Agonizomai: October 2005

Monday, October 31, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 31/05
J.C. Ryle…spoke of spiritual warfare as an inner struggle for personal holiness. That is a far more Biblical way to characterize the Christian’s warfare than those today who believe spiritual warfare is basically a series of personal confrontations with demons.

John MacArthur Jr., "How to Meet The Enemy"
Chapter 6 – Protecting Our Minds And Emotions
Bashing Beelzebub
There is a movement in the modern church that encourages people to gird themselves up to step out and take on Satan and his hordes, and to claim victory over him in their surroundings. Neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools and even whole cities are targetted for cleansing through a direct confrontation with their controlling demons and a defeat of them through the power of the Holy Spirit within each believer.

Demons are addressed, commanded, rebuked, ridiculed and vanquished through faith in the victory of Jesus Christ. It all sounds so wonderfully empowering that many are being drawn into it. But it is an occasion of stumbling for unwary Christians who think they are being “spiritual” when, in fact, they are being unscriptural.

The fact that this sort of behaviour nowhere exists in scripture and was never commanded or encouraged either by Christ or His Apostles does not seem to phase those who have decided that they have the “power”. They cite the sending out of the 70 with authority over evil spirits, or the exorcisms performed in the Acts of the Apostles through Peter, Paul and others.

What they do not see in all of this is that such exorcisms are not primarily acts of power for the defeat of Satan, but acts of compassion for the relief of the suffering. Do these modern day disciples really think that God chose to defeat Satan by an overt show of power? Then what was the cross all about? If Christ had wanted to, He could have but spoken a single word and the Father would have sent an army of angels to help Him, and Satan could still have been bound and cast into hell for eternity. He chose not to.

What God chose to do was to send His only Son to suffer the onslaught of evil and to defeat it by not resisting it. He did battle. He did fight. But He worked only according to the precepts of His own nature, out of love for who would believe on His Name. The form of fight He fought was not to overtly smash Satan through omnipotent power, but to defeat the devil using Satan’s very own evil against him for good. This is the wonder of Christ. It is the power of the gospel. It is the Way of the saints. It is also the foolishness and the offense of the gospel to those who are perishing.

Now if God spared not His own Son, but subjected Him to every form of temptation and suffering, do these modern crusaders believe that they can escape and arrive by a different route? If Christ refused to smash Satan with a word, but preferred the way of the cross then why should His followers think that their way ought to be any different?

It seems that they believe that Christ’s victory, finally won over Satan upon the cross for each one of His saints, is taken to be something handed to them as a fait accompli for their release from, and their personal lordship over, the forces of evil. They think that, with enough faith, we shall not have to suffer as Christ suffered, nor walk where He walked on account of His finished work. What a travesty of the gospel that is!

It is true that the power of Satan over we fallen beings has been broken by Christ. We are no longer under condemnation, but have moved from death to life. The deceiver and liar has been exposed for what he is, and the very nature of the invisible God has been shown in human form.

But we, the beloved of God, have been chosen and called for what? To apply that victory in a way by which it was never won? God forbid! Christ came so that we would be empowered through faith to walk the same path that He did. We are not called to chase Satan all over hell’s half-acre, carrying the big stick of the power and authority of God. We are chosen as the instruments that He empowers, through the indwelling Spirit, to walk by faith in the nature of the victory that He has already won.

Consequently, our lives are to be lived out in holiness, replete with good deeds, in the midst of an evil world, trusting in God to uphold, deliver and protect us because Christ came to show us the utter trustworhtiness of His character and His ways. As we do this, Satan will roar and threaten us. God will allow him, for our good and for His Own glory, to touch our lives with tribulation and suffering. But, because of Christ and the faith in Him that we have been given, Satan is only a dog on a leash or a lion on a chain.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even your faith. Faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Like our Master, we are citizens of heaven living on earth. Before His redemptive work we could never have lived as such. But Christ in us, the hope of glory, through the faith imparted to us will share His crucifixion and sufferings with us as we walk in the world. He will work out in us, as we abide in Him, the victory that He won. And He will do it in the same manner and character that He did it in His own humanity.

The devil’s defeat is demonstrated every time a saint denies himself and does a good deed, speaks a word of comfort or acknowledgment, helps a neighbour, forgives an enemy or loves the unlovely. These are the very things that the devil is desperate to prevent happening because they are the manifestation of the victorious life of Christ in His saints.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 30/05
Men will surrender to the spirit of the age. They will say that if they had lived in our day, faith would be simple and easy. But in their day, they will say, things are complex; the Church must be brought up to date and made meaningful to the day's problems. When the Church and the world are one, then those days are at hand.

St. Antony the Abbott - 300AD
Porn on the Pod
Potential Portable Porn Platform?I ran across a story in Wired Magazine about the porn industry's reluctance to start marketing their wares through the iPod medium. The reluctance was grounded in two things - public opinion and profit. Here is a quote from the story...
According to Free Speech Coalition chairman Jeffrey Douglas, the challenges the video iPod presents are the same that have been faced by the adult film industry for years.

"The real problem is, there is a small group of people who believe that any sexually oriented material is an offense to God, and they have a great sway with Congress, which is already hostile to the material," he said. "Unfortunately, citizens who like to watch people have sex -- and there are many more of them -- do not flood city hall and say, 'I don't want to make it harder to access that material.'"
There is a half-hearted acknowledgment of "safeguards" to prevent porn from popping up on devices that are used extensively by minors...

When it comes to the iPod, Fayling said there are few rewards and many risks. Fayling emphasized the pitfalls of combining a device designed for younger audiences with content they are prohibited from viewing.

"There's already a public perception that we (in the industry) are preying on youth," he said. "Without safeguards you open yourself up to more scrutiny from government and parents' groups."

...but it is readily apparent that the concern is not for the youth, but the avoidance of government scrutiny and parental outrage.

I have no illusions that, in a fallen world, porn is here to stay. I don't wish to take up arms, so to speak, and take a run at the porn industry. There are those who feel called to that but I am not one of them. I actually think that the story illustrates the need for a quite different reaction from Christians.

It is apparent that the main commenter in this story is a lost human being without any solid rock upon which to ground his thinking. He comes across as quite the socially responsible individual with his concern that young people not be exposed to porn through the actions of his industry. But he has no ethical or moral qualms about pornography per se. He thinks that the objections of the "religious" community are to be received as politically effective due to the silence of the porn-tolerant majority. For him it is a totally pragmatic question.

I don't judge the man for this. Apart from God he has no other standard by which to measure right and wrong. And apart from God his thinking - and the thinking of like-minded people - will not change. Christians who take up the political sword in order to keep porn from the world are correct only insofar as they are being "in the world" and using its means to achieve godly ends. But they surely understand that this is only half the battle. There is also the part about not being "of the world". The other half is the preaching of the Christ to the lost in word and in deed.

The individual conviction of Christians to exercise their franchise and their "rights" in a democratic society is not proscribed by the faith. But such actions are secondary to the main purpose of the church, which is to preach the gospel and to make disciples. Putting our fingers in the dyke of the vast sea of evil is a stop-gap measure that was never intended to overcome it. A good illustration was given to me once as follows...
There was a mental institution in which all the inmates were given an annual examination to see if they were fit for release. Over the years the doctors came up with a test that seemed to be foolproof. They would let each inmate in turn into a courtyard in which a wall faucet was fully open, with water gushing out. A mop and bucket were also provided. The inmates who turned the faucet off before trying to mop up were the ones that got released.
Evil springs from the heart, and it is only when hearts are changed that actions will be amended. The church is primarily a preaching and discipling organ for precisely this reason. And when Christians get this wrong they are in danger of becoming as pragmatic as the world. And if you feel the need to ask what's wrong with that you may have boned up only only part of the scripture. Many are ready to cite our being as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves (though sometimes forgetting the harmlessness) - but few embrace with the same fervour the saying that the sons of the world are wiser in their generation than the sons of light. We are to be practical in the use of the neutral things (wealth, influence etc) but never pragmatic. Pragmatism has no moral base and seeks only what "works". Christian practicality always has in sight the end of God's purpose achieved in God's way.

Suppressing or limiting the porn industry must be an effect of the faithful pursuit of the primary purpose of the church. This will show up in a number of ways; for example, the more faithful we are in preaching/bearing witness/discipling the more Christians are likely to express their societal "rights" in Biblical ways. Some unsaved souls will be reached. A few of these may be pornographers. In the grace, mercy and providence of God, one of these might be to porn what Newton was to the slave trade. Who knows?

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Friday, October 28, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 28/05
"If today he deigns to bless us
With a sense of pardoned sin,
He tomorrow may distress us,
Make us feel the plague within."

Murder on the Celestial Express

What many people don’t know about me, and what I try desperately to hide from them, is that I am a murderer. Worse, I am a mass murderer. Some of my killings are cool and calculated because vengeance is a dish best served cold. Some are hot and passionate because it heightens the sense of killing pleasure to have all those delicious glandular substances coursing through the body and the brain.

You won’t find any bodies in my freezer or under my cellar. I haven’t buried people in remote fields or dumped their weighted corpses into murky streams. I didn’t dissolve them with corrosive compounds in my bathtub. I committed the perfect crimes; undetectable by anyone but me - and God.

It’s not a very pleasant subject to talk about, but then sin never is - and we can all acknowledge that murder is most certainly sin. Some sins are debatable (or rationalizable) depending upon circumstances and viewpoints, especially in this most relativistic of moral societies; but there are only a few, including the sociopaths, who would excuse murder altogether.

So, who are my victims? My victims are the people who don’t phone me when I want, or who get my paycheck wrong, or who stymie any of my needs and desires in the slightest way. How dare they! Don’t they know the rage that lies within me? Don’t they fear the slumbering Leviathan? Coiled deep inside me is a serpent of such ferocity that he can spring out in the blink of an eye to sink his poisonous fangs into any hapless victim. And he has.

That serpent is my own godless self. It is what fills me when I am not filled with God. It is what I am apart from the grace of God in me, through faith in Jesus Christ. And the victim most often killed by this sly lurker is myself; yet the victim he most desires to slay is the most Holy God - and His Christ. My inner man - my old man - is wedded to the Prince of Darkness and obeys his killing desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and I had united myself to him in the bonds of servitude.

On some days I hear his rumbling deep within my own soul. Like a roaring wave thundering up through the subterranean cavern of my inner being, the crest of delicious mayhem reaches the tip of my tongue where it lingers in savoury delight. Oh, sweet on the lips, you delightful sin, you momentary pleasure, you beguiling satisfaction; yet, how bitter in the stomach you shall be. But I don’t care, for I am mesmerized by the promise, by the instantaneousness of the sensation. I hate, resent, despise, judge and execute. It is done. And I am curiously empty. It is the cold emptiness of a murderer’s soul when the passion has gone and he stares his lifeless victim in the face.

To any who think this is only melodrama I have a word of warning. You are a murderer, too. It is serious business. It is life and death stuff. It is what the cross of Christ is all about. That cross was as real as the murderous heart within each one of us. These aren’t just words. It is not simply something for the imagination - an unsettling but useful little parody. It is reality. It is truth. Don’t believe me - I am, after all, a murderer; instead, believe Jesus Christ from His own words in #Matthew 5: 21-22

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. {Raca: that is, Vain fellow}
Of course, if you have never been angry without cause, or held onto justifiable anger for a second longer than was justifiable, then this cannot apply to you. You have no need of a physician, for you are not sick. You don’t need a saviour because you are free from sin. But if you know you have, you should know you are a murderer because to be angry with your brother is to want him dead, and to want him dead is the same as killing him. God makes no distinction. Sin is sin.

But it goes deeper. For, in wanting our brother dead we really want to kill the God who made him. It was God who put the brother in our path, God who allowed the behaviour which sparked our reaction, the very God to whom that brother answers. The brother does not answer to us - he answers to God alone. Killing the messenger, the servant of another is the same as killing the sender of the message, for it says that the wishes of the sender are not welcome. That was the fate of the prophets. They prophesied with their own persecutions and death what mankind wanted for God Himself, and what they would have when He came. Nothing less can satisfy our fallen nature, nor that most depraved of beings whom our fallen natures serve. God must die, for we hate Him, just as Satan hates Him. To disobey and to mistrust God IS to hate Him. It IS to want Him dead. We are all murderers of God as soon as we sin.

Yet - what a God we have that He has given us what we most desire - His own death. He has allowed us to murder Him. Therein is love. He has taken the desire of our hearts to eradicate the life of He who IS life itself and, by willingly submitting to it, He has made it a sacrifice instead of a murder, for those who believe. All of God’s dealings with mankind now come sharply into focus at the cross of Christ; if we believe, then He has turned our murder of Him into an atonement for us; if we do not believe, we are guilty of the actual murder of the supreme being from which there can be no deliverance. We have killed the One Being in whom there is life, and whose life is our light. We must then live in eternal darkness with no hope of redemption.

Why then, as a believer, do I still struggle with my murderous inner man? Why am I still tempted to murder and maim through resentments, hatreds and perceived offences? And what should it mean to me that I am - and that God is saving me despite that fact? How should I then live? And where is the power to be found to live without desiring the death of the God Who is saving my by grace alone? The blood. The blood. The blood. There is power, power, wonder working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. The blood of a thing is the life thereof. The blood of Christ is His life poured out for me - to cover forever those evil desires of my old man’s heart and to pour into me the eternal life of God Himself. I must look upon the cross and believe. That is all I can do. For as soon as I look upon Him Whom I have pierced, all is made well; I am reminded of Who He is, what He has done and how freely He did it.
My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 27/05
God sometimes washes the eyes of his children with tears in order that they may read aright His providence and His commandments.

T. L. Cuyler
Drawing Near to God - Audio Blog
This is an audio blog drawn from events in Genesis 32-33. Length appx. 35 minutes.

Click here to download the mp3 file

Click here to listen to the mp3 file live (Windows Media Player only)

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 26/05
"I preached as never sure to preach again; and as a dying man to dying men."

Richard Baxter
Supporting Somnolent Shepherds
The bad shepherd at workI am NOT a shepherd. I wasn't called, nor am I fitted to the task. I know it, I accept it and I see God's hand in it.

Then there are those who are called to be shepherds and who apply themselves faithfully and diligently to their God appointed task. God bless them! Thank you, Lord for raising them up. Keep them and guide them as they strive to be instruments of your grace to your people.

Finally there are those who were either not called, or who have forgotten why they were called. To those I say, as in my earlier article by the same name "Get a Real Job! and stop troubling God's people."

I am a sheep, as I said. Feed me - don't entertain me. I have sat in the midst of congregations where the sheep have been crying out for food while the pastor entertained the flock and permitted every new thing that would tickle the fancy of the immature or the unsaved to pour into the church through any available opening.

It makes me angry to see it happening. And it absolutely bamboozles me as to why more people aren't just as angry as I am whenever this happens. I see people that I know are Christians sitting under pastors who teach or permit egregious error, or who feed pap to them, or who follow after every fad, or who spend more time keeping up to date and pursuing "larger" interests of ministry than they do tending the sheep assigned to them. Enough! Why don't the sheep rise up and call for these pastors to actually do their jobs?

When God appointed order and hierarchy in the church he didn't give us permission to be dupes or idiots. Every church member has a duty and a responsibility to expect sound teaching and pastoral care. Congregants are not to blindly and blithely accept in dumb submission the infection or neglect of Christ's Own commission among them.

Neither are they to sit in destructive judgment of every word their Pastor says. Pastors are not God - they are fallen men who need ministry themselves. Those who are flagging and failing need prayerful and loving admonition and encouragement. It is the congregation's job to love, support and minister to their pastor. But an intransigent and unresponsive pastor must be dealt with out of love for both flock and shepherd. Niceness is absolutely no excuse for neglect. And, in the end - because God is not mocked - congregations will always end up with the pastoral care they deserve.

There is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to wait and a time to act; a time to stay and a time to go; a time to fight and a time to make peace. Many Christians don't seem to know how to tell the time any longer.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 25/05
It is not the baptism of the Holy Ghost which changes men, but the power of the ascended Christ coming into men's lives by the Holy Ghost that changes them. We too often divorce what the New Testament never divorces. The baptism of the Holy Ghost is not an experience apart from Jesus Christ: it is the evidence of the ascended Christ.

Oswald Chambers - "My Utmost for His Highest" - May 27th
Return of the Prodigal
Here I am back from my visit, reopening my blog somewhat later than originally promised. I needed time to process my experience. Even now I'm not ready to write about it. But I know that if I don't write something soon I shall get out of the habit of blogging altogether and move on to something else. And I'm not quite ready to call it quits yet. So I now offer the next article (below), which is the third in my ruminations of the "essential doctrines of the faith" or, as it is titled, "The Fundamentals".

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
The Fundamentals – Christ
This is a follow-up to prior posts on the topic of "The Fundamentals". Earlier entries in the series can be found here (The Fundamentals) and here (The Fundamentals - The Meaning of "God ").

Another example of bad foundations!Under this heading I am going to include the following as essential to understanding Who Christ is:
His Eternal Godhood
His Incarnation through virgin birth
His perfect human life
His voluntary bodily death
His resurrection and acsension
The denial of any of these fundamentals betrays an understanding that cannot connect “personal” salvation to the objective facts and necessary historical events that define that salvation in the first place. In other words, a truly saved person will recognize the need for, and accept the teaching of, these truths. They will echo, expand, fulfill, overflow and complete the understanding of salvation that they have already received.

Again, I am compelled to emphasize that it is not ignorance of these doctrines that I am concerned with, so much as the outright denial of them. Even though growing Christians may not all grasp the complete picture at once, they cannot in all sincerity willfully deny any of these things.

Christ’s Eternal Godhood

Miguel Servetus, a heretic of Reformation times (sometimes lumped in with the Anabaptists) denied this truth and actually burned to death at the stake with the cry on his lips, “Jesus, Son of Eternal God, have mercy on me!” Seems alright at first glance, doesn’t it? You might think the poor man was wrongly persecuted for his slightly different understanding. But his own words show that, even at the very threshold of eternity, he stubborny refused to call Jesus Christ “Eternal Son of God” rather than “Son of Eternal God”. You see, his whole adult life had been spent in propagating the heresy that the Trinity was a false doctrine and that Jesus was just a man, to whom God joined Himself. By this he denied both original sin and the Eternal Godhood of Christ.

I’m not advocating that we still burn people at the stake. I’m not even condoning what happened to Servetus or exonerating John Calvin for his role in the whole affair. I leave that to better minds than mine. What I am saying is that Servetus was guilty of a damning heresy that showed in his conscious and informed denial of Christ’s Eternal Godhood. He betrayed his unsaved condition through the expression of his unbelief.

That Christ the Son eternally preexisted as God, in the bosom of the Father, and came from heaven for the express purpose of saving His people from their sins is fully supported in both Testaments with such an amazing weight of scripture that the denial of it actually takes a willful effort. Along with the virgin birth (of which more presently) this supports the fact that it was God who came to save man, and not man who reached up to God. Therefore, for any person – especially a leader in the church – to deny this truth is heresy worthy of disfellowshiping.

His Incarnation and Virgin Birth

By “virgin birth” it is not intended to speak to the undoubted chastity of Mary so much as to the undeniable fact that Jesus Christ had no genetic human father. God was His Father in both senses of the word; that is, He was the Eternal Son from heaven come as a human being, the Father of whom was not a descendant of Adam, but God Himself by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

If Christ was born of entirely natural human parents then He was a son of Adam and subject to the corruptions of Adam’s nature. That being the case, He was incapable of saving anyone because He would have been a lost sinner from His conception and birth. He would have inherited original sin. As a sacrifice He could not have been “a lamb without spot or blemish”.

It is not vital that Mary be a virgin except insofar as that fact testifies to the impossibility of any other explanation for the conception of Jesus than that of the intervention of God Himself. So when I speak of the “virgin birth” I actually speak of the principle of the Fatherhood of God in the unique sense of Christ’s case. The fundamental is not the virginity of His mother but the fatherhood of God Almighty. Let’s not go down the wrong sort of Roman road.

This fundamental leads us to the fundamental of Christ’s truly human nature. Not only was He very God of very God come from eternity with the Father, one substance with Him – but He was also completely human in every sense of the word, lacking only a corrupt and sinful Adamic nature. We can meditate and speculate all we like, but we can’t truly comprehend what it means for Christ to be all God and all man at the same time. This isn’t the place for such devotional thoughts. Suffice it to say that in Christ there is an essential and (now) eternal union between God and man. In Christ, God took manhood upon Himself. There are two natures present in Him since the incarnation and forevermore – utter Godhood and utter manhood.

It would seem to be a fair comment to say that since we cannot understand fully, nor explain properly, the nature of the hypostatic union (try reading Athanasius on the topic) it would be wrong to declare belief in the virgin birth to be a fundamental of the faith. I disagree. Exhaustive understanding is not the measure. The Word of God is. And that Word portrays Jesus as both God and man with God as Father and Mary as mother.

So, to deny the teaching of God taking humanity upon Himself in Christ is to deny many things implicitly, as follows:
If God’s Fatherhood is denied so is the perfection of Jesus Christ from the womb, making Him a man only, corrupt by nature.

If Mary’s motherhood is denied Christ cannot be seed of the woman and is not fully human.

If Christ did not come from heaven it denies the unbidden, gracious, sovereign act of God in sending Jesus Christ - making salvation at best a synergism and at worst an impossibility.

If Christ is not a man then He cannot be man’s substitute.

If Christ is only a man He is an insufficient substitute for the infinite offence of sin to God’s inifinte dignity.
There is probably much more. Again, ignorance of the fulness of these concepts is not the point. Denial of them is. Teachers and pastors, seminarians, theologists and the like who supposedly name the Name of Christ are expected to be aware of the full counsel of God. The more one knows the more one is acountable. To whom much is given – of them much will be demanded. And woe to any who put a stumbling block before any of Christ’s little ones.

I confidently maintain that to deny the Incarnation and/or the virgin birth (for the reasons explained here) is to be a heretic and worthy of disfellowshiping.

His Perfect Human Life

Which of us convicts Him of sin? Which of those He knew during His incarnation? Not the Pharisees. Not the people. Not Herod. Not Pilate. Not the Sanhedrin. He was betrayed and unjustly condemned as the facts attest. He was born a Jew under the Law and He lived under that Law perfectly by keeping the spirit of the Law perfectly. There is much more, but I will restrain myself to the matter at hand. His life was one of perfect obedience to God. “This is my Son the Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased.” That saying characterized the beginning of His public ministry, was echoed after a fashion on the Mount of Transfiguration and was underscored for eternity in unimaginable power at His resurrection.

If Jesus did not live a perfect life, pleasing to God in every way – meaning free from the least hint of spot or blemish in thought, word, deed or omission – then He could not have been the perfect human substitute, offering Himself in place of His people. Therefore, any person who denies the spotless, sinless life of Christ denies the faith and is worthy of disfellowshiping.

His Voluntary Bodily Death

Jesus not only died in the normal human sense of the word, but he gave up His life voluntarily. He was certainly crucified at the hands of wicked men, but they were men like Pilate who could have no power over Him were it not given them from above. As God, He granted men the power to crucify His Son as a man. Complicated? Not really. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. He had the power to leave the cross at any time. He had the power not to die. He had the power to make it all disappear in a puff of smoke. But He chose not to. He came to do the will of God as a man, without ever ceasing to be God.

Since the whole universe is not only created but also upheld by the word of His power (remember omnipotence) it follows that nothing comes to pass but that He causes or permits it. No one took His life from Him, because He laid it down. If we had taken His life – and we are all guilty of wanting to, one way or another – then the substitution could not have taken place. If the life of Christ had been stolen away from His omnipotence it was no longer the sacrifice of a man, but his murder. Christ sacrficed himself and it was the sacrifice with which God was pleased and by which His wrath against those who believe in Christ is assuaged. But if it was murder as we would have wished it to be, then God would not only still be angry at us, but His rage would be multiplied beyond measure – and beyond repair.

It is the rejection of this sacrifice that most enrages God against unbelievers. Though they are already condemned unless they repent and believe the gospel, yet to hear that same gospel and to reject it is, in fact, tantamount to murdering Christ. It is to kick dirt in God’s face; to spurn the most precious gift He has. What an awesome responsibility it is, then, to preach the gospel knowing what this means to those who harden their own hearts. In the words of Whitefield from his sermon "Marks of a True Conversion":

It makes my heart bleed within me, it makes me sometimes most unwilling to preach, lest that word that I hope will do good, may increase the damnation of any, and perhaps of a great part of the auditory, through their own unbelief.
Therefore, to deny that Christ died in the body and that His death was a voluntary sacrifice is to deny both the substitutionary and the free nature of the gift, and is worthy of being expelled from the fellowship. Again note – denial, and not ignorance is the key.

His Resurrection and Ascension

If Christ had remained in the grave He could not be God, nor could His human life have been declared a perfect and acceptable offering. The fact that no body was ever produced by the authorities underscores the historical verification of the spiritual truth that He rose again from the dead. It was necessary for Him to be raised because it was at that point that though he was descended from David according to the flesh, He was declared (marked out in the view of men) to be Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:3-4)

God raised Christ in a glorious celebration of victory by declaring in His resurrection the redemption that He came to accomplish. It was a heavenly Amen that will resound throughout eternity and that already causes jubilation in heaven. God punctuated the finished work of His Son with the final declaration. The work is done, the victory won, the end assured and the church of God is redeemed; Satan is judged, his power sapped, his shame demonstrated; disease and suffering and death are defeated. Not to believe in the resurrection of Christ is to effectively deny all of these things. And to deny them is to deny the gospel and the Christ of the gospel.

One might ask why I have included the ascension here. Is belief in the ascension critical? Yes! If Christ didn’t ascend then where is he? There are those who even today cry, “Lo, he is here” and “Lo, He is over there” and lead many astray. There are those who claim to be Christ, or to be His second advent. But Christ left for a very good reason – that the church be built through faith in Him and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Not sight – simply faith. Faith is God’s ordained means by which the life of His Son is manifested in His people. (No I’m not a William Branham follower)

The wisdom in this is staggering. Faith - not seeing, but believing God - moves mountains. It is the way trust in God is grown. It glorifies God by believing Him despite the “evidence” and call of the world, the flesh and the devil. It puts to shame and to flight the the principalities and power and spirits of wickedness in high places. It is not the faith itself that does this, but faith is the means by which the glorious victory of Christ declared at the resurrection is outworked into God’s universe.

It would be rare indeed to find someone denying the ascension. Before they come to this they have likely denied other things essential to the faith. But to find a person claiming to be a Christian who also teaches that Christ is still around bodily, or that He never left would be to find someone living by sight and not faith – and thereby denying the faith.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Friday, October 07, 2005

No More Blogposts until Oct 19th
All together now - God save our gracious Queen...
As I posted a few days ago, I'm leaving for the UK today. There won't be opportunities for me to post while I'm there due to the fact that my Dad doesn't have a computer. There are internet cafes, I suppose, but unless something providential befalls me, this blog will be inactive until at least Oct 19th.

Have a nice rest, Pete!
My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
Quote of the Day - Oct 7/05
I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, self.

Martin Luther
Tacky Trolling - a Mea Culpa
Looking to hook some interestI am ashamed. That's because I am a hypocrite. My heart is deceitful above all and desperately wicked - and I am an unwatchful and unfaithful steward of it.

In an early post I said the following:

"Blogging wisdom says that sites must be promoted via various means. The objective is to have as high a readership as possible. To make one's mark; to have one's say; to be noticed; to tell one's story based on that narrative fragment of the post modern world that I might share with other people out there. I don't give a fig about any of that.

I would absolutely hate the idea of looking for groupies who could cheer me on with supportive platitudes cultivated and received as a form of self-validation. I will not deliberately promote this site in that way. It's not about the site, nor is it about recognition for myself. I am simply speaking into God's universe through the internet the timeless Truth about His Son. It is about the adoration of His attributes. It is about saying what even many churches refuse to say."
That's what I said. Here's what I actually did.

After browsing other blogs and sites I noticed a topic that kept on arising - a topic concerning the fundamentals of the faith and what does and does not constititute the absolute necessities of faith for the purposes of fellowship. It was a topic that interested me, so I blogged on it here. So far, so good.

In my post I gave way to a bit of humour at the very end in which I referred to Phil Johnson's post on the same topic. It seemed like an inoccuous thing to do at the time. But later I received an email from a friend pointing me to this post in which I had been "blogspotted" by Phil. He had some very gracious and encouraging things to say about my post and my site, and he recommended reading my "Fundamentals" post to any who cared to do so. No problem - no foul ... so far.

Hooking the big oneBut I liked the idea of being blogspotted, despite what I had piously declared earlier. Phil's comment had aroused in me a dormant (or more likely suppressed) monster that craved recognition and attention for myself. As with many sins, what at first blindsided me became something I embraced willingly. And to my shame, I trolled Phil for a further comment by finding a "smart" remark to make about another of his posts. I wanted another "hit". And I got one, but it was a curiously hollow achievement.

Now, the Bible says that a man ought never to go against his own conscience, which is what I did. God also says that if I think a thing is sin for me, then it IS actually sin for me. It is a matter of conscience and not law. So it is quite possible for it to be sin for me to desire recognition in blogdom and for it not to be sin for others to do the same. (I admit I don't see how - but who says I have to?)

So I am repenting publicly of what I did publicly. Then I am going back to anonymity. If Phil reads this post as a normal part of his blogspotting it's up to him what he does with it, of course. This is NOT a troll. I would be happy for him never to refer to it. But I realize that my trespass was public and therefore my mea culpa ought to be so as well.

Actually, there is no such thing as total anonymity. God always knows who we are and what we're doing. And if He purposes to intersect our lives with someone for good then He can do so at any time. So, while my blog is almost completely below the blogdom radar it is only so as long as it suits God. It is not noisy, self-congratulatory, back-slapping, prideful acclaim and peer-recognition that counts in the end. It is grace and truth in the Holy Spirit. And I have to say that this simple response to one of my blogs so moved my heart to joy and thanksgiving that I wept. And I would rather have that than all hooplah that my old man craves.

To discover that I have been the means of my gracious Lord blessing someone who I do not know, have never met and cannot even tell in what way the person was encouraged, is so wonderfully full of God's humbling grace that I know it to be of eternal value. And, for me at least, all that other attention craving stuff is just chumming the waters of my own conceit.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 6/05
"Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible."

C. H. Spurgeon
Hell No, We Won’t Go!

Matthew 18:8-9: And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Image by triquitips.comI suppose it is possible to read these verses, as well as other similar passages, and to still think "the hell of fire”, "or eternal fire" are simple hyperbole referring to utter destruction, rather than eternal torment. Would that it were so! At least initially, I suppose, many of us are troubled to think that God has made a hell to which some people are sent for ever. If I am honest I must admit to thinking it cruel that someone could be tormented forever, without any possibility of relief. I may be tempted to ask if God can really contemplate such a thing and still be a loving God.

But this is humanism talking. The true effect of the whole question is to undermine the Word of God and to doubt His character. It is to be man sitting in judgement on his Creator. It is that self-same topsy-turvy turnabout so characteristic of the father of lies. Instead of looking at the horror of my own sin, my responsibility in it and the just ending to my own rebellion, I am caught calling God’s upright judgements unfair or unjust. My eye is distracted from my own condition. It is my sin that causes my separation from God - and separation from God is hell, apart from any grace He deigns to shed while I yet live in this world.

In the next stage of existence God will remove the common grace, the unmerited mercies by which He has been restraining Satan and fallen men from the utter and inevitable results of their evil. But, being a just God, He will set limits upon a person's torments according to their deeds in this life. They that have lived by the law, or by conscience, or philosophy or reason, by ethics, morals or religious observance shall be judged by their own standards and condemned accordingly - with an eternal disposition appropriate to their own degree of hypocrisy or shortcoming.

Not one person who did not prefer hell to God’s grace will enter into that forsaken place. God did not abandon men – men forsook Him; every one of them, without exception. Such is God’s holiness – and such His meekness – that He has consigned all rebels to an eternity of their own choice and making – all, that is, except those whom He is saving by grace.

In today’s liberal pulpits it is a rare thing indeed to hear any preaching about hell. Why make people feel uncomfortable? Isn’t the church supposed to be a welcoming place? Won’t we drive people away from the very gospel that can save them if we dwell on the negative, instead of accentuating the positive? It is so reasonable, so loving, so very civilized in this age of grace to propagate only the warm fuzzies of salvation and to ignore the stark terror of the manslayer’s pursuer. Yet all who are being, or who will be, saved need both staff and rod to bring and to keep them on the pathway.

Liberals will even claim that it works to preach the gospel of love without the accompanying truth about judgement. But I would say that God works despite their omissions, not because of them. Note that I say God works. It is always and only ever God who saves. We point, His sheep look and God saves. And a part of the gospel is to preach what we are being saved from; we are being saved from the absolute corruption of our entire nature – mind, heart, intellect and will – and from the just and righteous judgement of God upon our willing sin.

Before I knew the light I lived in darkness and I would not come to the light to be healed. I actually believed that the darkness in me was light. Now that the light has shone in my darkness I am able to see the chaos upon the face of my own deep. But I only recognize it as chaos because the Word of God was preached to me telling me how corrupt I was. And the Spirit of God working in me made that word of truth come alive in me.

I did not want to be called a sinner but that did not stop faithful men of God from preaching the truth. I do not want to know what the end of sin is – but that should not stop faithful men of God from preaching it, in love. The Holy Spirit will take the whole truth of God, unvarnished and unedited by man, and make it into living bread within those who are hungry in spirit because they have been prepared for harvest by our God.

Let us be obedient creatures rather than clever or “sensitive” humanists. Let us yield to His ways rather than interposing our own. Let us preach the whole gospel of grace, rather than just the bits that do not offend the world or, God forbid, the world in us.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 5/05
Misfortune is never mournful to the soul that accepts it; for such do always see that every cloud is an angel’s face. Every man deems that he has precisely the trials and temptations which are the hardest of all for him to bear; but they are so, because they are the very ones he needs.

Lydia M. Child
Deep Sea Diving
Luke 6: 20-23

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Scratchboard picture by an unknown Grade 5 childThis teaching, and its parallel in Matthew has always spoken to me of the blessings of suffering. Such a concept is simply opaque to the worldly mind. It takes a gracious act of God to reveal that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike - but that the same rain that turns the unbeliever to complaining bitterness is the rain that the saint, receiving by faith from His Saviour’s hand, is the very stuff of his salvation. Philip Schaff, in his book "The History of the Christian Church" said:
"The same sun gives light and heat to the living, and hastens the decay of the dead."
This is how we can live in the world and not be of it. We receive everything that all of mankind receives and yet we, dwelling in the kingdom of God through faith, receive it all differently. You can’t make people see this. God must reveal it. It is revealed in Christ who lived it all to the Nth degree, in plain view, for the whole of humanity to see - if they would but look. But they will not. They will not unless God, by the Holy Spirit, opens their eyes and draws them to Christ. But He draws them to Christ preached. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (or, as the RSV says, "by the preaching of Christ").

So embrace the truth! Run into its arms! For Christ IS the Truth. God blesses his children with poverty, hunger, mourning, persecution, rejection and even death. The active word is "blesses". Don’t miss it. It’s not a quaint use of language from a bygone era. Your troubles ARE blessings from the God Who loves you. They ought to make you happy. Not happy like the world is happy - with a short-lived sense of satisfaction for the cravings of the flesh. God forbid! In the kingdom it is possible to labour and weep and struggle and hurt and still be happy. Heavenly happiness is joy. Joy is not a mood that accompanies the absence of temporal troubles. It is abiding in God in the midst of troubles. That is joy. And that is the happiness spoken of here, not worldly happiness.

Faith alone can fully apprehend this. And faith is God’s gift to His people in Christ. So we must not judge the world when they are poor and hungry and miserable and bereft and forlorn and dying. That is God’s judgment at work. It is His judgment on all flesh, including the flesh of believers. But we died to the flesh with Christ, who took our judgment for us so that we may live by the Spirit in a world that is under God’s judgment - a judgment we richly deserved, and from which we have been graciously delivered forever. This is what led the suffering William Cowper to write:
The path of sorrow and that path alone
Leads to the place where sorrow is unknown.
He was a Christian. A very troubled man who was subject to long, deep, debilitating bouts of depression. Not really much of a Christian to look at by some people's standards. His life was forlorn and meandering. John Newton befriended him and walked with him, but Cowper still had to go through it all. Yet who knows what insights into His Lord he found in the depths where Christ first came and sought him, and then upheld him to the end. This single couplet is the distillation of years of struggle to abide in Christ in the midst of suffering - and you can sense its power and tried truth.

Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. It is exasperating to watch a Christianity unfolding in some sectors that thinks Jesus’ suffering means that we must never suffer, if only we can work up enough faith to believe it. It is demonic, apostate, twisted and wicked teaching. And I don’t like it either.

The saved are called to share in the suffering of Christ. Not that we can achieve anything by it in the sense of adding to His work, or making His work more effective. That is yet more rubbish. Our sharing in His sufferings is simply the exercise of our God-given faith (given in just such a degree that it is enough for our present circumstance so that, by exercising it now we will grow in faith and be made ready to share in more suffering later). Hallelujah! Well, can you at least manage an "Amen"?

There is a picture in my mind of Christ plummeting to the depths of my soul - down, down, down into the inky blackness, like a deep sea submersible descending into the abyss. In that lightless well of sin lies all of my own suffering, all of the effects of my sins and the sins of others upon me, all of the trespasses I have done to others - a writhing mass of confused, living death, wrapped in unassuagable guilt and denial. He has done this not only in me, but in all of His people. He has plumbed the depths and returned. He has suffered the judgment of those deep, dark places, as well as the hurt and injury to myself and others. The sting is gone.

The pressure of those depths can no longer crush me. When I go there, I go in the uncrushable hull of Christ who went before me. I see by His light, for I am carried in He Who is the light, as He sheds it upon the dreadful monsters that lurk in the perpetual darkness of my soul. They are still there. They still bring suffering to me. But they cannot harm a hair of my head. In Christ I am a new creation.

This is why both internal and external sources of suffering are now blessings to the beloved. Christ has been there and can carry us through the fiery furnace untouched, without even the smell of smoke on our clothes. We must go through it, but He has made it into a blessing that we can embrace through faith. And, if we can accept it, it is a blessings planned for us in Christ from before the foundation of the world.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
Do You Need a Beatitude Adjustment?
Victorian Attitude Adjustment
So often we look at scripture and see that we shall be blessed if we would only do something obedient. The tithe is good example of this. If we are obedient in giving a tenth of our income (some believe) then God will open the windows of heaven and pour out His blessings. All of God’s commands and precepts work in a similar way. His blessing is in the doing, just as His curse is upon the disobedience.

But when Jesus spoke of blessings He put the credit where it is really due. He brought us to the next level of appreciation. He brought us to the fullness of grace upon grace. It is no longer a question of our performing in order to obtain a blessing, but of simply receiving through faith the blessing that grace pours out. Now, God is recognized not only as the dispenser of the blessing, but the originator of the act that allowed it to flow from the throne of grace. All circumstances in God’s providence for His people are a blessing – including those in which He has brought about the obedience of our faith.

In the Beatitudes we see that it is the poor in spirit who are blessed by their condition. Blessed are the poor in spirit – not blessed will be the poor in spirit for making themselves lowly. God ordained poverty of spirit for them, and that ordaining act was the blessing in which they would be freed walk in the kingdom.

Similarly, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are not credited with working up such a pious attitude. They are described as having been blessed with the attitude that will see them filled.

All of the other Beatitudes can be seen in the same light. The blessing precedes and is the cause of the result. It is the poverty of spirit, the mourning for sin, the meekness, the hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the mercifulness, the purity of heart, the peacemaking disposition that are themselves the blessing of God, given by grace. They are the characteristics of God Himself.

But God is a God of superabundance. To those who have shall more be given, but to those who have not shall be taken away even that which they have. So, when God blesses by giving a person that part of His own character that mourns for sin, He adds blessing upon blessing by also giving the comfort that is in Christ.

Try another one. When God purifies the heart of a person by sanctifying him, God makes Himself more visible to that person. That person sees God more and more clearly as the distortions of sin are brushed away. Filled up, pressed down and running over. Grace upon grace.

By embracing this understanding of God’s sovereign grace can we come to a heartfelt acceptance of the last two Beatitudes. These are the harder ones. The ones that speak of being persecuted and falsely accused for Jesus’ sake. Such things are called a blessing and even a reason for rejoicing. But, in our Christian infancy, some of us may have thought that the Beatitudes spoke of rewards for the self-improvement we struggled to attain in order to please God. And when we came to these last two there was a full stop. We were not ready to go quite that far yet. We wanted the credit for being meek and mournful but not the responsibility of diving into persecution for Jesus’ sake.

It was due to a misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God. We didn’t realize that God could bring us to the point where we would rejoice in being persecuted for His name’s sake. We didn’t have to work it up, to steel ourselves, to grit our teeth. God has appointed us unto good works that He prepared before hand that we should walk in them. He will bring it to pass if He has ordained it. And there are times when a healthy fear of what He can do is not a bad thing.

But the truly great thing is that as we are blessed to be called, chosen and fitted by God for these things, we will receive the double blessing of knowing more fully our inheritance and co-heirship in all that is God’s in Christ. No one will be called to suffer persecution whom God has not already fitted for it. And no one will be called to such things without the sense of the great blessing that God has created for them through the suffering itself.

The martyrs, to a man (and woman), were given a martyr’s grace. They were made like Jesus Who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame. In fact, it was the joy and courage, the peace and assurance of Jesus Himself in these people that brought them all the way home. This is the sense in which Jesus promised that not a hair of our heads would perish.

So the Beatitudes are not a series of commanded behaviours that God will reward if we perform them. They are a list of the characteristics of Jesus, which He imparts to His people freely by grace, as a blessing from which both the behaviour and further blessings flow. And they are given so that we will come to just such an understanding, through faith.

What a God we serve! He not only gives life, but gives it more abundantly. He not only blesses, but fills up, presses down and overflows. What has God blessed you with? Has He made you hunger for Him? Has He humbled you? Has He convicted you of sin so that your heart is breaking? Has He subjected you to ridicule for His Name’s sake? Then bless His Holy name for His grace in doing these things in you so that you can also receive the reward that He brings with Him – both in the here and now and in the sweet by and by.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 4/05
... grace is a supernatural light, a certain special gift of God, the proper mark of the elect and the pledge of everlasting salvation. It raises man up from earthly things to love the things of heaven. It makes a spiritual man of a carnal one.

Thomas A Kempis - "Imitation of Christ" - Chapter 3.54

Whate'er My God Ordains is Right
Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

Samuel Rodigast - 1676
Dear Old Blighty

Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town!
Take me over there, Drop me ANYWHERE,
Liverpool, Leeds, or Birmingham, well, I don't care!

Well, I do care, actually. I'm off to the old ancestral home in Birmingham, UK for 10 days starting Oct 7th. I'll be visiting me dear old dad, who is a very sprightly 85 this year. He was a postman for 29 years, which is a large part of the secret to his abiding vigour. I haven't seen my Dad in 12 years, but think it would be fair to say that I will seem to have aged more to him than he to me.

Mom and Dad's Wedding, 1943Anybody who took the time to read my post "Happy Birthday to Me!" will be aware of the sort of relationship I had with my parents for most of my life. I was provided for, but not nurtured. Three squares a day and a roof over my head was my father's idea of love. It was all he knew. He came from a brutal family by today's standards, and it's a miracle of grace that he did not acquire that sort of abusive, selfish raw survivalism that must have characterized his own parental family as they emerged from the back end of the industrial revolution and waded through two world wars. The sins of the fathers are indeed visited on the children to the third and fourth generation of those that hate God.

As a very small child I will always remember my father - a sensitive and intelligent man, brutalized by his own family, denied opportunity for an education by which to channel his intelligence and curiosity, devastated by the horror of war - sitting with his head in his hands in utter despair while his physical and emotional health lay fragmented around him. He came back from the trauma of the war, having survived a nasty wound, to the prospect of a life in a dingy factory, filing brass appliances and inhaling metal dust into his hardening lungs. He left England a callow youth and returned 6 years later as a a married father of one, with another on the way, to a post-war England of social upheaveal and dislocation.

But God (just like the "but Gods" of scripture) - even though my Father did not know Him - led him to a life changing decision which, while a hard one to make at the time, eventually brought him back to a measure of health and vitality. He became a mailman.

As a kid I wasn't really aware of most of this. Like all persons who were ever born, I was a moving, breathing centre of self-absorption. Life may have been puzzling and lonely, but it was MY life and I was caught up in it, whatever it was. I overheard his dabbling with Marxist platitudes and the fallout from late 19th Century rationalism as it shook its way down through the halls of learning to the common man. There was even a brief flirtation with the Bible. Though he was not truly aware of it, cynicism oozed from his damaged heart and wafted in waves over the tiny onlooker that was me.

Then there was the teenage years in which I, already lost in a world that made no sense and provided no loving comfort, rebelled even against what comforts I did have. I left home twice in my teenage years either in anger, or without any thought for what my actions might do to my parents. Fiinally there was the big departure. I didn't understand it at the moment, but I took the geographic solution to my own pain and followed my employer to Canada, where I have lived ever since.

In the nearly 40 years that have followed, almost all of my family correspondence was with my mother. Dad didn't write. Oh, I'm sure he hungrily devoured every word in every letter - but writing was just not his thing. He and mom came to visit us seven times over the years and it was heart-warming to see the gradual changes in my father. He was not completely transformed by any means, but he did change. There was less anxiety, less depression, less cynicism as his circumstances and his health blossomed. By this time he was probably able to see the wreckage I was making in my own life and family - and so it goes.

Then, about 6 years ago, Mom started to show increasing signs of Alzeimer's Disease. She is now institutionalized. Dad visits her every day. He talks to her; takes her treats and nourishing food; tells her jokes and plays music for her. And all the time he has no idea if she even knows who he is. It's poignant, pathetic and endearing all at once.

Now, I don't want this to seem like a carping cesspit of self-pity. It is what life has handed my father and me. It is what God has ordained in love that we should seek after Him in the midst of our tribulation. There are untold numbers of people and families out there who have had it much, much worse than we. There is real evil abroad in the world and it works in a myriad ways. All of it tells of the wrath of God upon a sinful world and the love of God calling upon men everywhere to repent.

In my case, God brought the effectual call. He dragged me out of the world and into the kingdom of His dear Son. It took years, with spurts of fanatical religion interspersed with abysmal backsliding - all of it paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ in His love for me, as He gave up His life on the cross. Two steps forward and one step back was all I could manage as I lurched towards the understanding of His grace and His love. I still wrestle with it. There is, deep within me, a residue of anger and hate and resentment - of puzzlement, of disbelief. There is a remnant of a refusal to accept that I am loved, because I never truly experienced it from human sources in the way we all yearn for.

But the faith of Christ is greater than all this. There are periodic paroxysms of pain, but they are for my good and God's glory. In the hands of my loving Saviour they have become the very means of my sanctification. This is no easy believism. It is the trenches. It is the knock 'em down and drag 'em out warfare of the soul. It is a daily battle. But it is the Lord's battle and He has won it. What I must do is to walk in His victory. By His grace, I do much of the time. And when I stumble He is there to lift me up in due time and set me back upon the path.

So, when I go to Blighty and visit me dear old dad it is carrying the love of Jesus that he has never known. It is in the humility of understanding that I cannot save him, no matter how much I love him myself. I can display to him Christ in me, and that by grace alone. I truly don't know how to do this. I know what I am and I am partly afraid that I will give my old nature room to be seen. And I must trust God in it all.

Remember me as I force myself into that pressurized aluminum tube and rumble off into the sky later this week. Say a prayer. Pray that, if in God's grace I arrive safely, my Father will see Christ and not me. Pray for my death - not an aeronautical death, but a death of ego; a death to all the vestiges of the "me" that I invented throughout those years of wandering lostness.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 3/05
"That which was by birth our misfortune has become by choice our fault"

A. J. Mason, speaking of original sin in "The Faith of the Gospel"
How Firm a Foundation
Here is what the old timers might have called a "physic" for the soul. True encouragement and exhortation written by saints who have gone before us, and who have found the Lord to be always sufficient for the circumstance at hand. O God deliver us from that sort of belief that does not recognize that it is through suffering that we are made perfect - not by always being delivered from it. Help us not only to understand, but also to embrace all that Your hand assigns to us - whether sickness, tribulation or persecution, knowing that it is by your grace and your grace alone that we stand. For we stand on a foundation that is forever fixed in the heavens - the Christ of God, the Head of the corner, the Eternal Word.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Words: From A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, by John Rippon, 1787; attributed variously to John Keene, Kirkham, and John Keith.
Evening Renewal - A Puritan Prayer
This is an audio blog.

Here is a Puritan prayer for the evening, when the day's battle is almost done and when sweet rest waits to renew the soul to take up arms for the morrow.

Click this link to Download

Click this link to listen now
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Freedom From Freedom of the Will

Free to be a slave of righteousnessFor people of the world today their so-called “free-will” is the be-all and the end-all of their identity. Without it, they believe, they would be automatons. Without it they would have no raison d’être because their perception of their reason for being is so that they can will to do or to be anything they want. They may choose to do good or not on the basis of their own reason. Their ability to actually choose is sacrosanct to them. The very idea that they might not be in absolute control of their own choices destroys their sense of identity and, therefore, either offends or enrages them.

Yet these are often the same ones who embrace the deterministic attitudes by which many destructive behaviours are mitigated or excused. It was their genes or their environment that caused the behaviour, and they are therefore “not responsible” or were acting in a “diminished capacity”. Such thinking is wonderful humanism, but it is lousy soteriology. In fact, it is the unavoidable result and the inevitable end of humanism.

These humanistic influences have also polluted the heart of the faith of many. Some Christians actually believe today that the unsaved have the power to choose between believing in Christ unto salvation or remaining under condemnation, even though the Bible clearly does not teach this. Such thinking is based on the erroneous belief that fallen man can form the will to choose between good and evil. He cannot. Man has the responsibility to choose the good over the evil, but he no longer has the desire to do so. His will is corrupted, along with everything else about him.

A corrupt will is not a free will. A corrupt will, lacking the power to choose the good, is actually enslaved to evil. Since it is able to make only one choice there is, in reality, no choice at all and the very concept of freedom of the will (soteriologically speaking) becomes absurd. A careful and proper understanding of this Biblical truth frees us from the error of absolving man of responsibility for sin on the basis of the impotency of his will. Left to himself fallen man will always choose evil, yet he is still responsible to his Maker for not choosing good. This is the sting in the promise of Satan that Adam and Eve would “know good and evil”. They were not promised that they would know good from evil. Not knowing the difference is fatal.

Much of modern Christianity is so permeated with worldly thinking that few can shake the carnal dogma of freedom of the will as it applies to the unsaved. Flying in the face of scripture they think anyone can become a Christian simply by willing it of their own volition. This can lead to humanistic attempts to spread the gospel, less on the basis of the leading and movement of the Holy Spirit, and more on the basis of carnal effort. God still saves many – because all that the Father has given to the Son will be saved – but He does this despite the beliefs of some of the messengers, rather than because of them.

Because God has every right to demand of His fallen creatures that they repent and believe, and that they love and obey Him, in no way implies that they are any longer willing to do so. But some would deny God that right on the basis of the lostness of His creatures! Because men are universally “unwilling” to come on account of their own unwavering preference for sin, the thinking goes, then God has no right to demand that they come. Such deluded and twisted thinking is blasphemous in the extreme.

Rather than commit to this blasphemy, some believers therefore commit another. They give all men the ability to come “if they will”. They restore, on God’s behalf but without His permission and prior to regeneration, fallen man’s original nature and, with it, his moral ability to choose the good. At a stroke they deny the total depravity of man as taught in the Bible – and as preached by our blessed Saviour - and restore human nature halfway to sanctification.

God justly demands that all men everywhere repent – and His justness is in no way diminished by their invariable unwillingness to do so. Because their will is enslaved to sin and can do nothing but choose the evil in no way reflects upon God. Men prefer evil. Men are in a permanent state of rebellion against the truth. Men are in darkness – not twilight, not dawning, not even firelight – they are in utter and complete (spiritual) darkness – a darkness justly called “death”.

God, therefore, must be the One who brings about their salvation. Jesus is the Way and faith is the means – but God’s elective grace is the reason. It is not a decision left to fallen man. It is not a change originating in the will of man at all, but a sovereign election springing from the eternal counsels of God. It is God, working through His elective providence by the power of the Holy Spirit, Who brings man to a willingness to accept and live in Christ. He does this without violating their will, and without any outward sign that they are acting with any other faculty than that of the rest of the world.

So far corrupted is modern Christianity in some circles that the very idea of God’s sovereign elective grace often elicits hostility rather than reverence. Such carnal thinking calls God unjust for electing some while leaving others under condemnation. If He is going to save some, they think, then He must save all. Since He does not save all He must be an unfair monster. What a vile travesty of the truth from the father of lies this is! As for Christ, the natural man still will not have this Man to reign over him.

The law, Paul said, was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. God’s just and righteous commands are not given because we will to obey them (even though we are obliged to) – but as a reminder that, apart from His righteousness living within us in the Person of Jesus Christ, we are unable to do so. Exhortations to stand, continue, persevere, last, carry on to the end and so forth are given for the same reason. They are not given because we are able to do so of ourselves. They are given so that we will be constantly reminded of Who it is that is at work within us both to will and to do His good pleasure, and so that we will, in faith, cast ourselves upon Him to perform it in us through our crucified wills.

On a final note, and I speak with the utmost reverence, we would all do well to consider the limitations of God’s will before we start defending our right to freedoms of our own. There are things that God cannot do. He cannot lie. In fact, He cannot sin at all. It is not simply a question that He chooses not to sin – that is false theology and an improper understanding of God. The point is that God’s actions are limited by His very nature, which never changes. Since He is pure and holy then only purity and holiness can possibly spring from His being.

Now, on the other hand, consider fallen man. His nature is absolutely corrupt. And that corruption is what prevents his choosing good. Along with all else about him, man’s will itself is corrupt. We will not come to God. The nature of a being, then, is what dictates the direction of the will. From a pure well comes pure water. But from a poisoned well, no amount of drawing will ever bring up anything potable. An entirely new well must be dug by God Himself.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 2/05
Let Your name, not mine, be praised. Let Your work, not mine, be magnified. Let Your holy name be blessed, but let no human praise be given to me. You are my glory. You are the joy of my heart. In You I will glory and rejoice all the day, and for myself I will glory in nothing but my infirmities.

Thomas A Kempis - "Imitation of Christ" - Chapter 3.40
I Will Be Like The Most High
Gavin Bell photo used by permission
Photo by Gavin Bell

How often we Christians aspire to be like Jesus. We want to become exactly like Him, to be holy and merciful and just and righteous and loving. What a wonderful aspiration! Or is it?

There was another who also had this desire. He was simply the most beautiful and powerful creature that God had made. He was called "Day Star" and "Son of Dawn". That is, until unrighteousness was found in him. And what was that unrighteousness? Why, it was nothing more, nor was it anything less, than this – that he aspired to make himself "like the Most High."

Herein is contained the whole of our own fall, and the terrible condition of mankind. For, just as Lucifer fell because he desired to make himself like the Most High, so in human thought and deed, whether in religion, science, sociology or philosophy – whether in philanthropy, charity, or building a global community – men are trying to be like The Most High God. It was sin in Satan and it is sin in us. And the result is the same. We cannot make ourselves "like" the Most High. We cannot make anything!

But it is not just the pagan unbeliever who misses the mark with this error. There are millions who count themselves as believers who are likewise deceived. In such "believers" it is sometimes called "walking according to the flesh". In some it is a sin unto death while in others it is removed by the grace of God. Those who were both called and chosen endure, and are brought to completion through the obedience of faith. Those who are only called, of which there are many, will ultimately perish because of their unbelief.

But Christians may wonder how we may be like Him, if we may not aspire to that end. What is our hope and our goal if it is not to be like Christ? Doesn’t the Bible itself tell us that "one day we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is"? Indeed it does.

So how may a person hope to be like Christ without striving to be like Him? There is no real contradiction. The solution lies in the attitude of the heart. Lucifer said to himself, "I will be like the Most High", when none can be like Him, for He is eternal, infinite and utterly unique. There is none like Him and, since He changes not – there will never be any like Him. He is the Uncreated One.

We are not to grasp at being like Him. Jesus did not. He was the One "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." This is the same mind that we are to take on. A mind we are not to emulate, but to receive.

It bears repeating that the mind of Christ is not something we decide to copy, but something we are given freely. We receive it – we do not bring ourselves "up" to the level of it. The sheer enormity of this gift is what stops many from being able to see it. If we grasp at the mind and character of God we cannot receive it. If we work for it, we cannot receive it. If we strive to be "like" God, we cannot attain it.

Lucifer’s act was an act of his grasping will. "I will be like the Most High…" But ours is to be entirely the opposite. It is to be a submitted will, which receives everything from God alone. And when God produces in us this attitude it is then that we discover that we are like Him, because He gives Himself to us – He clothes Himself in our personhood and shines His nature, power and glory through us.

Like Christ, we do not grasp these characteristics of the Living God in order to own or possess them. Christ Himself was invisible in the sense that He sought only the Father’s will and glory. To see Christ is to see the Father. That was Their common desire - that the Other be seen. Likewise, we become vehicles and vessels of the very God whose character we could never have received if, like Lucifer, we coveted it with any part of our own being. Our desire is not to be seen as like Him, but that He be seen in our place .

Let us not say that we will be like the Most High, but that we shall be made like Him, and that only because we shall see Him as He is. It is a matter of "reflection". He polishes our inner being to a perfect mirror so that His reflection shines in us so brightly that it seems to be we who shine. But we know Who it really is, and we shall spend eternity praising Him for it.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Quote of the Day - Oct 1/05
He has so designed humanity that our fulfillment, emotionally and intellectually, is in returning praises to Him. But let us never think that we are doing something to enrich God. He is the God of all riches. All things already belong to Him. We are magnifying glasses through which the Light that He is passes, to make Him appear greater. Yet we are not only the glass but also the observer looking through the glass. He is magnified to us, through whom He shines, when we praise Him.

Harlan Ames, "Gleanings" - Volume 15.569
Prayer, the Pattern of Perfect Partnership
Luke 6:12 (ESV)

12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

It boggles the mind to think of the Eternal Son praying to the Father with Whom He is one. Absent any revelation of how personality and perfect unity actually work we would remain baffled. We are fallen creatures and we still want to stack thoughts, concepts and ideas up against our own warped version of reality. We are from our birth so selfish, so utterly divorced from any true connection with others that we make our own self-centredness the standard by which even God is to be judged.

Every thing and every one (including mothers, fathers, brothers, friends, husbands, wives) is exterior to us. We sometimes use "modest" and self-effacing language to express the power of our feelings about our relationship to others. We think ourselves selflessly devoted, self-sacrificing, self-less and caring. But there it is again - it is our feelings and our thoughts that are the real subject, and not someone who is "other" than us. Is it any wonder that Jean-Paul Sartre and, later, Colin Wilson characterized the utter isolation of the human soul in a formalized philosophy called "existentialism." Apart from God and His self-revelation we are all existentialists. We are also all nihilists by nature. We just invent ways not to admit it.

But God... O how I love the "but Gods" of scripture! God has revealed the true meaning of existence. He is the meaning. And He has revealed the true mode of existence in Him in numerous ways.

The first is in the creation itself. Not what He made, but the mere fact that He made it. God is true self-existence. But He is so in the midst of relationship. The Persons of the Godhead need no other beings in order to be complete and fulfilled. Yet when God acted in creation, He necessarily expressed His Own character. He is Truth. The act of creation was relational. It expressed God’s relational nature by it actually being a blueprint of what He is like, for His creatures themselves to read. God’s Self-revelation in nature.

Then there is the revelation of God in human relationships - the pinnacle of which is the intimacy of marriage. Two persons becoming one flesh. A corporal picture of the spirital reality that is firstly and above all a disclosure of the nature of God. The sacrament of marriage is not primarily for the consumption of the individual participants. It is to show the nature of the Creator Himself. As man and woman are (re)joined by becoming one flesh - so God is eternally Three Persons joined in one Spirit. All the other stuff in marriage the outworking, the rubbing off of the irritating edges, the daily dying, the cherishing by the man and the loving support of the woman - these are there mainly there so that we may progressively understand God’s self-revelation and worship Him. The gift of marriage is about God, not about us. But, because of God’s nature being expressed in the gift, it is a gift of infinite value to the recipients. It is God Who makes the gift valuable by revealing Himself in and through it. God’s self-revelation in marriage.

Finally, just as a man and a woman are (re)joined in the body, so God and man are (re)joined in Christ through the Spirit as revealed whenever a person is regenerated. By this I mean that fellowship with God is reestablished. But it is a fellowship that is in Christ. And because it is in Him each saint now has a relationship with God that is infinitely more wonderful and precious than that of Adam - even before the fall. This relationship is characterized as so intimate, that the believer is, by the Spirit of God, made to be one with God in Christ while never ceasing to be himself - a mere creature. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. The full revelation of this truth began the moment we first believed. God’s self-revealtion in salvation.

So when we see Christ the God/man praying to the Father here and elsewhere what are we looking at? Did Jesus need to pray at all? If so why, when He is very God of very God Himself? The answer is wrapped up in what was written above. Christ is a man. He is man forever. He also is, was and ever will be God manifested in the Person of the eternal Son. He is man (what will have been preserved out of Adam’s race) eternally joined in the Spirit to God in Him. It is so stupendous a thought that we cannot embrace it. It borders on sacrilege to us to even contemplate such an idea. God in us and we in Him - just as the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father? We want to rend our religious robes and cry "Blasphemy! It cannot be!"

The pathway to such unimaginable glory, which pathway is Christ, is shown to us as men by Christ, Who took humanity upon Himself. In His earthly ministry He demonstrated perfectly what walking that pathway looks like. It includes prayer to God. Prayer is the means by which we fellowship with God. Prayer is also the means by which we demonstrate our own dependent creaturehood. In His humanity, Jesus made Himself dependent upon the Father and then walked in that dependency perfectly in order to show us what it looks like. It is important that we see that we are creatures, and Jesus became a man partly in order to show us that very thing. We shall never be God. But God has nevertheless made a way in Christ for us to be united to Him in a blissful intimacy that makes even the most ideal earthly marriage look like all out war by comparison.

When I pray, do I come with even the vaguest sense of all this? Or do I take the mechanical view - "There is Jesus praying, so I must pray." Or worse, "Prayer is the thing I must do to make sure I stay saved." God in heaven deliver me from such dry and and faithless apery! Let me come as creature to Creator, in humble dependency upon Him for everything, yet fully convinced that in Christ I am already an heir to all things - whether in heaven or upon earth, and for all eternity. This is what Christ's prayers are demonstrating for us. He shows us what He already knows, what He is authoring (and has now finished) and what God is like. How can we help but worship?