Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year's End Thoughts

Just a sobering thought on this day when revelers will drink the night away.


This New Year's Eve is the last that millions of people alive today will know. 

Two thousand nine, like every year before it and preceding the return of the Lord Jesus, will see people pass in death from time to eternity. For those who trust in their own righteousness (Rom. 3:10-20), they will pass from death to death. Those who cling by faith to the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ will pass from death to life in the very presence of God (Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:1-10).

We all stand condemned and sit under God's just wrath, awaiting our appointment with the Judge (John 3:1-21). God's wrath abides on us unless we abide in His Son Jesus (John 15:1-17).

So tonight, settle up with your accuser (Luke 12:57-59), plead for mercy and trust in Him who died showing mercy to undeserving sinners (Luke 23:34, 43), for today is the day of salvation (Hebrews 3:7-19) and no one knows how many tomorrows they have left.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

No, Jesus Is the Reason for EVERY Season

Living in post-Christian "culture war" America, evangelical Christians like me have become used to certain catch phrases this time of year, some of which are very well-meaning and not altogether untruthful, that sell like hot cakes in Christian bookstores and the like.


Take, for instance, "Jesus Is the Reason for the Season." The age-old bumper sticker slogan cannot be discounted as blatantly false or misleading. The Christmas season is centered around the nativity of Jesus. Without Him there's no Christmas season. But while true it shortchanges the Reason quite significantly in this respect:

Jesus is the Reason for EVERY season!

Non-Christians the world over can readily accept the historicity of Jesus Christ. They accept Him as a "good" person in history, perhaps a wise man and/or moral exemplar, maybe a prophet, albeit sociopolitical if not theological. All these things men ascribe to Christ. All these things but accepting Jesus as God Himself, to Whom all glory, worship, and obedience is due. 

Jesus's divinity is dismissed, scoffed at at ridiculous, and blasphemed day in and day out, but particularly at Christmastime. Yet Jesus truly is God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity tabernacled in human flesh. He was born to live a perfect, sinless life and die a gruesome substitutionary death for sinners. This is the glory of Christmas: God the Son stooping down from glory to take on humanity -- while maintaining his divinity -- to redeem, rescue, and resurrect fallen sinners and ultimately the entire sin-stained fallen universe (Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-10; John 1:1-18).

The problem is not that the world doesn't know Jesus as the reason for the Christmas season, it's that the world doesn't acknowledge Him as the Creator of every season, the holy Judge to whom we must all give account (Heb. 9:27). As the Apostle John recalled (1:9-18):

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, [2] and his own people [3] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, [4] who is at the Father's side, [5] he has made him known.
The world doesn't know who Christ is, but we who have received Him, who believe Him, who have beheld His glory must tell the world who He is and call them to repentance and faith in Him.

Let's do that every day and every season, and let's start by telling people Jesus is the Reason for EVERY season.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Jesus Through the Whole Bible

As Christmas draws nigh, I thought I'd share with you some outstanding podcasts that give a quick overview of Christ in the Old Testament, something we'd do well to have a better grasp of for a variety of reasons:

1) to better know our Lord and Savior as He's revealed in ALL of Scripture
2) worship Him more passionately and intelligently in light of #1
3) offer a stronger apologetic for the faith by pointing people to Christ as the key which unlocks the whole of Scripture, without whom the Bible would be purposeless and uncipherable.

So here goes, both from the White Horse Inn radio broadcast (audio archives available here):

  • Christ Our Prophet, Priest & King (Dec. 21, 2008) | Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But why did God become man? What was his mission, and why did he have to eventually suffer and die? On this special Christmas edition of the White Horse Inn, the hosts will discuss the work of Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King. Joining the hosts on this program is Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California, and author of An Unexpected Journey, Discovering Reformed Christianity. (Originally broadcast December 25th, 2005).
  • Dawn of Redeeming Grace (Dec. 14, 2008)| Jesus told the religious people of his day that the Old Testament was chiefly about him. But where do we find Christ in the Old Testament? On this edition of the White Horse Inn, the hosts trace the thread of redemption throughout all of Scripture as we make our way toward Christmas.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Priceless Humor at Expense of Prosperity Gospel Pusher

An exchange between someone lampooning prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen and Westminster Theological Seminary's bookstore:

FakeJoelOsteen asks:

Any chance you'll have a sale on one of my bestsellers?

wtsbooks
answers:

Sorry, we only sell books, not kindling

Love it!

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Have I Got a House for You, David

Reading through Hebrews chapter 1 the other day, I came across a cross-reference from 2 Samuel 7. Taking a little detour, I read the passage in context and found the Lord speaking to me through it. Before I go into a bit of exposition, let me excerpt the portion below:

Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 3 And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges [1] of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ 8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. [2] Your throne shall be established forever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

So what do we have here? Well, basically King David one day was reflecting upon the riches of God's blessings to him --military conquest, a kingdom, political popularity, riches and comfort -- and struck by gratitude and awe and perhaps a tinge of guilt, David sought to express his worship by building the Lord a beautiful and permanent temple. After all, who is David to have a beautiful house of cedar while the presence of the Lord was housed merely in a tent?

The idea is a perfectly fine one, as the prophet Nathan rightly tells David, but the Lord takes this opportunity to speak a messianic prophecy through the mouth of Nathan. The Lord wants David to know that He is not only not needy of a house for His presence, but that He Himself will provide the permanent house for David and all of God's people Israel, the permanent dwelling of His presence in the person of the Messiah, His Son, who shall issue from David's line. Yes, the Lord will build His house by sending His Son, tabernacling the fullness of God in frail human flesh.

The Lord makes clear this Messiah will rise long after David has fallen asleep in death and that He will be acknowledged as the Son of God Himself. This kingdom shall "be made sure forever."

The bottom line: While David is fixated on building a perishable temple of wood and stone to the Lord, God the Father promises to build a permanent temple in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and those who are joined to Him by faith in Christ and His finished work as the perfect prophet, priest, and king of the Lord God.

So what does that mean for us today?

Many times in our lives as we reflect on God's goodness to us we are moved to worship and moved to desire to do great things for God. Some, indeed many of these things are legitimate and perfectly fine, but God desires that we know above all else that it is only His faithfulness in building the house of the Lord that we stand.

Our Lord Jesus has fulfilled the promise of the Father to establish a house and a kingdom that shall not pass away. The bloodline of this house flows from Calvary's tree. The throne of this kingdom is founded on Christ's perfect righteousness. This is the work that God has done, and it is a work that is received all of grace.

David marveled and rejoiced after hearing Nathan recount the word of the Lord (2 Samuel 7:18-24):

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 19 And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant's house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! 20 And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! 21 Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. 22 Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them [3] great and awesome things by driving out [4] before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? 24 And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God.

Let's worship the Lord this Christmas like our father David did. Let us be in awe that God has shown us such a great mercy, and that not just to save us from our sins and His wrath but to make us His people, His kingdom, His house, His people, both now and throughout all of eternity

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Uproar Over Playboy Pose Exposes More Than Skin

Playboy is known for exposing skin, but the uproar over the December 2008 edition of the magazine's Mexican licensee has exposed a whole lot more.

While there is justifiable anger at the sacrilegious treatment of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, the outrage by some betrays a bit of hypocrisy within our culture. Publish a magazine the revels in the pornographic, lust-driven drive to gawk at disrobed women, eh, that's fine. Just don't dare pose a woman naked as the object of lust if she happens to be the Virgin Mary. That, for some reason, crosses a line.

Don't get me wrong. I agree that Playboy's photographers and editors definitely went for shock value in heavily Catholic Mexico by depicting model Maria Florencia Onori as Mary, and that the decision was inflammatory and insulting to Catholics, as well as Christians of all denominations.

But when all is said and done, it's no worse than any other pornographic depiction of the female form. What's more, finding Onori's depiction as Mary to be more morally offensive is symptomatic of a Marian idolatry that is equally offensive to a holy God who alone is worthy of worship.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Talking Turkey About Wrath, Justice, and Mercy

O Lord, how patient and merciful you are to us.

When I think upon our greed, selfishness, lack of pity, and stubbornness illustrated in this tragic trampling death, I reflect that God is just in his seething wrath against such sins, and merciful and longsuffering in calling people to repentance:

NEW YORK (AP) - Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down.

Criminal charges were possible, but identifying individual shoppers in Friday's video may prove difficult, said Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, a Nassau County police spokesman.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

At least four other people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries. The store in Valley Stream on Long Island closed for several hours before reopening.

Police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the Wal-Mart doors before its 5 a.m. opening at a mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the employee, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour, to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.

"This crowd was out of control," Fleming said. He described the scene as "utter chaos," and said the store didn't have enough security.

Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help Damour were also getting trampled by the crowd, Fleming said. Shoppers stepped over the man on the ground and streamed into the store.

Damour, 34, of Queens, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 6 a.m., police said. The exact cause of death has not been determined.

A 28-year-old pregnant woman was taken to a hospital, where she and the baby were reported to be OK, said police Sgt. Anthony Repalone.

Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like "savages."

"When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling 'I've been on line since yesterday morning,'" she said. "They kept shopping."

Such selfish disregard for others, such manic obsession with material things. You and I might never stand in the cold hours before store opening on Black Friday, but the same disease grows in our hearts and manifests in other ways, provoking the just wrath of God, which he is storing up on the last day, when he shall be the one trampling the vintage of his foaming wrath against lawlessness and sin (Rev. 14):

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. [2]

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

The Harvest of the Earth

14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
Woe to us! We worship the beast everyday in American society. We worship wealth and influence, we worship sexual dominance and debauchery, we worship status and power. We worship the passing things of this world and the promise we can have it all and at falling prices too.

How it must grieve God on any day, but especially the day after we claim to celebrate thankfulness at His mercy and grace that we cram into stores and push and shove and clamor for the latest must-have thing to sate our flesh. We'll find it doesn't satisfy and yet we'll yearn next year for more of the same.

Father God, have mercy on us. May you bring us to repentance. I pray that in the midst of this trampling tragedy you help your ministers of the Word to preach Christ more boldly this Christmas season, to prophetically challenge people in pulpits across the land to trust not in earthly treasure, but in Heaven's greatest gift to man. Jesus Christ, our Immanuel, God with us.

Thank you Jesus, that you chose to step down from the glories of your heavenly throne to clothe yourself in frail human flesh, live the life we could not and would not live because of our moral deadness in sin. Jesus, you died the death we deserve, drinking in God's holy wrath. You died the death these tramplers deserve, being trampled by wave upon wave of the fierce white hot anger of God against sin. You died for these tramplers' sins. Lord, I pray that you show them your mercy. Awaken their hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit unto repentance. I pray each and every one of them may be preached the Gospel and that you may pierce their hearts through, burning their consciences with conviction and godly sorrow unto repentance and new life.

Lord, forgive me for any self-righteous judgment I've shown these tramplers. Forgive me for my selfishness, for my impudent demands to be god of my own mini universe. Forgive me for failing to hallow you in the holidays. May I always walk in humble repentance, recognizing that but for your grace I would still be dead in my sins, if not eternally lost in the burning wrath of your judgment in Hell.

Lord grant me your heart of compassion and mercy. While I long for justice, may my heart not be deafened to the pleas of mercy that you cause in the hearts of sinners you are regenerating by your saving grace.

Thank you Lord for your patience towards us. Thank you for not lashing out in your justified wrath but holding off in patient forebearance. I pray you help me do the same, Lord, and I pray your people in America and the world over would be imitators of you particularly in showing mercy.

In the name of your Son and my Savior Jesus I pray, Amen.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Journalist Advises Obama to Join 'Nominally' Christian D.C. Church

Hailing the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., as only nominally Christian, Newsweek "On Religion" moderator Sally Quinn declared the Episcopal Church U.S.A. (ECUSA) facility a perfect house of worship for President-elect Obama and his family when in residence at the White House in her Nov. 22 Washington Post op-ed.

Sadly either Ms. Quinn misses the point of church attendance for the Christian or she concludes that the religious inclinations of the Obama family is far from the historic, orthodox faith centered on the exclusive messianic claims of Jesus Christ, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone (John 3:16-21; 14:1-6).

Trumpeting the merits of the National Cathedral, Quinn admired the institution's "programs on interfaith dialogue" and concluded satisfied that the "most pluralistic of the places of worship" she'd been to would be a "wonderful" message to Americans that President Obama would weekly worship "at a place most likely to welcome all Americans and all people of the world alike."

I've no doubt that the decidedly liberal National Cathedral is very welcoming, both of warm bodies in worship and cold hard cash in its coffers, but it seems Ms. Quinn is confusing lack of theological spine with warmth of welcome.

Biblically orthodox churches warmly welcome all people of all nations and backgrounds, because the church is God's instrumental means of declaring the Gospel to sinners the world over, declaring God's just and holy wrath against sin and His one and only provision for mercy in the substitutionary death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Granted, this warm welcome is one that challenges everyone to see themselves as the Bible shows them, not as our deceptive hearts distort us (Jer. 17:9). Granted, the pure, undiluted preaching of the Gospel is foolishness to those who reject its strong warnings, but the power of God unto salvation for those who believe (I Cor. 1:18-25). It's that salvation that opens the door to the greatest, warmest welcome, that of God the Father welcoming redeemed sinners into His presence because of the atoning death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Ms. Quinn should be lauded for hoping that President-elect Obama's choice of a church in D.C. would be an inspiration not only to Americans but people all over the world. I just submit that the greatest inspiration he could bring in this matter is by worshiping at a church that joins the heavenly chorus of saints in singing of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” [Rev. 5:9-10]

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Monday, November 17, 2008

A New Church Family for the First Family

Christianity Today's Sarah Pulliam puts the question to CT readers, "What Church Should Obama Attend?"

Aside from my home church, I'd recommend either Capitol Hill Baptist in the city proper or Fourth Presbyterian (EPC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Both are biblically sound churches where the Word of God is held forth in solid expository preaching.

Indeed, were the President-elect to ask me, not that he would, I'd gladly point him to 9Marks for helpful criteria for finding a new church home:

1. Expositional Preaching
2. Biblical Theology
3. Biblical Understanding of the Good News
4. Biblical Understanding of Conversion
5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
6. Biblical Understanding of Membership
7. Biblical Church Discipline
8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and Growth
9. Biblical Understanding of Leadership
Following those guidelines will prevent the first family from sitting beneath the pulpit of a congregation that is more screedal than creedal and more obsessional than confessional.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hallelujah, Our Lord Reigns

With all the uncertainty of the credit crunch and the political situation in the United States, it's great to remember that financial markets may flourish or fail, nations may rise and fall, but Jesus Christ reigns over it all, and He's the same yesterday, today, and forever.

That's why I love Mercy Me's song, "You Reign," which celebrates the eternal and victorious reign of the Lord Jesus Christ [see Rev. 5].

You can find the video here and the lyrics below:

Even before there was a drop in the ocean
Even before there was a star in the sky
Even before the world was put in motion
You were on Your throne
You were on Your throne

You reign
Glory in the highest
You reign
Let creation testify
By Your name
Every knee will bow
And every tongue proclaim
That Jesus Reigns


Even before Your hand made the heavens
Even before the breath of all mankind
Even before we had to be forgiven
You were on Your throne
You were on Your throne

Chorus

Yesterday, today and forever
You are God who was, and is and is to come

Chorus


Written by MercyMe and Steven Curtis Chapman
© 2007 Simpleville Music / Wet As A Fish Music / ASCAP (admin. by Simpleville Music, Inc.) Sparrow Song / Peach Hill Songs / BMI (administration by EMI-CMG Publishing)
All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Way to Go, Bishop Iker!

Orthodox Christians within the Episcopal tradition in the United States must surely be heartened by the defense of the Gospel that Fort Worth Bishop Jack Leo Iker is leveling in a statement on his Web site where he advocates his diocese vote to "realign", essentially seceding from the Episcopal Church USA and submitting itself to the ecclesial authority of the more biblically faithful jurisdiction of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

Iker lays out ten reasons for doing so, and some of it sounds like inside baseball to me as a Reformed charismatic evangelical. But the last and most important reason he lists got a very, very hearty Amen from me (emphasis mine):

Most importantly, this decision is about the truth of the Gospel and upholding the authority of the Holy Scriptures. We believe in God’s full self-revelation in Jesus Christ, not in the speculation of humanist unitarians who have been elected to high offices in our church. Many leaders of TEC [The Episcopal Church] are teaching a false Gospel and leading people astray. Now is the time for us to take a bold, public stand for the biblical faith and practice of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
My prayers are with Bishop Iker and my brothers and sisters in his Fort Worth diocese who are committed to the preaching of sound doctrine, evangelizing the lost for the kingdom of God. We might have differences on secondary issues of doctrine, but we share a love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the preaching of which alone has the power of God unto salvation.

May God grant wisdom, peace, and grace to Bishop Iker and his flock as they seek to herald the Gospel in spite of the ear-itching spirit of the age which has seized the ECUSA.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jesus: Lord and Christ, Not Mere Community Organizer

If you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation and believe what the Bible teaches about His person and work, the following has to be rebuked sharply and seized upon as a teaching moment, whether you're a liberal like Jim Wallis or basically conservative like Al Mohler.

"Remember, Jesus was a community organizer, Pontius Pilate was a governor."

That aphorism has been working its way through liberal Web sites and even onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

But such a snarky political line dismisses the true scope of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and should be rebuked as such. As St. John writes in Revelation 5, Jesus Christ is the central figure of all of history, fulfilling in his death and resurrection God's glorious plan of salvation for fallen, sinful humanity:

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”


Now, if by community organizer one means that Christ has purchased with His blood His church from all tribes, languages, peoples and nations, then, okay, but that's not what is meant by the political slogan in question, which aims to denigrate GOP vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin while elevating Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (although tongue-in-cheekedly) to a saintly if not messianic height.

Christians left, right, and center should object, not out of prickly sensitivity but out of a desire to remind people that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, that he died for the sins of the world, that there is salvation in His Name alone, and that He is returning to earth some day to judge the living and the dead, rewarding those who love His appearing and casting away those who are dead in their sins.

So let's hear a strong objection from all self-professing evangelical Christians, regardless of their political views. Obama-voting evangelicals need not sit by while their Lord and Savior is dethroned from the right hand of the Father for mere political expediency.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democrats, Abortion, and Evangelical Pandering

Some evangelicals are hopeful about the Democratic Party given some new language in the party platform about abortion.

Christianity Today records the optimism of Wesley Theological Seminary's Shaun Casey. From an August 26 blog post:


It’s something that evangelicals ought to take quite seriously that the Democratic Party has made a commitment to reducing the number of abortions without reverting to criminalization. Based on my conversations with evangelicals, I think that resonates, I think a lot of evangelicals find that attractive, they find that helpful and hopeful, and it’s a reflection of who Sen. Obama is.


Ehhhh, not so much, Shaun. CT also gives its readers a look at the new abortion language and it really doesn't change anything of substance (emphasis mine):

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education, which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs."

"Any and all efforts to weaken or undermine" abortion are opposed by the Dem party platform and a right to abortion "regardless of ability to pay" means the Democratic Party opposes any ban on taxpayer financing of abortion. I fail to see how those strictures will result in less abortions.

What's more, given the Democratic Party's historic support from Planned Parenthood and NARAL, you can wager that the "age-appropriate sex education" will not adequately demonstrate the negative psychological and physical repercussions of abortion and will result in taxpayer dollars being funneled in greater measure towards abortion-providing firms.

No effort is or will be made to support 24-hour waiting periods, informed consent, parental notification, or any bans on procedures such as partial-birth abortion. The reduction in abortion foreseen by the Democratic platform has nothing to do with common sense restrictions or regulations of the procedure but in funneling more money towards liberal Democrat-friendly constituencies, something surely not desirable to evangelicals.

Simply put, the two paragraphs about pre- and neo-natal care are window dressing designed to distract from the party's fundamental commitment to abortion-on-demand.

Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican, but we as Christ's flock are called to be gentle as doves but wise as serpents in a world full of ravenous wolves (Matt. 10:16).

Let's go into this election refusing to be co-opted by either political party and being wary not to be deceived with empty words.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Donald Miller's DNC Prayer Misrepresents Man's Goodness, Christ's Atoning Work

Christian author Donald Miller gave the closing benediction for the opening night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

He prayed some things I wholeheartedly agree with and believe are scriptural, although I believe it is more appropriately the work of the church (in additional to evangelizing the lost):

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.

Where I think he went awry theologically, however, were in two regards: his view of the inherent goodness of man (or of the American people) and his view of the atoning sacrifice of Christ (emphases mine):

A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.

[...]

Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.

I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.

Let Him be our example.

Amen.
The heart of the average American is bent on evil, just like the heart of the average person, period. Scripture is very clear about that.

As far as Jesus, he gave his life up willingly into the hands of sinful men who crucified Him unjustly, yes. And yes, Christ's love serves as an example for all who trust in Him. But Christ's death was not merely a death by government oppression or an example to be commended and followed or co-opted for a political program.

Christ died as the propitiation of God's just wrath against sin, and it's a poor treatment of the Gospel to isolate for political purposes the atonement to Christus examplar. What's more, citing Christ as example and asking God to Christianize our good works is to strive in vain for righteousness by works, something Scripture tells us just doesn't cut it with Jesus (emphasis mine):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. [Rom. 3:21-27]

On Judgment Day the boasting of Democrats and Republicans, Obama and McCain won't matter. Wars won, budgets balanced, taxes cut, taxes waged, welfare rolls reduced, the sick nursed by government health care, etc., won't matter a whit to Christ in terms of earning brownie points with him.

Yes, we are to be faithful stewards of God's creation. Yes we are to be stewards of His grace and mercy and show the same to those around us, particularly the orphan and widow, the gravely ill and the destitute. But let's not confuse the political will to tackle these issues with gracious outflowing of care for these issues that stems from the changed heart of those who put their trust in Christ and in Christ alone for salvation.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Heart: A Pathological Liar

Meditating on a verse from Jeremiah, I came to the realization that, in effect, the Bible teaches us that there's a pathological liar beating in every human breast:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? [Jer. 17:9]
There's nothing filled with more deception than the heart, and because the heart informs the totality of a man, man is constantly being deceived and misled by the desires of his heart.

The heart is "desperately sick": The illness is chronic, the cancer of deceitful pervasive. "Who can understand it?", there's no human medicine or treatment to cure it.

Solomon concurs in Ecclesiastes, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Sprit:
3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. [Ecclesiastes 9:3]
And who better than the Great Physician to list some symptoms of an evil heart:
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” [Mark 7:20-23]
The prognosis isn't good at all: Your heart dreams up evil, you do that evil, then you die and face God's wrath against that evil. What's needed is a heart transplant, something only God can perform:
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. [Ezekiel 36: 24-27]
A changed heart sealed with the Holy Spirit is what fuels the Christian life of obedience to Christ. It's a heart changed and changing by the preaching of the Gospel and the inward working of the Holy Spirit that produces godly fruit in the Christian life.:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, [4] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. [Gal. 5:16-24]
Any attempt on our part to trust in our own perceived goodness or righteousness or to boil down the Christian life to mere moralism is to listen to the insane, chronically ill pathological liar within.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Good News Is Never Old News

I've been pondering lately the nature of the church and her mission in today's world, nearing two millennia after Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Ours is a time when many talk of a "new kind of Christian" and of "dialogue" with the culture, implicitly arguing that there's an "old kind" of Christian that can not properly relate to today's culture. That's a concept I reject, but it's a notion that is symptomatic of a greater ill: finding the preaching of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ to be, well, old news.

Now, the Good News is seldom, if ever, dismissed in any Christian community as old news, at least not in a straightforward polemic. But I fear that many times the way we engage worship and preaching treats the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ as a stale narrative or as background noise, rather than the heart of our being and mission of the church.

In a post-Christian America, it's easy to presume that all Americans are familiar with the Gospel but reject it nonetheless. As such, it's become fashionable to think that the New Testament model of preaching, preaching, and more preaching is bound to fail. Dialogue and interactive (rather than didactic or expository) preaching are held up as more successful tools of ministry.

But the proper public ministry of the Gospel has always been and always will be centered around preaching Christ and Him crucified, as it's the preaching of the Gospel that God blesses as the instrumental means for calling men and women to new life in Christ and sustaining them in growth in godly character.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, [5] as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” [Rom. 1:16-17]

[...]

11
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? [3] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [Rom. 10:11-17]

That preaching the Gospel can seem ineffective to critics is for one of two reasons: Christ isn't being properly preached from the pulpit and/or the seeming lack of conversion and obedience to Christ is held forth as evidence that preaching fails more often than it has measurable success.

But as Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote to the church in Corinth, Christ crucified will always be foolish to the vast majority of people:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, [2] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being [3] might boast in the presence of God. [I Cor. 1:18-29]

"The word of the cross" is and ever will be folly to those who are perishing, but to those that God has raised to new life in the Son, it's the sweetest, dearest word of all. The spotless, sinless Son of God took on human flesh, lived the sinless life we sinners from birth could never live, died the wrathful death we deserved, taking our place for our sins, and rose again physically from the dead to everlasting life as testimony of and firstfruits of the glorious resurrection God promises all who trust in His Son Jesus.

That's good news now just as much as it was 2,000 years ago and even well before that, for this is what centuries of Hebrew prophets eagerly yearned for but did not see. (Matt. 13:16-17; I Peter 1:10-12;)

Let's never let the Good News seem like old news to us. But with Paul, let's rejoice in the gospel and how it reveals the "depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God." (Rom. 11:33)

And as ambassadors of Christ, let's continually, ceaselessly and passionately make our appeal to a lost and dying world to be reconciled to Christ. Let's preach the good news. Let's preach the unconditional surrender to God's sovereign rule that He is calling us to faithfully preach:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. [2] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling [3] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [II Cor. 5:16-21]


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Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Engaged...

...to be married to a very lovely and gracious woman. Her faith, her care, her prayers, her tenderness, and her love all point to God's grace in our lives, and I'm excited that the Lord has brought us together, and anxious to be married and for us to glorify God in our union.

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." Prov. 18:22 (ESV)

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sabbath in Seattle? Don't Travel on Sunday... For the Earth's Sake

Ah the false religion of environmentalism. It not only has penance/monetary indulgences (carbon credits), restrictive dietary laws (organic only thank you), a fiery apocalypse (global warming), and works-based righteousness ("look at me, I bike to work"), it now is test-driving strict Sabbath observance of sorts:

As part of his ongoing effort to get people out of their cars and green up Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels on Wednesday announced a series of "car-free Sundays" in August and September.

Although the program is starting small, by closing a street in three different neighborhoods on consecutive Sundays, Nickels said the effort could expand next summer if it is successful.

"Neighbors will have three to six hours to experience our streets in a new way and to see how livable a city can be when people drive less," Nickels said. "This is our chance to experiment and to evaluate how these events work for people. And we'll be fighting global warming at the same time."

Bracing for expected criticism, Nickels advised drivers to take it easy.

"It's just for one day, just chill. Get out of the car and walk," he said.

Yikes. While I'd like to see more people easing up on Sundays and spending the day in worship and rest, I don't think Caesar is the guy to enforce it. What's more, shutting down streets to vehicular traffic is overly burdensome on families and individuals, including and especially those traveling to and from the house of the Lord.

That said, Christians in the Emerald City and everywhere really can consider practical ways to show care for the environment, not because we "belong to the Earth," but because "the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" and God tasked us with its care.

Perhaps, for example, more of us should consider car pooling with other families from our churches on Sunday mornings.

Even so, the church must always point out that any and all things done by Christians individually or corporately to benefit the environment are ultimately done as worship to a holy God that is coming back in the person of the risen Jesus Christ to judge sinful men and women, and that no amount of environmental do-gooding or any do-gooding can earn or merit salvation from his just wrath against their sin.

As God's people let's do good to all people, and take good faith efforts to steward God's creation. But let's not forget nor forget to preach that this world's greatest need is not greenhouse gas reduction, but the forgiveness of sins which comes to sinners by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Acts: God's Sovereignty in Evangelism

So I'm reading through Acts again, and for the first time I'm really picking up on the harmonious interplay with evangelism and the sovereignty of God. Critics of the Doctrines of Grace sovereign (Calvinism, however you want to style it) often argue that such a view of sovereignty and predestination militates against evangelism. That can be the case when the doctrines are dislodged from their biblical moorings, but when rightly understood and put into practice, Calvinism fuels evangelism.

I may blog about this more in depth later, but regardless of whether I do or not, I'd encourage you the next time you read through Acts to pray for the Lord to show you how the early church proclaimed the Gospel and how their understanding of God's sovereignty over all influenced, empowered, and compelled them to action.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hug a Calvinist Day Is Finally Here

Happy International Hug a Calvinist Day!

Read more about it here with my original post from February. And the Facebook page is here.

And I got some blog love from others noting the holiday. Check out Mama Archer here and Paul Quillman at Next Reformation, where gives a bio of the late great Reformer, who, were he alive today would be 399 years old.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Sabbath and Swing Sets

There's an interesting article in the July 5 Financial Times on how on the British Isle of Lewis, Sunday business closings are the rule, not the exception, and how it's a mixed blessing for tourists but a way of life for traditional residents.

While writer Matthew Engel seems to unfairly castigate Presbyterian norms on observing the Christian Sabbath, there is merit to the argument that legalistically governing Sabbatarian observance does more harm than good and takes the emphasis away from God's grace to the comparative self righteousness of strict adherents.

God commands His people to Sabbath, and He commands it as a blessing for His people. The grace of the Sabbath should not be lost in arguments between Christians on how strict or loosely observance should be drawn, and given the propensity within our evil hearts to look down on those who don't observe the Sabbath as we do, we must guard against self righteousness being the source of Sabbath observance.

For instance, it struck me how this warning adorns the gates of children's playgrounds on the Isle:

While the rest of Britain has long forgotten the notion of a sabbath, Lewis has
not. Tesco, which just moved into the capital, Stornoway, has no plans for
Sunday opening; the golf club is closed; the sports centre is closed; children’s
playgrounds carry signs saying “Please Respect the Sabbath”, which is Hebridean
for “Go Away”.


I'd argue taking your children to the playground after church service on a Sunday is not disrespectful of the Sabbath, particularly if the occasion is seen as opportunity to spend time with one's children talking to them about what they learned in Sunday School. After all, Scripture teaches fathers to turn everyday occasions into opportunities to preach the gospel to their kids (Deut. 6:4-9):

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [2] 5 You
shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your
heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk
of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you
lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand,
and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on
the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

New Poll Shows Pluralism Rules the Day

From the June 23, 2008 San Francisco Chronicle (emphasis mine):

Americans remain heavily religious, but their views rarely conform to dogma, according to a massive new survey released this morning.

Seventy percent of religious adherents in the United States believe multiple religions can lead a person to salvation, while 68 percent say there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their religion.

Those views are at the centerpiece of a survey of 36,000 people released today by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey - unprecedented in its combination of survey pool and breadth of questions - reveals that religious beliefs and practices in America defy doctrine.

- 57 percent of evangelical Christians say that multiple religions can lead to salvation, though nary an evangelical theologian or minister would say that.

So what's to blame for this? Poor preaching and teaching from America's pulpits? Christians living more like the world around them than in fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Are many of the respondents people that profess but do not possess saving faith, who are just part of the church crowd but have not put their faith in Christ and Christ alone and repented of their sins?

Perhaps all of the above play a part in this alarming statistic, but if the poll is anywhere near accurate, it should be a wake-up call to Christian pastors to preach the Gospel, and indeed, to insist on the Gospel week after week, Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon (emphases mine).

The Apostle Paul made it very clear in his writings (see below) that the Gospel was "of first importance" and something that must be insisted upon in regular preaching and instruction to the church:

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. [Titus 3:3-8]

| | | | | | |

15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, [1] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [I Cor. 15:3-5]


The fallacy of religious pluralism* is just another manifestation of man's sinful, self-aggrandizing heart. This fallacy preys on our desire to be our own god, to live in a moral and spiritual reality largely of our own creation, not in response to God as He has graciously revealed himself. Religious pluralism basically says "I'm okay, you're okay, but when you or I don't feel okay, we can pursue our own separate ways to feel okay with ourselves and God."

In short, the problem is that apart from God graciously moving on our hearts to show us the reality that we are dead in sin, we think we're pretty good people. What's more, if we think we have messed up and sinned, in our deadness to sin we devise ways to work it off, as though it were the Freshman Fifteen and not an egregious act of what R. C. Sproul would call "cosmic treason" against a holy God.

The law of God is perfect and holy, but we are impure, corrupt, unholy, and rebellious (see Romans 7).

This contrasts with the perfect love and obedience of Jesus Christ, who alone can make atonement for sin and indeed did so for sinners at the cross.:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [1] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, [2] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:5-11]

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...in Christ God was reconciling [3] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [II Cor. 5:19-21]

Jesus lived a sinless life of perfect obedience, took on the penalty of sin for sinners as their substitute, and was raised to life again and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, waiting to come back again to bring judgment and justice and establish his kingdom forever with men from every tongue, tribe, and nation redeemed by his blood. He has called his people to be ambassadors of His gospel, bearing the message forth to the whole worth: be reconciled to God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and repent of your sins.

That is what needs to be preached, and constantly, not just at Easter and Good Friday!

That's the exciting, powerful, life-changing, soul-saving nature of the Gospel. It is to be heralded boldly every Sunday from the pulpits across the land so that it might sink into the hearts of the faithful and result in ever-increasing worship of the Lord and to zealousness for good works in accordance with the Gospel.

Cotton candy theology won't cut it anymore. Moralistic topical sermons won't feed the sheep or call the sinner to repentance.

It's time we insist on our pastors insisting on the Gospel.

*by this I mean holding a plurality if not all religions as equally valid in their truth claims, not the passive tolerance of persons of differing beliefs. Indeed, Christ calls us to live in peace with everyone and desires us to be ambassadors of his grace, bringing the good news of salvation as a messenger would his intended recipient. We aim to win people to Christ by the preaching of the Word, not by the wielding of the sword.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Quote of the Day on Pop Christianity*

We serve a precise God who has revealed himself with precision in his word; the least we could do is try to be clear with the message. --Erik Raymond @ Irish Calvinist
Check out his blog post linked above. Good stuff.

Here's an excerpt, where Raymond objects to a Christian T-shirt emblazoned with the saying, "God is crazy about you.":

I don’t know about you but to portray God like some ditzy teenage girl, snapping his gum and scribbling my name on a piece of scrap paper does not seem biblical. God is gracious, loving, merciful and just; he is not enchanted by my apparent value or worth; he is certainly not overcome by ‘crazy love’ (insert prom music here).
*a term I'll use to describe the use of Christianized slogans and products as a cultural alternative to pop culture.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Adoption: The Wonder of God's Love | Sermon Notes

What follows is a rough outline of "Adoption: The Wonder of God's Love," a sermon by guest minister Robin Boisvert given at Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Md., on June 15, 2008, Father's Day. Boisvert is a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. Please note that some of my thoughts are woven through what follows, particularly the notes following the bolded portions in the number list below.

Sermon audio available for download here.

The text for the sermon comes from I John 3:1-3 (ESV):

3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears [1] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.


Main point: Adoption is the highest privilege in the Christian life. Not only are we justified by God, imputed with Christ's righteousness and forgiven of our sins, and not only are our hearts regenerated, turned from stone to flesh, so that we desire God, but we are made His child.

Basically, it's like the judge stepping down from the bench and taking us home with him after acquitting us.

The passage here, and the totality of I John as a letter is that we might not only have but KNOW we have eternal life in Christ Jesus.

As such, there are four truths in this passage which can encourage us greatly:


1) Adoption is a wonderful privilege --"what kind of love" is an expression of wonder, of amazement at God's miraculous working upon our hearts, to adopt us and grant us His Holy Spirit by whom we cry, "Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6)


2) Adoption is a present reality -- we are sons of God now. This has tremendous implications to our sojourn through this life, and quite markedly in our prayer life, as we address God as our Father


3) Adoption is a transforming truth


4) Adoption is a purifying hope -- Our adoption as sons of God gives us joyful desire to become more and more like the Son, Jesus Christ, living to His honor and glory, seeking to do that which is pleasing to the Father, not out of fear or mechanical obligation, but out of a desire to be like our heavenly Father

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Something to Geek Out To: Why the Apocalypse Is Morally Necessary

Good post by Dr. Albert Mohler today on the moral necessity of eschatology.

A good read for anyone, but particularly those who might argue the apocalyptic passages of Scripture are too esoteric or abstract to study privately or preach and expound upon publicly.

Also a good reminder of why churches shouldn't shy away from including the end of the age/return of Christ in their belief statements.

Here's a great excerpt (emphases mine):

The human mind cannot help but look to the end. For this reason, eschatology will always be a central feature of any worldview or belief system. The Christian doctrine of eschatology is necessary to the biblical story and to the Gospel narrative.

Put simply, the Christian story unravels unless God brings the entire course of human history under His visible and perfect judgment, unless God's justice is perfectly displayed, unless the Christ is revealed in glory so that every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father [Phil. 2:11], unless Christ claims His redeemed people, unless God's triumph in Christ over death, sin, evil, and injustice is made universal. Put simply, unless every eye is dry and every tear is wiped away.

There is no Christian Gospel if history simply unwinds into a meaningless puddle, if the cosmos simply escapes into a cataclysmic black hole, or if the universe finally dies of exhausted energy. Without belief in a biblical eschatology, there is no Christian hope. Without a sense of perfect moral judgment in the end, the human heart is homeless.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Like Nails on a Chalkboard to Me

That's how I'd describe the song"We Shall Overcome." The anthem of the Civil Rights Movement was loosely based on an earlier hymn, but it in itself should not ever, in my opinion, be considered a Christian spiritual given its lack of focus on the person and work of the Overcomer, Jesus Christ, who redeems His people from sin and death and raises them to new life. It's also extremely gauzy and vague (see lyrics at bottom of post) and hence not very encouraging, scripturally speaking, for a hymn.

Here are my objections:

1) We can't overcome anything (sin, death, our guilt before a holy God who justly judges us for our sin) apart from our union with Christ.
2) The best corresponding biblical passage I can think of for this song is from Revelation 12:7-12, which makes clear the saints overcome by the "blood of the Lamb [Christ's atoning work] and by the word of their testimony [the Gospel]."
3) While it is true that one day we shall see the ultimate establishment of universal peace and justice under Christ in a new heaven and new earth, this is a victory already obtained by Christ at the cross, hence it is more proper for Christians to remember that and celebrate it in the past and present tense, just as Paul does in his letter to the Colossian church (2:13-15):

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities [2] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. [3]


1.

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day

CHORUS:

Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

2.

We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand some day
CHORUS

3.

We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free some day
CHORUS

4.

We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid some day
CHORUS

5.

We are not alone
We are not alone
We are not alone some day
CHORUS

6.

The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around some day
CHORUS

7.

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
CHORUS

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Excellent Thoughts on Revival: Real and Counterfeit

I came across an excellent item by Dan Edelen of Cerulean Sanctum about the marks of genuine revival versus the snake oil showmanship that leaves many a well-intentioned soul with a shipwrecked faith. His news hook, if you will, is all the buzz in some charismatic Christian circles about revivalist preacher Todd Bentley, who is based in Lakeland, Florida.

His full post is here, but below I've excerpted the five key points Edelen makes (emphases mine):

1. All true revival is marked by one overarching, indisputable reality: People are driven to repentance. And not “Me too, me too!” repentance, but the kind that soaks the carpeting in tears of holy remorse for sin. Any revival that is not first and foremost preceded by and given over to repentance is not a Holy Spirit-ordained revival. The number one fruit coming out of any revival will always be fruits of repentance. And those fruits remain. They don’t vanish six months after roadies pack up the revival tent; they last a lifetime. Want to gauge who’s behind this revival? Watch for fruits of repentance. If everything but repentance is visible front and center stage, then it’s not a revival from God.

2. There’s no fool like a charismatic fool. And I say that as a charismatic. Too many charismatics drink from poisoned wells only to clutch their guts in pain later, asking what went wrong. What went wrong is that no one was bold enough to test the spirits to see if they were from God. Want a wise foundation for that kind of discernment? Start right here.

3. Whenever the emphasis gets off Jesus, a revival’s focus is off target. The Holy Spirit always pulls people to Jesus. He doesn’t pull them toward angels, canny preachers, or displays of spiritual gifts. He doesn’t need gold teeth, gold dust, and angel feathers to point people to Jesus. (Those are illusionist and occultist tricks.) He just needs himself because He is sufficient to do the pointing. Real revival isn’t about what you or I want, but what Jesus Christ wants.

4. When the sons of Aaron offered “strange fire” before the Lord, their offering was probably close to what it should have been. After all, they knew the formalities. The problem was that close doesn’t count except in horseshoes and hand grenades. God doesn’t put up with close. His worshipers worship Him in Spirit and in truth. And there’s no “almost” in truth. You want “almost” when it comes to truth? Consider Satan; he’s a master of the almost truth. If we’ve got experienced charismatics at a revival with folded arms and scrunched brows saying, “Well, you know…,” then it’s strange fire.

5. Real revival doesn’t just draw one kind of Christian. It draws everyone. It draws Episcopalians, Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Brethren, Mennonite, Methodist, Baptist—everyone. And not just Christians, either. Real revival pulls in hundreds of the unsaved and the cultists. Real revival spills out of the cup that first held it. It rains down on whomever is near because God doesn’t discriminate. He’s an equal opportunity anointer of those who wholeheartedly seek Him.

I would also add that real revival is marked by an intense and earnest thirst for the study of the Word of God. That was after all the hallmark of one of the greatest revival's of modern history: the Reformation.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Thoughts After One Year of Calvinism

I can't pinpoint the date exactly, but it was in late May and early June of 2007 that the Lord brought me around to a more biblical understanding of salvation. It's commonly nicknamed Calvinism, although I prefer to style the soteriology as many others do more accurately as the Doctrines of Grace.

This post, however, is not designed to explore the oft-acronymed five points of TULIP (or as I think I prefer RUPEP), but merely to posit this:

A right understanding of God's grace will cause the Christian to realize a mind-blowing truth.: Every person who trusts in Christ unto salvation is the result of a miracle performed by God himself.

That I am a Christian is a miracle.


It's not because I am smarter than those who reject Christ or more spiritually attuned. It's not because I've dispassionately weighed the options and chosen Christ. It's not because I've chosen Christ or stuck with him after opting to "try Jesus."

No, I'm adopted into God's family not by my initiative but because I've been born again by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. My rebirth spiritually preceded my faith and it made possible and alive my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. [John 3; I Peter 1:3-9]

Before God awakened my heart to believe and trust in him, I was dead in sin. Dead men don't make choices. Dean men don't believe things. Dead men just decay, and so did I, spiritually, until God brought me from death unto life. [John 5:24]

But praise be to God and God alone for [Eph. 2: 8-10; Gal. 3:10-14; Rom. 3:10-12, 21-28; 8:18-30; 10:17; Phil. 1:6]:

  • choosing to save me before the foundation of the world
  • sending Jesus to die for my sins, bearing God's just wrath against them in my place
  • sending faithful messengers to preach the Word of God to me of so great a salvation
  • summoning my heart to new life and faith in Christ through His Holy Spirit
  • preserving me by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to cling to my only hope, Christ Jesus
That's the heart of the Calvinist understanding of predestination. More importantly it's at the heart of the Gospel.

God initiated every facet of my salvation, and He'll complete every facet, and it's all for the praise of His glory. [Heb. 12:1-2; 10:19-39]

Soli Deo gloria! To God alone be the glory.

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