Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why I am Reformed

     Many of you may have seen from my Google profile, that I consider myself a "reformed Christ-follower". I have had a lot of discussions with friends on this topic, and I want to make myself crystal clear from the very start. By this post, I'm not trying to convince anyone to be a Calvinist (not that that would break my heart). I'm simply trying to explain my view of reformed theology, which I might add does not add up to full-fledged Calvinism (a term a strongly dislike). By the same token, even though I do not add up to a Calvinist on every level, I certainly ascribe to certain of their beliefs.

     So let's start at the beginning. A friend shared this idea (reformed theology) with me years ago, and I honestly didn't think much of it. I accepted it as truth, but I really didn't care a whole lot. I mean, how much does this really affect your view of the gospel? As I would find out later, a lot!

     Fast forward seven years. I'm sitting in a Sunday School class at my church, where the teacher is attempting to teach the book of Romans, dodging the majority of verses that seem to support this system of thought. Just in case anyone's ever tried it, it's really hard to expositionally teach through the book of Romans while side-stepping all references to election. Several of the men offered their own reasons for why they did not accept Calvinism, and when the final prayer had been prayed, I opened up a conversation with one of the men who had been most vocal about his disagreement. At the time, I thought we'd talk for a second, I'd answer the question he asked, and I'd be on my way. Little did I know!

     We talked for an hour. I left the conversation a little confused, definitely frustrated, and more than a little ashamed. I thought I knew my stuff pretty well, but I didn't know it near as well as I thought I did! That day, I purposed I would try much harder to know why I believed what I said I believed. Hopefully, today will put some of the information that I learned since then out there, and maybe it will help someone understand reformed theology a little better.

     The first thing I want to make clear is that I do not consider myself a Calvinist. Yes, I will answer to the term if you call me that, but I don't call myself that. Paul himself criticized the Corinthian church for their divisions over the teachings of men, even to the point of calling themselves followers of Apollos, or of Paul, or of Cephas. (1 Cor. 1:11-13, 3:4-5) We are followers of Christ, not of mere men. So in no way do I believe reformed theology because Calvin or Luther said so, in the same way I don't ascribe to Roman Catholic doctrine because the Pope said so. The result of that is that I do disagree with Calvin on several points.

     So, on to the topic at hand. The first point of this doctrine I'm going to address is Total Depravity, also known as Total Inability. This is what really shocked me during the discussion I had with the man I referenced before. He denied the fact that man was totally depraved! I was stunned, and so I really didn't respond very intellectually. So the first thing I did when I got home was to look up some verses about that in my Bible. So here goes.

     Rom. 3:9-12 states, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.'" That doesn't seem that complicated. Nobody, not you, not me, not Paul, not anybody does good deeds. None of us are righteous, none of us understand, none of us seeks for God.

     The background of this chapter is that Paul is speaking to the Romans of their own guilt before God. The Roman Jews believed they were better than their Gentile neighbors, so they felt they were in less need of Jesus. Paul wrote these first three chapters of Romans, and parts of the next four chapters, to specifically address that all men are equally guilty before God, that is to say, totally guilty. The state of the men Paul is speaking about here is that of unregenerate men. Before our salvation, we don't do good things.

     Here is where I'll address the issue raised by the man I spoke with at church. His argument consisted of this, "What about the little old atheist woman who bakes a pie for a neighbor? How is that not good? Even more, how is that sin?"

     This question really isn't as challenging as I first thought. First off, hopefully, as Christians, we believe the Bible is our final authority for all discussions. So, whether or not it seems in our finite minds that the woman is doing wrong isn't the issue; it's what does the Bible say. I think the verse we just read makes that clear. But Rom. 14:23 establishes a principle that will make the best person on earth acknowledge their guilt before God.

     "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats. because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." Now again, let's talk about context. He's addressing the Romans problem of meat offered to idols. However, Paul smoothly transitions between addressing the problem specifically to offering a much more universal principle. Think about it: whatever is not from faith is sin. So, applying this verse to that, the little atheist woman is sinning, because she did not bake that pie while trusting in God.

     So, let's talk about what that means. Man, in his unregenerate state, has no faith in Jesus. Rom. 14:23 was clear that anything done apart from faith is sin. Thus, the logical conclusion is that any action done by an unsaved person is sin. They cannot do anything but that, because they do not have faith in God.

     Alright then, now that that's squared away, we'll come back to that. It will tie into our discussion later. In the mean time, let's move on to the most contested of the points I hold to, Unconditional Election. I really don't hold very strongly, if at all, to the next two points, so I'll spend the majority of this post on this point.

     Okay, so where does this belief come from? Honestly, it's much bigger than just the election of believers, which is why I often wonder why more Christians don't consider this a rather simple concept. This could be a long explanation, so I'll begin with the most important argument: what does the Scripture say?

     Rom. 8:29-30 states, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, he also glorified." It can't get a whole lot more clear than that. Those people who God foreknew from the beginning of time, he predestined to become His children. Those whom He predestined, He called to himself, and those He called, He justified and glorified. It seems pretty cut and dried to me.

     One of the most common arguments against election is that God would be unjust if it were true that He chose those who would come to Him and who would not. But think about it. Is it any different this His sovereign direction throughout the rest of time?

     Let's talk about Joseph and his brothers. We see his brothers, of their own free will apparently, sell Joseph into slavery. But when his brothers meet him once again in Egypt, listen closely to his response. "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt." (Gen. 45:5-8)

      Think about it. Did the brothers sell him into slavery? Yes. But Joseph instantly turns it around to say that (v.7) they did not, but it was God simply using them as an instrument. So, what is the correlation between our free will and God's sovereignty? I'll be honest, I don't know. But at the same time, let's admit that God overrides our free will at times to accomplish His sovereign purpose, and He remains completely just in doing so.

     Is. 10 is another interesting passage. Feel free to read the rest of the passage, in fact, please do, since it will help your reading of it in context. but v. 5-7, 12, 15 says, "Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend, Nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations... So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, He will say, 'I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness...' Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or a rod lifting him who is not wood."

     What's Isaiah saying? Assyria, God's tool of judgment on the Southern kingdom of Israel, actually had no intention of attacking Israel on its own. Instead, God gave it the mission and directed its steps, seemingly against the Assyrian's own original plans. Then, to go a step further, God will then punish the tool He commissioned because of the Assyrian's pride in taking credit for something that God did through them. He then finishes the passage off by comparing the Assyrians to a lifeless tool wielded by someone or something more powerful than themselves, and doing something over which they have no control.

     What's the point of these two passages I just read? Simply this: God does indeed force His will to be done among men, even if that involves changing our hearts and minds to do something completely different. In the case of Joseph, God's will went along with the intentions of Joseph's brothers. In the same manner they had an intention in selling Joseph, God also had a fixed intention in mind, to such a degree that Joseph actually concluded that it was God who did, not his brothers. In the case of Assyria, God's sovereign will actually went against their intentions, but it didn't matter. They were a mere tool in the hands of someone greater than they.

     So what does this have to do with election? We cannot pull the injustice card on God. Whatever God does is just, whether it seems so to us or not. God directs the heart of man to point in whichever direction he chooses. Prov. 21:1 states, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes."

     I believe the same is true of the election of the believers. All men are under sin, hopelessly lost in sin and in rebellion against God. By ourselves, because we do no good thing (Rom. 3:12), we will never come to God on our own. The only way we will ever come to God is if God himself comes and directs our hearts, like "channels of water" toward Himself. Other than that, we would, every single one of us, be destined to eternity in hell.

     Why do I say that man will never choose God on his own? Well, I'm glad you asked! Think about Eph. 2:1-2. "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." I want to take particular care in looking at that first phrase, "dead in trespasses and sin".

     I hold a CPR/AED certification from the Red Cross. In order to get it, I had to take a several hour class on the subject, and I found it rather interesting and definitely informative to this topic. CPR or AED use is for someone who is legally dead. They can do nothing to help themselves. Everything is dependent on the mercy of God and the capabilities of their rescuer.

     Notice that Paul didn't use the phrase "asleep in sin" or "unconscious in sin" or even "in a coma in sin". He used the word "dead". Completely, utterly helpless. A dead person can, at no time, save themselves. They have no power, no control over their fate.

     What is necessary to bring a legally dead person back to life? The rescuer must do everything himself, expecting no help from the victim. That's the example Paul chooses to use for our regeneration. So I'm going to give a few details of what that would entail.

     Now, according to the idea of election, God does everything. Even the person's choosing of Him is at God's instigation. So it would go something like this. The doctor (God) walks into the room, takes off the victim's (you) shirt, places the AED pads on their chest, and steps clear. Then he reaches down and pushes the button to shock your heart back into its normal cycle. The praise for this action goes all to the doctor, because it is all Him, none of us.

     Think about the other option, the one I hear most commonly from most people. The doctor (God) walks into the room, take the victim's (you) shirt off, places the AED pads on your chest, steps clear, and leaves the room. Maybe He sits next to you and tells you to push the button, encourages you to push the button. Either way, now it's up to you to push the button. You may see the problem with this scenario, but just in case you don't, I'll tell you. YOU'RE DEAD! You will never, ever push the button, because you're dead.

     This is the word that Paul, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose to put down to describe our state as fallen sinners. We are helpless, and even though the offer of redemption lies within the grasp of our fingertips, because of Jesus' offer that all who come to Him will be redeemed, but we lack the willpower to come to Him on our own because of the Fall. Our sinful nature's will forever hold us to actions of sin unless Jesus himself comes to change our hearts.

      Eph. 1:3-5 states, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons, through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of His will."

     I am not attempting to dismiss all part of free will from salvation. We see Biblically that, just as with Joseph and his brothers, man indeed has free will, but God will shape that free will to fit His purposes. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or email me!

     Why do I feel this is so important? Because it affects our entire view of the gospel. If every part of salvation, even down to our choice, is sovereignly directed by God, all praise and all adoration belongs to God for His mercy. At no point in the whole deal does any praise go to me for my actions. If, however, my salvation is due to my own action of accepting Christ as Savior, and that action is entirely up to my own free will, isn't my salvation, at least to some degree, due to works? If my salvation depends on something I must do or decide to do, isn't that a work, something Rom. 11:6 is very plain has absolutely no place in salvation?

     Again, I have had several friends ask me why I believe what I do, some for the sake of argument and some for the sake of honestly, truthfully seeking the truth. Hopefully, this has answered some questions y'all have had about my beliefs. If not, again, please comment at the bottom or email me and I will do my best to answer.   

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Only Real Eulogy

     I've heard a lot of people talk about how they want this or that on their tombstone. I've also been told a couple times right before I did something really dumb, "That would look really stupid on your gravestone." But you wanna know something interesting?

     You can trick all the people on earth into thinking you're a better person than you are. And you know the scary truth. You can have the most beautiful epitaph on earth and still stand before God's throne ashamed. So don't live your life for what men will put on your gravestone. Live your life for what God will tell you some day when you stand before His throne.

     Think about it. I have no doubt the apostles were called idiots during their lives for doing what they did. A lot of people thought Jim Elliot was an absolute nutcase for doing what he did. But ultimately, it doesn't matter what popular evangelical leaders think. It really doesn't matter what people think. Ultimately, we live, as Dr. Jerry Benjamin says when he visits our church, for an audience of One. We should live our lives for the purpose of pleasing our Savior.

     Don't live your life for men's applause. I'll be honest; this is an area I struggle in. It's really easy to get carried away in taekwondo competition, to love winning, to love the competition, to love the compliments. But true abandonment for Jesus involves surrendering what I want for what God wants. It's really easy to live for compliments, so that people will say you're good at singing, or playing the piano, or sports, or even being so spiritual. I wonder sometimes how many things I do supposedly for Christ that I actually, deep down, I do for men's applause.

     So that's my challenge. Live your life for Jesus, not for applause, not for compliments. When you're dead, what your tombstone says won't matter. How you're remembered on earth won't matter. It's what Christ did for you, and what you did for Christ.

Isaiah 61

     Certain verses really help influence how you view God's grace. When I was going through a time of really trying to study God's grace (an attribute sadly ignored in many traditional churches), this verse was, to me, one of the most beautiful descriptions I found.

     Many of you are probably looking at my blog and saying to yourself, "Man, oh man, he needs to get over this grace stuff!" The truth is, I don't want to get over it. Take a sec and ponder what grace means. God's favor. Have you thought about what that actually means, beyond "oh, wow, cool"? You, a rebel, were saved by the very God you rebelled against. He saved you, not because of you, but in spite of you. And some want Christians to just get over this?

     Anyhow, the verse that strikes me so strongly is Is. 61:10. "I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

     Think of that picture of God's grace. We are covered with His righteousness in place of our sinfulness. The picture is that of clothing. Jesus took the rags of our sins and our works and replaced them with His own righteousness. Do we see the beauty of the substitution?

     Okay, like most young men, I've thought about marriage. Some day (hopefully!) I'll get married. Now, tradition states that my bride will go do whatever girls do to beautify themselves for the wedding while I sit off somewhere else and twiddle my thumbs or something along those lines, while being a nervous wreck!

      I'm sure my sister in law won't mind my sharing this story. One of the pictures we have of her on her wedding day is from several hours before the wedding. She had already changed into her dress, but as we all knew, she had a serious love for Dr. Pepper. The picture we have of her is her leaning her head way out in front of her to keep from spilling Dr. Pepper down her dress while she risked a drink.

     My point? From what I've heard (disclaimer: I have very little experience in this area), brides want to look beautiful at their weddings. That's why Jeannie was being so cautious. So what is Isaiah saying here? In the same way a bride tries to make herself look as beautiful as she possibly can, Jesus' places His grace on us in the same manner. His own spotless righteousness is what gives us our beauty in the eyes of the Father. But the difference? Our own attempts to look beautiful fall far short of actually covering our shame. So Jesus, the groom, actually bestows His own righteousness, His own purity, His own grace on us, the bride.

     God actually adorns us with the attention a groom toward His bride. Now, the only wedding I've actually watched in depth was my brother's wedding. I love my brother, but I noticed one thing about the wedding. Before hand, he joked and laughed with me just like any other day. Once the wedding started, his eyes were glued to that door that Jeannie would be walking through. He didn't care who else was there, who was watching, who was taking pictures, what world events were occurring, because his focus was centered on one thing, his bride.

     That's the same manner of care that Jesus bestows on us, us dirty, wretched sinners. Now as a guy, it's somewhat difficult to consider myself in the position as bride, but I'll give it a shot. In the same way a bride is fixated on looking her best for her groom, Jesus gives us His own righteousness to make us worthy to be His bride. In the same way a groom fixates his focus on his bride, Jesus fixates his love on us, undeserving, wretched rebels we are. That's grace. That's the beauty of the gospel, that "where sin did abound, there did grace much more abound."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Trap of Convenience

     I just finished the book The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg about the German concentration camp at Auschwitz. It was an excellent book, but one part from the novel stuck out to me like never before.

     Germany was a Protestant nation during WW2. I'd never stopped to think about it, but many Germans continued their regular routines of church going on Sundays, singing the old Lutheran hymns, and hearing the Bible read even while engaged in the actions of turning in their Jewish neighbors to be systematically slaughtered. Sure, there were some Christians who stood for true Christianity, such as Protestant Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Catholic Maximillian Kolbe, but the great majority simply went with the flow, even if that led to genocide.

     Although a novel, this was to me a convicting statement from the book. The background is a conversation in the concentration camp between the two men planning the escape, one a Jew, the other a French Protestant pastor arrested for harboring Jews.

     "Luc stopped working, straightened up, and looked Jacob square in the eye. "Because, Jacob, my Savior is a Jew," he replied. "A Jewish carpenter, come to think of it. The Bible teaches me to love the Jews. To bless the Jews. Haven't you ever read the Abrahamic covenant? Didn't God say that those who blessed the Jewish people he would bless, and those who cursed you he would curse?"
     "Of course I've read it," Jacob said. "I just didn't think the goyim (gentiles) did."

      "Well, we do," Luc said. "Some of us, at least. And anyway, if you ask me, the question shouldn't be 'Why are you, a Christian, here in a death camp, condemned for helping to save Jews.' The real question is 'Why aren't all the Christians here?'"

      Convenience is a hard taskmaster. It's very easy to become a slave of what's easy, what's convenient. Just ask thousands of German "Christians" who avoided eye contact with the Jews they were delivering to the cattle cars for slaughter. It is easy to fall into the trap of ease and comfort. It was easier to ignore the Jews than to help them, and so 6,000,000 Jews died, in a "Christian" country.

He Who is Without Sin

     I'll confess. I have favorite Bible stories, favorite books of the Bible, favorite writing styles among Bible authors. I know it's all God's Word, but some verses or stories just really hit right between the eyes. Today, I'll be talking about one of those stories, archived in John 8. There are some stories in the gospels that come across as so completely contrary to how I would picture God. Jesus isn't the upstanding, popular, well-to-do citizen of Jerusalem, preaching in the synagogue on Sundays and encouraging His fellow Jewish citizens to vote on election day, that I would probably select as the perfect man (sarcasm included free of charge). But, oh, how happy I am that I didn't choose who the Son of God was!

     In Jesus, we see someone so completely out of the ordinary that He cannot be ignored. Jesus wasn't the type of Messiah one could ignore. Look at what He demanded of His followers in Luke 9, or of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. These weren't summons that you could side-step, or half-heartedly follow. You either sat in the synagogues, under the teachings of the religious elite, or you followed Him around the country, penniless and homeless. You could live your normal life, following the rules of the Pharisees, or you could follow the Messiah to the lepers, and the homeless, and the sinners.

     In John 8:1-11, we see a perfect example of the Jesus of the gospels, the God/man who responded with love toward those in rebellion against Him. The Pharisees, who cannot stomach the teachings of Jesus throughout the whole of the gospels (except for a few, like Joseph of Arimathea, or Nicodemus), have the perfect opportunity to trap Jesus. He, through the whole of His earthly ministry, walks a mysterious line that the Pharisees cannot understand. On the one hand, Jesus had a perfect understanding of the law, responding several times to their own accusations with recitations of Scripture (Matt. 15:2-9). On the other hand, Jesus seems to make plenty of allowances for people who are in rebellion to the law (Mark 2:15-17), visiting sinners, recruiting both a zealot (a Jewish political assassin) and a publican (a Jewish turncoat to the Romans) into His inner circle of disciples.

     So the Pharisees' attempts to trap Jesus shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Not only had he directly challenged their authority and leadership on several occasions (Lk. 11:39-52, 20:45-47), he was leading people away from their leadership by these continued assaults on their leadership. So whether in an effort to just trap Him, or to more fully understand His position, in this particular case, they did so in an effort to find more information with which to trap Him. (v.6)

     The trap? The Pharisees had caught a woman in the very act of adultery, an action punishable by stoning under the Levitical Law. They had apparently delayed passing sentence until after they had used her as a trap for Jesus. His response, however, floors me 2000 years later almost as much as it did them.

     After telling Jesus the whole story (minus the part about trying to trap Him), I have no doubt the Pharisees were sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to pounce on whatever answer Jesus gave. But Jesus didn't fall for it. Instead, in v.6, he begins acting very strangely. He reaches down, kneels in the dirt, and begins scribbling in the sand.

     Take a second and analyze that action. In kneeling down in the dirt, notice what he did. He lowered Himself from the position of judge above her, down to her level. He, the spotless lamb of God, lowered Himself to the level of a woman caught in adultery. That's what the beauty of the gospel is. Here we have a miniature copy of God's incarnation from heaven to manger. Here we see Him lower himself from the level of Judge, which coincidentally, he had more right than anyone else present to be, to her level. That's amazing grace!

     But the Pharisees pressed the point. And Jesus finally responded with yet another interesting response in v.7. "But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'" This verse is a striking commentary into the heart of Jesus. Because of our own guilt, we have no right to demand adherence to the law by others. Only Jesus has the right to demand absolute subservience to the law, and He chose to forego the right and show grace, a concept so foreign to the Pharisees that we see them leave in silence.

     In v. 10, we see the accusers gone, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Here is His opportunity to condemn her, right? His point to the Pharisees has been made, and now justice will be done, right? No! Even now, when nothing except her is at stake, He shows grace, He shows mercy.

     What better picture is there of the gospel of grace than this? Jesus, deserving to be the Judge, condescends to kneel at the level of a sinful woman, then forgives her, before she even asks! This is the grace that many pastors tell us to calm down about, and quiet down about. This is the grace that these pastors call "license." It's what Jesus would have called "love". He, the only person on earth with an actual right to judge the woman, skipped His right.

     If Jesus decided not to judge, shouldn't we also? Shouldn't we live a life, not of judgment, but instead of love and grace to our neighbors? Doesn't that reflect the attitude of Christ even more than our fine, upstanding standards and rules, not that there's anything wrong with those standards?

Rich Mullins liked Psalm 2, too!

      Just today, it occurred to me that Rich Mullin's song, "While the Nations Rage" was probably based off Psalm 2. Several of the lines are almost direct quotes from the Psalm. Anyhow, I would recommend you look up the actual song by Mullins when you find the time, but for now, here are the lyrics.

Why do the nations rage?
Why do they plot and scheme?
Their bullets can't stop the prayers we pray
In the name of the Prince of Peace
We walk in faith and remember long ago
How they killed Him and then how on the third day He arose
Well, things may look bad
And things may look grim
But all these things must pass except the things that are of Him
Where are the nails that pierced His hands?
Well the nails have turned to rust
But behold the Man
He is risen
And He reigns
In the hearts of the children
Rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood?
Well, the thorns have turned to dust
But not so the love
He has given
No, it remains
In the hearts of the children
Who will love while the nations rage
The Lord in Heaven laughs
He knows what is to come
While all the chiefs of state plan their big attacks
Against His anointed One
The Church of God she will not bend her knees
To the gods of this world though they promise her peace
She stands her ground
Stands firm on the Rock
Watch their walls tumble down when she lives out His love
Where are the nails that pierced His hands?
Well the nails have turned to rust
But not so the Man
He is risen
And He reigns
In the hearts of the children
Rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood?
Well, the thorns have turned to dust
But behold the love
He has given
It remains
In the hearts of the children
Who will love while the nations rage
While the nations rage
Well, where are the nails that pierced His hands?
Well the nails have turned to rust
But behold the Man
He is risen,
And he reigns,
In the hearts of the children
Rising up in His name.

P.S. As a tip to any of my friends reading this who also run their own blogs, blog posting comes easier after eating a good percentage of a cherry pie, baked by one's sister. I've got an awesome sister!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Psalm 2

     I used to attend a church in Georgia before we moved to Houston that would sing Psalms every Sunday from the Scottish Psalter. To be honest, I really enjoyed those psalms, because I really felt the rich heritage that came along with them. I mean, seriously, these songs, although not to these particular tunes, have been sung for 4000 years! These were the tunes that the Scottish martyrs Hugh McKail, John Welsh, Donald Cargill, and others sang on the steps of the scaffold.

     Anyhow, during the time of my life when I used to sing these Psalms at church, my favorite was Psalm 2. Not only did it have an awesome tune that particularly suited the words of this Psalm, but the words were powerful! To this day, I would say it is one of my favorite Psalms.

     There are several different categories of Psalms that I secretly categorize them into (Feel free to use my Taylor Categorization System if you feel like it). There's praise, distress, awe, judgment, and prophecy, right? I'm probably missing some, but those are what come to mind at 10:30 at night on vacation. Psalm 2 fits squarely into the judgment category. The really cool thing about this though is that no psalm fits only in one category. For example, Psalm 2 is about judgment, but in discussing God's judgment it touches a prophecy toward the wicked, resulting in awe and praise from the righteous. Thus one psalm fit in four categories. Mainly though, the emphasis is on judgment. So take a moment, step away from the computer, and go read Psalm 2. Then come back. Don't get distracted!

     I mention a lot about Christian love on this blog, but there's a side of us that wants justice sometimes, right? We can talk a lot about loving your neighbor and sacrificing for your neighbor, and turning the other cheek, but isn't there a time when you just want to see that fire fall from heaven and, although this is going to sound very fleshly, and I like to think I'd resist the temptation, say, "I told you so" to some people?

     The picture I always think of is Elijah in 2 Kings 1. Elijah has been dodging the king for years. The king hates his guts and wants him dead, and Elijah has done his best to keep him from having on opportunity to kill him. However, we don't really see Elijah hiding much in 2 Kings 1. We see him out in the open, and seemingly not a bit perturbed about ordering fire from heaven to absolutely consume 100 men. Christian love? I'm not really sure what the explanation for this is, except that these were wicked men who were serving a wicked king doing a wicked service in a wicked way! The fact that God actually allowed Elijah to summon fire from heaven probably says that God had given approval to this act of judgment. But the point is, there is something, right or wrong, in us humans, that, at least at the mental level, wants to demand justice.

     So back to Psalm 2. What do we see the wicked doing? They're planning the destruction of the righteous. V. 2, "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed, saying, 'Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords away from us.'" About here is where I'm sure somebody is asking, "Why does he like this Psalm again?" The rulers of the earth are plotting the fall of the righteous, of the saved. This isn't some haphazard, if-we-see-the-opportunity-arise plan. This is a systematic plan to stomp out the righteous.

     V. 4 is why I love this Psalm. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision." This psalm is just running over with God's sovereignty. God is not a god running around trying to work everything out. He isn't sitting in heaven worrying over some new event that blindsided Him on earth. He is actually looking down at man's systematic attempts to destroy Him, and He's laughing!

     Is that not comforting to us as His children? He wasn't caught off guard in the 2012 election when Obama was reelected like I heard many Christians come close to saying. He wasn't shocked when 9/11 occurred. He wasn't blindsided during Pearl Harbor, or the Ebola breakout in Africa, or the Boston Bombing. He is sitting in heaven, firmly in control of all things, letting the wicked have their moment before He crushes them. I don't have to worry about where God is in catastrophe, because He is right where He was during Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the reincarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and right where He will be for eternity. He's right there in the middle, planning it out for the good of His children and the furthering of His plan.

     But He doesn't cease at amusement. That amusement turns to anger. God never is pleased with sin. He will judge, quickly, but in His own timing. And He, perfectly just, will judge rightly.

     I think that is where we get off track, and to be honest, I think we know better. We expect perfect justice on earth, and are angry when God doesn't supply it just the way we want it. I just read a book today about the Holocaust, and every time I read about that horrific time, I want to personally kill every German leader of the time period. And I always feel that they got off easy at Nuremburg, where the majority were simply released, and a few, like Goering and Himmler, were sentenced to hang. Isn't that an awfully fast way to kill men who literally tortured to death thousands of men, women, and even children? Then it always comes back to me that God is just. Those quick, relatively painless deaths were a gateway to an eternity in hell, where payment for their crimes will be extracted for eternity. It's not a pretty thought, but it's true. God is just, even when man is not. God's timing is perfect, even when man's is not.

     The picture given in v. 8 is astonishing to me. This, I believe, is God the Father speaking to Jesus before the Millenial reign of Jesus on Earth. "Ask of me, and I will give you the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." Do we see these "powerful" rulers of earth being asked what they want in this passage? No! We see them handed around like pieces on a chess board. These men, who believed that in their own power, and in their own might, could stand against God, will be handed over to Jesus for his judgment. I'm really not sure if this psalm is one of prophecy forward to the time of the Antichrist, but either way, I find great comfort in the knowledge of a sovereign God.

     The rest of the psalm speaks of the psalmist advice to "kiss the Son, lest he be angry" in a reference to submitting to the rule of Jesus, but that is not my focus today. My point today is 1.) We can trust our God. He is perfectly sovereign, not some befuddled comic up in the sky running around trying to stay one step ahead. He is calmly sitting back, watching His plans unfold, and 2.) We can trust that our Sovereign God's judgment and timing are best, better than our own finite ideas of justice and reason. He is worthy of our trust.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Grace Again

     Today I'll be finishing what I began yesterday on the topic of grace. Yesterday I discussed how we should respond to grace. Today I will be touching some on how not to respond to grace. This was the biggest obstacle to date that God had to show me to help my walk with Him. A better understanding of grace influences every facet of your life.

     Galatians is the major book of the Bible that discusses grace, so I will be bringing up a lot of verses from there. Key to understanding what Galatians is discussing is the context of the book. The book of Galatians was an epistle of Paul's to the church at Galatia. The Jewish leaders in Galatia had told the new gentile believers that in order to be true followers of Jesus, they had to be circumcised. We're not sure how the news got back to Paul, but he wrote an adamant rebuttal in the form of the book of Galatians. In it, he discusses both what grace is, and what it isn't. We're going to hit both points.

     First off, as I mentioned yesterday, the opposite of grace is works. Rom. 11:5-6 takes a step further than that though, and states that the election (scholars disagree on whether it is simply the election of the people of Israel or of all believers that Paul is discussing; however, the point is the same) cannot be a combination of both, but solely works or solely grace. It states, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."

     If we think any works are necessary in addition to grace, then we no longer believe in salvation by grace, period. It doesn't matter if you think it takes a huge sacrifice to gain salvation or if you believe it takes a tiny little work to save you; if you think it takes any work at all, you have rejected grace. By definition, grace must be undeserved, and thus non-dependent on your will to act, or failure to act.

     This is why I believe it's a big deal, a much bigger deal than many Christians seem to believe when a pastor believes it is a cause to rejoice that people consider him a legalist. By it's very definition, legalism must be in direct opposition to grace. Here's a quick definition from the Internet for legalism, "dependence on moral law rather rather than on personal religious faith".

     This quick quote I took from a website ( might help enlighten you on what this means. "This legalism can take different forms. The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation. The second is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation. The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed."

     But do we see the problem with this? In each of these, legalism leaves God out. It's about me, what I can do, what I have done, what I need to do, what I should do, with hardly any mention of God. Scarier, if this was true religion, I could do any of those things without God. Legalism is such a twisted form of religion that it actually removes the need for a God as Savior from the picture. I may need Him as a Creator, or a comforter, but from a legalistic mindset, what needs to be done is left up to me to be done on my own.

     Read this verse from Galatians 2. V. 19 states, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." Then skip down to v. 21, "I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Think about that, 'cause that's pretty serious stuff right there. That's exactly what I said above. If one thinks his righteousness comes from his own good works, who needs Christ's sacrificial death on the cross? I'm doing just fine on my own, thank you! When we live a life centered on the works, on the law, on the rules, we miss Christ. It is only when we are dead to the rules, the applause for my personal greatness that I can truly see Jesus.

     Why is legalism so serious? It blinds me to who Christ is, to my need for Him. Gal. 3:22-25 is an interesting portion of Scripture that speaks of this. "But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, ye were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."

     Think about that for sec. The rules that legalism binds people to so closely are there for the exact opposite reason, to draw us to Christ through our failure to meet its demands. But once we find Christ, the relationship with Him makes the schoolmaster unnecessary. If we sit in a corner and just stare at the schoolmaster, we miss what the schoolmaster is pointing at. In the same way, if we stare at the law, at the rules constantly, and live a life oriented by rules, we miss the whole point. The whole reason for those rules is to point us to Christ. If we dwell on the rules, we miss the whole point. We miss the whole idea!

     So as you go about this next week, think about that. Dwell on God's mercy, His grace. Never tire of it.

Another Quick Quote

     My thoughtful sister sent me this quote this morning.

     "I don't understand how we can be passionate where the Bible is silent, but be lukewarm where the Bible is explicit."
                                      -Kevin Smith

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Quick Quote

     Here's a quote from Rich Mullins that I thought was good.

     "Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you've done it to me. And this is what I've come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they're just wrong. They're not bad, they're just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays and minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken."


     Today I will be discussing something that comes up very often in fundamentalist circles, grace. It happens to be a hot topic in many churches, and it also happens to be one of my hot buttons. In order to illustrate what I mean, I'm going to begin with a story.

     I want to get one thing straight first though. This is a true story, and I sincerely believe the pastor I heard did not really understand what he was saying. I think he just got carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment.

     I was at church recently to hear a guest pastor speak. This guest pastor preached a great first half of his sermon, and had he stopped there, I would not have had anything to say on the matter. However, he began speaking about how many Christians abuse God's grace, using it for license. Again, he didn't stop there though. This pastor then said, from a pulpit, that he had been called a legalist before. His response? "Hallelujah!" Immediately, a good bit of the congregation began clapping.

     So today, I'm going to talk about grace, because obviously, it's been misunderstood. I've heard a lot of pastors, and a lot of writers criticize people who spend "too much" time discussing, thinking about, thanking God for His grace. I mean, yeah, sure, grace is good and all that, but, get over it, right? God called us to good works, not to just sit there talking about grace. And Christians abuse grace too much. As one well-known speaker said, "Christians can't handle freedom."

     So, what does that mean? First off, let's get the definition straight in our minds. According to most Bible scholars, grace is considered, "God's unmerited favor." Remember that; we'll come back to that. So, considering that, is it possible to spend too much time thinking about God's free gift of His favor, and what that entails? I don't think it is. I don't think any of us think about it enough. You could think about that forever and not realize all the angles of what it means, because in a way, the whole Bible is just a story of grace, right? The gospel is a story of grace: undeserved favor from God. That's the whole theme of the gospel! So, by saying that we should stop meditating on grace so much, those people are simply telling us to stop thinking about the gospel and get to work doing works!

     I just mentioned it, but let me come back to it. If these pastors want us to stop thinking about grace, what's the alternative? Works, right? So let's break that down. Grace is all about God; works are all about me. If my focus is grace, the logical conclusion is a focus on God, on what He did, on what He's doing. If I focus on works, the logical conclusion is a focus on self, what I should do, can do, will do, have done.

     What about the argument that God called us to good works, not to sit comfortably and think about grace all the time? This is a fallacy we see everywhere. When you're arguing with someone, one of the most common fallacies is to offer you only two options, with one so crazy that no one would choose it. What the person fails to consider is that there is plenty of room within the two far sides of the issue.

     Here's an example of this fallacy. Anti-gun rights activists often offer you a choice like this. Either we 1.) Institute logical gun control tactics, or 2.) Have unrestrained violence and anarchy on the streets. Obviously, no one wants "unrestrained violence and anarchy on the streets", so you have to agree with choice one. What many people fail to consider is that there are not just two options. There's a plethora of options ranging between one and two.

     However, this is the argument we hear in regard to grace. Either you must 1.) Focus on grace, and thus lose your love for Christ amid your new-found freedom of cigarettes, wine, dancing, recreational dating, etc. or 2.) show your love for Christ by not exercising Christian freedom, and working for Him.

     Obviously, no Christian who's truly following Christ will want the first option, so that leaves only the second right? Wrong! Both options are wrong. Christ didn't give us freedom as Christians so we could ignore it! And both are done for the wrong reason in the scenario I give above.

     Grace is not there to give you freedom of cigarettes, wine, etc. It's about God's favor. So you can be fascinated by God's grace, lost in His grace, and still not drink wine, or smoke cigarettes, or date for fun. The right focus is that our relationship with Christ, founded upon His love, mercy, and grace, causes us to work for Christ, not out of compulsion, or fear that we will abuse grace if we pause long enough to think about, but instead out of a heart of true love for God.

     So, what's the right way to approach grace? I don't understand how anyone can read about the gospel and not just have to sit down sometimes and just sit in awe of God's grace; or how someone could experience this grace, and not talk about it all the time. But it doesn't stop there. This fascination with God's grace helps grow our relationship with Christ, and that results in works. When we follow Christ, we want to serve Christ.

     I'm sure someone is asking right now, "Why did you write this?" It's very simple really. If you realize that you having been working all the time trying to earn God's favor, etc., realize that God's great grace is undeserved. It is bestowed on us when we don't deserve it. So sit down, calm down, and rest on what Christ did for you. Then your works will come for the right reason.

     I am not attempting to encourage license. The Bible is very clear that we should not sin just because I can. (Rom. 6:1-2) So your fascination with God's grace shouldn't cease at that, simply fascination. It should result in actions, in a furthered relationship with Christ.

     I do not want to make this into an excessively long post today, so I will come back another day this week and discuss legalism, and why it should never be praised from the pulpit.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Praise Him!

     We Christians like deep theology. We like to feel smart; we like discussing the deep stuff. Today, I'm talking about something simple. I don't think anyone dislikes the Psalms. How can you not like them? However, their recurring theme is something so simple we skip it too often.

     Psalms is peppered with comments to "praise the Lord", "sing unto the Lord", "give unto the Lord the honor due his name", etc. This is one of the easy commands of Scripture that results from pure love. Yet somehow I still don't do it as often as I should.

     Why should I praise God? Okay, that's kind of a no-brainer. "Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness." (Ps. 150:2) "Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created." (Ps. 149:5) Praise Him because He is almighty; praise Him because of His works, His Creation. Praise Him because He is worthy of all praise.

     But let's be honest. That's not really new information. We already knew that, right? What strikes me so strongly about these psalms is that they reflect not just praise, but constant praise. Psalm 150 states, "Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary, praise him in the firmament of his power... Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with psaltery and the harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord." Psalm 148:1 states similarly, "Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights."

      Praise him in the church, praise him at the view of his power, praise him from the heights, praise from the sky. Praise him with trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, dance, cymbals, and organs. What do we see here? Praise Him everywhere, with whatever is at hand, all the time!

     It's okay to be lost sometimes in awe of God's greatness. It's okay to let loose sometimes before God, and just praise Him. Think about David when he brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. (2 Sam. 6) David seems to lose himself before God. What king have we ever seen run dancing miles in front of a wagon, in front of thousands of his subjects? Why? David was lost in awe of God, and to him, there was no crowd, no subjects, no servants, no bodyguards, just him and the Creator of the universe. David forgot his dignity as king, and lost himself in worship.

     That's the kind of worship that God delights in. There is a time when we should forget our dignity, our reservation and shyness, and simply love God, praise God, shout to God, sing to God. It's okay to get carried away by the beat of a song, and find yourself clapping and singing to God. It's okay to raise your hands in a church service. It's okay to tune everyone else out and just praise God.

     I posted a song by Rich Mullins several days ago called, "Sing your Praise to the Lord". Sometimes we just need to let loose and praise Him. It doesn't matter if you're that good on a musical instrument. Just sit down at a piano, or whatever you can play, and scratch out a tune, just enough to sing to. If you can't play an instrument, just sing. Just love God. Just praise God.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

     Alright, so I'm having some trouble with hitting the publish button accidentally on my posts. So, incidentally, I apologize for the failed post below.

     So, in explanation, the following post is an essay I wrote several months ago. Several posts back, I mentioned the great need to constantly rehearse Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection in our minds. This is my attempt to practice what I posted. Hopefully it will help someone. Or if not, just sit back in awe at Jesus' sacrifice.

                                             The Gospel of Jesus Christ
                The most amazing story in the world, and yet at the same time one of the most beautiful and complex, while at the same time shockingly simple stories is that of Jesus Christ. To a Christian, Jesus is our identity, Savior, and life-giver. To a Jew, He is a deceiver and a liar. To many atheists, he never existed. To a Muslim, he is merely a good prophet. To a Mormon, he is a man, but an agent of God. One could safely say that no one man in the entire history of the world has promised such peace and brought such controversy, also as He promised. There is a time and a place for apologetics, but the purpose of this treatise is simply to enumerate the amazingness of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

                The more of the gospel one researches and discovers the more transfixed one is by the beauty of it all. One’s awe simply grows the more one knows. The entire story is the most beautiful ever told; the weaving of beautiful tale that combines love, treachery, deceit, murder, victory, and mercy. No one story in the history of the world so masterfully presents the nature of man, and the nature of God. We see the depth of man’s depravity and the greatness of God’s mercy and grace shown with a clarity rarely seen. 

                To understand any story one must start with the beginning. In the beginning, God creates man, his creation, to glorify him. And man turns his back upon God, and rebels against God, bringing the judgment of God upon himself, but even in this awful moment, when perfection becomes imperfect, God gives hope. God shows mercy to rebellious, sinful man even at the depth of his depravity. That itself shows the amazingness of God, that a holy God would show mercy to unholy man even at the moment of his greatest fall.

                When the time for the fulfillment of the prophecy given in Genesis 3 has come, we see the greatest miracle possible occur. The more one reads of it, the less one understands of the reason. God makes so great a sacrifice, to save rebels? It shows the most amazing love of God, and in the same breath it shows the depravity and treachery of sinful man. 

                God is born as a man. These six simple words paint a picture of indescribable beauty. A perfect God becomes man to bear our imperfection; a sinless God lives among sinful man to make us sinless in the eyes of the Father. This love is beyond our comprehension; it tops the heights of our comprehension. Christ, the Son of almighty God, is born in a stable among cattle and sleeps upon straw, to redeem men; the same men who attempt to kill him as a baby in Bethlehem, and as a rabbi in Jerusalem. He becomes man for the benefit of those in rebellion against Him, for those who hate Him, for those who stand against Him. He comes to earth; He leaves the splendor of Heaven, for them. For their sin, for their rebellion, for their hate, He comes.

                This same Jesus lives a life of love, healing the sick, saving the dying, giving hope to hopeless, and saving the souls of those who rebelled. He dedicates himself; He pours out himself, for them, for us; for these same creations, so blind by their own rebellion they cannot see the light; so bruised they cannot feel His touch, He comes.

                He comes, to die. He comes, so that His death may bring us, rebels, life. Even as the ultimate act of treachery is made, the ultimate act of love is shown. As ultimate evil is demonstrated, ultimate righteousness is exemplified. Even as sinful man abuses this same love, they are accomplishing the purpose for which Christ came. Even as men, sinners, you and I, abuse the Lamb of God, He is accomplishing His work of love and redemption, the work for which He came, the work for which He died.

                God, having become man for us, lies bloody on a cross. The horror of that picture cannot be fathomed by human minds. The Creator, tortured by the creation, but not just by the creation. He does this for the creation. For the benefit of those who stand against Him, he bears the pain, the agony, the humiliation, the sting, the nakedness, the cold of death. He, in the moment of His greatest pain, shows love through death.

                And in that death, Christ gives what we could not give ourselves. He gives us life; He gives us righteousness. One of the most beautiful images in the Bible is recorded in Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation and covered me with the robe of righteousness: he hath decked me like a bridegroom, and as a bride attireth herself with her jewels.” We emerge from the death of Christ, a sin of man, a work of God, with the righteousness of God covering us. We now live in the grace of God, and my sin is covered. In this work of God, we become the beneficiaries of gifts from Jesus, from the one we killed. Christ gives us grace to cover our sin through His blood, not because of us, but in spite of us.

                The beauty of the picture unfolds. In the depth of man’s depravity, God comes and covers us in righteousness and dresses us in his grace. Our sin, our rebellion against God, is covered, not because of merit or actions of mine, but only because of the mercy of a loving God. While lost in sin, Christ finds us, not because I deserve it, but because He loves me. And that gives me my identity, that I am loved by God. Not because I deserve it, but because of the great unchangeable, unknowable love of my God. And because of that love, I stand guiltless before a completely holy God, clothed in the righteousness of His Son, that I do not deserve, but I am granted because of His love, because of His mercy, because of His grace.

                The tale does not end at a tomb. For while His death brought us life, His resurrection brought us hope. God himself, Creator of man, becomes man, is killed by man to save man, and is resurrected to give hope to the same men, rebels. Christ rises from the dead, having accomplished our justification, and now sits at the Father’s right hand. 

                Yet another image of incredible beauty comes to mind. 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, which is the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all men, to be that testimony in due time.” In this verse, the beautiful imagery of Christ, standing between the wrath of the Father and the sin of the creation, shines through with clarity. He stands, the One we bruised, as our Mediator. He stands, the One we killed, as our Protector. His blood stands, the blood we shed, and it pleads for His children, the very ones who led the Christ to His death.

                Our Mediator, Christ, stands between the accuser and the accused, and points to His sacrifice. The blood, the sacrifice, is our atonement. The moment of our greatest sin was the means of communicating the love of God to rebels, and He, the victim of our rebellion, stands forever as a reminder of our sin and God’s love.

                The Scripture sets out yet another beautiful word picture to communicate this gospel. The bread and wine, symbols of Christ’s blood and flesh, reflects once again our guilt, and God’s grace. The wine stands to remind us of His blood, which we shed; the bread to remind us of His flesh, which we tore from His body. These sacraments stand forever as reminders of Christ’s sacrifice, given to us at the moment of our greatest unworthiness.

                And once again, we see the great undeserved grace of God. He reminds us of our guilt and of His love in the same fluid motion. His love, His forgiveness, His grace, communicated to man through man’s sin and rebellion. By the sacrifice of Christ, we enter into His gifts, His rest, His peace, and His grace. And that is where I live, firmly planted in Christ. And that is where my identity rests, nailed to the naked, torn body of a man on a cross; but not just a man; God, in flesh, bearing my sin, my rebellion, my depravity. And that is my peace.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sing Your Praise

This is a song by one of my all-time favorite artists, Rich Mullins. (Yes, I just put that in a post below. I accidentally pushed the publish button before attaching the video.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


     One of the things I love to do is read the gospels. Jesus is so completely different from who I would picture the perfect Son of God without reading a written account. I would picture a popular man in a suit, who taught crowds of happy people eternal life. What we see in the gospels instead is that Jesus was hated, not popular, was poor, not rich, and taught people who would later crucify him, not happy people.

     However, one of the things that shines through so obviously in the gospels is Jesus' hatred for one particular sin, and the scary part is, it's one of the most popular sins in the church today, the sin of hypocrisy. And the strange thing is, Jesus seems to take this one more seriously than any other sin while He was on the earth.

     In Matt. 23, Jesus is speaking to the crowds in reference to the scribes and Pharisees (v. 1). In verse 13-17, Jesus seems incredibly harsh, possibly more harsh than in any other instance in the gospels. "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, ye blind guides, which say, 'Whosoever shall swear by the temple shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor.' Ye fools and blind: for whither is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?"

     After reading that, a question jumped into my head. Why is Jesus so much more angry about the Pharisees, who were probably the most loyal followers of the Law in their day, than He was about, say, the woman caught in adultery? (John 8:1-11) Or the woman at the well with five husbands? (John 4) Or Judas, the betrayer? (John 18:3-9) In each of the cases I mentioned, we have sinners in the most heinous of sins: adultery and betrayal, against the Son of God, no less. Yet Jesus responds with astounding gentleness. For the woman caught in adultery, He considers His simple response, "Go and sin no more" adequate, and even less for Judas, although Judas committed probably the worst sin possible.

     So why, in the face of his gentleness in response to outright sin, is Jesus so infuriated by the Pharisees's, arguably the "good" people of the day, sin? In my understanding, there are two reasons for this.

     The first is that the Pharisees had more information. They knew more. They researched the law; they were the scholars. They should have known better. To me, that reason adds to the fear this story puts in me. We, as the collective American church, have access to greater knowledge than any other church in the world, right at our fingertips, in the form of the Internet, DVD's, and huge libraries. The second part of Luke 12:48 addresses this, "For unto whosoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." More is required of those who have been blessed with more, and access to more.

     But secondly, the Pharisees contented themselves with the knowledge, instead of the actions of the law. Jesus had already told them that the entirety of the law hung upon greatest commandent, to love the Lord your God, and the second commandment, to love your neighbor as you would yourself. (Matt. 22:36-40) Sure, the Pharisees practiced outward conformity to the law for the sake of self-glorification (Matt. 6:1-2), but the heart change that would result in actual love for their neighbors and the sinners that Jesus demonstrated (John 4:1-24) was obviously lacking.

     As long as the law could be used as a platform to flaunt their own righteousness to others, they loved the law. But when the law became a tool to show love for other people, an action that wouldn't bring glory and great honor and wealth, the law was forgotten.

     How often have I done that? How many times have I gone to church to listen to the deeper matters of the Scripture, while purposefully avoiding the simpler, but harder actions that go with it: love, generosity, patience? How is it any different for me than it was for the Pharisees?

     So as you go about your life this week, think about why you do what you do. Don't be content with the head knowledge of Scripture, go out and do it. Don't just talk about the Bible; demonstrate it.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Keeping Christ in Christianity

     My topic today is on the centrality of Christ. I think very often, we spend a lot of time discussing rules, deeper theology, and principles of Scripture in the church, not that this is wrong. However, what this often results in is a lack of emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the story of His life, death, resurrection, and redemptive plan, because "we've already heard that."

     Much of this is the result of our American emphasis on practicality. We want the practical rules from Scripture, something like a list of do's and don't's to follow. We want a list of practical rules from Scripture, not the rehearsal of the gospel, again! But do we see a problem here?

     Christianity is about the gospel. The Old Testament points forward to Christ, the New Testament is about Christ, and Revelation points forward to Christ in the future. Even the lists of moral do's and don't's are there to promote our relationship with Christ. If we attempt to follow rules, without a relationship with Christ, without a constant rehearsal in our hearts of what Jesus did for us, we are focusing on the wrong thing.

     A simple list of practical rules is not what makes Christianity wonderful. No one finds amazing peace and rest in a list of rules. Rules, by themselves, simply enslave. Rules, with a relationship with Christ, help build our relationship with Him further, and help show our love for Him.

     Let's compare the two ideas. If we spend the majority of our time at church discussing rules, what is the emphasis? It's on me. It's on what I can do, what I should do, what I have or haven't done. When we focus on my actions, on what I should or shouldn't do, we make the mistake of focusing on the wrong topic. We're coming together to church on Sunday to do what? Talk about ourselves?

     However, if our emphasis is on the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are constantly reminded of His death and resurrection. We are consistently reintroduced to the gospel, and I believe this will further our relationship with Christ. A fascination with Jesus Christ will result in following rules, but this time for the right reason, a love for Jesus.

     I've spent the majority of the time today speaking about the church, but the same is true of your personal life, and your personal devotions. If you live your life focused on rules, you lose enthusiasm. If some of us young people were to spend our whole lives in our parent's home just trying to obey all the rules, and not bothering to ever talk to Mom and Dad, we would wind up being very well-behaved kids with terrible relationship. The same is true of Christians. If we spend our whole time with God, whether it's at church or devotions, thinking about things I need to do, even if their good things, you're robbing God of the time you think you set aside for Him. You may be an excellently behaved Christian, but without a relationship, it's all in vain.

     So, for application, think about your relationship with Christ. Stop thinking about rules to be followed sometimes, and just spend some time with Jesus. Just talk to Him, and listen. Build a relationship, and the rules will follow.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Quick Thought

     "Look at your life. Honestly, what does your life say about your purpose or goal in how you use your time, in how you spend your money, in what drives you, in your passions, in what you pray about, and in how you view the world? Is your life a gospel-centered, gospel-focused, gospel-empowered, gospel-adoring, and gospel-advocating life? To answer, 'I think so," is to answer no."
                            -Michael Oh, Finish the Mission