberate and ineradicable habit of God-defying or God-denying self-service, so that God’s requirement of perfect love to himself and others is permanently beyond our reach, and falling short of God’s standard marks our lives every day. What is due to us from God is condemnation and rejection.

The built-in function of the human mind that we call conscience tells everyone, uncomfortably, that when we have misbehaved we ought to suffer for it, and to that extent conscience is truly the voice of God.

Both Testaments, then, confirm that judicial retribution from God awaits those whose sins are not covered by a substitutionary sacrifice: in the Old Testament, the sacrifice of an animal; in the New Testament, the sacrifice of Christ. He, the holy Son of God in sinless human flesh, has endured what Calvin called ‘the pains of a condemned and lost person’ so that we, trusting him as our Saviour and Lord, might receive pardon for the past and a new life in him and with him for the present and future. Tellingly, Paul, having announced ‘the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (i.e. wrath-quencher) by his blood, to be received by faith’, goes on to say: ‘This was…to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:2-26, my emphasis). Just justification- justified justification - through the doing of justice in penal substitution, is integral to the message of the gospel.

Penal substitution, therefore, will not be focused properly till it is recognized that God’s redemptive love must not be conceived - misconceived, rather - as somehow triumphing and displacing God’s retributive justice, as if the Creator-Judge simply decided to let bygones be bygones. The measure of God’s holy love for us is that ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ and that ‘he…did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all’ (Romans 5:8, 8:32). Evidently there was no alternative to paying that price if we were to be saved, so the Son, at the Father’s behest ‘through the eternal Spirit’ (Hebrews 9:14), paid it. Thus God ‘set aside…the record of debt that stood against us…nailing it to the cross’ (Colossians 2:14). Had we been among the watchers at Calvary, we should have seen, nailed to the cross, Pilate’s notice of Jesus’ alleged crime. But if, by faith, we look back to Calvary from where we now are, what we see is the list of our own unpaid debts of obedience to God, for which Christ paid the penalty in our place. Paul, having himself learned to do this, testified: ‘the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

This text starts to show us how faith in Christ our penal substitute should be shaping our lives today; which will be my final point for reflection. Thirty years ago I wrote an analysis of insights basic to personal religion that faith in Christ as one’s penal substitute yields. Since I cannot improve on it, I cite it as it stands.

(1) God, in Denney’s phrase, ‘condones nothing’, but judges all sin as it deserves, which Scripture affirms, and my conscience confirms, to be right.
(2) My sins merit ultimate penal suffering and rejection from God’s presence (conscience also affirms this), and nothing I do can blot them out.
(3) The penalty due to me for my sins, whatever it was, was paid for me by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his death on the cross.
(4) Because this is so, I through faith in him am made ‘the righteousness of God in him’, i.e. I am justified; pardon, acceptance and sonship (to God) become mine.
(5) Christ’s death for me is my sole ground of hope before God. ‘If he fulfilled not justice, I must; if he underwent not wrath, I must to eternity’ (John Owen).
(6) My faith in Christ is God’s own gift to me, given in virtue of Christ’s death for me: i.e. the cross procured it.
(7) Christ’s death for me guarantees my preservation to glory.
(8) Christ’s death for me is the measure and pledge of the love of the Father and Son to me.
(9) Christ’s death for me calls and constrains me to trust, to worship, to love and to serve.
(Cited from Tyndale Bulletin 25. 1974, pp42-43)

A lawyer, having completed his argument, may declare that here he rests his case. I, having surveyed the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Christ afresh, now reaffirm that here I rest my hope. So, I believe, will all truly faithful believers.

In recent years, great strides in biblical theology and contemporary canonical exegesis have brought new precision to our grasp of the Bible’s overall story of how God’s plan to bless Israel, and through Israel the world, came to its climax in and through Christ. But I do not see how it can be denied that each New Testament book, whatever other job it may be doing, has in view, one way or another, Luther’s primary question: ‘How may a weak, perverse and guilty sinner find a gracious God?’; nor can it be denied that real Christianity only really starts when that discovery is made. And to the extent that modern developments, by filling our horizon with the great meta-narrative, distract us from pursuing Luther’s question in personal terms, they hinder as well as help in our appreciation of the gospel.

The Church is and will always be at its healthiest when every Christian can line up with every other Christian to sing P. P. Bliss’s simple words, which really say it all:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood,
Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

-- J.I. Packer

A small sin...great contempt

"A small sin shows a greater contempt of God since we dishonor Him for an insignificant thing."

-- Thomas Case, 1598-1682