Sunday, June 22, 2008

Quote of the Week - Response to the Doctrine of Hell

My gracious, loving Father, the doctrine of eternal punishment shatters me and reduces me to confusion and embarrassment. I have often spoken with disdain of those who at various times of history have been complacent in the face of terrible suffering on the part of their fellow human beings, but what is to be said of someone who can be so little troubled by the thought that millions of his fellow creatures are destined to an eternity of torment? Should this thought not drive me to far greater efforts in prayer, evangelism, and service? Surely the truth, Father, is that this doctrine has penetrated only superficially into my heart and life, such that I have hardly begun to know what it is to take Your wrath with perfect seriousness and to struggle in prayer for and in witness to those who are lost.
That I may draw close to the spirit of Christ, I ask again the you strengthen my mind to understand sound doctrine, humble my proud heart to receive it, and embolden my spirit to proclaim and live it. I would gladly reject the doctrine of hell; but if I may not, then let me so receive it as to be haunted by it, and so believe it as to be incapable of cravenly withholding Your truth from those in danger of everlasting loss. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

David Clotfelter, Sinners in the Hands of a Good God: Reconciling Divine Judgement and Mercy

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wordled Blog

I just found an awesome tool, called wordle, on the web that lets you see at a glance all of the words that is in a particular text. Just for fun, I wordled my blog for the month of June and here's what I got:

I'm sort of glad that God made it to the center. Take a look and have fun with it!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Boasting - Part 3

"Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished." - Proverbs 16:5
For the past two posts (On Boasting - Part 1 and On Boasting - Part 2), I have been discussing the sin of boasting within the family of God. How do we as Christians tend to boast in a sinful way, and yet too often not recognize it in our lives? There are six ways that we boast that I am exploring in these posts, and I'll list them here for reference:
  1. Boasting in our faith
  2. Boasting in our morality
  3. Boasting in correct doctrine
  4. Boasting in life circumstances (whether good or bad)
  5. Boasting in achievement
  6. Boasting in our independent spirit
Recently, I have encountered the subject of boasting in many different situations over the last several weeks. It all started when our small group was studying Romans 3:27; then I starting reading a book by Jerry Bridges entitled Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate that has a section in it on the sin of pride; and our Sunday School class recently went through a discussion of Jeremiah 9:23-24. This has given me a lot of time to think about this subject and to start working on this sin of boasting as I see it in my life today. I am hoping that these posts will encourage us all in our walk with Christ, helping in our sanctification to greater godliness.

We have already covered the first two ways that Christians are prone to boast: In our faith, and in our moral self-righteousness. The two ways that I would like to cover in this post are boasting in correct doctrine (or you could call this boasting in knowledge), and boasting in our life circumstances (whether good or bad).

Boasting in Correct Doctrine
Closely related to pride in morality is our doctrinal pride. This is the assumption that whatever my doctrinal beliefs are, they are right, and anyone who thinks otherwise is theologically inferior. Anyone who cares about doctrine at all are susceptible to this form of boasting. And those who do not really consider doctrine that important even look with contempt on those who do. It doesn't matter what doctrinal belief you hold to: Arminianism or Calvinism; Dispensational or Covenant theology; Paedo-baptist or Credo-baptist; Continuationist or Cessationist. This is boasting in a particular belief system, whatever that belief system may be, and and attitude that puts ourselves as spiritually superior than others who hold different beliefs.

Paul addresses this type of boasting in his letter to the Corinthians. This was a church who was having issues with divisions in the church over various subjects. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses the church in their attitude toward those who would not eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthians' conclusion in this case was that it was okay to eat this food because it fell within the bounds of Christian liberty. Paul did not disagree with the Corinthian church about their conclusion, but he did address their pride over those who did not have that belief. In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul says, "Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that 'all of us possess knowledge.' This 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up".

If your Calvinism or Arminianism or dispensationalism or view of the end times causes you to feel superior to others, then you may be falling under the sin of boasting in knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 3:18-19, Paul addresses the church's puffed up "knowledge" once more: "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God...".

This is not to say that we should not have strong convictions about doctrine, but if those convictions cause us to consider others and spiritually less significant than ourselves, we have allowed our flesh to turn them into sin. If you think that this even might be an area of sin in your life, please prayerfully consider how to hold onto your strong convictions with a genuine attitude of humility.
"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:5-7

Boasting in Life Circumstances (Whether Good or Bad)
I think that we can all understand how we may boast in circumstances that are good in our lives. If we get an unexpected windfall, if we win the lottery, if our circumstances allow us to be in the right place at the right time for some sort of blessing. It's easy in those instances to boast in the good things that have happened to us without attributing them to our God through whom every good gift and every perfect gift comes (James 1:17). But I would tend to say that this is not the normative way that we, as Christians, boast in our circumstances. In fact, I would say that we more readily give glory to God when something good happens to us unexpectedly, and we have no qualms with doing so.

Where I believe that we can easily sin in this area is when our circumstances are not good. This is where I have seen many Christians describe in detail the bad circumstance they are currently in for a couple of different reasons: a) to gather those around them who will make them feel better, or b) to one-up others who are also suffering through bad circumstances. I see this all the time in the church, and it grieves me that this attitude shows mistrust in God and a confidence in something other than the Lord whom we serve.

God gives us several ways in which we should approach life's bad circumstances. The first is found in Matthew 5:43-44 which says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". Jesus is telling us that no matter who is our enemy, whether our deadbeat ex-husband, or our co-worker who is slandering us, we need to be praying for them. Notice that he does not say, "Pray for your enemies, that they may be made into nice people, more like yourselves". This lesson is also found in Romans 12:14-21.

Another is found in Philippians 4:11-13:
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
What is the remedy for facing our bad circumstances? Learn to be content in everything, for you can endure all things through Christ. Go to Him in prayer for everything, not to others, and not blaming others for your circumstances, for God is in control of all.

"Then how do we pray for our enemies or for our bad circumstances?" you might say. Well, prayer changes things. This is an important concept to understand. Prayer also changes
us. Most of us pray to change the situation, to change our circumstances, and to change the other person. We should be praying for these things, but we should also be looking at how God is using these circumstances to deal with us. When we pray like that we can potentially realize several things:
  1. How have I contributed or am I contributing to the bad circumstance? Oftentimes, we want to stand back and be the victim, but God wants something better for us. He wants us to be sanctified to become more holy ourselves. What is God teaching me about sin in my own life through this circumstance?
  2. How can I put myself in my enemies' shoes? Romans 3 tells us that no one is up to God's standard of righteousness. If we can understand that our enemy is a sinner just like us who needs God's forgiveness just as we do, that understanding can help us pray for others outside of the circumstances in which they have put us.
  3. How can I be an instrument of God's grace through this circumstance? Often, we end up thinking too much of ourselves when we are hard-pressed under a bad situation. "How can I survive? Why am I here? Look how hard it is for me!" But our eyes should be focused on God throughout every circumstance in our lives, and, in so doing, we can be used by him as an instrument for his grace and mercy for others.
All of these scriptures we have seen show us how to have freedom from self-preoccupation and self-infatuation and self-exaltation. And, much more than that — though that is crucial — we can be fully rooted in Christ-preoccupation and Christ-infatuation and Christ-exaltation through our circumstances, whatever they may be.

Next time: Boasting in achievement and boasting in our own independent spirit.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On Boasting - Part 2

"'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.' For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends." - 2 Corinthians 10:17-18
In On Boasting - Part 1, I brought up six different areas of boasting in which we Christians may find ourselves involved. These are very subtle sins that we have tended to accept as normal in our Christian culture, but which I believe - and the Bible states - are sins with which we need to confront in our sanctification process. The first two that I will cover in this post are: boasting in our faith and boasting in moral self-righteousness.

Boasting in our faith
This is a particular danger for the evangelical Christian. For the most part, we know that we are not saved by works (Romans 3:28). We have been taught that in the church many, many times. But faith is
the distinguishing mark of the evangelical Christian. So, even though we have been taught there is to be no boasting in heaven, and even though we do not want to boast, when pressed in our doctrine, Christians will often admit that in the final analysis the reason that we are going to be in heaven, and another person is going to be in hell, is that we believed God and trusted Jesus (Acts 16:31) while those who are perishing spurned Him (2 Thessalonians 2:10). James Montgomery Boice puts it this way in his commentary on Romans 3:
"Sometimes evangelicals express their ideas in the following fashion. They say that God first gave the law to see if anyone could keep it. But since no one did or can, God now comes to us with a slimmed-down or much-facilitated gospel, as if he were saying: 'I know you can't keep my law. So let me ask instead for something you can do. Just believe in Jesus. If you believe in Jesus, I'll save you.'"
I'm sure you can see what is wrong with that idea. That makes faith into a work that we must do on the basis of which we are saved. And if that were the case, there would be grounds for boasting. But that is not what faith is. In D. Martin Lloyd-Jones exposition of Romans, he writes:
"Faith is nothing but the instrument of our salvation. Nowhere in Scripture will you find that we are justified because of our faith; nowhere in Scripture will you find that we are justified on account of our faith. The Scripture never says that. The Scripture says that we are justified by faith or through faith. Faith is nothing but the instrument or the channel by which this righteousness of God in Christ becomes ours. It is not faith that saves us. What saves us is the Lord Jesus Christ and his perfect work. It is the death of Christ upon Calvary's Cross that saves us. It is his perfect life that saves us. It is his appearing on our behalf in the presence of God that saves us. It is God putting Christ's righteousness to our account that saves us. This is the righteousness that saves; faith is but the channel and the instrument by which his righteousness becomes mine. The righteousness is entirely Christ's. My faith is not my righteousness and I must never define or think of faith as righteousness. Faith is nothing but that which links us to the Lord Jesus Christ and his righteousness." (emphasis mine)
Have you ever thought of yourself as more enlightened or somehow smarter or closer to God because you decided to follow after Him, and those worldly people (or this one particular sinner) cannot seem to get it? Beware of this line of thinking. For you have not been saved because of anything inherently better in yourself. If God had not "made you alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4-5), you would be just as condemned as those others.

Boasting in moral self-righteousness
Jerry Bridges, in his book Respectable Sins:Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, says this about pride in moral self-righteousness.
"The sin of moral superiority and self-righteousness is so easy to fall into today, when society as a whole is openly committing or condoning such flagrant sins as immorality, easy divorce, a homosexual lifestyle, abortion, drunkenness, drug use, avarice, and other flagrant and scandalous sins. Because we don't commit those sins, we tend to feel morally superior and look with a certain amount of disdain or contempt on those who do. It's not that those sins I've mentioned are not serious sins that are tearing apart the moral fabric of our society. Indeed, they are serious, and I respect those Christian leaders of our day who raise a prophetic voice against them. But the sin we ourselves fall into is the sin of moral self-righteousness and a resultant spirit of contempt toward those who practice those sins. In fact, Jesus told the parable about the Pharisee 'to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt' (Luke 18:9)."
I would venture to say that the sin of moral self-righteousness is one of the most prevalent sins within Christian communities today (I sure do see that it is the sin that I struggle most often with in the area of boasting). And because it is so common among Christians, that makes it even harder to detect in our lives because we are all practicing it to some degree. We even seem to get some enjoyment out of describing amongst ourselves how bad our society and the world has become. When we do this, we are falling into the sin of moral self-righteousness.

James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." And Romans 2:23-24 says, "You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" You see, by looking on others as less morally righteous than us, we have condemned ourselves and dishonored God before the world.

There are several ways that scripture has given us to help us in dealing with this particular sin, but I would like to focus on two:
  1. Identifying ourselves as sinners with mankind. This is given to us as example by several Biblical leaders, but I'd like to bring up just one. Ezra was a scribe who was tasked with teaching the people of God (after they returned from their captivity in Babylon) the law of God. When he saw how evil God's people were, he identified himself with those who were evil when presenting them before God. In Ezra 9:6, he says, "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens."
  2. Seeking to be humble in every situation. We must continue to strive to be humble, because that is the example that Christ has given us (Philippians 2:3-8). An attitude of humility not only puts others first, but it recognizes our position before the God of heaven: we were sinners by nature before we were even born (Psalm 51:5), and we can easily identify ourselves with Romans 3:10-12 which says, "None is righteous, no, not one...All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." It is only by the grace of God that we are kept from, or maybe have been rescued from, the flagrant sins that we condemn.
I trust that God has been speaking to your heart as you read about the sinfulness of boasting. He has sure been working on me in this area. I am not free from pride or boasting in my life, especially the kinds that we are talking about here. I want to make sure that you understand that, because I am mindful of the passage in Romans where Paul tells those to whom he writes, "you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?" (Romans 2:21a). Please join with me in asking God to reveal to us the pride that He sees in our lives, so that we may grow in sanctification together.

Next time: How do we boast in correct doctrine and our life circumstances (whether good or bad)?

On Boasting - Part 1

"Thus says the Lord: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.'" - Jeremiah 9:23-24

God has been bringing up the sin of pride in my life in so many different ways in the past several weeks. I would like to share some of the things that I am learning and hope to provide a sense of the severity of the sin of pridefulness or boasting, as well as provide some steps that we can take, as Christians, to overcome our boasting.

"But I'm not a boastful person," you might say. I think that I said the same thing about myself a month ago. I have always worked very hard to not talk about myself at the expense of others. Since high school, when I realized that it was my inclination to try and turn the focus to me in many conversations, I have worked very hard at diminishing focus on my abilities and achievements and trying to focus on others in conversations. I know that I fail often at this, and God has been working on me for a long time in this area. But I have realized over the last several weeks that there are a lot of circumstances where I am boastful, and where we as Christians tend to be boastful in general.

This subject initially came up in our Romans 3 bible study. Near the end of the chapter, Paul addresses the Christians in Rome, to whom he just explained the gospel (saved by grace alone through faith alone and not of ourselves). The first result of understanding this gospel is found in verse 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. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." - Romans 3:27-28

Looking into this passage and how God sees boasting in the Bible is leading me to discover not only the way in which worldly people boast, but the subtle ways in which we, as Christians, boast without even a second thought.

The Bible says that God does not associate with people who are boastful (Psalm 138:6, Psalm 18:27), opposes people who are boastful (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5), and even
hates our boasting (Proverbs 8:13). Of all the characters in the Bible who seem so offensive to us, no one is more so than the Pharisee in the parable of Jesus who prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector" (Luke 18:11). But the irony is that even as we condemn him, we condemn ourselves. Romans 2:21,23 says, "you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?...You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law." As we condemn others for boasting, we often condemn ourselves for the same sin.

I have found several ways in which we Christians tend to be boastful, and I will be digging into some of these in subsequent posts:
  1. Boasting in our faith.
  2. Boasting in moral self-righteousness.
  3. Boasting in correct doctrine.
  4. Boasting in our life circumstances (whether good or bad).
  5. Boasting in achievement.
  6. Boasting in our own independent spirit.
If you continue to stay with me on this topic, be careful. You may find, like I have, that you will have to confront this sin in your life as you read on, but God says that he will continue to sanctify us through the power of His Holy Spirit (John 15:2, Galatians 5:25, Philippians 2:13), and that is right where He wants us to be.

Next time: How do we boast in our faith and moral self-righteousness.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Car Accident - Update 2

"See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of Christ Jesus for you." - 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

I am happy to report that we have settled an amount for the value of our old van and have already been able to purchase a new one. We are excited to be able to finally have a van that we can call our own. God has been so gracious to us during this time. We were able to replace our old van with a new one and even come out ahead from a monetary standpoint. Since the price of a new van, in this economy, has come down considerably, we were able to purchase our new one for less than what the insurance company was willing to give us in total for the accident (and replace our kids' car seats with new ones too)! I am so thankful that God has been able to continue to teach me to trust in Him, give me opportunities to be kind to everyone with whom I came in contact (and some of those whom I did not), and to allow me to learn to rejoice always in every circumstance.

Here is a before and after picture of our car situation:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quote of the Week - Murmuring

Murmuring is no better than mutiny in the heart; it is a rising up against God. When the sea is rough and unquiet, it casts forth nothing but foam: when the heart is discontented, it casts forth the foam of anger, impatience, and sometimes little better than blasphemy. Murmuring is nothing else but the scum which boils off from a discontented heart.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Today and That Day

It's been a while since I posted anything here.  I've been busy with quite a few things both at work and here at home - working to get the car situation settled.  So I thought I'd leave you all with some quotes I was reading through today to hopefully encourage you to live this day in light of the eternal.

"He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment but a fool forever." - John Tillotson

"It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day." - Matthew Henry

"There are two days on my calendar - Today and That Day." - Martin Luther

Let us all live, not looking for human praise, but for the praise of our Heavenly Father when He says, "Well done, good and faithful servant." - Matthew 25:21

"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter 1:5-11

Monday, June 9, 2008

Quote of the Week - Prideful Morality

“Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, that we are better than someone else - I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 124-125

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Leadership and Family Vacations

"And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you.  Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.'" - Luke 22:25-26
C.J. Mahaney over at Sovereign Grace Ministries has recently finished a series of posts on the Father's leadership role in family vacations. I would encourage every father to take a look at this. Not only does it apply to family vacations (which many of us will be embarking upon this summer), but it should also apply to leadership in our families in every-day life.

This is what C.J. says about family vacations: "Here’s what I’ve learned. The difference between forgettable vacations and unforgettable vacations is not the location or attractions. Nope. The difference between forgettable and unforgettable vacations is the father’s attitude and leadership. This makes all the difference."

The series outline is as follows:
  1. A Servant Heart
  2. A Tone-Setting Attitude
  3. An Awareness of Indwelling Sin
  4. Studying Your Family
  5. Skillful Surprises
  6. Intentionally Together
  7. Gratefulness to God
Take a look at all three parts and see how you can apply it to your life wherever you may be travelling (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). I think that we need more fathers who commit to being leaders in this way.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On Selfishness

“Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is here, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”
- John Stott,
The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 179.

I was talking with a friend of mine this weekend about how we can recognize selfishness in our lives. I would say that I don't necessarily consider myself to be a selfish person, as the world defines selfishness.

For instance:
  • I don't hoard my money at the detriment of others.
  • I don't strive to be noticed at the expense of others.
  • I try to be a servant to my family and others as often as I can.
  • I respect others and work hard at loving those who are not like me (I don't have to work too hard at loving those who are like me).
  • I strive to be like Christ who, described in Philippians 2:4-7, showed us how we ought to be humble.
Most of us can probably all agree with the list of comments above.  But, there is one test that will show us if we are a selfish person in God's eyes, and it is not what is listed above.  It is this:
  • Do I hold Christ to be the most beautiful, most desirable, most precious thing in all of my life (Philippians 3:8)?
  • Do I seek the Lord with my entire heart (Jeremiah 29:13, Psalm 119:10)?
  • Do I value the Word of God above all else in my life (2 Thessalonians 3:1, Psalm 138:2)?
  • Do I anxiously await the reading of the Word of God every day (Psalm 119:97-99)?
  • Does my soul desire after God as a thirsty, dying man desires after water (Psalm 42:1-2, Psalm 119:131)?
You see, if your answers to the above questions are not an emphatic, "Yes", then by God's standards, you are holding onto something that you desire, which is more precious than him.  Keep watch of yourself, because that is selfishness flaunted in the face of our Lord and Savior.
"You looked for much, and behold, it came to little.  And when you brought it home, I blew it away.  Why? declares the Lord of hosts.  Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house." - Haggai 1:9

Monday, June 2, 2008

Quote of the Week - The Gospel Each Day

“God did not give us His gospel just so we could embrace it and be converted. Actually, He offers it to us every day as a gift that keeps on giving to us everything we need for life and godliness. The wise believer learns this truth early and becomes proficient in extracting available benefits from the gospel each day. We extract these benefits by being absorbed in the gospel, speaking it to ourselves when necessary, and by daring to reckon it true in all we do.”

- Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God's Love, 5