Friday, September 25, 2015

God's Omniscience leads to Great Insight into life with God

God has decreed all things, and has decreed them with their causes and conditions in the exact order in which they come to pass; and His foreknowledge of future things and also of contingent events rests on His decree. This solves the problem as far as the foreknowledge of God is concerned.

Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (pp. 67–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Nothings Before the Presence

Mk. 10:15  "Truly I say to you, “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a child, will not enter into it.”" (My own rendering of the text.)

We enter the kingdom not with our heads held high but rather stooping like a child; crawling into the presence in utter humility. The King of Kings welcomes those who let go of their rights, claims and privileges.  We see ourselves as nothings and then become blessed children of the Father.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sin and the Stain Upon Marriage in the Modern World

Sin must be taken seriously if the elevated institution of marriage of one man and one woman is to endue and thrive! When Jesus talks about marriage in the oldest of the gospels (Mark) it is preceded by his discussion with the disciples about how they should treat sin in their lives.  

The wedding at Cana reminds us of Jesus concern for the creational ordinance of marriage and how his presence at a wedding is a sign of his restoration of people marred by sin and distortion.

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:43–49, ESV) 

The God of love who shed his love upon us; loved at great cost.  His Son died upon the cruel cross to remove sin and evil from us.  So it is no wonder that if we are to live in the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we must be ruthless with love's enemy: sin.  It must be cut out of us like a cancer.  When sacrificial love shapes marriage between one man and one woman for a life time: then a beauty is beheld.  It is not a passing infatuation, but a sacrificial love that loves in sickness and in health until death do us part.  We may not believe it but it is like not believing in the air we breathe.

Marriage is not "Christian marriage".  It is not a sacrament for one portion of humanity but it is God's blessing for all people and the foundation of society.  Muslims and Jews know this as do all ancient cultures.  When Jesus defends marriage he states clearly that it is between a man and a women, there is no allusion to same-sex relationships.  The creation of marriage is hard wired into our being. It is the way we were made: 

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:43–49, ESV) 

Progressive judges may try to remove God's mark from our humanity, but in doing so they turn us into brutes not the saints God sent Jesus Christ to save us to be.  We are broken and torn apart by sin.  But there is hope in the restorative work of Jesus Christ.  Our families, our children and the future rest in the assurance that God does not change.  Governments rage against the king (Ps.2) but his little ones hear his voice and find life, joy and freedom at his feet.  You can lock up all the Christians; but Jesus will stand with those our society marginalizes.  We are not "gay" or "straight".  We are all twisted by sin and radical surgery occurred at the cross to lead us in the straight and narrow.  LGBT is a fantasy of a deluded and twisted humanity.  God, give us grace and courage to stand gracefully and with love to all people. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Power in Suffering: God's Authority

I was reading in the Book of Acts about Paul’s godly determination to go to Jerusalem even though he knew he would suffer.  There is something about the power of God that is unleashed in suffering that reveals the real nature of its strength.  It is related to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was to be handed over to men, to be killed and having died to rise on the third day.  Now, that is power and is the same kind of power that turns the world upside down.  Suffering because of Christ releases power, a different kind of authority manifest in letting go of our control, taking the last place and becoming the servant of all. 

My friend at Regent Derek Mutunga reminds me of how this power works.  Somehow when he left to return to Zambia I knew in the core of my being that somehow the future of my grandchildren once again lay in the hands of an African.  There was time when North Africa was the heartland of Christianity.  Did you know that?  Yes, Origen, Athanasius and Augustine were all Africans.  Origen was the great Christian scholar, Athanasius the defender of the Trinity and Augustine the greatest theologian of the first few centuries.  Three of the greatest theologians of the foundational years were Africans.  In  the 1990’s I had a sense that American was being overrun by pagan hordes in sport coats and carrying lap tops.  When Derek prepared to complete his master in theology I pray a blessing upon his ministry that he and others like him might be used by God to turn Africa into the next Christian continent so that Christianity would thrive as a viable faith for my grandchildren and great grandchildren if the Lord Jesus doesn’t come back first.   Zambia and much of Africa is filled with suffering but it is suffering which has caused the ministry of Jesus Christ to flourish in people like Derek ministering among the poor always in the face of threat of a growing Islamic presence.  Derek and Gladys former communists came to Christ through the ministry of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and were discipled by John Stott to serve Jesus in his grand plan to further the gospel in hope that one day Christ will draw Africa to himself.  He returned to his homeland to proclaim the only sacrifice for sins Jesus Christ and to share in his sufferings. Christ will win out through rising up his people through great suffering. 

               This was a lesson that was central to the training of the twelve.  It is not greatness, it is not control, it is not power, or prestige that makes the Church great.  It is sharing in the suffering of Christ which sets the stage for the powerful dynamic of the Church.  Not only does the cross of Christ provide the one and only sacrifice for sin; the final work of God on our behalf for our salvation.  But the cross is also the pattern of discipleship.  The twelve could not fathom that the Lord and Messiah was also the suffering servant who would bear our sin and take our punishment.  They would understand only when Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was in jail that there is power of the cross in suffering.  Not that our suffering has any atoning power.  But we died to sin that we can live to God and this takes the form of suffering stripping us our self-life so that our life might be hid with God in Jesus Christ. We die in order to really live.  We put ourselves last and serve others, we serve Jesus Christ by caring for our brother and sisters in the suffering Church.  In America we are on the verge of learning the reality of the cross as the seed bed of resurrection.   We are surrounded by a burgeoning Church that is facing persecution of proportions perhaps of the greatest proportion ever.  It is beginning to knock on our door.  But we are not to turn to self-pity for if we put ourselves behind the needs of the hurting world we are told we will be first.  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Way of Suffering in "Feel Good" Culture

Christianity bears the mark of the cross while popular religion is driven by success.  Christian formation (discipleship) that does not take Jesus' self understanding seriously as the suffering Messiah will by default be what the Scots called a church of Satan. 
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:31–36, ESV) 

How do  we measure success?  By gospel faithfulness? By the discipleship of self-denial? Or by numbers, claiming what we want from God no matter what, the financial bottom line, or the "relevance" of our worship service?  Calvin wrote, "...all ministers of the Word, who desire that their preaching may be profitable, ought to be exceedingly careful that the glory of his resurrection should be always exhibited by them in connection with the ignominy of his death."  Is our will put to death so that God has his way with his Church?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Watch out for Dialoguing: Instead Hear so that your Hearing Becomes Seeing

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.” (Mark 8:14–16, ESV)
When the revelation of God is right in front of you and you begin to hold a “Jesus Seminar” voting on which words are his or not you are in trouble.  The religious moralism of the Pharisees (the religious right) and the irreligious libertine liberalism (the libertine left) are dangerous challenges to believing the gospel.  Jesus commands us to beware so that the gospel can take root in us.  God saves sinners.  God propitiates his own wrath through the gift of his Son and adopts us as sons.  Grace is like the arms of the Father reaching deep down inside us having removed the wrath that alienated us so that he can live life from our hearts without the stones of sin and weights of skepticism that burden us.  Real grace forgives and set us free to live righteously because we love God and are thankful. It is rooted in a gospel understood through reasonable preaching that becomes faith by means of the inner working of the Holy Spirit taking what we understand and turning it into encounter with the Living God.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Understanding the Gospel's Power in Post-Christian America

We are in a unique time.  The early church wrestled with the religion of Judaism on one hand and the pagan world of ancient Rome on the other.  The attack upon Christianity was fierce.  But in the west as marriage is redefined and the last vestiges of Christendom pass away we face sharing the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ with a world that thinks it has heard the gospel and rejected it.  Our world thinks it has tried Christianity and found it wanting. But it is not real Christianity that has been rejected it is religious moralism.  Now we face a growing climate of various spiritualities of self-centered religions on one side (I am God or God is so distant I can't know him.) and irreligion (I don't believe in God or trust just in myself.) on the other.  Tim Keller has been very helpful in helping us discover aspects of the gospel that relate to both the religious and irreligious. Jesus faced the religious in the guise of the Pharisees and the irreligious in the political form of the Herodians. Mark 8:15 (ESV)And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  This focus of Jesus and the warning to the disciples is something we do well to heed.  On one side we can retreat from the culture in moral disgust and on the other we can embrace its cynicism.  But Jesus calls us to participate in his work of bring the gospel to both religious and irreligious America.  We speak to people who worship every sort of idol and people who are rejecting God.  The gospel speaks judgment and holds out hope in grace that saves.  It connects with our neighbors and repels our neighbors.  Why? Because the gospel is the truth and it is filled with grace upon grace.