Sunday, March 27, 2011

The West’s Dangerous Ignorance of Islam

Here in America, very little is known about the degrading nature of Sharia law; but one need not go very far to see its toxic influence in any nation.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

If the Lord Wills, We Shall Live

tsunami

wsjshadowThe following is a repost of an article written for the Winston Salem Journal in December of 2005. For the sake of my own soul I find that the principles of Scripture below were needed then, and in view of the calamities taking place throughout the world, they are just as needful today:

It was during this same week last year that the world beheld a great tragedy which claimed over 200,000 lives: On December 26, 2004, a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, unleashing a tsunami disaster that the modern world had never before witnessed. For that entire week the death toll had to be revised daily as only estimates could be offered in the wake of this massive calamity; and through it all, the entire world was paralyzed with grief and shock as many considered their own frailty, the brevity of life, and even the uncertainty of the future.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a calamity like this for people to think this way at all!

Within the human heart there is this great tendency to deny the fact that none of us have the promise of life on this earth tomorrow, or even for the next hour. With that in mind, it is probably the case that those who perished in the 2004 tsunami were probably going about their lives as most people do in the world; there was no sense of imminent danger; in most areas affected the weather was quite beautiful and they were just a few days away from entering into the dawn of a new year. All was well, and life seemed to be quite normal, and yet in one brief moment their lives had ended without much of a warning at all. Now, one year later, life goes on, a new year approaches and within the calm of daily life many are making their plans and New Year’s resolutions for 2006 – just like those who perished just last year. I can assure you that when it comes to learning the lessons of life, if even through a calamity, we all tend to have a short memory and thus we too often live with the presumption of tomorrow; but such an attitude as this is very dangerous. The Bible warns us about such attitudes, as in the case of this exhortation from James chapter 4:

James 4:13-16: 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

James reveals the true heart of mankind when he mimics those who say “today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there...” He refers to such presumption (of which we are all prone to do) as “boasting...arrogance” and then he calls it all “evil.” James wastes little time in getting to the very heart of our human weakness - we all tend to live presumptuously, assuming that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year will certainly come. However, James corrects such thinking by reminding us all of our frailty as humans, calling us a “vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” But James does more than just identify our tendency towards error; he offers us some very important medicine by pointing us to the necessity of having genuine faith and trust in God, for he says: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’” Yes: If the Lord wills, we shall live. Think about that for a moment. That is not the confession of an arrogant, presumptuous person, rather it is the humble cry of one who trusts the Lord and understands that all that we have in life, we have by the gift of God Himself (James 1:17). With this in mind, allow me to break from tradition for a moment and wish you, not a “Happy New Year,” but a “Happy New Day.” You see, while it isn’t sinful to make plans per se, it is sinful for us to presume upon the Lord that we will be able to fulfill those plans in the future (Proverbs 16:9). But instead of presuming in this manner, we ought to say “If the Lord wills, we shall live” and if He grants us another day of life, then we ought to give thanks and use every moment for His glory. So in view of this important truth from God’s Word, I do wish you a Happy New Day and offer you the following New Day Resolution: “behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Please remember, you don’t have the promise of tomorrow, and thus I ask you - what will you do with this day that has been granted to you as a gift from God? Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ today for the forgiveness of your sin and for eternal life and joy in Him. This I can assure you, that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-13)!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Love Wins, by Rob Bell: Review, Part I

UPDATE: The entire online series entitled: “Love Wins, by Rob Bell is now available in the book:

Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man.

This book addresses the broader impact that C.S. Lewis has had on men like Bell. It also exposes Lewis’ devotion to his admitted “master” – George MacDonald.

See reviews here

For updates on the progress of Altar to an Unknown Love, please check back at:

ataul.thearmoury.org

 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How Might You Bleed?

foxe102

It is all too easy to become weary when enduring trials, but we are enjoined by the Scriptures not to lose heart through our consideration of God’s own Suffering Servant. No man or woman has ever suffered as our Lord Jesus Christ - which is another reason why Christians must herald His absolute uniqueness in all of human history. Having said this, there are others who have endured much violence within this world: a violence of such intensity that tends to make my own struggles appear as mere bruises rather than deep lashings. There is great profit in considering the perseverance of saints from the past, remembering that Christ stands above them all as the One who bore our sin on His own body (Hebrews 11:1-12:3). It is in this context that I am frequently challenged and edified by reading Foxe's Book of Martyrs. I am often ashamed by my frailty when reading about those saints who were horribly abused, beaten, and murdered just for owning a copy of the Scriptures, or for resisting the unquestioned dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. Such records of Christian faithfulness and devotion make me look at my freedoms here in America with renewed intensity; like a parched soul in a barren desert who has just rediscovered his own water bottle. When Foxe takes us through the Bohemian persecutions of the 15th century, he leads us to the particular torture and murder of one faithful pastor, whose endurance to the end is both difficult and encouraging:

As their principal rage was directed against the clergy, they took a pious Protestant minister, and tormenting him daily for a month together, in the following manner, making their cruelty regular, systematic, and progressive.

They placed him amidst them, and made him the subject of their derision and mockery, during a whole day's entertainment, trying to exhaust his patience, but in vain, for he bore the whole with true Christian fortitude. They spit in his face, pulled his nose, and pinched him in most parts of his body. He was hunted like a wild beast, until ready to expire with fatigue. They made him run the gauntlet between two ranks of them, each striking him with a twig. He was beat with their fists. He was beat with ropes. They scourged him with wires. He was beat with cudgels. They tied him up by the heels with his head downwards, until the blood started out of his nose, mouth, etc. They hung him by the right arm until it was dislocated, and then had it set again. The same was repeated with his left arm. Burning papers dipped in oil were placed between his fingers and toes. His flesh was torn with red-hot pincers. He was put to the rack. They pulled off the nails of his right hand. The same repeated with his left hand. He was bastinadoed on his feet. A slit was made in his right ear. The same repeated on his left ear. His nose was slit. They whipped him through the town upon an ass. They made several incisions in his flesh. They pulled off the toe nails of his right foot. The same they repeated with his left foot. He was tied up by the loins, and suspended for a considerable time. The teeth of his upper jaw were pulled out. The same was repeated with his lower jaw. Boiling lead was poured upon his fingers. The same was repeated with his toes. A knotted cord was twisted about his forehead in such a manner as to force out his eyes.

During the whole of these horrid cruelties, particular care was taken that his wounds should not mortify, and not to injure him mortally until the last day, when the forcing out of his eyes proved his death.[1]

The extent of cruelty in this passage is difficult to grasp, and the fact that they treated their victim’s wounds is deeply maniacal, especially when we remember that they did this, not for his good, but for his prolonged torture and pain. Accounts such as these cause me to pick up my Bible with a deeper sense of fear, joy, and earnestness. The comradery of those who would be willing to be sacrificed for the Lord and His truth is unspeakably precious. I would rather be found in fellowship with such solid saints, rather than the fluff and stuff of casual-christianity - men who would rather play with the Bible as a fictional game rather than consume it as their most real bread. Give me the fellowship of men like Bunyan, please, whose own allegory Pilgrim's Progress sends me into the text, rather than away from it. As C.H. Spurgeon said of this Tinker Of Bedford - “You can prick John Bunyan anywhere, for all his blood is bibline.”

May my heart and mind fellowship with men who bleed thus.


[1] John Fox. Fox's Book of Martyrs, Persecution of Zisca.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Behind a Frowning Providence

fogandmountains

Of all that I possess in my library I find that some of the most powerful books I have (after the Bible) are also the smallest. One such booklet is by John J. Murray who served in pastoral ministry in Oban and Edinburgh. Murray (as described on the back cover of the booklet) “writes out of his years of experience as a Christian minister and counselor, using the wisdom of God’s Word to give guidance and direction. But Behind a Frowning Providence also bears the marks of a precious stone, quarried from the deep and dark places of the author’s own experience of pain and sorrow. It speaks to the mind, giving wise counsel: it also speaks to the heart, and brings a message of encouragement which points to the way of true peace.” Such a summary says it all, and serves as a good preface for the following:

We often see sorrows leading to increased usefulness in the lives of God’s servants. ‘God’, says Spurgeon, ‘gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction’. He was an outstanding example of this himself. He says: ‘I do not know whether my experience is that of all God’s people; but I am afraid that all the grace I have got at any of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost be on a penny. But the good I have received from my sorrows, and pains and griefs is altogether incalculable’. Thomas Boston who had an abundant share of sorrows remarked, ‘It is the usual way of providence with me that blessing comes through several iron gates’. ‘The tools the great Architect intends to use much’, J. C. Ryle wrote in the same vein, ‘are often kept long in the fire to temper them and fit them for the work’. Examples of this truth abound in Scripture and in Church history and are too numerous to mention. We may think of Pau land his painful affliction, ‘a thorn in the flesh’, and the purpose for which it was sent: ‘Most gladly will I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest on me’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). We may think of Rutherford banished to the cold – physical and spiritual – of Aberdeen where

…in my sea-beat prison
My Lord and I held tryst.

From that place of affliction there poured forth the Letters full of the fragrance of Christ that have enriched the Church down the centuries. We may think of John Bunyan cast into prison for refusing to keep silence, his usefulness seemingly curtailed. But God multiplied his usefulness through his pen in the writing of Pilgrim’s Progress. Then we have Thomas Boston suffering from poor health, with his children sick and dying, his wife crippled by mental illness, dealing with difficult parishioners, engaged in ecclesiastical wrangles, labouring in relative obscurity; yet out of it all have come writings that have brought untold blessing to multitudes. No wonder John Flavel wrote: ‘Oh the blessed chemistry of heaven to extract such mercies out of such miseries!’ (pp. 19-20).

I myself desire to see trials more clearly in view of my Father’s tender love and divine purposes. Such lessons seem to come slowly, as they tear through my fleshly fears, but I am thankful that they do come. May the Lord grant me even more grace to behold His loving hand in everything, giving thanks in all things in view of His matchless worth.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Our Confession to the World

Jesus raised this question to His disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and the responses that followed revealed the lack of understanding among the people:

Matthew 16:14: 14. And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

For myself, I would be deeply complimented to be compared to such men, but for the sinless, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Son of God, this simply would not do. Thus, Christ narrowed the question, and asked: “But who do you say that I am?” The response of faith that followed became the confessional bedrock upon which the true church has stood for generations: “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” (Matt 16:16). This is another way of saying – You are the Son of God and You are like no-one who has ever walked the face of the earth. This is the same confession which the Apostle John gives us in his gospel:  “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18).

Who does Jesus act like? Answer: God.

How could such a concept ever be confused? Well, in the interview below, Mr. Keller’s expressed agenda to “get out of the way” of Mark’s Gospel was quickly derailed by himself:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I was simply dumbfounded when Mr. Keller likened the matchless Son of God to that of “Mother Theresa.” He did at one moment state that Jesus was God, but whatever good this achieved was quickly corrupted by what followed. I know precious little about Mr. Keller, and have not read any of his books, but this public opportunity to get out of the way and deliver the true church’s confession was squandered by such a disastrous comparison. I must ask though: If Mr. Keller is willing to herald a questionable character like Mother Theresa in this manner, what does this say about his view of the Gospel in relation to that which is a mere Social Gospel? Is he heralding his views of social justice to such an extent that the Gospel should suffer under such comparisons?
 
Finally, an oft repeated expression in the O.T. has to do with God’s absolute singularity and supremacy: Jeremiah 10:6 “There is none like You, O Lord.” and Psalm 113:5 “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on hight?” Even the Hebrew names Michael (miyka-‘el) and Micaiah (miykeyahu) are based upon this same question: Who is like God (‘El) and Jehovah (yahu). This was a very basic and primitive lesson delivered to Israel, generation after generation. It was a repeated message throughout the ages, because the nation forgot it again and again. When considering the Lord’s glory and majesty, as compared to mere mortals, the Lord is truly incomparable.
 

Friday, March 04, 2011

Imitating His Exceptional Love, Part II

harvest

In the previous post I addressed just one implication of God’s particular love for His people. Experientially speaking, we have a sense of such distinguishable love when we consider the unique love between a husband and a wife. Their love for friends and other family members can be quite strong, but it cannot be compared with the unique love and affection between a man and wife. Parents understand such a distinguishable love as well. As a father, I love children very much and delight in the opportunity to visit with little ones of any family. But the unique love that I have for my own children is simply not the same. If I were to declare that my love for my own children was no different than for any other, you would think that I was a fairly shallow parent – and you would be right. God has given us the kind of natural relationships that help us to understand the essence of His distinguishable love for His people who are called His children and His bride. As the members of His kingdom, we can thank the Lord for His distinguishable, unfailing love.

But there is also another dimension to this thought of distinguishable love, and it has to do with the Christian’s first love of all. Out of every love relationship that we will ever have, our first love must always be Christ Himself. Without this principal affection, all other relationships are lost within the morass of corrupted human affections. This even applies to the matter of evangelism. We may (and should) ask: what is the Christian’s motivation for evangelism, and does a view such as particular redemption corrupt the believer’s proper drive to witness to others? Many will answer yes to this question; but I would suggest to the reader that their understanding of things is very much off-base. Whatever doctrinal cliches that they have learned in the past, I can say this: it has little to do with Scripture itself. To present this point here at The Armoury, I would like to offer, yet another, excerpt from my book – All Nations Under God on The Exceptional Love of God’s Messengers:

The Exceptional Love of God’s Messengers

Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:10

Of all the contentions ever raised on behalf of universal atonement, the argument of Gospel motivation is perhaps the most divisive one of them all. The line of reasoning in this argument usually includes accusations of a disingenuous Gospel message: after all, if God has foreordained that not all should be saved, then the Gospel messenger cannot genuinely offer the Gospel call to all men without exception. But such thinking is the product of human reasoning, as discussed earlier. While there are other facets of this poor line of thought, we will address the core charge of a disingenuous Gospel ministry. Once again, we can only calibrate our thinking by going to the Word of God on this important matter. By looking at the example and teaching of the Apostle Paul, we can better understand if such a charge has any credibility to it, or not. Remember, it was Paul who taught us that it does not depend upon him who wills, or him who runs, but upon God who has mercy – for the Lord will have mercy on whom He desires and He will harden whom He desires. How did this immovable doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty effect Paul's motivation to proclaim the Gospel? Answer: wonderfully! When Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy he prefaced his letter with a reminder concerning the nature of our salvation:

2 Timothy 1:8-9: 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity

Paul was offering Timothy a very important anchor for the soul. It is the anchor which is grounded in God's sovereign grace and immutable promises, for it was according to God's purpose and grace that any are saved; and His gift of salvation was granted in Christ Jesus from all eternity. What else does an intimidated soldier need to hear but that his Commander in chief will never leave him or forsake him, but will keep him until the end! God is faithful to bring those whom He chose from all eternity, according to His gracious purpose and choice, to saving faith and to final glory. Timid Timothy needed such a reminder so that he might endure the hardships which faced him in the ministry. For Paul, and for Timothy, the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty provided a very practical hope; one that brings about endurance in the believer. Rather than destroying their motivation, the truth of God's sovereignty supplied an important impetus to press on, in what was a very difficult battle of faith.[1] But Paul's encouragements to Timothy did not end in chapter 1. In chapter 2 he offered to Timothy a very important piece of instruction that would help him to remain motivated in his Gospel ministry, if even in the face of horrific opposition:

2 Timothy 2:8-9: 8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.

Paul was being treated as a criminal for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and yet he was able to endure it all. He rejoiced because even though he was imprisoned, the Word of God was not! As we see in his epistle to the Philippians, Paul understood God's sovereign purposes, even in his imprisonments.[2] The Apostle comprehended that the Lord was spreading the Gospel, through him, and bringing many to faith in the city of Rome and ultimately, within Caesar's own household.[3] God's sovereign work and purposes made it so that he could rejoice greatly, rather than despair.[4] But what Paul said next in 2 Timothy 2:10 is even more profound as it relates to God's sovereignty and our labor of evangelism:

2 Timothy 2:10: 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.

Paul clearly tells us here that he endured all his sufferings for the sake of those who are chosen! Paul uses here the word chosen or elect, the root of which is eklektos. This same word was used by Peter to speak of Christ as being choice and precious in the sight of God;[5] and a similar form is used in Ephesians 1:4 which tells us that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. Very simply, plainly and significantly – Paul endured great hostility in his Gospel ministry for the sake of God's elect, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. Dr. Owen gives us some important thoughts on this matter:

“The ministers of the Gospel, who are stewards of the mysteries of Christ, and to whom the word of reconciliation is committed, being acquainted only with revealed things (the Lord lodging His purposes and intentions towards particular persons in the secret ark of his own bosom, not to be pryed into), are bound to admonish all, and warn all men, to whom they are sent; giving the same commands, proposing the same promises, making tenders of Jesus Christ in the same manner, to all, that the elect, whom they know not but by the event, may obtain, whilst the rest are hardened.”[6]

The doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty did not dampen Paul’s enthusiasm for preaching, rather it upheld it entirely. Paul understood that as he proclaimed the Gospel, those who were Christ's elect sheep would hear the Savior and believe unto salvation. Like Lydia, who was given the gift of faith[7] such that her heart was opened to receive the things spoken by Paul, so too will all of Christ's sheep hear the voice of the Good shepherd and obtain the very salvation that was granted to them in Christ Jesus from all eternity. Such knowledge did not quiet Paul's spirit; instead it further inflamed him to proclaim the powerful Gospel, trusting that God would accomplish the work of Salvation. The very Apostle who declared, in Romans 9, that the Lord will have mercy on whom He desires and will harden whom He desires, is the same man who said:

Romans 9:1-3: 1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh

Paul understood that only the Lord knows who are His.[8] He also knew that salvation depended upon God’s sovereign choice and not the efforts of man; and yet Paul was in no way silent, or dispassionate, concerning his hunger for the lost to be saved. The doctrine of God’s gracious election gave him a confidence that there would be an abundant harvest of souls, and Paul knew that he could trust the Lord for the outcome. Thus, he knew that what was a secret to him (the number of the elect), presented no secret or contingency to the Lord. For the child of God, such ignorance is a blessing, and leaves us with the great privilege of broadcasting the Gospel to all flesh, indiscriminately and passionately; therefore, when the Philippian jailer came and inquired "what must I do to be saved?" the Apostolic response was not: "are you elect?" This would be the product of foolish, human reasoning. Rather, the Apostle’s passionate reply was delivered, imperatively: "Believe! In the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Because of his God-centered confidence, and exceptional love for Christ, Paul could simply discharge the Gospel of Christ and leave the redemptive results to Him. The foundation of God's absolute sovereignty helped Paul remember that while he was an instrumental soldier for the Gospel, it is the Lord alone who is the sovereign Captain of our salvation.


[1] 2 Timothy 4:7-18.
[2] Philippians 1:12-14: 12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
[3] Philippians 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
[4] Philippians 1:3-4, 18, 2:18, 3:1, 4:4.
[5] 1 Peter 2:4-6.
[6] Owen, The Death of Death, p. 313.
[7] Philippians 1:29.
[8] 2 Timothy 2:19.

Imitating His Exceptional Love, Part I

I recently spoke with a pastor who had a discussion with a man who was opposing the idea election on the grounds that God loves everyone. This form of reasoning is not uncommon and, when pressed for its logic, reveals some very strange implications for other issues of doctrine. Can it be said that God loves everyone the same? When we consult the Scriptures, we see that God’s love for mankind is distinguishable, such that His love for His children is unique and special; and Christ’s love for His bride reveals a unique fidelity and devotion that cannot be shared with another. For the husband, who is called to love his wife with singular devotion, such a consideration is no small point. Consider the following brief excerpt from  All Nations Under God:

The Exceptional Love of a Husband

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; Ephesians 5:25

When Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, He gave the greatest example of theocentric love ever displayed. Our Lord's service of love to the Father therefore stands at the heart of every aspect of Christian living. Especially for husbands, Christ’s example of love is a strong reminder that no husband can love his wife well if he doesn’t love the Lord first. Therefore, Christ gives us the greatest measure of love within any marriage union; and by this example, the spiritual man must understand that he is to love his wife as an outflow of his love for God. Such a theocentric priority will make the Lord his passionate priority before any other.[1] The union of marriage must be understood with this priority of love – The husband is not to place his wife above all, rather, the Lord is his highest priority. Such a priority does not demean the wife, nor lessen the quality of love that the husband has for her. On the contrary, this is the highest quality of love that he can offer to her – the godly love of Christ. The implications of this concept of love are vast. The imitation of Christ takes on some wonderful connotations with this simple observation. As Christ cherished the church as a gift from the Father, so too is the spiritual man to love his bride as a gift from God. In imitating Christ, the spiritual husband will grow in his desire, compassion, and faithfulness towards his wife. The true believer holds dearly to the endowments of the Lord because of his deep love for the Giver:

James 1:17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.

By this principle it is understood that the spirit-filled man will have a passionate desire for his wife because she is a wonderful and special gift from God Himself.[2] Therefore, the husband’s valuation of His wife is not based upon her performance, physical beauty or skill at cooking; rather it is based upon the gracious provision of the Lord who gave her:

Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.”

The spiritual husband is to love his wife in a multifaceted way, but his love for her must be God-centered such that he cherishes her in the Lord. Christ alone provides the valid measure for true manliness and godly leadership. Leadership that is patterned after the Savior’s love will nurture peace, joy, and growth to the family of God. Such leadership within the family, which edifies and builds others up, requires constant vigilance, and labor in the Spirit, as one follows the loving example of the Bridegroom of the church. [All Nations Under God, pp. 97-99]


[1] John 2:13-17.
[2] Gen. 2:23.

Your Greatest Need in Life

cross

What is Your Greatest Need in Life? In our culture today, we are frequently exhorted to obtain what is necessary in order to achieve success and happiness in this life. We can’t seem to escape the regular onslaught of billboard ads, radio, and TV infomercials that enthusiastically claim to offer exactly what we need in order to have a more fulfilling life. In fact, I am often amazed at the ingenuity of marketing strategists who labor so earnestly at convincing us that our next choice of a car, health product or household cleaner can somehow transform our lives. It is important to remember that the strategy of modern marketing is to redefine our emotional desires as true needs. When we accept such thinking, we become deceived, believing that life is about owning things, but the Bible calls this slavery (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Even within the church there is an ongoing temptation and risk of adopting this kind of a marketing strategy in order to define the true needs of a worshipper. Many paradigms of contemporary worship aim to serve what are often called the “felt needs” of church attendees. A worship service is then considered successful only if those who are in attendance receive the experience that they wanted. But like those models of secular marketing, such strategies actually begin with a faulty premise.

These strategies assume that humanity can find true joy and peace through the pursuit of emotional desires and felt needs. This is a very dangerous form of prognostication. This would be like a patient who sees his doctor for the symptoms of heartburn.Such a patient would be content to receive medication for what he believes is some form of indigestion, however, he does not know that he has advanced coronary artery disease and will die without immediate intervention. In order to live, he must come to an understanding of his real and true need, rather than what he feels he needs. Spiritually, we are like this patient. We have many erroneous assumptions about what we truly need in life. Our only hope is to consult the Great Physician and Creator who made us, if we are to comprehend our true need. What is the Lord’s diagnosis of humanity? The Bible clearly teaches that all men are sinners for “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23,Genesis 6:5, 8:21, Jeremiah 17:9-10). This condition of sin is not a mere illness, rather all men are “…dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-5). Being spiritually dead, it is said of humanity: “…there is none righteous, not even one…there is none who seeks for God…there is none who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12). Worse yet, the only future that men have in light of their sinfulness is eternal death (Romans 6:23, Revelation 20:11-15). These difficult truths lead us back to our original question: “What is your greatest need in life?” Answer: Your greatest need in life is that, in Christ, you would be forgiven of your sin. After all is said and done in this life, and when this world passes away, only two classes of people will appear before the judgment seat of the Lord: Those who are forgiven and those who are un-forgiven. This eternal division of humanity is so often expressed in that very familiar passage in John chapter 3, which says: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). One of the most precious truths in the entire Bible is that the Great Physician, Jesus Christ the Son of God, has provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sin. What a joy it is to know that spiritually dead men can be brought to life through Jesus Christ our risen Savior and perfect sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 8:3, Ephesians 2:1-9). I pray that you too would have your true needs met in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Meaning of Words, Part II

In the previous post (The Meaning of Words, Part I) I addressed the contemporary problem of subjective (emotion driven) religion, and how this is impacting much of Christendom today. Particularly in the matter of our speech, such subjectivism has the tendency to exalt one's own intentions, thoughts, and feelings over the objective realities of language and communication. Therefore, my own thoughts and feelings do not modify the innate meaning of words; even though they might affect the impact that such words have on others (as in the illustration of a heartless husband who professes to love his wife). But in the previous post, we focused on the idea of unwholesome words, noting that Paul was not only concerned about our subjective motives when speaking,[1] but he was also concerned about the very words that we use;[2] understanding that some things should never pass the lips of God's children.[3] In such textual examples as these, we must admit that Paul is speaking of language that is expressly secular, rather than biblical, otherwise we would have to conclude that there are some aspects of Scripture that should never be repeated - may it never be (2 Timothy 3:16)! This distinction is, I believe, important, especially if we are to learn about how we can properly season our speech with the salt of genuine wisdom.[4] The Scriptures themselves offer the Christian a very real anchor to all reality and meaning in life; without which, we have no real "salt" to season our speech. We as Christians, of all people, should be the most cautious about such matters, knowing that the weapons of our warfare are powerful for the tearing down of the false fortresses of this world's thoughts, words, and ideas:

2 Corinthians 10:3-5: 3. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4. for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ

So what exactly are the building materials employed by the world against the knowledge of God? It is logismous - faulty reasoning/speculations and hupsoma epairomenon - lofty expressions of arrogance. And what divinely powerful weaponry did the Apostle Paul use to tear down such fortresses? - the knowledge of God as supplied in His word - the sword of the Spirit.[5] The Christian must never underestimate the importance of Scripture and scriptural language - even down to the last iota and keraia. Without the sword of the Spirit (in all of its precious detail) our words are reduced to dull and useless instruments; but with the whole counsel of God's word (in all of it precious detail) we have a substantial means of engaging this world.

Which leads me to this matter of the careful use of Scriptural language: having been raised in southern California, I am reminded of the frequent habit of young people who use the word righteous as a synonym for the word cool. Even the word awesome is also used in this vein. Such casual and trite usage of these words is degrading to their root meanings and identities. A Toyota vehicle may be an impressive piece of machinery, but it is not awesome (awe/fear inspiring) per se.[6] Actually, the misuse of such an important biblical term often exposes a kind of hapless admission to materialistic worship. Obviously, the world uses language in often base and useless ways, and it frequently invokes the Lord's name in vain as further proof of its disregard for God-centered discourse. But as the children of God, we must not follow the world's lead - even if it feels "cool" and "hip." The theological shock-jocks of the modern day are not helping us in this matter, especially when they venture outside the beauty and purity of Scripture. Neither profanity, ambiguous/shocking statements, or poetic pithiness should ever serve to supplant the clear and perspicuous message of Scripture, because the art and thought of man is no match for God’s eternal truth. Let me illustrate this matter as follows: I often use the expression - godly jealousy in order to describe my zeal for the priority of the Gospel. Now I ask the reader: Is this a meaningful expression? Am I being a theological shock-jock by using such language, and should a Christian ever be "jealous" since James says "...you are envious [zeloute - jealous] and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel" - which is exactly what we see when the Jews of Thessalonica became jealous [zelosantes] and formed an angry mob against the Christians?[7] As well, since God declares Himself to be a jealous God who shares His glory with no one,[8] am I at liberty to use such a word for myself as an expression of godly affections? The principal reason why my answer is yes is because the Apostle Paul himself used this expression in order to convey his godly zeal for those within the Corinthian church who were being led astray by false teachers.[9] In fact, the use of such a biblical expression affords me the opportunity to explain myself from the text of Scripture such that the hearer is led away from what could become my theology to that of God and His truth.

Now, how about the word lust? Would it be scripturally meaningful to employ the word lust - maybe godly lust - in order to describe an earnest desire for something good? Answer: no. While I have never heard a theologian try to foist the expression godly lust into the shock-jock lexicon, I offer it here as a generic illustration for your consideration (and perhaps to preempt any future attempts for someone to do so). In the English, the word lust converges to this idea of sinful and self-centered affection. As it is used in English translations of the Bible, there is no use of the word lust in connection with godly desire. For someone to try to use such a term for its shock value, as in the case of godly lust, I would suggest that they are pointedly disparaging scripturally grounded word meanings in order to draw some form of attention. But James reminds his audience: "...you lust[10] and do not have; so you commit murder..." (James 4:2). And why is this so? Go back to James’ initial query: "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures[11] that wage war in your members?" (James 4:1). According to James, human lust is rooted our selfish, self-centered pleasures, not godliness. When people hear the English word lust, there should be no ambiguity in their understanding of the term. Should we misuse the term at all, we produce a form of confusion that should not at all exist. When Scriptural language is clear and consistent, we dull the blade of Holy Writ through a misuse of such important terms. And while such tactics may garner the attention of others, we must ask the question: who is ultimately getting that attention?

I believe that the principle at hand is simple enough: whenever we speak, we must measure our affections and words very carefully. As well, whenever we employ terms that are specifically rooted in scriptural language we should be careful to preserve the meaning of such words, rather than allow them to degrade within the acidity of secularism or an instructional method which exalts form over substance. It is my fear that, generationally speaking, those who seek out and admire the theological shock-jocks of today, will look to surpass their mentors over time. This is a common pattern repeatedly seen within church history: like a ship that is off-course by just one degree, we cannot expect it to reach its transatlantic destination. Rather than belittling a one-degree departure from sound teaching, we should seek to retain a true course lest we influence others away from a path that is in fact called by our Savior - narrow.

We all misspeak at times,[12] and our vocabulary will continue to be refined and transformed[13] as the Lord sanctifies us in His word; but the direction that we must seek is one which presses back to the ancient anchor of Holy Writ, rather than towards this ever-changing and dying world. May the Lord season our speech for our good and His ultimate glory.


[1] Eph. 4:15, 25.
[2] Eph. 4:29.
[3] Eph. 5:12.
[4] Colossians 4:6: 6. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
[5] Eph. 6:17/
[6] In Scripture God's name, deeds, and judgment are called, appropriately, awesome.
[7] 1 Corinthians 13:4: 4. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
[8] Exodus 20:3-5.
[9] 2 Corinthians 11:1-4.
[10] G. epithumea: This word can be used for either lust or godly desire, depending on the context. However, the English word lust does not share such variance of meaning, especially as it is used in English translations of the Bible.
[11] G. hedonen: This word is used exclusively in the Scriptures to speak of ungodly and selfish desires: Titus 3:3, James 4:1, 3; Luke 8:14, 2 Peter 2:13.
[12] James 3:2-3.
[13] Romans 12:1-2.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Meaning of Words, Part I

I spoke with a dear pastor friend of mine before the weekend who informed me that he was recently given the opportunity to teach the Scriptures at a local university. He called to ask for my thoughts about his discussion with various students over the use and meaning of various words. One of the students kept insisting that he had the freedom, in Christ, to use profane words – and he had no hesitation to identify those words in the hearing of the other students. My friend described the student’s reasoning for such actions, and as he did I was immediately reminded of a similar line of thought that drew some attention back a few years when the subject of profanity and strong words started to become a bit more “hip” within our American religious culture:

I doubt that the Puritans of yesteryear would ever imagine the thought of “cursing pastors” and “cursing Christians” – but such is the brave new world of the religious culture today. I believe that the seeds of confusion in all of this go back even further to what has been a longstanding development of subjective religion here in America: a kind of modernized emotion-based-existentialism which subjugates everything beneath the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the worshipper. The problem with this should be evident, especially since everything in life is to be subject to God as that which is from Him, and through Him, and to Him – to Him be the glory forever, amen (Romans 11:36).

This truth also applies to the very words that we use.

All the words we use, whether biblical or otherwise, should be offered as  seasoned speech made useful for the edification or admonishment of others, for God’s ultimate glory. But what we must understand is this: words have actual meaning, and are therefore not innately modified by our own subjective thoughts, feelings, or affections. Now I should qualify this point as follows: a person’s thoughts, feelings, and affections (or lack thereof) can redirect the impact that a word might have on the hearer. A man can say to his wife: “I love you,” but with a drab spirit of indifference such a regurgitation will have no appeal.  However, we must affirm, once again, that the innate meaning of his words are not at all changed by the subjective reality of his indifference. Therefore, the good news within this illustration is that God’s meaning and definition of love (H. ‘ahab; G. agape) stands as an objective reality despite the subjective corruption of men. This distinction is crucial, but it is often lost within the world of subjective religion. With little or no objective anchor in God, the soul of man is lost within the morass of his own, ever changing, subjectivism and feelings. Paul addresses some of these issues when speaking of our use of words when he says – “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29).  We should note that Paul does not say “Let no word be spoken unwholesomely” as if to place the emphasis on the way in which we speak. This would be a mere repetition of his earlier instructions in Ephesians 4:15 and 25 where Paul addresses the importance of the manner, intent, and affections of our communication. Verse 29 however, presses a distinct focus on the very words that we use. In fact, the nominative/adjectival construct is unmistakable: logos sapros (unwholesome words – or words that are rotten) vs. those “words that are good for edification.” Paul’s instruction is quite clear – it is not just how we say things that is important, but it is also what we say that is key, knowing that there are some things of which we should never speak:

Ephesians 5:11-12: 11. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12. for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

Some words and concepts are simply known to be aischros – utterly dark and disgraceful. Now imagine a member of the modern culture entering Paul’s world for a minute: he might insist that Paul stand up, be a man, and talk about these dark and dirty things as a display of Christian maturity and stability – insisting that he is free and clear to do so on the grounds of a subjective innocence, replete with good intentions and affections. Paul’s response would not change for a minute. He would simply respond by indicating that things which are rotten (sapros) belong in the waste-bin of language, and that it is disgraceful (aischros) – even ungracious (Ephesians 4:29) to allow such filth to pass the lips – no matter how we say it. To deny this is to play a rather dangerous word-game. Now, is there a subjective realm to this discussion? Are there not words that are somewhat “borderline” on the issue of unwholesome speech? Certainly. But remember, even the world knows (for the most part) what profanity is. If you are in doubt of this, try reading a movie review sometime, and you will find that even the inhabitants of Hollywood understand the theology of unwholesome speech well enough. Clearly, Paul didn’t give his audience a list of things that are “disgraceful even to speak of” – such an act would be a self-contradiction within his own letter. Nor did he give us a Mishnaic listing of unwholesome words – he clearly understood that this is not a matter that can be reduced to a superficial legalism. As the children of God we must be so invested in learning the things (objectively) that are pleasing to God (Ephesians 5:7-10) that we will walk in the light of God’s wisdom and grace. Therefore, we do not walk about with lengthy lists of prohibited words, instead, we are called to exercise sound judgment, self-control, and discernment in this matter of the use of our tongues, knowing that we will at times stumble and err as mere men (James 3:2). But if we are invested in this matter of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), then all of these other conflicts will diminish beneath the weightiness of God’s immeasurable grace (Ephesians 4:29).

It is crucial that we consider our own subjective affections and attitudes when speaking, for “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). But our subjective thoughts and feelings cannot be our chief end. Instead, we must look objectively outside of ourselves, and remember that the very words that we use have meaning – some good; some bad – and that our intentions do not transform the innate reality of such meaning. Overall, our heart matters; our words matter; and everything ought to be laid before the Lord for His ultimate glory.