Aliens in a Strange Land

In Galatians 1:3-4, Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself to rescue us from this present evil age.” It seems like every day we’re confronted in new and more blatant terms just how evil this present age is.  On the one hand, it can be heart-breaking to see a culture in constant decline and that reality should push us towards it with the desire to communicate hope in Christ.

On the other, it serves to remind us that disciples of Jesus are not of this world (1 Peter 2:11) and this place isn’t home.  The deteriorating condition of the world should push us closer to Jesus, longing for another land with a Father-King who rules with strength and grace, protecting His children and welcoming them into His presence, face-to-face.

…but does it?

Are you homesick?

I know too often I’m not.  That’s what is frightening.  It’s when I don’t long for home.  That’s when I know I’ve gotten too comfortable in a world I wasn’t ultimately designed for.  It’s when I have to pull back a bit and remember I’m not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  That comes through the Word–spending time absorbing the Truth, meditating on the reality of another Kingdom that I’ve been born into and fitted for, and praying for a fresh perspective on why I’m still here.  Only then will I be ready to engage the world in a way that brings glory to God and healing to the hurting.  Only then will I experience what it means to be rescued from this present evil age.

A Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin.  His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ!  Why?  Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ.  Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.

That is a struggle with which I am familiar.  That is something that I can identify with.  I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking.  I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus?  The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).

What do I do?  I keep reading!  Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation!  NONE!  The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17).  The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!

I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it.  I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!

Who’s Choice is it Anyway?

It is an understatement to say that the topic of Divine Election is a hotly debated one.  People are often very passionate and sometimes downright uncivil in their expressions of those passions.  People are cast with (what are intended as) disparaging labels, looked down upon with expressed disappointment, and dismissed as marginal when they admit to certain doctrinal beliefs.

That the Doctrine of Election is taught in Scripture is undeniable by anyone reading Scripture with honest eyes.  Getting beyond our preconceived ideas of what is taught is usually the problem and a challenge for any of us to get to the heart and truth.  Certainly, we can all find our various “proof-texts” or “spoilers” to opposing doctrinal positions.  However, a goal of theology involves avoiding outright contradictions in our formulations in our quest for the TRUTH of God.

If a seemingly opposing passage can be easily worked into a particular doctrinal position without either twisting or changing it’s basic meaning, it should be seriously considered.  If it cannot, then that position must be rejected since the teaching of Scripture does not contradict itself.  If there is interest, I may explore one or two examples in a future post.  For the moment, though, the point is that we must determine to approach the Scripture humbly and honestly, with no axes to grind but only a desire to learn of the nature and will of God.  Due to some of the inevitable implications, for many, MANY years I wrestled with this teaching, desperately wanting (kicking and screaming, as it were) to deny it on the one hand, and yet knowing that it was undeniable on the other.

On Sunday, I addressed the topic in part 15 of my series, Portrait of A Savior.  I pray I did an honest and adequate job handling this subject, building my argument from a simple reading of John 6:22-71 as well as additional supporting passages.  My goal was not only to teach how Scripture is clear of God’s sovereign choice in election, but also the great paradox of man’s responsibility to believe and freely respond (as well as to explore the origin of “belief” itself).

To the best of my ability, the only presuppositions I deliberately and unapologetically start from are that Scripture is perfect in it’s teaching and, whatever formulation of predestination, freedom, election or salvation, God must be clearly seen as the Sovereign originator of salvation.  To do otherwise is to elevate man’s position above that of God, thereby glorifying man above God, and that must not happen.  God will not allow that to happen.  Isaiah is clear that He will share His glory with no one (Isaiah 41-42).

Again, this is a tough subject, but an important one, nonetheless, and one that provides the Believer with a certainty that, regardless of the storms, the trials and circumstances, Christ will never let go of all whom the Father gives Him.  At the end of the day, we may disagree on certain aspects of God’s application of His work of salvation.  However, for Christians of various doctrinal differences, our agreement (I trust!) is that salvation is through Christ alone (John 14:6), by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), resulting in repentance of sin and the desire for holiness (Romans 10:9-10).

My prayer is that, if you watch the following video, you will do so with a desire to hear from the Spirit of God through the Word of God, not with a closed spirit simply looking for grounds upon which to disagree or pick a fight.  I am certain there are plenty of opportunities for that.  That is, however, not my purpose.  My purpose is singular in nature and focus:  Soli Deo Gloria!

Portrait of a Savior, Part 15 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

For a pretty thorough handling of the Doctrine of Election, check out this explanation. (Sorry for those of you who, like me, aren’t big KJV people.)  It’s always a good idea to first study what you say you don’t believe to make sure you don’t actually believe it.  Caricatures abound!  😉

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 video

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

According to John, Jesus has the authority to both give life to whomever He pleases and to judge the living and the dead.  What does it mean to truly live the life given by Christ?  Is it possible to have eternal life and yet live a life of unrepentant sin?  I fear many people have received a false sense of security by holding onto a moment in which they prayed a prayer asking Jesus into their hearts, but after which have lived a life where there is no indication of transformation.  What does the Scripture say about this?  Can you be a disciple of Jesus if you aren’t actually being discipled by Him?  Can you say that you are a follower of Jesus if you aren’t actually following Him?

This was a difficult message to preach and I’m certain a tough one to hear, but I think it was an important one.  I pray God’s Spirit will be your guide if you decide to watch.  Blessings!

dp.

Children and Salvation: Is It Ever Too Early?

20130516-084844.jpgMy six-year old was saved Monday.

Well, at least that’s what he told me when he came home from school. As it turns out, a children’s ministry from a local church holds a voluntary Bible club with the kids after school every so often and so, during that time, the salvation bracelet was given to the kids and the Gospel was shared.

I must be quick to say, I am grateful for such a ministry! That a sister church would have such a ministry to our children is both commendable and appreciated. However, my wife and I were more than a bit troubled when Andrew came in declaring, “I’m saved!”

As it turns out, the children were not only explained the Gospel, they were led through a “Sinner’s Prayer” to ask Jesus into their heart. That’s the prayer that is found in, uh…is it John?…Matthew? Hmm…now that I think about it, not sure I’ve ever actually read it***. Anyway , my son is one of those who prayed the prayer.

My concern is in knowing how easy it is to get kids to say the words you want them to say whether or not they understand it or believe it. Because of this fact, my wife and I have been very intentional in talking with our children about the Gospel, praying over them, and leading them down a path that would provide them with ample opportunity to be exposed to Truth and, hopefully, real transformation. Ah, transformation. There’s that word that is often missing in many people’s idea of salvation. Too often, it’s all about having a minimal understanding of the truth…enough to get you to say those words and you’re in. Often, though, you’re not.

An encounter with Christ is about transformation, is it not? For someone who believes that regeneration must proceed confession (Ephesians 2), getting a child to say mere words is troubling, if not terrifying. Now, my son potentially has grounds for actually ignoring a real, inner Gospel call because he’s already “prayed the prayer”. He’s already rubbed the lamp and said the magic words. He’s in.

Is he?

Maybe he is. We will watch and see, talk with him and pray over him. If so, I will celebrate like nobody’s business. If he’s not, things may have gotten more complicated than they need have.

A better alternative?

I think there is one. I believe a better approach would have been for the minister to share the Gospel and then, if there are children who are curious or express interest, stop there and contact the parents. Let them know their child is interested in knowing more about the saving work of Jesus. Then go from there. This is a voluntary club, so the kids are there because the parents want their kids there.  Perhaps the parents want the minister to help them in talking with their child. Perhaps, like us, while appreciating this children’s ministry, they would prefer to wait a little longer on asking for some decision. Instead, they plowed right through and I got a call Tuesday letting me know what happened the day before. A little late.

Frankly, discerning the spiritual condition of a child is difficult. That’s the key, though…discerning. It takes time to watch and listen to the child in order to discern whether there is a legitimate working of the Holy Spirit of God rather than a desire to have a cool bracelet and get dunked in the pool. Some will disagree with me. There was a time in my life I probably would have, too. Belief in a Sovereign God, however, leads me away from pushing my children through the door of salvation. It’s the only thing that gives me peace now as we watch and wait, patient to let the Holy Spirit do His work, realizing that work is not mine.

I came across a helpful article this week about this very thing entitled, How do we discern the spiritual conversion of children. It offers some advice for parents and ministers in helping children rightly understand the things of God. Hope it helps.

***Scripture is clear that we are to repent. Certainly, that involves prayer, but there is nothing that I have found in Scripture where we are to “ask Jesus into our hearts.” Romans 10:13 and Acts 2:21 say we are to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Though often cited as grounds for that particular brand of the Sinner’s Prayer, I don’t believe that’s ample grounds for establishing that as  a step to salvation. I call on His name in repentance.  Splitting hairs? I don’t think so. The biblical mandate for salvation is simply “repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15, Romans 3:20, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 17:30, 26:20). We find nothing beyond this actually in Scripture.  Is it necessary to add a non-biblical step to what Scripture has commanded? Belief involves trust. Trust and repentance are followed by actions. (Jesus even warned that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom, but He who DOES the will of the Father. John 10:10). That should be enough. Anything more is fertile ground for providing a false sense of security (“I asked Jesus into my heart. Regardless of what I do, I’m secure.”) When the answer to that question is the basis upon which we determine the security of a person, we’re walking on shaky ground.

A Reasonable Response

In the opening of Isaiah, God says something that, to me, is astounding.  He calls the readers to do something that sounds, well, unreasonable.  He says, “Come now, let us reason together.”  Crazy, right?  No, think about it:  The sovereign Lord of all that is, who created by the power of His Word, who controls all that ever was, who speaks and no one can respond, who, with the power of a thought can build up or destroy, whose ways are higher and thoughts deeper than anything that could compare, calls us to reason with Him.

Be Reasonable

Here’s the backstory: The Father has just laid out a grievance against Judah, that they have come to Him with acts of worship, but filthy hands and hearts.  Rhetorically, He has asked them where they got such an idea.  Do you think I like this?  Has anyone told you to do this and act this way towards me?  Do you think I’m stupid?  Did I say that I like for you to make a mockery of worship? (Yeah, a little bit of paraphrasing there). He then tells them what He wants them to do (which we’ll get to in a minute) then calls for them to be reasonable in their response.  Look at how He lays this out (so easily a baby could just about reason through this):

1. Your sins are disgusting   —->  they’ll be cleansed like snow.

2. If you’re willing and obedient  —->  I’ll bless your socks off.

3. If you refuse and rebel  —->  you’ll lose your socks. (look how strongly the Lord states this:  “you shall be eaten by the sword.” Gives the idea of complete consumption/destruction, no?).

4. I said it. That’s it. No other options. (“…the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”)

Simple, right?  So, the reasonable response is……?  Of course, any reasonable person would do what God says.  OK, so…..do we?  Do you? 

What God Said

Isaiah 1: 6-7 tells us what we’re to do that, in doing so, will lead to the blessings of God:

1.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil. 

2. Learn to do good. (personal experience – it is a process.)

3. Seek justice.

4. Correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

So this is what God said. Now, what did He mean?

In summary, He tells us to separate ourselves from sin (repent) and do works in keeping with repentance. These were the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:8

How does it work?  Simple.  In our context (A.D.), it is coming to terms with the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, who, having made peace with the Father on our behalf (that is, since He was pure and had no need to have His own sins purified, He could, in perfection, stand in and trade His purity for our impurity by dying the death we deserved, bearing the penalty of sin for us, absorbing the wrath of God towards sin so we don’t have to eternally and then rising from the dead so that Death is defeated forever), and repenting. That’s the “Gospel” or Good News in a nutshell.  In my opinion, when you think of what’s at stake and what is gained, “good news” is an understatement!

The repenting part is the application of Christ’s pardon on our lives. If I don’t repent, I don’t get the benefit.  It’s like getting a coupon for a free meal at a restaurant:  Somebody is paying for that meal, though I get it for free. However, I actually need to redeem the coupon in order to receive the meal.  Repentance (that involves not only being sorrowful over sin, but actually turning away from that sin and believing what Christ has done) is that act of faith where I believe “the meal” has been paid for and is mine for the enjoying.

Now the rest is the outflow of what has flowed in.  Christ has given me salvation, called me to Himself, broken me over my sin, applied the ointment of healing through forgiveness as I repent, and sealed my soul for eternity with Him. Now, if that is real, I see the world differently:

  • I see injustice and I want to fix it.
  • I see people hurting and I want to help them.
  • I see people broken and I want to heal them.
  • I see people lonely and I want to comfort them.
  • I see people treated badly and I want to defend them.

Though I may have been blinded to these things before, being absorbed by my selfishness, empty religion, or short-sightedness, now Christ has given my His own eyes. I begin to see the world as He sees it and want to doing something about it. This is a natural process brought about by the indwelling Spirit of God (note: many people do these things who are not followers of Christ…keep reading).  

So, a couple of questions:

1.  What is your attitude towards sin?

2.  What is your relation to Jesus?

3.  What is the condition of your soul?

4.  How do you see the world?

5.  What are you doing about it?

Doing “justice” for the sake of justice may be noble (and many people are doing just that), but if not prompted as a natural result of what Christ has done in your life, it is ultimately meaningless.  You can make a hungry person full for a while but they’ll hunger again.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, however, will change the world (and you) both now and for eternity.

If you’d like to explore this Good News further, shoot me a message.

Can I Get A Witness? – 1 John 4:13-17

I had the opportunity to talk with a young lady after worship yesterday who is dealing with a lot of spiritual issues.  In tears, she said to me that she felt lost.  I asked in what sense she meant that and she told me that it seemed she was adrift at sea without any direction.  Remembering that on another occasion she had told me she had trusted Christ, I asked her about her relationship with Him.  She said, “I thought I had trusted in Jesus, but there has been nothing in my life to give evidence of that.”

I remembered back to John’s teaching in chapter 3, verse 6 [see commentary here]: “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known Him.”  As we talked, she was right — there had been absolutely no transformation in her life since she “prayed a prayer.”  She still was unable and/or unwilling to give up the lifestyle choices she had made that were leading to destruction.

I suppose the good thing about this is that she continues to feel drawn at this point.  She still feels the tug of conviction, but she doesn’t have that ever-important element that John describes in the reading for today: the inner testifying of the Spirit of God that we are children of God.  The transforming work of love is carried out in our lives and we, then, “have confidence for the day of judgment…”.

I have great hope that she will truly come to trust in Christ because of the evidence that He is drawing her in to Himself, but when there is no transformation and no inner testimony of the Spirit that we are saved, there can be no justification.

The Door – 1 John 2:22-25

In John 14:6, John reported Jesus as having said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.”  With those words, there was no room left for any other way to salvation.  Now, we can either believe it or not…that option is left to us, but changing it is’t.  It makes no sense to me how a group, denomination, church, etc., can call themselves “Christian” and yet deny the exclusivity of Christ for salvation.  This goes back to an earlier post where I talked about the meaninglessness that the word “Christian” is coming to have.

In his letter, John essentially reiterates the same idea by claiming that the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar and, in essence, among the antichrist.  In verse 23, John says exactly what he said in his gospel, only a different way:

No one who denies the Son has the Father.  Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

Then he encourages us to stick with that.  Sounds easy enough, but in an ever-increasingly politically-correct world where tolerance is demanded towards every belief (except those who believe in Christ alone for salvation!), it becomes more and more difficult to openly hold to this.  Subtle pressure mounts for us to compromise our beliefs in the name of tolerance.  It must be pointed out, though, there is a massive difference in tolerating individuals who hold different beliefs and even tolerating their holding them, and giving them a pass in the name of tolerance.  There is real Truth and though I never want to shove that down someone’s throat and insist that they hold to that (which is true tolerance), I do want to make sure that I speak that truth and live that truth in a compassionate way.  As verse 25 explains, what is at stake is far too high to do otherwise.

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