Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Stepping" Out in Faith

How many times have you asked God to "sanctify you," or to "change you?" And then you sit back and wait for the heavenly "zap"... and when it doesn't come, it's easy to assume God doesn't want you to change.

Sanctification is absolutely required for salvation. We must be becoming more and more like Jesus every day. Yes, we will still sin...but the overall trajectory is upward toward Christ-likeness. But the thing that most Christians don't realize is that sanctification requires action. It is not a heavenly "zap," but rather an action taken by us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, according to the guidance of Scripture.

A perfect example of the result following action/obedience is that of the Israelites crossing the Jordan. Joshua 3:13 (NASB) says, "And it shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above shall stand in one heap."

Note the priests weren't to stand on the side of the Jordan, waiting for God to stop the waters. They were to step out in faith...taking the step into the water, knowing God will do what he says in His Word. In this case, He had promised to stop the waters. In your case, what might it be? Bring peace to a relationship? Or deal with a besetting sin? Or draw closer to the Lord? Or disciple your children? Or, Or, Or.... If it involves sanctification (changing you into Christ-likeness) or obedience to God's commands, then you will have Scriptural guidance for how you are to act or what you are to do. You MUST step out in faith, doing that which Scripture commands, and then watch the Holy Spirit move to confirm your action!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

No Matter What...

I was reading through Jeremiah today in an effort to "catch up" my OT with the rest of my read-through-the-Bible bookmarks when I came across a short section that really piqued my interest. It's the story in Jeremiah 42 of the remnant left after the exile of Judah to Babylon. You can get Jeremiah 42 in another window by clicking here.

The background to the event is that all of Jeremiah's prophecies concerning Judah have come to pass with the Babylonians taking virtually all of Judah into captivity, along with their king. A remnant of the very poor was left under the rule of a Babylonian governor. Jeremiah prophesies that a specific person is going to murder the governor. The governor doesn't believe him...and is murdered. The murderer takes the remnant captive...but they are freed by the actions of Johanan and return to Jerusalem. Chapter 42 opens with all of them approaching Jeremiah, asking him to intercede for them and asking him to find out what God wants them to do. In verse 6, they promise to obey the Lord, no matter what. So far, so good.

Jeremiah comes back and announces that God wants them to stay in Jerusalem and not go to Egypt out of fear of the Babylonians. He announces that God will destroy them if they should do so.

And he announces that God already knows they are going to disobey.... It was ten days from their original request to God's answer, and they had already decided on a course of action.

And of course, chapter 43 and 44 chronicle that journey and their destruction.

So what do we learn?

When we are in a tight spot, we often turn to God for help. We intend to listen and obey, since we believe He will help us out of that tight spot. However, we also have our own plan on the side...just in case...just in case we don't like the answer or don't like God's timing. Then, assuming we have actually gone to the Scriptures to ascertain God's position on our plight, we decide we really don't like God's way of doing things. It doesn't sound logical; it requires faith and trust. It isn't like what our "Christian" friends and neighbors counsel.

So what do we do? All too often, I'm afraid that answer is that we follow our own plans, ignoring God's. Is the result destruction like the remnant of Judah? Not usually. But the result is that we miss out on God's blessing, on the joy of seeing our faith worked out, on the witness to our trust in our Lord and Savior. And in essence, we have sinned using the original sin from the garden: wanting to do things our way.

God's way will often be a direction that doesn't look normal, that appears to leave us open to further harm. That was certainly the case for the remnant...they were defenseless against the Babylonians who may or may not believe they were responsible for the death of the governor! Yet, had they chosen God's way, He would have protected them. Good grief! They had just seen that Jeremiah's prophecies were accurate...yet they had already cooked up an alternate plan as they waited for God to speak through him. about you (and me)? What will we do? Follow God's ways through a careful study of His Word (commandments, patterns, precepts) or will we follow the oldest sin from the garden...and do things our own way?

Friday, July 07, 2006

No Spiritual Switzerland

Doug Wilson has a great essay (rather lengthy) from which I drew this section. I commend the entire essay to you to read (here's the direct link), but just this short section applies to the overall mission of my blog, to be serious about our faith. As you read through the latter parts of this quote, ask how the information applies first to the Evangelical Culture in which we partake, and then to yourself personally. The answer is convicting to me, that's for sure! The next question, though, is what to do about that conviction. Part of the EC is to acknowledge a convicting sermon, and even feel bad for a while...but then shrug it off and not actually change.

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad (Matt. 12:25-30).

Jesus is speaking in the first place about the kingdoms of God and Satan respectively. He had been accused of fighting Satan even though His accusers said He was on Satan’s side. Jesus responds by saying that a house divided cannot stand, and so Satan would not be so foolish (vv.25-26). Jesus goes on to say if His power over Beelzebub was a demonic power, then what power was being used by His adversaries’ children (v. 27)? But if Jesus is empowered by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God really had come to them (v. 28). And, continuing the argument, if the kingdom of God has come, why should anyone be surprised that the strong man’s house was being pillaged? The strong man was bound, wasn’t he? And then Jesus says what we all need to hear—one who is not with Christ is against Christ. One who does not gather with Christ is attempting to scatter (v. 30).

The claims of Christ are therefore total. There is no way to read through the New Testament and miss this. The claims of Christ are total. He is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and over any creature that can be named. Christ is King. Jesus is Lord. This is the basic Christian confession (Rom. 10:9-10). And here, if you are not with Him, you are therefore against Him. There is no spiritual equivalent of Switzerland. In the cosmic war between in light and darkness, there are no neutral parties, and there is no third way. There are only two activities in every realm of human existence, and those two activities are obedient gathering and disobedient scattering. Only two.

Obviously, for modern and momentary man, these total claims on the part of Christ just won’t do. We need to have our personal space. We need to protect our favorite forms of autonomy. But at the same time, those of us who are religious, particularly in the Christian Lite Community of Faith, need to give some sort of lip service to the language of totality that comes up so often in Scripture. We should want to bring every thought captive, the apostle Paul says (2 Cor. 10: 5). Obviously, we have to figure out a way to use this kind of total language while ensuring that it remains partial in effect. God calls this sort of thing by the name of hypocrisy.

But we have developed various intellectual tricks for doing this, and we may describe these tricks as forms of American individualism, gnosticism, constitutionalism, or rationalism. A man can pick one of the following, or mix up his own combinations. Disobedience is protean and can take many forms.

Individualism: in this view, Jesus is Lord of my heart, and not that which is outside the realm of my heart. This is not thought of as partialism because the heart is what counts, right? But Jesus is Lord of your toes as well as your heart, and your world as well as your heart.

Gnosticism: in this perspective, Jesus is Lord of all spiritual things, not thought of as the Lord over foreign policy, sewage disposal, botany, law, and weed control. But Jesus is Lord of both heaven and earth, and every manifestation of culture.

Constitutionalism: this excuse points to the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment, misunderstanding that amendment in a grotesque fashion. But even if the amendment said what its distorters claim, that just makes it laughable instead of being bad constitutional interpretation. Regardless of what we, Congress, or the Supreme Court may think about it, Jesus is still the King of the United States.

Rationalism: this is the approach that appeals to natural law, but to a natural law that is sure to exclude the revelation of God in Christ. But natural law is fulfilled in Christ.

These evasions will not work. All culture is religious, and the only question to consider is whether it is faithfully religious or idolatrously religious. It has been said that all culture is religion externalized, but even this helpful insight can be interpreted in too weak a fashion. All culture is religion. Turning Henry Van Til’s insight around, we should say that all religion is culture internalized. So the question is not whether our culture has a god, but rather which god it has. The question is not whether we will impose morality, but rather which morality it will be. The question is not whether we will restrict blasphemy, but rather which blasphemy. And it is not whether we will embrace sexual politics, but rather which sexual politics it will be.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Apollumi...The "Ignored" Doctrine

At my other blog, I wrote a series on issues with raising children, culminating with a post concerning the drastic number of children from evangelical homes who turn from their faith once free from their home and the influence of their parents. That got me to wondering why Christian parents don't take more serious and more drastic steps to disciple their children, given the enormity of the problem and the implications of anyone (but especially one's own child) rejecting the Savior.

As I pondered, it came down to one major point: we don't really believe in the reality of hell. Sure, we give it lip-service...but when was the last time you pondered what it would really be like? (I'm writing to myself here as well!) When was the last time you heard a sermon on the subject? (Here's one by Dr. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis.) It's been said that Jesus spoke more of hell than he did of heaven! At the 1990 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson preached a message on the realities and justification of the doctrine of eternal punishment and hell. It was one of the finest sermons on the topic I've encountered (unfortunately I can't find it at the Desiring God website.)

So I thought this would be the appropriate blog to bring the topic of eternal judgment and hell to the forefront.

In Romans 1, Paul says he is under obligation both to the Greek and to the barbarian. This obligation is for the Gospel. It can easily be considered that we, too, are under that same obligation. If we really believed in the eternal conscious torment that is hell, then I truly believe we would structure our lives differently, for who would want anyone to end up there, especially those we love and care about? We would own up to our obligation and wouldn't be so casual and fearful about witnessing. We wouldn't be so casual about discipling our children. We wouldn't be so casual about our own faith!

An understanding of the reality of eternal conscious punishment at the hands of an infinitely holy and powerful God would take captive our every thought with concern for the lost. Is it not love for the lost that would bring about that concern? Would we not be fulfilling the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, by seeking their salvation?

Give consideration to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Note particularly the word "perish." In our language, "perish" often brings with it the imagery of annihilation. For example, when I squash the mosquito on my arm in the Minnesota summer, it "perishes" "ceases to exist." However the Greek word translated "perish" doesn't translate that easily into English. "Apollumi" literally means both "to destroy" and "to perish" but it carries with it a more complex understanding. Vines Expository Dictionary (pp 164) says this "...idea is not extinction but ruin; loss, not of being, but of well-being."

Think about the implications of ruin and loss of well-being for eternity. Think about an eternal, unquenchable fire in which you are burning but not being destroyed. Think about a devouring worm eating you, yet not consuming you. Think about existing in this pain and suffering in the midst of complete and total darkness. And then think about the absolute lack of hope amidst this will never end!! A person can endure tremendous suffering when there is a glimmer of hope. This was illustrated by the years and years of torture endured by our POWs in Vietnam, and is currently being shown by the suffering of millions of persecuted Christians around the world. But take away hope...and I can't even find words to describe the utter despair that would ensue. And this would be for eternity...forever...infinitely. Maybe this is part of the reason the Bible describes it as a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth." What else could one so condemned do?

At least in this posting, I am not going to argue the case for the justness of hell. My only interest here is to try to encourage both myself and others to consider its reality and then act accordingly. Reread the first portion of the previous paragraph inserting the words "my child" in place of "you." That brings a whole new gravity to the doctrine of hell, doesn't it?

Andre Seu once wrote an essay in "World Magazine" where she mentioned the preoccupation of some with the "rapture." Her point was that a silent "rapture" is happening each and every day, with untold thousands of people departing this world for eternity.

And in eternity, there are only two options: heaven because you are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb...or eternal conscious punishment in the outer darkness of hell because you aren't. Do we love enough to do what is necessary to bring the Good News to our family and friends? And I mean doing it personally...not just in round-about ways or by bringing them to church in hopes that the pastor will do it. I mean living the Gospel in love and service to our neighbor. I mean actually regularly discipling our children. I mean going against both the worldly culture and the evangelical culture by being radically committed to showing the love of God in Christ to a lost and perishing world. So, I ask again, "Do we love enough...?"

Sadly, I think the answer is often, "no." Let us pray for God to change our hearts and give us the courage to do otherwise....