09/4/14

A Radical Savior

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“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:33,34).

It is the great hope of the believer in Christ that he will one day arrive in heaven, at last safe from this world which is fading away and facing the sure judgment of God. God has provided for him an inheritance which is indestructible and unspoiled, which will never fade away. But in the mean time, life must be lived here, and the believer with any self awareness knows that he is weak and easily distracted and worn down. There are times when the pleasures of sin that are within reach seem to eclipse the pleasures of God and heaven which feel intangible and distant.

But, God has not left us alone, He has never left us to our own devices. The fact is that scripture tells us that God planned for us before we even existed by “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world“ (Revelation 13:8). It was not for those who are strong or who love God that He acted; “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son . . .” (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). And further, if we are in Jesus Christ it is God Himself who put us there. “. . . by His doing you are in Christ Jesus. . .” (1 Corinthians 1:30), and again “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again . . . ” 1 Peter 1:3((See also Colossians 1:12,13; John 1:13; James 1:18.)).

But there is more. God has not left us to ourselves in this world. Our passage in Romans 8 tells us that Jesus intercedes for us. By His very presence at the right hand of God He presents an unassailable defense. Jesus died. The spotlessly pure Son Who is of infinite worth to the Father, has borne our sin to death and hell. He was raised from the dead because He had no sin of His own, and in discharging the curse for our sin, God is forever satisfied! At the right hand of the Father Jesus reigns (Matthew 28:18). So who can successfully accuse you who are found to be “in Christ?” As Isaiah 50:9 says “It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” There is no higher appeal than God! If He says of you “not guilty,” though angels or principalities or Satan or your neighbor next door should accuse you, you are free before God. Period. God averted His own wrath through the death of His Son. You are immensely blessed in what you have received, and God is greatly glorified in what He has done.

Does having Christ as our intercessor mean that we can expect no hardships, or sickness, or sin, or pressures, or persecution, or that we need not face death? No, God has His purposes in all the trials of this life. But we have this confidence: because of the finished work of Jesus Christ all things in life will have a blessed and priceless result. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the (the preeminate((Greek prototokos (pro-tot-ok’-os), preeminance as the divine Son over all creation (Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6; Rev 1:5), including those finite sons conformed to His image.)) ) among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30). We are works of grace in progress. Like an acorn that is planted to bring about in time the full, mature, majestic oak, we will finally be glorified. And what will that glory be? To be conformed to the image of Jesus. And in so being we will eternally glorify the Son Who eternally glorifies the Father, Who unceasingly loves the Son, and unceasingly loves His redeemed brethren.

For God’s purposes trials will come. But God is almighty. Jesus’ cross, death, resurrection, and exaltation guarantee without fail that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. Not “. . .tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” (Romans 8:35). We may die to the glory of God (v. 36), but “. . . in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I (Paul) am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39). This is our confidence and firm hope. We shall see Jesus, and our glory will be our likeness to Him.

In the mean time, we live, we serve and obey, and we pray. In all these we receive help from God because we are but dust. After all, if God “. . . did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32). We “. . . ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23). And “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26,27). We hope for what we presently do not see, but with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. For we can say with the apostle Paul that “(We) consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).

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08/29/14
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A Fatal Malady- Blinders of the Heart

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God.” So says naturalistic philosopher Thomas Nagel.

The Bible takes no pains to convince us that God exists, rather it hugely assumes as a given the God-Who-is-there1, Who is self-evident in the Universe that is His handiwork. Are there those who deny Him? The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”2 So obvious is the fundamental fact that God is, that the Bible calls that group who reject His reign as fools. Scripture is not sympathetic with the notion that there are those who “honestly” hold that God is not or cannot be. Rather, it states that Man in his sin willfully suppresses recognition of God, and thus we deny Him in His glory.3 The Apostle Paul in the inspired opening statements of his epistle to the Romans tells us that the Gospel is desperately needed because

…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.4

Paul only echoes the Old Testament Scriptures. More literally, the fool says in his heart, no God. So say the Psalms.5 It is not that the existence of God is here denied, but He is denied the right to rule. bowl_broccoli-smThe fool is like a man at a dinner, who, when a bowl is passed to him with the wave of a hand says, “no broccoli.” The vegetable is steaming before his eyes, but he’ll do without it, thank you. This is borne out in that the same God-denier in Psalm 10 who says no God goes on to say to himself, God has forgotten, He has hidden His face; He will never see it (his wicked deeds), and, You (God) will not require it (bring him to judgment).6 That is to say, he knows of God, but he will live as a practical atheist, and God can just “deal with it.” He is the wise one, God is the fool.

This man (or woman) is doomed. He has a malady of the heart, which is fatal. The Scriptures tell us that the self-help efforts of Man are no remedy. He is a creature of darkness, without any capacity to illumine himself, with no ability to seek out God, for his heart is dead to God.7 It is easier for a man to perform his own surgical heart transplant than for the fool to enliven his dead heart. Man is absolutely impotent to raise himself from this death to God, nor does he want to.8 So Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin says:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to the understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. man_blindersWe take the side of science – in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. It is not that the method and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.” (Emphases added)

This is the universal human condition. It is our spiritual DNA.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,” they are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; there is no one who does good. God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”9

Nominal atheism is a hard row to row. As C.S. Lewis wrote “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere— ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”10

Committed atheists must somehow deal with the minefield of inconsistencies and just-so rationales of such a worldview. C.S. Lewis wrote of his experience as a young, enlightened, scholastic atheist “I was at this time living, like so many Atheists of Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. circuitboardI maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.” In spite of all mental deflections thrown up to barricade against the acknowledgement of God, the Apostle Paul is adamant that people do “suppress the truth (of God) in unrighteousness” and “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”11 It seems that mankind is ruinously hostile to God and the idea of His right to rule, though simultaneously hardwired to know that God is. Ironically, God is the only one who can push a man’s or woman’s RESET button.

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  1. Phrase borrowed from Francis Schaeffer []
  2. Psalms 14:1 []
  3. Romans 3:23 []
  4. Romans 1:18, 19 []
  5. Psalm 10:4, 14:1, 53:1 []
  6. Psalm 10:11, 13 []
  7. Ephesians 2:1, 5 []
  8. If a person experiences conviction with a desire for repentance, and a hunger for God, it is evidence that God the Holy Spirit is at work in his or her heart. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption… 1 Corinthians 1:30 []
  9. Psalms 53:1-3 []
  10. CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 191 []
  11. Romans 1:18, 19 []
01/28/14

Lamplighter #1

You light a lamp_3_flatFrom time to time I will post excerpts or thoughts that have been a source of illumination to me. Below is an excerpt from The Valley of Vision.1 I am particularly struck by the last line which defines our place of provision in this life.

MAN A NOTHING 

 

I am a shell full of dust,

but animated with an invisible rational soul

and made anew by an unseen power of grace;

Yet I am no rare object of valuable price,

but one that has nothing and is nothing,

although chosen of thee from eternity,

given to Christ, and born again;

I am deeply convinced

of the evil and misery of a sinful state,

of the vanity of creatures,

but also of the sufficiency of Christ.

When thou wouldst guide me I control myself,

When thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself.

When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself.

When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself,

When I should submit to thy providence I follow my will,

When I should study, love, honour, trust thee, I serve myself;

I fault and correct thy laws to suit myself,

Instead of thee I look to man’s approbation,

and I am by nature an idolater.

Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee.

Convince me that I cannot be my own God,

or make myself happy,

nor my own Christ to restore my joy,

nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.

Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction,

for when my credit is good thou dost cast me lower,

when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away,

when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.

Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy

appetite, lustful heart;

show me that none of these things

can heal a wounded conscience,

or support a tottering frame,

or uphold a departing spirit.

Then take me to the cross

and leave me there.

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  1. The Valley of Vision, Edited by Arthur Bennett, pub Banner of Truth Trust, p 166 []
07/23/13

A Life Facing God

The Apostle Paul wrote an extensive treatise on the theology of the Gospel. We call it the New Testament book of Romans. Typical of most of his epistles, the apostle first opens to us the reasons underlying the spirit and practices of the Christian life. Interestingly, Martin Luther (1483–1546) in his commentary on the book of Galatians described doctrine as “faith and instruction of the conscience.” He wrote:

It was the custom of the apostles that after they had taught faith and instructed the conscience they followed it up with admonitions unto good works, that the believers might manifest the duties of love toward each other.1

As surely as the life of the physical body is predicated on facts concerning its design, functions and needs, so the life of the Christian is based on the facts concerning God and ourselves revealed to us in Scripture. In Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul tells us

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1, 2

In light of the reasons for faith (instruction, doctrine) in the Gospel which he detailed in the preceding eleven chapters and here calls the mercies of God, and as a result of its conscience-forming effects, the believer is to present (his body) a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is (his) spiritual service of worship. What does he mean?

In the days of Paul, sacrifices were brought daily to the Temple to be offered as a substitution for the life of the sinful worshipper and his family.2 The whole service must have been exceedingly solemn. Having first been duly ritually purified, a man brought his sacrifice himself ‘before the Lord’—anciently, to ‘the door of the Tabernacle’ (Lev 1:3; 4:4), to the site the altar of burnt-offering (Exodus 40:6). Later, in the days of Temple in Jerusalem, this same practice happened in the Great Court, before the door of the Temple. Next he placed it so as to face the west, or the Most Holy Place, in order thus literally to bring it before the Lord. To this the apostle refers when, in Romans 12:1, “he beseecheth us to present our ‘bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.’”3

In practice the worshipper would present his sacrificial animal to the priest, and in so doing he would place his hands on the head of the animal while leaning on it, confessing his sinfulness, thereby ritually transferring his sin to the animal that would be slain in his place. The Temple was situated with its door to the sanctuary facing east. The worshipper approached from the east, facing west, that is, facing the sanctuary door. Between him and the sanctuary was the altar. As he faced the altar, presenting the body of the sacrifice, he necessarily faced the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies within. While standing in the presence of the bloody altar, where the sacrificial substitute would be slaughtered, looking straight ahead, the worshipper faced God. God accepted him because of his blood sacrifice offered in faith interposed between himself and the sanctuary.

So the Apostle Paul tells us that we are now saved from the wrath of God by the atoning/justifying work of Christ, the once for all bloody Lamb slain and interposed for us.4 All of the synoptic gospels5 tell us that as Jesus died on the Cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” or “in two.” The veil mercifully separated sinful worshippers from the unobstructed sin-annihilating presence of God most holy. Jesus’ sacrificial death removed the condemning sin from all who trust in Him, so now believers in His atoning death are beneficiaries of His vicarious condemnation for sin, justification in righteousness, and resurrection in new and eternal life. The blood of the Lamb of God now interposes between the believer and God. Slaughtered sacrificial animals are now useless, ((“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:11-14, NAS95.)) but instead, still facing God, we are to live our lives as totally given over to Him (present your bodies), which is our perpetual act of worship.

Why “present your bodies” rather than your souls or your goods? The body here represents giving your entire being, as when the sacrificial lamb was killed in the Temple, in giving its body, it gave its all. This sacrifice, a life continually facing and presented to God not as our own righteousness but on the ground of the once-for-all-time poured out life of His eternal Son is pleasing to Him.

How is this change effected? You are transformed by the renewing of your mind empowered by the Spirit of God Himself. The Greek word for transformed6 is used three other times in the New Testament. Twice it describes the transfiguration of Jesus Christ in the presence of Peter, James, and John.7 The apostle Paul uses it again when writing to the Corinthian church. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.8 Paul says that as we behold Christ, we are changed, progressively, from glory to glory. In Romans, Paul says that the ongoing process of renewing of our minds (powered by the Holy Spirit) transforms us. In this way we discover and live out the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Reading, contemplating, and obeying Scripture transforms our worldview and our driving ambitions. This is effective because in Scripture Jesus Christ’s glory is revealed to us, and the Holy Spirit enlivens within the desire to worship, prize, and obey Jesus. Our minds are transformed from the desires and ways of this world, to the will of God for us; which is our Christ-likeness.

In the remainder of the book of Romans Paul describes how this Holy Spirit empowered renewal is lived out in practical terms, in our everyday world.

  1. Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Ref. Chapter 5, verse 12, entitled The Doctrine of Good Works. Emphasis added. []
  2. Note: It is generally believed that Paul wrote Romans in 57 AD, was executed between 64 AD and 67 AD. The Roman General Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. []
  3. Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, 113. []
  4. Romans 5:9, 10 []
  5. Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45 []
  6. From which we derive our word metamorphosis. []
  7. Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. []
  8. 2 Corinthians 3:18 []
06/22/13

All I want for Christmas is a Colt .44 Magnum

Sometimes I wonder if the problem with guns and violence that we have in this country might be a metaphor for the general state of our nation. I do not deny that we have a constitutional right to own firearms. In an ideal society, every adult man or woman would be able to carry a handgun, and wouldn’t have to. If they were packin’ they’d not be a danger to themselves or others. That is to say, in the ideal, (shall I say Utopian?), society, every person would watch for the welfare of his neighbor. Humility and respect would prevent one from wanting to dominate or bully others. A Glock could be as common as a Garmin, and about as interesting.

But alas, we live in a different world. In this world the timid feel pressured and defenseless. In this world, ownership of a gun can provide some sort of confidence, even bragging rights. The boast of who has the biggest gun is as old as time. And easily enough the need to carry a gun to defend oneself can morph into the desire to carry a gun to assert oneself. The fact is, though, a stable, open, democratic and just society can only endure as long as the hearts of the populace are altruistic and righteous; as long as the average citizen sacrificially respects and watches out for his peers. It’s all a matter of the heart, right?

That means we’re in trouble. Mankind has always been vicious, boastful, selfish and intolerant. And we are not mellowing out. Rather society is growing meaner, and ME-ner, times are ripening, ethnic faces are different, cultures are clashing, comfort zones are shrinking, and all sorts of people demand their “rights”. And compliantly even the courts fashion rights that aren’t all that apparent in Constitutional ink, and nullify ones that are.

So we Christians REALLY want the God endowed rights that really are there… guns and God. A handgun with snap-replaceable handgrips to compliment a woman’s color season or outfit might fit right in at a Bible study with her stylized, special edition, color coordinated, time-of-life study Bible! Hoo-rah and hallelujah! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

So why a Colt Magnum .44? Cause it just looks manly, mean. Goes off with a loud bang too.

Do you feel lucky today, punk?

06/21/13

The Skunk Under The Porch

Any salesman worth his receipt book knows that it is essential to present his wares as advantageously as possible. Mood lighting and inspiring music, can provide an appropriate ambience. Assertion of anticipated pleasure (unless our vendor is a funeral director), and even testimonials of approving and satisfied customers (again, the funeral director) are standard. And of course trendy is sexy. Authenticity, or the appearance thereof (how ironic is that?), is a bonus.

Humanity is a tribe of natural-born, self-employed, self-promoting PR agents. From Binky® to burial we nurture and refine techniques to attract, maintain, and promote acceptance, approval, admiration, etcetera, from our fellows. And with any success there, we can go for the gold, i.e. superiority. Or failing that, revenge. How sweet.

Jesus is the self-promoting PR agent’s undoing, for He knows all men.1 He knows you, and He knows me – intimately. No leaden shield devised can block His penetrating gaze into the naked human heart, and none of our improvised fig leaf coverings impress Him. And as our final Supreme Judge2, His evaluation matters, big time.

Jesus’ most scathing pronouncements were for those whose religious arrogance held the hoi pollioi down in distain while inflating their own aura of excellence. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” That was the diagnosis, and the remedy followed: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”3 And here we have the nub of the matter. The patina of polish on a worn boot does nothing for the hole in the sole. The sparkle on the rim of a polluted cup will not countervail the poison within.

Jesus is not talking about dinnerware here, but hearts. A disguised polluted heart is like a skunk under the porch, maybe out of sight, but not out of mind. The heart is the essential self, the wellspring of our thoughts, words, and deeds. If the inner heart is clean then outer purity and the fruit thereof follow as naturally as apples on a McIntosh. But if the heart is stony, to God its issue is just gravel. The affectations of the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees made them to Jesus’ discerning eyes like dead, desiccated and discarded Christmas trees clinging to remnants of tinsel, whose fate is only “Fit for burning.”

And burning could be the end of the story for them and us, for Jesus’ remedy is a mission impossible; to clean the inside of the cup and dish, that is, to renovate our inner selves. In short, we need a newly scrubbed and unnaturally righteous heart, which is inclined toward loving God and fellow humanity. Jesus’ demand seems to require that we initiate an ontological self-regeneration, complete with new desire and perspective and goal genes. The hitch is, of course, creation and recreation is beyond our competence. Something like the prescription for a do-it-yourself heart transplant, followed by resuscitator paddle reboot and a lusty “clear!” The Pharisee Jesus speaks to needs help from outside of himself. He needs external, focused, surgical and bloody grace! And we too, are Pharisee’s at heart. That is why no self-improvement program or religion will do. They are just rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship, as the saying goes.

Jesus’ command anticipates the God planned, God initiated, and God completed Gospel of grace, bestowing a new birth, a new heart, a new future, at Christ’s expense. It is appropriated by faith, that God by grace will give just as He said he’d give.

 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:4-10, NAS95.

 

  1. “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,” John 2:24, NAS95. []
  2. John 5:22, 27 []
  3. Matthew 23:25, 26, NAS95. []