Friday, October 27, 2017

To the Christian Rich - Financial Prosperity; At Least as Dangerous as Sexual Immorality

Jon Bloom gets it. As a part of his article here, he writes:

In fact, if we take the Bible seriously, material prosperity should frighten us, in some sense, because the Bible says frightening things about it:
  • Jesus: “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24–25)
  • Paul: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.” (1 Timothy 6:10–11)
  • James: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.” (James 5:1–3)

    Not to diminish the dangers of sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:9–11), but have you ever noticed that the New Testament issues more dire warnings against the spiritual dangers of material prosperity than sexual immorality? Jesus didn’t say it’s harder for a sexually immoral person to get into heaven than a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye. He said it about rich people. And most people who read this live in one of the richest nations in the history of the world. Do we tremble? Why is it that prosperous Christians aren’t forming accountability groups like crazy to help us keep our lives free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5)? . . 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Outgrowing Christianity

Writing on what Jesus means when He blesses the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3), Blair Smith comments,
       "This stands in contrast to so much of what we see. The spirit of our age tells us to "express" ourselves and "believe" in ourselves. We are about self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, and so on. The counter-cultural truths of the Beatitudes say, "Empty self so that God can come in." When we are full of self, we miss the blessing of God's presence. If we are always full of self, we are not even Christian.
      We never outgrow this first beatitude. It is the basis upon which we ascend to the others. If we outgrow it, we outgrow our Christianity."

Taken from "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit," Tabletalk Magazine, June 2017 Edition, pages 14-15.

". . . For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted," - Jesus the Lord, Luke 18:14.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Post for Shepherds - Do Not Preach Man's Gospel

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel."
Paul the Apostle, Galatians 1:6-11

Saturday, October 21, 2017

On Felicity and Adverstity

   "Beware of beholding too much the felicity or misery of this world; for the consideration and earnest love or fear of either of them draweth from God. Wherefore think with yourselves, as touching the felicity of the world, it is good; but yet none otherwise than it standeth with the favour of God. It is to be kept; but yet so far forth, as by keeping of it we lose not God. It is good abiding and tarrying still among our friends here; but yet so, that we tarry not therewithal in God's displeasure, and hereafter dwell in hell with the devils in fire everlasting. There is nothing under God but may be kept, so that God, being above all things we have, be not lost. 
   Of adversity judge the same. Imprisonment is painful; but yet liberty upon evil conditions is more painful. The prisons stink, but yet not so much as sweet houses where the fear and true honour of God lacketh. I must be alone and solitary; it is better so to be, and have God with me, than to be in company with the wicked. Loss of goods is great; but loss of God's grace and favour is greater. . . . It is better to make answer before the pomp and pride of wicked men than to stand naked in the sight of all heaven and earth before the just God at the latter day. I shall die by the hands of the cruel man; he is blessed that loseth this life, full of mortal miseries, and findeth the life full of eternal joys. It is pain and grief to depart from goods and friends, but yet not so much as to depart from grace and heaven itself. Wherefore there is neither felicity nor adversity of this world that can appear to be great, if it be weighed with the joys or pains in the world to come."

Reformer and Martyr John Hooper , Bishop of Gloucester, in a letter penned on January 21, 1555 from inside Queen Mary's prison, shortly before he was burned to death on February 9. Taken from Five English Reformers, by J.C. Ryle, pages 69-70.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

To the Christian Rich - Your Sister Sodom

"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it."
The LORD God, Ezekiel 16:49-50

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

God Works Down in the Dust of History

"The Reformation in fact, 
can best be conceived not in abstraction, 
but down in the dust of history."
Ryan Reeves, Tabletalk Magazine, October 2017 Edition, page 22 

This is yet another reason to read church history; because the more familiar we become with God's past activity among His people the more we chop away at the abstraction.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Myth of Free Will

"By the lives of all men from the beginning of the world, 
nothing whatever has been disclosed that favors 'free will.'"  
Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, the Revell Edition, page 136

Friday, October 13, 2017

To the Christian Rich - Your Number is Exceedingly Large, and Exceedingly Small

Significant time has passed since I first began pursuing the Christian Rich. I suppose it's time to define my terms. When I say "Christian Rich," I don't mean millionaires only. I mean something closer to what perhaps the Bible means. I mean those of you who have significantly more income (and normally possessions) than you need. I mean those who, when you think about money, it is largely a contemplation regarding your next purchase or investment. It is not about how you will make the house payment, fuel your vehicle, keep your utility services, secure a haircut, or stock your pantry. I mean those of you who could give away much more money than you do, and even sell some of your possessions to generate more cash, and your lifestyle would not change significantly. I mean those of you who continue to stockpile wealth and stuff while giving the bare minimum (if that), and measure your generosity not by what you have left over after you give, but by whether you meet the basic 10% standard. And hey, 10% is commendable. I'm for 10%. But finding yourself in a position to do so much more, perhaps you should. Yes, you should. Fight greed - give. Relieve suffering - give. Be a blessing - give. Be generous - give. Love the poor - give. Change lives - give. Be an answer to prayer - give. Consider others more significant than yourself - give. Be courageous - give. Live with eternity in mind - give. Trust Jesus -give.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
2 Corinthians 9:6-15

This text is particularly instructive because in it the Apostle Paul is not dealing with the tithe. He is writing of contributing to an offering he is collecting to relieve the poor believers in Jerusalem. I think he means for the Corinthians to tithe and add to his collection. The way Paul talks here about giving money is not the way the tithe is taught elsewhere. Some argue that Paul is describing the New Covenant way of giving, that the tithe is obsolete after the resurrection of Jesus. To write on why I think that's wrong would take many pages which no one would read. So suffice it to say I see two different kinds of giving in both Testaments - tithing and then other gifts. Second Corinthians 8 & 9 describe, I think, reasons and ways to give offerings (though I do believe giving your tithe to relieve the poor is also acceptable).  

Every believer is required to tithe, and then should offer other gifts, though the demand is not quite the same. Those of you with wealth, just imagine, together, out loud, with your family around the dinner table, the extravagant good and relief and hope and help and transformation and joy and love you can provide, if you would only open your hearts, and then your hands. I assume almost none of you will. But if I can move just one, my efforts will not have been wasted.

By the way, if by "rich" I meant only the millionaires, I would not write to the "Christian" ones, because I'm not sure there are any of them.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Do Not Quell the Tumults, and Smile at the Upheavals

In response to Erasmus' assertion that, "It is lawful to speak the truth, but it is not expedient to do so in every company, nor at every time, nor in every way," Luther writes:
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)

. . .You make it clear that this carnal peace and quiet seems to you far more important than faith, conscience, salvation, the Word of God, the glory of Christ, and God himself. . .You say this sort of thing simply because you have not read, or at any rate have not noticed, that it is regularly the case with the Word of God that the world is thrown into confusion by reason of it. Christ openly affirms as much: "I came not (says He) to send peace, but a sword (Matt 10:34). So in Luke: "I came to send fire on the earth" (12:49). So Paul, in 1 Cor 6: "In tumults," etc. (2 Cor. 6:5). The prophet in the second Psalm bears elaborate testimony to the same truth when he declares that the nations are in uproar, the peoples rage, the kings rise up, the rulers conspire, against the Lord and against Christ--as though to say that the many, the mighty, the wealth, power, wisdom, righteousness and all that is exalted in the world opposes the Word of God. Look at the Acts of the Apostles, and see there what happened in the world by reason of the word of Paul alone (to say nothing of the other apostles)--how, single-handed, he threw into confusion Jews and Gentiles alike. As his foes said of him, he turned the world upside down! (Acts 17:6). The kingdom of Israel was thrown into confusion under Elijah, as Ahab complained (1 Kings 18:17). What upheaval was there under the other prophets, when they were all executed or stoned, and Israel was led captive into Assyria, and Judah to Babylon! Was that peace? The world and its god cannot and will not bear the Word of the true God, and the true God cannot and will not keep silent. Now these two Gods are at war; so what else can there be throughout the world but uproar?
     To want to quell these tumults, therefore, is really to want to remove the Word of God and stop its course. When the Word of God comes, it comes to change and renew the world, and even heathen writers acknowledge that such changes cannot take place without commotion and upheaval--nor, indeed, without bloodshed. Now it is the Christian's part to expect and coolly to endure these things--as Christ says, "When you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be not dismayed: for these things must first come to pass, but the end is not yet" (Matt 24:6). Personally, did I not see the upheavals, I should say that the Word of God was not in the world. Now that I see them, I rejoice from my heart and smile at them, knowing for sure that the Pope's kingdom and all its allies will fall; for the Word of God is now in full cry, and these are its principal target. . .
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  Stop your complaining, stop your doctoring, the origin and continuance of this conflict is from God; and it will not cease till all who oppose the Word have become as the mire of the streets.
     . . .You grovel on the ground and cannot conceive of anything that is above man's understanding. But there is nothing childish, or merely man-like, about the operations of God; they are Divine, and they exceed man's grasp. And that is why you fail to see that it is by reason of God's will and activity that these tumults and divisions are raging throughout the world--and so you are afraid that the sky will fall. . .You see again how unadvisedly you rush against the Word of God, as though you rated your own thoughts and ideas far above it. -- From The Bondage of the Will, Revell Edition, pages 90-95


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Reform Means Conflict

If you are worshiping peace, you are not imitating Jesus (or the Apostles, or the Reformers, or even a faithful Christian parent).

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me."
Jesus the Lord, Matthew 10:34-40

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." 
Jesus the Lord, Matthew 22:37-40 

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all." 
The Apostle Paul, Romans 12:18

"Peace if possible. Truth at all costs."
Martin Luther

The New Testament (mostly the Apostle Paul, who stirred up much trouble) is loaded with exhortations to pursue and guard peace and unity within the Church. And while the exhortations stand, Paul's life and practice was to simultaneously instigate significant unrest in his efforts to clarify and guard the gospel. Be like that, or be an idolater. There is no reform without conflict.


Monday, October 9, 2017

In Fierce Combats Against the Devil. . .

"But I, God be praised, have learned out of the Holy Scriptures, and by experience in my trials, temptations, and fierce combats against the devil, that this article of Christ's humanity is most sure and certain; for nothing has more or better helped me in high spiritual temptations, than my comfort in this, that Christ, the true everlasting Son of God, is our flesh and bone, as St. Paul says to the Ephesians, chapter 5: 'We are members of his body, of his flesh and bone; he sits at the right hand of God, and makes intercession for us.' When I take hold of this shield of faith, then I soon drive away that wicked one, with all his fiery darts." -- Martin Luther, from Tabletalk,#186.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday Post for Shepherds - Be Protestant, Make Enemies, Save Yourself, Love the Church

The reason Martin Luther was of any use 500 years ago, and the reason he is still celebrated today, is because he questioned everything. It was all on the table, and under the scrutiny of Scripture, because Luther understood that Scripture is a judge (He 4:12), and a mirror (Ja 1:19-25), and a cleanser (Ep 5:25-27), and God's Word (2 Ti 3:16). He believed that God had actually spoken to His people, that Scripture is replete with instructions as well as corrections (2 Ti 3:16-17).

Here's the point - Luther didn't pastor doing whatever he damn well pleased. He pastored laying every detail of his life and church life in the crucible of God's refining fire called The Bible. Shepherds are to deliberately and consistently judge all things about themselves and their work against what God is saying in His Word. The reality appears to be that many professing Protestant pastors are leading their churches to ignore God, as they themselves do.

Pastors assume; assume the songs of their congregations are acceptable to God; assume their prayers are acceptable to God; assume the order of service, that is, the components of the church gathering, are worthy of God's blessing; assume their preaching (often taking weeks to teach a handful of verses) is the way God wants it; assume church structure is right and that leaders are actually qualified for their ministries; assume their practice of the sacraments is as it should be; assume their take on the Lord's Day is just fine, possibly because it's not terribly important; etc.

What I am sure of is that we do not live in a day when, generally speaking, Protestant Pastors are given to evaluation, reflection, analysis, thoughtfulness, and reform. We live in a day when pastors often take their work lightly, and carry on as if the Head of the Church has not left full and detailed instructions for His bride. It's quite astonishing really, to speak with so many pastors over the years who have never seriously measured their ways of thinking and their ministry practices against the very Word of God. And since there are three New Covenant letters written especially to church leaders, the dilemma is all the more perplexing. GOD HAS SPOKEN! But are we eager to hear Him, and trust Him, and submit to Him? Luther did, and that has everything to do with why any of us have the gospel today.

Why is there no sweeping pastoral effort to conscientiously connect their congregations to the Church of history, and to the suffering Church of today? The Bible teaches both, but who takes that seriously when their congregation gathers? The New Covenant Church understood their relationship to the Church of the ages, beginning in Eden, and referenced it regularly. They also embraced their duty to relieve the suffering of persecuted saints. I've never met with a church doing either. And what about our children? Why are they treated as pagans within our congregations? That is not the way the Bible saints treated them, nor the way the Reformers understood their relationship to Christ. And why are untrained and theologically unsound lay elders given equal voice with trained and more gifted vocational pastors? That's foolish, and I would argue impossible to justify biblically.

This is your work dear brothers - to know what God says and what God means by what He says and then leading God's people to conform by reforming. If that's not what you're into, repent, or resign, because you're a part of the problem, and in a precarious position to answer for yourself on the last day (Ja 3:1). 

Am I being negative? I think I'm being accurate. And what's wrong with being negative if negative describes the reality? God help us. The truth is way too many pastors wearing the label of Protestant don't know enough Bible to get themselves into trouble, their seminary diplomas notwithstanding. Read Luther. Read about Luther. Learn how God's Word is put together. Grasp Law and Gospel, and Covenant. Study the pastoral letters. Pray and think and debate. Sharpen thyself, and help thy sheep, which are first God's fold. Work and suffer and pray again. Make some enemies. Do something requiring courage. Take your skirt off and put on man pants. Stop trying to please everyone. Get secure in Christ. Love God and God's people. And/Or as Paul says to Timothy (and you), "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." (1 Ti 4:16, emphasis added). Now that is a recipe for reform.