Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best New Year's Resolution

Many of us see the new year as a kind of reset switch so that we can start practicing good habits. I would like to suggest to you one such habit: the regular reading/meditating/praying over God's word.   The Psalmist says  "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You." Psalm 119:11  Our minds would be less chaotic, our hearts less troubled, our wills less torn, if we could simply "Be still [before God's word] and know that He is God." Psalm 46:10

Ligoneer put together a list of Bible Reading Plans that any one of us could use, including our children.  How great would it be to start getting our reading age children on a simple bible reading!  Some plans only take 5 minutes a day.  How great would it be to to have our teenage kids reading and starting to inculcate that discipline of discerning God's voice on their own before they leave our homes!  

That being said, I would like to offer 5 tips for reading the Scriptures successfully.  

1.  Always pray.  Even if it's a ten second prayer: "Father, please help me understand your Word.  I want to know you more and your Son whom You sent for me.  Please give me your Spirit that I may have the mind of Christ." 

2. Never give up!  Don't worry about the date on the plan.  Bible reading plans were made for man, and not man for bible reading plans.  If you get behind, ignore the date, and just pick up where you left off.  It's infinitely more important to take in God's Word, than to be on the "right day."

3. Go slow.  If you just finished a paragraph but your mind wandered and you can't remember what you read—stop.  Pray.  Start over.  This happens to me all the time.  I just finished a paragraph and my mind was thinking about something else, while my eyes merely hovered over the words. I have to use those moments to plead with God for help.  The Scripture is the most difficult book to read on planet earth, because it is wholly spiritual.  If God the Spirit, does't help us, then we will fail.  So don't get discouraged if that happens to you often. It happens to me all the time.  Use those moments to push into another quick prayer, and ask God to fix your attention on His Word.

4.  Affections are critical.  If you find yourself reading something like "Be glad in the LORD, you righteous ones" (Psalm 97:12)  and you don't feel glad in the LORD—stop.  Pray.  Ask God to give you affections like the Psalmist.  Ask Him to give you spiritual sight of what the Psalmist sees so that you can be glad in the LORD.  God loves to answer those type of prayers.  You see, reading God's word is not simply an exercise in reading.  In is an exercise of reading/meditating/praying over/delighting it.  The only way that can happen in us, is if God fills us with His Holy Spirit. So pray and hope to that end in all your reading. 

5.  Obedience is essential. If we read God's Word and then don't apply it to our lives, we are just like the man in the book of James.  "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does." James 1:23-25  Notice that James says that obedience brings liberty and blessing.  Those are the two pillars that hold up all of our spiritual happiness.  That is how we should view obedience, as a means to our happiness in the LORD.  Sometimes this obedience can be triggered very easily by meditating on what you read in the morning throughout the day.  

Ultimately, in encouraging you to read/meditate/pray over God's word, I'm encouraging you to "taste and see that the LORD is good." Psalm 34:8 God is a infinite treasure chest of immeasurable pleasure.  When we delight ourselves in Him, we discover that He is the greatest desire of our hearts. 

"Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalm 37:4

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thinking About Christmas 100 Years From Now

Christmas means something different to almost everybody.  To the religious, it is a day where we remember the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  To the non-religious, it may take on the meaning of family time, or a much needed vacation, or good will towards man.  Regardless of which camp you fall into, Christmas means something to most people.  My question to you today is this: what does Christmas mean to you? More importantly, what will Christmas mean to you 100 years from now?  

Certainly when we pass from this life, all things—including Christmas—will come into their full meaning.  100 years from now when you are thinking about the birth of the Savior, what will your thoughts be?  Will they be thoughts of rejoicing or regret?  Will the idea of Christmas 100 years from now be the foundation of all your joy, or the monument of all your ruin?  Puritan Stephen Charnock imagines the thoughts of those immortals in not-so-distant future:

"Do but consider those souls that are in the possession of an unchangeable God, that behold His never-fading glory!  Would it not be a kind of hell to them to have their thoughts starting out to these things, or find any desire in themselves to the changeable trifles of the earth?  Nay, have we not reason to think that they cover their faces with shame, that ever they should have such a weakness of spirit when they were here below, as to spend more thoughts upon them than were necessary for this present life; much more that they should any time value and court themselves above God?  Do they not disdain themselves that they should ever debase the immutable perfections of God, as to have neglecting thoughts of him at any time, for the entertainment of such a mean and inconstant rival?"

Now Charnock is limiting his imagination to the saints in heaven.  What kind of regret and horror can be imagined by those souls in hell whose thoughts turn to this life?  Don't get me wrong, thinking about Christmas rightly doesn't save anybody.  My point is this: God has ordained that Christmas be a monument, at least at this point in human history, to remember the birth of the Savior.  To remember that we need a Savior.  To remember that we were born sinners. To remember that our 'good' works can never earn us access to Father. To remember that apart from the Savior being born, we could never have a Savior who went to the cross.  

Christmas should provoke those types of thoughts in our hearts.  

And the truth of the matter is, we just will all have those thoughts 100 years from now, regardless if we are in heaven or in hell.  We should always live in light of eternity.  We should let the thoughts that we will have 100 years from now govern the thoughts that we have at this very moment. God sent His Son into the world as a testimony of our need for a Savior.  That’s what Christmas means to God.  What does it mean to you?

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”  Matthew 1:21

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Failing to Glorify God in Our Fight Against Sin

This might seem like an odd concept, but it is entirely possible to hijack God's glory in our "fight" against sin.  I stumbled upon this thought by the Puritan Thomas Brooks in his book Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices.  There, Brooks spoke about the different ways in which the saved and the unsaved struggle against sin.  
"A saint conflicts against sin universally, the least as well as the greatest; the most profitable and the most pleasing sin, as well as against those that are less pleasing and profitable.  He will combat with all, though he cannot conquer one as he should, and as he would.  He knows that all sin strikes at God's glory, as well as at his soul's comfort and peace...Oh! but now the conflict that is in the wicked is partial; they frown upon one sin and smile upon another; they strike at some sins yet stroke others; they thrust some out of doors but keep others close in their bosoms; as you may see in Jehu, Herod, Judas, Simon Magus, and Demas.  Wicked men strike at gross sins, such as are not only against the law of God, but against the laws of nature and nations, but make nothing of less sins; as vain thoughts, idle words, sinful motions, and petty oaths.  They fight against those sins that fight against their honor, profits, and pleasures, but make truce with those that are as right hands and as right eyes to them."
The difference between these two approaches to sin can be discovered in how each party defines sin.  The world defines sin (if it does at all) in a very man-centered way.  Sin is inhibiting some one else's choice, or doing something that causes shame, or judgment or pain to another human being.  But that is to miss what God says about sin.  "For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they because futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:21) God does not define sin merely as a particular action, such as lying, stealing, or adultery.  Those are the fruit of sin.  Not the root of sin.  The root of sin goes much deeper than the sound wave that carries a lie or the hand that conceals it's theft. The root of sin goes deeper than homosexuality considered in itself, or socialism considered in itself, or failing to show mercy considered in itself.   

The root of sin is this: failing to value God above all other things. 

Sin is always a God-ward directed thing.  The reason why the unsaved fail to glorify God in avoiding sin, is because they do only in reference to themselves. They are not doing it because God is their highest treasure.  They are doing it because they want to avoid the pain that that sin will bring.  God has attached certain consequences to certain sins, and these consequences are what deter the wicked, not the glory of God.   Thomas Brooks continues to lay out the motivations behind the saint and the sinner:
"The conflict that is in a saint, against sin, is maintained by several arguments: by arguments drawn from the love of God, the honor of God, the sweetness and communion with God...from the blood of Christ, the glory of Christ, the eye of Christ, the kisses of Christ, and the intercession of Christ...from the earnest of the Spirit, the seal of the Spirit, the witness of the Spirit, the comforts of the Spirit.  Oh! but the conflict that is in wicked men is from low, carnal, and legal arguments, drawn form the eye, ear, or hand of the creature, or drawn from shame, hell, and curses of the law"
God is not aiming at the mere absence of sin in our lives.  He's aiming at His glory in how we fight sin. Not merely the absence of pain, or the avoiding of unpleasant consequences.  That is to gut the glory out of sin fighting.  God wants us to be motivated because of the love of His Fatherly heart, the sacrifice of His precious Son, and the grace of His indwelling Spirit.  He wants us to fight sin, because we value Him more than we value our sin.  
Now don't get me wrong, I'm thankful that God in His wisdom restrains evil men even through their wrong motivations.  But let us not fail to grasp the application aimed at our own hearts.  Why do we fight against sin?  Is it so that others won't think poorly of us?  Is it because we know we will feel guilty?  Or is it because we are are so compelled by the love of God, that we don't want to dishonor His grace?  In the former we maybe avoiding the sin, but we are also missing the glory.  In the later, we are avoiding the sin, and displaying the greatness of our God. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Imputation: Our Only Hope For Heaven

Impute  /imˈpyo͞ot/  verb  -  to reckon to one what does not belong to him

Much debate throughout the history of the church orbits around this one word: imputation.  The doctrine of imputation asserts that at salvation, when you or I as a sinner trusts Jesus Christ alone for salvation, all our our sin is reckoned—imputed—to His account, and His righteousness is reckoned—imputed—unto our account.  So that in the same act, Jesus on the cross became the greatest sinner by imputation, and we became the righteousness of Christ by imputation. 2 Cor. 5:21 "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." As saved sinners we stand before God Almighty not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on the merits of Jesus Christ alone.  This imputation is not infusion.  Infused righteousness is the Roman Catholic doctrine that acknowledges that righteousness is given to the believer as a gift from God.  A gracious gift even.  However, that righteousness only inheres in the believer to the extent that they maintain it and cooperate with it. The problem with this, is that it confuses justification—the judicial act of having our sins forgiven and being declared righteous by faith alone, with sanctification—the progressive act where we are renewed in the whole man dying unto sin and living unto righteousness.  These are two distinct things, and to combine them together is to lose all hope of ever seeing our Heavenly Father's face.  There is no gospel (good news) if imputation is not a reality

If eternal life with God is in the balance, waiting to see if I cooperate with His righteousness in order to be accepted in the beloved, I am ruined.  That is not hyperbole. There is absolutely no hope for my soul if ultimate salvation depends on my my contribution of righteousness As the Psalmist has said "Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you."  Psalm 143:2  Our God is not a God who will accept the smallest degree of unrighteousness.  Anything less than perfect righteousness is spiritual pollution and that is exactly what we possess "All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment."  Isaiah 64:6  This is part of the gospel that many of us modern Christians fail to see. God requires absolute perfection in order for us to be received into His heaven.  The standard is not softened simply because we cannot achieve that perfection.  God does not grade on the curve.  If He were to bend the eternal law of righteousness and receive into His family persons who were polluted, He would be denying His own glory.  God cannot be good at the same time while calling evil good.  He must judge righteously or else He is not righteous.  

This is why the cross is so central to Christianity, and more specifically imputation.  If Jesus didn't die for all of my sins, I will be judged for the remaining ones.  This is bad news.   James tells us that the smallest sin is a violation of the whole law (James 2:10).  So if Jesus didn't pay for every single sin, it is as if He didn't pay for any.  Likewise if Jesus' righteousness is not imputed to my account completely, so that the Father sees His merits when He looks at me, I will be an abomination to His glory.  I have hidden faults in all my best deeds. My most spiritual moments have dark closets and undisclosed motives and insincere intentions actively working through them.  Should God accept those?  Should God be so easily pleased that I simply put forth my best effort and call it good after that? Brothers and sisters, that is the Mormon gospel.  That is the gospel of Islam, the gospel of Rome, the gospel of this world.  If God were to accept that type of righteousness, He is not God.  Any god who doesn't require the defendants in his courtroom to be acquitted completely and to be declared absolutely righteous is a god who is not worthy of worship.  That god despises his own worth-ship so how could he be worthy of our worship?  The doctrine of imputation then is not just our only hope for heaven, it is the only hope for God to remain God.  Not only do we lose the gospel if we shed imputation, we lose the glory of God.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Temptation in Pastoral Ministry

"Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king.  Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably."  1 Kings 22:13
These are the words that the messenger spoke to Micaiah, the prophet of the LORD, as he fetched him to appear before the king.  All the other prophets were saying the same thing 'Go up oh king, and the Lord will give you success.'  In this account, king Ahab was seeking counsel on whether or not he should go up and fight against the king of Aram. Four hundred 'prophets' were giving him identical counsel, and even invoking the name of the Lord in doing so.  When this messenger came to fetch Micaiah, he told him which way the wind was blowing: "Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king.  Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably."   As the story continues, Micaiah refuses to be blown about by the wind of the so-called prophets and he tells the king that certain judgment is coming if he goes to battle.  The king doesn't listen, and his blood is washed out of the bottom of his chariot near the pool of Samaria the next day.  

This story is recapitulated over and again down to this very day (although admittedly the details are different).  There is a wave of 'prophets' claiming that the Lord is speaking to them, and telling us to take some action, to try some new scheme, to test out some new method.   Whether it be the 'prophets' of the papacy in the 16th century, or the 'prophets' of the social gospel in our times.  The pressure is always on the 'prophet' behind the pulpit to tow the line.  'Come on, this is what all these other 'godly' men are doing, let your words be like their words.'  Now don't get me wrong, there is wisdom in the multitude of counselors-Proverbs 15:22. God has not left his church with out a witness. There is a remnant of Godly men whose voices very often are in agreement.  However in this account of Micaiah, there were four hundred men who spoke in the name of the LORD, and all of them were deceived.   All of them were more motivated to speak what the king wanted to hear rather than what the KING wanted them to say. This is always the temptation in pastoral ministry.  We can crown our congregants and begin to speak in ways that we know will please them, as opposed to speaking in a way that we know will please HIM.  Paul tells us there there is a whole group of prophets who do this very thing.   "...the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3  Mark this beloved: these teachers will deceive in the name of the Lord.  Joel Osteen speaks in the name of the Lord.  Social gospel proponents speak in the name of the Lord.  Prosperity gospel preachers speak in the name of the Lord.  Legalists speak in the name of the Lord.  Liberals speak in the name of the Lord.  

What is the antidote for this mass confusion?  How do we know whether or not we are listening to Micaiah or to one of the four hundred?  The answer is so simple that we can despise it: the Scripture.  We must become people who not only own a Bible, but actually read it, meditate on it, pray through it, be convicted by it, and be transformed because of it.  We have the greatest weapon against those four hundred false prophets, and it can never be defeated.  The question is, do we use it?  It's so frustrating to watch those super hero movies where the hero chooses not to use His super power at some decisive moment and as a result the enemy gains a foothold.  We see that and scoff at the lack of wisdom the hero displayed, realizing that more evil was perpetuated because of it.  How much more so is this true in reality?  We have the greatest weapon against the kingdom of darkness in the Scriptures.  He knows this, and so he sends his messengers against us to speak in the name of the Lord.  How do we combat this?  By testing what they say against what God says--2 Thes. 5:21.  Even the Holy Spirit tells us to test Him, because not all spirits are from God--1 John 4:1  We must become people who know and love and treasure God's Word.  We must become people like Charles Spurgeon who if you pricked him anywhere, he would bleed bibline.  His very soul was intoxicated with God's Word, and as a result He stood against the four hundred prophets of his day who were all speaking what the 'king' wanted to hear.  Can anyone recall the names of those false prophets?  No. These are the men that history forgets-Ecc. 9:5.  Just like the false prophets of Micaiah's day.  Just like the false prophets of our day.  They may strut around with all their pomp and their following, but they will go to the grave and not be remembered.  

So here is the challenge for all of us:  Will we listen to the the messenger sent to Micaiah? Will we be blown about by the wind of the majority?  Will have itchy ears and scratchy pulpits?  Or will we listen to the messenger sent from His Word, and say "thus says the Lord" no matter what it costs us? 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why God's Eternity is Our Delight

"LORD, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God."  Psalm 90:1-2
Every single one of God's attributes is an infinite treasure chest just waiting to be explored and delighted in and strengthened by.  God's eternity is no different.  It is a pure wonder to the soul that God had no beginning.  In fact, philosophically speaking, "beginning" has no reference point in God.  The word "beginning" has reference to time, but God is wholly outside of time-"from everlasting to everlasting you are God."  There is no "beginning" in God just like there is not a succession of moments within God, for both of those things are properties of time, and not eternity.

Our God does not live within the chains of minutes and hours and days.  That prison cannot contain Him.  The implications that flow from this spill into our very souls.  A.W. Tozer reflecting on this says
"How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.  Eternal years lie in His heart.  For Him time does not pass, it remains; and those who are in Christ share with Him all the riches of limitless time and endless years.  God never hurries.  There are no deadlines against which He must work.  Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves."
Our God never hurries.  He is never anxious.  He is never double-booked, or overwhelmed, or in need of a break.  That is the God that reigns over this earth and over His saints.

Beyond those delights, the most delightful thing about God's eternity is that it is accompanied by God's love.  If God is eternal, so are all His other attributes, not least of which is love.  God is love eternally.  He was love before He laid the foundations of the earth.  He was love in the garden, during the conquest of Canaan, during the Babylonian captivity.  He was love from Genesis to Malachi.  He was love when He turned away from His Son on the cross, and He will be love when He pours out His judgment on the earth.  God's love is from everlasting to everlasting.  And that is good news for those in Christ.  God never began loving His people.  God could no more "begin" to love us any more than He could "begin" to be God.  Nothing can "begin" in God. His love is an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  It is indestructible, invincible and infinitely intimate.  It is the answer to all our longings, and will be our constant companion long after the sun and the moon run it's course.   God is our dwelling place in all generations.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The LORD Loves the Gates of Zion

One of my favorite psalms is found in Psalm 87:2-3 where the LORD speaks of His violent affections for the church.  "The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwelling places of Jacob.  Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God.  Selah."  The "selah" here is especially important.

To read over this too quickly would be to miss the marrow of this passage.

Israel was the church in the O.T.  She was a shadow of the church to come.  She was the church and a sign pointing to the future church who surpassed her in glory.  Just as the exodus was a real deliverance that Moses secured for Israel and at the same time served as a sign pointing to the true deliverance that Jesus Christ secured for all the people of God; so Israel is the church in the O.T and a sign pointing the church in the N.T. (cf. Acts 7:38; 1 Cor. 10:1-4)  The O.T. is banquet table full of signs pointing to the greater reality in the N.T.   It serves as "...a copy and shadow of the heavenly things..." Hebrews 8:5.  It was "...only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things..."  We must adopt this view of the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments if we are going to understand what the Psalmist is saying, ultimately.  

No doubt when the psalmist originally spoke of the "..gates of Zion" he had a physical reality in his mind.  But we must ask: what did that physical reality represent to him?  It represented the corporate worship of the living God.  The gates of Zion was where the gathered people of Israel worshipped the one true and living God.  It was more special than all the other dwelling places of Jacob, because this was the place of sacred communion.  This was the place where the ancient church gathered to offer their hearts, their minds, their souls, their strength to the Lord of hosts.  That is why the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all other places.  The community of believers joined with the community of the Trinity, and loved and adored and delighted in God together!

This verse equally applies to the church today.  Sure we have our private devotions, and we gather the family to worship, and we commune with God throughout the week.  But more than these, the Lord loves the gathering of the church—the gates of Zion.  He loves the "place" where His people corporately gather to receive fresh grace from Him.  "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God."  God loves the Lord's day more than all the other days (although all equally belong to Him) because it is on that day where His church gathers, militant and triumphant, to fellowship, to pray, to praise, to preach, to listen, to love, to learn, to heal, to be made holy, and to prepare for that Day when we will meet the Bridegroom.  What a treasure the "gates of Zion" is.  The LORD loves it more than all other dwelling places.

Is that your heart for the church?  Are you a person who longs for the gates of Zion, and aches for the place where God's special presence dwells?  I hope so friend.  To discover this truth is to discover heaven on earth.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Heaven is a World of Love

One of the things that has struck me about the differences between this life and the next is that in this life everything is mixed.  With the sweet comes the bitter.  With the joy comes the sorrow.  There is never a time on this side of Jesus' return where there is a full consummation of love and joy and peace.  It is true that our Heavenly Father often gives us glimpses of that type of consummation.  Seasons where love for God is ardent, and the fellowship with the saints is sweet, and compassion for the lost is violent.  But these are just glimpses.  There is no sustained, unbroken harmony with those experiences because of the remaining corruption in all of us.  But in heaven, all mixture disappears.  There is only a pure concentration of love, joy, peace, harmony, holiness and happiness.  We will be in the presence of God Himself. The air of that place will be a fragrance of perfect enjoyment with no mixture of envy or enmity.  There will not be the slightest feeling of discontent.  Those are things that belong to this world.  That world will have no mixture of sweet with bitter.  Only perfect sweetness, perfect harmony, and perfect love.  Jonathan Edwards in his sermon entitled "Heaven a World of Love" puts it like this...

"In heaven all things shall conspire to promote their love, and give advantage for mutual enjoyment.  There shall be none there to tempt any to dislike or hatred; no busybodies, or malicious adversaries, to make misrepresentations, or create misunderstandings, or spread abroad any evil reports, but every being and everything shall conspire to promote love, and the full enjoyment of love.  Heaven itself, the place of habitation, is a garden of pleasures, a heavenly paradise, fitted in all respects for an abode of heavenly love; a place where they may have sweet society and perfect enjoyment of each other's love.  None are unsocial or distant from each other.  The petty distinctions of this world do not draw lines in the society of heaven, but all meet in the equality of holiness and of holy love."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Justification is a Friend to the Heart and to Holiness

Many have charged the doctrine of imputed righteousness of producing an antinomian spirit.  If, it is reasoned, there is nothing left for the believer to do in order to inherit eternal life, then there is no motive for holy living.  Therefore this doctrine can't possibly be the correct doctrine regarding our justification.  Sure we must believe, they say, but we must continue to be righteous in order to maintain our right standing with God.  However, the shoe is on the other foot.  It is a denial of imputed righteousness that actually produces the antinomian spirit.
A couple of questions must be asked at this point.  1)  What type of righteousness does God demand from the christian?  2)  Can that type of righteousness be achieved by a christian?  To the first, it is clear that they only type of righteousness that God will accept is a perfect one.  He is holy and cannot look upon even the slightest whisper of unrighteousness with approval (Hab. 1:13).  To accept a less than perfect righteousness is to profane His name and to deny His glory (2 Tim. 2:13).  Secondly, it is clear that a mere mortal cannot achieve this.  Even if we were to grant that all sins are put away with at the type of conversion to Christ, and that the slate is clean moving forward, all the works of righteousness that we perform are continually shot through remaining corruption.  "All our righteousness is as filthy rags" Isaiah 64:6.  Filthy rags is not a currency that God recognizes.  Only the spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed (credited) to the believer at the moment of faith and repentance.  A denial of this produces an antinomian (anti-law) spirit.  It denies part of God's law (i.e. that part that demands perfect obedience) and replaces it with it's own standard (i.e. a standard that accepts imperfect and corrupt obedience).  A denial of imputed righteousness produces antinomianism in the form of legalism.  However to accept imputed righteousness is to find all the reason we need to pursue holiness from the heart.   We are freed from comparing our selves amongst ourselves for the righteousness that God demands and instead we look to Christ.   Herman Bavinck remarks on this point:

"To correctly assess the benefit of justification, people must lift up their minds to the judgment seat of God and put themselves in his presence.  When they compare themselves with others or measure themselves by the standard that they apply to themselves or among each other, they have some reason perhaps to pride themselves in something and to put their trust in it.  But when they put themselves before the face of God and examine themselves in the mirror of his holy law, all their conceit collapses, all self-confidence melts, and there is room left only for the prayer: "Enter not into the judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you." (Job 4:17-19; 9:2; 15:14-16; Ps. 143:2; 130:3), and their only comfort is that "there is forgiveness before you, so that you may be revered." (Psalm 130:4)   [Herman Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 4 Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic 2008) pg. 204

Monday, September 29, 2014

It is More Difficult to Disobey Than to Obey

It is a vain charge that men bring against God's law, that it is rigorous, sever, and difficult.   Besides the fact that this contradicts Jesus' own testimony that "My yoke is easy," and that "My burden is light," it also contradicts plain reason and experience.  Is it not more difficult to be vicious, covetous, violent, cruel, than to be virtuous, charitable and kind?  What does Satan and the world engage us in, but those things that are full of molestation to the soul and hazardous to the body?  Is it a sweet thing to continually combat against our own conscience, and resist our own reason, and to always argue against inward voice, as we do when we sin?  What does God require of us but to "do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"  Micah 6:8   Those things work to the honor of God and the welfare of the world, and the security of our own souls, and are easier to practice than acts of disobedience.  Do not men disown God when they walk in ways hedged with thorns, wherein they  meet with the arrows of conscience, at every turn, in their sides; and slide down to an everlasting punishment, sink under an intolerable slavery, to contradict the will of God;  when they prefer a sensual satisfaction, a violation of their reason, gnawing cares and weary travels BEFORE the honor of God, the dignity of their natures, the happiness of peace and health, which might be preserved at a cheaper rate?  No, it is far more rigorous and sever and difficult to disobey rather than obey.

[adapted from Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Publishing, Reprint 1979] pg. 111-112

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Is Your Church a "Third Way Church?"

If you have not heard this phrase yet, it has become the new nomenclature for "churches" that have refused to be either gay affirming nor gay denying, but instead have discovered a third way in which neither of these positions is adopted.   If that sounds problematic from the beginning, you are thinking rationally.  Only by embracing multiple instances of double speak can one walk away after hearing this position thinking it is anything but completely absurd.  This is yet another sign that both post-modernism and the "new tolerance"have made a mockery of rationality and Christian ethics.  Recently Ken Wilson of the Ann Arbor Vineyard has embraced this ludicrous model in his blog found here.  The problem with this position, other the the clear Biblical calls to repentance and holiness, is that it is intellectually dishonest.  Which is the nice way of saying that pastors who embrace this position are liars and are seeking to make merchandise of the sheep.  They are the ones who Paul warned us about in Acts 20:29-30 "...after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."
The fact of the matter is that there cannot be a third way.  It defies all logic.  The basic claim borrows on a principle that if carried to it's end would deny it's existence. It says that "we don't have to be gay affirming(so that we don't offend real Christians), nor do we have to be gay denying(so that we don't offend the world)."  It seeks to create an atmosphere of radical non-confrontational non-judgmentalism. Yet, ironically, in doing so it is judging the two other positions as being incorrect, which violates it's own principle. If it were sane in any possible world to embrace a third-way philosophy, then it would also be sane to embrace a fourth-way philosophy which would claim that it is "...neither gay denying(way 1) nor gay affirming(way 2) nor is it gay denying nor gay affirming(way 3), BUT instead it is a church that is gay denying and gay affirming." But then of course there could be the fifth way which adopts the archaic "don't ask don't tell" policy that was dumped by the military.  Or for that matter the 6th way where gender is completely denied as an ontological reality.
It is sad that such an argument against third way even has to be made.  Any non-judgemental stance towards sin is an endorsement and acceptance of the sin.  This is unavoidable.  When Eli of old tried to embrace a third-way with his two sons Hophni and Phinehas, God dismantled his family (cf. 1 Samuel 2:27ff).  This type of theology is the epitome of man-centered absurdity.  Even the radical liberal Tony Jones who is wrong on probably 95% of his theology agrees that no third way is possible.
My wish is this, that churches(and by that I mean the small hand full of men that are on the leadership team) would simply show their cards.  If they are going to embrace the culture's deviant lifestyle as a viable path to holiness, then let them be men and do so.  They who walk the fence on this issue are cowards.  If you are under a leadership team that is unwilling to declare their position because they are in "process,"you can be certain that they are just waiting for the wind of culture to show them the way they should go.  Those type of men are not leaders, nor are they interested in the glory of God; they are  are pawns of Satan, and are deceiving others in order to pad their bank account.
"If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain." 1 Tim. 6:3-5

Friday, June 6, 2014

What Are The Real Subjects In Education?

Now once our proper end in education is determined, this informs what the real and proper subjects are.  So what are the real subjects in education?   Reading, writing, arithmetic?  Or perhaps history, philosophy, science, the languages, civics, and the fine arts?  Actually no.  Those subjects simply provide the occasion to study the real subjects.  Those are the shadows. The real substance of education lies behind them.  The real subject of education is God.  He is the chief thing that we are studying.  So in each particular subject, what we are actually studying is one or more of His attributes.  This shouldn’t at all surprise us.  Psalm 145:10 says “All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!”   This is not just referring to speaking creatures such as human beings and angels.  It is speaking about every thing God has made, visible and invisible.  All of God’s works will praise Him.  The only way this can be accomplished with a non-speaking thing is by how it reflects God, in the way that it was made.  In other words, the subjects act as mirrors reflecting God’s attributes to the cosmos. A clear example of this is the subject of astronomy. Psalm 19:1-4 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”  The heavens speak.  How do they speak?  Non-verbally.  What do they speak about?  The glory of God.  How do they do that?  By reflecting His attributes.  What attributes do astronomy show?  Astronomy shows the wisdom of God in His arrangement of the galaxies.  Astronomy also shows the self-sufficiency of God in the life-span that He gave stars.  Astronomy shows the infinity of God, in the seemingly endless nature of the universe.  In all these things and numberless more Astronomy’s chief speech is about God.  Now this is true of all of God’s works, including every other subject in school.  Because every other subject is a shadowy reflection of God’s attributes.  Let’s take a look at another syllogism, with the subject of math. 

P1.  All subjects are reflections of God’s attributes
P2.  Math is a subject
C.  Math is a reflection of God’s attributes

What does math speak about God?  One recent blogger, Joe Carter, tackled this question in a piece entitled What Does 1 + 1 = 2 Mean?Why Christianity Matters For Math(and Everything Else).  In it he provided different perspectives weighing in on this simple math problem. First he provided atheistic philosopher John Stuart Mill’s answer.  Mill “...believed that all that we can know to exist are our own sensations -- what we can see, taste, hear, and smell....Mill claims that 1 and 2 and + stand for sensations, not abstract numbers or logical classes. Because they are merely sensations, 1 + 1 has the potential to equal 5, 345, or even 1,596. Such outcomes may be unlikely but, according to Mill, they are not impossible.”

Next he gave John Dewey’s answer, the father of the modern education. Dewey believed  “...that the signs 1 + 1 = 2 do not really stand for anything but are merely useful tools that we invent to do certain types of work. Asking whether 1 + 1 = 2 is true would be as nonsensical as asking if a hammer is true. Tools are neither true nor false; they simply do some jobs and not others. What exists is the physical world and humans (biological entities) that are capable of inventing and using such mathematical tools.”
  This is why I said at the beginning that the modern educational system only produces workers, not thinkers.  In other words it’s aim is to produce slaves, utilitarian tools useful only for the advance of the state.  And this is seen in their philosophy of 1 + 1. 
The right view was put on the lips of Leibniz, who was one of the inventors (discoverers) of calculus.  When [he] was asked by one of his students, "Why is one and one always two, and how do we know this?" Leibniz replied, "One and one equals two is an eternal, immutable truth that would be so whether or not there were things to count or people to count them."
Those are God’s attributes.  Eternal. Immutable. Truth.  Like God, the answer to 1 +1 is an eternal answer.  Psalm 90:2 “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  Like God, the answer to 1 + 1 is an immutable answer. It will never change.  Malachi 3:6 “I the LORD do not change...”  Like God, the answer to 1 +1 is a true truth, even if all the world decided it be something else.  Romans 3:4  “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,”  Any other view is not only lying about math but more importantly it is lying about God.   
I’m not saying that atheists or non-Christian religions can’t believe in 1 + 1.  I’m just saying that they can’t believe in consistently.  Their worldview doesn’t justify the truth of 1 + 1.  And if left to themselves they will eventually unravel.   And if left in charge, they will unravel others.  Case in point is the Common Core.  Teachers have now been instructed to give their students at least partial credit even when they get their math problems wrong, as long as they show their work.  In other words, as long as they are sincere it getting it wrong, they can be partially right!  Sincerity, rather than truth is the new currency of modern education.  The only problem is, that sincerity means nothing without truth.  If the meaning of sincerity is not an eternal, immutable truth, then it is nothing at all.  What might be sincere to you, could be totally different than my definition.  And so what we are left with is complete relativism. This is the fall of western civilization.  The only antidote to this inescapable reality is to teach the subjects from a Biblical worldview.  This means that we need to give our children a christian classical education.  In other words, we need to disciple them the way the Scripture informs us.  We need to educate in such a way where we demonstrate that God speaks to all the subjects and all the subjects speak back Him.   

  1. God speaks to history, and history speaks about God.  Acts 17:26 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place...”
  2. God speaks to civics and civics speak about God.  Romans 13:1, 3-4  “...there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
  3. God speaks to the languages, and language speaks about God. In Scripture, Jesus is called Word of God.  John 1:1  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 
  4. God speaks to philosophy, and philosophy speaks about God.  Colossians  2:3 tells us that in Christ “...are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  

And the same thing can be said about every other subject under the sun.  God commands every subject to reflect His attributes, so that every subject speaks about Him. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”  Romans 11:36  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Ends and Means of Education

When we are speaking about ends and means, we are speaking about the goals and the processes by which it takes to achieve those goals. Mortimer Adler in his book Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind says this about approaching any particular thing that we set our hand to do:

“In the solution of every practical problem, the basic terms are ends and means.  The end of medicine is health; the means are the various procedures of prevention and therapy.  We solve a practical problem, so far as thinking goes, by determining the ends to be achieved and the most efficient means for achieving them....Now since the means are to be chosen and used for the sake of the ends to be reached, the ends are the first things we must think about in the order of practical thinking, even though they are the last things we reach in the order of action itself.”  [Mortimer Adler Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind  Ed. Geraldine Van Doren (New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing, 1977]

That last part is critical!  The means can only, and should only be determined by the ends.  The means exist for the sake of the ends, and not for the sake of themselves.   In other words, we start with the end in mind in order to determine our starting point.  Once we determine those things, our path to proceed, or our means are illuminated.   So we need to ask:  What is the proper end of education?  What is the end of this accumulation of knowledge?  Is it just so that our children can gain a good career?  So that they can be producers in society? So that they can take care of their future families?  Those may seem like high ends, but they are in fact circular.  ‘We educate in order to perpetuate society, in order to raise the next generation in order to educate them, so that they can in turn do the same.’ That is circular.  This is to confuse subordinate ends with the ultimate end.  Subordinate ends are those things we aim at in order to get to a higher and more ultimate end.  Take the cross of Christ for instance.  What would you say is the ultimate end of the gospel? It is not Jesus hanging on the cross. That is subordinate to the ultimate end which is to bring us into perfect fellowship with Him.
Education is no different.  We do want our children to have good careers and to help perpetuate society and to raise up the next generation.  But those are not ultimate ends, they are subordinate.  What is the ultimate end in education?  Many answers have been given.  Unfortunately some have even come out of the modern classical movement that have not been good.  One book that has been touted as an apologia for classical education is Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons.  Mr. Simmons gives his answer for the proper end of education in this manner:  

“Knowledge is to be sought for its own sake, irrespective of immediate and material gain.  Any other attitude to knowledge betrays the servile mind...“Such is the constitution of the human mind that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward.”  For only “liberal knowledge...stands on its own pretensions, is independent of sequel, expects no complement, refuses to be any end,” [Tracy Lee Simmons Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia For Greek and Latin (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2nd Paperback Edition 2012), pg. 35]

       That is a sad view. ‘Knowledge is to be sought for it’s own sake, and refuses to be informed by any end.’  That view of knowledges makes it god. It specifically makes our knowledge god.  Not only is this view of education entirely too small,  it is blasphemous.  (Consider how Paul refuted this view to the secular philosophers in Acts 17:16-34)
The only proper end of knowledge or education, is simply this:  praise.  Praise is the ultimate end of knowledge. We put knowledge into our minds in order to fuel our hearts for worship.  Knowledge finds it’s end, it’s ultimate end, in praise.
       The founding verse for our academy is Psalm 111:3 “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.”  We acquire knowledge on every subject under the sun because they display the works of God.  In studying the works of God, we find ourselves studying Him.  And when we study Him and delight in what we see, this brings Him glory.  So we could say that the proper end of education is for the glory of God.  Consider this syllogism.

P1.  All things were created for God’s Glory (Rev. 4:11)
P2.  Education is a thing.
C.  Education was created for God’s Glory.

If God’s glory is the proper end of education, then it must inform our means.  God’s glory must be the chief determining factor in how we choose what subjects to teach, how we determine curriculum, and how we integrate it all together.  If the glory of God is the proper end of education, then it must control every aspect of how we do our education.  We must resist the temptation to be informed by any other end.  Whether that end is smuggled in by the culture, or whether  by our own anxieties that seek to dominate our hearts. There is no other ultimate end in education,  than the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.