Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fighting Despondency Even A Bit More

Sex and sleep: Could it be more obvious that these are good gifts or God for our joy and health? You're not super-human. You need to rest (sleep); and you need to be loved on, intensely (sex). So pleasure your spouse often and then rest well afterward (Ps 4:8, 127:2; Pr 3:24; SS 5:1; 1 Co 7:5). To the unmarried, try substituting vigorous exercise for sex.

Books: I once heard John MacArthur say that when he is tempted to feel self-pity he reads a Christian biography of someone who has suffered. In addition, I recommend Job, 2 Corinthians 11-12, 1 Peter 1, Matthew 5:10-12, Jeremiah 20, Ezekiel 24, etc. 

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him -- Ro 8:17. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fighting Despondency A Bit More

I continue to think of the battle against depression, or despondency, or sadness that seems to come from nowhere, by suggesting another tool: alcohol. The Apostle Paul commands Pastor Timothy to "use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Ti 5:23). Here, Paul seems to separate Timothy's stomach issues from his ailments; meaning they are not the same things. Is it possible that Paul's reference here speaks to stomach problems caused by brain problems? Did Timothy have what my mother would call a nervous stomach? In other words, Timothy's stomach woes were caused by his anxiety. There a number of instances within 1 & 2 Timothy where Paul exhorts Tim to be the man God demands he be as a pastor; to be the man the church needs. Apparently, Timothy was sometimes slow to exert himself in a pastoral sense. He was relatively young and in charge and this caused him distress. (I feel his pain). So maybe Paul's words are meant to convey that the way to treat the stomach issue is to treat the brain to "a little wine". I say this because of texts like Pr 31:6f; Ec 23ff, 9:7, etc; and the places where the Bible speaks of wine "gladdening the heart (Dt 14:16; Ps 104:14f), or being used in celebration (Jn 2). So my point is not that we should drown our sorrows in booze (God condemns drunkenness), but that there may be a place for easing them via a "little" drink.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fighting Despondency

It is a fight you know, putting down despondency. It's not an easy task. I know a few people who have never dealt with it because they have the gift of an abnormal and natural light-heartedness. They just stay happy. That's their normal state and they don't work to be that way. But that's fairly rare I think. Most of us work to stay even, balanced, happy. We work to consider the goodness and kindness of God and to reckon that these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to the people of Christ (Ro 8:18). And since a person is only one person, consisting of various aspects like mind, emotion, body, and spirit; it is necessarily that we embrace God's good means to knowing the fullest joy. I wrote on this earlier from 1 Ki 18-19. I want to supplement that a bit today and in the days to come. Some of it will overlap with the earlier post. I suggest:

Fellowship: The writer of Hebrews repeatedly stresses the urgent need for the troubled to be together with other believers that they may be encouraged (3:13), and hold fast (3:14), and stirred up (10:23-25). The way we this happens is through assembling ourselves together (10:25) and taking interest in each one another's lives (10:32-38). This works against our shrinking back, and promotes faith to the preserving of the soul (10:39). God does not mean for a person to go through life alone. See also Pr 27:9.

Nature: The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voices are not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth and their utterances to the end of the world (Ps 119 1ff). In other words, God has written some of His glory upon the sky, and in all of His creation (cf Ro 1). The created world points to the Creator, and this is therapeutic when we take to heart what it tells us about Him, and us. It was David, the man after God's own heart, a regular sufferer, who wrote the LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. (Ps 23:1-3a). It's good to get outside.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Even the Strongest are Terribly Weak

 A juniper tree, like the one Elijah sat down under to ask God to kill him

My Old Testament hero Elijah became so depressed that he prayed to die. God had recently granted him a miraculous victory over the prophets of Baal (1 Ki 18). But then Jezebel threatens him, and he runs (1 Ki 19). He was frightened (v3). He had had enough (v4). He was exhausted (v5). And he felt alone in his struggle (v10).

This is the same Elijah whose name means the Lord is my God. He was prophet to Israel and a miracle worker. He received direct revelation from God. He would later appear with Jesus on the mountain where He was transfigured. He would, like Jesus, fast for forty days and be ministered to by angels. And he never died. He wanted to. But God said no. The man who would never die, in the dark days of his life, prayed for death (v4).

I say this to remind the depressed that this dark season of yours ought not be the end. God acts on behalf of the hurting. God was always with Elijah, even through depression and anger. He fed him by the hand of angels, twice. He strengthened him in his exhaustion. He raised people up, like Elisha, to minister to him. He let him know that he was not alone. He didn't kill him when asked to. That's mercy. God told him by an angel, the journey is too great for you (v7). Then in v9, the word of the LORD came to Elijah. At this point Elijah had taken refuge in a cave, but God knew where he was and what frame of mind he was in. He gave him something to do (v11). That seems a little strange. In Elijah's most difficult moments, after meeting his physical needs, God gave him an assignment: Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD. Not much of an assignment. But it got him out of the cave. Precious to Father are His hurting children. When Elijah obeys and is standing in the entrance to the cave, God asks him, What are you doing here Elijah? I think this is an opportunity for Elijah to confess sin, not an opportunity for God to get new information. God can't learn. He's too smart for that. This is like when God comes to Adam in Eden and asks, where are you Adam? 

Notice with me the irrationality of Elijah's fear. He has just witnessed God work for him in wiping out hundreds of Baal prophets. God has been answering his prayers and speaking to him. And now, he's running from Jezebel? Really? I know she's mean and the queen and all, but still. His fear is an unreasonable fear, counter to faith. Like ours.

You can read the whole story for yourself. I just wanted to point out some of this super saint's serious weaknesses and vulnerabilities. God provides a tender but firm response. He dealt gently with him, giving him the physical and emotional lifts he needed. He didn't write him off or discard him. God made us. He knows our brains and bodies and hearts do not always perform properly. At those times He does not abandon us, though He sometimes allows us to feel like He has.

I realize there are some supernatural components to this story that are wholly in the hands of God. He will act in mercy according to His purposes and perform that which we cannot. But there are also some interesting aspects of this story that are, to some degree, within our control. I hope they prove helpful.

1. Elijah felt lowest when he isolated himself (v3f); and a part of God's solution was to get him in the company of others that could help him (v15-21). See Pr 18:1.
2. He needed quality sleep (v5 & 7).
3. He needed quality food and drink (v5-8).
4. He needed to get out of the house. In this case it was a cave (v9 & 13-15).
5. He needed the therapy of physical exercise. He did a lot of walking (v3 & 8 & 15).
6. He kept a prayer life (v4 & 10 & 14). His prayers were not altogether in line with God's will, and at times were sinfully selfish. But they were honest. He did pour out his heart to his God even if that heart was a sinful one. That's really the only kind of praying hearts there are.
7. He obeyed God as he received clear direction (v7f & 11ff & 15ff). He did what he knew to do. Elijah was enjoying a great victory over God's enemies when his life was threatened. He became fearful and that led to despair. The rest of the story is born out of that desperation. I think this means we must be honest with ourselves about what we fear. Fear is an enemy, unless it's the fear of God. So let's ask what we're afraid of; who has the power to hurt us; what am I dreading; from what am I running/hiding?

A person is one unit. Our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual capacities are inter-connected. What touches one touches them all. So it makes sense that a restful sleep and a healthy and tasty meal mixed with a prayer walk would make us feel better. But this means you will need to trust God enough to get out of the cave; to come out of hiding; to cowboy up, as they say. Remember, God resists the proud; but He gives grace to the humble (Ja 4:6). 

Friday, December 10, 2010

The One Thing

"As a belt clings to a person's waist, so I created Judah and Israel (God's old covenant people) to cling to me," says the LORD. "They were to be my people, my pride, my glory--an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me."  -- God, through the Prophet Jeremiah, chapter 13, verse 11.

There is a sense in which I may say that the one thing, the only thing, that God has ever asked of us, is to trust Him. All of the rest (obedience, praise, sacrifice, giving, spiritual growth and maturity, etc) flow from this one thing. Unlike Judah and Israel mentioned above, the redeemed do listen to their Redeemer; and we do believe what He says. That's not complicated, just terribly difficult at times.
Now I assume that someone will want to argue that to love God is the one thing. After all, that's the great commandment of Jesus (Mt 22). But it isn't love that the Bible holds out to us as the one thing that ties us to God savingly and eternally; it's faith. And faith is simply the noun form of the word believe.

What is a Christian's trust of God like? It's like a belt clinging to a person's waist, a belt tied around us, buckled and secure. This is the picture God gives Jeremiah to share with the people. So many people, even professing Christians, can get so bent out of shape over what God asks of us. Our sinful pride bristles against God's commands. We think we know better. How foolishly faithless we can be. But have you considered this command -- Trust Me. How about Come to Me, all of you who are weak and burdened, and I will give you rest (Mt 11). That's a command. In the Bible, belief in the gospel/trust in Christ, is not offered, it's commanded. It's the one thing we ought to do. Cling to Me, says the LORD. I created you. I know you. I knitted you together in your mother's womb (Ps 139). I love you. I mean to do you good and not evil. I could go on and on and on.

We glorify God when we trust Him. That's the point of Jeremiah 13:11, along with the rest of Scripture; that only by faith are we united to Jesus for salvation, and for a life of glorifying His name.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jimmy Johnson is NOT an Athlete & Driving a Car is NOT a Sport

Really? Pressing an accelerator and turning a steering wheel require athletic ability? Seriously? I think NOT.

I'm not sure what to call racing. But I know what not to call it -- a sport. The word sport makes me think of athletes. And athletes are those with an unusual strength, endurance, flexibility, etc; & sometimes speed, quickness (not the same as speed), & accuracy. None of these things are required to win a car race. Now, I imagine that some car racers do possess some of these abilities in some measure. In other words, there may be athletic race car drivers. . . , and golfers, and bowlers, etc. But to say that those who drive cars, swing clubs and roll balls professionally are by definition athletes is just absurd.

I should also say that anyone who wins five consecutive championships in any major competition with his peers is worthy of our recognition. That is a noteworthy accomplishment. But to hear sportscasters talk of Johnson (& Hendrick Motor Sports) as being in the same athletic or team class as the dominant Boston Celtics and New York Yankees is a bit over the top. The Celtics and Yanks are teams of athletes that run, throw, slide, hit, catch, dive, etc. I played baseball, and basketball. And I've driven a car. Not the same sort of activities. The athletes in the ballgames have everything to do with winning and losing. In contrast, while the car driver contributes, the strength of the vehicle engine plays a massive role in the race outcome.

Don't get me wrong; I like to drive fast. I like to swing clubs at stationary balls, and to roll balls at defenseless pins. But I am under no illusion that these activities require athletic ability. To do them consistently well does require an ability, a skill. But not athletic ability. That's OK. Not everyone is an athlete. And even fewer have the gifts to be professional athletes. So let's all be happy to do well what God has given us to do well that we actually are able to do well. And let's call it what it is.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Beautiful Mess

These are shots of the front of our home refrigerator (The sides are no less crowded). So many stories are represented by them. Marian and I have been married almost 16 years now. And we've had our little Tess for almost three. The shot of the "ALE" spelling is her work. She doesn't know how to spell yet. She did, however, manage to compose this one word. She was playing alone with her magnet letters. When I went in to see her, "ALE" is what she had produced. Of course that gladdened my heart, like a good ale will.

As I consider the memories, I am thankful to God for my wife, my daughter, my parents, siblings and friends. I'm a bit of a loner by nature. I once said to someone that I naturally gravitate to myself. I'm not fueled so much by the company of humans. But I am refined by them. And I need that.

Good Father, thank You for the life you have given, and are giving, me. It all occurs under Your sovereign governance. You work it all for my good; indeed, for my salvation. There is nothing good for me that You will not give me. There is nothing bad for me that You will not withhold. You are always loving me because You have always known me. I belong to You. I exist for You. Help me to believe this with all of my heart, and to embrace suffering as willingly as ease. Make me always glad in your presence. Do it for Your name's sake. Thank You Father. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Marriage Secret

During her workout yesterday with her trainer, my bride was asked what the secret is to staying married. She responded correctly by talking about our faith in God. Of course non-Christian couples also stay married for a lifetime. According to the statistics I hear (I don't know where the people get them), the non-Christian marriages, as often as those of believers, last. Yet, I still assert that my wife's answer is correct -- for us. 

I think relationships that last are often the ones in which the parties involved share the same chief love (See 2 Cor 6:14-15). For Marian and me, that's Christ. But for non-Christians, it is certainly something else, maybe the marriage itself. There is a way to stay married that honors God as God and there is a way to stay married that is idolatrous. My love for Christ fuels my love for Marian. If I did not love Jesus, I think there is a strong probability that I couldn't stay married to anyone. I'm too cantankerous, reckless, and selfish. When two sinners are put into a lifetime relationship, in close quarters, with distinct personalities, preferences, and ideas on a variety of issues, well, that is a disaster waiting to happen. But when those same people have the same chief love, the relationship is strengthened ten thousand times over. I have learned from Scripture that I am to lay down my life for my bride; the way Jesus laid down His life for me. I am to crucify my old nature, considering it dead, and be no longer submitting to it. And while I have a desire to do this for my wife, would such a desire suffice if not founded upon the desire to do it for my Savior? I doubt it. I'm not good like that.

This is also true for me as a pastor. I do love my people. But I don't pastor them primarily because I love them, but because I love Him. I would not do pastoral ministry for anyone else. I pastor for Jesus. And if the day comes when I am convinced that He no longer is asking me to pastor, I will quit, promptly. Of course I have no skills, so I might die of starvation. Nevertheless, when Jesus is done with me I'm done with pastoral ministry. I don't think I'm particularly good at it anyway. Having written all of that, I also want to say that there is no other place I'd rather be in ministry than among my church family. What God calls us to, He gives us a heart for. So if my people will let me stay, I think I'll be with them for a long while. As I said, I love them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Learning Luther, A Follow-Up

Luther's Rose

In way of recommending resources, I suggest the following concerning Reformer Martin Luther, Father of Protestantism, with a little help from his friends.

Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life & Thought by Stephen Nichols. This is an introductory biography that is engaging, informative, and at times entertaining.

Reading the Psalms with Luther. Think with Luther through the Psalms, devotionally. This is not a commentary, but a reader. For each Psalm there is a brief word from Luther, the Psalm itself, and a prayer fueled by the content of the Psalm. Luther believed that each Psalm fit into a category with at least one of the 10 Commandments (Ex 20) and one line of The Model Prayer (Mt 6). Quite insightful. God has used this book in my life to draw me closer to Himself. Each read makes for a wonderful and reverent way to begin a day.

Tabletalk. Luther was full of Christian hospitality. The Luther dinner table was very often surrounded by not only family, but orphans, students, and colleagues. There was music (by the Luther family), beer, and Christ-like love. These evenings were not brief fellowships. During them Luther would discuss life, theology, government, parenting, marriage, and a hundred other things with his guests. His students, not wanting to miss any of it, took turns recording Luther's words. Therefore, this book is an inside look at Luther outside of the pulpit, the classroom, and the councils. His wife, Katharina, was known to say that her husband should have charged tuition for these discussions.

The Shorter Catechism of Martin Luther (Luther's Little Instruction Book). One of Luther's most enduring works written as an abbreviated form of his larger catechism as a means to train children and the "ignorant Christians" (Luther's words), in foundational aspects of Christian living. Still used widely today. Can be downloaded for free at

The Bondage of the Will. Luther's other most enduring work that records his thoughts on the nature of sin and salvation. Luther's ongoing debate with Erasmus sparked the writing of this work. 

My Reformation Day message called The Power of Gospel Light. It will give you an overview of what shaped Luther and how Luther has shaped Protestantism. It can be found at

Hope this helps.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rembering Reformation Day -- October 31, 1517

I hope to say more later. But for now, at least I can point us to the instrument of God in His founding of Protestantism, our beloved Martin Luther (1483-1546). I will offer only a very few quotes and a brief comment.

Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.

The plain evidence is that free choice is a pure fiction.

There is nothing easier than sinning.

There is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict man than a famine of the hearing of his Word. But there is no greater mercy than when God sends forth his Word.

The Romanists want to be masters of Holy Scripture, although they never learn a thing from the Bible.

It is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross . . . For this reason true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ. God can be found only in suffering and the cross.

In searching yesterday for books by or about Luther in the bookstores of my town (3 "Christian" ones, a Borders, & a Joseph Beth), I learned that only one of them had anything, and it is a small work written to children. This is shameful. Not only do we Christians not know how it is that God in His kindness got the gospel to us when it was all but lost, and how much it cost those He employed; we don't seem to care. Stores aren't selling Luther because customers aren't interested in church history in general and the Reformation in particular. This man has so much to do with why any of us are Christians. And, he's hilarious, colorful, witty, engaging, courageous, humble, fearless, etc. Read about Luther. And read Luther. Your efforts will be well rewarded. Resource recommendations to follow in the next post. I hope you have a wonderful Reformation Day. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The Prophet Amos, Chapter 5, Verse 24.

It’s election time, again. So shouldn’t our voting be biblically informed? Should we not long to cast our ballots with God’s perspective in mind and His values in our hearts? I will not tell you for whom I believe you should vote. But I will tell you of some of our Lord’s priorities for civil authorities and societies. We may begin with the verse above from the Prophet Amos. This verse is one that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was known to quote as he worked for the civil rights of minority races. What he wanted was for our government to treat every citizen the same when it came to the laws of our land. And this is the way we see God operate in His law-giving to Israel. So many today will argue that the wealthy should pay a higher percentage of the taxes because, well, they can afford it. That’s not what God prescribed for His people. He commanded that we all pay the same percentage, which means not all will pay the same amount, which is not a problem for God, and shouldn’t be one for us. This is called equity, or justice. It is not just to legislate that a person with more be over-charged to make up for the person who has less. That’s not equity. That’s like saying, says R.C. Sproul, that it’s OK to steal from someone as long as she is wealthy. I agree. Equity does not demand equal amounts, but equal percentages. Socialists, along with some Democrats and Republicans, believe that true justice only happens when everyone has the same amount, or at least when there are no more poor. This, in their minds, is true equality. And while it is equality, it is not justice. Justice says that we receive what we are due under the law of the land. Work is rewarded. Integrity is rewarded. Civility is rewarded. You get the picture. Now, to Amos.

Amos is prophesying God’s judgment against nations (including Israel & Judah) for the inequity of their civil practices. He points out their sins of greed and bribery (5:10-13). It’s not so much that the wealthy were directly abusing the poor, but that they were influencing the government to abuse them. The rich were putting their riches into the pockets of the law-makers and judges who would then decide in their favor regardless of whether the decision was good for the nation as a whole. For they sell the righteous for money, and the needy for a pair of sandals. These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless also turn aside the way of the humble . . . On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined (2:6-8). Greed, bribery, and disregard for the poor are disregard for the law of God; They rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept His statues; their lies have also led them astray. . . (v4). He even refers to some of the women as cows (4:1). He rebukes them for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy. They are those who say to their husbands, “Bring now, that we may drink!” The problem is not that there were wealthy people. The problem is how they acquired the wealth and what they did with it. To get it they practiced a kind of dishonesty that oppresses those who don’t have so much. And then when the finer things are acquired, they over-indulge and abuse them, without concern for the poorer of the land. God condemns this, and severely judges those who live like this. Remember Genesis 12:1-3 where God promises to bless Abram so that Abram could bless others. Blessings are for sharing, not hoarding.

So what does this have to say about how we will vote next week? I think it says several things that should help us.

First, it teaches us not to vote with our own interests as the priority. Vote with others in mind. Every law that frees me will likely restrict someone else. A law that prevents me from paying more taxes will demand that someone else pay higher taxes. Our government will not forfeit revenue. We should be careful then for what and whom we vote. Politicians make promises. That’s how they get votes. They promise that if we will vote for them, they will do thus and such for us. They ask us to consider our own self-interests. They do not appeal to us to seek the law of God or the well-being of others. That’s shameful, and should be thundered against. I believe this means that for the Christian, voting for whom we think will best improve our bottom line is sinful. After all, the Bible does not teach that it is the government’s task to create jobs, improve the economy, or provide for the poor (neither does the US Constitution). It doesn’t teach that the government is responsible to provide education and/or educational funding; or a thousand other things of which Americans are convinced the government owes them. We have become a people of entitlement. I have noticed in the presidential elections of my lifetime that so much of what is hotly debated and expected is not truly the work of government, but the work of the private sector and the church.

Second, Amos teaches us that no government is free to do whatever it pleases. It is not free to take a bribe. It is not free to oppress its people. It is not free to spend money it doesn’t have. It is not free to take a higher percentage from some so that it can guarantee a lower percentage to others. The poorest Israelite was required to pay the same percentage as the wealthiest. That’s equity. On another note, I think that Christians sometime assume that the poor are poor all of their own design; that if they would just get themselves together they could make financial progress that would alleviate their distresses. That’s not an accurate assumption. Some are poor because they are lazy; that’s true. But many are poor for other reasons. And many of these live in a society that makes it almost impossible to improve their situation. The Scriptures do not express the expectation that a government parent its citizens. But it does teach that the government should not limit the less influential classes by catering to the wealthy. It’s not right for a government to reward laziness. Neither is it right for it to reward greed. I suggest we vote for those who understand this.

Amos also warns against a nation’s unjustified violence against another nation. He says in chapter 1 that Ammon ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their borders (v13).There is such a thing as just war. But there is also such a thing as a war of greed, and pride, and selfishness. God says that nations that engage in this sort of war will be judged. Before a nation commits to destroying others, it should be sure that the cause is just. This warning also teaches us of the value that God places upon human life. He is concerned for the mothers and their unborn children. If we murder them we incur His wrath. So what should we think about living in a nation that has legalized such violence? Just so you know, I’m a one issue voter. I always vote to protect the helpless, the innocent, and the defenseless; those that have no voice in moral issues disguised as political debates about rights.

Third, Amos teaches us that God is watching. And history teaches us that super-powers are destroyed from within. Our nation is not currently under military threat from another super-power. We do however live daily under the greater threat of the decay of justice and morality. This too Amos preaches against. He says that the truth-tellers of his time were hated; and those that spoke with integrity were abhorred. He says that the transgressions of the government were great; that they distressed the righteous and judged the poor unfairly (5:10-13). He says they silenced the preachers and corrupted the pure (2:12). He also links governmental inequity with personal corruption. The same ones upon whom God pronounces judgment for their inequities, he also condemns for such as this: a man and his father resort to the same girl in order to profane My holy name (2:7). You see, character does matter in politicians and law-makers and judges. If a person will profane his or her own family, and thereby the name of God, he or she will think little of profaning their constituents.

Exhorting you to vote according to the Truth,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's In A Name?

And Moses said, "Please show me Your glory." Then God said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live."  -- Exodus 33:18-20

During our church's doctrinal intensive on Saturday, we explored why it was the Apostle Paul quoted from the text above when he wanted to defend God's justice in electing some, and not all, to salvation. His answer, from Romans 9, has to do with God's name. The reason, Paul argues, that God is just in His electing choice, is because it is God, and not we, who are free. We, says the Bible, are slaves of sin (Ro 6, 16, 17, 20), dead in sin (Ep 2:1), by nature children of wrath (Ep 2:3), and have hearts that are too twisted to be straightened (Je 17:9). It is the essence of deity however, to be free; radically free; sovereignly free.This is His name. 

When I consider this I think of that scene in Braveheart where Sir William Wallace (Mel Gibson) is laying on the torture table while his entrails are being removed in an effort to have him acknowledge his fault and guilt in leading his people on a quest for liberty in rebellion against the king. William gathers his strength, and with one final act of leadership proclaims with all of his might, FREEDOM!!! It's a wonderful scene.

When God reveals Himself to Moses as YAHWEH -- I AM WHO I AM; and in the above text where He again proclaims His name, He reveals His FREEDOM as an essence of His deity and glory.

God then, says Paul in Ro 9, is not unjust when He chooses Isaac and not Ishmael, Jacob and not Esau, Israel and not Egypt, the Gentiles and not the Jews; because when God chose He chose in perfect freedom. That means He chose with no consideration to the merits or sins of the ones chosen. His choices, Paul argues, are not made with regard to the chosen, but instead, come completely from within the Chooser. They are choices according to the counsel of His own will, so that His purpose according to election might stand (Ro 9:11). So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (16). He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens (18).There is no injustice/unrighteousness with God (14)!

One reason this is such GOOD NEWS is because it means that since there are no conditions to be met by us to gain God's electing favor, neither then are we able to sin beyond His electing purpose. No one may rightly say that he or she has so sinned that they cannot be saved. Before the foundation of the world, when God elected His people, He did not consider their worthiness or unworthiness. His reasons in election are His secrets. But what is clear is that God, because He is God, chose freely. That's His name! That's what free justice and righteousness do! So whatever you or I may have done to dishonor God and harm ourselves and others does not put us out of His gracious reach. Anyone who wants Christ more than all others and objects can and will be saved (Jn 3:14-17, 6:37-40, 10:22-30). This is the wisdom of God.

Being elect though does not mean that a person is a Christian. It means he or she is chosen unto salvation. It does not negate the need to repent and believe the gospel, to be converted. A person that dies believing that he or she is elect, and so needs not to turn from sin to Christ in faith will be eternally condemned. While the need for conversion may sound like an elementary idea, it proves to be widely unknown. It seems that most people who believe in Heaven are convinced they will spend eternity there for one reason - they die. Pastor R. C. Sproul refers to this phenomenon as "justification by death". It goes like this: if I die I go to Heaven, period. Apparently, that's where dead people go. Not necessarily. The Bible teaches repeatedly and clearly that it is only the converted elect that spend eternity with Christ in Heaven. And all the elect will be converted. Jesus says so (see above referenced texts). I recently preached the funeral of a stranger. Nothing his family told me about him, or mentioned while talking about him, led me to believe he died a Christian. Nevertheless, it appeared that they and perhaps all of the funeral guests believed that Heaven was exactly where he went. It was an extraordinarily sad occasion. Hoping in the hopeless always is.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Old Open Letter to a Former SBC President, for Toby

On Saturday I'm teaching our church's quarterly doctrinal intensive. In my short time with the church we have dealt, in these intensives, with the doctrine of God, Scripture, prayer, and sin. Now we turn to the doctrine of election. In discussing this earlier today with my friend Toby, he turned my attention to a 5 year old letter that I wrote to Dr Frank Page, a former president of our convention of churches. Without hearing or reading the message I am responding to, the letter loses some of its impact (if it has any). But know that when I quote Dr Page I use italics. That should help. So Toby, I post for you my Calvinist friend. May it prove helpful to those that labor for the proper representation of God.

I would have you know that I don't write such letters to defend my doctrinal position, but the ways and character of the God of Holy Scripture who has redeemed me by grace so that His purposes according to His choice might stand (Ro 9:11). Praise His holy name. And if at places the letter seems a bit harsh, that's OK; sometimes it's right to talk that way (see Jesus).

August 31, 2005

Dr. Page:

I am writing regarding your recently printed sermon from the Anderson On Leadership collection.  According to the collection, your sermon was preached in the Anderson College chapel on September 23, 2003.  As a pastor to students who attend Anderson College, I have some concerns.

First, I am a Calvinist; not unlike my Baptist forefathers who came out of the Reformed Congregationalist movement (not the Anabaptist movement) of England.  There is a long line of Evangelical Calvinists in our Southern Baptist History.  There is also a long list of Calvinists championing the causes of evangelism and missions.  Charles Spurgeon and William Carey are only two examples from the past.  So I would be careful of how I speak of Calvinism.  It is not new, but our old solid foundation.  If you want to see what a denomination looks like that was founded on Arminianism, take a peek at the Methodists.

In general Dr. Page, you simply misrepresent Calvinists in your sermon.  That tells me that either you have not read books which properly represent Calvinism or that you are dishonest in your comments.  Please permit me a brief explanation.

Calvinists do not disagree with you that the grace of God has appeared to all.  We do not disagree that God’s grace came to be redemptive.  We do not disagree that the good news of grace is that God has provided redemption for all of us who call on His name.  We do not disagree that salvation is available to all.  We do not disagree that salvation is a universal offer and must be presented by God’s missionary force of His people throughout this area to every living soul.  We also agree with great enthusiasm that a very important issue is the nature of God.  This last agreed upon statement is the reason for this letter – I must defend the character of God revealed in the Bible.

There are a number of statements in your sermon that I simply believe to be unbiblical, and therefore dishonoring to God.  If we misinterpret Scripture, we misrepresent God.  What could be worse?  I think the foundational problem is found in your statement referring to God’s creating us for fellowship with Him. You say He (God) would violate His own desire by making some have fellowship with Him and forcing others not to have fellowship with Him.  I question whether or not you have accurately represented God’s desire.  God’s chief desire is for God.  God does not exist for us Dr. Page; we exist for Him.  He made us for Himself (1 Co 8:6; Re 4:11; Jer 13:11; Is 43:7; Heb 2:10 etc).  God is not an idolater – He loves no one more than Himself.  And He does mean to be known.  But He means to be known in His entirety.  He does not mean for us to only know His mercy and goodness, but also His wrath and justice (Ro 9:9-13 & 17-24).  God means to display the totality of His attributes.   This is why He is willing to raise up a Pharaoh only to destroy him.  And when the Roman Christians ask Why does He still find fault?  For who resists His will (9:19)?  Paul simply replies with a question of his own: Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?  Or does not the potter have a right over the clay (9:20-21a)?

My other problem with your statement is your use of the word force.  You say God forces others not to have fellowship with Him.  This is a tragic misunderstanding of Scripture.  God does not force anyone away from Himself.  The problem is not that people are coming to God for salvation and He is turning them away.  The problem is nobody wants God’s saving fellowship (Ro 3:9-20).  The question Calvinism attempts to answer is what makes a person want God?  Every one of us always does what he wants.  This is how God has made us.  A lost man can always do what he wants Dr. Page.  He just can’t do what he ought.  He can’t obey the command to repent and believe the gospel (Ac 17:30).  If he could he would need no grace.  And grace is not only God’s unmerited favor, it is God’s unmerited favor when we have merited His wrath.  This is the testimony of Scripture, that I deserve the worst He can give (Jn 3:36; Ro 1:18-2:29).  Am I free?  Sure.  I am free to do anything I desire.  But my desires operate within the confines of my nature.  And the nature of a lost man is not oriented toward God (Ro 8:5-8).  He might want the benefits of knowing God.  But be sure of this: he wants not the Person Who is Holy God.  Lost people live for their glory.

Your sermon reads like others I have read from those guys who believe God is under obligation to treat all people the same; that He is indeed not the Potter who has mercy on whom He will, and hardens whom He will (Ro 9:15).  Your words ring of the Adrian Rogers persuasion (I was a member of Bellevue for 1 year).  For example, you say let me state clearly that God has ordained the how, not the who.  This is not what the Bible says.  The Bible says those (the who) He foreknew, He predestined.  And these (the who) whom He predestined, He also called (Ro 8:29-30).  You speak repeatedly of God being arbitrary.  Watch your mouth Dr. Page.  You don’t get to call God such things.  Simply because His choice seems odd to you does not at all mean that in His mind it is arbitrary.  You seem to think really well of us humans.  You seem to think that what we need from God in order to be saved is just a nudge in the right direction.  When what the Bible declares we need is to be born again (Jn 3:1-21) & re-created (2 Co 4:6).  You therefore do not believe in total depravity, only depravity; and not much of that.

You speak of Jesus setting up the rich young ruler.  Have you read the Lord’s word of explanation as to why the young man could not enter the kingdom?  He said it’s impossible [unless it’s possible to put a camel through the eye of a needle (Mk 10:23-27)].  You can’t get in – without God that is:  for all things are possible with God.  I’m wondering how you would have handled the rich young ruler Dr. Page.  Would you have had him repeating a prayer after you?  Would you have told him to just believe?  Or would you have the heart to let him know that the demand of the gospel is to leave all and follow Jesus?  It’s only those who will sell all to buy the one infinitely valuable treasure that get the kingdom (Mt 13:45-46).  And what about Jesus’ words in Mt 11:25-30?

25(A)At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, (B)Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that (C)You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26"Yes, (D)Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.  27"(E)All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father (F)except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28"(G)Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  29"Take My yoke upon you and (H)learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and (I)YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30"For (J)My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Jesus clearly believed that Father God was the one making some see truth while hiding truth from others.  Jesus did this in His own teaching (Mt 13:10-17).  And Jesus says it is Himself who determines who knows the Father.  It is the will of the Son that is determinate.  His criteria for entrance into the kingdom is poverty -  Blessed is the one who is poor in spirit; for his is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3).  Blessed is the one who knows he has nothing to offer and so falls on the mercy of God.  This is the blessed man.  In the above text Jesus acknowledges Who it is that determines who enters His kingdom, then He offers the kingdom to anyone who will come.  That’s the model for evangelism.  The offer goes to everyone.  Most will not come.  They can’t, because they don’t want to.  Anyone who wants God gets God.  These are His terms.  But rich young rulers who only want the benefits of getting God, they get wrath.  During our lives in this world God is good to everyone (Mt 5:44f).  But at the judgment He is good to those who trust Him, and terrible to those who do not (Mt 25:31-46 & Re 6-19).

I want to mention also that Jesus did not come to provide a way of salvation.  He came to save.  He died for real persons to cover real and particular sins (He 2).  He died to save His own elect.  And last, I have 3 questions: 

(1) How is it that you who trumpet free will over God’s sovereignty can believe in what you call eternal security (this is not a Biblical term)?  How can it be that a “free” person can enter a covenant with God from which he can not get loose?  Can God keep us believing without violating our freedom?  The manifestation of the Son’s keeping power is clearly the basis of eternal security (Lk 22:31-38; Jn 6:39f; 1 Pet 1:5).  It just seems inconsistent to me to say we come to God of our own free will and then are made prisoners.  I mean who is free here, us or God?  Maybe He is freer than we.  Maybe it’s like when your children’s freedom bumps up against yours and they lose because you are freer than they are because of your fatherly authority.  Something to think about. 
(2) How is it that you suggest that us Calvinists do not look clearly at the overall teachings of Scripture when you fail to deal with the far more numerous texts that support the doctrines of grace?  For example, in Romans 9 when Paul explains why it is that one man has faith and his brother does not, he writes it’s so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls (v11).  How about John 1:12f,

12But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become (A)children of God, even (B)to those who believe in His name,   13(C)who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

What of 1 Peter 1:1-5,

  1(A)Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as (B)aliens, (C)scattered throughout (D)Pontus, (E)Galatia, (F)Cappadocia, (G)Asia, and (H)Bithynia, (I)who (the who again) are chosen 2according to the (J)foreknowledge of God the Father, (K)by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to (L)obey Jesus Christ and be (M)sprinkled with His blood: (N)May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.  3(O)Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who (P)according to His great mercy (Q)has caused us to be born again to (R)a living hope through the (S)resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,   4to obtain an (T)inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and (U)will not fade away, (V)reserved in heaven for you, 5who are (W)protected by the power of God (X)through faith for (Y)a salvation ready (Z)to be revealed in the last time.

And of course the Ephesians 1 passage you refer to in your text.  Let me just point out here that the reason for God’s saving anyone is given three times in the first 14 verses of this great chapter.  It is to the praise of the glory of His grace (v6), to the praise of His glory (v12), and to the praise of His glory (v14).  So we are back to where we started.  God saves people for God (Is 43:7).  God saves people to display His glory.  God saves people to make Himself known.  God saves people because God wants glory.  This is the most loving thing He can do for us.  Love gives what is best for the one loved.  And what is best for us is God.  No Dr. Page, God does not love everyone the same.  Just as you do not love other women the way you love your wife.  That would be wrong because you are only in covenant with your wife.  So you love your mother and your sisters and your female church members, but not like you love your covenant partner.  You chose her and set your affection on her and have entered into covenant marriage with her.  It is right to treat her differently.  This is what God does (Heb 2:9-18).  Hallelujah, what a mighty, good, and faithful God we have. 

(3) Is it possible to understand the saving work of God as you do and leave no room for boasting?  This is crucial.  The Bible is clear that when the issue is salvation, there is no room for man’s boasting (1 Co 1:26-31; Ep 2:9).  The Arminian understanding seems to me to make such room.  It implies that there is something in Jacob that commends him to God while Esau was less intelligent, or less willing, or had an inferior opportunity.  Paul’s words are clear, Jacob was saved so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand (Rm 9:11).

I submit to you Dr. Page that the big picture message of the Bible is that no one has any chance of salvation.  We are a world of humans running hard away from God.  And God then, in His mercy, has determined to save some.  This is not arbitrary or cold (your words).  It is warm and tender and gracious.  He is under no obligation to any of us.  So He has mercy on some and He hardens some.  This is according to His choice.  Some get grace, others get justice.  No one gets injustice.  There is no injustice with God (Dt 32:4; Ro 9:14).

The problem with your theology Dr. Page is that it is all about you.  It exalts you.  It does not guard the glory of God.  It guards the glory of man - and man is grass (Is 40:7), a vapor (Jas 4:14), dust (Ps 103:14) – all most inglorious.  Your theology does not make much of the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, but of the will of man which you seem to think has some redeeming feature.

Dr Page did not reply to my letter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Worth Your Time

I  have recently returned from a pastor's conference at which I heard Mark Dever deliver a powerful message from Galatians. I urge all pastors to give it a listen (when it becomes available), and believe the message is equally necessary for all other Christians. I don't mean it is "necessary" to hear Dever preach this, but that the message of Galatians which he preaches is necessary for all of God's people.

Until the audio is released, I can only offer you a blog summary. It may be read at


Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Post for the Flock 4

What about preaching? Is it really necessary? Is it not an indifferent medium for which we may substitute something else? Or is there something intrinsic to the preached Word that makes it essential for the Christian? Michael Horton answers the question this way: Preaching is not God's chief means of grace because of any preference for intellectualism (preaching is aimed at the mind). Rather, it is because God gets all of his work done--in creating, sustaining redeeming, calling, and restoring--by speaking his Word. . .We gather each Lord's Day to hear God, not to see inspiring symbols, express our spiritual instincts, have exciting experiences, or even merely to hear interesting and informative discourses. Furthermore, we come not only to hear this Word proclaimed in the sermon but to hear God address us throughout the service; in the "votum" (or "God's Greeting"), in the law, in the absolution (or declaration of pardon), in the public reading of Scripture, in the benediction. . .Although private reading of the Bible is of enormous value in strengthening our faith by deepening our understanding, God has chosen preaching as a social event of hearing that makes strangers into a family.

For the full 4 page article, acquire Modern Reformation magazine, Jan-Feb 2010 edition.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Post for Shepherds -- Promises

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You. 
For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.  
Psalm 9:10

To know God is to trust God and so seek God.
We pursue Him because we trust Him.
We trust Him because we know Him.
To God be glory in the church -- Ep 3:21.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How My Daughter Eats A Doughnut

As I observed this partially eaten pastry recently assaulted by my 2 year old, I wondered what I might learn from the experience. My first thought was that children tend to know what they want. In this case my daughter seems to have been aiming primarily at the frosting. She also eats my breakfast bars this way. As a matter of fact, she won't bite the end I've already bitten. She turns it around to bite the end still coated with that white stuff that envelopes them. I think we adults should learn from this. Too often we don't know that at which we are aiming, or believing. So we aim at nothing and believe nothing. Our goal becomes survival, not fruitfulness.

I also notice that children appreciate the simple pleasures--those "little things" that Father God pours out on us. My daughter, in addition to frosting, likes giraffes. They are her favorite animal and so her favorite toys are two small plastic giraffes that she calls the mommy and the baby. She and my wife took a four day trip to see family. While they were away I bought Tess a fairly impressive train set with tracks that you can put together in numerous ways. She has one such set already, but not quite as elaborate. So I thought it would be good to buy a bigger set, with more track, vehicles, hill pieces, etc, and connect it with the other to make one monster track. I thought Tess would like such a thing. So I did it, and I thought it was wonderful, until Tess came home, took a brief look at it, and without a word left the room (probably to look for her giraffes). As I mature I realize more that the simple pleasures are some of the very best ones. The more elaborate and complicated activities, things, and people regularly do not live up to the hype.

One more observation: My daughter left more of the doughnut than she consumed. I imagine she was full and so walked away. That makes sense. Why stuff yourself because you can? Why overindulge? Why not leave some for later? Why not share? Applied to the adults--why not give more than we take?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Does the Gospel Demand Social Action?

It has become quite popular for Christians to speak and write on social action as if it is commanded by God and/or implied in the gospel. And while I would argue strongly that God's people are to be given to the good works that God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ep 2:10), I am not convinced that such a practice equals the kind of social action sometimes expected. I hear of congregations trading in their worship and learning gatherings for handing out blankets, serving soup, or cleaning their city streets. And while there is good in each of these, I wonder if this kind of service should be given prominence.

Jesus tells us in Mt 25 that He does have an expectation of us that we be people who, in His name, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, show hospitality to the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the incarcerated. And while such love is beautiful when shown to anyone, Jesus says that it is especially expected among those who share a common experience of grace in the gospel. He calls them brothers of Mine (v40; cf Ga 6:10 -- . . . let us do good to all people, and especially those of the household of faith). For this reason I have led our church to stop trying to meet all of the needs requests we receive and instead to do more for our own.

As I read the Gospels, and into Acts and beyond, it appears to me that the early church, commissioned by Jesus and led by the Apostles, had little interest in "bettering their communities", but great interest in making disciples of them. At the end of the day, if we've improved lives through social action, but have not made disciples of Christ, is God pleased? Doing good because it is good to do is of some value. We are to reflect God's character as His image bearers. When we are aware of a need we can meet it is good and godly to do so (Lk 10:30-37); and expected if the needy is one of God's children (1 Jn 3:16-18). But that's not our ultimate concern. The work of the Christian is to make disciples (followers, learners) of Jesus Christ, God the Son. 

It's interesting to me to notice that following the parable of the Good Samaritan we read of a visit Jesus makes to the home of Martha and Mary. Apparently Martha wants to put forth her best effort in showing Jesus hospitality, in doing good to Him. That's noble. But what if her zeal to honor Jesus ends up dishonoring Him, because of misplaced values? Because of trying to do too much? Jesus says to Martha that she is worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is needed (Lk 10:41-42). I understand this to mean that Jesus would prefer a simple meal with a good spirit than an elaborate meal with a worried and bothered one. Martha, He seems to say, sandwiches would have been fine.

Now don't get me wrong. Jesus is not against elaborate forms of celebration, worship, hospitality, etc. There are instances in which He applauds them, even expects them [For example Ex 25ff (the construction of the Tabernacle); and Mk 14:1-11 where Jesus rewards a woman for anointing Him with all of the very costly perfume, not just some of it so that the rest could be sold and money gained to meet the needs of the poor, which was suggested by another; and Lk 15:11-32 (the parable of the gracious father)]. Yes indeed, our Lord practiced and taught grand generosity and sacrificial giving. Just consider the cross. But we have no record of Him feeding all of the hungry, for example. He could have. But He didn't. As a matter of fact, there were times when Jesus withdrew from multitudes of needy people to be about other business like prayer, and teaching His disciples, and resting (For example Mt 14 & 15, Mk 6). 

There was no contradiction or confusion within Jesus. He worked long hard days giving Himself away to the multitudes and to His disciples. But neither did He have a problem walking away from needy people. Apparently faith in the Father means trusting Him with those we cannot help, or chose not to help. And when Jesus commended the Good Samaritan for his sacrificial service in the rescue and recovery of the robbed and beaten man found on the Jericho Road, He did not command that the Samaritan plant the Jericho Road Social Justice Society.

There is a sense in which following Jesus is incredibly complicated and difficult. But there is another sense also, of its simplicity and ease. I mean, what is it that Jesus asks of us but to love God with all and to love our neighbors like we love ourselves, and like He loves us? So, in loving God and in Jesus' name be good to people, especially the church. Show kindness and be helpful when you have opportunity. Meet the needs you can meet, even when it means you go without something and/or are inconvenienced. But don't become overwhelmed with the expectations of anyone not named Jesus. Learn to say "No". Learn to walk away. Learn that Christ has not called you, the individual, to meet all of the needs and make all of the disciples; but to be one among many called the Church. And learn to quit some things. Believe Jesus when He says that He prefers happy to begrudging service; that an anxious and bothered spirit is not the price to be paid for meaningful good deeds. But neither should we avoid all service that is demanding, complicated and costly. It gets a bit tricky for us fallen creatures. So we should stay close to Jesus in the Gospels, and trust Him to teach us, and to forgive us when we screw it all up. He's good that way.