Wednesday Wanderings

I’ve two pressing matters uppermost on my mind today. The first derives from a book I’m reading. I posted earlier that I was enjoying this book. Now, all of a sudden, I’m not enjoying it anywhere near as much. The problem? Carnal Christianity versus Spiritual Christianity.

The passage of Scripture usually cited regarding this dilemma is 1 Corinthians 2.14–3.4, more specifically, verse 1-3 of chapter 3.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 1Corinthians 2:16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

1Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 1Corinthians 3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 1Corinthians 3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 1Corinthians 3:4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4 ESV)

The author of the book takes these verse to imply that there are three types of people: non-Christians, carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Obviously, the non-Christians are the ones more accurately described in 2.14 – “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to undestand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This one is relatively easy: a person without the Spirit of God is an unbeliever. No debate here.

The problem arises in 3.1-3, where Paul speaks of those who are fleshly, or “of the flesh.” Clearly, they are believers. Paul addresses them as “brothers” and he never does this for non-believers. Yet his concern for these “believers” is that they are acting like babies, “infants in Christ.” They’re not ready for solid teaching, but still “drinking milk,” even thought by now they should be well past that (that’s the tone of his remarks in 3.2).
My question for Mr. Baker (who is very clearly a student of L. S. Chafer and his “He Who Is Spiritual” teaching is this: how long can one be considered a “carnal Christian”? Does he ever “grow up?” And what if he doesn’t? What if a “carnal Christian” dies in this state of “carnality?”

In order to preserve your attention on this matter and not get lengthy here, I’ll keep a running post on this matter. I’ll also be posting a review of the book, Spiritual Maturity early next week (most likely on Monday; that’s my book review day).

Let me return to my opening: I stated that I had two problems that were uppermost on my mind. The second is a more pragmatic matter – How does the leadership of a church motivate said church to pray together? On the one hand, I’m sure some would simply say, “Lay out the commands that we should pray. Let them feel and sense their disobedience.”

I could do that, but my elders and I knew we’d appear like Moses descending from Mt. Sinai, with tablets in hand and a new 11th commandment inscribed upon them, “Thou Shalt Pray Together or your prayers won’t count.” That might work for a few people and it might work for a short time, but it hardly creates genuine pray-ers with a heart’s passion for seeking God.

On the other hand, we could just let grace rule and hope for the best. However, the struggle I have with that approach is this: that’s where we’re at now and I don’t think it’s biblical or helpful.

So there must be another hand here somewhere. I’ll leave you with this quote and address this issue at another time very soon:

Francis Schaeffer once asked his wife:

“Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?” We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions and activities.

—Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Waco: Word, 1981), 356.

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Some Thoughts on Prayer

93E6B3F5-AE77-4AA0-8ECE-89AC94E794B2.jpgI’m reading a wonderful book entitled, A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. I’m not reading this book because a publisher asked me to review it (although I’d be glad to do so). I’m not reading this book because a group of pastors is reading it together and going to discuss it in so many days (although this would be a very worthwhile exercise and a wise use of time). I’m reading this book because I need to.

My prayer life isn’t very good right now. This is due, in part, to my pouty behavior (yes, I pout; when things don’t go well or someone says something that crushes a large part of my spirit, I pout; it’s sinful, I know and believe me, it’s been confessed repeatedly… I need to fully repent, however; God give me the grace to do so). A few weeks ago, someone, right after finishing a time of prayer together, said that our times were in need of something. To use his exact words, he said “We just don’t seem to pray ‘in the Spirit’.”

Now, I think I know what it means to pray in the Spirit. This past Sunday, in preaching my next to the last message in a lengthy series from Ephesians, I was dealing with prayer. Ephesians 6.18 says, “…praying at all times in the Spirit…” I think I did the passage justice in expounding what that phrase means. Yet, I’m still haunted by the statement, “We just don’t seem to pray in the Spirit.”

How does he know? How can he tell? How can I tell? It’s stuck in my theological craw right now. I’m working on it. But am I letting God work on it within me? That’s probably the better, yet more difficult question. I’m holding out hope that God will just send me a letter, an email or a text message saying, “Here’s what it’s all about.” But that would be way too much like Gideon and his polar fleece jacket testing of God in Judges 6 (even if I’m not actually asking for this kind of sign, I’m still expecting it).

So, I’m reading a book on prayer and praying. I’m hoping it will answer my question, “How do I know if I’m praying ‘in the Spirit’?” So far it has not answered my question. What it has done is stir up lots of other, different thoughts. It’s also very humbling.

In the section on praying like a child, Miller shares anecdotes from his own life with a daughter who is autistic. From these experiences, he’s learned what it is to be helpless – both as a parent and as a child. This is how we’re to come to God in prayer: helpless and needy. I must confess that too often I want to come in my own strength, on my own terms and in my own way. In other words, I want to talk to me, not to God. So now, in my acts of repentance, I must embrace weakness. I must grab on to my helpless state and come running immediately to God. He’s not asking me to clean myself up before I come to Him. How could I do that and to whom else could I go?

You’d think I’d know this by now, but somehow, in the sinful stubbornness of my heart, weakness is not something I want to glam onto. I’d rather avoid it. No one else should know that I have them (ha! that’s laughable; when I think about it, it’s really all too apparent to them that I have glaring weaknesses). So, I’ll keep reading. I’ll seek to understand and learn experimentally what it means to come as a helpless but trusting little child to my heavenly Father. Maybe, just maybe, in the midst of all this, God will show me what praying ‘in the Spirit’ is really all about.

I want you to go here and read Stephen’s post on weakness. No, go. Don’t tell me you’ll do it later. Go now and read it. It won’t take you more than five minutes.

Then come back (just hit the ‘return’ button) and read this.


Things to Make You Think on This Thursday

I came across this in my early morning blog browsing: Jon Bloom, from Desiring God Ministries, writes about doing things that are hard. Read the whole thing and take heart. Here’s a teaser:

When You Don’t Feel Like It, Take Heart: “

(Author: Jon Bloom)

Did you wake up not feeling like reading your Bible and praying? How many times today have you had to battle not feeling like doing things you know would be good for you?

While it’s true that this is our indwelling sin that we must repent of and fight against, there’s more going on.

Think about this strange pattern that occurs over and over in just about every area of life

Here’s a good quote:

“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.”

I wonder why it appears I do so much invisible labor? I think it’s because I’m lost in thought, not absorbed! Where’s the Bounty when you need it!

And finally, I’m going to join up with Tim Challies and gang in reading Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray. I haven’t read this entire book since seminary and even then, I think the desk fan was on blowing pages right to left (well, not really; there are some highlighting markups there). This will be a good, heady read. Going slowly through it with who knows how many blog-readers will be a great experience, good reading and, I trust God will use it to continue shaping my thinking and my heart when it comes to the work of Christ on the cross.

Here are my thoughts on Chapter 1 –

Murray begins this work with the necessity of the atonement. Most of us, as Christians, probably don’t consider this. We simply assume the atonement. However, once you begin reading Murray thoughts, you realize that the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ was absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of our sins and our eternal salvation. There have been (and are) those who speak of the atonement as hypothetical – not in the sense that it may or may not have happened, but that it was one of several possibilities that God could have chosen from in order to redeem man. It’s like God had a shelf up in His office and when it came time to predestine salvation, He looked up on the shelf, saw several different ingredients, but simply decided to use SubAtone instead of something different. Murray argues, rights from texts of Scripture, that this is not correct. Rather, because of who God is (God is love, holy and righteous), He had to send His Son to suffer and die for our sins. Our salvation is contingent upon this. The atonement is absolutely contingent upon this.

Hebrews 2.10, 17 tell us that it was requisite that many sons be brought to glory through Christ’s suffering.

John 3.14–16 informs us that we’d all be lost if God didn’t love the world and send His Son to die for our salvation.

Hebrews 1.1–3, 2.9–18, 22–28 give us clear indication that only such a One as Christ could remove our sin, could have purified sinful man and secured us for glory.

Chapter 1 contain six points which lay out the contingent absolute necessity of the atoning work of Christ. They have stirred my thinking, as well as my heart. I must confess that I would have fallen closer to the hypothetical camp simply because I thought it was allowing God to be God in letting Him choose how He would save us. Now I see clearly that because God is God, He had to save us in this very manner and no other would have been sufficient nor efficient. Praise God I’m saved by His grace and not by my sloppy thinking. May He use Murray’s work to shape me more into His image.

New “Feature” – a devotional for your encouragement

There is a man in our congregation who writes devotionals for our encouragement. We place them in our weekly bulletin and hope that most will read them, find strength, encouragement, hope and rest in God’s Word as it is placed before them in this way.They’re quite "spurgeonesque."  I’ve asked permission to begin posting the "archive" I’ve built up of these devotional readings. Here is JDV’s entry for this week:

In that day, a man shall look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 17.7

There is a city, whose Builder and Maker is God. There is a people, whose Creator and Shepherd is Christ. And there is a day, when every man shall know his Maker. For those who have condemned the Most High God, the hour shall bring unremitting darkness. For those who are the Redeeded of the Lord, the hour shall brighten eternal Day.

Christ Jesus is the Bright and Morning Star, the firstborn from the dead. He dwells in a light that no man can approach. He is Light and in Him is no darkness at all. We were once darkness, and offspring of wrath by nature. Yet, He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that the righteousness of God might live in us.

The Messiah is the Holy One of Israel. He pleads with His own, Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you. Come to Me all who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Lord Sabbaoth instructs our conduct, He who loses his life for My sake shall gain it. The wonderful Counselor teaches us faith, Cast your bread upon the waters, and after many days you shall find it.

“O Lord, You are our fountain of holiness and lifespring of wisdom. May we look to You our Maker. My our eyes have respect to You, O Holy One of Israel. Amen.”

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Free Grace – You Get What You Pay For

I serve on the North Central District’s Council for Ministerial Standing. The Grace Evangelical Society came up as a topic of discussion a while back and during our last meeting we talked about whether a pastor who held to the G.E.S. Statement of Faith could be credentialed in the EFCA.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve not read extensively on this issue of "Free Grace" vs. "Lordship Salvation". I read Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, shortly after it first came out and haven’t gone back to it since then. MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, pretty much decided the issue for me and I haven’t had to deal with this much at all until now.

As I understand it, the intent behind Free Grace (FG from this point onward) was to guard and protect the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Works were not to be a part of the equation in what is required for salvation. Admirable. Sadly, I think many who hold to this position have gone far beyond what Scripture even says, have brought about much confusion within churches and, even more sadly, have misled many who thought they were coming to genuine saving faith, only to find their "faith" is greatly lacking something (at best) or inadequate (at worst).

I’m sure I’m guilty of overstating the case, erecting a straw man for the sake of knocking him over easily, but it’s how FG comes across to me in the matter of seeking the conversion of a non-Christian. When they say, in their Affirmation of Belief (August 8, 2005): "No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, baptism or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered part of, faith as a condition for receiving everlasting life." – when they say this, what I hear is: "We really, really want you to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, but if you live a life of a complete profligate afterwards, well, at least you’ll get into heaven." They go on to say, under the heading of "Motivation": "The believer is assured of everlasting life and is thus eternally secure, since that life is guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ to all who believe in Him, and is based upon HIs substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection. [No problem here, so far; but they do go on in the same statement] Therefore, it is inconsistent with the gospel and with Scripture to seek to gain or keep everlasting life by godly living [I agree with the "gaining" part, but it’s the "keeping" part I’m so troubled by]. The Scriptures, however, do present several motivations for obedience in the Christian life." Does this not sound like: Please become a Christian; you don’t have to live like one to "get in" but you’ll certainly be rewarded with lots more if you do; but it’s not important nor necessary. The key thing: believe that Jesus died for your sins.

Someone from G.E.S. would have to help me here: What do you do with a verse like Hebrews 12.14 (ESV) – "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord"? That seems pretty clear to me: Strive, pursue, dioko (diw¿kw), – very active verb here (with heavy overtones in the NT of "to persecute" and I don’t think you persecute someone halfheartedly). Holiness is not an option for the Christian. It’s not a condition of his salvation, but it’s not an option once you’ve come to Christ.

I think, if I’m right in this, that G.E.S. puts far too much separation between justification and sanctification. It’s as if the two were completely separate from one another. The one is mandatory to enter heaven (as if that were the final goal of conversion – it is not); the other, while helping you and those around you on this earth, and while helping you pile up the rewards you’ll receive upon entering heaven, is still just an add-on in this life. You’ll get to heaven even if you live a completely depraved life, as long as you confess that Jesus died for your sins.

Bishop Ryle, in his book, Holiness, in the chapter on Sanctification, lists some visible evidences of sanctification (without which no one will see the Lord – and you don’t even have to know Greek to know that this means: won’t get to heaven!).In contrasting what are not true evidences of sanctification, he says: "Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life; genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts; genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified; and in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. I would highly recommend Ryle to you, especially chapter 2.

So, can someone who affirms the G.E.S. S. of F. which presents FG in its entirety, belong to the EFCA? Personally, I’m not so sure. While reluctant to say an outright "No," I also see this position promoting great confusion within the larger body of Christ, stirring up needless controversy (there’s a subject for another time) since the very few people I’ve ever met who hold to this position are usually divisive and argumentative, and, would likely not be able to wholeheartedly affirm the EFCA’s Statement of Faith (especially in its revised form).

Not sure where I’ll go with this from here. I may blog a couple more posts for clarification, but that may depend upon comments on this post.

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

My great-grandfather was waiting in a long line of cotton wagons in far northern Texas. Upon realizing that the line would not get completed in the emptying process, he spoke with the driver nearest him, “Hey, would you like to hitch our wagons together, and come home to my place for dinner?” The stranger thanked him, but declined the nice offer. Within about 15 minutes great-granddad asked again, “We’ll not get through here today; why don’t you head on over with me to our place for dinner?” Again, the man declined. Finally, after two more requests, the man asked great-granddad, “You just keep asking and I keep declining… why is that?”
“Well,” said great-grandpappy, “my wife of 10 years told me that if I ever meet a man uglier than me, I was s’pposed to bring’em home for dinner so she could see’im too.”

That was the kind of story my distant relative Charles Curtsinger would tell about family members. Don’t know how truthful that one was, but when you’d listen to him tell stories and anecdotes about family, you could never be to sure there wasn’t some truth in the telling, mixed nicely with a li’l bit of Oklahoma exaggeration. I loved to hear him tell about my great-great-great-grandfather’s run-away trip from Ireland to the States. Seems g-g-g-grandad didn’t want to become a priest, so he left Ireland for the “freedom” of the U.S. Having stowed away on a sailing ship, he landed in the States, around the Gulf region of Texas, enlisted in Gen. Sam Houston’s army, won himself some land there and married a Spanish woman, thus mixing that Irish blood for good.

Charles & his second wife, Joybelle, (his first wife died several years ago) loved to travel. It was while traveling to see relatives in Kentucky that they were both killed in a car accident. My parents and I will be traveling to Pryor, Oklahoma tomorrow to attend the funeral service. Charles’ service will be held at the funeral home; he wanted nothing to do with the church and just didn’t have much time for God or religion. Joybelle’s service will be held at the Nazarene Church in Claremore, OK. She was a believer and a kind, gentle woman.

This past Sunday, I preached from Luke 9.18-20 (I’m going through a series from Luke’s gospel account). The theme centered upon Jesus’ question to His followers: “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter spoke on behalf of the others, “You are the Christ of God.” Joybelle would have been able to respond likewise. She knew this Christ of God. He was her Deliverer from her slavery to sin. He was the Forgiver of her sins and debt of guilt. Christ was the Provider of righteousness that was truly not her own. He was the Appeaser of God’s justified, righteous wrath. Jesus was her savior and she was escorted into His presence last week.

Sadly, Charles will appear before the Lord, but the words he’ll hear will not be “Come and enter into My rest.” Rather, he will only hear, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.” He’ll have all of eternity to contemplate the question: Who is Jesus?

This question never changes. Nor does it grow old for those of us who know Him as the Christ of God. How about you? Who do you say that Jesus is?

Some ruminations on Tuesday

A.W. Tozer has nailed it yet again… and this from the 1940s or ’50s, I believe.Tozer

I’m reminded once again of David Wells’ message on the opening night of the Desiring God Ministries National Conference, just a week and a half ago. In proclaiming to us the supremacy of Christ, he opened to the book of Hebrews. There, the author is doing the same thing: proclaiming the supremacy of Christ. But he’s also asking his Christian readers: “Why are you shrinking back from this? Why are you skulking around when you have this glorious Christ on your side? Is it unbelief that causes you to do this? If so, you’re perilously close to being like your ancient forebearers, the Israelites, who shrank back from all that God had promised them due to unbelief.”

Then Wells compared that to us, as “modern day” Christians. I quote from Tim Challies’ summation of this point:

We don’t worry about these things in the West, but our problem is slightly different. It is not so much fear for our safety as that we are so distracted by so many things that it is hard for us to sustain a focus upon the supremacy of Christ in our world and our lives. We think of our experience in the West in terms of its benefits: we know more, communicate more, communicate faster, travel more, travel more often, travel further, we buy more and more and buy higher quality, we have freedoms, we have opportunities that previous generations never had. But along with these undoubted benefits for which we are all grateful come costs. The costs are often hidden, they are like shadows that come right behind these benefits. It is not easy to live in this fast-paced, modernized, competitive world. In Africa, what is most pressing for people are physical needs: the need for food, for security, for simple medical care. Our challenge is more psychological: the psychological pressure of living in this pressurized, relativistic culture where worldviews and lifestyle and religions jostle together shoulder by shoulder and make Christian faith hard to sustain. It is the intrusiveness of this world into our innermost workings. There is so much that is urgent, so much that demands our attention. Our preoccupations are with surviving and with the intensity of the moment. This is why people come to church looking to have psychological needs met. But sermons only addressing these matters are exercises in futility if the supremacy and centrality of Christ has been lost. In an entirely different way, we in our churches seem to be shrinking back from Christ.

Yes, I think we are shrinking back; shrinking back from the fear that we won’t be viewed as successful. Unbelief & fear drive us because we so desperately want to be liked by the world. Yes, we really, really want them to like us, to come through our doors and enjoy what they see and hear. We want to entertain them in ways we think the world can’t (problem: we can’t do it anywhere near as well as the world can, so the world laughs at us in our vain attempts). We simply don’t believe that the Word of God is absolutely sufficient because the God who caused it to be written is absolutely sufficient; and, the Christ it proclaims is absolutely sufficient too.

I pray the Lord will keep me from this unbelief in Him and in the supremacy of His Son displayed in His all-sufficient Word. I pray that our sister Free Churches would be kept from this as well; and that repentance might be granted those many pastors who long for popularity, long to be thought well of by the world and who simply don’t believe in their hearts that Christ is supreme and that God is all-glorious and that His Word is sufficient.