Faith and Influence

October 29, 2008 at 10:53 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith | 2 Comments

Acts 27.  As I read this chapter, I wonder who, from the human point of view, is in control.  Paul is sent to Rome with a centurion to guard him.  There is a ship captain, the ship’s sailors, the Roman centurion, a group of prisoners including Paul, and others including Luke and Aristarchus.  One would think the captain or the centurion would be the authorities, yet as the journey progresses, it seems more and more that one of the prisoners is in charge!

            Paul was probably more trusted than the other prisoners to begin with, because his case was an appeal of Festus’ decision to try him in front of the Jews; because he had never given any sign of causing trouble with his captors; and because both Governor Festus and King Agrippa thought that he was innocent (26:32 – I’m sure the centurion knew these things).  Centurion Julius allowed Paul some privileges that most Roman prisoners would never be permitted (v3).  When the season got late and the weather got rough, Paul was allowed input into the decision to winter in Fair Havens or sail on (9-12).  Though his advice was not followed, he still had the opportunity for input; that seems a rather strange entitlement for a prisoner!  After many days of fighting the storm, Paul stood up and addressed the crew with encouraging words God had given him (21-26).  Fourteen days into the storm, the crew sensed that the ship was approaching land.  A few of the sailors were going to escape the ship on a life boat, but the centurion stopped them, listening to Paul’s advice (30-32).  Then the entire crew followed his advice and ate dinner for the first time in many days (33-38).  Finally, when the ship ran aground on a sandbar, the soldiers refrained from killing the prisoners only because the Julius wanted to spare Paul’s life.  When the crew was safely on land, Paul had the freedom to gather firewood and to visit the island official, healing his father.

            This makes me think that, in times of trouble, those with a visible confidence in God impact others around them simply by that faith.  We are in hard times financially and morally, yet harder times may be ahead.  May we be people of such confidence in the sovereign God that others are influenced by us.  May they see our faith, as they did Paul’s, and may we say, as did Paul, “Do not be afraid for God, whose we are and whom we serve, is gracious.”

Spiritual Disciplines

October 25, 2008 at 9:47 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

Here is an entry from yesterday’s journal:  I just returned from a pastor’s luncheon where Donald Whitney, professor at Southern Seminary, spoke about the spiritual disciplines for pastors.  He used the life of Jonathan Edwards as an example of a life given to a passion for God through discipline.  He defined spiritual disciplines, listed seven biblical disciplines that Edwards exemplified and then gave these three conclusions:  1) Pursue a passion for God through the full range of spiritual disciplines.  Edwards exercised everything from Bible meditation to prayer to solitude and fasting to singing and journaling.  We too should exercise them all in our pursuit of God.  We must, however, remember that the disciplines are only roads to the destination.  The destination is God.  2) Pursue a passion for God regardless of intellect.  Edwards is one of the most brilliant men in American history, yet, even while living on the edge of the frontier, he never coasted on his mind; he always pursued more knowledge of and passion for God.  On the other side, the disciplines can be exercised by the simplest of people; they don’t depend on intelligence.  3) Pursue a passion for God equally with head and heart.  Devotion and theology; spirit and truth; life and doctrine; both needed.  The only New Testament passage that promises converts is in First Timothy where Paul tells his young study: “watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  Notice both life and doctrine are important.

It was a great luncheon, a great talk, and a huge reminder that I’ve gotten lazy over the years in many of my own spiritual disciplines.  God, help me use my time to develop a passion for you.  Amen.

“Acts 2:38 Christians”

October 22, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Posted in False teaching, Grace and Faith, Theology | Leave a comment

Acts 2:38.  There is a movement that has been dubbed by others as “Acts 2:38 Christians.”  The name comes from the high regard they have for this verse – they believe it is the normative verse concerning the requirements for salvation.  The doctrine they preach is known as “baptismal regeneration.”  In a nutshell, baptismal regeneration teaches that a person must be baptized (usually by immersion) to be saved.

Notice Peter’s words in this verse, from his Pentecost sermon.  When asked by the crowd, “What shall we do?”  Peter responded: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” 

“Repent and be baptized.”  This verse might, at first glance, seem to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, but consider the logic of the words.  An illustration will help:  If my daughter were to ask me how to start the car, I might respond, “Buckle the seat belt and turn the key in the ignition.”  Now those are good instructions, since they would accomplish the task at hand.  However, though buckling the seat belt may be the wise  thing to do before starting my car, it is not a necessary  thing to do.  My car will start without the seatbelt buckled.  My instructions offered good advice that was more than the requirements.  So too with Peter’s sermon, if someone genuinely repents and is baptized, that person would be saved, and both repentance and baptism are wise, but that does not mean both those things are necessary.

            The real test of whether both are necessary would be a look at the rest of scripture.  Are there passages that say baptism is necessary?  And are there passages that say repentance and faith (two sides of the same issue) are all that is needed?  The answer is “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter.  In other words, this passage in Acts is clarified by comparison with the rest of the New Testament, and the rest of the New Testament strongly attests that repentance and faith in Jesus is the only requirement for salvation.

            Here are numerous references to demonstrate my point.  My Sunday morning Reformation class students might recognize these as the study verses I handed out last week.  First in Acts, since that’s where we began:  10:43;  13:38-39;  15:1-11;  16:29-31;  20:21; and 26:15-18.  Next the evidence in John:  1:10-13;  3:14-17;  3:18;  3:36;  5:24;  6:28-29;  6:35;  6:40;  6:47;  7:37-39;  8;24;  11:25-26;  12:44-46;  20:30-31; and 1 John 5:11-13.  In Romans:  1:16-17;  3:21-30;  4:1-25;  5:1-11;  10:9-13.  In Paul’s other letters:  Galatians 2:15-21;  3:1-15;  5:2-6; Ephesians 1:3-14;  2:8-9;  2 Timothy 3:14-15; Titus 3:3-7.  The evidence is overwhelming!  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone!

            There are two related notes.  First, 1 Peter 3:21 is also quoted as support for baptismal regeneration.  That verse says the water of the Flood “symbolizes baptism that now saves you.”  However, Peter defines very clearly what he is talking about: “not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”  The baptism which Peter says saves is the reality which the ordinance of baptism in water pictures.

            On a second related note, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if Max Lucado believes in baptismal regeneration.  A rumor may have gotten started because he makes a strong case for baptism, a case that all believers should be immersed.  But it is also clear that he does not believe baptism a necessity  for salvation.  You can check out his church’s doctrinal statement on baptism here.  Included in that statement is this paragraph:  “Does baptism, itself, have the power to save people?  The answer to this is a resounding ‘No!’ Scripture is abundantly clear that only Jesus saves.  The work of salvation is a finished work by Christ on the cross.  Baptism has no redemptive powers of its own.  There is nothing special about the water.  Nothing holy about the river or pond or baptistery.”   And then later the statement adds:  “Is it possible for an unbaptized believer to be saved?  Yes, definitely.  Should every believer be baptized?  Yes, definitely.”

Sovereignty and Evil

October 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | 2 Comments

I was asked recently, by a person suffering the consequences of past sin, why God would allow sin at all.  “Why doesn’t he just make us obey him?”  It’s a part of the age-old question of why evil exists at all.  The answer is found in the mind and plans of God, and though we may not completely understand it, it has to do with God’s glory.  Everything in the universe, everything he created and everything he allows, is all for his glory.  In the Bible, the most direct answer to this question is found in Romans 9:18-24.  In part it says, “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?  What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy?”

This morning I saw another example of God using bad to bring himself glory in John 9 – the story of the man born blind.  The disciples asked why he was blind (thinking it was due to his own sin of that of his parents), and Jesus answered that it was for God’s glory that he was born blind, “this happened that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Jesus healed the man, and the religious authorities were infuriated by it.  It proved that there was a power and glory in play much greater than theirs and that their teachings about Jesus were wrong.  This story proves that, though our problems may be a result of evil in the world, they are not necessarily a direct result of our evil, but God allows them in order that he may be glorified in them.  Most North American Christians, and the prosperity gospel teachers, would have us pray that such problems be removed from us.  Maybe we should pray instead that God be glorified through them.

On a related note, I went to the library yesterday to have a reading day, something I don’t do as often as I would like.  I had forgotten to take the book I was reading, so I picked a small volume that caught my attention out of the religion section of the used book sale rack.  It turned out to be a good and thought-provoking read.  Dorothy Sayers, “Creed or Chaos,” written in England during the WWII bombings of London.  Sayers, who was more famous for her spy novels, also wrote theological essays; this book is a compilation of some of those essays.  She argues for the need of fundamental dogma in a few of them, and she addresses the problem of evil in one.  Here is a quote to give you a taste of her approach to the matter.  Speaking of Hitler:

“If,” we say readily, “God is holy and omnipotent, He would interfere and stop all this kind of thing.”

“Why doesn’t God smite this dictator dead?” is a question a little remote from us.  Why, madam, did He not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday?  Or me, before I behaved with such cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend?

You did not quite mean that?  But why not?  Your misdeeds and mine are none the less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of some other people.  Do you suggest that your doings and mine are too trivial for God to bother about?  That cuts both ways; for, in that case, it would make precious little difference to His creation if He wiped us both out to-morrow.

And later in the same essay:

Looking at Christ, what do we find God “doing about” this business of sin and evil?  Here, the Church is clear enough.  We find God continually at work turning evil into good. Not, as a rule, by irrelevant miracles and theatrically effective judgments – Christ was seldom very encouraging to those who demanded signs, or lightnings from Heaven, and God is too subtle and too economical a craftsman to make very much use of those methods.  But He takes our sins and errors and turns them into victories, as He made the crime of the crucifixion to be the salvation of the world.

A Good Book

October 9, 2008 at 9:36 am | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God | Leave a comment

I’ve been reading Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James Montgomery Boice.  It is the last book Boice wrote, still in manuscript form when he died in 2000.  The subtitle is “Rediscovering the Doctrines that Shook the World.”   The book is about how the contemporary church has gotten away from the theology of the Reformation, specifically the “five solas” – Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and glory to God alone.  Though Boice’s early chapters about church and culture are harder on the church than I believe they should be, his chapters about the five doctrines are excellent.  It seems that each one gets better than the one before it.  I’m into the last of those five chapters now, “Glory to God Alone,” and it is the best so far.  Boice offers his thesis that the church today is weak because we have lost our sense of God’s awesomeness.  With that thesis I am in total agreement.  Here are some good quotes from the chapter:

“Judging by our actions, words and church programs, I would suggest that not one in a hundred average church goers today actively thinks about God or stands in awe of him as part of an average Sunday service.  Our minds are on ourselves.”

After quoting Tozer’s lament of the low view of God prevalent fifty years ago, Boice adds these thoughts.  “Who can suppose the situation has improved over the last five decades?  Clearly it has not.  On the contrary, our escalating preoccupation with television trivia and our growing addiction to the me-centered entertainment and worldly outlooks or our culture has made the situation worse.  And the saddest thing is that most Christians are largely unaware of what has happened.  .  .  .  To listen to many contemporary sermons one would think that man’s chief end is to glorify himself and cruise the malls.”

And, finally, quoting from the Cambridge Declaration, which Boice may have helped write, “The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable.  It is this loss that  allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful.”

To quote a song we often sing in our church, written by Matt Redman, “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You; it’s all about You, Jesus.  I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about You; it’s all about You, Jesus”  Not only church and worship, but everything is all about God.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Separation

October 6, 2008 at 12:03 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

Luke 12:51  “Do you think I came to bring peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but division.” Sometimes, we, in evangelical circles, emphasize loving others so much, we forget that following Jesus separates us from the world.  We who are his followers are described as “holy,” which means separated.  I read these words of Jesus this morning and was reminded of a talk I listened to last week that was given by a Jewish man who is a Torah scholar.  He talked about the fact that holiness means separation but the world and media we deal with deny any sort of separation.  They deny the separation between male and female, thus any sexual roles are allowed.  They deny the separation between fetus and mother, even though the DNA evidence clearly supports this separation, thus they can call abortion a choice about one’s body.  They deny the separation between human and animal, thus it is better to abort babies than to wear fur coats.  They deny the separation of good and evil, so that nothing can be called “evil” in the news anymore.  Those politicians who dare use the word “evil” are hated by many in the media!  Jesus separates his followers from the world when he declares them holy.  They need to live out that separation by recognizing the distinctions God has made.  Sometimes that recognition will bring us into direct conflict with the world.  But ultimately we know that they cannot harm us beyond this temporal life – see verse 4 of this same chapter.

By the way, I believe that our separation from the world is to be a separation of belief, character and action, but not one of association.  There are some Christians who would take this idea of separation to include association with anyone who is evil, but this seems to deny the example of Jesus, the examples of the apostles and the Great Commission.

The link to the talk I mentioned in the first pargraph was sent to me by a man in my congregation.  It is from a Focus on the Family broadcast dated September 29.  Here is the link:

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/popups/media_player.aspx?LatestDaily=1

 

Dry Devotions and Other Miscellaneous Thoughts

October 3, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, English Bible Translations, Worship | 1 Comment

“He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.”  Psalm 107.  I have to ponder this idea every once in a while because life can be dry.  There have been very few “devotional thoughts” published on this blog in the past three weeks; I just haven’t had many thoughts worth publishing.  As a teaching pastor, I have to have a message for the congregation every Sunday, and for many that is their major input from God for the entire week.  (That is a humbling and sobering thought – maybe a matter to discuss another time.)  Fortunately, God has been gracious allowing me to be faithful to that task for many years, though I’m sure many of those massages have been very dry as well.  But for my own personal devotions, there have been many dry periods over those same years in ministry.  During the dry times devotionally, I am reminded that if God can raise the dead, and if he can make a dry land into a spring of water, then he can revitalize a dry devotional life also.  This period has been short lived, and there have been great times of fellowship through it.  My Sunday morning class on the Reformation and my sermon study in Colossians have been good, so it doesn’t feel like I’m overly thirsty.  When things are dry in your spiritual life, what do you do?  Comments on this one are welcome!

One more thought on dry times:  Not every meal you eat is a memorable meal, but you continue to eat regularly because you need it.  You won’t remember every time you open the Bible, but you should do it anyway because you need it!  The cumulative effect of consistent forgettable times in the Word has a far greater impact than a few memorable ones.  Without forgettable meals, you will die.

A related miscellaneous thought:  I thought sharing a little more on my own devotional plan might be instructive to some people.  I read through the entire Bible in a year, about every other year.  I often read a translation that I’m not very familiar with, because the unfamiliarity makes me pay more attention to what I’m reading, and because I’m just interested in what’s out there.  (I have a fascination with English translations of the New Testament and have over 50 translations and partial translations in my collection!)  This year I am reading through the TNIV for that very reason (more on that later as well).   I divided all the pages in this Bible, minus Psalms, by 50, and aim to read that many pages each week (in this case 21-1/3 pages).  I also divided the pages in Psalms by 50 and am reading that many pages in Psalms as well (1-2/3).  I separated the Psalms out because I love to spend time in them, but I don’t enjoy just reading quickly through them, they deserve more devotional thought than a quick read.  Some years I do the same with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), breaking them up to read one each quarter.  This year I am reading straight through the Gospels, and that may be part of the reason for the dry period I’m currently in.  I am reading Luke this week and next.  It can seem monotonous after reading Matthew and Mark just prior to it.

During years I don’t read through the entire Bible, I read the New Testament at least twice, and spend more time in the Psalms.  Those years require less reading and allow more ponder/study time.

POSTSCRIPT Now a word on the TNIV:  This translation was blasted by some conservatives when it first came out, because of some changes from the NIV, which the translators made.  I had heard some from both sides and found myself philosophically more in agreement with the pro-TNIV argument; I also found some charges by the anti-TNIV group to be unfounded.  For example, it was said by some that the translation waters down the masculinity of Jesus.  Jesus is always called “he” and “man” except for the passage in First Timothy where he is called “human,” and Jesus being man as human, not man as male, is clearly the intent of that passage.  Mostly I think they did a fair job with the changes.  What I haven’t liked about the TNIV is the tiresome use of “them” and “they” for singular pronouns.  I know this is the common usage today, but it still drives me nuts.  This verse in Mark was enough to convince me not to use the TNIV after this year’s reading:  “Whoever (singular) wants to be my disciple (singular) must deny themselves (plural) and take up their (plural) cross (singular) and follow me.  For whoever (singular) wants to save their (plural) life (singular) will lose it, but whoever (singular) loses their (plural) life (singular) for me and for the gospel will save it.  Wow!  That seems like a lot of unnecessary verbal gymnastics to avoid using “he” and “his” as generic pronouns.

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