Monday, July 27, 2015

Remember His Wonders of Old

There are dark nights in the lives of all Christians. These can come because we have lost something or someone. They can come from burdens upon us. They can come from physical sickness or emotional distress. They can come from the darkness of the world. They can come from crisis in our churches. They can come from our own sins. But perhaps no darkness compares to the silence of God. What do we do when he is absent? What do we do when it looks like he has cast us off? Not surprisingly, the Psalms give us the answer.

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah.
You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, "Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart." Then my spirit made a diligent search: "Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?" Selah. (Psalm 77:1-9)
There are few words in the Psalter as despairing as these nine verses. The author cries out to God repeatedly. He refuses to be comforted. He cannot close his eyes. He asks questions modern, sentimental Christians refuse to ask. Has God forgotten us? Has his love come to end? Have his covenant mercies, his steadfast love been forgotten? Has his anger overcome his compassion? Am I stuck in darkness, despair, and death? Is there any hope at all? But note the second line of the first paragraph, "In the day of trouble I seek the Lord." And the middle of the second paragraph, "My spirit made diligent search."  He is not going to passively slip into despair and darkness. He is going to pursue God despite the darkness.  Like a man clawing out of a grave he will keep digging until his breath runs out or he reaches the light.

And what is the answer to his distress?
Then I said, "I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High." I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.
When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:10-20)
The writer's hope is kindled by looking to God's deeds in the past. "I will remember...I will remember..I will ponder...I will meditate."  He looks backward to see a way out of the darkness. He focuses on the parting of the Red Sea. Israel, like this man, could see no way out. In front of them lay the sea. Behind them lay the Egyptian army. Listen to the words of the Israelites as they stood on the shore:
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." (Exodus 14:10-12)
Moses we are going to die here. God has forgotten us. Where is God's  mercy now? We told you to let us be. Despair. Darkness. Death. Now hear the words of Moses:
And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." (Exodus 14:13-14)

And that is exactly what happened. God saved Israel. The writer of Psalm 77 looked back to that great event and found courage, peace, and hope. He remembered the power of God, how even the great waters could not withstand Him. He remembered that the Lord made a path through the sea. He remembered that the armies of Pharaoh were drowned and their bodies washed up on the shore (Exodus 14:30-31).

Why could the author of the Psalm do this? Why could he look back to an event hundreds of years earlier and find hope? Because God does not change. He is in the business of delivering his people. He always has been. We do not know what was wrong when the Psalmist wrote this. Nor do we know how or when God delivered the Psalmist from his "day of trouble." But we know that God did deliver him because he always does.

In our times of darkness, whether they are personal or corporate, we look back to a greater exodus, a greater deliverance. We look back to the cross and there we are reminded, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)  We are reminded that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to die on our behalf. We are reminded that Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame so we might be sons of glory (Hebrews 2:10). As the Psalmist crawled back to the Red Sea and the God who saved Israel there, we need to crawl back to the cross. We need to meditate upon God's "mighty deeds." We need to ponder His strength and His works. We need to remember His "wonders of old." For He does not change. He redeemed Israel. He will redeem us. He cast down Pharaoh. He will cast down our enemies. He led Israel to the promise land. He will guide us to green pastures and still waters.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fruit of Repentance

Here is one more short post on repentance. You can find the first two here and here. What are some signs that our repentance is bearing Spirit wrought fruit? Or to broaden it out a bit, how do I know I am growing in holiness?

Our love for Jesus is increasing. Jesus and His work become more glorious to us as time passes (Philippians 3:8).

Our hunger for God's Word is growing (Psalm 19:10, I Peter 2:1-2).

We begin to hate sin because it is sin. We don't hate it because of the consequences. We don't hate it because of how it makes us feel. We hate it because it is sin against the God who loved us and gave His Son for us.

We long to be rebuked by those who are righteous and love us (Psalm 141:5).

We look beyond our sinful actions to the sinful desires that produce the action (Matthew 12:34-35).

The fruit of the Spirit is growing in us (Galatians 5:22-26).

We are quicker to forgive (Matthew 18:22-35) and slower to take offense (I Peter 4:8).

We are quicker to ask forgiveness when we have sinned (Matthew 5:23-25).

We are increasingly free from seeking the approval of men and following the traditions of men (Galatians 5:1 Colossians 2:18-23). Our freedom in Christ is becoming more and more a reality.

We are striving to serve those around us (Mark 10:45), especially those closest to us, such as wives, husbands, children, and fellow Christians in our churches (Galatians 6:9-10).

We love God's people. We love the church. We love to worship with them, fellowship with them, give to them, pray for them, pray with them, weep with them, and rejoice with them (Psalm 122:1). There is no increasing love for Christ without also seeing an increase in our love for His sheep.

There is a noticeable increase in joy and gratitude (Philippians 3:1, 4:4, Colossians 3:17, I Thessalonians 5:16). We become more and more thankful for God's grace, for the forgiveness of our sins, for Jesus, for the Spirit, for the Scriptures, for the world God has made, for the Church. I am convinced this is one of the key signs a man is leading a life of repentance. Without gratitude and joy I am not convinced that a man is leading a life of repentance.

Friday, July 24, 2015

No Recompense Outside of Christ

Here is a section from John Calvin's sermon on Ephesians 1:6-10. 
St. Paul [in Ephesians 1:7] uses two words to express how we are reconciled to God. First he sets down the ransom or redemption, which amounts to the same thing, and afterwards he sets down the forgiveness of sins. How then does it come about that God's wrath is pacified, that we are made at one with him, and that he even accepts and acknowledges us as his children? It is by the pardoning of our sins, says St. Paul.  And furthermore, because pardon necessitates redemption he yokes the two together. The truth is that, in respect of us, God blotted out our sins of his own free goodness and shows himself altogether bountiful, and does not look for any payment for it at our hands. And, in fact what man is able to make satisfaction for the least fault that he has committed? If every one of us, therefore, should employ his whole life in making satisfaction for any one fault alone, and by that means seek to win favor at God's hand, it is certain that such a thing far surpasses all our abilities. And therefore God must necessarily receive us to mercy without looking  for any recompense or satisfaction at our hands. 

But, for all this, the atonement, which is freely bestowed in respect of us, cost the Son of God very dear (I Peter 1:19).  For he found not other payment than the shedding of his own blood, so that he made himself our surety in both body and soul, and answered for us before God's judgment to win absolution for us. Our Lord Jesus Christ entered into the work, both body and soul. For it would not have been enough for him to have suffered so cruel and ignominious a death in the sight of men, but it was necessary for him also to bear such horrible anguish in himself, as if God had become his judge, for he gave himself up in the behalf of sinners to make full satisfaction.  

Questions on Repentance

Yesterday I wrote Eleven Words on Repentance. Here are some questions I asked myself as I wrote the post.

Can I keep repenting for the same sin?
Yes. If Christ told Peter to forgive seven times seventy, then we can assume that God's mercy is wider (Matthew 18:22).

What if I keep repenting, but do not see change in my life? 
There are several options here. One is that you are changing, but your perception is skewed because you are too close. Find someone who knows you well and will be honest with you. Ask them if they are seeing change. Many times we are hard on ourselves. An outsider can help us see that we are growing. Second, you may not be using the tools God has given you to overcome your sin. Are you just repenting and hoping change strikes you like a bolt from heaven? Or are you reading and memorizing Scripture, attending worship, spending time with godly men, working hard, praying, etc.? God works through means. Finally, it is possible you are not regenerate. One sign of a regenerate heart is not just the desire to repent and change, but the actual power to do so (I John 3:9). The good news is that Christ casts out no one who comes to him (John 6:37). Flee to Christ, trust in Him, and He will give you His Spirit so that you might begin overcoming sin.

How much fruit does true repentance bear? 
The short answer is some.  There is no growth chart to tell us how much fruit we should be bearing. But there should be signs of growth over a long period of time. I encourage people to look at large sections of time in their lives. It is hard to see growth in a week. It shouldn't be hard to see it in a year. Also remember that God usually works on certain areas of our lives before moving on to other areas. For example, right now he might be working on anger in me. I fight anger. I memorize verses to kill anger. I repent of my anger. But after some years, by the Spirit, I begin to overcome anger. God then usually brings up another sin, such as bitterness. This can give the illusion of not growing.  But what has happened is you have moved from one sin, which you have under control, to another sin you do not.

Does my repentance need to be emotional? 
This is a tricky question. There can be a lot of tears spilled and no repentance. There can be no tears shed and a man be repentant. Repentance should involved the whole man, including his feelings. We should feel our sin. But not all of us express our feelings the same way. We even express our feelings differently at different stages of our lives. So yes it should involve our emotions, but we should not judge our repentance or anyone else's on outward expression of those emotions.

How do I know I truly repented? 
Did you look to Jesus to take away your sins? Do you trust in Him and his work alone to remove your sins?  Good then you repented. Don't ask questions like, "Did I really feel repentant?"  "Was I totally sincere?" In certain situations they might be helpful, but often they turn us inward in a way that is not healthy. Looking to Christ and the promises given in the Word are the keys.

Are there any keys to leading a life of fruit bearing repentance?
There are no magic bullets in the Christian life, but there are few things that can help.

First, realize that you are a much worse sinner than you think you are. Without a deep sense of our sinfulness repentance will be in short supply.

Second, realize that you are rightly condemned by God's law outside of Christ. You cannot in any way earn even a sliver of your salvation. When God declares you "not righteous" he is being entirely just. It is not an unfair judgment.

Third, realize that God's mercy shown to us in Christ is great. Jesus has saved us to the uttermost. Your sins, as great as they are, are overwhelmed by Christ's blood. His mercy is free and the fountain does not run dry. This is a great spur for us to keep repenting and fleeing to the cross no matter how often or how grievous our sins.

Fourth, believe that because of Christ's shed blood you are forgiven. Trust the promises given in God's Word that tell us He forgives (Micah 7:19-20, Luke 24:47, Ephesians 1:7, and I John 1:8-9). You are really forgiven. It is not a hoax.

Fourth, long for and love God, Jesus, the Spirit, and holiness. These things must be treasures to us, not just people we "must" love or things we "must" do. Our affections must be fixed on God.  Too often we combat sin by talking about how ugly sin is. This can be helpful. But we also need to emphasize how glorious God is. We need to repent not just because we chose sin, but because we rejected the glory of God. When we choose sin we toss aside happiness, blessing, joy and life (Jeremiah 2:12-13).

Fifth, the Word must be a constant presence in your life. Memorize it. Read it. But most of all hear it preached. When we read God's Word we see it through our own eyes. Preaching however forces us to look at the Word from a different angle. Therefore reading God's Word is not enough.

Finally, spend more time on your own sins than you do on the sins of others. One of the surest signs someone is not leading a life of fruitful repentance is that they think much of the sins of others and little of their own sins.

Do you have other questions about repentance? Put them in the comments and I will try to reply.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Eleven Words on Repentance

1. Repentance does not save you.  It is not a work of merit. God does not forgive you because you repent. He forgives you because of Christ's blood. Therefore your repentance does not have to be "perfectly sincere" or "really heartfelt."

2. Repentance is not feeling bad for your sins. Many men have felt guilty and yet never repented. Often men mistake that feeling of sorrow/guilt for true repentance.

3. Repentance is not fearing the consequences of your sins. Many men do not want the consequences of their sins, but also do not want to repent. Consequences can help us see the need to repent, but in and of themselves, are not enough.

4. Repentance is the act of confessing and turning from our sins because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the Word and turning to the mercy of God shown to us in Christ. We must turn from our sin and turn to God. That is why guilt and fearing the consequences are insufficient motivators for repentance. Neither of those automatically drive us to God. If repentance does not end at the blood of Christ, it is not true repentance.

5. We should be repenting of sins in the Bible and using the language the Bible uses. Call it what it is. Lust, gossip, anger, bitterness, malice, slander, laziness, greed, and coveting are all terms in the Scriptures. Do not call your sins mistakes. Do not say lust was just a slip up. Don't say laziness is just being tired.

6. Repentance should involve confessing specific sins to the Lord. Too often repentance is generic. "Lord, I am a proud man. Please forgive me." This is not a bad prayer and it is probably a true prayer. But it does go deep enough. "Lord, because I am a proud man I got angry at my son when he beat me at Dominion." Or "Lord, I am vain, I was jealous when that woman's dress got complimented and mine did not." Root your repentance in real events, not in generic descriptions of your sinfulness. It helps see us for who we really are and not who we imagine ourselves to be.

7. Repentance means looking at the why as well as the what. Why did I look at porn? Why did I talk disrespectfully to my husband? Why am I lazy at work? The desires and motivations of hearts matter as much as the action itself. This also means you can repent of things that you never act on. It is possible to be greedy and never steal or to be angry and never hit.  Yet greed and anger are both sins that need to be repented of. It is odd that in a culture where the shape of our desires are so important there is such little emphasis on repenting of sinful desires.

8. Repentance does not remove the consequences of your sins. A man who repents can still be disciplined by the Lord. But this is not punishment for his sin. A man whom God disciplines is not making atonement for his sin through that discipline. Atonement was fully paid at the cross by Jesus. Rather he is being molded by God so that he might reject sin in the future. A repentant man will accept the consequences of his sin.

9. A repentant man knows that forgiveness is not owed. Just because you repent does not mean you deserve God's grace. God does not owe you anything including forgiveness.

10. A repentant man does not trust in the sincerity of the repentance nor in the desire to do better in the future. When we do this we are making of the foundation of our repentance ourselves. This cannot be. True repentance rests solely on Jesus and his work on the cross. A repentant man knows that even his repentance needs to be covered by Christ's blood.

11. Repentance will bear fruit. However, this fruit is usually small at the beginning and grows over time. A man who repents of his anger does not automatically get rid of it. But that repentance and desire to turn from sin will bear fruit over time. There are two dangers. One is believing repentance is just about forgiveness and not about change. The other danger is that we believe that if we repent sin automatically goes away. Neither is correct. Repentance is part of our lifelong war against the sin in our hearts.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pleasure Done Wrong

Christians have an awkward relationship with pleasure. How are we supposed to approach things like sex, steaks, football games, cool summer breezes, a good beer, laughter, and a tickling our children? Are we supposed to feel guilty? Excited?  Isn't the life of a Christian serious business?  Isn't our culture driven by a love of pleasure and shouldn't we be salt and light in this wicked society? Don't things like sex and beer lead to all sorts of sin? Wouldn't it be better if we focused on doing our duty instead of pursuing pleasure?

There are at least four ways we sin in our pursuit of pleasure. In a later post I will flesh out how to approach pleasure positively.

Sin #1: Trade Lasting Pleasures for Temporary Ones
Sin is pleasant. If it wasn't, who would be attracted to it. But it is pleasant in a temporary, short sighted way. Sin is pleasant in the same way Esau's bowl of soup was pleasant or Bathsheba was pleasant  for David. Yes it tasted good or felt good, but then it was gone and these men awoke to the reality of what they had lost. Satan's great goal is to get us to trade lasting, long term pleasure for short, fleeting pleasures. Satan knows that God is pleasure. When we come to him we find joy, happiness, and pleasures without end (Psalm 16:11). Satan knows that God will fill all our needs and desires far beyond our expectations, if we will just pursue Him with all our might and wait on Him to provide. So he makes us push. Sex before marriage is a great example. Almost every study ever done on the subject says that people who do not have sex before marriage, marry one time, and stay with that person are happier than those who don't. Yet Satan whispers in our ears, "It will be fun to sleep around before marriage." And he is right...sort of.  Sin is fun for the moment. But it reaps pain in the long run.

God is not saying, "Give up temporary pleasure for eternal pain." Nor is He saying, "Give up temporary pleasure to do your duty." He is saying, "Give up temporary pleasure for lasting pleasure." Of course, this works eternally (Romans 8:18). We give up many things in this life because we know the next life will bring us great pleasures, the greatest being God himself. But it also often works in this life. A young man who waits on sex will usually find his sexual relationship with his wife better, filled with more pleasure. A woman who controls her eating will find that piece of pie tastes so good at the end of the day. A teenager who gets his work done first will find that he can rest with a clean conscience.

Solution: Do not give up lasting, long term pleasures for short, fleeting ones. Instead pursue lasting pleasures within the boundaries of God's good Word. 

Sin #2: Pleasure is Sinful
Many Christians agree with #1. Yes we must wait. We must not give in to the world's temptations. But we do it out of duty instead of delight. In other words, we buy into Satan's idea that God's rules are there to keep us from pleasure and fun (Genesis 3:5).  We know we are supposed to follow God, but we think this means giving up pleasure. After all, God is a harsh task master. For many conservative Christians pleasure is a sure sign that sin is lurking somewhere. This is a temptation for homeschoolers, Roman Catholics, evangelical Christians, and anyone in between. We know the world makes the mistake of trading lasting pleasures for fleeting ones. Therefore we overreact. Pleasure is bad. Sex can only be about procreation or it can only be a duty to protect ourselves from sexual temptation. Why do we approach it this way? Because God does not like us to have fun.  We watch our weight, what food we eat, how we spend our money, how other people spend their money, how we spend our time, how other people spend their time, etc. We don't watch comedies, tell jokes, dance, like vacation, or enjoy sitting on the deck and watching the sunset. In short, we believe life is very serious, very practical, and we are not here to have fun.

There are two signs a person is trapped in this mindset. First, they feel guilty about pleasure. If something makes them happy then it is probably sinful. They may do it, but penance must be paid later. Second, they give disapproving glances when other people are joyful. They think to themselves, "A happy person is probably a sinning person." A child gleefully running to get a cookie is probably greedy.  A man who loves eating a steak is probably a glutton. If my son enjoyed that movie there was probably some sin involved. And so on.

But, fortunately, God is not this way. God invented all those pleasures. He made cows so we could butcher them and eat a rib eye.  He made sunsets, mountain ranges, ocean beaches, and snow. He made men who would invent baseball, movies, rock music, roller coasters, go-carts, hot dogs, and corn bread to go around our hot dogs. He created wheat so we could have a thousand types of bread and beer. He created dogs, cats, birds, and snakes. He created men and women to fit together physically.  God loves pleasure. He put us in a world where are there are pleasures without end. He is taking us to a world where there will be pleasures beyond imagination. A person who hates pleasure or thinks pleasure is sinful is living in rebellion against God and His world.

Solution: Without guilt, fully enjoy all the pleasures God gives to you. He wants you to enjoy that movie, that ball game, that new car, that steak, your wife, your child's laughter, and yes even the snow. 

Sin #3: We Enjoy Pleasure, But Do Not Thank God 
This mistake is worshiping the creature instead of the Creator. God gives good things to all men, not just Christians (Matthew 5:45). All humans can enjoy God's gifts. Non-Christians can keep sex within marriage. They can teach their children the discipline necessary to enjoy money, food, house, home, work, etc. They can take pleasure in a sunset or a kitten. But proper use of God's good gifts is not the final goal. The goal is doxology, praise, and thanksgiving to the God who gave those gifts. Here is where all those who do not worship the living God fall short.

Christians can fall into this trap. We enjoy God's gifts. But instead of enjoying the gift and then thanking the Giver, we stop at the gift. We do not have to give explicit thanks for all good things. But our lives should be ones of perpetual thanksgiving.

By the way, Christians who think pleasure is sinful (#2) cannot be truly thankful. Why would a person give thanks for what makes them feel guilty?

Solution: Give heartfelt thanks to God for the gifts and pleasures he gives to you daily.  

Sin #4: We Enjoy Pleasure, But Refuse to Deny Ourselves for Others 
Here the failure is not lack of gratitude, but rather failure to love our neighbor. With this sin we enjoy God's gifts, we may even give thanks for them, but we do not moderate our pursuit of pleasure for the sake of others. We love God's physical gifts to the detriment of loving those around us. A man can love to play golf and not be sinning. But when golf becomes more important than family he is sinning. Usually this has to do with how much or what manner we do something, not the thing itself. Eating out is not a sin. But if you eat out so much that your family suffers financially that is a problem. Watching football is not a sin. But if you refuse to fellowship with the saints because of the football game then you are sinning.

Often loving our neighbor and enjoying God's good gifts can and should be combined. A father can teach his children to play golf instead of spending every Saturday away from his family. My brother loves to run. As his kids have gotten older he has included them in his hobby instead of selfishly setting them aside to pursue his own goals. We can invite friends over for a beer instead of just enjoying it ourselves. We can go on a hike as a family instead of just husband and wife. We don't have to, nor should we do this every time, but it will help keep our pursuit of pleasure within God's bounds if we strive to include others. A true joy and pleasure is one you want others to experience.

Solution: Pursue pleasure, but make sure you are not running over your neighbor to do so. Make sure your pleasures are used in service of others.  Include others, as you can, in your joy. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Keep Yourself Sharp

Here is a good reminder from Charles Spurgeon on why ministers need to watch their own lives and souls.
Every workman knows the necessity of keeping his tools in a good state of repair, for “if the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength.” If the workman lose the edge from his adze, he knows that there will be a greater draught upon his energies, or his work will be badly done. Michael Angelo, the elect of the fine arts, understood so well the importance of his tools, that he always made his own brushes with his own hands, and in this he gives us an illustration of the God of grace, who with special care fashions for himself all true ministers. It is true that the Lord...occasionally makes very foolish preaching to be useful in conversion; and he can even work without agents, as he does when he saves men without a preacher at all, applying the word directly by his Holy Spirit; but we cannot regard God’s absolutely sovereign acts as a rule for our action. He may, in his own absoluteness, do as pleases him best, but we must act as his plainer dispensations instruct us; and one of the facts which is clear enough is this, that the Lord usually adapts means to ends, from which the plain lesson is, that we shall be likely to accomplish most when we are in the best spiritual condition; or in other words, we shall usually do our Lord’s work best when our gifts and graces are in good order, and we shall do worst when they are most out of trim. This is a practical truth for our guidance, when the Lord makes exceptions, they do but prove the rule.

We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order. If I want to preach the gospel, I can only use my own voice; therefore I must train my vocal powers. I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties. I can only weep and agonise for souls in my own renewed nature, therefore must I watchfully maintain the tenderness which was in Christ Jesus. It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organise societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war. M’Cheyne, writing to a ministerial friend, who was travelling with a view to perfecting himself in the German tongue, used language identical with our own:—” I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man—I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, his instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto him to bear his name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” 

Craving Compliments

The greatest temptation for any minister is pride. A great sign of pride in a minister is a willingness to compromise the message of Christ to get strokes from his flock. Calvin addresses this when he comments on the phrase from Luke 6:26 "Woe to you when all men speak well of you."

"Was there ever a more detestable conspiracy? Prophets and teachers of the church whose task is to instruct-mere fiddlers, playing sweet songs which tickle the ears of their audience but which achieve nothing! Meantime the flatterers are lavish in their praise, 'Ah! An outstanding teacher! An excellant man! What more could we ask for?' So while some crave compliments and others tell them what they want to hear, our Lord Jesus Christ gives the lie to all such notions: Woe to you when men speak well of you. 'In the end,' he says, ' you will see that the false prophets deceived you with their flattering words. Cursed are you if the world speaks well of you.'"

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Prayer & Grammar Meet in Spiritual Combustion

I am re-reading John Piper's Brothers We are not Professionals.  I read it in 2011. It is better the second time around. Piper reminds pastors of what ministry is about. There are always voices telling the pastor, "This is important" or "That is important." We have drifted into pastors as managers, therapists, generally nice guys who give good advice and often take the "pulse" of the congregation to determine what direction to go. In contrast, Piper directs us to the Word, prayer, suffering, preaching, exegesis, theology, missions, and trust in our Savior Jesus Christ. This book re-centers ministers, drawing us away from the edges, the secondary matters, and back to the central concerns of pastoral ministry.

Therefore it is not surprising that Piper has a chapter pleading with pastors to learn Greek and Hebrew. Perhaps no discipline is so neglected in our seminaries and ministries as this one. It is hard to learn and hard to keep up with once we have left an academic setting.  But if God's Word really is God's Word. And if this Word is the infallible, absolute, and final authority for all God's people, including ministers. And if this Word is the power of salvation for all men (Romans 1:16) and the incorruptible seed of salvation which abides forever (I Peter 1:23-25).  And if this Word is able to make men of God [ministers] thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17). Then why would we not learn Greek and Hebrew? Why would we settle for a Hebrew or Greek study Bible, an interlinear, or using Logos?

Here are some of Piper's thoughts on learning Greek and Hebrew.
What happens to a denomination when a useful knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not cherished and encouraged for the pastoral office? I don't mean simply offered and admired. I mean cherished, promoted, and sought.
[When Greek and Hebrew are not used by the pastor he] often contents himself with the general focus or flavor of the text, and his exposition lacks the precision and clarity which excite a congregation with the Word of God. Boring generalities are a curse in many pulpits.
When pastors do not study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew...they, and their churches with them, tend to become second-handers...[which] give us a superficial glow that we are "keeping up" on things...we may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book we've read, but secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people's faith and holiness. 
Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology.
Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open minded pluralists who don't put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.
We have, by and large, lost the Biblical vision of a pastor as one who is mighty in the Scriptures, apt to teach, competent to confute opponents, and able to penetrate to the unity of the whole counsel of God.
Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars, and personal example, show that it is not foremost. [Emphasis Piper's]
We need to recover our vision of the pastoral office-which embraces, if nothing else, the passion and power to understand the original revelation of God. We need to pray for the day when pastors can carry their Greek New Testaments to conferences and seminars without being greeted by one-liners...Oh for the day when prayer and grammar will meet each other with great spiritual combustion!

I have taken this task seriously since reading Piper four years ago. I work on Greek every day and Hebrew most days. My Hebrew is not very good, but in ten years it will be. My Greek is getting better day by day. I have translated Matthew, Colossians, I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus. I am currently working on I Peter.  My Hebrew is restricted to the Psalms right now. Looking back I am ashamed of how much time I lost, how much study I let drain away through lack of discipline and how often I relied on secondary sources instead of the original.

Brothers, I agree with Piper here. If the Word is what we say it is why would we not work at this? Has your Greek and Hebrew gotten rusty? Pick up back up and start again. Have you never learned? Set aside some time to learn. For the congregation, do you consider this important for your pastor? Would you pay to send a pastor for a week long Greek or Hebrew refresher course? Or does that sound like a waste of time? Would your church pay so your pastor could take online courses to learn Greek or Hebrew? Do you think he is proud when he tells you something about the Greek or Hebrew? Or do you view it as a sign of his faithfulness to Christ and His Word?

I doubt that we can see true reformation in our churches without ministers who take this task seriously. We do not have to be experts. But we do need to be progressing. Our love for God's Word and His people demands it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Doctrine of Demons: Further Thoughts on I Timothy 4:1-5

I Timothy 4:1-5 is one of the strongest arguments for all foods being open to all men.

People can fall away from the faith because of the false teaching discussed in this passage.  Paul is not expressing some minor disagreement between friends. People can

This false teaching is the teaching of demons and deceitful spirits. These “principalities and powers” will work through insincere liars. These liars are insincere because they give the appearance of rigorous Christian discipline, but are really not Christians at all.  In other words, these teachers are the pipelines through which the demons get their lies into the ears of the people.  This is one of places where the curtain is pulled back and we see who is really pulling the strings of these false teachers.

These teachers have their consciences seared. Seared could mean branded, as in marked by the Devil. Or it could mean cauterized, as in unable to discern right from wrong. The latter is more likely. These men’s consciences have been “smothered and eventually silenced.” Their dead consciences keep them from seeing or understanding that they are influenced by demons.

There are two things expressly forbidden by these false teachers: marriage and food. These are two actions, sex and eating, are at the very center of human existence.  Without either one the human race would perish. They have from the earliest times been subject to man-made regulations. Often celibacy was held up as higher and holier than marriage. And often men severely restricted their diets because they thought certain types of food was evil.

John Stott notes that there are two ways creation has been sanctified or set apart for man to use. First, all things created by God were good so that we might enjoy them and give thanks to Him. The things created are to be received with thanksgiving. This is stated twice, at the end of verse 3 and the beginning of verse 4. No doubt there is an echo of Genesis 1 here where God declares over and over that “it was good.” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) Second, it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer.  That is when we remember what God’s Word has said and offer thanks for what he has done. The first is objective. God made all things good. The second is subjective. We are to set them apart by recalling the doctrine of a good creation and giving thanks for it.

Verse 4 is strong. Everything was good. Nothing is to be rejected.  Paul wants to make sure nothing created by God is ever called taboo.

These verses tie together very strongly redemption and creation.  A failure to appreciate creation could lead men to “fall away from the faith.”  While a proper understanding of creation means we give thanks because we believe and know the truth. And we consecrate all created things by remembering what Scripture says and by giving thanks.

Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8