Saturday, January 31

What's Up with the Invitation System? Part 3

The following are the last four points of Martyn Lloyd-Jones' reasons against calling people forward in an invitation. The two previous posts deal with the previous 6 points minus the 2nd (so 5 points). I introduce the subject there. Consider these:
7. "[By inviting people forward] you are encouraging people to think that their act of going forward somehow saved them. This is something that must be done there and then, and it is this act that really saves them." 
Even when the evangelist tries to dissuade inquirers from believing this, it is still difficult to separate the physical connection of going forward from trusting Christ.
8. This practice of inviting people to the front is "based ultimately on a distrust of the Holy Spirit and His power and His work. Does it not imply that the Holy Spirit needs to be helped and aided and supplemented, the the work has to be hastened, that we cannot leave it in the hands of the Spirit?" 
More importantly,
9. "Does it not raise the whole question of the doctrine of Regeneration? This, to me, is the most serious thing of all. What I mean is this, and it covers this point and the previous one, that as this work is the work of the Holy Spirit, and His work alone, no one else can do it. The true work of conviction of sin, and regeneration, and the giving of the gift of faith and new life is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. And if it is His work it is always a thorough work; and it is always a work that will show itself." [emphasis mine] Peter gave no invitation at Pentecost, but when he finished the people blurted out, "What must we do." This was the work of the Spirit. Again, when there is a work of the Spirit going on, "it invariably shows itself."
10.  "No sinner ever really 'decides' for Christ. That term 'decide' has always seemed to me to be quite wrong. I have often heard people use the expressions which have disturbed me, and made me feel very unhappy. They have generally done so in ignorance and with the best intentions. I can think of an old man who used to use the following expression: 'You know, friends, I decided for Christ forty years ago, and I have never regretted it.' What a terrible thing to say! 'Never regretted it!" But this is the kind of thing people say who have been brought up under this teaching and approach. The sinner does not 'decide' for Christ; the sinner 'flies' to Christ in utter helplessness and despair saying--

Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Thank you for walking us through your thinking, Doctor. Lord, help us to examine how we do evangelism. Appeal to sinners, yes. Call for them to turn and repent, to see, or to hear God, yes! But know that if and until the Holy Spirit calls the sinner, he cannot do any of these things. God grant us wisdom to know the difference.

Friday, January 30

What's Up with the Invitation System? Part 2

Yesterday, I began a short series on the invitation system, using D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' chapter, "Calling for Decisions," in his book Preaching and Preachers. I want to continue from yesterday by including under Lloyd-Jones' sixth point another illustration in his life. I do this because I think, as will become evident, the objection the man raises in this situation is so common to today's thinking, that it has been the cause of many an evangelical sell-out. He writes: 
In the church where I ministered in South Wales I used to stand at the main door of the church at the close of the service on Sunday night, and shake hands with people as they went out. . . . [There was] a man who used to come to our service every Sunday night. He was a tradesman but also a heavy drinker. He got drunk every Saturday night, but he was also regularly seated in the gallery of our church every Sunday night. On [this] particular night . . . I happened to notice while preaching that this man was obviously being affected. I could see that he was weeping copiously, and I was anxious to know what was happening to him. At the end of the service I went and stood at the door. After a while I saw this man coming, and immediately I was in a real mental conflict. Should I, in view of what I had seen, say a word to him and ask him to make his decision that night, or should I not? Would I be interfering with the work of the Spirit if I did so? Hurriedly I decided that I would not ask him to stay behind, so I just greeted him as usual and he went out. His face revealed that he had been crying copiously, and he could scarcely look at me. 

The following evening I was walking to the prayer meeting in the church, and, going over a railway bridge, I saw this man coming to meet me. He came across the road to me and said, 

"You know, doctor, if you had asked me to stay behind last night I would have done so." 

"Well," I said, "I am asking you now, come with me now." 

"Oh no," he replied, "but if you had asked me last night I would have done so." 

"My dear friend," I said, "if what happened to you last night does not last for twenty-four hours I am not interested in it. If you are not as ready to come with me now as you were last night you have not got the right, the true thing. Whatever affected you last night was only temporary and passing, you still do not see your real need of Christ."
Here, then, Lloyd-Jones makes his point. 
[This kind of thing] "may happen even when an appeal is not made. But when an appeal is made it is greatly exaggerated and so you get spurious conversions. As I reminded you even John Wesley, the great Arminian, did not make appeals to people to "come forward." What you find so often in his Journals is something like this: "Preached at such and such a place. many seemed to be deeply affected, but God alone knows how deeply." Surely that is very significant and important. He had spiritual understanding and knew that many factors can affect us. What he was concerned about was not immediate visible results but the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. A knowledge of the human heart, of psychology, should teach us to avoid anything that increases the possibility of spurious results."
I've quoted Lloyd-Jones at length because the whole story brings out a vital truth, viz., that we must trust the inner working of the Holy Spirit to bring to fruition the work which He must surely begin. One might argue, "Well, surely you should strike while the iron is hot! Act while the Spirit is moving." But this is not necessarily the case. Numerous would-be disciples walked away from Christ when they later understood his stringent demands. The tendency to deception is pervasive, so care should be taken. We must with Paul seek the kind of conversions that rest, not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5).

More tomorrow . . .

Thursday, January 29

What's Up with the Invitation System? Part 1

Having grown up in the fundamental/evangelical camp, a goodly number of the sermons I heard concluded with an invitation. In fact, many looked askance upon any service for NOT having one! I no longer practice the system. Now, it cannot be disputed that inviting people to turn to Christ is biblical and important! The contention is rather with the system of doing so. (See Iain Murray's wonderful pamphlet-The Invitation System) It is not Murray's but Lloyd-Jones' presentation with which I am concerned today. In his wonderful book, Preaching and Preachers, Lloyd-Jones includes a chapter entitled: "Calling for Decisions." After presenting the history of the invitation system's origin (which is really rather recent), he provides ten reasons why he himself did not practice it, and in no particular order. I include only a few, but use his numbers:

1. It is wrong to put direct pressure on the will. "The will should always be approached primarily through the mind, the intellect, and then through the affections." After citing Romans 6:17, he adds, "As the mind grasps it [viz., the truth], and understands it, the affections are kindled and moved, and so in turn the will is persuaded and obedience is the outcome. In other words the obedience is not the result of direct pressure on the will, it is the result of an enlightened mind and a softened heart. To me this is a crucial point."

3. There should be no separation between the preaching of the Word and the call for decision. He cites an occasion when at a meeting, the invitation to come forward was given, but to Lloyd-Jones, the gospel "had not been really preached." Still, many flocked to the front, to which one man remarked that their coming was not related to the preaching. Lloyd-Jones writes, "My contention is that there should be no such disjunction between the 'appeal' and the preaching . . ."

4. The invitation system implies "that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion. But that cannot be reconciled with scriptural teaching such as 1 Corinthians 2:14, The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

5. Another implication is that "the evangelist somehow is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work. The evangelist has but to appear and to make his appeal and the results follow inevitably."  

6. This method tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all. "People often respond because they have the impression that by doing so they will receive certain benefits." Lloyd-Jones goes on to explain, "I remember hearing of a man who was regarded as on e of the 'star converts' of a campaign. He was interviewed and asked why he had gone forward in the campaign the previous year. His answer was that the evangelist had said, 'If you do not want to "miss the boat" you had better come forward.' He said that he did not want to 'miss the boat' so he had gone forward; and all the interviewer could get out of him was that he somehow felt that he was now 'on the boat'. He was not clear about what this meant, nor what it was, and nothing had seemed to happen to him during the subsequent year. But there it was: it can be as superficial as that."

(Part 2 Tomorrow) 

Tuesday, January 27

"Unfashionable" Attracts Sinners!

As it turns out, two of my blog brothers provide quotations from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Both relate to our view of the Church and the world and how the two interact. There is confusion over this today. Lloyd-Jones manages to open our minds and remind us that the Gospel while it comes from our mouths does not require our help. Where some rightly point out the ineffectiveness of the church to reach our culture today, their solutions often reveal a weak view of man's depravity and of the Holy Spirit's exclusive power to convict sinners.

The first quotation comes from Tullian Tchividjian--On Earth As It Is In Heaven:

The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first. That is how revival comes. That must also be true of us as individuals. It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ, the more like Him the better. And the more like Him we become, the more useful to the world we will be. 

The second quotation comes from Paul Edwards (new to me) at The God & Culture Blog:

Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him…And the world always expects us to be different. This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.

I do not have the locations of these two quotations. The first one comes from Preaching and Preachers, but I do not have the page number. Tchividjian's book, Unfashionable, on this subject, comes out in April.  

Keep an eye out for a later blog which deals with the invitation system where evangelists have made a practice of calling for decisions. Is this biblical? I'll be drawing from Lloyd-Jones.


Monday, January 26

Happiness in Drawing Near to God

One of my favorite Puritans is Thomas Watson. His sermon, "Happiness in Drawing Near to God" is based on Psalm 73:28, "It is good for me to draw near to God." The following is from his conclusion.

How shall we do to draw near to God?

Let us contemplate the excellencies of God. He is the ‘God of glory,’ (Psalm 29:3), full of orient [glowing, luster] beauty: in comparison of whom both angels and men are but as the ‘small dust of the balance.’ He is the ‘God of love,’ (2 Cor. 13:11), who triumphs in acts of mercy. Well may this encourage us in our approaches to him who delights to display the banner of free grace to sinners. If we should hear of a person of honour who was of a lovely disposition, obliging all that came to him by acts of kindness and civility, it would make us ambitiously desirous to ingratiate ourselves with him and to obtain his acquaintance. God is the most sovereign good, the wonder of love, ready to diffuse the silver streams of his bounty to indigent [destitute] creatures. This, if anything, will make us willing to draw near to him and acquiesce [passively agree] in him as the centre of felicity.

If we would draw near to God, let us study our own wants. Let us consider in what need we stand for God and that we cannot be happy without him. The prodigal never drew near to his father, until he ‘began to be in want,’ (Luke 15). A proud sinner, who was never convinced of his want, minds not to come near God; he hath a stock of his own to live upon . We are lords; we will come no more unto thee (Jer 2:31). -- A full stomach despises the honey-comb. -- It is the sense of want which brings us near to God. Why did so many lame and paralytical resort to Christ, but because they wanted a cure. Why doth the thirsty man draw near to a fountain but because he wants water. Why doth a condemned man draw near his prince but because he wants a pardon. -- When a poor soul reviews its wants; I want grace; I want the favour of God, I am damned without Christ; this makes him draw near to God, and be an earnest supplicant for mercy.

If we would draw near to God, let us be careful to clear our interest in God. Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:22). When we know him to be our God, then we draw near to him. The spouse, by virtue of the conjugal union, draws near to her husband, Psalm 48:14, This God is our God.

Let us beg the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God hath a magnetical virtue. Corruption draws the heart from God; the Spirit draws it to him . . . Song of Solomon 1:4, Draw me, we will run after thee. The Spirit, by his omnipotent grace, draws the heart to God not only sweetly, but powerfully.

Let us get our hearts fired with love to God: whichever way love goes, that way the heart is drawn. If God be the treasure delighted in, our hearts will be drawn to him. Servile fear makes the soul fly from God; sacred love makes it fly to him.

Wednesday, January 21

God Stops Us From Sinning

In that quite familiar story in Genesis 20, Abraham lies to the king of Gerar in order to protect his life. His wife Sarah, apparently even at an advanced age is quite striking to look upon, or this is Abimelech's attempt at a friendly alliance. Either way, Abraham not knowing his intentions, feels it necessary to tell a half-truth in order to keep the king of the land from taking his wife into his harem and possibly killing him. At least two things are wrong here, 1) Abraham assumed the king had no conscience in these matters, and 2) he assumed God had no control. If he had bothered to ask God (who evidently talked with him frequently) he might have discovered the truth and avoided this whole debacle. 

 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 

We hone in on Abimelech's argument with God--"I did this based on Abraham's word and in the integrity of my heart." And God--"Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning." Two thoughts:

1) God prevents his people from sinning. What a blessing it is when God interposes some preventative to our breaking his law against HIM! Who of us knows how many times God actually prevents us from sinning by interrupting our thoughts or deeds with a phone call, a song or an emergency that diverts us? "Deliver us from temptation" carries a new meaning! God indeed knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations (2 Pet 2:9). And God makes a way of escape that we may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). 

2) God knows our motives. Of course God knew what was Abimelech's motive. God knows everything! That, we would affirm, is a truism, something that is "openly accepted as true," but according to the dictionary, "says nothing new or interesting." Ah, well, maybe that's the problem. It should say something interesting! But some things we know about God may simply be accepted without either acting on them or, certainly, appreciating them. Truths may amass in the collective pool of the believer's heart, but tend nevertheless to stagnate, easily overlooked and left to disintegrate due to neglect. Here is a truth worth stirring up, a thought that brought comfort to the Psalmist when he said, 

     2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 

you discern my thoughts from afar. 

3 You search out my path and my lying down 

and are acquainted with all my ways. 

4 Even before a word is on my tongue, 

behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. 

6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 

it is high; I cannot attain it (Ps. 139). 

Our Lord does not just know our motives, but hedges us about with his grace. That's cause for rejoicing! I want to stop sinning, and it cheers me to think God is sovereignly busy helping me do it.

Sunday, January 18

Spurgeon on Unity & Compromise

On all hands we hear cries for unity in this, and unity in that; but to our mind the main need of this age is not compromise, but conscientiousness. ‘First pure, then peaceable.’ It is easy to cry ‘a confederacy,’ but that union which is not based upon the truth of God is rather a conspiracy than a communion. Charity by all means; but honesty also. LOVE, OF COURSE, BUT LOVE TO GOD AS WELL AS LOVE TO MEN, AND LOVE OF TRUTH AS WELL AS LOVE OF UNION. It is exceedingly difficult in these times to preserve one’s fidelity before God and one’s fraternity among men. Should not the former be preferred to the latter if both cannot be maintained? We think so.

Friday, January 16

Tozer: A Warning from the Grave?

You would think after reading the following, that A. W. Tozer wrote this yesterday! What he saw as a mere seedling has now come to full bloom! One wonders how much farther we can go? 

Christianity today is man-centered, not God-centered. God is made to wait patiently, even respectfully, on the whims of men. The image of God currently popular is that of a distracted Father, struggling in heartbroken desperation to get people to accept a Saviour of whom they feel no need and in whom they have very little interest. To persuade these self-sufficient souls to respond to His generous offers God will do almost anything, even using salesmanship methods and talking down to them in the chummiest way imaginable. This view of things is, of course, a kind of religious romanticism which, while it often uses flattering and sometimes embarrassing terms in praise of God, manages nevertheless to make man the star of the show.  (Man: The Dwelling Place of God, p. 27)

Wednesday, January 14

What To Look for in a Wife by Jonathan Edwards

I happily quote Guy Davies’ "Introduction" to Jonathan Edwards. Davies confesses that he is "an Evangelical and Reformed Welsh preacher living in voluntary exile in the South West of England." We pastors sometimes have young people ask us about what attributes they should seek in the man or woman they might one day marry. Give Edwards a hearing; he has something to say to this. And please do not fall prey to what C.S. Lewis termed "chronological snobbery" by imagining that the older generations were too "out of it" to offer us any significant counsel today. I think if we were to consider it, we may conclude that while fashions come and go, people really do not change all that much. Read down and find out what Edwards admired in his "Sarah." Davies writes:

Jonathan Edwards was a great man of God who was mightily used by the Lord in the Great Awakening of the 18th century. He was a mighty pastor-theologian whose words are still read with profit today. But as the saying goes, "Behind every great man is a good woman." This was certainly the case with the New England preacher. In this series of posts, I want to give readers a glimpse into the "uncommon union" between Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan was born in 1703, eighty years after the Pilgrim Fathers landed in America. In Edwards’ time the English speaking population were subject to attack from Native Americans. The great European powers England and France fought for control of the New World. Jonathan Edwards was the son of a Congregationalist minister. He was converted in 1721, being given a “sense of new things” on reading 1 Timothy 1:17,

"From about that that time, I began to have new apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time meditation on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his Pearson, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him."

Edwards first met his wife to be, Sarah Pierrpont when studying at Yale College. He probably spotted the attractive young girl sitting next to her widowed mother in the congregation of First Church, New Haven. Sarah was only thirteen at the time, but the twenty year old Edwards was deeply impressed by what he had heard about her deep piety,

"They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for any thing, except to mediate upon him - that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up to heaven; being assured the he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight for ever." [italics mine-Dave]

Like Jonathan, Sarah was a child of the manse. She was the daughter of James Pierrpont, who was minister at New Haven from 1685 until his death in 1714. He was remembered as ‘clear, lively and impressive’ preacher who was ‘eminent in the gift of prayer.’ Pierrpont was a leading man in Connecticut. He played a prominent role in establishing Yale College. Sarah’s mother, Mary was the grand-daughter of the great Puritan divine, Thomas Hooker.

They married in 1727. Sarah was 17 and Jonathan 23. According to Samuel Miller, “Perhaps no event of Mr. Edwards’ life had a more close connexion with his subsequent comfort and usefulness than this marriage.” Soon Edwards was settled at the assistant pastor to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard in Northampton. Stoddard had served the congregation for 60 eventful years. Edwards became sole pastor on Stoddard's death. Northampton was to be the scene of the some of the greatest triumphs and tragedies in the lives of Jonathan and Sarah. Together they had eleven children, ten girls and one boy.

Tuesday, January 13

Privilege, Not Sacrifice -- David Livingstone

    "For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice."

Monday, January 12

Thomas Boston--"Useful Directions for Reading Scripture"

Thomas Boston (1676-1732) hailed from lowland Scotland and only ever served in two very obscure churches. Yet he was affectionately labeled by his biographer "a commonplace genius." Quite capable, and sometimes invited elsewhere, he found satisfaction in doing God's work in the place assigned him. He is most well known for his book, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State. Yet, one can secure the 12 volumes of his works. Even considering the time in which he lived his writing could be considered somewhat Shakespearian in style, but never was it affected. 

Useful Directions for Reading Scriptures. (Abbreviated & with light editing):
1. Follow a regular plan in reading of them, that you may be acquainted with the whole; . . . Some parts of the Bible are more difficult, some may seem very barren for an ordinary reader; but if you would look on it all as God's word, not to be scorned, and read it with faith and reverence, no doubt you would find advantage.

2. Read with a holy attention, arising from the consideration of the majesty of God, and the reverence due to him. This must be done with attention, first, to the words; second, to the sense; and, third, to the divine authority of the Scripture, and the obligation it lays on the conscience for obedience, 1 Thess. 2:13, "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe."

3. Let your main purpose in reading the Scriptures be practice, and not bare knowledge, James 1:22, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." Read that you may learn and do, and that without any limitation or distinction, but that whatever you see God requires, you may study to practice.

4. Beg of God and look to him for his Spirit. For it is the Spirit that inspired it, that it must be savingly understood by, 1 Cor 2:11, "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God." And therefore before you read, it is highly reasonable you beg a blessing on what you are to read.

5. Beware of a worldly, fleshly mind: for fleshly sins blind the mind from the things of God; and the worldly heart cannot favour them. In an eclipse of the moon, the earth comes between the sun and the moon, and so keeps the light of the sun from it. So the world, in the heart, coming between you and the light of the word, keeps its divine light from you.

6. Labour to be disciplined toward godliness, and to observe your spiritual circumstances. For a disciplined attitude helps mightily to understand the scriptures. Such a Christian will find his circumstances in the word, and the word will give light to his circumstances, and his circumstances light into the word.

Thursday, January 8

Sin, By Any Other Name . . .

The following is a complete quotation from a friend and colleague, Kerry Skinner, with whom I attended Gordon-Conwell Seminary. His email is Kerry writes: This "article . . . comes from the first book [Henry Brandt] and I wrote, Breaking Free from the Bondage of Sin.

Who Knows the Truth?

In 1973, Dr. Carl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? In it he noted that in 1953 (20 years before he wrote the book) President Eisenhower quoted Lincoln as part of his declaration of a day of prayer: 

It is the duty of nations, as well as of men to own their independence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble, sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon. 

Dr. Menninger emphasizes that for the next twenty years presidential declarations have eliminated reference to sin. As a nation, he said, we officially stopped sinning after that declaration.

Menninger offers a reasonable explanation for people leaving "sin" out of their vocabulary. At the turn of the century the use of the scientific method led to new theories of behavior and learning. Here are a few of them:

*    Messner demonstrated that under hypnosis one could be induced to do or think what he did not realize he was doing or thinking or remembers that he had done so. 

*    Pavlov and then Watson experimented [with considerable success] with ways of conditioning people to have a reflex response to a specific signal.

*    Freud emphasized that understanding one's self better; often leads to controlling one's self better. Examining the motivation behind behavior has a certain enlightening or freeing effect. He asserted that a love/hate conflict toward relationships with partially buried, partially exposed memories be labeled a neurosis and regarded as illness.

*    B. F. Skinner declared that what is believed to be voluntary behavior is pre-determined by past stimuli.

*    Rogers discovered that listening can relieve sufferers from doubt, anxiety, depression, phobias, and hysterical pain.

*    Menninger declared that misbehavior has explanations other than sheer willfulness or aggressiveness.

*    The medical profession prescribes mood-altering drugs that provide patients with a temporary escape from pain, anxiety, boredom, and remorse.

With all this "scientific" methodology, there has come a wide departure from simple good/bad behavior. Physical problems were treated as a symptom for badness. There is an underlying disease for which the offender is not entirely to blame.

It is your privilege to be upset, to be miserable. As long as you insist on retaining your misery, you will have it. The knowledge of sin, however, does not eliminate sin or the problems that sin causes. Wise is the man who heeds the advice of the Apostle James:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.(James 1:22-25 NKJV)

My Thoughts:

1)   Sin by any other name is just as evil and deleterious. 

2)   Abuse of the doctrine of sin does not diminish it's truth. Preachers may have bludgeoned their hearers with the heinousness of sin. But that in itself does not mitigate the wickedness of sin. 

3)   Further, it is not loving to skirt the issue, for it leaves men in their sin. If sin is an affront to the eternal Majesty of God, we do well to soberly consider it's implications. To redirect someone away from the dread of sin's misery is to leave them vulnerable to sin's pernicious effects and potentially catapults them into eternal punishment.  


Tuesday, January 6

The "Forked-Tongue" of Discipleship

Christians endure the tension of living between two worlds, and the language of both comes easily to their lips. In a sense they speak with "forked-tongue," though this term comes laden with negative baggage. What Isaiah promises by way of escape, we believers willingly shoulder by choice--that is, to take on foreign cultures and speak for one King. 

New missionaries from our church are happily, if not awkwardly studying the language of their new country, Tajikistan. It is to be expected of all cross-cultural missionaries that they will have to enter their respective countries at the low end of the learning curve. It can be a harrying experience. So it is with the true Christian. He lives in a land not his own. He represents a God who is not wanted. He speaks a language that is not appreciated. A major difference is that he has no choice where to live, for all of this world is foreign territory. It is not a national issue, but spiritual. He can say truly, “I am not at home in this world anymore.” Hear Isaiah:

You will see no more the insolent people, the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend, stammering in a tongue that you cannot understand (Isaiah 33:19).


1) Isaiah is preaching to an Assyrian-oppressed Israel due to their own persistent sinfulness. Thus, they had been subjected to a foreign way of life, to a people who are barbarous (for that is what "insolent" infers), speak an obscure language which cannot be understood. Their sin betrays that they had no love for God's ways, so they must suffer the "ways" of a hostile foreign culture! 

2) By contrast, Jesus' redemption reconnects the division between God and man, renews their language and reconstitutes them citizens of heaven. This is RE-creation at it's best! Peace among those with whom God's is pleased (Luke 2). 

3) Missionary activity combines both of the above turning the foreign into something good. How? Christians choose to learn a language "not their own," and enter a country often hostile to themselves. They do this out of love for God. Ironically, it was out of hatred for God that Israel was forced into exile! Now, out of love for God the redeemed volunteer! See the contrast? It is instructive and paradoxical.

Such is the nature of the true disciple's life--he lives between two worlds, fighting off the lure of temptation here in order to secure the preferred benefits of the city of God. It's two-sided, but not necessarily forked, for it does not have to be hypocritical. 

Monday, January 5

Back To The Present

On December 31st, when you look back over the previous year, what would you wish you had changed? This is the question I posed to the church yesterday in my sermon. I like the question because it imposes a practical accountability--we're looking back examining how we lived. And it offers great hope--we haven't lived out the year YET! 

So, if we were able to mentally transport ourselves to the last day of this year and reflect on our Christian lives, what would we see? If there is a sense of frustration, this could be for two reasons: 

1) We were thwarted in our attempts at growth. Warning! Recognize this as reality in the Christian pilgrimage, but don't be "blown away" by it. As long as we are in this "body of flesh" we will fail to comply on some level in our pursuit of God. Know that, accept it, and move on by pursuing God MORE. 

2) We are remiss because we didn't prepare properly. The first reason happens only if you have a plan and have been somewhat successful in fulfilling it. This second reason is the result of a lack in that department. Thus, we become victims of the adage: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." We are remiss because we had not moved closer to a living, breathing relationship with Jesus Christ, as we imagine Christians should. But we applied no measures to put ourselves in the path of grace.

OK. So now what do we do? Well, remember, we are not really there . . . at December 31st, I mean. We can say, "Alright, I have a whole year to make up for my lack of planning!" Then, we set about to put in place whatever we need to grow. And we do it with joy and anticipation! That's the greatest advantage of the forward, backward look!

"Hindsight makes wise men of us all." Well, this is potentially true. Hindsight does not necessarily make us wise, like practice does not necessarily make perfect. It makes permanent. Practice right, perform right. The backward look can put things in perspective, the kind that allows us to examine our priorities perhaps with a better degree of objectivity. 

In light of that, let's jump back to the present and joyfully make those changes! Here are some our church folk shared:  

1) Pray--actually DO it, not just talk about doing it; 

2) Read three biographies; 

3) Several mentioned various Bible reading plans; 

4) Another sheepishly said he simply wanted to invite one person to church! We chuckled at this but agreed we all could do this and more. 

5) My wife offered that she was going to isolate Psalm 119, focusing more directly on the implications in this wonderful psalm on God's Word. 

6) My daughter said she would make a practice of praying BEFORE Scripture reading to increase her ability to focus more intently. 

7) Another man said he wanted to witness to one person a week. 

8) I plan to read Calvin's Institutes along with the crew at Reformation 21 online (a sort of self-imposed discipline). 

There are many resources. Let us band together and give ourselves more completely to Christ in 2009. Then, when December 31st rolls around, we will have good reason to be joyous, not sad.