Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Serious Conference

If you aren't familiar with Desiring God Ministries and the preaching/teaching of Dr. John Piper, now is an excellent time to change that. Desiring God Ministries is putting on its annual National Conference from September 29 through October 1 of this year in Minneapolis, MN. The topic is "Above All Earthly Powers: The Supremacy of God in a Postmodern World."

Here is a link to my other blog where I have linked to the conference information.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Our Savior and ...What???

How easily the words come out of the evangelical Christian's mouth once he has mastered the vocabulary of the modern Christian.

My "Savior and Lord."

They just roll off of the lips without another thought. And if asked, the response would be, "Well of course Jesus is my Savior and Lord!"

The problem is that the focus is mostly on the word "Savior." Is He a Christian's Savior? Of course. But He is also a Christian's Lord.

Lord. That word is devoid of most meaning within our modern American society. We don't have a societal concept for who or what a "lord" is. Sure, we may have read about it somewhere in one of our history classes when discussing the mediaeval times, but that's about as far as it gets.

However, the Bible does give us a little more indication. Jesus says in John 8:34 that whoever commits a sin is a slave to sin. I would venture that since we all sin, we are all slaves to sin. Now that is something we in America can relate to: slavery. To be a slave is to be under the complete control of another, to include your life, your well-being, the profits from your short, every facet of your earthly life. Prior to our conversion, we are slaves to sin. That would imply that sin completely controls us...our life, our well-being, our labor...everything. It may not have felt like it, but a Christian can look back from this side of redemption and see it.

The Bible also tells us we who are redeemed were "bought with a price." That price is the blood of Jesus Christ in His death...a very steep price, indeed. If we were bought, then it could be rightly understood that we as slaves to sin have been sold to another, to Jesus Christ Himself. We now belong to Him. We are not our own! Whereas we were once slaves of sin and unrighteousness, we are now slaves of Christ and His righteousness. He is our owner, our LORD! It is to Him that we now owe our life, our well-being, the profits from our labor...every facet of our lives!

In the days of slavery, a slave was obligated to do what his master commanded, to do the will of his master. There is no difference in that respect here. We are obligated to do that which our Master commands. Where do we find out what that is? Why, the Bible, of course. Over and over we are commanded to do certain things, to behave in certain ways, to respond in righteousness, and to believe certain things. We don't have the ability to pick and choose. We are to become like Christ, and to become like Christ means to live like He commands. It requires action and effort on our part, as well as the help of the Holy Spirit. But we must do it. After all, we acknowledge that He is our LORD.

Here are a couple of straight-forward examples from Ephesians 5 and 6.

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Who is responsible for discipling the children? The fathers. We don't have a choice in this. If our methodology of discipleship provokes them to anger, is that OK? Obviously not.

"let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself;" Do you have a choice about loving your wife? No. What if she isn't acting in a way that deserves your love? No. You don't have a choice. If Jesus is your Lord, He commands you to love her anyway and you are responsible to act on that command.

"and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband." But she thinks he's a cad and an oaf and doesn't deserve her respect. She considers most of what he does and many of his ideas wrong-headed. Does she have a choice to not respect her husband? No. If Jesus is her Lord, He commands her to respect him regardless of his actions and she is responsible to act on that command.

This could go on and on. But as you read your Bible, start to take note of the times when we as Christians are given commandments to be, to act, or to do something in a particular way. And then consider how to actually OBEY that command in your life. Does it matter if that is the way our society does something? Does it matter if that is the way everyone else in evangelical culture does it? No. If the Holy Spirit illuminates a commandment in the Bible for you, then your LORD says to obey it, even if it means being radically different from everyone else, for that is how you become more like Christ.

Only then will you truly be able to say that Jesus is your "Savior and Lord." And then you will be showing Christ to your circle of influence by the way you are living your life.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Wisdom and the Doctrine of Self-Sufficiency

Musings on Job 28 and Isaiah 40

I am reading through the Bible using the technique advocated by my church and published by Discipleship Journal. We have a series of four bookmarks that have different parts of the Bible marked off for 25 days of each month (gives you some days to miss without getting horribly behind). Even so, I am behind/off schedule. But in God's timing He put Job 28 and Isaiah 40 together in one day's reading. Both together hit me like a ton of bricks. You can click on the links below and get the text of each in the English Standard Version (each will open in a new window so you can refer back as you like).

Job 28 (ESV)

Isaiah 40 (ESV)

In Job 28, God describes several capabilities of man regarding the dominion of the earth: mining of ore and jewels, smelting, agriculture, control of waters through dams, creation of light to dispel the darkness. In spite of all this, man cannot find wisdom. Why? Because it cannot be found in the land of the living...and even worse, man does not know its worth!! Let's face it...when man does not value something, he doesn't spend much time pursuing it. Since man doesn't know the worth of wisdom, he won't pursue it...and if he won't pursue it, he certainly won't find it!

And yet, wisdom is worth far more than all the things for which man continually strives: more than gold, silver, or jewels in any amount. What fools are we for not striving for wisdom?

So where is it? From where does it come? Job says it is hidden from all and only God understands the way to it and its place.

And yet, God does reveal that deeply held secret to us in verse 28: "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding."

Wow! That's it? That's all there is to wisdom, wisdom that is so incredibly important and worth so much as to be incomprehensible? Just fear the Lord? And it's counterpart, understanding, is to turn away from evil? Seems easy enough...

But...what does fearing the Lord entail? What does it mean to turn from evil? Oh, how deep those thoughts can be. In fact, I cannot begin to do them justice other than to say that fearing the Lord means to tremble before His might and His grace, to worship and obey, to contemplate His holiness compared to our sinfulness, to love and adore His Son. (Sidenote: Here is a link to a rather lengthy article on the fear of the Lord by John Bunyon, author of A Pilgrim's Progress, the second-most widely read book behind the Bible.) And it would seem that turning from evil would be a natural outgrowth of fearing the Lord. If one fears the Lord, then one would not want to turn TO evil, but would want to do that which pleases the Lord...turn FROM evil. When our eyes are on Him, our mind is in the Scriptures, and wisdom flows to us along with understanding. I think the Lord would be pleased, for someone with even a smidgen of His wisdom can do mighty works in His name.

So what about the Doctrine of Self-Sufficiency? How does that relate? A wonderful sermon by Bruce Ware, professor at Southern Seminary, on exactly what the Doctrine of Self-Sufficiency is can be found at Bethlehem Baptist's website. Click on the box on the right-hand side referencing "Toward the Fullness of God" sermons.

Why would that relate to this text on wisdom? I think it is primarily because the verses preceding God's revelation that wisdom is the fear of the Lord describe a portion of His self-sufficiency by discussing his power. Earlier in the verses, we are told of man's achievements and capabilities. Yet in verses 24-26, God is shown as one who is so far above man that He is incomprehensible. He even makes a way for the rain and for the lightning! The next time you see the lightning in a thunderstorm, consider that last statement. He obviously is not in need of us.

So shift to Isaiah 40, starting at verse 12. Read verses 12 through 28 nonstop. Then do it again. The impact of those statements when considered as a whole is huge! Who is this God who calls us to fear Him? According to these statements, He is one wholly and completely worthy of the fear and worship He commands. There are no other beings who can begin to do that which these verses describe.

And yet, "Do you not know? Have you not heard?" is repeated over and over. Just how dense are we? Do we not know? Have we not heard? The Lord, our God, is the Holy One, the Creator, the master of all things, completely self-sufficient, completely perfect, completely holy! How dense are we? Why do we continue to go our own way? Why does pride continually get the best of us?

Do I not know? Have I not heard? To use today's vernacular: "Well, duh!" Of course I know. Of course I've heard. And yet...I so often continue to go my own way. My own way is the way of death. My own way is the way of man's knowledge, not the way of wisdom. Knowing and hearing are not sufficient. Fear of the Lord is a more visceral condition, a condition of the heart, not just the brain. God's Word must penetrate my heart such that the knowledge gained from that Word results in fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord causes a change, causes one to desire the way of the Lord, the commands of the Lord, the joy of the Lord. That fear makes one not want to be anywhere but in the bosom of our Lord and Savior. There is no better, no safer, no more profitable place to be!

When one is in the bosom of our Lord, one is waiting on the Lord, content in His way, content in His time. And what happens when we wait on the Lord? Finish Isaiah 40...we will renew our strength! We will run and not be weary! We will walk and not faint! In other words, we will be mighty for the Lord, doing massive damage to the kingdom of this world in the name of our Savior.

That sort of work/ministry requires strength. That sort of work/ministry requires wisdom. The root of both strength and wisdom is Fear of the Lord.

May He grant each of us the gift of fear....

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Busy, Busy, Busy...

In this day and age, it seems we are busier and busier each and every year. Many times it involves activities with the children/teens: piano lessons, violin, dance, ski team, track meets, swim meets, practices, recitals, and on and on and on. The more children, the more activities. Then add church activities into the mix. Every one of them sounds so good; every one of them when viewed solely in the context of the event itself probably is good! But you add all this up and you end up with a daytimer that has no room left on which to write (or I suppose a PDA that has used up all its memory!).

So what's the problem? The problem is that we are focused on so many activities that we have lost sight of what is truly important.

God asks that we "be still and know that I am God." When can we do that? Pencil in 5-10 minutes between the morning workout and the morning shower? How is one supposed to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength if there is little or no time for Him?

A second issue is that the second most important commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves, cannot be accomplished in-between events. How are we ever to serve our neighbor (the acting out of the love we profess) if we don't even have time to know our neighbor? How are we to help a neighbor when we have a ballgame to attend? What exactly is our witness when we are run ragged by our schedule and have no time for the relationships that matter?

So should we withdraw our children from all activities and sit around the house waiting for that special moment to arrive where we can help or serve our neighbor? Of course not. But we absolutely should prioritize our activities. If we don't have time to even know our neighbors, then we need to back off something so we can get to know them. Once we know them, we need to have a priority within our home to watch for needs...and when we see them, we as a family should be ready to help meet those needs, even if it means canceling one of our activities! A family that ministers together not only grows together, but makes a huge statement about the Gospel without ever saying a word!

Could we seriously consider Jesus' commandment to love our neighbor? Could we actually reprioritize our life to get to know them and to serve them? Could we do that as a family?

And could we watch God bless our neighbors...and maybe bring revival to our neighborhood?!!! Now, THAT would be more exciting than any activity we could imagine!!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Decision-Making: Culture or Scripture?

Every day we are faced with decisions...some trivial, some large, and occasionally some that are huge. In the long term, we are faced with the bigger decision of how to organize our individual lives. In what direction should we as individuals and as families go?

Often the answer to the above questions is a non-answer: we simply do that which we are used to doing because that is what our friends and our culture expect and do. Those of us who identify ourselves as "Evangelicals" often do not even realize there is an "Evangelical Culture" in which we swim. As in a previous post...we don't know we are "wet." Unfortunately this culture has its own set of problems.

First and foremost, it seems that the Evangelical Culture (EC, for short) is very, very similar to the overall secular culture. In general, we raise our children in a similar manner. We have the same overall goals for raising our children and for our later years in life. We are generally nice people. We are so focused on our children that we risk making idols of them (and then we wonder why they are so self-centered when they enter the teen years!). (See the series on Children or Idols on my Home Discipling Dad blog.)

So what's different about us? For one thing, we add to our schedule all the church activities, from Sunday mornings to Wednesday evenings to every extra good thing the church offers. The other thing we do differently is that we practice an "avoidance ethic." I heard Dr. John Piper in a sermon on discussing how James and Paul can be reconciled. In this sermon he discussed the concept that our salvation is by faith, but that faith must work itself out it good works. He said that as evangelicals, we tend instead to "practice an avoidance ethic" and call it "good works" or sanctification. An avoidance ethic is nothing more than a series of rules, written or not, that we use to determine what to avoid in pagan culture. That is absolutely not sanctification, and it certainly is not good works.

As a pagan outsider (who may be a very nice person himself) looks at us, I have a hard time imagining why he would want what we have. He doesn't see anything terribly distinctive. He sees nice people living their lives in a busy fashion similar to himself, and then adding on church activities and practicing an avoidance ethic, causing them to be even more harried. What would be attractive about that? What would be distinctive?

The EC has failed us. We are not becoming more like Christ by participating in it. We must turn from determining our direction in life through our friends and our culture and instead look at Scripture. If we are truly becoming more like Christ by changing our lives to mirror His commands and by developing the wisdom that comes from a life immersed in Scripture, then we will definitely be distinctive. We will be different. We will be filled with joy. We will be able to handle the hard times when they come.

We must quit trying to bend Scripture to fit our culture and our ideas, and instead transform our thinking and our lives to fit Scripture. The EC will call that "legalism," especially when it involves actually obeying the commands of Scripture. What those who use that argument don't understand is that legalism is working to merit salvation. Obedience to the commands of Scripture after one is saved by faith isn't meriting salvation, but rather it is becoming like Christ. That isn't legalism.

We simply must transform our thinking through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). We have to be willing to take the hard look inward, and then change accordingly. Will we look different? Absolutely. Will the EC try to pull us back? Absolutely. I heard a variation on the "boiling a frog to death" story that relates here.

A group of frogs were in a pot of water. The temperature of the water was slowly being raised. The frogs didn't realize it and sat comfortably in the water, even though it would soon reach a temperature that would kill them. But one frog noticed and started attempting to jump out. The other frogs were quite disturbed and tried to hold him back, both physically and through chiding and derisive statements. They didn't want their little world disturbed by a frog trying to leave it and be different. His being different called attention to the fact that they were doing nothing. Those are the members of the EC who don't want us actually looking to Scripture to organize our lives. It calls their lives into stark relief against what Scripture actually says. There will be numerous attempts of all types by many people, all trying to pull the "errant" believer who actually wants to follow Scripture back in line.

So...will we jump out anyway? Or will we stay and boil?