Transforming Grace

July 29, 2009 at 9:11 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Grace and Faith, Theology | Leave a comment

For Christmas a year and a half ago, my sister gave me a copy of Jerry Bridges Transforming Grace, Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.  I’m about half way through, and so far it has been a great read.  Bridges main theme is that, as Christians, we often believe that salvation is by grace, but that living the Christian life is on our own merits.  He counters with the biblical truth that all of the Christian life, from new birth to heaven is by grace.  Here are a few quotes to give you a feel for the book:

In a section talking about our spiritual bankruptcy before God, “I think most of us actually declared temporary bankruptcy.  Having trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we have subtly and unconsciously reverted to a works relationship with God in our Christian lives.  We recognize that even our best efforts cannot get us to Heaven, but we do think they earn us God’s blessings in our daily lives.” (p.15)

“Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God: To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life.  This principle applies both in salvation and in living the Christian life.” (p.35)

After quoting R.C. Sproul on the difficulty of relying totally on God’s grace, Bridges adds, “Not only do we think we must pay our own way, at least to some degree, we subtly insist on paying our own way.  As Dr. Sproul said, ‘Grace is for other people – for beggars,’ but not for us.” (p.63 – his emphasis)

And finally, “Our good works are not truly good unless they are motivated by a love for God and a desire to glorify him.  But we cannot have such a God-ward motivation if we think we must earn God’s favor by our obedience, or if we fear we may forfeit God’s favor by our disobedience.” (p.86)

Don’t read this book if you don’t want to be convinced of the Reformed teaching on sin and grace; but do read this book if you want to know biblical truth put into applicable terms that encourage the reader.

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For the Sake of the Elect

July 24, 2009 at 8:03 am | Posted in Eschatology, Theology | Leave a comment

          I have written some in the past about my pilgrimage from Dispensational pre-millennium, pre-tribulation theology to Historic pre-millennium, post-tribulation theology.  Here is another thought from Matthew 24.  Once before, I blogged on this chapter, and it’s parallel in Mark 13.  In both chapters Jesus describes what has to be the Great Tribulation, then he adds what will happen “immediately after those days,” including, “he will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather his elect from the four winds.” (Mt 24:29-31; Mk 13:24-27)  Today I noticed that in the midst that description of the Great Tribulation, Jesus says “There will great distress, unequaled from the beginning of time until now – and never to be equaled again.  If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect, they will be cut short.” (Mt 24:21-22; see also Mk 13:19-20)

          What could Jesus possibly mean by “for the sake of the elect?”  There are three possibilities: First, he could mean the elect have been raptured and are all with him, and he shortens the Tribulation for them. But that is senseless; there is no reason to shorten the pains of others for the sake of those who suffer nothing.  Second, he could mean those who come to Jesus during the Great Tribulation.  This is the standard Dispensational explanation, as I remember it.  But the biblical indications are that people on earth during the Great Tribulation will curse God rather than turn to him (see Rev 9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21).  The third possible understanding of Jesus’ words is also the simplest and best understanding – the elect are still on earth during the Tribulation.  They will be gathered from the earth immediately after it, and for their sake God will end it.

Woe to the Teachers

July 21, 2009 at 11:06 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Wisdom | Leave a comment

          I am at Ponderosa Baptist Camp near Colorado Springs with our church middle-school youth group for the first few days of this week.  With the loss of our youth pastor, many people are filling in wherever they can.  My wife Cathy will be here all week, but Pastor Wes will replace me tomorrow.  Fortunately, I don’t have to do all the small group leader things, so I can do some of my own work while I’m here.  We brought 12 kids, including my daughter Amber, and I pray they would encounter God this week.  Both Cathy and I have prayed how to balance our own work and alone time with the opportunity to invest in young lives.  May God use us to help direct these kids this week.

          This morning I read Matthew 23 and was pondering the idea of being a teacher.  I am called a “teaching pastor;” the Bible says that some are gifted as teachers, and that some are given to the church as teachers; even in this passage Jesus promises to send prophets, wise men and teachers.  Yet the balance to that is found in the words, “You are not to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.”  That passage is followed by six “Woes” to the hypocritical “teachers of the law.”  I would hope I fall into those who are sent by God as teachers, not into the group who are cursed, but I cannot presume that.  I can only take the “woes” to heart:  I am one of the condemned teachers if I make entering God’s kingdom difficult; if I get caught up in the details of righteousness but neglect mercy and justice; if I look wonderful on the outside but am full of greed and self-indulgence and deadness on the inside.  Help me God never to presume to be a teacher, but to humbly accept the teaching opportunities you give me, and to accept them with a deep reliance on you, understanding my own depravity, greed and self-indulgence.

It’s All about God — Camel edition

July 17, 2009 at 8:39 am | Posted in Grace and Faith, It's All About God | Leave a comment

Matthew 19:23-26.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  Since I grew up in church, I’ve heard various explanations of these famous words of Jesus all my life.  Jesus couldn’t really have said that it’s impossible for the rich to go to heaven, thus he must have meant something else – so the assumption goes – therefore we must explain this passage in some way other than the obvious.

I’ve heard two explanations that, at the time, made sense to me.  The first is the gate idea.  It is said there was a gate in the wall of Jerusalem that was so small a camel had to get on his knees to pass through, and this gate was called the “eye of a needle.”  A camel could pass through; it wasn’t impossible, just very difficult.  Sounds like a great solution.  But it has a major problem: There is no historical evidence for such a gate.  In fact the only place one can find mention of such a place is in reference to this passage.  In other words this supposed gate was invented solely as a solution for this difficult saying of Jesus.

The second explanation I’ve heard, that made sense at the time, was that Jesus was using a common figure of speech for something very difficult but not necessarily impossible.  However, if this was a common figure of speech, the apostles didn’t seem to know that.  Their response to Jesus’ comment was “Who then can be saved?”  They noted the impossibility of what Jesus was saying, not just the difficulty.  If it had been a common figure of speech, they would have recognized the words as meaning difficult and not impossible.

In fact, the disciples got it exactly right.  Jesus was stating something as impossible; he even admits as much in the next comment he makes: “With men this is impossible.”  That then opens the door for Jesus’ main point, which is “but with God all things are possible.”  In other words, Jesus was saying that salvation apart from God is impossible, it is God alone who can save.  A rich man, and a poor man for that matter, cannot save himself; God must do it.  The assumption that makes this saying so difficult is a false assumption.  It arises because we humans want to have a little bit to do with our salvation.  But salvation is all about God’s doing and not about our own works.

Ascribe to the Lord!

July 15, 2009 at 8:01 am | Posted in Worship | Leave a comment

“Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” (Psalm 29:1)  I wondered, when reading this passage today, what “ascribe” really means.  I knew that scribe is “to write,” “the words written,” or “the one who writes,” but I wondered what the prefix means and how ascribe compares to describe, as they appear to be opposites.  Describe adds the Latin prefix “de” which means “out of” or “derived from,” so to describe is to get words out of something.  When I describe God, I derive my words from his character.  Ascribe uses the Latin prefix “ad” which means to or toward, so I take it to mean “words or writing put towards something.”  If I ascribe something to God, I put words towards his character.  This psalm tells me to ascribe to God the glory due his name.  Thus I am commanded to put words of glory toward God.  It is parallel with the phrase “worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” (v.2)  The rest of the chapter gives an example of how to do that.  It’s worth the time to look up and read.  Examples of ascribing to God in this psalm are “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic,” and “The voice of the LORD twists the oaks.”  Each of these expressions offers words toward God about his glory and splendor; that is true worship!

          On a related note, I found another interesting derivative of “scribe” when looking up these root words.  The perfect past participle of scribe is “scripture.”  In other words, the English word “scripture” comes from a Latin word meaning “what has been written and still stands written!”  That’s a great thought!   Greek students will recognize in this paragraph Jesus’ use of the word gegraptai when quoting to the Old Testament, the perfect participle of the verb “to write!”  In other words, the English translation of Jesus’ word gegraptai is “what has been written and still stands written!”

For the Sake of His Name

July 8, 2009 at 9:35 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | Leave a comment

Psalm 25:11.  I was awake for a long time last night before I finally got up to read.  I read Psalm 25 and pondered this verse.  For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.”  I’d had a bad attitude about something yesterday, so certainly I thought about my great iniquity.  But mostly I thought about that phrase “for the sake of your name,” and it reminded me of some other verses I know.  “I, even I, am he who wipes out your transgressions, for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)  “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  (Psalm 23:3)  “Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3)

          It struck me as interesting that these four verses address two issues that Christians often think God does for them – guidance and forgiveness.  I naturally think that forgiveness is a benefit God gives me primarily for my eternal good; though it is for that, my eternal good is not the main reason God forgives.  I also think of guidance primarily in terms of my own good, both in eternity and in the present.  Though it certainly is for my good now and forever, my good is not the main reason God guides.  God does both these things for his own glory.  As always, it’s not about me; it’s all about God.

          When I feel guilty about sin, I confess in part because I don’t want to feel guilty any longer, and certainly God uses guilty feelings that way.  But it never occurs to me to pray for God’s glory in forgiving my sin.  When I ask for God’s guidance, I ask because I want to know what I should do; I want to know how I can get through a certain situation; I want to know how God will meet my needs.  It rarely occurs to me to pray for God’s glory in the situation for which I’m seeking guidance.  O that my prayer and my attitude would be the same as Isaiah’s and David’s in these verses: for the sake of your name, O LORD!

          Later I did a cross reference and found these related thoughts: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.” (Psalm 79:9)  “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.” (Psalm 106:8)  “For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off.” (Isaiah 48:9 – but read 10-11 too!)  “Although our sins testify against us, O LORD, do something for the sake of your name.” (Jeremiah 14:7)  It’s all about God; even our forgiveness and our guidance are ultimately about God’s glory.

My Rock

July 3, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment
Ayres Natural Bridge

I added this picture since my first edition of this post. The bench in the picture is where I sat when I had the thoughts recorded here.

          We were vacationing at Ayres Natural Bridge in Wyoming this week.  It’s been a restful vacation, and I haven’t made any entries because we’ve been without telephone, electricity, and Internet.  This is an amazing spot, one of only three natural bridges in the world with running water under it.  But even more amazing to me is the climate change when we come into this place.  After driving across miles of desert, we quickly dropped into this small narrow canyon and thought we’d changed hemispheres or something.  Suddenly we were in a tropical jungle: tree types I’m not used to seeing in Wyoming; humidity and lush grass; and an absolutely incredible display of bird varieties.  One morning, I was watching the birds and rabbits play and was praising God for his incredible creativity.  The next morning I read in Psalm 18:  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  I was struck by the number of titles David used for God in this poem:  fortress, deliverer, shield, horn and stronghold are in this verse, and some of them are repeated in the remainder of the chapter.  But the most used description of God is “rock.”  It appears twice in this verse and four times in the chapter.  While reading that it occured to me that I was sitting under a gigantic rock!  This rock has been here for thousands of years; it was a protection for us from yesterday’s rain; it was a stopover for the pioneers on the Oregon and Overland trails who were willing to brave a rough ride a few miles out to the way; though unknown and secluded as it is, it draws visitors from all over.  This place is secure from the desert above us; it is a refuge from the stresses of the world; it is a quiet respite. The only sounds I hear this morning are the roaring river and scores of bird songs.  God is like that, as David tells us with all these descriptions of his Rock.  “The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!  Exalted be God my Savior!”

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