Thursday, May 19, 2022

This Is God's Universe

 “This is God’s universe, and God does things his way. You may [think you] have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.”

-- J. Vernon McGee

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Race God's Providence Has Marked Out for Me

 “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” – Elisabeth Elliot  

I’ve seen this quote a number of times before, but its applications hit me more forcefully recently as I’ve been teaching about (and therefore reflecting on) the fruit of the Spirit and the similar list of virtues described in a passage like Colossian 3:12-15.   

It struck me that much of the time, and virtually unconsciously, I let myself off the hook because I think that there are things about my circumstances that somehow excuse my not practicing and displaying these Christ-like virtues.  It amounts to me saying, “IF ONLY my circumstances, situations, relationships, opportunities, (etc.) were different THEN I would lead a life marked by these virtues.

But that’s crazy, and exceedingly unbiblical – because the doctrine/reality of divine providence teaches me that the situations, circumstances, relationships, opportunities (etc.) that I’m in are there by His design.  They are the race marked out for me.

So the truth is that it is precisely in the ‘set of circumstances’ that I’m in that God has ordained that I can best learn to go deeper in the obeying, trusting, rejoicing and serving with the attitudes of compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and humility that He is determined to develop in me, and to do so, day by day, moment by moment, right where He has placed me.

All this corresponds with what Spurgeon said, very much along the same lines:  “Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”

Saturday, February 5, 2022

A Spiritually-Healthy Believer Is Easily Edified

“A spiritually healthy believer is easily edified.”

I remember how forcefully that sentence struck me the first time I read it.  It hit me as being very insightful and extremely important, summarizing some important truths in just a few words.  It was written in the context of the life of the church, including as it relates to its gatherings to worship.

The first thing worth noticing is that it assumes, rightly, that the purpose for gathering is ‘edification’ (being spiritually strengthened) not entertained.  There’s a huge difference between the two – a difference many seem to be forgetting.

The New Testament makes it clear that, along with honoring God, the purpose of our gatherings is to edify one another – to build each other up in faith, love and hope.  And the Bible is equally clear that such edification happens via the ministry of the Word of God, spoken and sung.  It’s crucial to remember here that, according to the New Testament, our ‘true spiritual worship’ is our living, every day, consecrated to God, not conforming to the world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds which results in knowing and doing God’s will.  (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 14:3, 5, 12, 26; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 10:23-25; 2 Pet. 3:18)

(It’s also important to recognize that none of the Biblical words for worship mean ‘music-making’.  The 3 key Biblical words for worship mean 1) bow down in submission and dependence, 2) revere, and 3) serve.  Of course all three of these attitudes and actions can happen through singing and music-making, but given today’s prevailing trends it seems helpful to remind that we need to resist the idea that ‘worship’ equals ‘music-making.)

And so we gather to glorify God and edify one another; in fact one of the most important ways that we honor God is BY edifying one another, helping each other spiritually.  And that brings us back to the idea of being ‘easily edified.’

The point of that phrase isn’t that it’s easy to grow in holiness, faith and love.  No, the point is that the spiritually healthy believer realizes the essential simplicity of how that process moves forward – it happens through the prayer proclamation of the Word of God, faithfully interpreted and relevantly applied.

All the spiritually healthy Christian (including new Christians) really need or want is to gather with the people of God around the Word of God to be encouraged to continue in the will of God.  Again, there is a simplicity to all this, a simplicity that can be lost in the midst of a prevailing spiritually UNhealthy  mix in evangelical Christianity today that confuses entertainment with edification and then looks to audio-visual technology to be the ‘means of grace’ (that is, factors of sound and lighting, etc., become essential to producing a certain effect of ‘worship’).  It’s a major topic that will be the focus of another post sometime.

But the point now is, the healthy believer doesn’t need all that.  He or she is ‘easily edified’.  Have the people of God prayerfully and reverently and joyfully gathered around the Word of God (spoken and sung) in the presence of God?  Well then, that’s all they really need.  That will ‘do the trick’ – they’ll be able to grow in devotion to God, to one another, and to the work He’s called us to do.

And there is one other key characteristic of the spiritually healthy believer.  Because he or she is now growing in the fruit of the Spirit, which involved a God-implanted love for fellow-believers, the spiritually healthy Christian does ‘is not self-seeking’ and ‘does not insist on his own way’ when it comes to gathering and fellowshipping together.  (1 Cor. 13:5).  One of the worst effects of the so-called ‘worship style wars’ of the past few decades is the erosion of the attitude of self-denying deference when it comes to matters of mere personal preference.

Well again, just to remind us, here are some other basic Bible passages that describe the attitude and outlook of the healthy, growing Christian:  

1 Cor. 10:31-33 “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, … even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many…”

Rom. 15:1-3  “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build them up.  For even Christ did not please himself…”

Matt. 20:28 “…the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve….”

Phil. 2:3-7 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,  Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,…”

And isn’t that how the Lord described kingdom greatness?  Being willing to be a servant, a slave (!) to others?  (Mt. 20:25-27)

-----------------

Yesterday I saw a Facebook post from a young pastor who serves a growing, healthy church in Virginia.  His post was simple, straightforward, with a profound lesson:

 Bill's family joined our church.

No one invited them to dinner.

What did they do?

They began inviting people over for meals.

Today, most of our church has at least been invited into their home.

They changed our church.

Lord, help us be what we wish others would be for us.

Amen to that.

Finally, as I write this I think of missionary friends who are just returning after home assignment to the Dem Tribe in Papua, Indonesia.  Jared and I talked a number of times about how spiritually eager and excited these very young converts are – eager and excited to hear more of ‘God’s Talk’ so that they can be doers and not just hearers of the Word.  That’s what they really want; that’s what they really need.

It reminds me of those videos you see on YouTube when a tribal group received their first copies of the Bible in their own language.  They are ecstatic.  They are thrilled.  And they are wise – because they have a Spirit-given anointing that has already taught them that the Word of God is really all they truly need to continue to grow in their knowledge of God.

They realize what many in the West and in the U.S. seem to not be so sure of; but they are sure, for they remember that their faith in God came in the first place via "hearing the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17), and so now they have the joyful expectation that, with their very own Bibles in their very own language, they have all that they need for life and godliness.  They are ready to be ‘easily edified.’

But I’ve known easily-edified, others-serving, God-glorifying Christians in every church in America that I’ve been a part of.  And they are truly beautiful people, reflecting the beauty of their Savior, because they’ve adopted a mindset of wanting to be just like Him.  They bring glory to God, and edifying joy and encouragement to others.  I want to be one of them.


Friday, February 4, 2022

What Scripture says, God says...

“What Scripture says, God says….”  That was St. Augustine’s compelling way of affirming the true nature and authority of the Bible as God’s inspired (literally, ‘breathed out by God”), infallible, inerrant Word.  Faithful Christians throughout history and around the world have held, and still do hold, this view of the Bible – for it was taught by the Lord himself, and by his prophets and apostles.

We are to use the Bible for the purposes God gave it, purposes that are well-summarized by J.I. Packer who said that all theology should lead us further and deeper when it comes to ‘the praise of God and the practice of godliness.’

“What Scripture says, God says” and what that means practically is: how we relate to the Bible is how we relate to God, precisely because the words of Scripture are HIS WORDS.  There are so many crucial applications of this truth, but I just want to focus on one key idea and that is this: the Lordship of Christ over every believer and every congregation is mediated by His Word (illumined by the Spirit).  And the Bible goes further to say that this inscripturated Word is to be faithfully taught and relevantly applied by those whom Christ himself has called and gifted to preach and teach his Word.

And so, to put it bluntly, when the Lord asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46) it is a rebuke to every professing Christian or church leader or congregation that, in spite of their supposed commitment to Christ’s lordship and the Bible’s authority, defy or disregard that authority when it comes to how they actually and practically conduct themselves, the values they truly express, and in how their  decisions are actually made.

And so, in the lives of individual believers, their Christian profession is contradicted by their practice (Titus 1:16), to the detriment of the Christian witness (Titus 2:5).  And as it relates to churches, pragmatism (what seems to ‘work’) or the personal preferences of church members or pastors or  church leaders, or ‘tradition’ (“we’ve always done it this way”)  actually end up nullifying the supposed allegiance to God’s own Word (the very thing Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and ‘experts’ in the law/Torah for in Matt. 15:3-9).  

God’s Word through Moses, re-affirmed by the Lord Jesus himself during his wilderness temptation, insists that we are to “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God” – His words of teaching, we are to believe; his words of promise, we are to trust (beginning with the Gospel promise itself); and his words of command, we are to observe and obey.

Again, to quote J.I. Packer,  “The Christian principle of biblical authority means... that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture…..Authority in Christianity belongs to God the Creator, who made us to know, love, and serve him, and his way of exercising his authority over us is by means of the truth and wisdom of his written Word….. And since the Father has now given the Son executive authority to rule the cosmos on his behalf (Matt.28:18), Scripture now functions precisely as the instrument of Christ’s lordship over his followers…." -- (Concise Theology, p. 16)

Christian, how you relate to God’s Words in your Bible is how you relate to God.  This may be the most important principle and practice in living a healthy spiritual life.   Church leader, you have a special calling to do all that you can to make sure that in the actual teachings, practices, programs and decisions of your church, the headship of Christ over your church finds consistent expression in intentional submission to the teachings of the Bible, because…..’what Scripture says, God says.’

(Deut. 8:3; 10:12-13; Psalm 1; 19:7-11; 119; Matt. 4:4; 5:17-20; 28:18-20; Jn.8:31-32; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:16-17; 4:1-5; Heb. 4:12-13; 13:17; James 1:22-25; 2 Pet. 1:21)


The Purposes of Singing in Worship

 “The hymnic material in the book of the Revelation…should alert us to the importance of singing God’s praise in a way that is truly honoring to him and helpful to his people. 

"Do our hymns and songs concentrate on praising God for his character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf? Do they focus sufficiently on the great truths of the gospel? 

"There is always a temptation to focus too much on the expression of our own immediate needs.” 

– David Peterson, “Engaging with God”

Monday, July 12, 2021

J.I. Packer on the Old Gospel versus the New...

"...[The most serious problems in Christianity today all arise from] our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realising it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty....

The 'new gospel' conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this isn’t primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. 

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel, the center of reference is man. 

This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church.

 From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for his sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) 

However this may be...the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of his redeeming work as if he had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need...."

-- J.I. Packer, from his Introductory Essay to John Owen's "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ"


Monday, March 22, 2021

The Lord Is the Avenger of Those Who Are Mistreated

One of the things that people today (including professing Christians) seem to greatly underestimate is how seriously God regards it when someone deliberately mistreats another person.

In fact, God says in Scripture that he himself will act as Judge and Avenger for the person who is mistreated and abused (and that includes emotional abuse as well as physical, and other ways of harming someone else too).

Here are just a few Scripture passages that point to this reality:

The apostle Paul wrote, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord WILL REPAY HIM for what he has done.” – 2 Tim. 4:14 (NIV)

And addressing another kind of wrongdoing Paul says, “Never harm or cheat a fellow believer by violating his wife, for THE LORD AVENGES all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before.” – 1 Thess. 4:6 (NLT)

In the Book of Exodus we read, “Whoever treats his father or his mother disgracefully must surely be put to death.” – Ex. 21:17 (NET)  

Even though that Old Testament command of the death penalty isn’t to be carried out in the New Covenant situation, this verse still shows how seriously sinful God considers it to be when a person violates the Fifth Commandment to HONOR one’s father and mother.

And Paul writes to the Romans,  ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’  But what if some people make it impossible to be at peace with them, what then?   Paul continues,  “Do not take revenge, my dear friends,” but that is NOT the end of the matter, as if the abusive person is going to ultimately get away with it, for what Paul writes next is extremely sobering:   “…but LEAVE ROOM FOR GOD’S WRATH, for it is written: ‘IT IS MINE TO AVENGE, I WILL REPAY’ says the Lord.” – Romans 12:18-19 (NIV)

We’re not able to really say whether the Lord’s judgment and punishments in a given situation will happen in this life or in the final judgment with its eternal consequences.  Sometimes it will be both. 

But if, in God’s providence, you are reading this post, with these divine warnings, I urge you to take them very seriously, and if they apply to you today to repent and seek forgiveness and to make things right (right with God, but also with the person you have been mistreating and sinning against), realizing that God will not be mocked, but will ensure that we reap what we sow.  

It may well be that for some reading this, the hardships and troubles you are experiencing in your life even now are part of God’s judgment already – but in this life there is still opportunity to repent, to act to make things right, and to find a gracious forgiveness.

But at some point it all becomes too late (sometimes because a person hardens their heart for so long there’s no turning back)– that’s why now is the time, and today is the day, to put things right, remembering too the Scripture that says, ‘We know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ (Heb. 10:30-31)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Augustine's Comment on His Own Culture, Applicable to Today

 This is a passage from "City of God", where Augustine summarizes the debauchery of Rome’s ruling class.   But it is extraordinary how applicable it is to our own time.....

"This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. 

Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. 

Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. 

Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. 

Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. 

Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. 

Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. 

Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. 

If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. 

Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed.

"It was the best criticism of our modern age I’d ever read. A society oriented entirely towards consumption and pleasure, spurning duty and virtue..."  

--  J.D. Vance (author of "Hillbilly Elegy") citing St. Augustine


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Holy Spirit as Controlling Agent

 "The Holy Spirit is the controlling and directing agent in every regenerate person." -- John Murray (comm. on Romans 8:13-14)

"All does not yet gleam in glory, but...."

 "This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified." -- Martin Luther

Spurgeon on God's Good and Wise Providence

 "He shall choose our inheritance for us."

Psalm 47:4

Charles Spurgeon:   

Believer, if your inheritance be a lowly one, you should be satisfied with your earthly portion for you may rest assured that it is the fittest for you. Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition. A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now in one part of the stream there is a sandbank; should someone ask, "why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel and deviate so much from a straight line?" His answer would be, "because I should not get my vessel in the harbor at all if I did not keep to the deep channel."

So, it may be, you would run aground and suffer shipwreck if your Divine Captain did not steer you into the depths of affliction where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession. Some plants die if they have too much sunshine. It may be that you are planted where you get but little, you are put there by the loving Husbandman, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit unto perfection. 

Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, "Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by myself will I am pierced through with many sorrows." 

Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. 

Down busy self, and proud and impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of love.


Trials must and will befall -- 

But with humble faith to see 

Love inscribed upon them all; 

This is happiness to me

Friday, October 2, 2020

Western Man Abolishes Himself

 “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. 

"Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over--a weary, battered old brontosaurus--and became extinct.”

- Malcolm Muggeridge, from "Vintage Muggeridge, Religion and Society"

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Resisting the Devil

 When the Devil brings up your past, remind him of his future. (Rev. 20:10)

Christ Is For You, Against Your Sin

 "There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger. . . . For he suffers with us under our infirmities, and by infirmities are meant sins, as well as other miseries. . . . 

"Christ takes part with you [=takes your side], and is so far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yes, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more. 

"What shall not make for us [=be turned for our advantage and welfare] when our sins, that are both against Christ and us, shall be turned as motives to him to pity us the more?"

-- Dane C. Ortlund, "Gentle and Lowly"

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Jesus' Miracles Are Natural in a World That Is Unnatural

"...Theologian Jurgen Moltmann points out that miracles are not an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order.  We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural.  In fact, THEY are the interruption.
"'When Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, he is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick.  The lordship of God to which the healings [bear] witness, restores creation to health.
"'Jesus' healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world.  They are the only truly "natural" thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded.'"
-- Dane Ortlund, quoting Moltmann's "The Way of Jesus Christ" in "Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers"