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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Swap your X-box for the old Atari? (or “Whose your daddy?”)

If you’ve never read Richard Baxter, you are missing out on clear, concise and biblical logic. In his great work “Against Sinful Desire and Discontent” he defines “worldliness” as “sinful love.” Baxter exposes wordliness, or sinful love, as:

“When you desire that which is forbidden you. Or that which will do you no good, upon a misconceit that it is better or more needful than it is. Or when you desire it too eagerly, and must needs have it, or else you will be impatient or discontented, and cannot quietly be ruled and disposed of by God, but are murmuring at his providence and your lot. Or when you desire it too hastily, and cannot stay God’s time. Or else too greedily as to the measure, being not content with God’s allowance, but must needs have more than he thinks fit for you. Or specially when your desires are perverse, preferring lesser things before greater; desiring bodily and transitory things more than the mercies for your souls which will be everlasting. When you desire any thing ultimately and merely for the flesh, without referring it to God, it is a sin. Even your daily bread, and all your comforts, must be desired but as provender for your horse, that he may the better go his journey, even as provision for your bodies, to fit them to the better and more cheerful service of your souls and God. Much more when your desires are for wicked ends, (as to serve your lust, or pride, or covetousness, or revenge,) they are wicked desires. And when they are injurious to others.”

Jonathan Edwards would call this misdirected religious affection or simply idolatry as worldliness is the exaltation of man and self-worship.

Understand at this point I have already written a number of paragraphs that should appear in this space, but I deleted them for I am in turmoil over what I could say here. I wrote about the worse church split I have ever seen or heard of, or I wrote of the horrendous fights that take place amongst the brethren. What I keep coming back to is the blurred line between godliness and worldliness. I recently participated in a concentrated study activity involving pastors, missionaries and lay-people from all over the world and have been saddened by the blatant lack of regard for rules, regulations and standards. Here are so-called “professionals in ministry” who converge for a time of education and rejuvenation, yet because of one or more who chose to live according to their own rules bring frustration, jealousy, gossip, even theft among the brethren. I think part of the problem is the other blurred line between education and revival. Brothers, education is NOT revival. When the one replaces the other, then worldliness has crept in.

I can’t help but think of Chuck Smith (of Calvary Chapel fame) who relates the following experience:

“Recently I attended a pastor's conference and was amazed at what slobs the pastors were. They would take their coffee cups and cokes into the room where we had our meetings. Now, I had no problem with that, but when we were dismissed, they just left their coke cans and coffee cups on the floor. So I found myself going around picking up the coffee cups and coke cans, and cleaning the auditorium. I know what happens when someone comes and kicks over a coffee cup on the carpet. I didn't want to leave a bad witness of our Calvary Chapel ministers at that camp facility. So many people see the ministry as an opportunity to be served rather than to serve others. To think, "Well, someone should pick up after me because I am the minister," is not only a contradiction in terms, it's also an unbiblical attitude.”

James 4 gives us the answer as to why there is conflict in the church, between churches, outside the church, in families, in the workplace, even among nations! And he not only identifies the source of the conflict, but also tells how to deal with conflict! James is not intolerant because he is in a bad mood but because here are Christians acting like unbelievers! And they are not just fighting—they are under the influence of raging sin-pattern behavior. Look at the commandments being broken: lust, coveting, murder, adultery, even having another god in being friends with the world. If unity is to be found in Christ, these things must be repented of and put away! Paul even wrote to the Corinthians that he wanted to see them, but knew they did not want to be visited the way they were: “perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.”[i]

Notice James uses the term “adulterers and adulteresses.” These are carefully chosen words that imply they have also taken the name of the Lord in vain. An illustration of marriage would be fitting: when a man and woman are married, one public sign of their unity is that she takes his name as hers and gives up her own. She, in effect, becomes his ambassador, doing everything she does in his name and all he represents. The way these people are acting are as if they are carrying on a relationship with the world though they are saved from it. The words denote one carrying on an affair! They are being spiritually unfaithful, “outwardly associated with the church, but holding a deep affection for the evil world system.”[ii]

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to slam on the brakes and get a bearing on the direction I am going in life. With whom and what do I associate myself? Are my words and actions condoned by He whom I represent? Where are my feet going? What are my hands doing? Where are my eyes and ears? Are the things I enjoy and the things I hate the same as what God enjoys and hates?

If you know anything about the South, you may know it is covered with vines. Especially north-east Georgia--it’s being consumed by “mile-a-minute” vine, or kudzu. You can’t kill it. Anything it is able to cover gets consumed: trees are reduced to bare stumps in a mere summer. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful lush, green carpet, but it feeds and feeds, leaving nothing in its wake. Think of how that applies to the things of God. When we open our arms to worldliness, we do one of two things: one, telling Him that what He has done is not good enough because we will inevitably turn and complain about all the trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into; and two, we are siding with the enemy, being embraced by the world only to be squeezed to death and our strength is lost.

If we still hold the lifestyle we followed before we became Christian, if we make no conscious effort to cut ourselves off from the world as we came to Christ, then we are not recognizing Him as Lord and our repentance was only superficial. We had no intention to convert to begin with. When you become a Christian, your desire to cut off from the world is seen in the very things we repent of: we are lying, thieving, blasphemous adulterers at heart and turning from sin and accepting Christ as Savior and Lord is where new life begins . . . a life that is not marked by the characteristics of James 4. But I get ahead of myself.

The Christian’s relationship with the world is summed up in 1 Jn 2:15-17: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”[iii]

Being a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. Think about this: being a friend of the world is to embrace the life of an unbeliever. Look at what the Bible says about how God views the unsaved:

Eph. 2:3, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

Col. 1:21, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds.”

Why on earth would one want to live as he once was? This should cause some serious searching of the heart to see whether we are truly in the faith!

Gen. 6:5, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Prov. 21:10, “The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no favor in his eyes.”

Jer. 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Mk 7:21-23, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

That last list sounded like James, doesn’t it? Conflict is the result of men speaking their heart. So again, why act like an unbeliever? Why talk like an unbeliever? Why treat each other in ways that smack of unbelief? I can’t figure it out, unless one is not saved to begin with . . .

I was walking through a certain store the other day and stayed near my boys while they checked out video games. When you get old like me you can’t help but think back to the “old days” when games were basically “Pong” and “Space Invaders” and Atari was all the rage. So here I am, walking around through these Nintendos and X-Boxes and hand-helds that display very convincing life-like graphics and I look down on a lower shelf and spy . . . an Atari. Yes, the old brown and black box, two-joystick game. Pong and Space Invaders. Brand Spanking New. And FOR SALE! I call my kids over and hold it up for them to see. Can you guess their reaction? “So what?” and they ran off quite irritated that I had bugged them from their games.

When we are saved, we get the X-box. So why on earth would we prefer the Atari? I know the answer as much as you do . . . we like nostalgia, even when it comes to sin. We act like unbelievers because that is what we are accustomed to . . . but that is no excuse. Look at what Jesus says about unbelievers:

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

So, whose your daddy?

“Friendship with the world and friendship with God are mutually exclusive … . Christians have a nature so utterly distinct from the lovers of the world, the followers of Satan, that they should never entertain any of the ways or hold any of the loyalties that characterize unbelievers …. For believers to pursue worldly things goes against the grain of their new nature and they cannot be comfortable or satisfied until they renounce those things and return to their first love.”—John MacArthur[iv]

I think it's pretty clear.

************
[i]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, 2 Co 12:20. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
[ii]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Jas 4:4. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.
[iii]New American Standard Bible, Ibid.
[iv]MacArthur, John. James : Guildelines for a Happy Christian Life. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 87. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2001.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Unrepenting Repenter

By Jim Elliff

The believer in Christ is a lifelong repenter. He begins with repentance and continues in repentance. (Rom. 8:12-13) David sinned giant sins but fell without a stone at the mere finger of the prophet because he was a repenter at heart (2 Sam. 12:7-13). Peter denied Christ three times but suffered three times the remorse until he repented with bitter tears (Mt. 26:75). Every Christian is called a repenter, but he must be a repenting repenter. The Bible assumes the repentant nature of all true believers in its instruction on church discipline. A man unwilling to repent at the loving rebuke of the church can be considered nothing more than "a heathen and a tax collector." (Mt. 18:15-17)

What Is Repentance?

Repentance is a change of mind regarding sin and God, an inward turning from sin to God, which is known by its fruit—obedience. (Mt. 3:8; Acts 26:20; Lk. 13:5-9) It is hating what you once loved and loving what you once hated, exchanging irresistible sin for an irresistible Christ. The true repenter is cast on God. Faith is his only option. When he fully knows that sin utterly fails him, God takes him up. (Mt. 9:13b) He will have faith or he will have despair; conviction will either deliver him or devour him.The religious man often deceives himself in his repentance. The believer may sin the worst of sins, it is true; but to remain in the love of sin, or to be comfortable in the atmosphere of sin, is a deadly sign, for only repenters inhabit heaven. The deceived repenter would be a worse sinner if he could, but society holds him back. He can tolerate and even enjoy other worldly professing Christians and pastors well enough, but does not desire holy fellowship or the fervent warmth of holy worship. If he is intolerant of a worship service fifteen minutes "too long," how will he feel after fifteen million years in the eternal worship service of heaven? He aspires to a heaven of lighthearted ease and recreation—an extended vacation; but a heaven of holiness would be hell to such a man. Yet God is holy, and God is in heaven. He cannot be blamed for sending the unholy man to hell despite his most articulate profession (Heb. 12:14).

What Are the Substitutes for True Repentance?

1. You may reform in the actions without repenting in the heart. (Ps. 5 1: 16-17; Joel 2:13) This is a great deception, for the love of sin remains. (1 Jn. 2:15-17; Acts 8:9-24) At this the Pharisees were experts. (Mk. 7:1-23) The heart of a man is his problem. A man may appear perfect in his actions but be damned for his heart. His actions are at best self-serving and hypocritical. What comes from a bad heart is never good. "Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh." (Jas. 3:11-12)

2. You may experience the emotion of repentance without the effect of it. Here is a kind of amnesia. You see the awful specter of sin in the mirror and flinch out of horror yet immediately forget what kind of person you saw (Jas. 1:23-24). It is true, repentance includes sincere emotion, an affection for God and a disaffection for sin. Torrents of sorrow may flood the repenter's heart, and properly so (Jas. 4:8-10). But there is such a thing as a temporary emotion in the mere semblance of repentance; this emotion has very weak legs and cannot carry the behavior in the long walk of obedience. Your sorrow may even be prolonged. Yet if it does not arrive at repentance, it is of the world and is a living death—and maybe more (2 Cor. 7: 10). It is an old deceiver. Judas had such remorse but "went and hanged himself." (Mt. 27:3-5)

3. You may confess the words of a true repenter and never repent. (Mt. 21:28-32; 1 Jn. 2:4; 4:20) Confession by itself is not repentance. Confession moves the lips; repentance moves the heart. Naming an act as evil before God is not the same as leaving it. Though your confession may be honest and emotional, it is not enough unless it expresses a true change of heart. There are those who confess only for the show of it, whose so-called repentance may be theatrical but not actual. If you express repentance to appear successful, you will not be successful at repenting. You will speak humbly but sin arrogantly. Saul gave the model confession (1 Sam. 15:24-26) and later went to hell. Repentance "from the teeth out" is no repentance.

4. You may repent for the fear of reprisal alone and not for the hatred of sin. Any man will stop sinning when caught or relatively sure he will be, unless there is insufficient punishment or shame attached (1 Tim. 1:8-11). When there are losses great enough to get his attention, he will reform. If this is the entire motive of his repentance, he has not repented at all. It is the work of law, but not grace. Men can be controlled by fear, but what is required is a change of heart. Achan admitted his sin after being caught but would not have otherwise. Find his bones in the Valley of Achor; his soul, most likely, in hell. (Josh. 7:16-26)

5. You may talk against sin in public like a true repenter but never repent in private. (Mt. 23:1-3) The exercise of the mouth cannot change the heart. Your sin is like a prostitute. You are speaking against your lover in public but embracing her in the bedroom. She is not particular about being run down in public if she can have your full attention in private. "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (Jas. 4:4)

6. You may repent primarily for temporal gains rather than the glory of God. There are gains for the repenter, but the final motivation for repenting cannot be selfish. Self is a dead, stinking carcass to be discarded. We are to repent because God is worthy and is our respected authority, even if we gain nothing. Indeed, our repenting may appear to lose us more than our sin had gained. (Mt. 16:24-26; Phil. 3:7-8) And this is a test of true repentance.

7. You may repent of lesser sins for the purpose of continuing in greater sins. (Lk. 11:42) We try to salve our nagging conscience by some minor exercise of repentance, which is really no repentance at all. The whole heart is changed in the believer. The half repenter is a divided man: part against sin and part for it; part against Christ, part for Him. But one or the other must win out, for man cannot serve God and mammon (or any other idol); he must love the one and hate the other. (Mt. 6:24)

8. You may repent so generally that you never repent of any specific sin at all. The man who repents in too great a generality is likely covering his sins. (Prov. 28:13) If there are no particular changes, there is no repenting. Sin has many heads, like the mythological Hydra. It cannot be dealt with in general, but its heads must be cut off one by one.

9. You may repent for the love of friends and religious leaders and not repent for the love of God. (Isa. 1: 10-17) A man talked into repentance may reform for the love of friends or the respect of the spiritually minded, yet do nothing substantial. If a man turns from sin without turning to God, he will find his sin has only changed its name and is hidden behind his pride. Now it will be harder to rout for its subterfuge. You have loved others but not God. And you have loved yourself most of all. Lot's wife left the city of sin at the insistence of an angel and for the love of her family, but turned back. She had left her heart. "Remember Lot's wife." (Gen. 19:12-26; Lk. 17:32)

10. 'You may confess the finished action of sin and not repent from the continuing habit of sin. If a man is honest, he is a good man in human terms; but he is not a repenting man until the sin is stabbed to death. He must be a murderer if he would be God's: "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Rom. 8:13) God knows what you have done; what He wants is obedience. (Lk. 6:46)

11. You may attempt repentance of your sin while consciously leaving open the door of its opportunity. A man who says " I repent" but will not leave the source or environment of that sin is suspect. Though some situations which invite temptation cannot be changed, most can. A man who will not flee the setting of his temptation when he is able still loves his sin. A mouse is foolish to build his nest under the cat's bed. "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." (Rom. 13:14)

12. You may make an effort to repent of some sins without repenting of all the sin you know. The businessman learns to show concern for the needs of his clients, yet he batters his wife through neglect. Another gives his money in the offering plate weekly but steals time from his employer daily. Every man boasts of some sins conquered, but true repentance is a repulsion of sin as a whole. The repenter hates all sin, though he fails more readily in some than in others. He may not know all his sins, but what he knows he spurns. Repentance is universal in the believer; the spirit is willing even when the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41).

Repentance and faith are bound together. A repenting man has no hope for obedience without faith in the source of all holiness, God Himself. In repenting of sins, he loses his self-sufficiency. God is his sanctifier. (Jude 24-25; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 1:5)

Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 11:19; 2 Tim. 2:25) and a duty of man (Acts 17:30; Lk. 13:3). You will know if it has been granted by the exercise of it. (Phil. 2:12-13) Do not wait for it; run toward it. "Be zealous and repent." (Rev. 3:19) Pursue it and you will find it; forget it and perish.

Copyright 1994 Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc.201 Main, Parkville, MO 64152 USAPermission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in exact form including copyright.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Southern Baptists to research Emerging Church trends.

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)--Messengers offered more than 25 motions during the opening day of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, proposing actions related to young Christian leaders, the planning and conducting of future SBC meetings and the initiation of possible studies by the SBC Executive Committee.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Godly Wisdom, an Evaluation of Man’s Wisdom through a Survey of Select Sciences and “The Question of the Hour.”

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Also Sprach Benjamin Franklin. At one point in my life, I saw Franklin as the wisest person who ever lived—his contributions to mankind were so numerous that in my eyes, none but the most wisest could perform so many noble acts. Franklin’s inventions include water-wings, bi-focals, the lightening rod. He made contributions to the fields of medicine, agriculture, banking, printing, heating and air. He was an educator, a politician, founded libraries, published, and was the first to go postal. Ironically, when it came to personal and spiritual development he made many failed attempts at morality and sought to arrive at perfection by his own means, admitting at last that he could not. Regardless, Franklin was a leader.

When we look for leaders, two facts come to the surface: first, we should strive to see wise people in leadership positions. I say, “should” because when I think of something grand like the Presidential Elections I am not sure people are consciously looking for “wisdom” in their candidates. But this leads us to the second fact: what we look for in leaders says something about we who do the seeking! If we are not seeking for wise leadership, what are we doing looking for leaders to begin with? Wisdom actually means something to us. If we choose to reject it and choose something like “strength” or other capabilities, this shows what we think of wisdom.

In my opinion, the secret of gaining wisdom is not the application of knowledge. It is not found in how we live and/or what we experience. Wisdom is not deep thinking. The secret of gaining wisdom is no secret at all, actually. Something “secret” infers that some have a right and/or ability to access and acquire, leaving others without. There is no secret to gaining wisdom. The truth is that wisdom is either accepted or rejected. Wisdom is the application of truth to life and both truth and life are found in the same source: God alone. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5). Applying truth that does not come from God to a life that does not come from God is applying lies to death! Gaining wisdom is gaining God!

James 3:13-18 describes and defines a godly life filled with godly wisdom. This is a life that has integrity, the conduct reinforcing the wisdom. There is no bitter envy or self-seeking nor is there any boasting or confusion, but truth-telling. Wise and godly living is sourced objectively, a life of peace, gentleness, willing to yield, full of mercy and evidence of it. There is no favoritism or hypocrisy.

Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Wisdom has a love-motive: it does not seek it’s own, nor does it puff itself up. This is what James means by “meekness of wisdom.” The Lord Jesus said the one who is meek is blessed. If we consider that our objective source is the Holy Spirit[i], then we find that the nature and source of so-called human wisdom is earthly, sensual and demonic (3:15). This should stand as a warning to that on which we depend for wisdom! There is no middle ground here. True wisdom is from God, therefore any wisdom not from God is not true nor is it wisdom at all but senselessness! Senselessness is without understanding, identifiable by wrong conduct and is a bully. Senselessness is without love being bitter, envious, self-seeking, boasting and lies. Senselessness rises from below, is confusing and evil. Senselessness is impure, divisive, harsh, proud, full of mercilessness, prejudiced and hypocritical. Senselessness sows unrighteousness.

There’s a 14 year-old girl I know who I would love to introduce you to, but can’t for she changes her name about once a week. Right now her name is “ . . .” (pronounced, “Lasting Silence.” No, I’m not kidding). She changes her hair color just as often as her name and covers her black-painted eyes so you can’t see her face. She describes herself as “unloved and unwanted” and is angry all the time. My son met her a while back and we’ve spent a little time with her, but she keeps everyone at arms-length. She actually came to church a number of times, but would sit in Bible study huddled in a corner, trembling. She lives her life by senselessness—and this is normal and acceptable to her. Her hodge-podge messy ideas and convictions those that belong to others and she has embraced them as her own.

God’s wisdom is pure, unmixed with anything. God’s wisdom is transcendent, unearthly, from above, holy, gentle, sweet, reasonable, not contentious, full of mercy and forgives. This is why the Psalmist asks and find an answer, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” (Ps 24:3-4). Jesus could then say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt 5:8). A life that is objectively filled with God’s wisdom is certainly identifiable just as objectively. Is it any wonder then why a saint may be identified to be “a particular individual completely redeemed from self-occupation; who, because of this, is able to embody and radiate a measure of Eternal Life.”[ii]

Again, there is no secret to attaining wisdom. Proverbs 2:1-7 plainly states that wisdom comes from the mouth Lord and to attain Him is to attain wisdom. Since in Christ Jesus Himself is all wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), He should be desired, received, treasured, heard, applied, sought for. Wisdom is not the goal of attainment, but God Himself through Christ Jesus, for He is the giver of wisdom. We must guard our hearts and minds not to venerate wisdom and thus make it an idol and break the first and second commandments for when we do, we lose wisdom and our fellowship is no longer in the light! To grasp godly wisdom is to do theology!

We embrace the fact that God is necessary to the fact of man; that man is dependent on He who is independent; that God makes sense of our existence for without God nothing makes sense; and, that all our problems, solutions and blessings--everything is suddenly theological. We begin from God, understanding that God is exalted and man is not. Let us now put to the test our systems of self-understanding against God’s and see which remains in the end. One good place to do this will be with man’s understanding of himself through science. Let’s compare and contrast man’s wisdom as seen in a few fields of science against the Biblical perspective to discover who is the wiser: the creator or the creation. Man has many points of view, but God has infinite viewing points.

Anthropology: “The study of diverse human societies both of the past and present.”[iii] As a science, anthropology shares the interests of other sciences (Sociology, Philosophy, Psychology, Theology, Linguistics, Paleontology and Archaeology, Biology). As good as anthropology this may sound, the science does not provide a satisfactory answer to WHO man is and WHO man is to be like and what will become of man. Also, anthropology does not provide an answer as to HOW man is to think about himself. Anthropology only states “approaches,” ways of thinking, ways man tries to understand without providing any answers. In other words, anthropology only repeats back what we already know about ourselves in less scientific categories. It tells us we live as people in communities, we have ancestors, we communicate and we had a beginning. (Congratulations, you now have a degree in Anthropology!)

Sociology: “the scientific study of social life, including how groups are organized, how they change and how they influence individuals.”[iv] Sounds like Anthropology, doesn’t it? Here’s how it works: Some sciences give man control over his surroundings by modifying what exists in the world around him, but Sociology supposedly frees man from “ill-regulated experimentation” allowing man control over himself.[v] Though Sociology, one is made to think one should overcome all he is taught[vi], to overthrow all standards and break the Moral Compass by no longer “fitting in” and “stand out” (remember Fleetwood Mac “You can go your own way”). Stop being what others want you to be and be yourself!

Socrates said, “There is something ridiculous in the expression ‘master of himself’ for the master is also the servant and the servant the master; and in all these modes of speaking the same person is denoted.”[vii] In the spirit of Socrates, let’s experiment: when man has all his badness under control, he is considered to be “disciplined” or to have become the “master of self.” When the bad in a man is not under control he is called “undisciplined” or, “enslaved to self.” So which is it? Is he master, or slave? Obviously there is no replacement for a broken compass.

Philosophy: “the love of wisdom.” Herein is “an activity undertaken by human beings who are deeply concerned about who they are and what everything means.” [viii] Why do we study philosophy? To sharpen the mind. To help is clarify issues so we can make better decisions. To enhance our lives by enlarging our world beyond our private interests (shares with Anthropology here). To challenge presuppositions and establish convictions.

Someone once said “logic is the art of going wrong with confidence” and it becomes easy to think or “philosophize” oneself into a corner. Why? Mortimer Adler responds: [ix]

  • We are unaware of the contents of our minds and how ideas work.
  • We confuse perception with reality: assumptions.
  • We misunderstand “meaning” and how to get it.
  • We can’t often distinguish between opinion and knowledge.
  • We can’t consistently judge what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil.
  • We are not content and cannot distinguish what we want from what we need.
  • We don’t know if “freedom” means to do as you want, or to do as you should?
  • We cannot agree on the identity of human nature.
  • We don’t know how to relate to one another.
  • We don’t know where to live: in the physical or spiritual realm.

Now let’s enjoy some Psychology, which literally means, “the study of the soul.” I found this to be intriguing from a textbook on Psychology: “Although it is sometimes useful to have clear and simple definitions of the subject one is studying, these definitions are frequently misleading. Such is the case with psychology. The most widely accepted definition of psychology is simply that it is the science of behavior and experience.”[x] Some observations:

  1. There no clear definition of what psychology is from man's perspective. It’s a science, but the ones who use it can’t say what it is;
  2. Throughout the rest of the same textbook quoted above, starting with the paragraph that immediately follows the one above, the margins are filled with definitions—how can definitions be useful if they are misleading?
  3. Psychology sounds much like the mixing of sociology (behavior) and philosophy (experience) and squeezes out anthropology in the end.
  4. There is no claim that psychology is helpful to any of man’s behaviors or “conditions.”

    Now some questions:
  5. If psychology is the study of the soul, where in these definitions is the soul even mentioned?
  6. If psychologists are interested in man’s behavior and experience, how is the soul of man helped by psychology?

Right away we begin to understand that psychology is a self-contradictory pseudo-science.[xi] “True psychology (i.e. “the study of the soul”) can be done only by Christians, since only Christians have access to the resources for understanding and transforming the soul.”[xii] These resources are none other than those that begin with God; namely God Himself, the finished work of Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Bible. So what answer does the science of psychology give to man? What hope is offered? “The feeling of emptiness . . . which we have observed sociologically and individually should not be taken to mean that people are empty, or without emotional potentiality. . . the experience [emphasis mine] of emptiness, rather, generally comes from people’s feelings that they are powerless to do anything effective about their lives or the world they live in”[xiii]

So the question of the hour becomes, “how can one tell if he is receiving man’s wisdom or God’s?” To find the answer, we must ask other questions based on James 3:13-18:

  1. To whom does the wisdom point, a man or his Creator?
  2. What relationship does this wisdom have with truth?
  3. Does this wisdom lend to confusion, is it sensual and does it make friends with evil, having any mixture of the demonic?
  4. Does this wisdom come “from above” being pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, have good fruits, is without partiality and hypocrisy?

The wisdom of this world should have no influence over our thoughts, opinions, values, way of life. This means there should be no integration of worldly wisdom. Godly wisdom is just that. There is no “middle of the road” wisdom that balances between biblical values and worldly values.

Richard Baxter has composed a set of directs we should hereto attend in the exercise of gaining godly wisdom in agreement with James. Baxter writes:


Sleep: Measure the time of your sleep appropriately so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep be matched to your health and labour [sic], and not to slothful pleasure.

First Thoughts: Let God have your first awaking thoughts; lift up your hearts to Him reverently and thankfully for the rest enjoyed the night before and cast yourself upon Him for the day which follows . . . Think of the mercy of a night's rest and of how many that have spent that night in Hell; how many in prison; how many in cold, hard lodgings; how many suffering from agonising [sic] pains and sickness, weary of their beds and of their lives. Think of how many souls were that night called from their bodies terrifyingly to appear before God and think how quickly days and nights are rolling on! How speedily your last night and day will come! Observe that which is lacking in the preparedness of your soul for such a time and seek it without delay.

Prayer: Let prayer by yourself alone (or with your partner) take place before the collective prayer of the family. If possible let it be first, before any work of the day.

Family Worship: let family worship be performed consistently and at a time when it is most likely for the family to be free of interruptions.

Ultimate Purpose: Remember your ultimate purpose, and when you set yourself to your day's work or approach any activity in the world, let HOLINESS TO THE LORD be written upon your hearts in all that you do. Do no activity which you cannot entitle God to, and truly say that he set you about it, and do nothing in the world for any other ultimate purpose than to please, glorify and enjoy Him. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Diligence in Your Calling: Follow the tasks of your calling carefully and diligently.
Temptations and Things That Corrupt: Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you - and watch against them all day long. You should watch especially the most dangerous of the things that corrupt, and those temptations that either your company or business will unavoidably lay before you.

Watch against the master sins of unbelief: hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, flesh pleasing and the excessive love of earthly things. Take care against being drawn into earthly mindedness and excessive cares, or covetous designs for rising in the world, under the pretence of diligence in your calling. If you are to trade or deal with others, be vigilant against selfishness and all that smacks of injustice or uncharitableness. In all your dealings with others, watch against the temptation of empty and idle talking. Watch also against those persons who would tempt you to anger. Maintain that modesty and cleanness of speech that the laws of purity require. If you converse with flatterers, be on your guard against swelling pride. If you converse with those that despise and injure you, strengthen yourself against impatient, revengeful pride. At first these things will be very difficult, while sin has any strength in you, but once you have grasped a continual awareness of the poisonous danger of any one of these sins, your heart will readily and easily avoid them.

Meditation: When alone in your occupations, improve the time in practical and beneficial meditations. Meditate upon the infinite goodness and perfections of God; Christ and redemption; Heaven and how unworthy you are of going there and how you deserve eternal misery in Hell.

The Only Motive: Whatever you are doing, in company or alone, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Otherwise, it is unacceptable to God.

Redeeming The Time: Place a high value upon your time, be more careful of not losing it than you would of losing your money. Do not let worthless recreations, television, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time. Be more careful to escape that person, action or course of life that would rob you of your time than you would be to escape thieves and robbers. Make sure that you are not merely never idle, but rather that you are using your time in the most profitable way that you can and do not prefer a less profitable way before one of greater profit.

Eating and Drinking: Eat and drink with moderation and thankfulness for health, not for unprofitable pleasure. Never please your appetite in food or drink when it is prone to be detrimental to your health.

Remember the sin of Sodom: "Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food and abundance of idleness" - Ezekiel 16:49. The Apostle Paul wept when he mentioned those "whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their minds on earthly things, being enemies to the cross of Christ" - Philippians 3:18-19. O then do not live according to the flesh lest you die (Romans 8:13).

Prevailing Sins: If any temptation prevails against you and you fall into any sins in addition to habitual failures, immediately lament it and confess it to God; repent quickly whatever the cost. It will certainly cost you more if you continue in sin and remain unrepentant. Do not make light of your habitual failures, but confess them and daily strive against them, taking care not to aggravate them by unrepentance and contempt.

Relationships: Remember every day the special duties of various relationships: whether as husbands, wives, children, masters, servants, pastors, people, magistrates, subjects. Remember every relationship has its special duty and its advantage for the doing of some good. God requires your faithfulness in this matter as well as in any other duty.

Closing the Day: Before returning to sleep, it is wise and necessary to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may be thankful for all the special mercies and humbled for all your sins. This is necessary in order that you might renew your repentance as well as your resolve for obedience, and in order that you may examine yourself to see whether your soul grew better or worse, whether sin goes down and grace goes up and whether you are better prepared for suffering, death and eternity. May these directions be engraven upon your mind and be made the daily practice of your life.

If sincerely adhered to, these will be conducive to the holiness, fruitfulness and quietness of your life and add to you a comfortable and peaceful death.”


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[i] Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
[ii] Underhill, Evelyn. An Anthology of the Love of God. New York: David McKay Co., 1953. p. 113
[iii] Crapo, Richley. Cultural Anthropology. Sluice Dock: Dushkin Publishing, 1993.
[iv] De Fleur, M., DeFleur, L. and D’Antonio, W. Sociology: The Human Society. 4th ed. New York: Newberry, 1984.
[v] Burgess, E. and Park, R. E. Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1921.
[vi] May, Rollo. Man’s Search for Himself. New York: Signet, 1953. pp. 17-18.
[vii] Jowett, B., transl. Plato. The Republic and other works. New York: Random House: 1973.
[viii] Honer, S., Hunt, T. and Okholm, D. Invitation to Philosophy. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1982.
[ix] Adler, Mortimer. Ten Philosophical Mistakes. New York: MacMillan, 1985.
[x] Lefrancois, G. Psychology, 2nd Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1983.
[xi] MacArthur, J. and Mack, W. Introduction to Biblical Counseling. Dallas: Word, 1994.
[xii] MacArthur, J. “The Psychology Epidemic and its Cure.” Our Sufficiency in Christ. Waco: Word, 1991.
[xiii] Ibid. May, 22.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Speaking of the tongue . . .

I did not want to do this Bible study I had to do on James 3:1-12 on “Taming the Tongue.” Why? Because I am inclined to talk back, brag, lie, shade the truth, argue, yell, make sarcastic or cutting remarks . . . stuff like that. My tongue betrays who I really am, angry or not, like it or not. “In Scripture, the tongue is variously described as wicked, deceitful, perverse, filthy, corrupt, flattering, slanderous, gossiping, blasphemous, foolish, boasting, complaining, cursing, contentious, sensual, and vile. And that list is not exhaustive. No wonder God put the tongue in a cage behind the teeth, walled in by the mouth! Not surprisingly, the tongue is of great concern to James, being mentioned in every chapter of his letter (see 1:19, 26; 2:12; 3:5, 6, 8; 4:11; 5:12).”[i]

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1). Suddenly the teacher becomes the student! Adam Clark provides some insight, “There are multitudes, whom God has never called, and never can call, because he has never qualified them for the work, who earnestly wish to get into the priest’s office.” Remember, James is writing to “my brethren” and is warning them that to become a teacher is to set oneself up to “receive a stricter judgment.” While the office of teacher or master (someone once translated didaskalos as “doctor”) is a noble one, those who desire the office need calling, maturity, and education rather than just stepping up and clogging the fellowship with sincerity and good intentions, opening the door to erroneous teaching.

Man is an anomaly. We are able to do what nothing else in this universe can do. Can you guess what it is? It is actually something that is rooted in the way we are made, namely how we function as creation in God’s image: as God created with language, man is able to be creative with language. After God created by speaking everything into existence, He named everything except the animals. Man got to be creative with language, and man still is creative with language, doing the impossible. Because man is sinful is able to do two things with his tongue: bless and curse.

One reading of James 3 could lead one to think that if man did not speak he would be perfect. The fact of the matter is, tongue or no tongue, man is. The root of evil speech is not in the tongue, but the heart—evil just manifests itself strongly in language. Though fallen, man continues to be creative with language. Jesus said, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23). Just look at how the heart manifests itself in literature!

I have a garden out back where grows tomatoes, lettuce, peas, cucumbers, peppers, turnips, radishes, squash, a few sunflowers. Could you imagine my surprise to go out to pick tomatoes and find Brussels sprouts growing on the tomato bush? Or Zucchini coming out of sunflowers? Impossible, you say? It should be when one considers what is accomplished with the tongue! If from our fount comes both sweet and bitter water, why cannot nature imitate such impossibilities?

I once heard a guy spill buckets of vulgarity and someone had the wherewithal to say quite loudly, “Is that the same mouth you kiss yer momma with?” Talk about blushing with embarrassment! I like Ray Comfort’s approach to cursing that really opens the door for evangelism. Hearing a man use God’s name as a curse word, Ray interrupted and said, “Excuse me, is this religious service?” Someone else replied, “Hell, no!” [Can Christians say, “hell?”] Ray answered back, “It is now!” and he began to share Christ with them!

The tongue is a fire! Because of a rumor, Abraham Lincoln’s tomb was opened twice. Twenty years after his assassination, Lincoln’s grave was opened because someone started a story that his coffin was empty. Witnesses on hand observed that the rumor was false and the coffin was resealed with lead. Fourteen years later, even more witnesses viewed the body again . . . because someone spread a rumor that his grave was empty! Because of someone’s wagging tongue, Abraham Lincoln’s body was exposed twice after his death and not for forensics purposes, but curiosity![ii]

James says no man can tame the tongue, but Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” And Prov 21:23 says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” Can the tongue be tamed? Not by man. David prays to the Lord to set guard, to watch over his mouth and to make such a prayer is to work in accordance with the desire for godliness, guarding the soul from trouble! No man can tame the tongue, but he can certainly turn it over to its maker for safe-keeping!

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Ro 6:12-14)

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh,” (Gal 5:16).

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[i]MacArthur, John. James: Guildelines for a Happy Christian Life. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 62. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2001.
[ii] Swindoll, Chuck. Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life. Portland: Multnomah, 1983.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Gospel and Its Implications in Follow-up Ministry

The first principle a student learns in English 101 is that one does not define a word by itself. A good dictionary will not report the meaning of “definition” as “the action or process of defining.” One does not have a more clear understanding of “definition” than he did before. On the other hand, to say that “definition” means “the action of determining or identifying the essential qualities or meaning of; to discover the meaning of; to fix or mark the limits of” helps the reader understand fully the meaning of the word.

Good theology is wrecked by inadequate definitions. When we search for the meaning of “sin” we most often hear Rom. 3:23 roll from our tongues, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is correct, but incomplete. Romans 3:23 actually tells us what the state of mankind is, not what “sin” is except that sinful mankind and the glory of God do not coincide. What is sin? It would be helpful to identify those passages that state plainly, “sin is” and 1 John 3:4 sums it up nicely, “Sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4).

Sin crouches, waiting to pounce (Gen. 4:7), is very serious and should not to be taken lightly (Gen 18:20) as it is always in our face and we cannot shake it off (Ps. 53:1). “But sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Prov. 14:34) Sin is stored up (Hos. 13:12) and a master to all who remain in it (Jn 8:34). Sin is not imputed when there is no law (Ro 5:13; 7:8); nevertheless, it’s payout is death (Ro 6:23; James 1:15).

Sin is the lamp of the wicked (Prov. 21:4), the devising of foolishness (Prov 24:9), the perpetual maintenance of strife (Titus 3:9-11) and whatever is not faith is sin (Ro 14:23). Sin is knowing the right thing to do and not doing it (James 4:17). All unrighteousness is sin (1 Jn 5:17).

Since sin = lawlessness, we discover preaching the law will cause a sinner’s conscience to actually agree with us when we preach the law! Here’s how it works:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 2:14-16).

MacArthur comments, “Without knowing the written law of God, people in pagan society generally value and attempt to practice its most basic tenets. This is normal for cultures instinctively (see note on v. 15) to value justice, honesty, compassion, and goodness toward others, reflecting the divine law written in the heart . . . . Their practice of some good deeds and their aversion to some evil ones demonstrate an innate knowledge of God’s law—a knowledge that will actually witness against them on the Day of Judgment.”[i]

Joy Davidman explains further, “The essential amorality of all atheist doctrines is often hidden from us by an irrelevant personal argument. We see that many articulate secularists are well-meaning and law-abiding men; we see them go into righteous indignation over injustice and often devote their lives to good works. So we conclude that "he can't be wrong whose life is in the right"--that their philosophies are just as good guides to action as Christianity. What we don't see is that they are not acting on their philosophies. They are acting, out of habit or sentiment, on an inherited Christian ethic which they still take for granted though they have rejected the creed from which it sprang. Their children will inherit some what less of it.”[ii]

In other words, when we share the gospel people are prepared to argue various aspects of theism, morality, science, tolerance, issues . . . if you can think it, they’ve already processed it. But when we preach the law to the proud, their conscience begins to scream because they can’t argue with what they know within themselves. To illustrate, on opening day, game protectors put this sign on a main road that read: “Check-Station 1000 Yards Ahead.” At 500 yards there was a convenient side road. Lawful hunters went straight ahead. Over-limit and doubtful hunters ducked down the side road. The check-station? It was 500 yards down the side road.[iii]

Now, do you think the hunters who were over-limit or doubtful were under any pressure from their conscience before they ducked down the side road? What about after? The reason why they were pressured before and especially after is because of the weight of the law that says, “GUILTY!”

Charles Spurgeon likened the preaching of the law unto a needle that pulls the thread. First the needle must pierce the fabric before the thread can come through. The same is true of preaching the gospel—the law must make a way for grace! Here is just one place where Jesus “beat out” the law: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Mt. 15:19-20) He did it in a grand way in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount.

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:17-22)

Man’s sin problem has never changed, so why should the preaching of the gospel loaded with law to the proud and grace to the humble?

I've been reflecting on what I heard someone say recently, that the reason why we rely so much on follow-up ministry is because we really have no confidence in the modern presentation of the gospel. Many of us believe in “once saved, always saved,” but we don’t really believe the people we are evangelizing are really being changed, so we have to take workers from the field (there are already so few) and send them out to make certain the harvest is really the right harvest. If the good news of Jesus Christ really changes people, who said they had to be pursued to keep them on the straight and narrow? If the good news of Jesus Christ really changes people, why are there so many backsliders and rededications? Were they ever saved to begin with, having been confronted by the law, told what their sin is that they may know what they are repenting from and cry out for mercy?

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Ro 7:7)

I was talking with an evangelist recently about preaching law to the proud and grace to the humble and probed into his “God loves you” approach. I asked why he did not take people through the law and he said, “they already know they are bad people.” Ok, but do they know they are sinners? How can people know they have sinned against God apart from the law? Their conscience is already bearing witness, but to WHAT? The Bibles says the unsaved are darkened in their understanding, ignorant of the life of God and hard-hearted (Eph. 4:18). There is not one person who understands and seeks after God (Ro 3:11).

Amazingly, the scripture calls the law, namely those engraved on stone, glorious! (2 Cor 3:7).

So does it makes sense now to say, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” when we understand the law of God is the perfect standard of God Himself?

Here’s the “grace” part:

Ps 32:1: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!”

Is 6:7: “your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Acts 13:38, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

1 Jn 3:5 “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.”

* * * * * * * * * *
[i]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Ro 2:14. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.
[ii] Davidman, Joy. Smoke on the Mountain. Westminster Press: Philadelphia, c1954.
[iii]Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Reader assistance needed, please!

Friends,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am preparing to teach a class this fall and could you YOUR help. Would you please take a moment and answer the following questions in the "Comments" section below this post, please? This is NOT a joke. (You should be able to post anonymously if you wish.)

1. Do you share your faith regularly?

2. Why or why not?

3. What's the main reason why you don't?

Your help is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Thinking deeper about Philemon 6

The fellowship or sharing of faith is not uni-directional. In this context, Philemon is admonished and exhorted by Paul concerning his relationship with Onesimus, so in one sense we understand that the fellowship or sharing of the faith includes the relationship believers have with one another.

“Real faith and love will inevitably result in a concern for fellowship. There is no place in the Body of Christ for an individualism that does not care about others. That concern for fellowship was also motivation for Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Failing to do so would lead to a rift in the fellowship since Onesimus was now also a believer. By forgiving Onesimus, Philemon would maintain the harmony, peace, and unity of the Colossian church.

Koin┼Źnia (fellowship) is difficult to render precisely in English. It is usually translated “fellowship,” but it means much more than merely enjoying each other’s company. It refers to a mutual sharing of all life, and could be translated “belonging.” Believers belong to each other in a mutual partnership, produced by their faith in Christ. By forgiving him, Philemon would acknowledge that he belonged to Onesimus as a brother in Christ..”[i]

The other aspect of the fellowship or sharing of faith has everything to do with evangelism. Albert Barnes correctly states, “The phrase translated ‘communication of thy faith,’ means the making of thy faith common to others; that is, enabling others to partake of the fruits of it, to wit, by good deeds.” What was once the mystery and secret of God is now made common to all men through distribution of witness. The one who has received the good new of Christ Jesus will give it to others. The true Christian does not hoard the gospel, thinking that fellowship with believers in prayer is enough to reach the world. The Christian must remember how it is he came to hear the gospel; namely, the truth that someone brought it to him! John Calvin is quoted by Barnes explaining, “That his faith, expressing itself by good fruits, might be shown to be true and not vain. For he calls that the communication of his faith when it does not remain inoperative within, but bears itself forth to benefit men by its proper effects. For although faith has its proper seat in the heart, yet it communicates itself to men by good works.” [ii]

Matthew Henry wrote: “The apostle joins prayer with his praises, that the fruits of Philemon’s faith and love might be more and more conspicuous, so as that the communication of them might constrain others to the acknowledgment of all the good things that were in him and in his house towards Christ Jesus; that their light might so shine before men that they, seeing their good works, might be stirred up to imitate them, and to glorify their Father who is in heaven. Good works must be done, not of vain-glory to be seen, yet such as may be seen to God’s glory and the good of men.”[iii]

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[i]MacArthur, John. Philemon. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1992.
[ii] Barnes, Albert. Notes on the Bible.
[iii]Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Phm 1. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Freezing up

Philemon 6 Paul writes, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

What’s this fear many have about sharing their faith? I believe there are three primary reasons: first, many maintain wrong thinking about God and His Great Commission; second, many have not understood what is available to them in Christ Jesus; third, many are more concerned about preserving themselves against rejection.

Jeremiah received word from the Lord that he was ordained to be God’s prophet. God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5) It seems that all Jeremiah heard was the last phrase, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” and his response was anything but enthusiastic. He said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” (Jer. 1:6). He missed the first part, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”

We would be tempted to say, “Well, that’s a conversation between Jeremiah and God. What’s it got to do with me?” Remember the first reason I said that many do share their faith is because many maintain wrong thinking about God and His Great Commission. God has attributes that include omniscience and omnipresence, not to mention sovereignty. God began his call to Jeremiah with words that sound very much like Psalm 139.

God told Jeremiah that He had a purpose (be a prophet to the nations) and Jeremiah was set aside to accomplish that purpose. Jeremiah says, “I’m too young and inexperienced.” God says, “I knew you before you were young! As for experience, I will put my words in your mouth.” (1:5, 9). This ties to the second reason people don’t share their faith: we don’t speak of ourselves and of our own volition; rather, we speak God’s word according to His purposes! Also, if we are not sharing the gospel, there is no way we can fully know and put to use everything Christ Jesus gives us for life and godliness! Look back at Paul’s words to Philemon, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

So Jeremiah had the wrong understanding of God and His Commission, the wrong understanding of what was available to him and was worried about being rejected! Look at God reveal what only Jeremiah knew was in his heart in 1:8, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord. And notice God reminding and assuring Jeremiah with His presence, just like Psalm 23 speaks of.

If you fear sharing your faith, you are not alone. Moses did it. “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11); and, “Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Ex 4:10). Almost seems like Jeremiah was quoting Moses!

And note God’s responses to Moses: “And He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” (Ex 3:12); and, “The Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” (Ex 4:11-12)

Gideon told God, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:15)

Note the TIME OF DAY of God’s response and Gideon’s response to God and what it entailed.: “Now on the same night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.’ Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night.” (Judges 6:25-27).

A fire at night is a hard thing to hide, especially when it is on top of something, like a stronghold.

I love Judges 6:25-27: “The Lord looked at him [read that again!] and said, ‘Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” and “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” The strength that Gideon had to go out was the presence of God!

THE PRINCIPLE: when we are weak, we cry out to God! Weakness causes us to pray and depend on Him and He answers with His abiding presence!

Check out Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Do you know why God calls people like Moses and Gideon and Jeremiah and you and me to evangelize and preach the good news of Jesus Christ to every creature? Look again at Paul’s words—I will amplify it from the passage above: “and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

Camp out on these for a while:

Prov. 29:25, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.”

Deut 31:6, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

Is 41:10, “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”

Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,”

If we are not doing “all things,” like pointing people to Jesus, then we have the wrong idea about God and have created a God after our own likeness, in our own image, breaking the second commandment. We are failing to believe Him and are stealing glory from Him that rightly belongs to Him (and thus breaking the 8th commandment).

So what is the fear? If it’s rejection, remember that people are rejecting God and His Word, not you.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11-12)

The Right Stuff

A counselor at church camp told of his experience with a nine-year-old boy who started to cry when they turned out the cabin lights the first night. "Was he afraid of the dark?" the counselor asked. "No," the boy replied; "he just didn't want to be attacked by the 'killer rabbits.'" Some older kids at home had told him that there were "killer rabbits" that would come out at night and attack the campers.

Jesus was constantly reassuring the disciples with the words, "Fear not." Their fears betrayed their lack of faith. When one traces these words and their usage throughout the Bible, it seems that one of man's constant needs is to be reassured of the presence and comfort of God almighty. Christians can draw on this presence to find comfort and destroy their fears.

The problem is that when many have gotten into the habit of “whistling through the cemetery,” trying to be brave and do whatever it takes to get through. Many confuse “bravery” and “taking risk” with faith. Bravery is facing something, showing courage. Taking risk suggests a continuance, but implies a holding back due to the possibility of pain, loss or danger. Faith believes God. Belief is (literally) where the being lives. The difference between bravery or risk-taking and living by faith is that one is man-centered and the other is God-centered. The same implications lay in the confusion between “success” and “excellence,” (but that’s another blog) or “success” and “effectiveness” (that has been another blog). Allow me to clarify:

The greatest risk I have seen anyone take is found in the space race of the 1960’s. The United States and Russia heard the starting gun and the moon was the finish line. Though we saw more failures than successes in getting started, the one’s with the most fear about getting the job done was found in the test pilots who became astronauts. The greatest fear they faced was not that they would be sitting on top of a 10-story bomb that had a 50-50 chance of blowing up or flying. No, their greatest fear is that someone else would get to be first. Honestly, I can’t decide if it was Chuck Yeager, John Glenn or Neil Armstrong who was the greatest risk-taker (read Tom Wolf’s book “The Right Stuff”). I am inclined to tap Armstrong, because he was the first to go boldly where no one had gone before. If there was any faith to speak of on their parts, John Glenn might be the greatest in the next category, but only God knows.

The greatest step of faith I have ever seen someone take was when Benard sat across from my desk and did not so much ask me but told me that I was coming to Africa to teach Systematic Theology. Not only had I never taught a class in the areas he wanted me to cover, but I had no clue how I was going to raise the funds in a few short months, or if I could write the materials. God provided miraculously and worked marvelously. You can view some of the pictures from that trip here. I gave two seminars, not one and preached to well over 1000 people, seeing hundreds respond to God, that they would become dedicated students of scripture.

Then there is George. George is also from Africa, and believe me, there isn’t another George. He has the gift of breaking off my tusks and pulling out my claws (that’s Kenyan for “he teaches me, even when I don’t want to learn”). George demonstrates great faith that speaks volumes and I could not begin to chronicle examples save this: he knows what being God-centered is and you would know it too if you met him (look out California, he’s coming your way).

I get around people like Benard and George, or look back to Edwards or Spurgeon and sort of chastise myself, praying for their mantle fall on me! I ask God for that kind of faith . . . forgetting He’s given it already, it just remains unused. This is another place we need correct our thinking—we don’t need a greater capacity for faith, we all have the same capacity (we hold the same amount). What we need is to actually put the faith to work! We need to “believe God.”

Let’s consider a scenario and see if this is an act of faith or an act of foolishness: back in the old days, some people heard “the Macedonian call” and packed up everything in a coffin and boarded ships for one-way trips overseas to be missionaries. Were these people taking risks and being brave, or living by faith?

Consider another: a young man and his wife, perhaps with a small child or two, feels the call of God on their lives to quit their jobs, pull their kids out of school and move across the country to go to Bible College or Seminary. Faith, or foolishness? I know for a fact that young man feels (or has felt) like he was walking in a fog, leaving everything familiar behind and being totally clueless about what lies ahead but all he knows is that he is obeying God.

I believe the difference between a faith decision and a foolish decision is if one holds back and has reservations concerning what he is doing (figuratively or literally), yet moves ahead anyway is moving into a foolish decision. Faith is a daily necessity whether one is getting married, taking a job, struggling with an illness, or overcoming a handicap. And faith in God is the cornerstone of all other faiths. As one counselor said, "When I learn a patient has no faith in God, I dismiss the case. There is nothing to build on." Rejections, defeats, and failures we experience can create enough negative feelings to destroy us. This is where we need to be careful! Often the most painful wounds are not the scars that are outwardly seen, but the hidden wounds deep in the heart. Being hidden, they are often the most dangerous. We can decide to avoid pain and prepare for risk instead of living by faith! Setbacks in our lives can take the joy out of living. Our faith is weakened and if we collect enough hurts it will stop us from wanting to press forward. Even success can make one the target of criticism. Don't let the hurts hurt your faith!

As we approach James 2:21–26 we must recall how we have just contrasted living faith from dead faith (vv. 14–20), saving faith from non-saving faith, productive faith from unproductive faith, and godly faith from a kind of faith that is exercised even by demons. We will now consider some examples of those who have a living faith, “the right stuff” in James 2:21-26. Jonathan Edwards reminds us, “It appears plainly to have been in the visible church of God, in times of great reviving of religion, from time to time, as it is with the fruit trees in the spring; there are a multitude of blossoms, all of which appear fair and beautiful, and there is a promising appearance of young fruits; but many of them are but of short continuance; they soon fall off, and never come to maturity.”[i]

“Abraham’s and Rahab’s justification was not demonstrated by their profession of faith, their worship or ritual, or any other religious activity. In both cases it was demonstrated by putting everything that was dear to them on the line for the Lord, entrusting it to Him without qualification or reservation. They were supremely committed to the Lord, whatever the cost. It is in the vortex of the great plans, decisions, and crossroads of life—where ambitions, hopes, dreams, destinies, and life itself are at stake—that true faith unfailingly reveals itself. Long before Jesus’ crucifixion, Abraham and Rahab were willing to take up their crosses, as it were, and follow Him (Mark 8:34). They hated their life in this world in order to keep it in the world to come (John 12:25). Abraham and Rahab stand for all time as examples of those whose living faith passed the test.”[ii]

A number of years ago I stood in the parking lot of my workplace where a female co-worker and I would carry on meaningful after-work debates. She was a Jehovah’s Witness and she and I would glare at each other through the day, then at times would literally go to the parking lot to verbally “have it out.” One thing I was constantly challenged with was her rationale of James 2:21, stating that her salvation (as it were) depended on works because right there it plainly states in the New World Translation, “Was not Abraham our father declared righteous by works after he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?”

I don’t remember how I answered her then, but now would turn to Galatians 3:6-11 for the answer. Dr. John MacArthur’s commentary provides a stellar explanation:
“For several reasons, James cannot mean that Abraham was constituted righteous before God because of his own good works: 1) James already stressed that salvation is a gracious gift (1:17,18); 2) in the middle of this disputed passage (v. 23), James quoted Gen. 15:6, which forcefully claims that God credited righteousness to Abraham solely on the basis of his faith (see notes on Rom. 1:17; 3:24; 4:1–25); and 3) the work that James said justified Abraham was his offering up of Isaac (Gen. 22:9,12), an event that occurred many years after he first exercised faith and was declared righteous before God (Gen. 12:1–7; 15:6). Instead, Abraham’s offering of Isaac demonstrated the genuineness of his faith and the reality of his justification before God. James is emphasizing the vindication before others of a man’s claim to salvation. James’ teaching perfectly complements Paul’s writings; salvation is determined by faith alone (Eph. 2:8,9) and demonstrated by faithfulness to obey God’s will alone (Eph. 2:10).”[iii]

“But,” someone may object, “how can Abraham and Rahab be saved if Jesus was not born yet? Were Abraham and Rahab really saved?” They were saved by faith by looking ahead to what God would accomplish through His Son in the same way we are saved by faith looking back to what God accomplished through His Son. Jesus Himself told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56) Not long after that Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (14:6). Acts 4:12 reinforces this truth, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Hebrews 11:8-10: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

James gives us a striking phrase, that Abraham “was called the friend of God.” What can that possibly mean? Abraham was a liar (Gen. 12:19; 20:2), he had the wrong conception of God and took matters into his own hands becoming an adulterer by wife’s maid and having a son—he broke at least 3 of God’s 10 Commandments (though not given yet, they operated in principle) so he was obviously not a good person in God’s eyes and deserved the wrath and punishment given to any sinner, an enemy of God. How could he be called “the friend of God?”

"James’s point is that, in the overall pattern of his life, Abraham faithfully vindicated his saving faith through his many good works, above all else by offering Isaac. When a man is justified before God, he will always prove that justification before other men. A man who has been declared and made righteous will live righteously. Imputed righteousness will manifest practical righteousness. In the words of John Calvin, ‘Faith alone justifies; but the faith that justifies is never alone.’”

Abraham is called God’s friend two other times in scripture: 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8. He had accepted God’s free gift of grace and lived, moved and made his being in God, looking ahead to what God was going to do in the same way we look back and see what He did! Jesus told his disciples, “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15)

Rahab is another person mentioned in James’ letter. She was obviously an adulterer and a liar at heart, deserving hell and eternal separation from God. What was it about Rahab that demonstrated, or vindicated, the presence of saving faith in her life? She heard what God was doing, believed what God was doing, repented of her sin and was delivered! She got the right understanding about God, accepting the way out to freedom He was providing. Her actions proved it!

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5)

Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910) preached the sermon THE DISCIPLE'S CONFESSION AND THE MASTER'S WARNING wherein he describes the need for Christian men, “to search and make sure that their inward life corresponds with their words and professions. I wonder how many thousands of people will stand up this day and say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His only Son," whose words would stick in their throats if that question of the Master's was put to them, "Do you now believe?" And I wonder how many of us are the fools of our own verbal acknowledgements of Christ. Self-examination is not altogether a wholesome exercise, and it may easily be carried too far, to the destruction of the spontaneity and the gladness of the Christian life. A man may set his pulse going irregularly by simply concentrating his attention upon it, and there may be self-examination of the wrong sort, which does harm rather than good. But, on the other hand, we all need to verify our position, lest our outward life should fatally slip away from correspondence with our inward. Our words and acts of Christian profession and service are like bank notes. What will be the end if there is a whole ream of such going up and down the world, and no balance of bullion in the cellars to meet them? Nothing but bankruptcy. Do you see to it that your reserve of gold, deep down in your hearts, always leaves a margin beyond the notes in circulation issued by you. And in the midst of your professions hear the Master saying, ‘Do you now believe?’”

**********
[i] Edwards, Jonathan. The Religious Affections. Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1984.
[ii]MacArthur, John. James : Guildelines for a Happy Christian Life. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 52. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2001.
[iii]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Jas 2:21. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

thinking about: "the fire"

Scenario: my house is on fire! So I ask myself: "what would I want to happen?"

First, I would want an alarm or two to go off warning us to wake up and get out of the house. I would want a speedy response by people who are well trained, who know what they are doing and will accomplish their task with the attitude that they would rather be doing nothing else. I want professionals on the scene;

Second, I would want to know that my family is safe, present and accounted for;

Third, I would want caring people to genuinely show concern for my family and help us get back "on our feet" again with our new life after being rescued.

Scenario: people are going to hell! Someone's "spiritual house" is burning. So I ask myself: "what would I want to happen?"

First, I would want to sound an alarm or two, warning those who are sleeping to wake up and get out of "the house." I would want a speedy response by people who are well trained, who know what they are doing and will accomplish their task with the attitude that they would rather be doing nothing else. I want professionals on the scene.

Second, I would want to ensure that the entire family is safe, present and accounted for;

Third, I would want caring people to genuinely show concern for the entire family, to help get them back "on our feet" again with their new life.

**********

This Fall, I will be teaching the course, "The Way of the Master " at 5:05 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Columbia and would appreciate your responses to the following questions:

  1. Do you share your faith regularly?
  2. Do you go out of your way to verbally share the gospel with family, friends, even strangers?
  3. If you answered "no" to either of the above questions, can you give reasons why you don't?
  4. What is the main reason you don't share your faith more often?

Where will they go if they die without Christ?

Discover how to reach them biblically and confidently in The Way of the Master Basic Training Course, an eight-week study by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Watch a sample episode here.

Learn to overcome your fears by using a simple, powerfully effective way to make the gospel make sense to those you care about. Kirk and Ray will teach you how to bypass the intellect (the place of argument) and speak directly to the conscience (the place of the knowledge of right and wrong)—the way Jesus did.

And they don't just tell you how to witness—they show you. Through fascinating real-life conversations, you can "eavesdrop" as they witness to people from all walks of life—gang members, atheists, cult members, intellectuals, and others.

Through weekly homework assignments, you'll be coaxed to gradually step out of your comfort zone. It couldn't be more exciting or more effective. Do it for someone you love.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Loneliness (part 2)

Last time we thought together about how loneliness is rooted in one’s relationship with God and we examined what God has done to restore the relationship. Once one enters the new life by faith in Christ Jesus, suddenly we find ourselves inheritors of Christ Jesus Himself! We gain a person, not a thing!

God promised Joshua that the basis of his courage on forth-going was the very presence of God Himself (Joshua 1:9). God’s presence (“for you are with me”) is the very heart of the 23rd psalm!

The Lord is my shepherd (“for you are with me”)
I shall not want (“for you are with me”)
He makes my lie down in green pastures (“for you are with me”)
He leads my beside quiet waters (“for you are with me”)
He restores my soul (“for you are with me”)
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (“for you are with me”)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (“for you are with me”)
I will fear no evil, for you are with me
Your rod and your staff comfort me (“for you are with me”)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies (“for you are with me”)
You have anointed my head with oil (“for you are with me”)
My cup overflows (“for you are with me”)
Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, (“for you are with me”)
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (“for you are with me”)

Our parents may abandon us, but the LORD will take me up (Ps 27:10, 71:9, 18; Is 49:15). Heaven is not a place where God dwells, but God Himself makes heaven what it is! The believer makes his dwelling in God Himself (Ps 90:1). God is omnipresent, everywhere! No person can be where He cannot! (Ps 139:6-12) The believer enjoys this abiding presence (Is 43:2) as we have already seen that the unbeliever does not. He is with us to the end of the age (Mt 28:20)!

Not only does the believer have the promise of God’s abiding presence, but also God’s provision! “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) The true believer needs to grasp the fact that there is nothing that can separate him from the love of Christ: death can’t do it; life can’t do it; angels or powers can’t do it; there is nothing in the past, present or future that can do it; there is no height, depth, nor anything created that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Ro 8:38-39)!

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to Timothy asking him to come, stating that he had been deserted by Demas (who loved the world more), Crescens and Titus. Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him as Luke is already there with Paul. It seems that those who left Paul did it at a very crucial time of his life—he was defending his participation in the gospel (part of the reason he was arrested) and when he looked up and they were gone! “But,” he says, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth.” (2 Tim 4:9-10; 16-17)

Here we would be served to confront the truth in two areas of our own lives:

  1. When am I feeling most lonely?
  2. What should be my reaction when I feel this way?

Think about it.

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