Monday, November 23, 2009

Martyn Lloyd-Monday: No Vestige of Hope

I took two weeks off because I had all four wisdom teeth pulled. Back up and running now, and to kick it off with a solid quote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones about how there is no hope outside of Christ.
"Let me assert it very dogmatically; there is no hope whatsoever for this world apart from our Lord Jesus Christ. Have you found any? I say again, search your newspapers, your books on history, philosophy, poetry, science; go the complete round; where is there any vestige of hope? There is none. But God has purposed to restore all things in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is the only way."
-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
-An Exposition of Ephesians 3: The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

Monday, November 09, 2009

Martyn Lloyd-Monday: How To Hunger & Thirst

A fitting post for my birthday since Martyn Lloyd-Jones was probably the most influential author that I read after leaving a life of sin and deception. The following quote has been a favorite of mine for a long time. He is expounding on the opening progression of the sermon on the mount
"I am poor in spirit; I realize that I have no righteousness; I realize that face to face with God and His righteousness I am utterly helpless; I can do nothing. Not only that. I mourn because of the sin that is within me; I have come to see, as the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit, that blackness of my own heart. I know what it is to cry out, 'O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?' and desire to be rid of this vileness that is within me. Not only that. I am meek, which means that now that I have experienced this true view of myself, nobody else can hurt me, nobody else can insult me, nobody can ever say anything too bad about me. I have seen myself, and my greatest enemy does not know the worst about me. I have seen myself as something truly hateful, and it is because of this that I have hungered and thirsted after righteousness. I have longed for it. I have seen that I cannot create or produce it, and that nobody else can. I have seen my desperate position in the sight of God. I have hungered and thirsted for that righteousness which will put me right with God, that will reconcile me to God, and give me a new nature and life. And I have seen it in Christ. I have been filled; I have received it all as a free gift.

Does it not follow inevitably that, if I have seen and experienced all that, my attitude towards everybody else must completely and entirely changed?"
He inevitably arrives at the conclusion that seeing our own emptiness and God's fullness should change our treatment of others. In other words, inward change is the only way to true outward change.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Calvinism Resources

While I do not normally promote that I am a Calvinist like some kind of badge, or enjoy using labels that can bring confusion, I think some of the following resources would be helpful to any Christian thinking about the topic.

First, a great place to start is with J.I. Packer's introductory essay to John Owen's, "The Death of Death in The Death of Christ,". Not only will this give you an accurate account of the origins of the 5-points of Calvinism, but Packer makes a solid and winsome argument for Calvinism. I would not, however, recommend Owen's book for a beginner which is why I have provided a link to the introduction.

Next, after establishing the history and basic framework of Calvinism it would be good to read two well studied men debate the finer points of Calvinism. In the book, "Debating Calvinism," I found many of my knee jerk objections to Calvinism made by Dave Hunt and then promptly destroyed by Jame White. This is a fantastic read for people on both sides of the fence.

Now, by this point you are either going to be strongly against, leaning toward, or convinced. If you are either of the two latter then, "The Sovereignty of God," by A.W. Pink would be a great book to read next. Pink is exhaustive, scholarly, but very easy to understand. I suppose this would be good if you are still strongly against Calvinism but open to hearing one of the most lengthy arguments for its main foundation.

After this much reading you are either going to walk away from Calvinism or agree with it and want to know more. It is at this point I recommend J.I. Packer's, "Knowing God," due to its rich content and laymen level of reading. This was probably the most influential book in my life as it dealt with my ignorance and many questions about God. The book is not a treatise on Calvinism, however Packer's Calvinistic convictions are quite obvious throughout the pages of this wonderful book.

Now it is time to place all this information within a solid framework . The best book for this is, "Systematic Theology," by Wayne Grudem. This is yet another rich resource of scholarly information put into the language of the laymen. Grudem also has lectures available in the iTunes store podcast section to couple the reading of his book with lectures he has given on each chapter.

Finally, a shorter and less "classroom" like approach to the broad area of theology. John L. Dagg's, "Manual of Theology," is a wonderful resource for concise and readable chapters on theology. I describe Dagg's writing as more devotional or conversational than Grudem. Both, however, are very helpful in dealing with biblically defining and defending Calvinism and other theological issues.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Quit Using Facebook/Twitter To Glorify Yourself

I have been growingly concerned with how much boasting and pride I see on facebook and twitter, and have been wanting to write about it for a while. After reading Psalm 5, I think I know how I want to proceed. First and foremost let me say that I struggle with this all of the time, so this entry is convicting me as I write it. Facebook and twitter are a means of people "seeing" me, so it is incredibly easy to do things that draw attention to myself instead of God. That is why I try to recite a verse to myself before doing an update or post...

Matthew 6:1
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

This always echos in my mind when I read over so many facebook and twitter updates. Many Christians make it their aim to practice their righteousness in order to be seen. As you read this I hope you feel the conviction to stop or the caution to steer clear. Now, verse 2 makes it very clear that what Jesus is saying is applicable to what many of us do in the public arena of the social web today.

Matthew 6:2
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Jesus warns us like this in three different ways: when we give to the needy, pray, and fast. I'm sure you may want to object at this point and say, "How does anyone do this on facebook or twitter?" Well, it is actually quite common and very easy to fall into. Someone makes sure to mention how they are using their Saturday to give to charity (give to the needy). Someone makes sure to mention how early they have to get up for a prayer service that only a few people attend (prayer). Someone rails against a certain food or form of entertainment because they abstain (fast). Reading over these I'm sure you can think of a time you or people you know have done this. Now, this became more urgent to me when I read Psalm 5.

Psalm 5:5
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.

David makes it very clear that what Jesus is talking about is not just something we do horizontally to those around us, but it is something vertical toward God as well. But what does it mean, "shall not stand before your eyes"? What it means is that when you are boastful you align yourself with the evildoers that God hates, which is exactly what Jesus says in Matthew 6. He says over and over, "Do not be like the hypocrites". So you are not just turning toward man to boast, you are removing yourself from the presence of God and standing in the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1). This is why Jesus repeated this warning three times and in three different ways. Reading over this has helped and convicted me, I hope it helps you as well.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jesus is the Center of History

Taken from, "Vintage Jesus," by Mark Driscoll, the following quotes are about the impact Jesus had on history. My favorite quote, by far, is the one from Napoleon.

Stephen Neill:
"He who says 'Jesus' says also 'history.'"

H.G. Wells:
"I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history."

Philip Schaff:
"No great life ever passed so swiftly, so quietly, so humbly, so far removed from the noise and commotion of the world; and no great life after its close excited such universal and lasting interest."

Kenneth Scott Latourette:
"As the centuries pass, the evidence is accumulating that, measured by His effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet."

Napoleon Bonaparte:
"I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him."

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Suffering Brings Steadfastness

Just today I was discussing how trials bring about our good with a friend of mine. After I got home I realized that James already wrote about this in an incredibly clear manner...
James 1:2-4
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
What an sweet and comforting truth! We are to count it all joy when we suffer because it produces steadfastness. The reasoning here is just awesome. James tells us to be joyful when we meet trials because we already know that when our faith is tested we become more steadfast. He is rooting this on previous knowledge and experience, hence him saying "for you know". The reason this can be said to any Christian is because every new convert goes through the trial of persecution. It does not necessarily have to be grievous persecution, but it will not doubt come. So from the very early days of our faith, we have been tried and our faith has grown and increased steadfastness is the result. So, Christian, fuel your joy with the knowledge that every trial has made you more steadfast. James concludes his thought on being steadfast in verse 12...
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
More emphasis on how remaining steadfast is linked to our joy. We will be blessed and receive the crown of life if we remain steadfast. Despair is a wild spiral down from this glorious truth, and joy is a lifted head of steadfast faith.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Work out your own Salvation?

Sanctification is often an illusive idea for Christians, myself included. Too often people run to one extreme camp or the other. Some become legalistic, placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of Christians, over emphasizing rules, good habits, and being "holy". Other people stress grace and God's mercy rather than attempt to define any principles at all in fear of sounding legalistic. When this subject came up in my counseling class today, I immediately thought of Philippians 2:12-13
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
When you first read this is sounds very strange. Work out my own salvation? What does that mean? I thought it was God who saves! A careful reading illuminates what sanctification looks like.

The first thing to note is that we are commanded to work out while God works in. This is helpful in that we are limited to an outer work. You can not sit down and change your own wicked heart, it is God who does that. In other words, God must work in for our salvation so what we can work out our salvation. Hence the word "for" squeezed in between the two. Paul is saying "work out your salvation because God is working in you". He is not saying, do this so God will work in you, he is saying do this because God works in you. Imagine, right before the word "for" the question "Why?".

The second thing to note is the different words Paul actually uses. The word he uses for "work" is a different word and aspect than the word for "works".

  • The word for work in the Greek is κατεργάζεσθε which means cause, perform, work out. It is a 2nd person plural present imperative which means Paul is using it as a command to the Philippians. He is essentially saying, "Hey, you all, do this."
  • The word for works in the Greek is ἐνεργῶν which means do, be effectual, be mighty in. It is a present active participle which means Paul is saying this is something God is continually doing.

Paul is not saying that we do some work outwardly and God does some work inwardly and it is a mutual effort from both parties like a three legged race where two people are tied together. The work being done by both parties is different in substance (one is outward one is inward) and different in aspect (one is commanded one is continual). So Paul is saying that we are to outwardly show what God is continually doing in us. Think about that for a minute. We are not outwardly working to be saved, we are outwardly working because we're saved. Remember that word
"for" squeezed in between the two statements?

This setup is pivotal in never boasting because any outward work is based on the continual inward work that God is doing. Realizing that God is continually and inwardly working on us is the only way we will achieve the attitude that Paul prescribed: "with fear and trembling". Once you grasp this truth, that God is mightily and continually working inwardly on your heart, then you will fearfully and reverently attempt to work outwardly to show this. In fact, Paul uses the same word for the final
"work" as he did when he said "works". This means we will do mighty and effectual things for God's good pleasure as an outpouring of the continual mighty and effectual work being done in us. Is there still a tension here? Yes. But this sheds light on the inter-workings of sanctification that hopefully fuels the fearful outworking of our salvation.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Martyn Lloyd-Monday: Why Does God Allow War?

In his book, "Why Does God Allow War?", Martyn Lloyd-Jones grapples with a common question posed to Christians and people of faith. However, he does not even begin to answer the question until the second to last chapter. The book is only 126 pages long, but he is careful to place man and God in their proper context before attempting to answer a difficult question. This excerpt is worthy of note:
"It is only as we suffer and see our folly, and the utter bankruptcy and helplessness of men, that we shall turn to God and rely upon Him. Indeed, as I contemplate human nature and human life, what astonishes me is not that God allows and permits war, but the patience and the long-suffering of God. He suffered the evil, perverse ways of the children of Israel for centuries; and now for nearly two thousand years He has patiently borne with a world which in the main rejects and refuses His loving offer, even in the Person of His only-begotten Son. The question that needs to be asked it not 'Why does God allow war?' but rather, 'Why does God not allow the world to destroy itself entirely in its iniquity and its sin? Why does He in His restraining grace set a limit to evil and to sin, and a bound beyond which they cannot pass?' Oh, the amazing patience of God with this sinful world! How wondrous is His love!"
He reminds me of Paul in this little exchange. So caught up in the love of God and the view of man's helpless estate he does not even let the question take root. Similar to Paul, meditating on all that God has done causes him to cry out in praise rather than cynically question.