Agonizomai: September 2005

Friday, September 30, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 30/05
In Dante's Inferno there was a sign over the gates of Hades reading, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." There ought to be a similar sign over the cross of our Lord saying, "Abandon all hope in self ye who enter here."

Harlan Ames
Wisdom from a Roman Catholic Quietist
Alas! how many souls there are full of self, and desirous of doing good and serving God, but in such a way as to suit themselves; who desire to impose rules upon God as to his manner of drawing them to Himself. They want to serve and possess Him, but they are not willing to abandon themselves to Him, and be possessed by Him.

Francois de Salignac de la Mothe Fenelon - "Spiritual Progress"
Are You An "I" Witness Or An Eyewitness?
The word “witness” is an integral part of the Christian faith. It comes from the same Greek root as the word “martyr” . Martyrs are so called because their actions are regarded as a witness to the Lord for Whom they are dying.
In a legal sense a witness is a person who testifies in court as to what he or she has observed. But it is the observation itself that makes them a witness and not the fact that they are called to testify. Their calling is the result of what they have seen, and the characterization of them by the name “witness” refers to what they saw, and not just the fact that they are testifying to it.

Perhaps the best way to look at it is to decide if “witness” is an active or a passive verb. In the world, people generally don’t like to be thought of as passive, so they sometimes turn passive words into active ones in order to feel as though they themselves are accomplishing something. Even Christians, when they go out to share the gospel, often speak of the act of sharing that they themselves perform as “witnessing”. But that is a misuse of the word. What they are doing is testifying to what they have witnessed. They are bearing witness i.e. being the bearers of testimony of what they have seen done by Another. The active part is in the telling, but the observation about which they are witnessing is entirely passive. Somebody else did it all.

So - to witness is really to observe what someone else does. Though many Christians might never openly agree to this, they nevertheless confirm it by using language that describes what the Lord did and is doing in their lives. The logical extension of the passive understanding of Christian witness is that we do nothing more than relate Jesus Christ and what He has already done, or what He is currently doing.

In the court of heaven there are no star witnesses. The witnesses only matter insofar as they testify to the truth of Him Whom they have observed. We are not “I” witnesses, but merely “eyewitnesses” to the glory and grace, the mercy and majesty of Christ.

But there is a deeper sense in which may we tend to be “I” witnesses when we are only eyewitnesses. That is in the experience of our own salvation and sanctification. We may subscribe to the idea that we have nothing that we did not receive, but still cling to the deception that we deserve to be credited with using it once we have received it. We may say that we died with Christ but still want to be alive enough to live for God as if we could give to, or add to, or increase Him somehow.

We should want to do our part in response to what He has done. But then we can misunderstand what our part is. Our mistaken response to what God has done is often to live for Christ instead of letting Him live in us. Our proper response is actually to lose our life entirely. What does that mean? I think it means nothing more nor less than to carry on being witnesses. Not just witnesses for Christ, but to witness Him in us. To continue to watch as He works in and through us, and to worship Him as He does it all before our eyes.

Living containers, vessels and even temples have no knowledge at all, except that of observing what goes on inside them. Vessels receive and are emptied. Temples are adorned, cleaned and maintained, beautified and worshipped in. But neither vessels nor temples do the filling and emptying, the adorning, cleaning, maintaining or beautifying. Similarly, it is not we, but God who does all in us and through us. Even the worship we do is a gift from Him – I might even say of Him.

We are witnesses of what He is doing. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works that He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. It is God Who justifies , Who saves for His own sake , Who sanctifies and Who finishes in us the good work that He started. It is He who is able to make us stand. He is our salvation.

He is doing the same thing in countless people, salting and preserving the world according to His wisdom, and the counsels of His own will from eternity, saving those whom He wills – those whom the Father has given and drawn to and created in Christ Jesus. He is making us into the sweet savour of Christ amongst those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

And when we are dead enough, when we have lost our life entirely, when He is fully and finally enthroned in us, in all of His power and majesty by the Spirit – then we will truly be His witnesses. For we shall be nothing more than vessels, holding our own selves in check through our living death, while we observe what God Himself does both in and through us. There will be no boasting. No creature pride. Only the sense of being lost in wonder, love and praise.

Mercy! How will anything ever get done when we behave this way? If we are not charging about to do things for Him, witnessing, doing works of mercy and grace then who will go? Surely the Christian life cannot be that passive? I tell you – if we would only get out of His way we would witness Him doing things in and through us that would be greater than the works Jesus did when He was here as one of us.

Do we want to be “I” witnesses, where we tell of what He has done and then hijack the process that He has already shown to be perfect by taking over ourselves? Or do we want to be eyewitnesses of what He will continue to do in and through the whole body, including that part which is us?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 29/05
"If we will admit our inadequacy, we can have God's adequacy....The greatest problem in the church is trying to do God's work with man's strength....The key to Christian sufficiency is realizing that everything comes from God and nothing comes from me."

Ray C. Stedman
"Morning" - A Puritan Prayer for Peter
This is posted for my good friend Peter, but anyone else can give it a shot. When you read this, you will be able to play the mp3 file of the Puritan prayer that I recorded, and that we talked about. Give it a try by clicking this link. Your native mp3 player will fire up and you will get streamed audio played right on your computer - just like a real site.

If it works (and it will) I might put up some recorded blogs just for fun. I don't know if I'll go as far as blogging sermons or Sunday School sessions (because of bandwidth limitations at my personal site where this is hosted) - but it sure would be fun to put the whole of Jonah out there, for example.

All this is provided that the other person who reads my blog isn't trying to play the file simmultaneously. Let me know how you make out.

PS. Did you notice that the borders have gone? You were right!

Postmodernism Proposed
Marisol by La Vista, 1964
A church I attended a couple of years ago was given to all sorts of fads and trends in a vain effort to be vital or relevant. It embraced or flirted at different times with “Alpha”, “40 Days of Purpose”, “Clive Pick”, “The Passion” and numerous other things. I fought most of them tooth and nail by making a case with the leadership. It all fell on deaf ears.

One more attempt at being relevant was a church-sponsored seminar at a Bible College on the topic of reaching postmoderns. I attended – not so much because I don’t know how to “reach” postmoderns, but because I wondered what fresh pap would be squeezed into the already besotted minds of church leaders as yet one more distraction from the simplicity that is in Christ.

I want to say that the seminar contained some excellent material. There was an example of a church who came right down to the grass roots and served the needs of hurting people by, for example, buying wrecks and fixing them up to give to those who couldn’t afford cars. This widened their scope of operations in searching for work etc. Nothing inherently wrong there. But neither had it anything to do with reaching postmoderns. It was simply “Christianity 101 Redux”. If they had stuck with that and given it a Biblical underpinning all would have been well. It wouldn’t have been about reaching pomos – but it would at least have been Christian.

But the enemy of our souls and of our glorious Lord and His kingdom is a bit smarter than all that. He doesn’t feed pomo nonsense undiluted into feeble minds. He waters it down with some truth first. He prettifies it with real Christian stuff. But inside is a ricin laden pellet with enough toxin to kill a whole community.

I won’t go on. The next post is my report to the church leadership based on what I witnessed at that seminar. You can imagine the effect it had, or didn’t have.

For a much smoother and more scholarly take on the subject of making oneself look like the world for the purposes of witnessing see this article - and read the comments section, too. As a bonus you get the rare sight of the left (and IMHO better) side of Phil Johnson’s face – not once, but twice in the opening graphic. No need for a vote - the "eyes" have it!
Postmodernism Parried
Three false premises of postmodern ministry displayed in a recent seminar.

Postmodernism, crooked thoughts for crooked minds1. That the failure of the traditional and/or modern church is a failure to present the gospel in ways relevant to changing cultural attitudes and realities

2. That the church must be "relevant" in order that the message be listened to by various elements of present society

3. That people are hungry to receive the truth, and only need it to be presented in a way they can relate to before they will accept it.

1) The failure of the traditional or modern church to present the gospel relevantly

Postmodernism, deconstructing lives It is easy to look at symptoms such as the decline of membership, or membership of a certain demographic component of the church population, and jump on simple solutions that promise "results". This seminar says we are out of date and that we need to adapt our presentation to a particular target group (postmoderns). The underlying problem, they say, is our staleness and our lack of relevancy. But is it? Is this truly the problem, or is it only a symptom of something far more basic?

I submit that the true failure of the church is not a failure in the method of presentation of the gospel, but a failure to live the gospel and to obey it as we first received it. In other words, liberalism and worldliness. There was nothing - nothing - in the postmodern seminar that threw any new light at all on our faith. All it did was condemn our failure to live it out. If we simply studied, knew and obeyed the gospel then we would find ourselves utterly relevant to the purposes of God in giving it. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to those that believe.

Our actual crisis is twofold. Firstly, we do not know the gospel. Secondly, we do not obey it. We do not know the gospel because those in charge over us either do not know it themselves, or do not communicate it faithfully to the congregation. We do not obey the gospel because those in charge do not obey it, or fail to make clear to the congregants the importance of obedience and the consequences of failure to obey. In either case, leadership must accept that the buck stops with them first.

There is no program, no series of shortcuts, no video, no book, no guru, no "new" teaching that is able to turn all this around. We tend to import "teachings" more because we see throwing programs at problems as the answer, hoping something will stick and magically solve them. Real leadership understands that problems are not solved instantaneously, but by identifying the root cause, changing the behaviour and working hard and faithfully at the change process. (Change designed to return us to where we should have been all along - not to some new playing field with behaviours and rules defined by the problem itself.)

It is obvious from the video that specific people have apparently found ways to bring the gospel to postmoderns. Bravo. But their success is not in their methodology. It is in their content. If weak, uninformed carnal and unsanctified people use all the techniques of this seminar to approach postmoderns they will have the same lack of success they are already having in their local congregation and in serving the people there. They will simply be expanding their unsuccessfulness. Effective outreach requires healthy and effective Christians. Before we set about evangelizing the community we ought to look to our own spiritual health. Physician heal thyself!

2) That the church must be "relevant"

Postmodernism, deconstructing useful thingsThe true church is made up of people in whom the Living Christ dwells by the Spirit through the obedience of faith. The more submitted and obedient to Him we are, the more He is seen in our thoughts, words and deeds. We must decrease and He must increase. In such a picture what can there be that we can call irrelevant to any age or society? What hinders Christ is nothing more nor less than our own failure to walk in Him. If we were so walking then He would be walking in us and who would dare to call Him irrelevant? He doesn't change. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is above and beyond past, present and future - beyond old, modern and post-modern. If our relationship with Him was all it should be we would be displaying Him by nature (not just by works) and His nature is always relevant.

Effectiveness "for" Christ is not found in what we do, but in who we are in Him. If we are in Him all else will spring naturally from Him through us. On that Day we will say to Him, "When were you in prison and we visited you, and when were you thirsty and we gave you to drink?" Why? Because we will not think of ourselves as having done anything at all "for" Christ - but of Him having done all in and for and through us. Such an attitude can come only from an abiding submission to Him. The carnal tendency is to run off and repay Christ through "doing" something. The spiritual reality is in abiding in Him while He effects it all through us.

Which one of us can say that Christ ineffectively delivered the message in His personal evangelism? Whether they all listened is another matter, to be taken up in point 3. But Christ did only what the Father was doing and spoke only what the Father was saying. Could God be ineffective or irrelevant? Relevancy lies not in what we do, but in Who is in us doing it. Any church in which the people are abiding in Christ - obedient, submitted, sanctified by grace - will do the works that Jesus did, and even greater works, because He has sent another Comforter (the Holy Spirit).

The whole message of the gospel, seen in the lives of Christ and the Apostles is NOT the relevancy of the presentation of the gospel, but the irrelevancy (to heavenly things) of the lifestyle of the hearers. The Samaritan woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Nicodemus, the Sadducees and the Pharisees - all received the plain unvarnished truth presented by taking from the person's own behaviour the message of sin and redemption, lostness and forgiveness, unrepentance and perdition.

Too often the uninformed misuse Paul's words that he has "become all things to all men that he might by all means save some" as an endorsement of adapting gospel presentation in order to be "relevant" to different communities. But a simple examination of the context shows that he is referring to not making his freedom in Christ a stumbling block for others. He conforms to the customs of the country he is in. But he always gets right to the central message of Christ crucified for sins. And he does it not with great philosophy, oratory, signs and wonders, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, trusting the Word of Power to be at work in the sons of light.

3) That people are hungry to receive the truth, and only need it to be presented in a way they can relate to before they will accept it

Postmodernism, deconstructing utility beyond recognitionThe fields are indeed white for harvest. We have been sent to reap that which we did not sow. Others have sown and we have entered into their labour. But it is God that gives the increase, no matter who sows and who labours. People in Jesus' time were hungry for the bread and the miracles - He was popular for a season - but in no time at all He was rejected and despised and crucified to the cries of them all. The gospel of truth is NOT popular. If our gospel is popular then we are most likely presenting another gospel. It is His sheep who hear His voice, and He calls them by name. When the gospel is preached then the "moths" will come to the flame, but the "cockroaches", contrary to the idea that they will scurry for the baseboards, will often try to eat the messenger.

The premise is wrong. It is not the method of presentation that makes the message accepted or not - it is the message itself, falling upon ground prepared by the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit has not prepared a heart nothing will make the message acceptable to a hearer. It is false and unbiblical to create the impression that people only have to hear the gospel in order to believe. Many hear the gospel and couldn't care less. Some hear it and are violently opposed to it. Simple experience teaches us this. But to teach that getting the message across guarantees the result is to put the onus on people to deliver the message perfectly and to blame them if the message is not received universally. From this sprouts and endless analysis and carnal efforts to refine, improve, sharpen, professionalize, systematize and formularize the gospel message instead of just delivering it.

Unsaved people are in an enslaved carnal state when they hear the gospel. Some in that carnal state are under conviction of sin. Most are not. Some will come under conviction during the presentation of the gospel. Most will not. Carnal people are unable to receive the things of the spirit for they are spiritually discerned. They must first be born again, which only God can do through the gift of faith. So, no matter how we dress up the introduction to the gospel to make it palatable to unbelievers they will never receive it based on the window dressing. What some will respond to is the gospel itself, presented as it ever was, in Spirit and in Truth.

The seminar itself is not "wrong". We must "go into all the world" and we must "preach the gospel to every creature". The only trouble is in the focus upon methodology. This appeals to weak Christian churches like ours as a potential solution to the unfruitfulness of their own lack of obedience and submission. It is a way to produce fruit by "associating" with the True Vine, but without drawing the sap from Him, and so we hope to be able to have a sort of fruit that enables us to say to Him, "Look what WE did for you." That is the gospel of demons. God alone will build His church, and He will do it through the process He has ordained; our abiding in Him, believing in the one He has sent, and preaching the gospel.

Attraction to programs like this, and the whole concept of pragmatism, such as that contained in Rick Warren's books, arises from the fatal errors of the neo-evangelicalism of the 20th Century. This, in turn, is spawned out of the humanistic corruption of the gospel brought by C.G. Finney in the first part of the 19th Century. The Word of God is Spirit. We do not make it work in people's hearts. We present it. The seminar said this in a convoluted and occluded way - and I knew beforehand, and from the ensuing discussions, that our leadership was only more confused by it all. They have been, for the most part, blown around by every wind of doctrine for years. And unless God intervenes it is a hopeless cause.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 28/05
"...if anybody is going to get evangelized, it's going to be because they find us a friendly place, a nice place. We want to be popular with the world because we believe that's the key to evangelization. Imagine that. We are in to this whole deal that the image of the church and its non-threatening structure is the key to evangelization. This kind of movement believes that the church will offend unbelievers if it preaches sin or hell or repentance or the cross and it will lose its prestige. So the new trend is for the church to build an image of love and care and being very nice and make everybody comfortable and make everybody happy and entertain the unbeliever and make sure they're never offended and make sure they are very very comfortable. And the bottom line is, if they like us they'll like Jesus. That's the bottom line."

John MacArthur - Sermon - "A Call for Discernment" - Part 1
Batter My Heart
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me,'and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to'another due,
Labor to'admit You, but O, to no end;
Reason, Your viceroy'in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love You,'and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy.
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I
Except You'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.

Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter my heart - John Donne
Zephyrs of the Zeitgeist
It looks so pious, so loving, so altogether spiritual when we refuse to condemn sin in another. We have attained, we think, to that lofty pinnacle of Christian maturity where we are finally able to show true love.

Well, enjoy the idyllic moment of peaceful self-satisfaction because, unfortunately the diamond needle of truth is about to dig discordantly across the vinyl and wreck future replays forever. We are hypocrites. We love applause, even when it is our own. So deceitful is the human heart – deceitful above all and desperately wicked – that it loves to pull the spiritual wool over any eyes at all. And we ourselves are the closest dupes available.

Much of the time, the reason we refuse to condemn sin in other people has nothing to do with love or spirituality. It has to do with hypocrisy of the most subtle kind. The kind that is protecting its own interests. For if we would obey God and condemn all sin, we would first have to condemn it in ourselves with the same hatred that God Himself does. God hates sin. He hates every false way.

When we think of God hating sin we ought not to think of it as a heavenly raise of the eyebrows or a “Tsk, tsk!” through pursed lips along with a wagging finger. That is a false idea. It is an idea from a fallen and perverse mind that is too delicate to think of the God of love as being given to unquenchably violent rage and eternal hatred. We think that would not be a very nice sort of God. He would not fit our own sensibilities because we ourselves are too pious to be that way. So we make a false idol.

Professing Christians so often hear the truth but simply don’t get it. They know Christ suffered the wrath of eternal God in their place upon the cross. They know it. But they refuse to believe it. How can they believe it and still say inane and vapid things that excuse any form of sin whatsoever in the name of love? How can they believe that Christ suffered the wrath of God because of their own personal wickedness – their utter corruption – and not make the connection with God’s hatred of sin?

It is true that His love and his vehement rage met in Christ on the cross – both were in plain view. But nothing that happened on the cross changed the nature of sin itself. There, Christ paid the price for the sin of all who believe in Him. The price was paid. Nobody was excused! Nothing was brushed under the rug. No eyes were averted. God’s law was not repealed. God did not stop hating sin. He hates it still. And all who do not come to Christ are still under the condemnation of a God whose wrath is being revealed from heaven even as we speak. Grace forbears and restrains the full and final revelation of it. And grace alone does so only until the full number of God’s people has been called in.

It is an unspeakable betrayal of Christ to misrepresent the nature of His sacrifice so basely as to characterize it as God overlooking sin – or to imply that God’s rage against the sins of all people was assuaged by the cross of Christ. It wasn’t. God is still enraged at all who are outside of Christ, and Christians need to say so.

By our salvation - by our being united with Christ - we Christians are united with the God Who hates sin. His thoughts have become our thoughts. His will has become our will. His nature has joined to our nature. Though assured of His forgiveness we do not cease to hate sin simply because the price for our own sin was paid. In fact, with our eyes opened we will hate sin all the more. And we will hate sin firstly and most passionately in ourselves.

The fact that we Christians have been forgiven all our past and future sins does not give us cause to minimize sin when it is manifest in us. It wounds us as it wounds God. It pierces us as it pierced Christ because we are one with Him. Christ did not cease to hate sin, even as He suffered for ours. Neither should we cease to hate sin in ourselves.

Now, I say all of this because the niceness – the daintiness – of those who will not hate sin right alongside their great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is an offence to God and an ignominy within the modern church. And the prevailing reason for much of this hypocritical delicacy is that people will not first condemn sin in themselves. If they did it would be a relatively easy matter to condemn sin wherever else it is seen. Perhaps many have never been convicted. It might be that some have never actually repented. We are not the final judge of that. We judge sin, not people. We judge it with God’s judgment using God’s thoughts and words. And if the cap fits, then let people wear it.

Here’s the rub. By lessening the horror and offence of sin in others we think that we can do so in ourselves. If they are not so bad, then we are not so bad. If their sins are mere peccadilloes, then ours are momentary aberrations – mere zephyrs of the zeitgeist amounting to zeros in eternity. This is false comfort. Self-deception. Lies from the father of lies and the murderer of souls.

If you seriously want to manifest love to someone then decry sin. Decry it in yourself. Hate it. Mourn over it. Despise it. Be filled with anger at it. When you can be honest about that, it will take much less effort to be honest about it in others.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 27/05
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Gensis 1:1 (ESV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1: 1-3 (ESV)
Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny?

For some people the sheer size of the universe is an intimidation to their belief in God. Our planet, rather than being at the centre of anything, is circling an unremarkable Class G yellow star in the outer part of one of the spiral arms of a not-very-spectacular galaxy - one of hundreds of billions of such structures within the known universe. It's kind of hard to attribute any importance to the puny little creatures on such a backwater as ours. Not only are we infinitesimally small compared to the universe, but we are too undramatically, unstrategically, unimportantly placed to be of any significance.

This whole view dovetails nicely into the 20th Century mindset that scientific thought has developed for us. It fits most comfortably into the picture of a random physical universe arising from a mathematical point of infinite density, which explosively expanded, without purpose, to create space-time. In the scientific view we are insignificant, random ephemeral by-products of chance. Ironically (perhaps even comically), it is only because we are able to perceive our own unimportance that science may consider the great importance of coming to the conclusion of just how unimportant we really are!

It is of no help for scientists to say that "life" itself is important, because we only know of one place where there is life and that is our puny planet. And the only self-conscious beings we know of are Homo Sapiens Sapiens, commonly known as us. And, if we really want to get picky, the only consciousness we know for sure exists is our own personal consciousness. Oh, there might be other life out there. Until very recently it was all the rage in scientific circles to speculate on the probability that, in our galaxy alone, there were hundreds of thousands of planets capable of supporting life - and thousands which probably did, or had, or would. Life was just busting out all over, if only we could figure out where!

But, in the last year or so, some cosmologists are beginning to think planets like ours are very rare indeed - perhaps only a few in the whole of our Milky Way. This shift is based on early data about the nature of planetary systems that we are just now discovering around other stars. It seems that most of the planets are gas giants like Jupiter and Neptune, and their orbits do not allow for earth-like interlopers.

I suppose the point is that good science is, and always has been, good science, whereas science as philosophy is, like Ephraim, "a cake not turned". What is accepted as the current scientific "wisdom" today may be passé in only a few years. I once remember reading a book in which Isaac Asimov was pontificating with almost apoplectic rage about the way in which people sometimes criticized science, as I seem to be doing now. Science, he insisted, may have been wrong when it said the earth was flat - then changed its mind to believe it was, in fact a globe - but it was only wrong by an order of magnitude. With the facts it had at any one time an imperfect theory was proffered. That theory was amended when additional facts became available from which was produced a more accurate theory - and so on. Progress according to Asimov!

But is it really progress when earths are as common as flies one minute and as rare as blue moons the next? I think not. While there is some truth in what Asimov asserted, those who use science as a philosophical instrument rather than a physical one, can jump from one "plausible" theory to another, of entirely the opposite import, in the blink of an eye. Even this would not be so bad as long as they were fully up front about their guesses and didn't carelessly disguise them as facts to the uninitiated.

One only has to recall that little gem which once formed one of the smaller pillars of evolutionism - that pearl of biological wisdom, championed by Ernst Haeckel, which told us that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". What was implied was that developing fetuses go through stages that look a bit like the stages of animal evolution. Single to multicellular organism, fish, amphibian, mammal, lemur/monkey, ape, human - or something like that. Though it was discredited long ago, elements of this blatant and false conjecture still persist in some science publications to this very day.

We've all imagined similar "transformations" in the way clouds move, but without postulating that they are proof of evolution. What we perceive in a set of data may say more about us than it does about the information we are looking at. In this case, it seemed to - especially since Haeckel altered the drawings to make his point. But that didn't stop fervent evolutionists from using this particularly wacky idea as a club to pound away upon a less scientifically minded public by presenting it as fact, and by using it in the arsenal of weapons assigned to ridiculing those who thought God made everything from nothing, as it says in Genesis.

Truthfully, science knows nothing of origins, of consciousness or of being - and I do not think it ever will. The physics of origins is riddled with unresolved infinities. Consciousness is interlaced with observed reality through quantum strangeness in ways we can not understand. Science has reached the barrier where observation must give way to postulation, and where theory cannot be tested without completely vitiating the result. The Anthropic principle looms larger the deeper science delves, until we can see only the mirror of ourselves when we look too deeply.

I don't advocate that we stop looking. I am, after all, not against science as science. But I do tend to prefer a science which, if it simply must philosophize, starts from a God centred, doctrinally sound, orthodox position, using Christian logical presuppositions, and which humbly and reverently inquires of our Maker what He would have us know about His universe. I suspect that ontogeny will truly have to recapitulate phylogeny before that happens!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 26/05
It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the Cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied.

Oswald Chambers - "My Utmost for His Highest" - November 19th
The Deceitfulness of Sin
Luke 6:6-11

6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come and stand here." And he rose and stood there. 9 And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, "Stretch out your hand." And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Copyright ©2005 The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. (Back to the Bible)Lincoln, Nebraska, USA  Used by permission. This incident reinforces the depravity of the minds of the religious leadership. Now, instead of reacting to something Christ permitted, as with the disciples shucking ears of grain on the Sabbath - they have compounded their error. This is a progressive hardening of the heart. It is a clarion call to us all. "While it is called today repent and do not harden your hearts!" They have begun not merely to question - not only to criticize - but now to sit in judgment watching for an opportunity to attack.

How easily sin multiplies in the human heart! How readily we rush to add more corruption to our already sad state! We can sit in judgment on these men only inasmuch as we are identifying with Christ against ourselves - against our own sin. There, literally but for the grace of God, go we. Yet we must hate sin as Christ hates it. And we can do so properly only when we agree with Him about our own helpless condition, apart from the operations of His grace upon us. When we condemn, we condemn ourselves. Yet we must condemn sin wherever it is found. What wisdom there is at work in this!

So here the scribes and Pharisees hold up the mirror to me. When my foot slips I see how much more readily the next mis-step comes; how much easier it is; how by and by one thing can lead to another until, unless Christ had bought me, I would become a reprobate by my own hardening. O how God calls for me to see the exceeding sinfulness of sin - the deceitfulness of it. How the way that leads to destruction is broad and easy and natural to that man which I was, and that monster that I still am unless yielded to Christ. God save me from myself!

I hope I never think - and that no Christian gives rein to that line of thought - that there is not such malice in me as to lay in wait for Christ, the King of Heaven, to twist His pure words and deeds into something that serves my own corrupt need for validation, power and renown at His expense. I am a son of Adam just as these and, in Adam, was just as lost. Did Christ not even now sustain me I would be amongst these wolves like a cur, growling alongside them and yearning for blood.

It is the human condition, pointed out by non other than Paul in Romans 2:1, to ease our consciences with the false comfort that others are worse than we. But no! We are of the same lump of clay. It is God who sovereignly forms of this same lump one vessel for honoured use and another for dishonoured use. (Romans 9:21)

Let not my own lament detract from the evil that lies at the hearts of these men. For like all evil it strikes ultimately at the heart of God. All sin is against Him, and is to be abhored. No less this petty, sly, calculating perversity that watches a man in need and regards that need only as a form of bait to trap the holiest man who ever drew breath. Can you see the depravity of it? Can you see it and abhor and condemn it? Does not the Word of God in some measure draw back the curtain of your own hardened heart from its overweening familiarity with sin and begin to let you see sin’s horror?

Yet the malice of men has no power to threaten Christ - to intimidate in the slightest. His course is straight. He came to do God’s will, as it is written of Him in the scroll of the book, and He would not depart from that for the whole world. Without a moment’s hesitation and undoubteldy knowing what was in their hearts, He turned not aside from love and compassion and mercy, though He knew they would as like to have killed Him for it.

O God! Were I but possessed of one small iota of such selfless love! Would I but suffer death to show God’s love in the world before His enemies - yes, and even to them. But I often find it difficult enough to let His love be expressed in me toward my friends. Were it not for grace there are times I might despair. And at the moment when all seems blackest and most hopeless He deigns to brush my cheek with some faint glimmer of His love for me that spurs me on again.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

No Blogpost Today - Sep 25/05
No blogging today. I am out of town visiting my younger son.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 24/05
Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.

Isaiah 50:10-11 (AV) - emphasis mine
Hold the Catch-up

Our God is a relational God. He would still be a relational God if He had never made another being, angel or human. His relationship is expressed within Himself – between the Persons of the Godhead and it is entirely self-sufficient, needing nothing from any of His creatures. But He has chosen to make creatures nevertheless. In His creative love, He has purposed to make beings who can delight in Him.

We were, in fact, made in His very image. We were endowed with the faculties that make us conscious, rational, moral beings who could willingly relate to Him in love. The fall corrupted all of that. The redemption restores it. Yet redemption goes even further because it discloses an attribute of God that we could never otherwise have known, whereby He can be loved for His grace towards those who despise and reject Him.

Though God is not the cause of evil, He is certainly the permitter of it. And His wisdom had to have known, before He even made him, that man would fall. God did not cause man to fall, but he made man able to fall. Yet, despite what many might think, the redemption was not a "Plan B" devised to react to the unforeseen. God does not play catch-up. Though we cannot know the secret things of the Divine Mind we can be sure that God, Who knows the end from the beginning, made mankind even though He knew he would fall.

Only Omnipotence and Holiness could possibly encompass such a course of action. For He already knew, without being the proximate cause, that millions would be consigned to a hell of eternal damnation as a result of His creative act. What could possibly be worth such a debacle? Whatever it is, it must be something unimaginably wonderful and glorious. And it must be something in which the Living God will be vindicated as blameless, holy and loving, because He cannot act contrary to His nature.

And I am convinced that this glorious thing that God is doing from before the beginning of the world is in nothing less than revealing his grace through Jesus Christ, His Son. We are told that He is destined as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. We know that those who are in Christ were chosen before the foundation of the world to be vessels of His righteousness – holy and blameless before Him. It is inferred that the names of the elect were written in the book of life before the world began.

God had a plan from before the beginning of the creation that is centred in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that all things are from Him and through Him and to Him. We are told that all things were made by Him and that in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. He is before all things and all things hold together in Him. He is worthy to receive blessing and honour and glory and power forever. He is the very image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He came to make the Father known and to show us the Way by being the Way. He is the centre of all history and the reason for all existence.

He is the expression of the wisdom of God. Crucified, submitted, empty of self. He is alien to fallen humanity, which is unwilling to die, rebellious and full of self. And He came to forge the means and the way by which many sons would come to glory. It is His grace that makes it all possible. His willingness to be emptied of all the glory of His rightful Godhead. To live as man ought to have lived, even in the midst of a world that hated Him, surrounded by strong bulls of Bashan in the form of the evil spirits bent on His destruction. All of His own creation was against Him - conspiring, opposing, rebelling – and still He came, lived and died ignominiously as a criminal for the glory of the Father and the sake of the saints He came to save.

For this reason God has highly exalted Him and given Him a Name above all Names. He has shown us the Way. Emptiness of all self and the putting to death of the flesh – the expression of the most abject humility as the pathway to glorious exaltation at the hand of God. There is no glory without the cross. No salvation. And what was true of God in human form is no less true of His mere creatures.

Now should we bow down in awe. For this has been the purpose of God from eternity. That through the rebellion of His creation His most glorious attributes of grace, mercy and love should be displayed towards those who are being saved.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 23/05
It is the glory of the Spirit to uplift the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mark of the Spirit-filled church is not a church that talks about the Spirit, it is a church that talks about Christ. The mark of the Spirit-filled person is not a person who is concerned and talking continually about the Spirit, but it is a person who is concerned and talking continually about the glory of Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Spirit in our lives.

Ray C. Stedman
The Fundamentals – The Meaning of "God"
See what happens with faulty foundations!
It may seem rather obvious to regard the denial of God Himself as a departure from the fundamentals of the faith. But the enemies of truth are exceedingly clever and the chief enemy of all is more subtle than all. One of his most successful means of undermining the Christian faith is through the gradual redefinition of words. This is what is behind much of postmodern influence in the church and is what is at the core of one of the latest attacks upon Christianity – Open Theism.

What does the word “God” mean to Christians? Is He the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, holy, just, loving creator and sustainer of all His hands have made, working all these things and events according to His Own will from a plan formed before the foundation of the world, bringing everything towards His preordained ends? That is the God of the Bible. It is the God revealed in scripture to all believing Jews and Gentiles. It is the God Who spoke through the prophets, Who made promises He has kept down through the ages – the most important of which is realized in the Incarnation of His Son - the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

From this it becomes clear that what is believed about the very nature of God - both His amoral and His moral attributes - is absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith. An improper understanding leads to an improper practice. To be off course by one degree at the start of a journey is to be hundreds of miles adrift towards its end, unless a correction is made.

To deny God’s omnipotence is to deny the meaning of the word “God". It is to deny His Godhead itself by limiting His power. To deny His omnipresence limits His reach. To deny His omniscience limits His knowledge. To deny His holiness undermines His moral perfection. To deny His justice undermines His perfect judgments. To deny His love undermines His sacrifice. Is there a true Christian anywhere who can deny any of the following?
God is omnipotent
God is omnipresent
God is omniscient
God is holy
God is just
God is love

I feel quite comfortable in stating that any professor who denies any of these things denies the God of the Bible. To do that is to deny Christ and to deny Christ is to be condemned. It’s tough, I know – but remember that I am not speaking of ignorance here. I am speaking of denial. Willful, informed, considered denial in the face of loving correction. It is an active thing. “I do not accept this as truth.” If you do not accept these things then you do not accept the Christ Who came to declare and to show them, and without Whom there is no salvation.

It goes without saying that any pastor, teacher, elder, seminarian, apologist or other leader who openly and actively denies, undermines, or publicly questions these things has departed from the faith - or never had it to begin with. As such they cannot help but harm the flock, lead others astray and undermine the cause of Christ. Again, it's not very complicated. We make it complicated by misunderstanding the differences between discernment and judgment and between saints and serpents. Or perhaps we do so by a simple failure to stand on our hind legs, acquit ouselves as men and show that we believe God.

It is only as long as these false teachers abide in the church that they are to be judged, disciplined and if necessary expelled. It is the loving thing to do. When they are outside the church where they belong, then they can be evangelized and loved as we would any other pagan - without judgment or discipline and with a call to repentance and faith.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 22/05
God does not find faithful people - He makes them.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings Vol 1.1
The Virginal Imperative
Luke 1: 26 - 27 (ESV)

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.

In the prophetic passage of Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew word "al-maw" is translated "parthenos" by the Septuagint translators. It is "parthenos" that is used here in the New Testament for "virgin". By this we can see that there is no doubt that the early church clearly believed in the virgin birth of Jesus. There is also no demonstrable place in scripture where the Hebrew word "al-maw" is ever translated as anything but a virgin - a girl of marriagable age who has never known a man.

If Jesus was not born of a virigin then He is a son of Adam - rather than being the New Adam - and our faith is in vain. If Mary was not a virgin then Jesus inherited a sinful nature from Adam through an earthly father, and was born a sinner by nature, unable to save anyone. Denial of the virgin birth of Christ is a denial of the faith and a heresy worthy of its perpetrator being put out of the church until and unless he repents.

The Father of Christ is and must be the Heavenly Father by the means of the Holy Spirit. Only the Son of God, perfectly holy and without original sin, could save man. And only if He became a man by being born of a woman. By one man’s sin (Adam) death came, and death spread to all men in that all men sinned. (Romans 5:12) Yet if by one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. (Romans 5:15)

This underlies the doctrine of the hypostatic union in the nature of Christ wherein He is described as being completely human and utterly God. His nature is 100% of each, simmultaneously in the same body. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Though unimaginable it is nevertheless true. Our minds cannot truly conceive of what it must be like. We can only accept what God says. I think this is a part of the "foolishness" that the world stumbles at, and that believers are given the grace to accept.

To see Christ was to have seen the Father. To see Him now is to see the Father. Back in the day, "seeing" Christ was no different than seeing Him is today. It was not merely a physical perception of his human form. It was about seeing Who it was that was in that human form. Christ was then, and is now, perceived only by the eye of faith. Without the gift of faith only a man can be seen, though all of His words and his demeanour are evidence of the Person of God.

It was not about His appearance at all. He had no comeliness that we should think anything special of Him. No images, sculptures or other representations of Him have survived. This is no accident. It is God’s providence. There are spurious relics such as the rumoured cloth of Veronica upon which the image of Christ’s bloody face was supposedly imprinted; and there is the Shroud of Turin upon which an image of the resurrecting Christ is supposed to have been transferred to a burial cloth by the blinding light of His glory.

But the relic business - especially as it pertains to actual images of Christ seems to me to be in direct contravention of God’s purpose in Christ’s fully human anonymity. We would walk by Him in a crowd. He was unremarkable to look at, and God meant it to be that way. God meant it to be that we have no image of His physical appearance. The focus must be on Christ, the Word. Christ come from heaven. Christ, God’s ultimate communication to man. (Hebrews 1:1-2) Literally, God has spoken to us "in Son". He came as a man, yes - a fully human person - but it was more than His humanity that we are to "see".

...when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)

A body was prepared for the eternal Son of God to live in. He became fully human, though He remained fully divine. He took humanity upon Himself then and forevermore. He is the very expression of the invisible God, made visible in humanity. Visible to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. He is not, nor was He ever, hidden by an overt act on God’s part - but only by the wilfull and perverse blindness of human depravity.

The supernatural conception and the virgin birth of Christ are foundational to the gospel and may not be denied by any professor of the faith. If they are then that person’s faith is, indeed, in vain.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep21/05
"I remember an aged minister used to observe, - that the most learned and knowing Christians, when they come to die, have only the same plain promises of the Gospel for their support, as the common and unlearned:' and so, I find it. It is the plain promises of the Gospel that are my support; and, I bless God, they are plain promises, that do not require much labour and pains to understand them."

Isaac Watts (just prior to his death)
The Fundamentals
Everywhere I go these day there seems to be a question or a comment about the fundamentals of the faith. The scholars are asking. The sheep are bleating. But there seems to be little concensus about what the fundamentals truly are.

Some of the confusion arises, it seems to me, because of a failure to distinguish between what one must believe in order to become saved and what one may not deny and still be regarded as saved. We are all born as spiritual babies into the kingdom of God. Some come in by dramatic conversion and some by a more gradual process. There is no rule of thumb as to the character of the circumstances by which God saves people. God cannot be put in a box by his creatures in that way.

For example, we are virtually all born again as Arminians. It is the belief system closest to our natural condition and provides the most easily digestible milk upon which new babies can grow. But there comes a time of weaning when the solid food of the gospel of grace must be applied to the whole panoply of our unfolding spiritual life. We have to grow up. There was no harm in the milk. In fact, it was good for us in the right time. But an exclusive diet of milk becomes increasingly harmful to those who are growing up into adulthood. Eventually we come to see the overarching sovereign hand of God in more and more things, and we begin to realize that our salvation was a work of God affecting even our will to receive Christ.

The child of God does not know all the truths to begin with – especially the deeper truths. Yet he is still a child of God. To be safe, however, this child must take the part of the child – as Christ Himself indicated. The child does not pontificate upon things of which he knows nothing. He is inquisitive. He is open. He is receptive. What he does not know or understand he will inquire about. He may get it wrong and need correction. But he grows and learns. And each does so at a unique pace so that some mature exceptionally quickly, while others take years. Some even die in childhood.

So, newborn Christians are not born theologians. They come on the simplest of terms. They are convicted of their sinfulness, they hear the gospel of Christ, they believe and come to Him for forgiveness and reconciliation to God. For them there is no ordo salutis. They are perishing and they take the way out that is made available. You don’t stop to read the fire code while the building is burning around you.

The matter of the fundamentals becomes much broader as Christians grow. It is one thing not to know the great foundations of the faith and quite another once having been made aware of them, to deny them outright. God has ordained a church body in which there are always some who are mature and many who are at various stages along the way. It’s not really rocket science. The younger learn from the older. The spiritual novices learn from the spiritually mature warriors. And God holds the mature more accountable than He does the babes. Teachers, Pastors and Elders are held to the highest standards by God Himself.

For those purporting to be something in the faith (having answered the call to positions of responsibility in the body) to deny fundamental truths about which a novice is merely ignorant is an abomination. It is not hard to see why. The sheep learn from the shepherds. If the shepherds have it wrong the sheep will likewise fall into error. So, if a shepherd stumbles over a fundamental and will not receive correction from his peers or from the body at large then he is to be rightly and speedily removed from the position of influence and, ultimately from the body itself.

Similar standards apply to every one else in the whole body throughout the entire maturing process. Not to understand is one thing – but to actively deny what is commonly held as a fundamental truth requires immediate attention and correction – up to and including disfellowshiping.

So there is a distinction to be made here. That distinction is to consider what is necessary for entrance into the kingdom and what may not be actively denied by its professing citizens. Leadership, in all its forms, is an extreme case in which the active denial of fundamentals is most deadly. It follows, therfore, that it is at the leadership that the buck first stops. A rotten and dying fellowship is most likely indicative of an apostate or heretical leadership. The most damaging corruption always starts from the top down.

None of this answers what the fundamentals actually are. In some future posts I am going to take a stab at defining them as an exercise for my own faith. They say that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Just remember that my definitions are based upon what a professing believer may not deny – and not necessarily what he must believe simply in order to pass from death to life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 20/05
Certainly, unless our contact with God is based upon knowledge of Him it ceases to possess any moral quality at all. Pure feeling is non-moral; what makes my affection for a human friend, for example, such an ennobling thing is the knowledge which I possess of the character of my friend. So it is also with our relation to God: religion is moral and personal only if it is based upon truth.

J. Gresham Machen - "My Idea of God"
Coming Out of the Canker Closet
I happened to be browsing the redoubtable Steve Hays' blog, Triablogue, the other day and came upon a post that was reproduced in its entirety from an Al Mohler article entitled "It Takes One to Know One - Liberalism as Atheism" . The article is about Gerd Ludemann, a one-time professing Christian scholar and theologian. Now, I wouldn't know Gerd Ludemann if I tripped over him at an apostates convention, but I was rather interested in what he had to say about his ex-associates in the liberal camp, and the implications for the rest of us. This is an excerpt from the article:

Having come face to face with his unbelief, Ludemann has now turned his guns on church bureaucrats and liberal theologians. Many church officials, Ludemann claims, no longer believe in the creeds, but simply "interpret" the words into meaninglessness. Liberal theologians, he asserts, try to reformulate Christian doctrine into something they can believe, and still claim to be Christians. He now describes liberal theology as "contemptible."

Looking back on the whole project of liberal theology, Professor Ludemann offered an amazing reflection: "I don't think Christians know what they mean when they proclaim Jesus as Lord of the world. That is a massive claim. If you took that seriously, you would probably have to be a fundamentalist. If you can't be a fundamentalist, then you should give up Christianity for the sake of honesty."

It's a real comfort to lowly and bumbling little sheep such as I to know that there are shepherd/theologians like Dr. Mohler who haven't sold out to liberalism and who can smell a rat and call it the verminous rodent that it is. And it's especially pleasing that he does it in this case by using the words of an apostate and heretic who had been lurking around in wolf's clothing gnawing on the sheep for years.
The point isn't Ludemann's former hypocrisy. He has, after all, come out of the canker closet - so to speak. The problem is not the rats that fall over the rail but the ones that stay behind and chew holes in the hull. Dr. Mohler masterfully calls attention to the sorry state of the fifth column of false professors that still inhabit the Christian clerisy. And he does it out of the mouth of one of their own. I was a tad worried about the tone of my own blogpost "Get a Real Job" , but I'm feeling a lot easier now that I've heard someone with real understanding make a similar point.

But the indictment is not just against the liberal theologians. It is against every member of the church from the theologians to the lowly laity who fails to not only adhere to, but also to defend vigorously the fundamentals of the faith.

Now, if we could just get the Pyromaniac to tell us what they are...
The Wages of Sin

The effects of sinThe daughter of a close friend of mine is serving in short-term mission in a country where poverty, disease, violence and death are nearer to everyday experience than here in "civilized" society. She recently witnessed the laboured expiry of a small baby. It had been brought to a mission clinic in an advanced state of malnutrition and disease. The technician had to tell the father that it was too late for human intervention to help. My friend's daughter and the technician simply watched and prayed as, over the space of half an hour, the baby grew fitfully weaker and finally passed into eternity. What follows is my note to her about what happened.

I read your diary entry about the dying baby. There are a number of things described in the Bible as "profound mysteries". Christ Incarnate is one and the gospel another. Unity in marriage is also one, along with its representation of our union with Christ. Death is one more. Sin is yet another.

What you wrote reminded me of two incidents in my own life. One was when my kids were still young and they brought to me a tiny baby rabbit they had found in the wild. They had taken it from a cat. It was still alive, but barely. When it stopped breathing I tried to gently push in and out on its chest, which was no bigger than my own small fingernail. Then I took a straw and tried to gently blow air into its tiny lungs. It revived a couple of times but then it finally expired for good. We were all somehow humbled and quieted by this - even this - small example of the passing of a life.

Then there is the story of my own brother-in-law. He had suffered from type 1 (juvenile) diabetes all his life and hadn't been very good about his medication. He loved the outdoors - hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, cottaging - that sort of stuff. But in his 30's the damage done to his body from the ravages of neglecting his treatment began to appear. His kidneys failed and my wife donated one to him. His eyesight started to go from the effects of diabetic retinopathy. The he developed glaucoma and had to have his eyes removed. After that came neuropathy (deadening of the nerves - particularly in the extremities) which led to gangrene in his toes. They removed both of his legs. During his recuperation from that, he started to have seizures. Within a few weeks he died.

The whole process was difficult to witness (let alone undergo). He was not a Christian. For a while, when he was in the hospital, he wanted me to read to him from the Bible - which I did - starting in John. But by the time we reached chapter 3 he had decided that he didn't want to hear any more. He only ever asked me one question which was, "Do you believe I'll go to hell when I die." I didn't love him enough to give him a straight answer. Today I would have said, "Yes - unless you repent and receive Christ." But I was intimidated at the time by the apparent cruelty of such a bald truth needing to be delivered in such poignant circumstances.

When he was slipping away from life - no longer conscious and gripped with convulsions - there was a man of the cloth in the palliative care area of the hospital who was ministering to the family. I will always remember the overawing sense of this man's profound humility and quiet in the face of the mystery of the very real death that was occurring. No glib answers. No cold theology. Just a sort of bowing of the whole soul under the omnipotent, final, mysterious will of God. It was almost - no, it was - a moment of the most beautiful worship I have ever witnessed. And it was found in the darkest of places at one of the darkest of moments. Your story reminded me of that moment.

But, now that the moment has passed - both for me and my brother-in-law and for you and that tiny, helpless child - there are lessons to be learned. Death is the very real consequence of sin. Never forget that moment of profound humility that you doubtless felt when the ravages of sin did their worst to this child of Adam. It will keep you from ever preaching a cheap grace or a cold and unconnected theology. The wages of sin is death. And all sinned in Adam - even the tiny baby that died. That is why he/she died. Sin is why the baby died. As a child of Adam, the baby was a sinner by birth and so was already condemned to die - as are all men who were ever born. Don't miss this. The fact that it was an "innocent" baby ought to humble us to the very core at the profound consequences of sin under the flaming fire of the holiness of God. Meditate upon it and you will never become sentimental about death and dying. Come to grips with the reality of the light of the truth of God about original sin and its universal application to all men everywhere and everywhen.

But physical death is not the end. In Christ God has provided the way of salvation from eternal death - the Way to eternal life, which life starts the moment a sinner believes and receives Christ. The baby you saw and loved briefly (and will see again in heaven) did not come to this. God was merciful. He removed all doubt as to whether the little being would grow up to receive Him, by snatching that child from the world even before he/she could commit that conscious personal and unrepented sin for which all receive the sentence of eternal death from a just and holy God. Like John Piper I believe that God provided in Christ a just and eternal solution to the death of babies who never sinned after the likeness of their father, Adam. It is this confidence (which comes from God) that produces that deep and humble sense of His sovereign, holy, just and loving nature - a sense that strikes us all dumb in His presence - that stops every mouth and causes every knee to bow. Just as I also was humbled in the presence of that pastor so many years ago - when I witnessed a soul passing from life to eternal judgement under the righteous wrath of God.

We are saved by grace alone, through the intervention of God. It is entirely His work. It is monergistic (the work of God alone - not the result of the cooperation of God and the person being saved - which would be synergistic). The salvation of the baby proves sit. What could that child have done to be saved? Yet can we doubt that the God of love nevertheless justly saved him in Christ? So it is with all who are saved. We are all saved as from the dead. All who come, come into the kingdom by God's gracious election and intervention. Understanding this will keep you in that place of awe and humility. God saves whom He wills. No one can boast except in Jesus Christ. We see God save one and we rejoice. We see God pass over another and we are humbly reminded of what could have happened to us.

May God bless you and keep you. I am jealous of the true, sharp reality lessons that God is revealing to you through your obedience of faith. The real world is where mere theology dies and true spirituality comes to life. You are there. Don't divorce the truth from the experience. You are in my prayers always.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 19/05
It’s not what you do that makes you a Christian; what makes you a Christian is what Christ does in you.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 1.26
Seeing Nothing With Open Eyes
Acts 9:8

Saul being blinded to the world that he might learn to see JesusSaul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

After God had stopped Saul in his tracks with a blinding vision and directed him as to what to do next, then Saul opened his eyes. And what did he see? He saw - nothing. His eyes were open and he perceived nothing.

This is the condition of every human child who is born into the world. Their eyes are open but they see nothing with comprehension or understanding. They are a blank page upon which the impressions and patterns of light begin their work, and the mystery of the brain begins to categorize and sort them into the visual perception that is common to most of us.

As all children are born into the death of Adam, separate from the light of God’s Spirit, they can know only darkness from the womb. By means of godly parents seeds may be planted to gestate in that darkness. They fall to the dead earth and die, waiting that moment when they are called forth by the warmth and light of the Son. But it is nevertheless darkness that fills all that come into the world.

Our children are born lost. They are born blind. What a great act of trust and love for God it must therefore be for Christians to become parents at all. What hope there is in it! What sense of joy there must be in anticipation of the possibility of the grace of God bringing into the everlasting kingdom another precious little one of Christ’s.

Yet the path by which they may come is through the darkness. We must all be conceived and initiated first in the valley of the shadow of death. We must all be in darkness before we know the light. We must all be blind to the things of heaven and be captives of the things below. A veritable storm of twisted perception and information assails the forming minds and hearts of babies. Their lostness is sealed the moment it begins to pour in, and confirmed with every new piece of information. They come into a godless, lightless world and stumble in darkness all of their days unless and until God gives them sight.

And when He does, the whole process starts all over again. When they are reborn of the Spirit of God their eyes are opened and, like Saul, they see nothing. But then the Spirit of God in them begins His work of reinterpreting and illuminating all that God has made. It is good. It is good that they no longer see the things that for so long deceived them. Their perception is now a blank upon which God can begin to write the Truth. They will see what He shows them. Their eyes will be trained to let in the light and to ignore the darkness in which they had previously moved.
Forsake Me Not
"Forsake me not. Father, forsake not thy child, lest he fall by the hand of the enemy. Shepherd, forsake not thy lamb, lest he wander from the safety of the fold. Great Husbandman, forsake not thy plant, lest it wither and die. ‘Forsake me not, O Lord, ‘ now; and forsake me not at any moment of my life. Forsake me not in my joys, lest they absorb my heart. Forsake me not in my sorrows, lest I murmur against thee. Forsake me not in the day of my repentance, lest I lose the hope of pardon, and fall into despair; and forsake me not in the day of my strongest faith, lest faith degenerate into presumption. Forsake me not, for without thee I am weak, but with thee I am strong. Forsake me not, for my path is dangerous, and full of snares, and I cannot do without thy guidance. The hen forsakes not her brood, do thou then evermore cover me with thy feathers, and permit me under thy wings to find my refuge. ‘Be not far from me, O Lord, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.’ ‘Leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation!’"

C.H. Spurgeon - Morning - May 24th

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 18/2005
I believe that today's churches are simply in a transitional period and if they fail to repudiate their experimentation and repent of its outworkings, the day will shortly be upon us when evangelical spirituality will become indistinguishable from New Age spirituality.

David F. Wells - "God in the Wasteland"
A Cosmic Pest Problem
St. Michael and SatanThe Bible makes it clear that we human beings were made to be servants – not autonomous little islands of will, picking and choosing according to our own momentary whims. We either serve God or we serve Satan. We cannot serve both. But in either case serving is what we do because that’s how we were made.

On the heavenly scale of beings we are not much to behold. The most miserable and weak demon is more than a match for any of us. One glance from the devil is enough to twist us up into such knots of confusion that an entire lifetime can be spoiled or confused. And most of mankind is indeed hopelessly snared in a vast snarl of lies that is for all intents and purposes unsolvable. It’s called being “lost”.

You’d think that we Christians were doing much better. But we know that it isn’t by our own power at all that we escape many of the enemy’s wiles. Jesus did it for us and the Holy Spirit applies it in us. We simply believe it. And we can hardly do that some of the time. We can get into whole pile of trouble if we start to think that it is something of ourselves that controls demonic activity. “Jesus I know, and Paul I know – but who are you?” asked the demons of the seven sons of Sceva, before stripping them naked and beating them silly. These Jewish exorcists had used the name of Jesus “whom Paul preaches” without having Jesus in themselves. (Acts 19:13-16)

Demons – fallen angels – belong to an order of creation that is vastly more intelligent and powerful than we are. Their head honcho is so powerful and smart that he was once regarded as second only to the Almighty Himself. But, as we shall see, that’s a pretty distant second.

Even the greatest demon (Satan) is a created being. He is finite. His power and intelligence is limited. Though far and away superior to ours, it is still so far below that of God that it pales into insignificance. For an egomaniac like Satan that’s just got to be infuriating. To realize that he is no more than a mere cosmic pest to God must be the bitterest gall of all. God is able to stomp him out, rein him in and check his spite and malice at any time. God has that power.

But pest control is more than just crushing bugs. It is preventing more of their kind from appearing. It is building a barrier that says “Pests not welcome – look what happened to the last lot.” And in the heavenly realm, where powerful and intelligent beings are warring, the stakes are very very precious indeed. God is certainly able to put an end to the invasion of evil by simple fiat – the same way He said, “Let there be…” in order to make all that there is. He could simply say, “Let there not be…,” and it would be done.

It seems to me that Satan must believe that God has a weakness or he wouldn’t carry on. I expect that he thinks that God’s Achilles heel is in His love and holiness - that He will compromise one or the other in His dealings with mankind. The devil has the temerity and the gall to accuse even God by daring Him to act against His own nature. It’s a spiritual game of sticking out your tongue and trying to provoke the other into coming down to your own level. If you are a damned creature the only hope there can be is that your accuser, your judge, your enemy is shown to be no better than yourself. Its foolish to appeal to the honour of an enemy you want to corrupt, but when that’s all you have then you go with it.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord that He and He alone has put to shame the principalities and powers through the glory and power of His cross. Thanks to Him that He did it without compromising either His love or His holiness - and that He is now demonstrating that victory in His church.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Quote of the Day - Sep 17/05
Multitudes seem to think that it is about as easy for a sinner to purify his heart as it is to wash his hands; to admit the searching and flesh-withering light of Divine truth into the soul, as the morning sun into his room by pulling up the blinds; to turn from idols to God, from the world to Christ, from sin to holiness, as it is to turn a ship right round by the help of her helm. O my reader, be not deceived on this vital matter: to mortify the lusts of the flesh, to be crucified unto the world, to overcome the Devil, to die daily unto sin, and live unto righteousness, to be meek and lowly in heart, trustful and obedient, pious and patient, faithful and uncompromising, loving and gentle; in a word, to be a Christian, to be Christlike, is a task far, far beyond the poor resources of fallen human nature.

Arthur W. Pink - "Saving Faith"
The Unseen Line
There is a time, we know not when,
A point we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.

There is a line by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God's patience and His wrath.

How long may we go on in sin?
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end, and where begin
The confines of despair?

An answer from the skies is sent;
"Ye that from God depart,
While it is called today, repent,
And harden not your heart."

Dr. J. Addison Alexander
The Diet of Worms

Earthworms have a very exclusive diet. They eat dirt. That’s it. They extract from common soil all that is needed for the nourishment of their darkened little lives below ground. Light is anathema to them and, should one of them be caught in the glare of a flashlight when visiting the surface at night, he will dart for the cover of dirt as fast as his follicles can carry him.

If, from the title of this piece, you were expecting a scholarly work on the life of Martin Luther or the beginnings of the Reformation I apologize for misleading you. We may get around to the Reformation later, but by a circuitous route. For now, let us go back to considering worms.

I am struck by the similarities between these blind, light-phobic, dirt-eating little creatures and the Biblical picture of fallen mankind. Do worms eat dirt? Consider how fallen mankind diets delightedly and determinedly upon the unclean vanities of an existence in rebellion against God. Do worms flee from the light? Hear how fallen men prefer the pitch of darkness and will not come into the light at all. Are worms blind? Consider that the Word of God that uses metaphor to portray the nature of fallen man as blind.

Of course, it is forbidden in this day and age to associate worms with the condition of mankind. It is no longer considered acceptable in a post-modern church, where self-image, self-respect and just about self-everything-else has come to the fore. We are far too enlightened to allow that sort of “dehumanizing” description to distort the new picture of men as lovable, but wrong-headed little scamps who need to have their mistakes fixed up. Consider, for example that great hymn of Isaac Watts from 1707 entitled “At The Cross”. The first verse originally read as follows:

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Since then, the old-fashioned “excesses” of diminishing the status of man and of exalting the Name of God have gradually been all but eradicated. Until we have now arrived at the place where we can regard the words of Watts as that sort of over-the-top hyperbole or false humility which was so typical of less enlightened times. God forbid that people today should be offended with such imagery and be encouraged to see themselves as worms!

Yet, when the Bible speaks of men as “worms”, it could just as easily be understood to be comparing them to maggots, which is an even less sympathetic symbol. Job’s friend, Bildad the Shuhite, covered the entire spectrum when he said, “Behold, even the moon is not bright and the stars are not clean in his sight; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (Job 25: 5-6)

But let us delve a little deeper. That great prophetic Psalm 22 which foretells the agonies and shame of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, upon the cross puts the very word into our Lord’s own mouth when He says in verses 6-7, “But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads…”

Yet it was your shame and mine that He was bearing. It was on our behalf that he was regarded as a “worm” in the place of we, the true worms. The Son of Man became a “worm” for the sons of man who are worms. Of course, this is all figurative. But, in using the term “worm” the Lord, the Psalmist, and the Spirit who inspired him actually meant to portray us as utterly corrupt, rather than simply as “naughty children” in need of a good spanking.

In reality, there is a far too inadequate view of mankind’s depravity pervading much of Christian consciousness in the modern age. And shepherds are doing neither sheep nor comers any favours if they fail to present the picture of their condition properly. Through fear of offending congregants or concern that the unsaved will be turned away if we tell them what God says about them in His Word, we have actually sown the seeds of our own downfall.

By our euphemisms we attract not penitents but patients. And we build not disciples but dependents. We are found not demarcating holiness but diluting it. For there is a godly order that must be followed by all who would strive to enter in at the narrow gate. They may not be brought immediately to the denial of all self, but they must be pointed to it from the very first. They must know the cost and count it. They must be shown what they truly are so that they will flee from it into the everlasting arms of their Saviour, and from there keep leaning upon Him. They must be set upon the road that leads to the utter loss of their own life so that Christ may live His life in them.

God will accomplish all that He purposes in those who are truly His. But woe to those who make their journey slower, who retard their sanctification by withholding and misrepresenting the truth and who, thereby, actually put stumbling blocks before them. In the name of false kindness and sensitivity they actually hinder the production of fruit. We must preach the truth in love, but only if we preach the whole truth is it truly love.

Early in the 16th Century, when Tetzel was making a mockery of salvation and holiness by selling indulgences on behalf of the Roman Church, he was doing no differently than when we, the modern church give people a watered-down gospel that circumvents the cross. We do this by failing to tell, in complete detail and unflinching honesty, what God’s Word says about how our own vile corruption makes the cross necessary.

In those times, it took a Luther, raised by God at just the right moment, to sow the seeds that would reset the course – a course that finally arrived at its own Diet of Worms. And what did this Luther say about our fallen abilities ?

“If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learned Jesus Christ aright.”

When will we once more wake up to the truth of the gospel that makes man a helpless, unlovely, sinful, dreadful, disgraceful, perverse, stiff-necked, rebellious, profligate evildoer who is entirely dependent upon the grace of God to even know that he needs salvation, let alone be able to find it or live it? A proper understanding of this truth will serve to magnify the love and the Name of Christ. Continuing in failure to preach it will result in the further exaltation of God’s creatures, instead of the God in whom we all live and move and have our being.

[** Revised in recent times to read “For sinners such as I”]