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.