Thursday, May 28

Opposition A Sign of True Preaching

Attention has been fixed somewhat on John Calvin on this 500th anniversary of his birth. So, in keeping with this celebration, let me quote him on one subject which has been a "talking point" among evangelicals and fundamentalists alike--whether or not the church should try to appeal to the culture in order to win them. Calvin writes:

It is one of the characteristics of the divine word, that whenever it appears, Satan ceases to slumber and sleep. This is the surest and most unerring test for distinguishing it from false doctrines which readily betray themselves, while they are received by all with willing ears, and welcomed by an applauding world.

For what else could he do but laugh and sport while in tranquil and undisputed possession of his kingdom? But when light beaming from above somewhat dissipated the darkness—when the strong man arose and aimed a blow at his kingdom—then, indeed, he began to shake off his wonted torpor, and rush to arms.

. . . And now he persists in assailing it with both engines, endeavouring to pluck up the true seed by the violent hand of man, and striving, as much as in him lies, to choke it with his tares, that it may not grow and bear knit. 

But, we who hold firmly to the truth of the Word of God must not shrink, even in the face of attacks being leveled against the Church that they are the cause of mankind's ills. Calvin insists:

. . . But it will be in vain, if we listen to the admonition of the Lord, who long ago disclosed his wiles, that we might not be taken unawares, and armed us with full protection against all his machinations. But how malignant to throw upon the word of God itself the blame either of the seditions which wicked men and rebels, or of the sects which impostors stir up against it! The example, however, is not new. Elijah was interrogated whether it were not he that troubled Israel. Christ was seditious, according to the Jews; and the apostles were charged with the crime of popular commotion. What else do those who, in the present day, impute to us all the disturbances, tumults, and contentions which break out against us? Elijah, however, has taught us our answer (1 Kings 18:17, 18). It is not we who disseminate errors or stir up tumults, but they who resist the mighty power of God.

Sunday, May 24

An Intimate Sunday Thought

We've been away from home for the past week and a half, so it's been difficult to find the kind of time to post some of the many thoughts I've been mulling over in my heart. One vital truth dawns this morning, that of God's personal knowledge and care for my soul . . . yes, for your soul! Here's the text the Spirit has driven home to my heart:

Psalm 139:1-6,

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 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. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 

On this Sunday morning, when my compatriots in ministry take to the pulpit, and when I visit my sister's church in Ohio, I am reminded that service to God is not enhanced by my objectifying of it. It's so easy for ministries to fall into a plastic, pedantic and perhaps even a somewhat sterile mode, performing their duties in a businesslike manner--but without HEART! Such a shame. So, I post today with this reflection, this Psalm does not sound the note of business as usual, but of an intimate and reassuring love from and with our Lord God! That is the sum of our relationship--we get to know God and he loves us. Those who move in those circles treasure the Lord's hand on their shoulder saying, "You are mine, and I am yours." 

That's all I wanted to say for today. Perhaps the saddest consideration is that this intimacy is not "business as usual." But what a precious thought; what a precious place to be! 

Wednesday, May 20

Blessings at Moody Pastor's Conference!

We're "on the road" making it difficult to post, but I must at least draw attention to the tremendous blessing Phyllis and I received here in Chicago yesterday. From the "Breakout" sessions on Transformational Preaching with John Piper & Mark Easley (former President of Moody Bible Institute), to the General Sessions (also by Piper) on the New Birth, to the sky-brightening singing of the Chicago Tabernacle Choir, our hearts soared with God-glorifying singing and gut-level, soul-enhancing theology. 

Let me once again (as in a previous post) recommend Piper's Finally Alive! as an exceedingly important, absolutely necessary corrective for years of misguided (if not ill-intentioned) foray into a false basis for evangelism that has contributed tremendously to an influx of many within the bounds of the church who have not been truly born-again. There's more to this term than many understand. And it is vital that we recapture it's original intent if we are to fulfill rightly the Great Commission.

Friday, May 8

AUTHORITY: Absolutely Essential to the Gospel!

Homosexuality, "Open Theism," Women's rights, Justification by Faith, Global Warming, eco-friendly special interests, as well as the doctrine of toleration are all broadcasting their views in our culture. We can't escape these subjects, so we have to have an opinion--once we know what they're saying. 

What are we to believe and how should we project our faith? One thing is sure, if we don't know what we believe, then we are likely to waffle on most subjects. Many today seem much more adamant about their sports teams than they are about issues like the above topics. I like sports too, but the outcome of my team will most surely NOT affect my eternal destiny! And though the above subjects may not necessarily affect our destiny, our worldview will. We have for too long blurred the distinctions that matter. We have essentially gone soft in our convictions while boasting a hubris that would make the angels blush. G. K. Chesterton, in words from 1908, perceptively put his finger on the problem, which it seems, the passage of time has not in the least mitigated.   
. . . What we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert--himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt -- the Divine Reason.
As long as anyone is doubtful of absolute authority, all questions of morality will be up for grabs. If and until we settle it in our minds that there most certainly is One who calls the shots in the universe, we will not be able to declare anything with any degree of certitude. Furthermore, we will descend into a belief that asserts that it is an erroneous, if not arrogant, thing to attempt at all! 

"Thus Saith the Lord"

Is God God? And has He not spoken? "The lion has roared; who will not fear? The LORD God has spoken; who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3:8). And if He has spoken, then does his Word not carry the day regardless of what people and governments say? It is to be understood that the world will not want to obey God's Word or his ways. But what a sad commentary it is when the Church is also unsure that absolute truth can be known!? Of course, if one were honest, he must pose the question as to whether a person can legitimately be considered a child of God IF he at the same time does not accept absolute truth. It was Jesus Christ who declared of himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). The evangelical world has proffered this verse for years with reference to salvation, as well they should. But have we at the same time lost sight of the fact that the verse is categorically absolute in nature? Jesus leaves no "wiggle" room. He did not intend to. "We must be careful not to put a question mark where God has put a period." This is most true. Yes, we must be loving. Truth, however, is not antithetical to love. And love does not deny truth, it affirms it. 

Toleration can either be a virtue or a vice, it all depends upon what one is affirming. Let us not be doubtful about the truth, but in love declare it's virtue. Jesus also said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). NOTE: Jesus does not say that the truth will set you free. He says, If we abide (i.e., remain willingly) in his word (the truth), then when we will know the truth we will follow it and thus be made free. Let us be careful that our toleration is not really abdication. But let us also be sure to tell the truth in love. That's God's way, and it's life-giving!

Wednesday, May 6

"Courage" from Martin Luther

It is so easy in the Christian life to justify our inaction on a particular issue IF we can point to our activities in other areas. We may not be very interested in this need, but, HEY, we've done well in so many other areas. Surely we deserve a pass now. Similarly, we may excuse our inaction based on our long history of past successes. "The Lord knows how many years I have borne the heat of the battle. He'll understand why I don't get too excited about this. After, all," we protest, "doesn't the Bible teach that it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth?" Thus we argue, and thus we deny our Lord.
Martin Luther would not have agreed with us at all! In a very convicting quotation I wrote in the front of one of my old Bibles years ago, I copied these words from the bold reformer:
If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier if proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

Monday, May 4

Richard Baxter on "The Need of Personal Revival"

It is good to hear the reflections of Christians from former generations. Puritans were especially diligent in their pursuit of authentic Christian living. Read how Baxter contemplated his own life:
I know not what others think, but for my own part I am ashamed of my stupidity, and wonder at myself that I deal not with my own and others souls as one that looks for the great day of the Lord; and that I can have room for almost any other thoughts and words; and that such astonishing matters do not wholly absorb my mind. I marvel how I can preach of them slightly and coldly; and how I can let men alone in their sins; and that I do not go to them, and beseech them, for the Lord's sake, to repent, however they may take it, and whatever pain and trouble it should cost me.

I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smiteth me that I have been no more serious and fervent. It accuseth me not so much for want of ornaments and elegancy, nor for letting fall an unhandsome word; but it asketh me, 'How couldst thou speak of life and death with such a heart? How couldst thou preach of heaven and hell in such a careless, sleepy manner? Dost thou believe what thou sayest? Art thou in earnest, or in jest? How canst thou tell people that sin is such a thing, and that so much misery is upon them and before them, and be no more affected with it? Shouldst thou not weep over such a people, and should not thy tears interrupt thy words? Shouldst thou not cry aloud, and show them their transgressions; and entreat and beseech them as for life and death?'

And for myself, as I am ashamed of my dull and careless heart, and of my slow and unprofitable course of life, so, the Lord knows, I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men's salvation or damnation is so much concerned in it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men, and lest in the best sermon I should be guilty of their blood. Me thinks we should not speak a word to men in matters of such consequence without tears, or the greatest earnestness that possibly we can; were not we too much guilty of the sin which we reprove, it would be so.

Truly this is the peal that conscience doth ring in my ears, and yet my drowsy soul will not be awakened. Oh, what a thing is an insensible, hardened heart! O Lord, save us from the plague of infidelity and hard-heartedness ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? Oh, do that on our souls which thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others.