Friday, September 29, 2006

Regeneration Precedes Faith

"We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him from the dead."
- R.C. Sproul

Were you born again because of your faith? Or did you have faith because you were born again? Before you answer, read JOHN 3 carefully and then read THIS ESSAY by R.C. Sproul.

"The opposite of Christianity is not Atheism, but Idolatry."

Psalm 24:3 & 4:
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who...does not LIFT UP HIS SOUL to what is false...
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

Psalm 25:1
O my God, in you I trust...

We see from Ps. 25:1 that "lift up my soul" means "to trust"; the only people able to stand in the presence of God are those who are entrusting their lives to God. Those who entrust their lives (lift up their souls) to what is false cannot stand in his presence, nor recieve from Him blessing and righteousness, because he is not the God of their salvation - they have a functional savior who is not God.

THIS MESSAGE from Mark Driscoll examines the idea of functional saviors and idolatry from a different text, 1 Corinthians 10. Waves of conviction crashed over me as I listened the other day. I was shaken to see that my problem isn't just my sinful behaviors, but (worse) the idols producing the behaviors. I am worse than I would like to think. I was sent to my knees to search out the root idols producing the fruit of sinful thoughts/actions/words in my life.

We should not be totally dismayed at our unrighteousness and idolatry, however. Conviction is not the same as condemnation. The Spirit means for us to run to Jesus, who, in the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31, is "our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." Righteousness (justification AND sanctification) is a gift of God, through Jesus, to those who LIFT UP THEIR SOULS (Ps. 24:3 & 4 again!) to Him. We can say to Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Two Wills in God: An Illustration

By John Piper

The Death of Christ

The most compelling example of God's willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, "This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan (boule) and foreknowledge of God." The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God's ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.

Moreover Herod's contempt for Jesus (Luke 23:11) and Pilate's spineless expediency (Luke 23:24) and the Jews' "Crucify! Crucify him!" (Luke 23:21) and the Gentile soldiers' mockery (Luke 23:36) were also sinful attitudes and deeds. Yet in Acts 4:27-28 Luke expresses his understanding of the sovereignty of God in these acts by recording the prayer of the Jerusalem saints:

Truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever thy hand and thy plan (boule) had predestined to take place.

Herod, Pilate, the soldiers and Jewish crowds lifted their hand to rebel against the Most High only to find that their rebellion was unwitting (sinful) service in the inscrutable designs of God.

The appalling death of Christ was the will and work of God the Father. Isaiah wrote, "We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God . . . It was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief" (Isaiah 53:4,10). God's will was very much engaged in the events that brought his Son to death on the cross. God considered it "fitting to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). Yet, as Jonathan Edwards points out, Christ's suffering "could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer."

It goes almost without saying that God wills obedience to his moral law, and that he wills this in a way that can be rejected by many. This is evident from numerous texts: "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will (thelema) of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50). "The one who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). The "will of God" in these texts is the revealed, moral instruction of the Old and New Testaments, which proscribes sin.

Therefore we know it was not the "will of God" that Judas and Pilate and Herod and the Gentile soldiers and the Jewish crowds disobey the moral law of God by sinning in delivering Jesus up to be crucified. But we also know that it was the will of God that this come to pass. Therefore we know that God in some sense wills what he does not will in another sense. I. Howard Marshall's statement is confirmed by the death of Jesus: "We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen."

You can read the entire essay HERE.

Power Through Prayer

I read Power Through Prayer by E.M. Bounds in midsummer. I just found it under a pile of papers on my desk, and parusing through I see I marked up quite a few pages. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

"Preachers who are great thinkers, great students must be the greatest of prayers, or else they will be the greatest of backsliders, heartless professionals, rationalistic, less than the least of preachers in God's estimate."

"In the school of prayer only can the heart learn to preach. No learning can make up for the failure to pray. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack."

"The preacher's study ought to be a closet, a Bethel, an altar, a vision, and a ladder, that every thought might ascend heavenward ere it went manward; that every part of the sermon might be scented by the air of heaven and made serious because God was in the study."

"God's revelation does not need the light of human genius, hte polish and strength of human culture, the brilliancy of human thought, the force of human brains to adorn or enforce it; but it does demand the simplicity, the docility, humility, and faith of a child's heart."

"Luther held it as an axiom: 'He who has prayed well has studied well.' We do not say that men are not to think and use their intellects; but he will use his intellect best who cultivates his heart most. We do not say that preachers should not be students; but we do say that their great study should be the Bible, and he studies the Bible best who has kept his heart with diligence."

"There is, I conceive, in the great laws of the moral world a kind of secret understanding like the affinities in chemistry, between rightly promulgated religious truth and the deepest feelings of the human mind. Where the one is duly exhibited, the other will respond."

"There was no eloquence - the honest man never dreamed of such a thing - but there was far better: a cordial communication of vitalized truth. I say vitalized because what he declared to others it was impossible not to feel he lived on himself."

"Earnestness is good and impressive; genius is gifted and great. Thought kindles and inspires, but it takes a diviner endowment, a more powerful energy than earnestness or genius or thought to break the chain of sin, to win estranged and depraved hearts to God, to repair the breaches and restore the Church to her old ways of purity and power. Nothing but holy unction can do this."

Get a copy of this book! I would guess your pastor has a copy he'd let you borrow.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Some thoughts on forgiveness, excerpted from an ARTICLE by Andree Seu:

"Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do. That's why most people don't do it. We talk about it, cheer for it, preach on it, and are sure we've practiced it. But mostly the illusion of having forgiven is that the passage of time dulls memory. The ruse will come to light with hair-trigger vengeance when fresh offense hurls in to empty out the gunnysack of half-digested grievances."

"O my brothers, you cannot imagine the exquisite verbal retaliations I have hatched in the idle hours, each more perfect than the last: theologically impeccable, legalistically faultless, poisoned prose polished to a lethal point. Must I now relinquish these? Must I kill the little darlings? Are they not to see the light of day? Such a waste.

"Forgiveness is a brutal mathematical transaction done with fully engaged faculties. It's my pain instead of yours. I eat the debt. I absorb the misery I wanted to dish out on you, and you go scot-free. Beware the forgiveness that is tendered soon after injury; be suspicious. Real forgiveness needs a time lag, for it is wrought in private agony before it ever comes to public amnesty. All true acts of courage are thus done in secret."

An here's a word from the Apostle Paul:

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

If You Want to Understand Me

from Christianity Today is a good place to start. I attended the TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL Conference mentioned in the story. Also, I've been accepted at THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, which is mentioned in the story along with its president, AL MOHLER. Gretchen and I are planning to move to Louisville after Christmas.

I think maybe
my family back in Tiffin is particularly puzzled by my theological convictions. The last few paragrpahs of the CT story capture my heart pretty accurately:

Evangelicals have long disagreed on election and free will. The debate may never be settled, given the apparent tension between biblical statements and the limits of our interpretive skills. In addition, some will always see more benefit in doctrinal depth than others.

Those fearing a new pitched battle can rest easy. That's not because the debate will go away—for the foreseeable future, the spread of Calvinism will force many evangelicals to pick sides. And it's not because mission will trump doctrine—young people seem to reject this dichotomy.

It's because the young Calvinists value theological systems far less than God and his Word. Whatever the cultural factors, many Calvinist converts respond to hallmark passages like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. "I really don't like to raise any banner of Calvinism or Reformed theology," said Eric Lonergan, a 23-year-old University of Minnesota graduate. "Those are just terms. I just like to look at the Word and let it speak for itself."

That's the essence of what Joshua Harris calls "humble orthodoxy." He reluctantly debates doctrine, but he passionately studies Scripture and seeks to apply all its truth.

"If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads going, 'It's unbelievable. Why would God choose any of us?'" Harris said. "You are so amazed by grace, you're not picking a fight with anyone, you're just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn't have to save anybody."

Why Does the Universe Exist?

The Bible's answer is found in Psalm 19:1: "The heavens delcare the glory of God."

But what does the writer mean by "glory"? Well, the Hebrew word translated "glory" in our English Bibles literally means "weight". So the verse could read this way: "The heavens declare the weightiness of God." See the meaning? God is a massive, weighty reality to be dealt with. The vastness of the universe speaks to the vastness of its Creator; its intricacy to His. The great stores of energy contained in the sun hint at the great energy of its Creator. The wonder of the universe is meant to tell us that its Maker is wonderful.

Maybe an illustration would help us here. In my office I have a replica of the Statue of Liberty made entirely of Legos. Upon entering my office for the first time, people often comment on it. I feel obligated to explain that it was built from a kit, with a step-by-step instruction booklet. But what if it wasn't? What if I had designed and built it myself? You might think me very creative or that I possess great spatial intelligence or that I should begin a second career as an engineer or architect. My mental powers would seem greater - weightier, more glorious - than before you walked in. My creation would say something about me, the creator, wouldn't it?

That's the point of Psalm 19:1-4. The universe is a giant object lesson designed to teach us about God who created it. The Apostle Paul makes this very point in the New Testament, in Romans 1:20: "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."

Paul goes on to say in the very next sentence, "So they [the human race] are without excuse." This means the universe's message that God is glorious and powerful makes each of us accountable to Him. We have no excuse for ignoring him or treating him with indifference or disdain.

I've said all this in the hope that it will set us to thinking and talking, and to commend to you a resource for further investigation: this PDF, which is chapters 1-4 of a book called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. You can find the entire ebook free for download HERE.

I'm certain not all of you will agree with my premise (the universe was created by God), much less my conclusions (it declares His glory and power, and makes us all accountable to Him), so let's discuss. Check out the PDF linked above. Consider what I've said. What do you think? Where do you disagree? Please know that you are free to differ - I'm interested in your thoughts and critiques.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

From now until December 1, you can download Derek Webb's album "Mockingbird" free at

I bought this album when it first came out, and I've appreciated its critique of white, suburban, middle-class evangelicalism - in short, its critique of me. I don't agree with all of Webb's conclusions, but he made me think. That's more than you can say for most of what's heard on "Christian" radio.