Thursday, February 25, 2016

Failing's Not Just for Failures

    I love the characters in the Bible. They're just so... human. So real. They're not the church people we meet on Sunday or the Christian leader on TV. They're so vulnerably, painfully real. As I read through the Bible, I point at one character after another and think, "That is so me! I could have been that guy!"

    We get this idea in our heads that Christians don't fail, at least, the good ones don't. Yes, the strong Christians, the best Christians went through life systematically defeating temptation and stomping all over the devil. They prayed powerfully, preached constantly, beat temptations, conquered sin, and stormed into heaven in all their glory. Umm... not.

     Shall we start early on? Let's start with Abraham. Mighty saint. Patriarch. Father of Israel, a man of incredible faith. But c'mon, really? He lets someone else take his wife, twice? C'mon, man! This story gets me because, like me, Abraham didn't learn the first time. He made a monumental error... twice!

     Moving on- Moses. Moses was an absolutely incredible hero of the faith. Lead an entire nation for 40 years through a desert wandering, and I'll slap a blue ribbon on your chest. Again, he makes it onto the list of the faithful in Heb. 11. But we forget that we're talking about a murderer. A murderer! This guy God used so much didn't have a selfishness problem or a debilitating pride problem. He had killed someone and hid his body.

     My personal favorite, David. Let's just walk through David's biggest fall. First off, we see him watching Bathsheba bathing on the wall. I know for me, I never really put it together, but that right there is a monumental sin. David is standing on top of his palace, watching a naked woman bathe. That right there is enough for most of us to tell David he can't sit at the table with us and that he needs to find another church! But then he sends men out to get her, brings her to the palace, and sleeps with her, quite possibly against her will.

    But he's not done yet. Finding out that his sin has a cost (Bathsheba is pregnant), David then conspires to murder his loyal soldier and dutiful servant, her husband. Seriously, is it possible to get any worse than this? David has now watched a naked woman, lusted after her, committed adultery with her, and to top it off, murders her husband. And as if he hasn't left well enough alone, he then takes her into his house and marries her, as if he had never killed her own husband.

    Moving right along... Jesus's disciples. We could park here for a moment. Let's see, Peter cursing Jesus' name on the night of His death, John and James ordering fire from heaven down on a city, or Thomas doubting Jesus' rising. Matthew, the corrupt city official, or Simon, the assassin.

     My point isn't complicated. I just made a list of saints who failed, miserably. They royally screwed up. And God loved them powerfully and used them amazingly. Failing's not just for failures people; failing's for saints. Failing's for followers of Christ. We do it sometimes. We trip up and fall down, flat on our face. Most likely, none of us have murdered anyone or had our soldiers go bring an already married woman to our bed. Yet the men that did that were men God loved recklessly and affectionately.

     God's love is not based on my behavior, thank God. We can trust God with reckless confidence that His love will not lessen and will not diminish through anything.

Monday, February 22, 2016

More Questions than Answers...

    Tonight, a boy carries a rifle for a cause he never cared about in Africa. Tonight, a girl runs a knife along her arm because she is convinced she's not valuable, or beautiful, or loved. Tonight, a child goes to bed with bruises on her face and body from her own parent. Tonight, a little baby dies in a back alley in an illegal abortion.

     It's easy to look around and change our thoughts when we see the darkness around us. Quickly, think about something else, something that will distract us from the seriousness of the world that we live in! We delve deeply into discussions and analysis' of sports teams and political campaigns, anything that will give me a moment's conversation and distraction from the pain in the world around me.

     Something a friend said tonight took me back to Africa mentally tonight, back to children with stomachs bloated with hunger and back to that little girl who I'll never forget that lay sick on that mat outside her mud brick home. It took me back to the most incredible time of my life, a time when I felt the most joy in Christ I had ever experienced and seen the most suffering and felt the most struggling, wrestling, and doubt with God I ever have. But it brought me face to face with darkness again.

     My dad made the observation that some experiences this past year have made me "grow up fast", and I guess I feel he's right. I don't know where I'm going with this article tonight, but I'm just writing and we'll see what happens. I guess I have a question running in my mind tonight: do we really believe what we say we believe? In the face of the pain in the world and in our churches, in our families and in our friends, in other countries and our own, am I living in a way that reflects the truth of what I claim to believe?

     Do I really believe that that child soldier in Somalia or that trafficked girl in Syria is a human being desired by God? One that He longs to bring to Himself? One who He desires to bring alive in Him, one that He longs to hear sing His praise and find joy and rest in Him? Do I really believe that?

     Do I really believe that the Christian girl running a knife along her arm is my sister? That when I walk along my path ignoring her pain and her struggle is like stiff-arming my own sister? Do I really believe that the teenage mother in an alley or that teenage boy with the needle in his arm is someone that God deeply desires His name to be proclaimed to and His love demonstrated to? Do I really believe that in this world, I am the hands and feet of God? That my role in this world is to glorify God by making His name known and praised among the nations, including the deepest, darkest holes of my own?

     If I believe those things, then how can I remain inactive? How can I not write and encourage that girl? How can I not show love to the tattooed guy? If I believe what I claim I do, shouldn't it affect my life? Shouldn't it make my life in some way different from the unsaved around me? Those who have no reason to care for the run down and the forgotten? How can I claim to have the mind of Christ and be living in the imitation of Christ if my love is no different from those who have no knowledge of Christ?

Good Song

    Sovereign Grace Music puts out some great music, some church classics for this generation. But one of their lesser known songs is one my favorites, and one that gets my missional side excited!

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Sovereignty of God (Pt. 3)

    Today is probably the second to last installment in this series. I will probably do one more trying to answer some of the common objections to God's absolute sovereignty, particularly his sovereign election. Today's article is what I find beautiful about this doctrine. Admittedly, a lot of today's article is based on my own personal experience and thoughts, but it was in large part the doctrines of grace that made the gospel come alive to me.

     It has come as a surprise to quite a few people who know me that I would be someone who believes in election and yet still desire to become a missionary. It has somehow become accepted in many of our churches that God's sovereignty in salvation and missions are contrary to each other. In actuality, there is no more encouraging doctrine to me when I think about missions.

     I spent several years in an independent fundamental baptist church. If you have ever attended an IFB church, you will remember the extreme emphasis on soul winning. I can still remember hearing sermons where we were told we would have lost people come up and point at us and say it was our fault for not telling them the gospel that they were in hell (Paul's arguments that all men are accountable for the truth were rarely mentioned though). The unmistakable point of all the preaching and hammering on soul winning, witnessing, and evangelism was that we had to get souls saved! The picture was God who desired all men to be saved but drew no one to Himself, instead relying on His servants on earth to do that. He was daily becoming more and more frustrated at his lukewarm children who weren't witnessing and passing out tracts every where they were.

     Missions and evangelism was a duty, not a pleasure. The idea of building a relationship with a lost person and preaching truth through our love and our lives rather than through a full, 30 minute gospel presentation was considered ludicrous. It wasn't our job to be their friends; it was our job to save them. I still remember the night this mentality was forever shattered. I was reading Charles Spurgeon's sermon on Calvinism in which he summed up the doctrines of grace as being, "Salvation is of the Lord."

     That, ladies and gentlemen, is my hope in missions. In Africa, as it is here, I do not save anyone. I'm not going to save anyone. God can do that anytime He wishes. I'm going simply because He has invited me to be His hands and His feet in Africa, and it is my pleasure to do so. Yes, I will and have preached the gospel there, but the results of the preaching and the sharing of the gospel are not in my hands, they are in God's.

     The story is told of a missionary flying over the streets of New Delhi in India, and his heart dropped as he observed the millions of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims crowding the streets below. How could one man make any dent on such evil? But the realization that drew him from His depression was the memory that he was not there to save New Delhi; he was there to preach, teach, and let God work His will through him. Duties are ours, events are God's. Man proposes, God disposes. Many sayings have been worked up by theologians to describe this truth, but there is no subject that God's sovereignty does not touch on more than missions.

     My hope and my strength through what I know will be hard times in missions is that I am not there to save anyone. If I return home from the mission field with not a single church planted and not a single convert, the gospel went out, and God's Word will not return void. It will accomplish the purpose for which God sent it out, whether or not I see the results. So the truth that gives me hope and strength in missions is, in fact, God's total sovereignty.

     Secondly, God's sovereignty is a permanent marker pointing me toward His grace as completely unmerited and my salvation as a complete gift, not a work. His sovereignty in the realm of salvation keeps me forever bowing before the One to whom I owe everything, the One who owes me nothing. In a soteriology that takes into account God's great sovereignty, we are forced constantly to recognize how small we are and how great God is. We are forced to see that salvation is none of me and all of Him, that I contributed nothing and He contributed everything. Lutheran theologian Rod Rosenbladt gave the most poignant answer I have ever seen to the question of our contribution to salvation when he said our only contribution to salvation was our sin.

     This realization forces us constantly to look at God as my great Lord and Savior, not my business partner in salvation or sanctification. The gospel is most saturated with grace and mercy when God is the One who does the entire saving, and the One to whom we owe everything. This soteriology gives the gospel its proper emphasis with Christ as everything, the preeminent One around whom all history spins.

     Thirdly, this sovereignty gives me hope during hard times and suffering. The hard things, the trials, temptations, and struggles in my life are not accidental, a result of someone else's mistake that God is letting happen out of a zeal for man's free will. Instead, every single struggle, hard time, temptation, and battle in my life is something God sovereignly caused or allowed (ultimately these terms mean the same thing), something that did not catch God by surprise and that He has a specific purpose in allowing or causing.

     Most specifically, the hope during these hard times is that because everything is under God's unlimited control, any suffering or trial that enters my life has purpose and is there for a reason. There is no meaningless suffering. Knowing that my life is a piece of God's sovereign plan from before time gives me the knowledge to trust that whatever happens in my life, the pain is not meaningless, the suffering is not purposeless, and that a good God who is far wiser than I is working His plans in me.

     These are simply three ways I find that the doctrines of grace and God's total sovereignty really affect my theology and my outlook on life in general. I'd love to hear other's thoughts on this too! If you have some ideas of how this affects your life, I'd love to see some thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gritty Life

     Life gets gritty sometimes. The past few months, I've really been forced to come face to face with the struggles some people face that I had not seen much of before, especially in the form of depression and extremely dark times. I've gone through periods of silence from God and times that just felt like a dark mist over my life, but the friends I have who struggle with it certainly feel it much more deeply. The darkness is as real as any feeling they've ever had.

     In trying to be an encouragement and a support to them, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at characters in the Bible who went through dark times. David, for example, being a character in the Bible who shows nearly all the signs of depression. He is complete with mood swings, extreme darkness, intense emotion, and loneliness. Job seems to show at least a temporary fight with depression (who would blame him!) after the death of his family that is archived for us in the book. Seriously, the whole book of Job is a long illustration of the darkness a man can feel in his life. Even our Lord Himself we see going through an extremely dark time in the Garden of Gethsemane, that while this I don't see as depression per se, it certainly is a glimpse into the heart of our Savior during a deep time of struggle.

     But one of the ones I like the best is one we don't think of because it's a little known story, Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Again, I'm no counselor and I'm no doctor. I can't diagnose depression, but any reader can see Elijah is going through darkness here. First off, let me take my first shot here. This is Elijah, a prophet who received messages straight from God! A chosen instrument! Elijah, this mighty man, messenger for God, coming off this mighty experience in the previous chapter of showing his faith to be so strong! Elijah has just seen God's hand move miraculously through Elijah's enormous faith, faith that put God to the test publicly and ended with a great victory for Jehovah.

     Coming off this experience, this is when we would picture Elijah to be bolder than ever! He just faced down hundreds of prophets of Baal, put God to the test, and saw God come through mightily; this is his moment now, right? I mean, he's preaching, he's praying, he's bringing people to God right and left... uh, no. Actually, Jezebel threatens to kill him, and within hours of this great, mountain top experience with God, Elijah is fleeing into the desert, crushed.

     What cause Elijah to wilt right there isn't said in the text. We can guess. Maybe Elijah really was overcome with loneliness, feeling as if he were the only one who really followed the true God anymore, but honestly, I think that was a secondary reason. Maybe Elijah expected God, after this great sign in front of all the people the previous day, to crush Jezebel and Baal altogether and institute the true religion back to Israel in the wake of the great victory. Whatever the reason, we don't know.

     What we do know is that Elijah is curled up under a shrub in the desert telling God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (v. 4) It's hard to picture. This hard man of God, this prophet who just the day before killed hundreds of men with his own hand and saw marvelous works of God, is curled up under a juniper tree in the wilderness, done. There's no better way to say it than to say Elijah was done. It is enough! "I've born enough, let me die."

      These dark times happen to the strongest men, the bravest leaders, and the most courageous prophets. Struggles are not a sign of being weak, being worthless, being less. In fact, if the Bible tells us anything, it tells us the righteous suffer more than the evil! Satan was not in a hurry to bring calamity on the evil people around Job, but on righteous Job. We don't see Jezebel crushed in her spirit begging for death. We don't see Goliath soaking his bed in tears at night. We don't see Caiaphas sweating drops of blood. If it's any indication, it's the strong and the righteous who many times suffer more! The dark times do not speak of our worthlessness.

      But secondly, it's what happens next that gives me joy and hope. Elijah is comforted with food from an angel, and he makes the journey to Horeb, the mountain of God. What happens next is breathtakingly fear inspiring and beautiful in the same moment. Here, in Elijah's darkest hour, God reveals Himself. Elijah stands before the mountain and lets out the deepest feelings of his heart. I've heard sermons where Elijah is called whiny or pitiful for saying what he does, but frankly, seeing Elijah as we do the rest of the Bible, I don't think that's the case. I think this was Elijah at his deepest, most raw, vulnerable moment, being honest with God with no charades and facades. “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."

     Here's Elijah pointing out to God that he has been God's servant, but not only has Israel not gotten better, but it's gotten worse! Now Elijah's running for his life and he is alone. Here is Elijah, this great, bold man, pouring our his heart to God in the mountain. Here is the place of raw vulnerability before the Almighty. And God answers. Oh, how He answers.

      What happens next is a testimony to God's enormous power.  "So He said, 'Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing."

      Ladies and gentlemen, this is God. This is God revealing Himself, in all His splendor and majesty, to Elijah. The crushing power on full display. Here is Elijah, standing on the mountain waiting for God to come and give him an answer. And what God does is show Elijah a tiny glimpse of His majesty.

      A massive wind races across the mountain. I remember a lake trip in Colorado to go fishing. We drove deep into the Rocky's, and came into a narrow valley between two mountains that hid this small lake from view. It was a windy day, and I have never seen wind like that before. It was ripping through the trees, bending them over, whipping that mountain lake like the ocean. It was raw power on display. I believe what Elijah saw made that wind look like a spring breeze. This wind was breaking the mountains apart and smashing rocks. Can you imagine Elijah cowering in the open of the mountain as rocks crash around him and mountains split? Can you imagine the glory of God on more full display?

     But God's not done. Next, an earthquake smashes across the mountains, rocking Elijah's entire world. What gets me is that these things were not only on Horeb. These are catastrophes that would have been felt the whole region over. Only Elijah had the front row seat on the epicenter of this display of God's power.

      Lastly, God sends a raging fire crashing across the mountain. Picture Elijah, cowering as rocks shower around him, the mountain splits at his feet, and fire rips across the ridgeline. The man, for the first time, comes face to face with the raw power of God. Ps. 97 speaks of the winds and the fire that come out before the Lord, and this fits perfectly. What we see here seems to be the precursor to the Lord's presence. When God revealed Himself, it was not in the cathedral to soft, flowing music. It was begun by the roar of wind and the crackle of fire and the crashing of falling rocks. 

      But then... a soft wind. A gentle breeze. What a marked difference! We see the power of God... and now we see His presence. His glory, His Shekinah glory descends. We don't know details, all we know is that God spoke. But I feel like His words were rather unnecessary after that display. I don't feel like Elijah's complaint was voiced with the same oomph and frustration the second time. I think his voice trembled a little bit, and his hands shook as he voiced his woes to God.

     But what I love to see here is what God has done. He does two things to Elijah. 1.) He demonstrates His utter and complete control over the earth. After that display, there will not be any discussion over whether or not God is totally sovereign. No questions asked, "He does what He pleases in heaven and in earth, and there is none who will stay his hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?'" 2.) God does not strike Elijah in His fury. He does not look in Elijah's face and tell him, "I'm sovereign. Stop whining and get over it." No, God shows Elijah undeniable proof that He deserves Elijah's trust in His power and His magnificence, and then He continues on as if nothing had happened. As if Elijah had never asked for suicide. As if he had never cried and poured out his heart under a juniper bush. 

      God didn't look back. He gave Elijah a glimpse, first of His power, and then in His gentleness, second His nature. Elijah saw God that day. Yep, Elijah, the guy crying by himself in the desert. That one with the darkness and the death threats and the suicidal thoughts? Yep, that guy. That's the guy God chose to reveal Himself to in a way we never saw before since Sinai and will probably never see again until the final judgment.

      Life is gonna be dirty sometimes. You're gonna get dirt under your fingernails, dust in your lungs, and scars on your body. Surviving takes grit, it takes endurance. The weak give up, never bothering to fight. The strong don't win. The strong fight, they lose, they get up, and fight again. The strong in this fight are fighting for the sake of the fight, because their victory's already been won. They're not fighting because they have to win; they're fighting because their commander says to fight! We fight, we fall. The strongest of us fight, and we fall. And when we fall, we remember the truth, that our God is great, He is magnificent, and He is madly in love with His bride. And that is our hope when life is gritty.

Monday, February 15, 2016


    This Sunday was communion Sunday at our church. When I celebrate communion, I like to take the time my church sets aside for self examination and use it to refresh the story of the gospel in my mind, mostly because that is, in my opinion, the means God uses to allow His body and blood to minister to us through the week. This rehearsal of the gospel in my mind and heart is what refreshes me in the Lord and redirects my focus from my own works and thoughts back to their proper place on Christ and His work.

    I won't say anything you don't already know tonight. I just want us to take a moment and ponder afresh the gospel and its depth and richness. It's a story we've all tuned out before on Sunday afternoon when we're hungry or sleepy or just bored. It's not new information. It's nothing original or new, but it should remain mind boggling.

    Before time was, before the world existed, God knew me. I italicize it because it means more than what we commonly associate with "knew". To us, that means anything from acquaintance or a familiar face to bosom friend and deepest confidante. When the Bible speaks of God "knowing" us or "foreknowing" us, the idea is not simple knowledge. The idea is intimate knowledge of details, an intimate acquaintance with and familiarity with every facet. When it says that those who God justified and redeemed were those whom He knew in Rom. 8, the "knew" is not mere facial recognition or recognition of our cosmic name tag. It was deep, abiding knowledge of who we would be.

     So before time was, before any concept of matter or energy or mankind existed, God was intimately knowledgeable of every detail of my life. He knew me, in the deepest, most real sense of the word. His knowledge of me walks hand in hand with His choice of me. This choosing is not the result of the knowledge, but a truth that walks hand in hand with the knowing. Just as God knew me, He chose me.

     Apart from any goodness or redeeming quality in myself that would earn my favored status with God, God chose to set His love upon me, to redeem me, not because of me or anything beautiful in me, but in spite of the evil stain that permeated every part of me. He chose to take what was imperfect and make it perfect, what was evil and make it good, what was ugly and make it beautiful, what was garbage and make art. It wasn't because of my wisdom, my goodness, my beauty, my innate desirability, but only the mercy of God.

     As I partake of His body and His blood symbolically through the communion table, we reflect on the truths of who I was and who I am, what I did and what God did. My vast contributions to salvation consisted of my sin and my own insufficient works. My only part in salvation was my sin. Everything great in my life and everything beautiful in me comes from the greatness of the God who chose me and the glory of His grace.

     The last thing I want to consider is why He did this. Every week, we are confronted with people's opinions of why God chose to show such extreme grace to rebels. Some say so that He can enjoy our free love, as if He was some lovesick benefactor in the sky wanting appreciation. Some say that He was lonely by Himself and created man for companionship, again, as if the God who breathes out stars and creates galaxies with words feels compelled to turn to man for companionship instead of in His own complex unity of three persons in one identity.

     But instead, we see in Col. 1 that all things were made for Him. We were made for His glory. The entire gospel plan does not end in our salvation but in God's ultimate self glorification. He receives glory and honor through the proclamation of His attributes, His grace and mercy on those He has chosen and His justice and wrath against those who have rejected Him. His attributes perfectly point to His character, pointing all the world to the recognition of His greatness and His worthiness.

      When the Lamb is declared worthy in Revelation, He is declared deserving of all praise and glory and honor. Through His revelation of Himself through the gospel, He is declared to be worthy to receive every honor and every glory possible to bestow on Him! This is the gospel. This is what we remind ourselves of every time we take the cup in our hands. This is what our self-examination drives us to consider.

    Our consideration of our own failure drives us to see the sufficiency of Christ and be awed anew by the magnitude of His mercy. Communion offers us yet another timeout to observe and reflect on the reality of the gospel, this beautiful art that displays God's attributes in their blinding ferocity and awe-inspiring greatness!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why I Sing (Even Though I Don't Sound that Good)

    I sing a lot. I sing while on hold talking to friends on Skype. I sing in the shower. After I'm done with this post, I'm gonna sit down at the piano and sing, even though I have a cold and I sound like I have a clothespin over my nose. I sing while I do school, I sing with my music that I stream, I sing to my Christian music, I sing to my fight music, I just sing a lot!

     One of the more interesting changes I've noticed in myself since I began listening to more contemporary music with a clear conscience is that I have become unafraid to get caught up in my music. I'm willing to sway to my music, willing to raise my hands (though usually that's when I'm by myself in my room), willing to clap. I'm willing to get involved with the worship, something I absolutely would have frowned upon three or four years ago.

     After looking over an online discussion on the subject, I started going over my arguments and thoughts for more free worship and expressive worship. The most striking passage I have ever come across is Ps. 150, particularly the simple phrase, "Praise Him with the loud, clashing cymbals!"

     Now, I have yet to walk out of a Baptist church service with our grand pianos and hymnbooks and say, "Whew, that was a Ps. 150 service!" Shout to the Lord? Dance before Him? Praise Him with loud, clashing cymbals? Where is our passion to worship and glorify God, to stand in awe of Him and praise Him for who He is and all He's done?

     The psalms are in so many cases strikingly different from the songs we sing. The psalms over and over again point back to the greatness of God and the smallness of men. They praise Him for His attributes, praise Him for His sovereignty, praise Him for His mighty deeds, praise Him for His just judgments, and praise Him for His omnipotence.

     I'll be honest, I don't know why we believe it's normal to go through life as believers without enthusiasm for God and His glory. How is it that we can go to church, listen to the proclamation of the gospel and God's deep and abiding love for us, but then worship by glumly singing "I Surrender All" for the fiftieth time.

     What David calls for in Ps. 150 (if you haven't yet, you really should look at it (here). The kind of passion David is describing is loud, boisterous, and quite frankly, there's no other way to say it than dramatic. Loud clashing cymbals? Dancing? His basic message is to praise God with every instrument at our disposal at the loudest pitch possible. As is consistent with his statements in other places to "shout to the Lord", our praise should be loud and wildly joyful in who He is, not restrained by intellectual knowledge alone. There should be an intellectual and an emotional response to a gospel that appeals to both our intellect and our emotions.

     David's psalm reflects passionate worship, vocal and very loud worship. So my thoughts are rather simple. We should not be afraid of worshiping loudly, vocally, and passionately. So yes, clap those hands, sway that body, and raise those hands in the air. Praise Him for all His wondrous deeds!

Friday, February 5, 2016

How He Loves

    Y'all probably think I spend all my time listening to "How He Loves", but very few songs get me as emotionally charged about Christ's love for me and His affection for me as much as this one. I simply can't think of a better way of saying it than "How He loves us, Oh, how He loves us! He is our portion, and we are His prize, drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes. If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking!"

     Paul prays in Ephesians 3 that we would come to know the height, and depth, and width, and breadth of the love of Christ.The idea conveyed there is Christ's love as a vat or an ocean of incomprehensible dimensions. There's no mathematical way to calculate the perimeter or the area; it's just there, in front of us, immovable.

     This is the picture Paul prays that we would one day be able to fathom. I spent some time pondering that prayer this morning. It's interesting his prayer is that they would become more and more infatuated with the concept of God's love, that they would in some way be able to comprehend the enormity of God's affection for them.

     I want to spend a moment at looking at two aspects of God's love: His decisive love and His emotional love. Honestly, His decisive love, though incredible is something we all hear about in church. God is love. We're usually discussing His character trait of love which He has fixed upon us, right?

     He decided to love us. But what I want to hone in on is the emotional love. I know at times I get stuck picturing God's love as this decision, this cosmic gamble that if He loves me, I might turn out right and that every time I sin, God is reminded of how I don't deserve love, but He has to cause He said He would. It's grudging love, like a man married to a woman who doesn't shower in a country where divorce is illegal (there's a mental picture! :). Okay, so He has to love this sinner, so He will, but it's begrudgingly, like He's fulfilling His obligations.

     There's one word picture that shatters all that in my mind. See, His decisive love is in many ways pictured by His being our Father. That's often where I get this idea of frustrated love, like He didn't quite know who He was getting when He decided to love me. Kind of like a dad with a child. He loves the unborn child, but it's kind of a gamble. And like the often repeated jokes during the teen years we hear, now we see that love tested. And I picture in my mind that God is looking at us when we sin like a disappointed father when he hears his teenage daughter got a tattoo. Oh, he loves her, he just wishes she'd turned out differently, and now he'll love her cause he's her father, but...

      But there's another picture; Christ as our bridegroom. Now, it's an interesting idea, because He doesn't call Himself our husband (at least not that I know of). He calls us His bride and thus Himself the groom. Well, what's the difference, you're probably wondering.

     Him as our bridegroom refers to our constant relationship to Him compared to one day in a marriage, the first one. Now, there aren't a ton of grooms on their wedding days who aren't utterly infatuated with their bride. I remember when my brother got married. I've rarely seen him that distracted as before the wedding. His mind was focused on one thing and only one thing, Jeannie. It was single focused excitement and all out affection for his bride.

     That's the picture. The picture of a groom on his wedding day, totally infatuated with his bride; only instead of it being a one day feeling or a honeymoon affection, this is God's love for us all the time. It's an emotional love, an affection. It's not limited to a decisive love, a condescending, sometimes grudging love, but a radical affection for us that sees us on our worst day as still something inordinately beautiful because of His grace. It's the purest, strongest love, both in decision and in emotion, that can ever exist, and it is unbreakable.

     That's the love. Oh, how He loves us; oh, how He loves!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Sovereignty of God (Pt. 2)

    I'll be continuing my series on the sovereignty of God, tonight specifically aiming at explaining why I believe God is sovereign specifically in the area of salvation, though in theory that is included under the blanket sovereignty I was speaking of yesterday. Tonight's goal is more specific though, and I will be honing in on one area of His sovereignty: sovereign election. Again, I'll begin with texts as my first line of argument.

     "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, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 

     "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to the kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory." (Eph. 1:3-12)

     I know that's a long passage, but it is the foundation of God's sovereignty in salvation. This passage is nine solid verses of God "choosing", "predestinating", "intending", "purposing", and "willing". But let's walk through this. Notice the recurring "us". There is a specific group to whom all of this applies, not an open ended "everyone". These are those for whom Christ's death secured these blessings. From the onset, there is a specific group (us) who are the beneficiaries of this, and there is thus, apparently, a group excluded.

      But why are we accepted and others not? Why are we the "us" and those who aren't included not? I think the next verse articulates very clearly, "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." The reason some are included in this mass blessing is not ultimately because we chose to accept and others did not, because that answer doesn't take us anywhere. We're still left to answer why did we accept and others not? The answer of our acceptance simply does not satisfactorily answer the question, because all we did was rephrase it and push the question further down the road. It still has to be answered, just differently worded.

     Paul goes straight to the answer. Why are we blessed, why did we accept and thus are blessed? Because He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. The necessary implication of that is that He did not choose others, because not all are included in this blessing. Not all have obtained an inheritance or forgiveness.

      Again, why has He made known this great mystery of His will to us? Because of the kind intention of His will. Not because we chose for Him to do so, that's only the result of this kind intention of His will. Paul is taking the question back as far as it can go, past all of the "why" questions, to the root of the matter: God willed it this way. We were blessed by the kind intention of His will. We received an inheritance by the kind intention of His will. We received forgiveness by the kind intention of His will. Not by our wills, but because of His.

      One more point I want to make from this passage is that every active verb in this passage is an action on God's part, not ours. He willed, He predestined, He chose, He lavished, He blessed, He bestowed, He made known, He purposed, He works, in the active sense. We are blessed, are chosen, we are predestined, we are redeemed, we are forgiven, in the passive sense. Basically, this is monergism in its clearest sense; God acting, man receiving. We are not the authors, the perfecters, or the choosers of our faith. We are the beneficiaries of God's authorship, perfection, and choice.

     At no point does Paul describe God's actions as the result of our choice or as a result of God having looked forward in time and then acted based on what we were going to do (which would make us the sovereign ones, wouldn't it?). At every turn in this passage, Paul goes above on beyond to point to our salvation as entirely God, not a synergistic work of God and man together.

     "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 these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom. 8:29-30)

      I want you to read the verse and follow the chain of logic. Those He foreknew, He predestined; who He predestined, He called; who He called, He justified; who He justified He glorified. Now, following this chain, are there any He justified who He did not foreknow and thus predestine? Are there any He foreknew who are not justified? I think it's very clear from how the passage is worded that there is a specific number of people, each of whom are specifically known and chosen by God, who are justified, and only that number. Those glorified and justified are exactly the same as those foreknown and predestined.

     I have heard people try to say that this is not predestination for salvation but rather predestination to being conformed to the image of Christ, which is God's desire for everyone. But isn't that salvation? The imparting of Christ's righteousness to my account, perfectly conforming me to Christ's image, if done for every person, would, in fact, save the entire world. So if we hold to this non-sovereignty position, we are forced straight into universalism, the belief that all are saved.

     There are more passages, most notably Rom. 9 in its entirety, that point to the same doctrine. However, I think those two are sufficient at this point to at least show my reasons for my belief. I'd like to move on and point out some more systematic and logical arguments for my belief beyond simply the texts.

     In geometry, there are two methods of proofs (that I was taught). First, the direct method. List your reasons in a chain of logic for your conclusion with the axiom, theorem, or corollary that makes your reason true. This is what I've attempted to do with the texts above. The second method is the indirect method. Basically, you assume for the moment that what you're trying to prove is false and that an alternate statement must be true.

     That is what I'm going to do. For the moment, I am going to accept the idea that man chooses God, and that God's choosing is only based on having looked forward in time and then chose based off of our choice. The most glaring problem there is that it directly contradicts the two passages I just went into depth about, which speak of God as the initiator and continuer of our faith. If God's decision is based off of mine, I am, in fact, the author of my faith.

      Secondly, this view of salvation makes me the final arbiter of my own redemption. God does His part (admittedly the larger, harder part), but I still must do mine. But that doesn't fit into the Biblical picture. If God has a part and I have a part, we're back to a synergism, a co-working of God and man, not a salvation from God. So, how is God glorified in doing His part for everyone (so effectively saving no one), and leaving the actual act of salvation (choosing Him) to us?

      When Eph. 1 spoke of God's redemption of us being for His own glory, how is He glorified in this? Is it not a much smaller glory, a glory that makes us simply nod and thank God for making it possible for us to save ourselves rather than fall on our knees and gasp out our thanks for such a radical redemption?

      Lastly, this view leaves all of us on an equal plain, those who are destined for heaven and those for hell, all people for whom Christ died in exactly the same way, then lets decide on their own. So, why does one choose and not another? Inerrant goodness? Inerrant wisdom? If God calls all men equally, then there must be differing levels of good or wisdom in different people which gives them to the tools to respond or turn to or away from God. But if God is our Creator, doesn't He create us with all our traits, including wisdom? If that's the case, then does He not still control who does and does not accept Him?

      If we keep following the logic backward, is there any way we can escape that our salvation ultimately was based on God's choice and not ours? If we say that we choose and God's choice is based off ours, then we must answer the question of why some men accept Christ and others reject. They are His creatures, ones He created. Secondly, it's undeniable that some men receive more opportunity than others. Aaron and Pharoah did not receive the same revelation of God. So even here, God showed more grace in His revelation to Aaron than in His revelation to Pharoah. Even if you accept the free will position, is this not simply another method of election, choosing to show this knowledge to the one and less to another?

     I think that's probably enough for today. I encourage you to please, please, examine this issue in the light of Scripture and critical thinking. Do not decide for yourself how God must behave and then attempt to fit the Bible into that. God doesn't like boxes. Please think through your position, more than just "I believe x". Why do you believe x? Is it Biblical? Is it systematic? Is it consistent? If any of those three questions are answered with a no, I think you should begin rethinking where you stand on this topic, even if you agree with me. Truth is far more important than winning the discussion.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Sovereignty of God (Pt. 1)

    This has been a series I've been turning over in my mind for quite some time now, several months at least. Honestly, I've been putting it off because it's not a simple topic and it would require quite a time commitment to research and write about it to the extent that I want to here, but I've decided to go for it. A couple recent discussions I've seen and a book I read last month both motivated me to go ahead and try and see what I can do.

     I don't know how many parts this will be, but specifically, I want to address God's absolute sovereignty over all things, His sovereignty specifically in salvation, and I'd like to take the time to address many of the common objections to this worldview that I've heard. Hopefully, this will 1.) show you some thoughts in Scripture you may not have considered before, 2.) give you a resource to come back to when you have questions or thoughts about God's sovereignty, and 3.) give you an idea and at least basic understanding of why those of us who believe in sovereign grace believe the way we do.

     I would like to start off by briefly defining what I mean by "the sovereignty of God". Most advocates of even a solely free will position also claim to believe in a sovereign God, so I'd like to articulate what I mean. By God's sovereignty, I mean that God, by the freedom of His will and His power ordains, establishes, and brings to pass His will and only His will on earth. The result of that is that everything that happens on earth is directly within the sovereign will of God.

     My first argument in favor of this position that I would refer to as the absolute sovereignty of God would be the Bible. I believe there is systematic necessity for this position as well, but there are quite a few direct texts that specifically say this. That would be my first line argumentation.

     "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?'" (Dan. 4:34-35) My 1599 Geneva Bible actually renders it in an even clearer (though more archaic) way when it renders v. 35 (or v. 32 in the Geneva), "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and according to his will he worketh in the army of heaven, and in the habitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, nor say unto him, 'What doest thou?'"

     In either of those translations, the point is very clear. God's will is described as being done. He doesn't just desire a certain thing in heave and in earth; He does according to that will, and no one can stop it. He does what He desires to do. His will is accomplished, and there is no circumstance or interference that is effective in stopping it. This is not a picture of God eventually bringing good out of a tangled web of man's free will decisions, but rather God working His will on earth in the same manner as in heaven, specific sovereignty.

     "For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. But the counsel of the Lord stands forever, and the plans of His heart from generation to generation." (Ps. 33: 10-11) Notice the parallel. Man's will is directly compared to God's. The nations and the people desire this, God desires that. What happens? It very clearly says. God nullifies what the nations want and what the people plan in order to bring His own will to fruition.

     That Ps. 33 passage is to me the most compelling argument that God does not allow man's free will to go unchecked or that God gives men free will and is working around the free will to bring good in the end. The text is very clear that God does not allow men to do what is not according to His will for them to do. Every single thing that happens here is what God has already decided to bring about.

     "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." (Prov. 16:33) This one is as simple as it gets. Even down to the most random thing, a die being thrown, the outcome is God's. I do not believe Solomon was just grabbing one specific thing God is sovereign over but rather choosing the most random thing he could think of as a picture of God's specific sovereignty down to the smallest detail of our lives.

     Solomon also gives us another powerful argument in Prov. 21:1, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes." Again, I'm going to ask you to let the text speak for itself. After hearing this verse, I see the conclusion to be that no, a king, the most authoritative of people, cannot look at himself and say that by his free will he made a decision. No, in fact, he must admit that while he made a decision with his reasoning and his mind, the ultimate conclusion was the conclusion God ordained he would come to.

     I want to pause for a moment to discuss the results of this. Many people believe that to accept my interpretation of these verses delegates men to mere robots and no longer responsible for their own actions. My first response to that is as long as we claim the Bible to be the Word of God, whatever the results, we are called to base our theology on the Bible. So whether or not you like where the conclusion leads, we must take the Scriptures at face value.

     Secondly, my argument is not that man has no free will. Man's freedom to act (or seeming freedom to act) is what we can see, and to the best of our knowledge, we make decisions and do what we want. We do not realize that we are doing what God destined us to do, because we make the conscious decision to do it. In His sovereignty, He has created a system so intricately designed that He can ordain every single thing that occurs and yet allow us freedom of choice.

     Charles Spurgeon stated it in his famous sermon on Calvinism that free will and God's sovereignty are lines so closely parallel that we cannot see where they intersect, but they do. In a mystery, in a way only God can explain, His sovereignty meets our free will in such a way that God's will always happens and yet I am never forced, kicking and screaming, to do something which I am opposed to doing and thus am not responsible for.

     To return to my original argument, my first line of argument for God's sovereignty would be direct Scripture quotations. The texts I listed above seem to point out a definite idea that God is ordaining not some things or somehow working out what man decides in his free will into something good, but actually ordaining even the trivial details of life to form a much larger plan that brings Himself maximum glory.

     My second argument is to look at Biblical prophecy and certain stories in the Bible and examine the results of the story with both worldviews. Stories like Job and Joseph both reflect staggering amounts of God's sovereign intervention in human affairs, and both offer us a peak into the veiled world we cannot ordinarily see.

     Joseph, in Gen. 45, pronounces that the decision to sell him into Egypt was God's. Twice, Joseph says it was God's plan, and once, he specifically tells us his brothers that they were not the ones that did it, but that it was God who was at work, to the point that he did not even hold them responsible. Joseph's statements cannot be interpreted from a solely free will or limited sovereignty position. If God does not ordain what happens in this world, then Joseph could not have identified Him as the Author of what happened and he certainly wouldn't have told his brothers that they were not the perpetrators.

     Job gives us another glimpse into the sovereign workings of God. Job 1 gives us a staggering picture of Satan standing before God and at God's pointing at Job, Satan even goes so far as to get permission from God to harm Job's family and his wealth. But again, if we do what we want and God just brings good out of it, why didn't Satan just go ahead and do what he wanted? Why did he have to get God's go ahead, and even then, God set parameters on what he could and could not do to Job? Is this not yet another evidence that what happens on earth must be a part of God's will or it will not be allowed to happen?

     The last example of this I want to give is that of Jesus himself, more specifically, the crucifixion. Now, answer this question in your mind. Who was responsible for the crucifixion? The crowds? Herod? Pilate? Judas? Well, the Bible tells us in Acts 4:27-28.

     "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." So what were the crowds, Herod, Pilate, and Judas doing? They were doing exactly what was ordained for them to do. This was not simply them using their free will (though they were willfully making the decision to do so) to crucify Jesus and God used it for good. From before time (Revelation refers to Him as "The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world" in looking at this event in human history), this was what God had planned to happen, and Judas and the crowds and the Romans were simply playing their part in this great cosmic act of redemption.

     So, the point of today's article is to make the case for God's absolute sovereignty, that every detail of what happens on earth is something God has ordained from the past, and that nothing can stand in the way of that ordaining. In the next few days, I will get more into the specifics of this sovereignty and how that applies in our lives. But for now, I figure this was long enough!