Monday, February 28

On the Watch for Heresy . . .

Thanks to Justin Taylor, I am copying this for my readers as an example of how some popular preachers have gone astray. While more is to come, let us not throw it off as so much unnecessary controversy. Anything that seeks to expose ill doctrine is not unnecessary. Read and see what you think . . .

Rob Bell: Universalist?

Note: I’ve added an update at the end of this post.

John Piper once wisely wrote, “Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season, but they will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church.”

It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.

But it is better for those teaching false doctrine to put their cards on the table (a la Brian McLaren) rather than remaining studiously ambiguous in terminology.

So on that level, I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay his cards on the table about  universalism. It seems that this is not  just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.

Here is HarperCollins’s description of his next book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
I haven’t read the whole book yet and was hesitant to say something based on the publisher’s description (which usually isn’t written by the author). But this video from Bell himself shows that he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity:
Update: Thanks for all of you who have weighed in. I cannot respond to each comment, so I thought this might be the best way to make a few points.

1) One of the things I get criticized for is having comments in the first place, but this is a place where you can tell me if you think I’ve done things wrong or in the wrong way. I want to be open to correction, and this is one forum by which to do it.

2) I updated a couple of things on the original post. First, I deleted “seems to” with regard to Bell’s moving farther away from biblical Christianity. Second, I changed “unambiguous about his universalism” to “lay his cards on the table about universalism.” Third, I deleted the 2 Cor. 11:14-15 reference at the end. I do think it’s important to recognize the biblical theme that false teachers look like cuddly sheep and like angels of light. But let’s wait for the book so we can see all his cards laid out on the table.

3) I have not read all of Bell’s book, though I have read some chapters that were sent to me. When the book is published there were be detailed reviews, and I will link to them. I think that the publisher’s description combined with Bell’s video is sufficient evidence to suggest that he thinks hell is empty and that God’s love (which desires all to be saved) is always successful. I should have been more careful in my original post not to imply that Bell is definitely a universalist. He may believe that some people go out of existence and are not thereby saved. The materials I have seen sound more like universalism though (note it sounds like no one goes to hell, and that the title promises to talk about the fate of everyone who has ever lived, which sure sounds like it’s the same for everyone).

4) I highly doubt that this is a mere marketing stunt or that Bell is merely asking questions or playing Devil’s Advocate. If it turns out that the full book is diametrically opposed to his publisher’s description and to the conclusions he wants you to reach in the video, I will make that clear on this blog.

5) If Bell is teaching that hell is empty and that you can reject Jesus and still be saved, he is opposing the gospel and the biblical teaching of Jesus Christ. You may think that’s judgmental to say that; I think it’s being faithful. I would encourage a careful study of 1 Timothy to see what Paul says about false teaching and teachers.

6) For those who are not regular readers of this blog and think that the perspective advocated here is totally out to lunch, you may want to check out Kevin DeYoung’s post, “To Hell with Hell,” which gives a nice brief summary on the importance of understanding the wrath of God. As H. Richard Niebuhr wrote 75 years ago, too often we want “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross,” Kingdom of God in America (1937), p. 193. Also see Denny Burk’s post where he seeks to answer Bell’s questions from a biblical perspective.

7) Let’s remember to pray. Rob Bell needs to know and teach the liberating gospel of grace—including that Christ absorbed the Father’s wrath on behalf of those who trust in him and repent of their sins. And there are tens of thousands of folks who look to Rob Bell as a biblical teacher and leader. May God give much mercy.

Friday, February 25

Being "At Home" with Christ

A few more words from Spurgeon's sermon on 1 John 2:28, preached September 22, 1889: 

“Abide in Him” in the sense of being at home in Him. What a world of meaning I intend by those words, “being at home in Christ”! And yet this is the sense of the words, “Abide in Him.” I was speaking yesterday to a friend who had bought a pleasant house, with a large garden. And he said to me, “I now feel as if I have a home. I have lived in London for years and I have changed from one house to another with as little regret as a man feels in changing an omnibus. But I have always longed for the home feeling which hung about my father’s house in the country.
“Why, there we loved the cozy rooms and the look-outs from the little windows and the corner cupboards in the kitchen. As for the garden and the field, they yielded us constant delight, for there was that bush in the garden where the robin had built and the tree with the blackbird’s nest. We knew where the pike lay in the pool and where the tortoise had buried itself for the winter and where the first primroses would be found in the spring. There is a vast difference between a house and a home.” . . .
Lord Jesus, I am at home nowhere but in You. In You I abide. Wherever else I lodge, I have in due time to shift my quarters. Whatever else I have, I lose it, or leave it. But You are the same and You change not. What a comfort to have our Lord Himself to be our chosen dwelling place in time and in eternity!

Thursday, February 24

Spurgeon on "Abide in Him" (1 John 2:28)

You could not have a nobler motive than the constraining love of Christ. To live for Christ is the highest style of living—continue in it more and more. If the Lord changes your circumstances, still live for Christ. If you go up, take Christ up with you—if you go down, Christ will go down with you. If you are in health, live for Christ earnestly. If you are bound to a sick bed, live for Christ patiently. Go about your business and sing for Jesus. Or if He bids you stay at home and cough away your life, then cough for Jesus. But let everything be for Him. For you, “Excelsior” means higher consecration, more heavenly living. . . .

“Abide in Him” as the element of your life. Let Him encompass you as the air surrounds you on all sides. As a fish, whether it is the tiniest sprat or the largest whale, abides in the sea—so do you abide in Christ. The fish does not seek the sky or the shore, it could not live out of the element of water. And even so, I beseech you, do not seek to live in the world and in its sins. As a Christian, you cannot live there—Christ is your life. There is room enough for you in the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is the infinite God. Go not out of Him for anything. Seek not pleasure outside of Christ, nor treasure outside of Christ. For such pleasure or treasure would be ruinous. Have neither want, nor will, nor wish, beyond your Lord. Let Him draw a line around you and abide within that circle.

Wednesday, February 23

Brad Pitt: Why Emphasize God's God-Centeredness?

Posted: 21 Feb 2011 11:30 PM PST

In a 2007 interview for Parade, actor Brad Pitt describes how he stumbled, as C.S. Lewis and Michael Prowse and Erik Reece before him, over God’s ego.

Pitt was raised a conservative Southern Baptist. For a while, his religion worked. But not for long.

Religion works. I know there's comfort there, a crash pad. It's something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be alright in the end. It works because it's comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn't last for me.

Why not? He points to the ego of God.

I didn't understand this idea of a God who says, “You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I'm the best, and then I'll give you eternal happiness. If you won't, then you don't get it!” It seemed to be about ego. I can't see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.

So there it is again.

God is infinitely wise, just, holy, strong, and good. But God’s command that we see him for what he is, and be glad about it, is the reason Pitt found God unintelligible. God’s god-ness has always been the main problem.

There is an answer to the seeming egomania of God, and his demand that we embrace him as the supreme—and supremely satisfying—Treasure of the universe:

Reason #1 — He is supremely valuable and supremely satisfying.
Reason #2 — Receiving him as such is the only way we will find full, everlasting joy.
Reason #3 — Therefore, his demand that we do so is love, not egomania.

Pray for the thousands of Brad Pitts to see that God’s demand for worship is a demand that we enjoy what is supremely enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 22

Somali Pirates & Earthquakes! Are We Safe?

news   Islamic pirates murder 4 Americans
2/22/11 - Four Americans taken hostage by Somali pirates off East Africa were shot and killed by their captors Monday, the U.S. military said, the first time that sea bandits have killed U.S. Hostages. 

news   Dozens killed in NZ quake
2/22/11 - A 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Tuesday, causing buildings to collapse, burying vehicles under debris, and sending rescuers scrambling to help trapped people amid reports of many deaths. 

I saw these listed among other news items on Seems this is standard fare these days. Now, I say this not to dismiss but to emphasize the seriousness of the days in which we live. Granted, if you were to look at many years gone by, you might be able to say those days were just as bad, or close to it. Other days WERE rough, but now we need a strength for our day. Listen to these words of comfort from Edward Payson, one of the greatest men of God in the 18th-19th Centuries:
"Whatever your sorrows or trials may be, [Jesus] knows by experience how to sympathize with you. . . . Has Satan wounded you with his fiery darts? He remembers how sorely his own heart was bruised when he wrestled with principalities and powers, and crushed the head of the prince of darkness. Are you assaulted with various and distressing temptations? Christ was tempted to doubt whether he were the Son of God, to presume upon his Father's love, and to worship the father of lies. . . . Does the world persecute and despise you, or are your enemies those of your own household? Christ was despised and rejected of men, and his own relations stigmatized him as a madman."
Look to Christ. Look to Christ. That is always the best and soundest advice. It is this we will need should great trial come our way as it did the four Bible-delivering Christians killed by the Somali pirates. We awaken one day with plans, good plans in our heart, and our head never hits the pillow that night. None of us knows when that will happen. So, how prepared are we? As Payson urges, "O, then, banish all your fears. Look at your merciful High Priest who is passed into the heavens, and triumphantly exclaim with the apostle, 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?'"


Monday, February 21

A Dead Pope Answers Prayer!?! Really???

Nun prays to Pope John Paul II and gets answer??!!
AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France – A French nun says she felt new inner strength and vitality as her Parkinson's disease suddenly disappeared in 2005 — a recovery the Vatican attributes to the miraculous intercession of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). Find this article HERE.
Now, whether mainstream Catholics will swallow such things is not the issue here, it's that the Vatican puts their stamp of approval on it. This is yet one more instance of an heretical "church" running completely contrary to the inspired, authoritative Word of God. But this is really to be expected of those who by their own reckoning refuse to accept Scripture as inspired. Read their own definition:
"By pinning private judgment to the Bible the Reformers started a book religion, i.e. a religion of which, theoretically, law of faith and conduct is contained in a written document without method, without authority, without an authorized interpreter. The collection of books called "the Bible" is not a methodical code of faith and morals; if it be separated from the stream of tradition which asserts its Divine inspiration, it has no special authority, and, in the hands of private interpreters, its meaning is easily twisted to suit every private mind. Catholic Encyclopedia 
My Response to Their Heresy
The Reformers didn't "start" anything; but they did recover everything. They recaptured what the Roman "church" had hi-jacked many years before, the authority of the Scriptures as the sole means of determining the true life and Christian practice. And as far as their claim that "in the hands of private interpreters, its meaning is easily twisted to suit every private mind," they are quite right. It certainly CAN be as Peter avers in 2 Peter 3:16. And right now, I am thinking that this applies to the Roman Catholic "church" with unabashed shame. They would have their people praying through Mary (something the Bible does not even hint at). They would further deny out-rightly Scripture's clear declaration, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). This is as clear as it gets! By having people attempt to pray through Mary or in the above case, John Paul II, they out-rightly deny the clear teaching of the Bible, and foist upon the unsuspecting a religion that finds no support but in the vacillating and sin-affected opinions of man. And the worst thing of all is that by so teaching they absolutely trample under foot the supremacy and glory of the perfect Son of God disallowing him his rightful place as the only Savior and mediator of all who wish to come to God! NOTHING COULD BE WORSE THAN THIS. For as Scripture teaches:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11, ESV)
So, we must not allow such an awful tragedy to go unanswered. Thankfully, there are those who have and are speaking up. (Please read, for example, The Reformation's Conflict with Rome -- Why it Must Continue, by Robert L. Reymond) Those of us who call ourselves Protestants must not forget WHY we protested in the first place. Evil will not desist, but neither must our proclamation of the truth as it is  in Jesus Christ. All praise and honor goes only to Him and not to ANY so-called "church" whether in Rome or anyone else!

God help us. . . . And He will. Of that you can be sure.

Thursday, February 17

The Good That Comes from Being In Our Right Mind!

The prodigal son after wasting his life and inheritance thought better of it--“When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!” (Luke 15:17)
Likewise, after Peter had been miraculously transported from prison outside the city walls, we read in Acts 12:11, he "came to himself, [and] said, 'Now, I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me . . .'" 

Several hundred years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar declared, "I . . . lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High . . ." (Dan. 4:34). He did more than that if your read on further. But he didn't see anything right until his reason returned to him. 

It's easy to see the commonality between these verses isn't it? In each case, whether the prodigal, Peter, or even Nebuchadnezzar, each one "came to himself" or their reasoning returned. Now, it is true that each arrived at this place from different positions. Nebuchadnezzar recovered from a divinely imposed captivity which reduced him to the level of a beast of the field, and the prodigal returned from a horribly profligate lifestyle. Peter's reasoning was much more civil, and by comparison almost inane, regaining his "mind" from a spiritually groggy condition. 

The Point?
Simply this. Each one's viewpoint of their true condition changed radically only after they'd come into their right mind or after having "come to their senses" we might say. So, can we conclude at least this from these three examples, that when one is in a sinful condition, and certainly when one is under the rebuke of God which lowers him to a beastly condition, and even when one is simply spiritually woozy, or slow that each is NOT in their right mind? Granted, Nebuchadnezzar's conditon is an extreme example which may not find very many parallels in our experience save for the divine consignment of some to reprobation spoken of in Romans chapter one. The prodigal's condition finds a myriad of parallels in society since it might be claimed that no one is ever in their right mind until God reveals himself savingly to them. The last example in Peter is common enough since we may assume every true believer has many occasions when it might easily be said of them, "He's just not seeing it; or she's missing all that God is doing in her life." 

We can be so dull spiritually that when God is busily working all things according to his will, we see only our own interests. That's being close-minded. We need to pray that more believers will come into their right mind. We must remember that the lost cannot see rightly without such a divine release, their minds being as captured as their souls. And every now and then we read the story of one, like Legion in the Mark 5 who after having a multitude of demons cast out of him, sat clothed, calm and "in his right mind." That's salvation. And it seems only those who've received it can claim such clarity for such is part and parcel of their redemption, the cleansing of the mind as well as the soul. 

Wednesday, February 16

Is God Ever UNfair?

Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. (Acts 12:18–19)
This story, so familiar to many Christians tells of Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison by an angel of the Lord. He is brought out of his cell without disturbing anything or anyone, doors or guards! He can't even believe it. Only after exiting the city via huge gates that opened of their own accord does he "come to himself." He then goes to John Mark's house where they won't let him in figuring the servant girl, Rhoda was merely seeing things. It's all stuff that makes Hollywood stories seem simplistic! Still, the above two verses are what is of interest here. Immediately following Peter's great escape, we read these seemingly forgettable details.

The Obvious & Not So Obvious
It's understandable that the guards would be beside themselves, they knew the rule--if someone escapes on your guard, you die. Period! Herod then meets their expectations. He checks it out, sees what to all appearances seems to have been an escape, and then promptly has the guards executed. As terrible a thing as it is given the fact that they did nothing wrong, we still are taken a bit aback by the contrasts of this incident. God has done a marvelous work in bringing Peter out of prison in order to preach again. The executed guards are collateral damage. But it seems so unnecessary, right? Still, the gospel moves onward, while some die (even James in verse one).

Herod would go down to Caesarea and "spend some time there," and eventually gives a speech that puffs him up and God takes him down. Now, Herod is dead along with the "innocent" guards! The close of the story is a typical Lukan transition, "But the Word of God increased and multiplied" (v. 24). No attempt is made here to justify the useless killing of the guards. But we do read why God took Herod. His pervasive hubris. Pride. Much in the Bible is not explained. What does that make us think of God? Shall we ever brashly blame HIM? Shall we call HIM into question? More importantly, CAN God ever do anything amiss, or, shall we just say it, "evil?" Of course, the answer is No, He cannot. 
God Is In Control
Mankind better get this right. Another king hundreds of years before this did get it right (after he was humbled for a season). “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” ” (Daniel 4:34–35).

Not only is God NOT unfair, no one has the right to ask him, "What have you done?" The Word of God WILL makes progress with or without us. Where will we find ourselves?

Tuesday, February 15

The Danger of Christian Complacency - J. C. Ryle

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)
For those who may not be familiar with Ryle or have yet to find him online, I submit this for your perusal. Though a 19th Century minister, his insights have a strange contemporary value. Perhaps the real issue is that neither truth or error ever changes? He writes: 

The times require distinct and decided views of Christian doctrine. I cannot withhold my conviction that the professing Church is as much damaged by laxity and indistinctness about matters of doctrine within, as it is by skeptics and unbelievers without. Myriads of professing Christians nowadays seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ. Like people afflicted with color–blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound. If a preacher of religion is only clever and eloquent and earnest, they appear to think he is all right, however strange and heterogeneous his sermons may be. They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error. The only positive thing about them is that they dislike distinctiveness and think all extreme and decided and positive views are very naughty and very wrong!

These people live in a kind of mist or fog. They see things unclearly, and do not know what they believe. They have not made up their minds about any great point in the Gospel, and seem content to be honorary members of all schools of thought. For their lives they could not tell you what they think is truth about justification, or regeneration, or sanctification, or the Lord's Supper, or baptism, or faith or conversion, or inspiration, or the future state. They are eaten up with a morbid dread of controversy and an ignorant dislike of party spirit; and yet they really cannot define what they mean by these phrases. And so they live on undecided; and too often undecided; they drift down to the grave, without comfort in their religion, and, I am afraid, often without hope.

The explanation of this boneless, nerveless, jelly–fish condition of soul is not difficult to find. To begin with, the heart of man is naturally in the dark about religion—has no intuitive sense of truth—and really needs instruction and illumination. Besides this, the natural heart in most men hates exertion in religion, and cordially dislikes patient, painstaking inquiry. Above all, the natural heart generally likes the praise of others, shrinks from collision, and loves to be thought charitable and liberal. The whole result is that a kind of broad religious "agnosticism" just suits an immense number of people, and specially suits young persons. They are content to shovel aside all disputed points as rubbish, and if you charge them with indecision, they will tell you: "I do not pretend to understand controversy; I decline to examine controverted points. I dare say it is all the same in the long run"—Who does not know that such people swarm and abound everywhere?

Now I do beseech all to beware of this undecided state of mind in religion. It is a pestilence which walketh in darkness, and a destruction that wasteth at noonday. It is a lazy, idle frame of soul which, doubtless, saves man the trouble of thought and investigation but it is a frame of soul for which there is no warrant in the Bible. For your own soul's sake, dare to make up your mind what you believe, and dare to have positive, distinct views of truth and error. Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions; and let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party–spirited, narrow, or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colorless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.

Mark what I say. If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision, and take up a distinct, sharply–cut, doctrinal religion. If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing. The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology; by telling men roundly of Christ's vicarious death and sacrifice; by showing them Christ's substitution on the cross, and His precious blood; by teaching them justification by faith, and bidding them believe on a crucified Savior; by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit; by lifting up the brazen serpent; by telling them to look and live—to believe, repent, and be converted. This—this is the only teaching which for centuries God had honored with success, and is honoring at the present day both at home and abroad.

It is doctrine—doctrine, clear, ringing doctrine which, like the ram's horn at Jericho casts down the opposition of the devil and sin. Let us cling to decided doctrinal views, whatever some may please to say in these times, and we shall do well for ourselves, well for others, and well for Christ's cause in the world.

Monday, February 14

J. C. Ryle on Religious Toleration

Once for all, I must protest against the modern notion that it does not matter the least what religious opinions a man holds, so long as he is in earnest about them--that one creed is just as good as another, and that all earnest men will somehow or other at last find themselves in heaven. I cannot hold such an opinion, so long as I believe that the Bible is a revelation from God. I would extend to everyone the widest liberty and toleration. I abhor the idea of persecuting anyone for his opinions. I would "think and let think." But so long as I have breath in my body, I shall always contend that there is such a thing as revealed truth; that men may find out what truth is if they will honestly seek for it; and that mere earnestness and zeal, without scriptural knowledge, will never give anyone comfort in life, peace in death, or boldness in the day of judgment. (Knots Untied, "The Thirty-Nine Articles"), p. 65.

Monday, February 7

The Discipline of Disappointments

I must confess that while I receive daily devotional thoughts from the Octavius Winslow site, I do not always read them through. So, why not just un-subscribe and not encumber my email further? The following reading is why. PLEASE read through this. He brings us home to a very important aspect of love to Christ which no believer would want to miss. 

“Without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.

Oh, that the Church of Christ, and each individual member, would but realize this truth; that simpler, closer, more experimental views of Jesus would essentially strengthen the tone of inward spirituality and comfort! The great secret of all comfort in seasons of affliction is to take the affliction, as it comes, simply to Christ; and the great secret of all holiness is to take the corruption, as it rises, simply to Christ. It is this living upon Christ for all he needs, this going to Christ under all circumstances, and at all seasons, which forms the happy and holy life of a child of God. There is no other path for him to walk in.

The moment he turns from Christ he becomes like a vessel loosed from its moorings, and driven at the mercy of the winds from billow to billow. Christ must be all in all to him; friends, domestic comforts, Church privileges, ordinances, means of grace, nothing must suffice for Jesus. And why does the Lord so frequently discipline the soul? Why remove friends, why blight domestic comforts, why rob us of Church privileges, why close up the ordinances, and write death upon the means of grace? Oh, why? but to open a way through which He Himself might enter the believer, and convince that lonely, bereaved, and desolate heart that He is a substitute for everything, while nothing shall ever be a substitute for Him.

He will have the supreme affection of His saints; they shall find their all in Him; and to this end He sends afflictions, crosses, and disappointments, but to wean them from their idols and draw them to Himself.

Friday, February 4

JESUS CHRIST: The Watershed Doctrine

There are, no doubt, many important doctrines (teachings) in the Word of God. And we must not keep too loose a grip on any one of them. But above all the others, under-girding all others, and bringing all other doctrines into a perfect unity is the doctrine of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. On this point all other "religions" and cults fall down. Only one brings the true focus on Jesus Christ where the Bible puts it. We have to be very careful how we define any doctrine. J. C. Ryle writes:
It may be laid down as a rule, with tolerable confidence, that the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy. If men would only define with precision the theological terms which they use, many disputes would die.
And one of the most important factors necessary to defining our terms is that we get our beliefs from a source outside of our own imaginations, namely the supreme authority in matters of life and faith, the Bible. I will not go into any detail on this point, for it requires a post of its own. But let me state this and appeal to our reason, if nothing else. If we do not pin all our beliefs on the Scripture, then we are relegated to placing our hopes in a man or a group of men who are at best still sinners. We dare not pin our eternal aspirations to the opinions of any man or "church." We turn to Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Scriptures. And while many willingly discuss God in general, they will hedge when confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ. And why is that? Listen again to J. C. Ryle from Knots Untied: 
We hold most firmly that the true doctrine about Christ is precisely that which the natural heart most dislikes. The religion which man craves after is one of sight and sense, and not of faith. An external religion, of which the essence is “doing something,”—and not an inward and spiritual one, of which the essence is “believing,” this is the religion that man naturally loves. Hence we maintain that people ought to be continually warned not to make a Christ of the Church, or of the ministry, or of the forms of worship, or of baptism, or of the Lord’s Supper. We say that life eternal is to know Christ, believe in Christ, abide in Christ, have daily heart communion with Christ, by simple personal faith,—and that everything in religion is useful so far as it helps forward that life of faith, but no further.

Precision here on this point, the Person of Jesus Christ is vital to gaining eternal life. Would to God more would see this. Lord, open the eyes of many, many people to the beauty of who you really are, to what you will do for all who turn to you in faith believing.

Wednesday, February 2

My Deceitfulness Drains Me!

It is one of the strongest inducements to man's deceitful nature that somehow he thinks to profit by it. But that is NOT the case. Listen closely to David's wording in Psalm 32,
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah ” (vv. 2–4
Do you see it there? Blessed (happy) is the man . . . in whose spirit there is no deceit. First, what is deceit? According to my desktop dictionary, deceit is "the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth." Now, whenever we lie to others or to ourselves, we do so with the understanding that we will be the better for it. This must be so, otherwise why would we do it? OK, the Psalmist is saying that that man is truly happy not just because he does not deceive, but because it is not in him to do so. That is what it means when he says, "in whose spirit there is no deceit." It's not in his nature to do so. This man (or woman) is as true as the day is long. What they are in public, they are as well at home in the confines of their house. Their integrity does not allow them to be one thing here and another thing there.

Deceit Drains Us
Read on . . . For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. "When I kept silent," presumably, when he refused to admit his deceitfulness. He doesn't "come clean," but keeps up the ruse, living in the deceit. This, he affirms is what causes him to "waste away" internally. It eats up the one doing the deceiving. God created us for our hearts and minds to work in sympathetic unity. When they go at odds with one another, doing in practice what our minds know to be wrong, we invite internal warfare, an offended conscience, and eventually even physical illness. Yet, for so many this is their life! It is a shame, for we were designed for so much better . . . consonance, a peaceful union . . . rest.

What To Do?
The Psalm tells us. Confess it calling it what it is. NOTE: The worse thing to do is to continue on in your deceitful ways so long that after a while you grow to accept them as the norm. Then anyone who tries to tell you otherwise will seem to you to be completely wrong! Then once confessed, God will forgive, deliver, hide and preserve us. All these words are used to describe victory over deceitfulness.

Gladness Replaces Deep Sorrow
God will instruct us and counsel us and cause his steadfast love to surround us. Then the last verse closes out with the happiest of victories! “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! ” Now, who wouldn't want that kind of life as opposed to deceitfulness. Let us watch out that we do not subtly deceive ourselves. Pray that God would "lead in paths of righteousness for His name's sake." That's what it's really all about.

That's where I want to be!

Tuesday, February 1

Plan "NOBLE" Things. Live a Higher Life!

But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands. ” (Isaiah 32:8

This is one of the verses the Adult Sunday School class discussed this past Sunday. Since my wife, Phyllis and I have the privilege of teaching the H.S./Jr.High S/S class, we miss these lessons in one of the greatest of all the prophets, Isaiah. Thanks to my brothers, Gary & Dan who pray with me on Tuesday mornings (as well other days), I am kept somewhat "up" on what they're doing. The above verse is one of those that they mentioned this morning. I felt it good to write a little something on it because it has been a concern of mine over the years. 

What is it to be ENNOBLED?
There are many books, movies and events which after we have experienced them leave us feeling degraded, or dragged down, right? On the other hand, there is the occasional movie which after viewing, you come away feeling strengthened, encouraged to live honorably, to not allow anything to dissuade you from persevering through the hard times. Unfortunately, many movies today have the opposite effect, they tend to denigrate, plunging us into the mundane, the banal. Christians, of all people, should practice putting themselves before that which ennobles. 

NOBLE Defined.
Noble (besides when applied to royalty) refers to that which is "magnificent, relating to high moral principles, having excellent moral character." So, anything which promotes this we say is ennobling. QUESTION 1: How often are you placing yourself before ennobling things, discussing things of high moral principle, that which is calculated to build you up and not tear you down? QUESTION 2: How many are ennobled by being around you? Obviously, the former must be well in place before the later will have any effect.

Scripture Support
Let me give you at least two Scriptures besides Isaiah that reinforce this truth. First, King Lemuel's mother had wise words for her son in Proverbs 31:1-9. She warns him in essence, don't throw yourself away on loose women, or drink alcohol thus losing a grip on good judgment and opening yourself to unjust decisions. Don't lower yourself, in other words. Others may lower themselves. Don't YOU do it. Rather, do what is right. Defend the weak, speak up for those who are too poor to get a good lawyer. Second, Paul urges the Philippian Christians to rise above needless worry and fretting care by soaking in the assurance of God's loving guidance over them. Let this, he says, "guard your hearts and minds." But then he goes on to add to this foundation how they are to ponder ennobling thoughts. You know the verse most likely. But take time to read it slowly, pronouncing each word aloud to let it's fullness sink into your heart.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ” (Philippians 4:8)
There it is! Think on that which is "honorable, lovely, excellent," anything worthy of praise. We cannot help the sins which we encounter in others, but we can stop focusing our attention unduly upon them. Martin Luther rightly said, "We cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can prevent them from building a nest in our hair." 

Now, we might hear some skeptic say of us Christians, "Well, how can you live ennobling lives when from the very start you are telling people what sinners they are!" The answer is in the question. Knowing truly what we are paves the way for us to become what Christ died to secure for us, namely that we are "kings" unto God (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6). How much more ennobling can you get than that? Let us, dear fellow Christian, learn to live on the heights and not be dragged down by sin's degrading ways. Live above where Christ is (Col. 3).