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.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , ,


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.”

Tags: , ,

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.

Tags: , , ,

Life With True Purpose – God’s

The words were said, the prayers offered, memories shared and it was time to leave. Short. Simple. I had to trust that it ministered to the few standing there.

Julie was unaware of the impact her life had made. That might be said of many of us, but it was literally true for Julie. She’d been born without the mental capacity to recognize or respond to anyone or just about any stimulus. She was dearly loved by her parents, but was a growing burden upon a young family working hard to live in the dirt of Minnesota farming. Her mother got to a point where she could no longer carry her or move her easily. Caring for Julie began to take its toll. It must have been a heartbreaking decision to finally realize they would need a great deal of assistance to care for her; help they couldn’t provide. Julie was placed in a state home for the mentally disabled.

And yet, despite what many would say today, Julie didn’t live in vain. For many young couples today, if they would have had an amniocentesis that revealed a defect of this nature, abortion would barely have been a second thought. Statistics show that the number of just Down syndrome babies has dropped dramatically, largely based on pre-birth tests and the “choice” to not keep a child that would be a burden, a hardship and have no purpose or quality of life.

While I won’t make the argument for every baby born with such defects, because I don’t know these individual situations, Julie didn’t live in vain. While the heartache of having a child that couldn’t recognize him or ever respond to him weighed heavily upon Jack, her father, Julie was used by God in powerful ways. When he would come in from the field work, the other children would greet him joyfully. Julie, on the other hand, didn’t even know her dad had come in the room. And even if she did, she couldn’t acknowledge it in any way. Jack didn’t know the Lord, but he began to wonder if this wasn’t how God felt about him – a father that loved the child that was his, yet  wouldn’t acknowledge or respond to this loving father in any way.

Through a sovereign ordering of events, God drew Jack, his wife Martha and their children to Himself through faith in Christ Jesus. Yet this wasn’t all God had planned for this newly saved family. Jack & Martha knew God’s call upon their life to go and share this life-changing message of the Gospel with others who needed to hear of a loving Heavenly Father. God works in wonderful ways, for their children all knew they were to serve God on the mission field as well.

Only God will fully know the number of His chosen ones He drew to Himself because Julie was used, by God, to draw her family to Christ. Perhaps in eternity, an accounting will be revealed and the glory given to God will be all the greater.

Julie passed away in Rochester. Her aging parents, unable to make the long trip from Florida, requested that I have a short & simple graveside service. The funeral director who made all the arrangements, brought his own personal video camera, taped the few moments we gathered there and sent this to the family. Not a few tears of sorrow and joy were shed, God was praised and Christ was exalted.

Look closely at the picture below. What do you see?
modestly dressed
Most people will see “stodgy, old-fashioned, way-too-hot-for-summers-in-Minnesota” clothing.

Now I know I’m going to step in it big-time with this, but that’s okay. Ann & Elizabeth went shopping the other evening and came home with several items for Elizabeth’s summer wardrobe. I was pleased with their purchases. However there was one pair of shorts that I questioned at first, but later approved.

Why the initial disapproval? I thought they might prove to be too short, thus immodest, thus inappropriate. All right. I’m ready, Let it fly.

modestly dressed“But Pastor Kevin, don’t you think setting legalistic requirements on clothing will open up a charge of hypocrisy or legalism?” Perhaps, but I’m willing to deal with that if my daughter(s) or wife are dressed modestly. Sadly most people associate modesty with the picture above. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Doug, over at Coffeeswirls, brought up this topic this week. I’d written on this very topic for our church newsletter earlier this summer, so I thought I’d include a few thoughts from those two articles for your consideration.
Let me “tackle” simple dress for now (if you want to talk weddings, we can do that later.  Many Christian young women (25 & under) fail to take into consideration a rule of faith when choosing clothing: don’t cause a brother to stumble into sin. It’s not that they deliberately set out to make a man sin with his eyes. Most just don’t think… because they’re not guys. God made men with very sensitive visual awareness of his surroundings, including the way women dress. And many women fail to realize this when they put on clothing that’s too revealing, too tight, too suggestive, too tempting.modesty

So ladies, young women and others: please glorify God by helping the men not to stumble and sin. Stand in the mirror and take a good look at what you’re wearing. Ask another, older, mature Christian woman for advice. Ask a man (husband or father) for input. But above all things, do not let your outer appearance be an occasion for sin to others in the church.

Scripture helps us here, as it should at all times: “…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…” (1 Timothy 2.9, ESV). When it comes to our worship services, you don’t have to look dowdy, but you shouldn’t dress in a way that draws attention away from God and toward yourself in any manner.

When you dress to go out on any other given day, remember: what you wear on the outer body says everything about what is in your heart.

I’ll add the second part later today or tomorrow.

Cornerstone Prayer Time Meditations

Humble Prayer

Luke 18.13 (ESV) – But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Humility is a character trait we ought to highly value. Yet the moment we value our own humility, it loses all value. The moment we think we’re something in God’s eyes, the moment we "recognize" that we’re humble, that’s the moment we slip into works, not grace. We think we have something to bring, to offer God that He can use and that He should recognize in return. This is false humility. And there is no room for false humility in prayer.

False humility thinks it can move God’s heart. But humility consists in being dependent upon grace alone. I wonder how many of prayers bounce right off a brass ceiling cue to false humility. How many of mine?

The Pharisee in Luke 18 was filled with prideful false humility. Jesus, in telling this parable, contrasts this with true humility in prayer through the publican.

Publicans, or tax collectors, were despised, reproached, loathed, hated. They were not "good" people. They were agents of the Roman government, usually natives of the land they were from, usually wealthy to begin with and master extortionists. they would have been rendered unclean by constant contact with Gentiles, so Jews tried to avoid them. Zacchaeus was a tax-collecting publican (Luke 19). Traitors, oppressors of their own people, shameless, lawless men: have I painted an adequate portrait of the vitriol directed toward a publican?

When you stop to think just how loathsome these men were, it’s easier to appreciate the Pharisee’s prayer: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. Child abusers, prostitutes, crack or meth users/addicts might fall in this category for most of us. And surely we see where these types of people face/judgment before God someday.

Yet Jesus shows us a publican, an ignominious chap if ever there was one. Why? First, to contrast the pride of the Pharisee with the humility of the publican. Here is this publican, daring to enter the temple grounds, let alone the temple proper. He comes and bows before the God who has become too much for him. His own sin has become too much for him to bear.

Holiness and sin cannot abide together. This man’s sin had become too much. He looks for a place to pour his heart out before the Lord. There is, perhaps, a recognition that he will be cast off forever, yet he approaches and seeks after God. Not all cry out as did Simon Peter "Depart from me!" (Luke 5.8) Some are truly drawn, through humility, to the holiness of God.

Look at the Pharisee, up there in the center of the temple, standing where all can see him and hear his devout prayer. See his face. He squints in derision and disgust. He clenches his jaw in revulsion,. And he prays, "I’m glad I’m not like him." Here we see false humility, which is pride.

I think Jesus also wants us to see the publican clearly. He was the one with "no nerve", no compunction about coming where he needed to be. He knew he was scum, lowest of the low. So he came – not too far in, but he came. God might strike him down should he come too close, in too far. This is true humility. Someone once said humility is the first thing a sinner truly learns.

Note his prayer: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I started using the English Standard Version a few months ago. I’m still weighing it against the NASB95. Here’s a mark against it, in this instance: why no definite article before "sinner"? "O God, be merciful, I’m the sinner. It’s there in the Greek. NASB95 gets it. Darby gets it. Young gets it. Everyone else misses it (ESV, KJV, AV, NLT, CEV, even Peterson in The Message). I think it’s important.

As long as we’re just a sinner, as long as it’s sin in a general form, we really haven’t got a good grip on who we are yet. When we can cry out, almost in horror, "I’m the sinner! I am the foremost of sinners!" then we’ve reached bottom. Then we’re in the depth of humility. Then God’s grace can come & wash & cleanse & answer.

The humble prayer can do naught but ask for grace. What else can you do? You know you have nothing to offer but the lament: Be merciful, I’m the sinner. The answer to this plea will either be grace or death.

 Do you offer humble prayers before the Lord? Do you offer nothing unto Him who is Holy but the tremendous need for grace? A prayer for grace doesn’t go unanswered when that is all that is requested. Such prayer glorifies God. It is humiliating for us and it should be. When we fallen creatures acknowledge our fall before the throne of Sovereign Grace, God is pleased. We are never too wicked to come to Jesus. We can only be too good in our own eyes. Don’t despair. Don’t give up. It’s the devil who tells us we’re too wicked to pray. It’s the devourer of our soul and joy who gets us thinking we’re good enough to pray.

Make sure you hear the prayer of the publican: this side of heaven we will never get past a need for it. Because sin is  in us ’til our final breath, we’ll always need grace. O God, be merciful to me, the sinner.

Tags: , , , , ,