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Friday, April 30, 2010

Reflections on the poem, “Make Me Loathe Earthly Likings”

Ever hear the expression, “turning over a new leaf?“ The saying is trite today, but the principle is often applied to one’s spiritual journey, “I’ll just turn over a new leaf.” Many over-spiritualize and ask God to turn over a new leaf in them. God does not turn over leaves--He makes new ones.

Here is a simple 15th century prayer to Christ (author unknown). This prayer, and others like them, are nearly forgotten.

“Good God, make me for Thy love & Thy desire
Lay doune the burden of fleshly myer;
And erthly lykingis to lothe;
My will of the flesh haue ladiship
Reson of my wille haue lordship;
& Thy grace be lorde upon them bothe;
And so throw me withinne & withowte;
To soget ondir Thy wille alle abowte;
To alle that is reson Right & sothe.”

Immediately one is struck by the brevity and sensitivity of the poem. “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. “ (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

There are two basic requests of the prayer is seen in the title, “Make Me Loathe Earthly Likings.” This is a prayer of repentance and transformation as seen in two requests: the first is that God would cause “earthly likings” to be despised; and the second, that, heavenly desires increase. This is a worldview responding to a living God that transforms both the internal as well as the external. This is a prayer of complete surrender to the purposes He has for man. Both requests reveal the earnest desire to adjust all likings from earth to the heaven, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-2). This is a prayer of one who earnestly desires to love God with all heart, mind, soul and strength. Is this an unusual request to make of God? Such a request may not be high on personal daily or our Wednesday night prayer list, and that fact alone speaks volumes about where our eyes look and where our love lies.

The prayer begins by focusing on “Good God;“ that is, God who is Good. There is none good but God. God made man as the object of God’s love and God desires all His goodness for man. He actually shares part of Himself with man! The life centered on God finds God to be good, enjoys Him with all love and makes God’s desires his own. But, what is life like for the one who does not have God for all goodness, who does not know the love of God nor love Him in return? What is the life of one whose desires are all but God’s desires? The supplicant describes what an earthly-focused life really looks like, and this can only be understood against God‘s perfection: the flesh is a burden, a swamp, a mire. The flesh is repugnant, worthy of loathing, not trustworthy. The will is immoral and reason wants to reign as lord. There is no goodness in the flesh.

“Make Me Loathe” admits that one cannot separate himself or herself from the pull of the world. God must do the work. “Good God, do for me what I cannot.“ God must put within the heart the despising necessary to walk before Him in holiness, which is with the principle of “putting off/putting on.” This means that one cannot in the course of his life suddenly become “spiritual” in the true sense of the world. One cannot simply “add” God-centeredness to a life focused on the world. Repentance is necessary, to see how horrible and offensive sin is from God’s perspective and desire to turn away from it’s power and penalty to an ethical and eternal life.

Only the grace of God in Christ Jesus can overthrow sin, conquer the flesh, the will and restore reason. He asks that grace control will and reason, asking that God overthrow “withinne & withowte.” This is a worldview that acknowledges more than a “God who is there.” This is a worldview that demonstrates the goodness of God to cast off the burden of sin and empty reason, religion that binds.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

EMERGING CHURCH THEOLOGIAN LEONARD SWEET NOT TO SPEAK AT PASTOR SKIP HEITZIG’S CALVARY CHAPEL

Breaking News!

EMERGING CHURCH THEOLOGIAN LEONARD SWEET NOT TO SPEAK AT PASTOR SKIP HEITZIG’S CALVARY CHAPEL

Posted using ShareThis

Thank you, Lord!

Randoms

Dr. Beyer explains why pastors need to visit the land of the Bible.


This should help you know if you are at a Christian concert or not.


A little girl saved her friends' life--thanks to Spongebob Squarepants! But as many as 25 people walked past this homeless man who bled to death on the sidewalk after saving a woman from an attacker.


If the LDS Church is true, then repentance is something that can actually be achieved. Have you met the requirements of repentance as defined by the LDS Church?


A friend made a joking comment on "Earth Day" last week that we would strip mine the other planets later. Turns out he's not the only one with the same idea for other planets.


"We have met the enemy, and he is Power Point."


Dr. Larson answers the question, "Are Muslims Masters of Deceit?"


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Cynic Looks at Psalm 23

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

If The Good Shepherd is gone, we are alone in a world of evil.

(Miller, Paul. A Praying Life.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Reason Why The Question, "Who is God?" Must Still Be Answered.

“The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God,” was the reply of the worshippers of Baal when fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the alter, the wood and all the water they themselves poured over everything so as to prevent any fire from starting. They started the day by saying Baal was God. They ended their day by meeting the true and living God.

Elijah said to all the people, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow Him.” The people did not answer (1 Kings 18:21).

So who is God? The English Word we render as “LORD” is the Hebrew name that God revealed of Himself to Moses, YHWH. This is to distinguish from the very different Hebrew word for “Lord,” or “master.” God is who He has revealed Himself to be, or He is something else altogether. “For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods . . . the sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:3, 5). Those things people make out to be gods are much too small, for there is one so much greater. Elijah’s question is very pointed: which one will you choose? God, as He reveals Himself to be; or, a god of your own understanding?

Elijah gives the prophets of Baal many opportunities to demonstrate the power of their god. “You call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” (1 Kings 18:24). Interesting that he does not say, “You call on your god and I will call on mine.” That kind of statement would be taking a step backward, disallowing God to be God. God is not owned and set upon another like a dog. Regardless, he let them have the advantage (or so it seemed): 450 of their prophets against one (like the whole NFL vs. a high school jock); from the two bulls available for sacrifice, Elijah let them choose their bull first (they would take the best, right?); they made their worship first, from morning until noon—and Elijah even made suggestions to help out! When Elijah’s turn came, he prepared the altar, wood and bull, but also let the prophets drench the whole set-up with water! They even dug a trench around the altar and filled it with water, too!

Elijah gave them every opportunity to succeed, but his response made room for the demonstration of life: he prayed to the true and living God, who responded by sending fire from heaven that consumed everything, water and all. The country was in drought. They needed water. The last thing they needed was more fire, much less heat. Why did Elijah not have the contest be a demonstration to see which God would send rain? Why fire? The answer lies in the prayer.

What did Elijah pray? "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back" (1 Kings 18:36-37).

He prayed to the LORD, a personal God, who knew the fathers of the nation. The very name “LORD” reminded everyone that this was the God who set the people free from the land of Egypt, the covenant-making God. A blogger recently left this golden nugget of a comment on a discussion board relating to prayer (I did a little editing for punctuation):

"The beauty of prayer is [to] call upon God as 'Father', unlike Baal’s 450 prophets, 'they have to shouted, danced, prayed louder and cut themselves with knives and daggers, according to their ritual, until blood flowed. They kept on ranting and raving until the middle of the afternoon; but no answer came, not a sound was heard' (1Kings 18). Not so with our heavenly 'Father' ‘for He heard us and listened to our prayer’ (Psalm 116:1)."

Elijah prayed that very day that the LORD is still God and he was the servant. The sacrifice itself was not to compel God to respond, as if He had no choice, but was part of the ceremonial life of Israel! Leviticus describes the burnt offering sacrifice of a bull is to be an offering that is burned wholly by fire. When offered as sin offering specifically (for unintentional sins), it is to be burned outside the camp and is not to be eaten. This could also be one of two offerings required each and every day: one morning, and one evening, and by the setting of the sun, they were right on time and in the right place. Elijah was asking God to demonstrate who He was on His terms, not Elijah’s or anyone else’s for that matter.

Why should God answer Elijah’s prayer? “That this people may know you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” He wants the people to know who the true and living God really is, not merely what He is capable of. Baal has the reputation of being unknowable, as inferred by Elijah’s suggestion that perhaps their god was doing this or that, so they should change their approach. God is a relational God, so asking God to respond in such a way that He could be known has always been a part of God’s plan.

The issue was not “who” was right: Elijah or the prophets; that is to say, “my worldview” or “your worldview?” The issue was, and to this very day is, “Who is God?” We do not still ask the question because the answer is unresolved. We ask the question because each and every person must have the opportunity to know Him.

When we go into the world and find ourselves head-to-head with a worldview that does not recognize the true and living God as He has made Himself known (and all that implies), what should be our practice: a showdown of deities? This is what fuels the Pokemon, Bakugan and fantasy world games (football and other sports included)—who will emerge victorious? Should we stand on the street corners and in the coffee shops with a chip on our shoulder, waiting for the first opportunity to say, “My god is bigger than your god!” Hardly. Rather, we should be our daily obedience to Him show that He is very real.

Fire will not fall from heaven as it fell that day on the worshippers of a false god; rather, fire is reserved for those who choose to will not come to God and be reconciled to Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps “defeat” is not the right word to use here, but for the one who will acknowledge the Lord as God, as He has made Himself known in time, space and through His unchanging Word, there will be submission and victory! Not because the individual is vanquished, but because He is Lord and will bring that one into everlasting life where God can be enjoyed forever!

The confrontations cannot be reserved for the churches. I had the opportunity to do some open air preaching a couple of years ago, and one heckler yelled, “save it for Sunday!” The first thought that came to my mind was, “and you will never hear the message.” Our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. We are to engage where the world right where they are—high on their mountain tops.

Here's something to consider: the world retreats into their bars and parties because they feel safe. That means the gospel is a threat to their god.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Clash of the Worldviews

The popular movies of the day are “Clash of the Titans” (a remake of the 1981 movie, loosely based on the central mythological story of Persius—“and all the other ‘-us’-es”) and the modernized version, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” Any summary for these tales contains the central word “overthrow,” as this is the theme of the story, no matter how it is told. In short, the Greek gods are at war. For the most part, the story marks a certain and definite theological shift in the minds and lives of the ancient Greeks. That the stories have any significance or draw today is a bit of a mystery, as these deities no longer have the center of worshipful attention they once had . . . or do they?

This is the age of so-called “tolerance,” where every viewpoint is to be received, and none rejected. A small exercise in logic demonstrates the impossibility of this worldview. There is a vast difference between viewpoint (“the way I see it”) and truth (the way something actually is). I met a man who worships Thor, god of Thunder and war. His entire worldview is built around what he perceives to be true as far as Thor is concerned. I could not help but wonder, “Why worship such a small god? An after-effect of something more powerful and stronger?” Putting perceived deities aside, where how could he possible exercise morality without a knowledge of the truth? When Stephen and Polycarp (and millions of others martyrs) stood up in biblical truth, they stood in the midst of the clash of worldviews. There is no tolerance in the face of truth. Their situation was not “religion vs. religion” but truth vs. rejection of truth.

One suggestion has been made, that secularism, relativism, postmodernism, naturalism, even hedonism are all forms of religious faith. While these may be simplistic categories of repeated action (the literal meaning of “religion” connotes doing over and over again), these are actually forms of separation from truth. Biblical teaching is very clear that man is without an excuse for not believing God. Notice the difference between “believing in God” and “believing God,” and this is where the clash of worldviews begins. A naturalist may believe in God just as I believe in God, but the God we say we believe “in” may be entirely different—his may be deistic and removed, while I understand God to be very personal. Tolerance says we are both right; however, if one allows God to be who He says He is and another rejects that truth, there is no context for tolerance.

Man is without excuse because God has made Himself known through general (or natural) revelation and special revelation. I was talking with a man who told me He did not know there was a God to believe. I told him, “That’s ok. I don’t know there are architects or artists either.” His jaw dropped. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said.

I reinforced with, “that’s right. And there is nothing you can say or do to prove otherwise.”

He blurted out, “haven’t you ever seen the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel?”

Since I haven’t, I said, “No, and neither have you. You’ve only seen what someone said where those things.”

Desperately, he pointed to the Starbucks behind me. “Well, how did this building get made without an architect?”

I smiled. “Are you suggesting that because a painting exists you assume there is a painter, and because a building exists you assume there is an architect?”

“YES!” He said, surprised.

“In the same way,” I explained, “you can open your eyes and see all of creation and know there is a Creator. You are standing on the evidence.” His friends laughed.

Men would rather not acknowledge their Creator because they love their sin so much. That’s the bottom line. Instead of worshipping the Creator, they would rather worship the creature or their perceptions of what they perceive to be God—a god of their own understanding (an idol). This might mean their god may have been a man, or would never create a hell, might be a woman, or might even be a body part. Sounds gross, but its’ shocking to realize what people will love with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. People have their own ideas about God are drowning with immorality.

Carry this forward into ethics: if there is no God to believe, then man is an animal and survival of the fittest is the rule. When man practices abortion, eugenics and euthanasia, he is cheating the rule because natural order cannot impose those things on the level that man brings them. With all due respect, death may occur in the womb naturally but to force death into the womb is unnatural. Eugenics occurs in the test-tube, not in the natural order. Euthanasia is not to be confused with death by natural causes, either (hence the misnomer).

Go another step: which God is to be believed? Listen to the testimony of Wafa Sultan who (to date) is not a follower of Christ. She has just witnessed the shooting death of a lecturer while the killer shouted the Muslim cry, “Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest)!” She writes:

“The sound of the killer’s voice glorifying God mingled with the sounds of the shots. Ever since that moment, Allah has been equated in my mind with the sound of a bullet and become a God who has no respect for human life. From that time on I embarked upon a new journey in a quest for another God--a God who respects human life and values every human being.“ (Sultan, “A God Who Hates.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009)

Wafa is moving closer to the true and living God as He has made Himself known in the Bible. The rest of her story is worth reading.

The laws of the universe bring destruction to those who do not abide by its rules. Those who reject the law of gravity and step off a high cliff will experience the “wrath” of gravity. If someone chooses not to believe in trucks and steps in front of one will experience the consequences—the human brain is not powerful enough to individualize truth in a tolerant way.

The Bible teaches that the wrath of God is poured out on those who reject the truth about God. God has also made it clear that it is NOT His will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. A choice must be made concerning God: is He cruel, or loving to offer the soul who rejects Him a "way out?"

Polycarp was accused of overthrowing the gods of Rome. They missed the point that biblical worldview was and still is overthrowing the gods of this world. Polycarp was just the messenger of biblical truth and his story was the one that happened to be recorded. When we speak biblical truth to the unbelieving age, we are confronting idols. When we confront idols, we discover how much people love their gods with the degree they oppose the gospel of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Randoms

Toads don't go to hell. Humans do.

Dr. King shares Coaching and Consulting resources (related to his CIU-Seminary and School of Missions course, "Biblical Foundations of Leadership.")

Tired of the old John Piper and Rick Warren debacle? Try Skip Heitzig rolling out the red carpet for Leonard Sweet at Calvary Chapel.

One parent + one parent + one parent = one baby. I vote "Eugene" as a name.

Ash and lightning above the Iceland volcano.

Death comes unexpectedly: "You Say Party! We Say Die!" drummer dies onstage.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

“Away with the Atheists”

My goodness, how times have changed. One of our children was lamenting that her iPod only holds a few thousands songs and a certain number of videos. My wife and I looked at each other, remembering how we once conquered the world with a Walkman and a cassette tape “back in the day.” Remember when those who had tattoos were to be avoided, and those who had them would never be caught dead saying the word “church”? Now there exists a Church of Body Modifications. Did you know that in the early 1900’s doctors who studied so-called “diseases of the mind” were called “alienists?” Today we call them “psychologists.” The ancient Romans, who once worshipped a copious number of “gods” had a name for people who did not acknowledge Ceasar as “god.” They were called “atheists” and reserved the term primarily for Christians!

A Christian leader by the name of Polycarp lived about 75 - 155 A.D. When he was 86 years old, he was arrested by the Romans and brought to trial because he would not recant his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and offer sacrifice to Caesar as god. They nearly turned a lion on him (which was illegal, since that part of the “show” had already passed) then resorted to burn him instead. As preparations were made, eyewitnesses report that Polycarp looked at the tribunal and the crowd in the stadium, then looked into heaven and said, “Away with the atheists.” He not only had the right perspective, but also had the faith to stand in the face of persecution as a witness (literally, “martyr”). “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

The New Testament book of Acts records an incident of faith and fortitude in the record often referred to as “The Defense of Stephen” in Acts 7. The word of God was spreading through Jerusalem and even priests were converting (6:7). “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). The people were stirred by his ministry, not to repentance, but to arrest Stephen because of the gospel. Acts 7:1 says he was questioned by the High Priest—the very same High Priest who stood against Jesus when He was arrested. Stephen responds with a 51 sentence reply to the accusation that through his preaching, he was speaking against all that Moses handed down, and that Jesus would destroy “this place and alter the customs.”

Stephen’s reply is not a defense for his life, but proof that the gospel was right. 48 of the 51 sentences are a summary of God at work and those who responded in obedience (22 sentences are direct quotes from scripture). The remaining three sentences reveal his very accusers as the ones who did not keep what they received from the Lord. Immediately after this, Luke records that Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed on the glory of God while his accusers rushed on him to kill him.

Did you read what happened to Olga in Southern California just a few days ago? Or perhaps the two faithful evangelists who were killed while preaching?

Polycarp shared a similar experience with Stephen: “While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium thrice, “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, ‘This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods.’”

These people knew the scripture, and faithful proclamation of scripture drew opposition. I’ve personally preached to people who turned their backs to me. I did not stop because they were still listening to the message of God’s love and their rebellion. The gospel is publicly opposed because public proclamation touches people where they live. If we give the counsel of God privately, it cannot touch private lives. Furthermore, we should learn from Stephen that the message of the gospel is an old tree with deep, deep roots. That many opponents know scripture should not hinder our ministry, but should underscore the need to keep on teaching with gentleness.

Stephen saw God in His glory through all time, and he evidenced that in his defense. He was able to recognize the Son of Man because this is His glory on display since before Abraham. Stephen was so saturated in the scriptures that He could not help but recognize the Lord Jesus Christ! His mind was set on things above, where Christ is seated. If we are raised with Christ, we, too should set our minds on such heavenly things and there find increasing joy despite increasing adversity in gospel proclamation and daily living. We must confess the sin of our Christian atheism: saying we believe in God, but living like we don’t.

Like Stephen, we must be prepared. This requires that we spend time in Bible reading and prayer (and Bible reading is an excellent fire-starter for prayer). We cannot do ministry if we have nothing with which to minister. We speak His Words into the world, displaying before the mind's eye galleries of verbal pictures of what God is doing.

Like Stephen, we must be obedient to the Holy Spirit. His message was filled with examples of those who were obedient to what God was doing to glorify His name in His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. We operate in the power of His Holy Spirit as we show His love to the world.

Like Stephen, we need to be interesting. Not really. Faithful teaching of scripture to the lost and dying world brings it's own level of interest. There will never be a dull moment. Just because a person is oppositional does not mean they are not listening.

If, perhaps, God allows us to enter His glory in the same manner as Stephen, remember that this is not so bad. Scripture says Stephen, when being stoned, "fell asleep." J.R. Miller comments: "We sleep when we are weary--and we awake refreshed. Sleep is not the cessation of life. We expect to awake, after we have slept. As we part for the night, we do not say, 'Farewell,' but 'Goodnight,' for we expect to meet again in the morning. This beautiful Scriptural designation of death tells us, therefore, of life beyond, of resurrection, of immortality. We shall awake from this sleep of death--and our life shall go on again. We shall awake refreshed, lying down weary--and rising strong; lying down sick, or old, or deformed, or worn-out--and rising well, young and radiant in heavenly beauty!"

We can expect opposition from the world with faithful proclamation of the gospel. This does not mean that every time we share we will face it, but we will face it. Objectors are not rejecting you, but Christ. Remember, Stephen’s ministry was met with acceptance as much as with rejection. We prefer to avoid stress and opposition, but it is impossible to uphold the Christian worldview and not face it. Our brethren in other countries are giving their life's blood for the sake gospel.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Preaching for Spiritual Change

"Preaching For Spiritual Change" (HOM 9415) is a Doctor of Ministry course from the Seminary and School of Missions of Columbia International University. This course meets June 14 -18, 2010. Click here for the syllabus.

Five highly-regarded and experienced preachers (see below) will help you construct and preach sermons that will have a transformational impact on listeners to the glory of God. You will improve the effectiveness of your preaching in specially-focused areas as you study the importance of living a personal life consistent with those areas. Special attention will be given to: missions, victorious Christian living, apologetics, and special events (e.g., Christmas, Lent, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day). Attention will also be given to audience analysis in sermon preparation and delivery.

The five speakers and their focus areas are:



Dr. Paul Copan, an author who holds the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. His focus is Apologetic Preaching.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson is senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His focus is preaching for special events.
Dr. Barry Moore is founder and director of the Barry Moore Evangelistic Association in Ontario, Canada. His focus is Evangelistic preaching.
Dr. George Murray is chancellor and former president of Columbia International University. His focus is Great Commission preaching.
Dr. David Olford is president of Olford Ministries International and holds the Stephen Olford Chair of Expository Preaching at Union University. His focus is on Deeper Life preaching for victorious Christian living.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Useful An Honorable Vessel

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

Paul in writing to Timothy uses an illustration that deserves closer inspection. In a great house there are vessels, or instruments of service (utensils) of gold, silver, wood and clay. Some for honorable use, and some for dishonorable—but which is which? Perhaps we take it for granted that the gold and silver utensils are for honorable use and the wood and clay are for dishonorable. Paul does not say.

Clay is used to make fine China, ash-trays and toilet bowls; that is, clay can be used in an honorable or dishonorable fashion. Wood can be used to cook our meal, or deliver food to our mouths in the form of chop-sticks, or bowls (I bought a beautiful serving bowl with serving utensils for my wife while I was in Africa). Silver may accompany your fine china at home, but I know people who make whisker-pullers (you read that right) from silver. Wedding rings seem to be the cultural norm for gold, but do you suppose this person was thinking of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin’s 1921 saying, that toilets of gold would serve as a useful reminder of the waste of capitalist warfare?

A utensil must meet three criteria to be useful for honorable service in God's house: first, the instrument must be clean; that is, purged from everything dishonorable. Commonly heard on the street when talking about sin is, “well, God just forgives.” This is said with the hope that God will simply overlook all wrong-doing. The reality is that God forgives those who recognize they have nothing good in themselves because of sin and must be cleaned by faith in the blood and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul already said in verse 19, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

We have an older dishwasher, and given the number of people in the family, it can be heavily loaded at times. As one is unloading, it does not hurt to inspect the plates, bowls or “silverware” because there may be a place that was not fully cleaned. Sure, the bowl went through the cycle, but the bowl 1) cannot clean itself; and 2) must be cleaned fully before it can return to its place on the shelf for honorable use in my house.

Second, to be a vessel of honorable use in God’s house, one must be set apart. This is called “sanctification” and by this we mean separation from the world. We are to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. The greatest example of this is the distinction between God and the world; that is, between God and His creation. God, the Creator, can be in the world, but He is not of the world (the same as or intertwined with). Paul goes on with specific instruction about what this separation looks like:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:22-23)

Finally, one must be readily available to use as a clean, separated vessel. Manford Gutzke shares an observation from his childhood that will helps us understand what all this means, from his book “Plain Talk About Christian Words” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965). He writes:

“I grew up in a small country town and an important place in that town was the railway station. Passenger trains went through twice a day. One went east and the other went west. This was an event in a small town, and it was an exciting thing to be at the railway station when the train went through. The long platform on the railroad station was made of wood and the railroad station was also made of wood. The town was too small to have a fire department, and its only water supply was the town well. If there ever was a fire, it was a matter of carrying the water from the well to the fire or at best stretching a long fire hose from the well to whatever place in the town was burning. Usually, the water reached the place a long time after the fire was over, but that was the fire protection we had. The railway station did not want to be dependent upon the Volunteer Fire Department; therefore, they had their own arrangement. On the station wall was a glass case filled with tools and underneath were the words for fire only. Those tools were not to be used for anything else. The expression for fire only actually meant sanctified for fire. They were set apart for that use. Big barrels of water were placed on the platform and beside each barrel was a pail painted red with white letters, F I R E, on it. The pails were not tied down; they were just sitting there. They were the kind of pail every farmer used in connection with his daily work, but no one ever took those pails. Everyone understood that they were for fire only. They were “sanctified” pails, set aside for a particular purpose.”

We live in a world that attempts through its own lofty ideas (2 Corinthians 10:5) to cast off the rule of God (Psalm 2). God intends for us to engage this world as an honorable vessel that is unlike the world. Our attitude to those in opposition against God is to be the attitude of kind teaching with patient correcting gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25). A dishonorable, dirty, undistinguishable vessel cannot do this. The only way the adversary will be converted is when they spiritually come to their senses “and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26) We cannot cause the conversion, but are God’s utensils for God to use to accomplish His work in the lives of others; in other words, the world will not be changed until we are changed.

Ask yourself:

1) What kind of vessel am I (wood, gold, clay or silver) and why does it matter?
2) Am I clean, and if so, how?
3) Am I set apart, separated for honorable use?
4) Are you ready?

The most useful part of a vessel is the empty part.

Laura Story Elvington in Concert

Join President and Mrs. Bill Jones for an indescribable CIU night with alumna Laura Story Elvington -- Sunday, April 25, at 7:30 p.m.

Free e-tickets and details: http://www.xpressfaithcolumbia.com/

Music out of heartbreak— After only one year of marriage, three-time Dove Award nominee Laura Story’s husband was stricken with a brain tumor. In the midst of her husband’s surgery, radiation and intense physical therapy, Laura struggled to express her faith through her music. Since then her songs have blessed thousands of lives.

Laura will share her music and her story in Xpress Faith Columbia, a musical event being held nightly on Friday-Sunday, April 23-25, 2010 (CIU night is Sunday, April 25), at 7:30 at Spring Valley Baptist Church, 91 Polo Road, Columbia, SC. Accompanying Laura will be the 100-voice Praise & Worship Choir and Orchestra of Spring Valley Baptist Church.

Laura's Roots

A gifted vocalist and worship leader, Laura Story is the composer of one of the nation’s best-loved worship songs, "Indescribable." This song has been recorded by multiple artists including Chris Tomlin and has topped the charts. Starting as a concert string bassist and aspiring to become a great symphony conductor, Laura spent her childhood involved in the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg.

She is a graduate of Columbia International University and former member of the Columbia, SC-based band Silers Bald. She married her childhood sweetheart Martin Elvington and lives in Atlanta. She has recorded several albums and performs concerts around the country.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dear 惠蘋,

Thank you for your visits to my page. I welcome your comments! I would enjoy more correspondence with you, especially concerning the following. Please write to me at my e-mail as found in my profile. Thank you.

原则一:
神 爱 你,并 且 为 你 的 生 命 有 一 奇 妙 的 计 划。
神的爱
神 爱 世 人,甚 至 将 他 的 独 生 子 (耶 稣)赐 给 他 们,叫 一 切 信 他 的,不 致 灭 亡,反 得 永 生。(约 翰 福 音 3:16)
神的计划
耶 稣 说:我 来 了 是 要 叫 人 得 生 命,并 且 得 的 更 丰盛。(更有意义的生活)(约翰福音10:10)
为 什 么 大 多 数 的 人 都 没 有 经 验 过 这 种 丰 盛 的 生 命 呢?
因 为 ...

Challenging the Witness

A witness of the gospel lays his life down because of the gospel—this is inherent by the very word from which we derive our word for “witness” (“martyr”). A martyr is a witness and this requires faithfulness to the very end, whatever that may be. When we witness for Christ, we are taking a stand against all that is not for Christ; contrariwise, a witness for all that is not Christ is setting himself against all that is Christ. There is no middle ground.

Flesh and blood is not our enemy. The Lord Jesus Christ spent His flesh and blood to redeem flesh and blood that will repent. Our witness of what Christ accomplished is to flesh and blood, so this is not our enemy. Our adversary is the devil, who is always opposed to Christ and His glory. John’s revelatory vision communicates several vital principles in this regard that we would do well to attend.

Revelation 12 describes the vision of a great red dragon with seven heads, seven crowns, and ten horns. This dragon is standing before a woman (clothed with the sun, crowned with twelve stars and the moon is under her feet) about to give birth. Revelation 12:13 places the dragon not in the heavens (where he once was) but on the earth and it is on the earth that the dragon persecutes the woman who gave birth to the male child. We actually have many records of this event as it actually occurred in the past. The first is found in the heavenly realm; that is, in the sky, the stars themselves. The second is found on the earth, in the record of history. This record confirms the biblical record of what happened at Jesus’ birth. These are significant to review, for the work of Satan against Christ has not ceased.

The experience of the Magi provide an example of the work of Satan against the glory of Christ. Also, their experience is also directly connected with the imagery of the vision. Remember how the Magi came worship Jesus after His birth and they were prompted to do this by knowledge of biblical prophecies as well as the physical signs that took place in the skies—they watched both scripture and space. Computer programs (even free downloads, such as Skyglobe) can help us understand what the Magi saw, which is also exactly what John saw in his vision. If you use Skyglobe, set the location at “Baghdad” and the clock for 8:53 a.m., Sept. 4, 5 B.C. (we use a different calendar) and look eastward. The constellation “Virgo” (The Virgin) rises in the daytime (“clothed in the sun”) with the Moon at her “feet.” Above her “head” is a “crowning” galaxy cluster we refer to as M87 in the Virgo Cluster.

John’s vision also includes the fact that the dragon attempts to eat up the child. Looking down below “Virgo” we see rising another constellation: The Serpent. This constellation is divided into two parts in the sky: Serpens Caput (The Serpent’s Head) rises from under the “feet” of Virgo, and Serpens Cauda (The Serpent’s Tail) rises just after Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. One might make the case that, since the dragon is said to be on the earth that Herod’s attempt to kill all the male children is a fulfillment of what is pictured in the vision. Add to the fact that the woman and child are led into hiding in Egypt until the treat is passed. The Magi learned first-hand about being a witness, for when the discovered Herod’s plot against the child, they left secretly. The persecution could easily have rolled back on them.

One wonders how the devil continues his work, as a dragon tries to swallow up the male child. The answer is easily given in any situation where Christ is introduced into a setting that is without Him. The level of persecution in the western world is minimal to the level experienced in other countries. Here, we may open-air preach to a crowd that turns it’s back to the speaker (it’s happened right in downtown Columbia). For the most part, we get a simple, “No thanks” when we try to share a gospel tract. Our brothers and sisters in other countries shed blood over the printing press so they can have gospel tracts. Publications like “Voice of the Martyrs” provides a more in-depth description of how people give their lives out of love for their Lord.

When we take a stand in the world for Christ, we should expect diabolical resistance, and this should not be a deterrent to sharing our faith. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a gym knows that resistance increases stamina and strength. The lines are being drawn in the public arena about where one can and cannot carry on an evangelistic conversation. Our city has a policy in place that “protects” sponsored events. This can be both a positive and a negative. One example of a negative is that if someone is attending a sponsored event in a public park, I cannot stop or hinder that individual (regardless of their geography in relation to the sponsored event) even by conversation. If I also attended the event and had a spontaneous conversation with someone that in some manner makes the person uncomfortable, and they report this to the police, then I could be arrested—whether the conversation was evangelistic or if I dropped the term “republican” to a democrat. The positive side is that such ordinances protect individuals and there are plenty of times I have been grateful. They key in this specific case is to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and use tact.

Other kinds of resistance may be seen in neighborhood codes that prohibit the assembly of persons for religious reasons. Recent news has reported action based on a complaint of a neighbor that had “too many” visitors in a house at one time. Neighborhood officials have a responsibility to monitor traffic for safety, but they tried to take action when they discovered a Bible study was the reason for the draw. Shopping malls, too, have strict codes that prohibit “cold” conversation that may be construed as “soliciting.” The only way to enjoy unhindered ministry is to jump through some hoops and fill out an application to have the mall provide a table or kiosk.

Concerning worldview, however, the issues can be more complicated. World religions such as Buddhism are so nebulous, who can say which god is the right one to worship? Islam has long taught that one’s sin and righteousness are private matters between God and individuals, and such things are not a matter of discussion. Wiccans prize personal subjectivity except during practice (what one does is more important than what one believes—do what you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone). Wiccan Marion Weinstein says concerning morality, “This goal is different for everyone, so no one else can tell you what is right for you. And yet it is the same for everyone in this regard: anything which truly fulfills the self is the goal of magic.”

Followers of Christ still wrestle over the best response to these seemingly unanswerable issues, yet one fact remains: each person must stand before God on Judgment Day and each person must give an account for breaking God’s moral law and how he or she has responded to God’s remedy for sin in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel of the witness is not swallowed up in a flood of worldly ideology. Satan knows he is fighting a losing battle, the problem is that the men caught in between are not aware.

We can confront the issues of the world by living according to God’s Word and telling the truth. The world responds to amorality the same way God does, for the most part and I’ve tested this in our own downtown party-central. One night I approached some young ladies walking down the sidewalk and asked for their opinion regarding guys to tell lies, steal and/or cheat. Each girl got up on her soap box and shared some personal experiences. Then I turned the question around: have you ever done these things? Silence (their consciences got up on her own soapboxes, respectively). Then they understood how God saw their heart and, regardless of what one thinks, will stand before Him to give account—then what?

If I cared about what people thought of me, I would not share the gospel. Truth be told, there are many times over the years when I thought I cared what people thought of me, and I did shut up. Only then did I cease to be a martyr, I had misplaced values and had to repent and return. Faithfully serving Christ in the context of opposing worldviews and downright persecution is not something I can do out of myself. Christ is our message and it is under His authority we go into all the world, letting His Holy Spirit guide, teach, convict and regenerate those who receive the message.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Randoms

Oh, and on this day, April 15 (the day we file our taxes): The Titanic sunk, Lincoln was assassinated, San Franciso rocked in an earthquake (1906), not to mention the Fall of Saigon (1975), Chernobyl (1985), the Los Angeles Riots (1992), Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine shootings, and the introduction of "New Coke" (1985)? I'm starting to see a pattern here . . .

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"If you are not praying . . ."

"If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray. Time in prayer makes you even more dependent on God because you don’t have as much time to get things done. Every minute spent in prayer is one less minute where you can be doing something 'productive.'”

Miller, Paul E. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Jonathan Drori: Every pollen grain has a story"

Pollen, though my body wars with it, is an amazing part of God's creation.

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http://www.ted.com Pollen goes unnoticed by most of us, except when hay fever strikes. But microscopes reveal it comes in stunning colors and shapes -- and travels remarkably well. Jonathan Drori gives an up-close glimpse of these fascinating flecks of plant courtship.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes, Pattie Maes on the "Sixth Sense" wearable tech, and "Lost" producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts. Closed captions and translat... more
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Friday, April 09, 2010

"Reality About Islam"

Dear friend at "Reality About Islam" at http://anti-efsha.blogspot.com/

Thank you for your recent visit to my blog from Tehran, Iran. I welcome you to visit my page any time! Be my guest!

Are you a person of peace? Are you a person of The Book? I have been reading the Qur'an and have many questions. "If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee." (Sura 10:94)

I am very interested in talking with you more. Please contact me through my e-mail, in my profile, or leave another comment.

Tearing Down Strongholds

What comes to mind when you think of a fort? The traditional picture that comes to the western mind is a large wooden square structure of cut trees with perhaps four “towers,” one in each corner, attended by soldiers in the American west. The younger generation today might recall the movie version of Narnian castles or Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Helm’s Deep, the seven levels of Minas Tirith or Mordor’s Barad Dur from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Remember Superman’s Fortress of Solitude—it sure has changed over the years! However forts are pictured today, they seem to represent a place of safety but are somehow aloof from everyday life. Fortresses, strongholds, and castles with all their keeps, towers, prisons and stores were synonymous with entire cities in the ancient world. Jericho, Nineveh, even Jerusalem—these were all fortress/cities. The word used to describe them can also be “strongholds.”

Strongholds are an interesting concept as at one time they represented a safeguarded life. The fortress or stronghold provided not merely safety because of their location (usually built on top of a hill) or their walls (with the very the slope as their base), but because they were immense storage houses for food and armaments. Excavations at various sites reveal many complex systems of fortifications in the Ancient Near East; for example, it was not uncommon for limited defense perimeters to consist of a moat against a wall, whose outside layers consisted of packed earth covered by a slope of loose rocks (the moat was at the bottom). This made poor foothold for an enemy and provided enough distance to prevent siege works (such as ladders) from being set against it. The image of a moat at the base of steep walls (like some European castles) was not found in the ancient near eastern world.

The apostle Paul used this common feature of the city in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4). What did he intend by this using this picture? Paul used the image of the stronghold, or fortress, to describe “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.” (10:5) While positively the stronghold was used as a defense against an invading enemy, this causes one to imagine a mutiny or rebellion where the enemy attempts to protect himself as he tries to dwell in what should be friendly territory.

What are the strongholds to which Paul is referring? Simply put, Paul means to describe a wrong idea about God; particularly, an argument against the knowledge of God. When we consider the kinds of arguments raised against the knowledge of God, the first and most obvious is the argument that says, “One cannot know anything” (the argument answers itself). Science Fiction writer Ray Bradbury demonstrates the downright insanity of this argument through his short story, "No Particular Night or Morning" (nothing is sure in space, where there is nothing on top, nothing on bottom or sides and we just float in the middle). The second argument is closely related, which basically says, “do we want to know anything?” If the answer is “yes,” then one is free to enjoy the benefits of knowledge; on the other hand, one must live with the consequences of a negative answer. Whether we call this belief or unbelief, both take a measure of faith.

Paul says that an argument, a lofty opinion against God must be pulled down with weapons that are powered divinely; that is, with spiritual weapons. An illustration of the difference between weapons of flesh and spiritual weapons can be seen in how we respond to a point of disagreement in government. Greg Laurie writes in a devotional thought, “So often when something is going wrong in our country, we want to organize a boycott or want to protest. But did you know that as believers, we have something more powerful than boycotts? It is called prayer, and the Bible tells us to devote ourselves to it.” Driving the spiritual principle home, Laurie writes in another place, “Both James and Peter were in prison. Tragically, James was put to death. But Peter remained alive in prison. Though all doors were closed, one remained open: the door of prayer.” The point is how believers used the spiritual weapon of prayer. “Although the devil struck a blow against the church, the church gained victory through prayer as Peter was miraculously released.”

Another weapon closely related to prayer is the use of words in a spiritual sense, not blunt force. John Piper writes, “Seek to win others to saving faith in Jesus by persuading with words, not imposing with force. This was the way the gospel spread among many religions in the early centuries of the Christian church. The earliest teachers said, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11). When the New Testament speaks of the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) or “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Corinthians 10:4), it clearly means the word of God and power of spiritual persuasion.” (Sept, 20, 2006 “How Christians Should Respond to Muslim Outrage at the Pope's Regensburg Message About Violence and Reason”).

The principle is that thought raised against God is to be torn down, demolished. Every argument from human reason must be taken captive by the truth of scripture. Henry Morris III of the Institute for Creation Research reminds us of what this principle does and does not teach. “Nowhere in these verses is there permission or an implied need to learn the thoughts of the enemy before we can bring them into captivity. Biblical data insists that the flesh has ‘no good thing’ (Romans 7:18) and cannot understand the things of God. The weapons we have are not fleshly (i.e., natural thinking, natural emotion, human reasoning, etc.). Our weapons (Ephesians 6) are the ‘sword of the Spirit’ (offensive) and the ‘shield of faith’ (defensive), and we’re protected by the full armor of God—praying always. It is not possible to learn all the subtle arguments of the enemy. What is possible, however, is a knowledge of the truth through our having the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16) that will make us sufficient for ‘all things that pertain unto life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3).”

Justin Martyr (100 – 165 A.D.) understood this principle when he wrote, “Henceforth, ye Greeks, come and partake of incomparable wisdom, and be instructed by the Divine Word, and acquaint yourselves with the King immortal; and do not recognize those men as heroes who slaughter whole nations. For our own Ruler, the Divine Word, who even now constantly aids us, does not desire strength of body and beauty of feature, nor yet the high spirit of earth’s nobility, but a pure soul, fortified by holiness, and the watchwords of our King, holy actions, for through the Word power passes into the soul.”

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Reflections on “The Egg,” by Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson (1876 – 1941) is another American writer I am just getting to know. The years of his life are fully representative of those who struggled through periods of immense change, and he reflected these struggles through his collections of short stories. Perhaps his most well-known work is “The Egg,” published in a larger work titled, “The Triumph of The Egg: A Book of Impressions from American Life” (1921).

The story of “The Egg” gives us a glimpse into his rather unsettled early life. His family moved often and, as others who settled and resettled in still-early America, worked hard to keep food on the table, and then some. Anderson would describe his parents as “ambitious. The American passion for getting up in the world took possession of them.” While his father worked as a farmhand near Bidwell, Ohio, his mother taught school. The fire of their ambition stoked by reading of James Garfield (an Ohio native), and Abraham Lincoln, both born in log cabins who became great men. What great contribution could this small family make to mankind?

One of the business ventures Anderson describes (moving us closer to “The Egg”) was when the family entered into the restaurant business in Bidwell, opening directly across the street from the train station. This was the first step to what Anderson describes as his father’s downfall. The second step was when his father (working late at night in the restaurant) began to think. This led to the third step, which was the performance of a small parlor trick that miserably failed. The result was the reduction of a man from his strength to infantile weakness.

Anderson says of the story, “if correctly told . . . will center on the egg.” Anderson tells the story correctly, but the center of the story is really what the egg represents. Many ancient cultures thought the world itself was in the shape of an egg. Perhaps it symbolizes the complex and fragile life of a man. Fragility is the first impression one has of an egg; but, on the other hand, the complexity of it cannot go unnoticed. For example, try to crush an egg in your hand and one will quickly discover its complexity by its resistance. Drop the egg, and one has the other picture altogether. Perhaps the same can be said of a man with high expectations, who grits his teeth and sets his shoulder to making a contribution to the world through his family. What happens if his expectations are not met but that he is crushed?

Perhaps his father’s failure was that he felt the world owed him. Providing food service to travelers on the train line was a noble attempt; but, expecting that each customer should be entertained and respond with attention (at the very least) can be excessive. This is what happened to Anderson’s father. When he did not receive what he felt he deserved, he got desperate and tried to perform and this backfired on him, leaving “egg on his face” (as the old saying goes). Anderson’s father wanted his customers to leave his establishment in awe, and in return, bring back many other customers. He wanted his place on the map. What he got was humiliation and the possibility of negative publicity. Instead of people saying, “You have got come and see . . .” but instead got, “some fool over in Bidwell . . .”

The passion for “getting up in the world” is more than alive and well today. The lines that once divided the upper from the middle and lower classes are blurry because of the materialism we have now that Anderson’s father did not have then. Today, poverty-level families have laptop computers. Even the homeless and jobless have an opportunity for their piece of the American “up in the world.” The motto of the last decade has been “no person left behind” on various levels.

Interestingly, Sherwood Anderson does not tell us how old he was in this story and there are no clues to tell. Perhaps he was somewhere between the ages of 10 to 12 years old—old enough to see and hear what happened to his father and draw conclusions regarding the triumph of the egg, “as far as my family is concerned.” Life goes on, in all its complexity. One wrong or bad decision, one wrong move and life as we knew it is shattered, changed. And still, life goes on, leaving all its’ ambitious men behind either stronger or crushed. This is what Anderson learned from his father’s experience: he would not be crushed as his father was.

Anderson tells us that his father responded to his failure with the kind of anger that destroyed a basket of eggs; yet, when he describes how his father entered the house, he is careful to report that he entered the room with an egg in his hand, which he gently lays down. Could it be that his father, who would not be beat, conceded in his weakness? Could it be that his father was signaling his regret at making a bad decision that left an ugly, unwanted mark on the world?
Hard to say what Anderson was really writing about. Was he really writing about an egg, or life? Was he writing about his father, or himself? Was he writing about the American life and the American dream? He says the story is about the egg.

What if there was an implicit point being made, a spiritual lesson? The Lord Jesus Christ asks plainly, “for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:26). There is no gain in setting high expectations for that we have no business to set. Covetousness causes us to take our eyes off of what has been provided to desire that which we perhaps should have no business. We would rather take pain relief than safe ourselves pain by learning to be content. We also need to learn how to live out of weakness and dependence on the Lord, not on our own strength. Unrealistic expectations create false hope and thrive on strength we actually do not have.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"Who is God?"

I received this question from a reader in Nigeria. This is how God Himself answers the question:

"To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.

Do you not know?

Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when He blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare Me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?

He who brings out their [starry] host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God'?


Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."

Isaiah 40:18-31 (ESV)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Calling all Rudyard Kipling fans

Any Rudyard Kipling fans out there? I need to call for a discussion group for interpreting his 1904 short story, "They." Anybody want to share their thoughts or interpretations?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Christian Growth in a Hostile Environment

Justin Martyr (100 - 165 A.D.), an early apologist for the Christian faith, wrote in Discourse to the Greeks, "These have conquered me – the divinity of the instruction, and the power of the Word: for as a skilled serpent-charmer lures the terrible reptile from his den and causes it to flee, so the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul; first driving forth lust, through which every ill is begotten – hatreds, strife, envy, emulations, anger, and such like. Lust being once banished, the soul becomes calm and serene. And being set free it returns to Him who made it. For it is fit that it be restored to that state whence it departed, whence every soul was or is."

The theology of war (James 4:1-4) helps us understand that lust is the driving force behind the nations casting off the rule of God. This is not a lust limited to sexual immorality and can include lust for power, wealth, and kingdoms (to name a few). Lust is a complete abandonment to self- gratification, hedonism. Our granddaughter was celebrating her first birthday with a number of friends who brought an abundance of gifts. Nearly every time Jude opened one her gifts another small child (perhaps four years old) would run up to her and, turning to her mother would ask, "Is that for me?" I am thankful each negative response was not met by screams and a fight with kicking feet. Regardless, that is how war rages: the eruption of sinful hearts from sinful desires. The problem is not the desire--we were made to have desire. The problem lies in the control of desire. Justin Martyr was simply stating that obedience to God's Word drives out wrongful desire and brings restoration.

The Christian is incomplete because he or she is not perfect and must live in a hostile environment. We have good news to share with a world that does not want to hear it, and is rather unforgiving. The reason is that lust stands in direct opposition to the gospel, for lust blooms in independence. Salvation from the power and penalty of lust blossoms from dependence on Christ. The apostle Paul describes how he thrives by pressing on, "in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:12, 14). The Christian life of victory of sin is not a dream we live for ourselves; rather, the Christian life is Christ's dream for us, if you will. True spirituality is not the apprehension of experience and warm fuzzies; rather, it is the acquisition of freedom to do everything we should from a love motive.

"Pressing on" means "pursue and overtake," or "take and capture." This means the Christian is to grow in truth, standing against the false teaching and legalism of the world. There is a progession of faith. Paul says, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." (Phil. 3:17). We are to be like Paul, for he models for us what pressing on involves. There are many other present-day models for each one of us. Many know of Eric Liddel, by virtue of the Chariots of Fire movie and how he would not run on Sunday but enjoyed great victory in the Olympics. This was nothing compared to the real victories in his life. He died in a Chinese concentration camp, where he was held captive along with school-age children and their teachers. He let those children race him, and at times, beat him; rather, he modeled pressing on for them because afterwards, they would study the Bible. He did the same thing with their teachers, holding Bible studies, and holding out hope, running the race set before him in Christ Jesus. Even few guards were affected by his pressing on.

Those who oppose the gospel are enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18) and they will have to stand before God on Judgement Day, whose "end is destruction." Notice how Paul describes these enemies: appetite (the belly) is their god and shame is their glory because they are earthly-minded (3:19). Those who claim to be Christian and love the world are enemies of God (James 4:4) and are blaspheming, taking the name of Christ upon themselves then misrepresent Him on the earth. One does not win the right to bear His name in any way except by the new birth (John 1:12). Those who resist the gospel because of lust make themselves evident.

Paul reminds us that "our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:20). This reminds us of Psalm 2, where we have read that the Son is Sovereign and there are only two responses: worship in reverence, or a casting off of His rule. Heaven (and notice that Paul says we are already there, positionally) is where we enjoy God forever, or try to cast Him off forever. Regardless, He is omnipresent and eternal. God's enemies have no place to stand but under His feet. When we move through this world, we have nothing to fear of God's enemies, for they are not ours, but His. We can only be threatened with heaven.

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