Monday, September 30, 2013

7 Fears

Fear of Death and Disease by Robert Rothwell

"I see a spot we need to keep an eye on."  Cancer.  The author found out that he had a spot of cancer.  It's 95% treatable, but not 100%.  "There were no words in the immediate aftermath."  His chances were good, but he still worried about his finances, his wife, and if he would die.  Sometimes things don't turn out alright - at least in the short term.
  • People die every day.
All people will die.  It doesn't matter the age.  You are going to die whether now or in old age.  Why do we fear death so much?
  • Non-Christians: they can't escape their God-given awareness that they've broken his law and deserve hell.
  • Christians also fear death and disease.  We all know God is sovereign and believe in heaven and the end of suffering, but we still fear death.
  • Believers don't fear death and disease for the same reasons as non-Christians because we know Christ has a home for us in heaven.  Instead, we fear losing control and we also fear suffering.
Rothwell assures us that in many ways, it is right to fear death and suffering.  God created a "very good" universe.  Death is not natural, so we are right to mourn and fear it.  Rothwell doesn't have all the answers, but hopes to offer help.

1. We should know why we fear death and disease.  Either you fear it because you are not reconciled with God through Christ's blood.  If that is the case, then please get to know God and his inescapable love.

2. Admit your fears to God and others.  He knows what you go through.  He is leading your pain to conform you to Christ who suffered the ultimate punishment for all believers in his mercy.

3. Help make your church a place where people can admit their fears honestly. People do not like talk about death and suffering in public: especially at times when they feel like talking about it a lot.  This needs to change as church should be the only safe place to vent your emotions.  You don't have to reveal all you think, and you always have God who already knows and who wants you to talk to him.

4. Trust God's sovereignty. Death and disease don't surprise him.  He knows the end of the story and we know that he does all things for his glory and because he loves his children.

5. Meditate on God's promises until they become part of your very soul.  Psalm 23:4, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."  Romans 8:18, "The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us."  2 Corinthians 4:17, "This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."

Robert Rothwell has been cancer-free for four years as of this article and has two children.  He will still die some day, but like all believers, he lives in courage because of his hope in Christ that never fails.

Fear of Job Loss by Jonathan Leeman

"Sometimes I worry about losing my job."  I have learned in recent days to never take for granted that you have a job.  In Georgia, employees can fire you for any reason or no reason, and you can't sue unless you had a contract.  Even that is loosely defined.

"Or even -- I'm embarrassed to admit this -- we'll face societal breakdown, like in one of those "day-after" movies, where the square-jawed hero has to defend himself and his two precious children with nothing but his wits and a shotgun as marauders patrol burned-out streets in pickup trucks with tough-guy rollbars."  Leeman exaggerates, but his scenario isn't too far from what I see in the future ruled by Big Brother.

"More realistically, foreign governments could call in our debts, tanking the dollar and collapsing the economy...It's easy to think about job loss when you're balancing the checkbook or watching shower tiles fall in your twenty-five-year-old bathroom."

The good news, is that Leeman goes to church, and the Word of God keeps his mind from wondering.  Here are the good thoughts he has learned.

1. Jesus came to save us from sin.
John 4 shows the outcast Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus befriends.  Even her own hated Samaritan friends don't like her and she lives in sin.  Jesus cares about hunger and thirst and loneliness, but his ultimate goal is to have all the symptoms of the fall point to our sin.  We may lose our job, but it reminds us of the sin-cursed world and how we actually deserve worse than that.

2. God displays his glory through trials.
Again, in John 9, the man was not blind because anybody sinned.  He was blind so that Jesus could display his glory in healing him.  This is one of the miracles that really shows that he is the Christ.

3. Jesus will preserve us.
Then in John 10, Jesus assures his sheep that no one can snatch them out of his hand.  We may go through lost jobs, but God preserves us.

4. Perfect timing and love.
In John 11, Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is sick.  He loves Lazarus and his two sisters.  Yet, he lets Lazarus be dead for 4 days.  But he also showed that he is the resurrection and the life.

Fear of Men by Nicholas Batzig

Batzig starts with how he grew up reading the Fear of God by John Bunyan.  The one work that nobody had heard of.
  • As we work our way through the Scriptures, we are repeatedly met with the importance of the fear of the Lord and learn that it "is wisdom" (Job 28:28), "the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7), "hatred of evil" (8:13), "a fountain of life" (14:27), and "the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
  • We do not come to an experiential realization of the fear of God until we first see our predisposition to what the Bible calls the fear of man.
Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."  Other people cannot do anything to your soul.  Your body may perish, but that is all they can do to you.  However, God can destroy both your soul and body.
  • The fear of man is not simply the fear of the harm that men may do to us.
Here is where John Bunyan comes in: "the fear of losing man's favor, love, goodwill, help, and friendship" is what people really fear.  It is an "idol of approval."  Sadly, this is also mankind's default setting.  From birth, we are set on fearing what people think of us.
  • Is the fear of man something that ensnares only a few?  The Apostle Paul says that by nature, men outside of Christ have "no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:18)
Christ has to save us before we can ignore mortal people and pay attention to the Almighty God who decides where your soul will live in eternity.  Fear of man caused Peter to deny Christ because of what a servant girl would think.  It muted his witness to Christ and kept him from living for His glory.  Praise the Lord that he gracefully rehabilitated him to be the bold leader of the church in Acts.

So what are we to do?  The prophet Isaiah gives us the gospel remedy: "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,... the Spirit of the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." (11:1-2).  What are we to do?  We can't.  Only Christ lived in complete devotion to God the Father, and he is the only reason that we can do the same.

Fear of Self by Kris Lundgaard

"Myself, arch-traitor to myself; My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe, My clog whatever road I go."

This is a poem by Christina Rosetti: "Who Shall Deliver Me."  There, she struggles to save herself from her worst enemy: herself.
  • Perhaps with less drama- yet perhaps sometimes with even more- each of us feels betrayed by our self.  1 John 3:20 proclaims that our heart condemns us.
  • The beauty of the Bible is that it never leaves us to think we are alone in our fears.
Rosetti's question is asked and answered by Paul in Romans 7:24.  Who shall deliver me?  Paul preached to himself, reminding himself of Christ's grace in verse 25.  He coached himself from self-accusation and self-condemnation to self-proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

David and the Psalm writers also had to constantly remind themselves through preaching.  The sons of Korah wrote Psalms 42 and 43.  They consist of three stanza of woe: thirst for God, feeling forgotten by God, feeling rejected by God.  All three stanzas are followed by the chorus:

"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."  Notice the turn from the self (O my soul) to God (Hope in God).

We must preach the Gospel to ourselves.  Although our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and he knows everything.  He knows that we are actually worse than we ever imagined.
  • But in spit of this, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).
Fear of Failure by Richard Pratt

Pratt recalls a friend of his who was so afraid of failure that it caused a rift between him and his family and caused him to stop working.  "Even if we don't go to extremes like my friend, the possibility of failure is not something we enjoy."

Why do we fear failure?
  • All of us have our personal reasons for being afraid of failure, but the Bible takes us to the root of the problem.
Genesis 1:26 reminds us that God created man in his image.  He created us to succeed in populating the earth.  We were not made for failure.  Like death and disease, failure is not natural, and we must be angry about it.  We fall short because of sin.

How can failure be turned into hope?
  • The Scriptures do not leave us longing for redemption from failure and fear.  They tell us that Christ took on flesh and fulfilled every command of God to reverse the effects of Adam's sin.
1 Corinthians 15:21, "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead."
  • How can all that Christ has done help us turn our failures into hope? 
1. His victory turns us away from every false hope we have.
2. When we acknowledge that only Christ has succeeded in fulfilling human service to God, we receive the sure hope that we will one day overcome all of our failures.

Fear of Loss by Thomas Schreiner

Schreiner shares the story of when his wife was nearly killed in a bike accident.  Praise God, the Lord restored her both and her mind.  The accident personalized for him a real fear that all we experience, namely, the fear of losing our spouses or our children to death.  I had no idea about this fear until two months ago when I married.  If anything happened to Tim, I would break down.

1. Immerse Yourself in the Love of God
  • We deserve God's wrath, for we worship ourselves rather than our creator and refuse to give him thanks and glory (Romans 1:18-25).
  • Our God is rich in mercy and poured out his love on us by making us alive when we were dead in transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:4-5).
  • If God loves us so, if he has forgiven us of our sins and rebellion, if he has cleansed us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), then we have nothing to fear
2. Be Rooted in the Sovereignty of God
  •  It is not only the case that Gd loves us.  He also rules and reigns over all things.  The Lord declares the end from the beginning, and his purposes and counsel will stand (Isaiah 46:9-10).
  • Jesus teaches that not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God's will (Matthew 10:29).  If sparrows don't fall to the ground apart from God, then neither do bicycle riders.  He loves our spouses and children far more than we ever could.
3. Trust in the Promises of God
  • He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
  • When we fear loss, we are like David who feared that the darkness would engulf him.  Darkness may come but God turns on the light in the darkness, for "even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you." (Psalm 139:11-12)
Fear of the Future by Ed Welch

"All fears are prophecies about the future."  Welch grew up during a time that helped supply fear.  He lived through the Red Scare, The Late Great Planet Earth, news broadcasts, and today is no different.  "Then I grew up and realized that every era is, indeed, the worst of times."

Two Popular Lines of Defense
1. Some try to be rational, to let data and facts assuage the fears.
2. Some imagine the worse and get prepared.
These defenses of course, are but temporary comforts.  We cannot trust in data, the odds being in our favor, or our personal preparation.  We trust in a Person.

We Will Receive Grace
"I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
Included in this promise is that he will give us the daily grace we need.
  • That grace will empower us to rest in God and stand firm in the face of whatever suffering or temptation the world can muster, in the face of whatever fear that has come true.
  • Promised grace renders our fearful forecasts obsolete.
Retell the Story
Consider Psalm 23.  Jesus is our shepherd.  He leads us through troubled waters and through green pastures alike.  He always leads us to a feast prepared before our enemies.

Fear and the Sovereignty of God by Kim Riddlebarger

"God is in control."  These words both comfort and concern Riddlebarger as he notes that there are times when the words "God is in control" might make matters worse.

1. First, consider those biblical passages which tell us what it means for God to be "in control."
  • For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.  Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth. (Psalm 135:5-6)
  • God knows when a sparrow falls from the sky, and if he cares for them, how much more does he care for us?
This short list of biblical passages reminds us that any fear we may be facing can bring God glory, be turned by God to our ultimate good, and grant us needed reassurance when we are afraid.

2. Consider that if anyone believed in God's absolute sovereignty, it was Jesus.
  • Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." (Matthew 26:36-38).
  • Fear and anxiety are not necessarily sin - that Jesus was anxious before his suffering upon the cross proves this to be the case.
  • Even better, we have a great high priest, who never sleeps nor slumbers, and who knows what it is like for us to experience fear and anxiety  It is Jesus to whom we pray when we are afraid, and it is Jesus who prays for us, even as we pray to him (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Seven Deadly Furrs: Musing through October's Tabletalk

My schedule changed where I have less free time.  I got a job at LifeWay.  No, not the one in Conyers where I live.  The one in the south of Atlanta that is 45 minutes away.  That means I drive there 6 days a week.

The good news: God is leading me to something amazing.  And also: I can still blog.

Today, I will write about the articles in this month's Tabletalk magazine.  The theme: The Seven Deadly Fears.  I thought it was sins at first, but no, it's fears.  Before I try to read these articles to my husband like I did last month when it was about the 13th Century, I will try to make a compact description of them all.

There is the opening page by Burk Parsons who edits the magazine, "All My Fears Relieved."

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the Proverbs tells us, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the end of all other fears.  
This is the only fear that leads to life.  All other fears rob you of life and eventually distract you from the only thing that matters: God.
  • Fear often takes the form of anxiety when we worry about things that have already happened to us.
  • Whenever I encounter someone who claims not ever to worry about anything or who claims not to have any fears, I conclude one of three things: they are lying, they are self deceived, or they have grown so callous and complacent to their own hearts that they don't care about anything or anyone and are, thus, blindly self-absorbed.
I face fear all the time.  I know the Lord Jesus and have solid hope in him.  However, I still can't see him or understand what he does in my life.  How worse is it for someone who refuses to study Jesus in his Word.
  • We cannot rightly fear God if we don't know the God of the Bible.
The more we know our sovereign God, the more we will laugh at our fears, and we will find strength to fear him.

"Answering Evil" by R.C. Sproul

RC recalls his mentor, John Gerstner and the time he confided that "I thought the problem of evil is irresolvable."  Gerstner replied in a rebuke.  "Perhaps you or another thinker are the one God has appointed to solve this issue."

After all those years, Sproul says: "I haven't changed my opinion on the problem of evil since that conversation.  In the many years I've taught philosophy, apologetics, and theology, and in the many conversations I've had with hurting people, a full answer to the problem of evil remains elusive."

  • Putting a human face on evil can make it more understandable -- it's no surprise that evil people do evil things.
The problem is, God is all perfect and all good, but he allows evil in the good creation that he made.  Philosophers suggest that we live in the "best of all possible worlds," or that "evil is necessary to make us virtuous people or to preserve the reality of free will.
  • I don't think God has revealed to us a full and final answer to the problem of evil and suffering.
Indeed, we will not solve this paradox until we see Jesus face to face.  RC does offer helpful guidelines.

1. Evil is not an illusion -- it's all too real. Don't just ignore it.  It is real and you should cry over it.  Jesus wept.  He suffered for our sins.

2. God is not capricious or arbitrary.  The book of Job and the story of the blind man that Jesus healed in John 9 show that God allows bad things to come.  It's not for no reason.  Job suffered because God was proud of him.  He wanted to show that Job loved God even in the hard times.  Jesus showed his glory in healing the blind man, and the man became a follower and witness of Jesus.  None of this ultimately solves the problem, but it does show that there is a purpose in all things.

3. This isn't the best of all possible worlds.  Gottfried Leibniz suggested that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  I don't know how he came to that conclusion, but he's wrong.  God created a perfect world, but people sinned, and it has been cursed since.  Not all suffering is a result of sin, but because of original sin, all people and creation will suffer until Christ returns with his new creation.

4. Evil is not ultimate. It is not the end.  The demons get their comeuppance and Christ, the Christus Victor, stands risen from the dead and permanently alive.  He is the end of all things, and he is full of joy and hope.

Tabletalk lists seven fears, but the infinite number of them are deadly, not just the seven in the articles.  This issue deals with fear of Death and Disease, Job Loss, Men, Self, Failure, Loss, Future, and God's Sovereignty.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Justin Martyr, Plato, and What I Agree with

I guess I will follow up on yesterday's post after all.  I won't apologize for what I wrote or for any hurt feelings, but I will share that I do sympathize with people who want to believe that all people will get to heaven at some point.  I said already, it's Calvinism gone awry that still believes that Christ's atonement was for all people, when really it is only for the people who he chose before the world began.  In John 17:9, Jesus plainly says that he does not pray for all the world.  He does not intercede for all of them.  Only for the people God has given him.  Sadly, some people will perish in eternal fire, but some day, God will show us what we don't see now.

Now, as I contemplate having supper tonight at the local Catholic Church to celebrate the pro-life movement and work alongside them on Friday at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, I will mention what I do agree with.

Suppose my friend Plato dies.  He lived far removed from any specific message of Christ.  He may have heard rumors from Israel, but he never specifically believed in Jesus.  However, he always talks about a world beyond this one.  We are in a cave and only see shadows of what is truly real.  He came so close to preaching the truth in his lifetime, but as far as I know did not quite make it there.  Where is his soul today? 

I can honestly say, I don't know.  I simply know that pagans and atheists are only saved one way, and that is by belief in Jesus Christ.  I also know that Old Testament believers were saved because God showed them Jesus in many symbols and typologies.  There were God-fearers not of the nation of Israel.

The truth is, though, hell is a real and permanent threat.  Justin Martyr, who I linked to, says things way better than I do, but I can assure you that he did not believe people were saved just because they were sincere.  They were saved through God's mercy and their lives showed fruit of it.

"And that no one may say what is said by those who are deemed philosophers, that our assertions that the wicked are punished in eternal fire are big words and bugbears, and that we wish men to live virtuously through fear, and not because such a life is good and pleasant; I will briefly reply to this, that if this be not so, God does not exist; or, if He exists, He cares not for men, and neither virtue nor vice is anything, and, as we said before, lawgivers unjustly punish those who transgress good commandments. But since these are not unjust, and their Father teaches them by the word to do the same things as Himself, they who agree with them are not unjust."

Justin shames the people who say that Christians made up an eternal punishment just to control people.  If God is real, then he hates all evil.  If he is just he will punish all evil.  Nobody who goes to hell will ever suffer God's injustice.  All people have earned it and all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.  He did not have to forgive anyone.  But he did send Jesus to take the punishment of the people that he did have mercy on.  This same mercy is why people who don't know Jesus are not all as wicked as Hitler.  And it also shows, that without this mercy, we would be as wicked as Hitler.  The constant fight to end abortion and euthanasia is also testimony to that.  If people follow their hearts they will lead this world into anarchy. Praise God that he kidnaps hearts and changes them to follow him.

And God still does the impossible such as saving worthless scoundrels such as Jacob, David, me.  His grace is powerful enough that he could have shown Jesus to Plato in some typology.  The same thing, though, it would not be because Plato was a sincere guy.  It would be because he led him to believe in Christ.  And if there was an opportunity for someone to specifically preach the truth to Plato, then they should be held accountable if they don't and pretend that their current religious status is alright.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rendering Christ Unnecessary

My reading to day in my church history text emphasizes the final separation of the Russian Orthodox Church from Constantinople.  The Eastern Orthodox church had been separated from the Western Church in at least name.  The Mongol invaders officially sealed the deal for the Russians.   They moved their religious capital from Kiev to Moscow.

Most of what I write after this, will be my thoughts on the church today.  They are not pleasant.  At the risk of deeply offending people I must openly oppose Francis I and his statements that aren't actually new but are becoming more prominent, that all people who do good can be saved.  This is not infuriating to me because it promotes salvation by works, even though that is true, too.  It infuriates me because of its insult to Christ, the Apostles, and all the martyrs.  It went beyond Christ alone not being enough for salvation, but to Christ not even being necessary.  Look folks, he died to save you from having to be separated from God.  He didn't even have to do that.  He could have just let us all remain lost with no hope of reaching righteousness.  He sent Jesus and no other, and people I love are following blatant lies.

Soon after Russia became a separate church nation, the mother church as a whole began to crumble.  Being amillennial, I believe this was the time that Satan was released from his captivity.  Either that or shortly before when people began to focus on themselves as individuals and began to exalt humanity.

Despite the visible crumbling of the church, there is still only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Jesus's word and blood unites all true local churches into one Bride that can never go away.

Today, however, Christians on both sides of the Tiber River have forgotten exactly why and what we protest.  For most of that time, it was considered that people outside the Roman Church were anathema.  They were cut off from the true church and therefore cut off from communion and God's saving grace.  I personally prefer this view to the current view that all non-Roman Catholics are simply "separated brethren."

This simply reduces salvation to universalism.  “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (Lumen Gentium 16).  Why do I write about this?  Because it still involves all Christians and it still involves people I love so much that it hurts.  Before Vatican II, Protestants were cut off from salvation.  After, all religions are included in salvation whether they believe in the correct God or not.  The latter view is less accurate and more insulting to Christ than the former.

This is not just in the Roman Church.  This started with Oprah, Rob Bell, Pelagius, and has really been around since the fall of man.  I came from the mainline liberal Presbyterian church.  As a denomination, they began to promote a skewed Calvinism that refused to believe in limited atonement.  This leads to them now promoting gay rights, supporting Planned Parenthood, worshiping nature, and worshiping themselves.  Does that mean all people still within that denomination are in trouble?  Not necessarily.  There will always be people who have not bowed the knee to Baal.  I was among them for a long time. 

I'm thankful for a God who is more generous than we deserve.  If you go to a church where they preach an unnecessary Christ, then I don't necessarily count you as lost.  Christ came to save all kinds of people.  There are people within who fight the lies that have developed.  It depends on if the individual believes in Christ alone for salvation.  I can't judge such people, but I can say that they are seriously misguided and are very much in danger.  Remember to be true to your Husband.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Crushed by His Glory

I shall take another excursion today.  This month, the church I attend has been preaching a series on James.  It is one of my favorite books.  It calls people who say they believe in God to prove it by what they do.  It can also be sticky as preachers will preach morals from it but not necessarily point to Christ.  It can be controversial for people who argue that salvation is by faith alone but who display no more love for God than the atheist next door.  This post will consist of insights from Ligonier, followed by the sermon notes, and closing with a few OT examples.

R.C. Sproul constantly says that salvation is by faith alone, but not faith that is alone.  James 2:26 proclaims that truth loudly.  The Sermon on the Mount proclaims that truth.  Old Testament history of Israelites giving God lip-service but serving idols illustrates this truth, especially when God finally gives them his justice and sends them into exile.

"God's Word must be consistent because the one who hates all falsehood has revealed it."  This is a quote from an archived Tabletalk devotional.  Many people think that James and Paul contradict each other.  Paul wrote Romans and Galatians saying that people are counted righteous because they believe.  James wrote James saying that faith without works is dead.  The same Christ inspired both authors into writing down his Word.  God does not contradict himself, so this must be a paradox to be solved.  These are two truths that are not A and not-A in the same time and in the same relationship.  God counts believers righteous because of faith.  What happens next?  If they have faith, then their actions show it.

In James 2:1, James calls Jesus the "glory" of God.  He refers to the Hebrew term kabod, which deals with not just glory, but with a weightiness or substance.  This glory can crush you.  James equates Jesus with the same kabod glory.  He possesses "supreme gravitas", nothing is more important or greater than he, and no one deserves more honor.  A sinful person like myself will die if she should encounter this glory.  Praise God for Christ's grace and generosity in sharing his glory and making it bearable.

That being said, if Jesus is an all-crushing glory with infinite weight and substance, then when he saves you, you have no choice but to be a doer of the Word.  You no longer hear a preacher preach only "blah blah blah."  Now he is intelligible, and Christ transforms you through that.

I will get to some of the points from Sunday's sermon.  This will go on longer than expected, but there is so much to cover.  The sermon's title is "I am Responsible for my Actions."  The series has the subtitle, "Going from Excuses to Personal Responsibility."

I am responsible for my personal prejudiceThe text is James 2:1-4, but sadly, it is the Message, and so you don't have the effect of James calling his brother the "Lord of Glory."  But it makes a difference because without him, those prejudices will remain.  I know because I am a prejudiced Presbyterian who knows I'm not always right, but still considers myself that way.  As a paedobaptist, I am prejudiced against Baptists who just don't seem to understand covenant solidarity.  As a cessationist, I am prejudiced against people who insist on speaking in tongues and the "God-told-me" people.  This includes authors and their trips to heaven.  God's special revelation to us is complete and there is no more to be revealed until he comes back.  If he had wanted us to see more, he would have written it in Scripture.

Just the same, this paedobaptist married a man of Baptist origin and can't imagine being with anyone else.  She followed him to his church which is truly non-denom, still a legit church, but definitely has me worshiping next to people who think they speak in tongues or claim new special revelation from God to themselves.  I'm not saying that they are liars, but I just think they are greatly mistaken and live under presuppositions imposed by popular Christianity.

I could not enjoy such diverse company if it was not for God's salvation through Christ.  In Christ, I am no different from the people I disagree with.  I'm as bad of a sinner as people who live in sin.  God gave me salvation for no other reason than because he wanted to.  How dare I be prejudiced against people whose faith details are little off from mine?  It matters more that they look to Jesus for salvation, and even that is only possible because of Christ's gift.  Without the Holy Spirit's intervention, there is no difference between one person and another.

I am responsible for my measure of mercyThe text is James 2:12-13, "12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

Christ has freed me to be able to consider myself a sister with people who are vastly different from me.  He has given me grace despite my ignorance or lack of understanding.  I sin greatly if I do not give the same grace to others.  Only God knows their true spiritual state.  I cannot simply assume it because of some error, though I still warn against it in fear for their souls.  Ultimately, however, I have to simply trust that God will lead them to the truth.

I am responsible for my actions of faithIf this God is so real, and if Christ's glory is so compelling, then I will naturally want to care for the poor, witness to those who don't know Christ, obey his law, and care whether people think they can have salvation apart from belief in Christ.  I must care for people and plead for them.  I can't just sit at home and write a blog about it.  I need to go into the world and interact.

James gives an example of Rahab.  The lady was a pagan and a prostitute.  She was very far from the Lord when she encountered spies from Israel.  Even protecting them, she lied to authorities.  However, she believed in the message of the Gospel, and it changed her life.  No longer was she a sexual plaything living in the wall of Jericho.  She was a valued daughter of God who saved people's lives, married into them, and eventually became an ancestor of Jesus.

I'll include Abraham since Paul gives him as an example.  Abraham believed God and was counted righteous.  What did he do next?  He left his home in Ur and traveled to Canaan, not knowing what he was doing, simply because God told him to.  He did not always trust God when he said that God would give him a son through him and Sarah.  Sarah tried to help God by having Abraham beget a child through Hagar.  Yet, God sustained them, even in their failures and changed them into people we can look to in times when we doubt.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Look in the telescope and believe

Today's reading from my church history text takes me to the rise of nation-states in Europe.  They became more united and independent and increasingly resented control by the Pope who lived in Italy.

This was a time when people became more secular, a middle class formed, Parliaments formed to represent the people and to sponsor their sovereigns against the church canon.  It is a good example of why church and state should not mix.  God should rule over both, but they are really two separate universes.

The rise of Parliaments is not my focus for today.  I will mention it just in passing.  My mind is more on the Renaissance innovations in science and commerce.  This was a time when most people believed that the sun revolved around the earth.  In fact, the whole universe revolved around the earth.  This was not only assumed scientific fact, but it became religious dogma.  The Church excommunicated Galileo and Copernicus because they would refuse to listen to their arguments.  Even Luther and Calvin were outraged by these guys because they seemed to contradict Scripture.

The thing is, the geocentric cosmology is not Biblical.  Ptolemy popularized it.  When empirical science contradicted this belief, it would have certainly agreed with Scripture.  Everyone with an iota of sense knows that God is the center of all reality, not is creation the earth.  It still baffles me how even John Calvin could be duked by this self-centered belief.

Just the same, the church leaders refused to look into Galileo's telescope, see the scientific proof and double-check their Bibles.

Fastforward to the 1800s.  People were so disenchanted with the Bible thanks to the Copernican revolution and the refusal of church leaders to check their facts, that they began to envision a world not made by God.  One that always existed.  To explain all the landmarks and fossils, they had to develop long ages of millions and billions of years.  Then they hypothesized that all creatures, including humans, evolved from one common ancestor.  They had great rhetoric because they succeeded in convincing the religious community, both liberal and conservative, that empirical science contradicts the Bible's creation account as being literal.  As a result, mainline churches began to care more about social activism rather than teaching the Gospel.  The outspoken atheists of today recognize better than church leaders that a compromised first 11 chapters of Genesis compromises all of the Gospel.  If Adam isn't literal, then neither is Jesus.  If millions of years of destruction formed the earth, then there was clearly death and chaos before Adam sinned and ruined God's "very good" world.  If that is so, then there really is no reason for Jesus to come and make things right since it was already in his plan for cancer and bloodshed to reign.

Fastforward to now.  The people at Answers in Genesis have done extensive scientific research and proven that the Darwinian and uniformitarian myths should be scientifically laughable.  Dead carcasses don't turn into fossils over millions of years.  It has to occur in a fast chaotic process like a world-wide flood.  People all over the world have dragon legends.  This would not be unless these creatures that are now called dinosaurs co-existed alongside humans and did not die before man ushered evil into the world.  Our good God hates death and destruction and never used it to create his world.  It has never been necessary.  Ken Ham and a team of people with Ph.Ds and scientific credentials have exposed radiocarbon dating as a fraud and made it possible for all of the world's activities to fit into 6000 compact years.

We still have church leaders who insist that the rocks have proven the first 11 chapters of Genesis to be false.  If that is true, then why would God present something to us that only he witnessed and present it wrong?  No, that is not the God I believe in who sent Jesus to defeat sin and death once and for all.  God has the only prerogative to define day lengths and he said the first six days of creation were days.  End of story.  It's still a mystery yes, but only he has the right to define his own account of what he did which did not involve long ages of death and destruction.

But we have people who I love such as Michael Horton, D.A. Carson, John Piper, and even my favorite hero, R.C. Sproul who will not look into the telescope and be enlightened, yeah, even freed from the need to compromise with the Bible.  What you cling to is pure mythology.  God's word is the only truth and any science that contradicts it is either misinterpreted or fabricated.  Look into the telescope.  Walk around the Creation Museum.  Read the daily articles on AIG.  Be freed.  Double check your Bible and trust that God, the only witness to the creation story, means what he said and finally believe.

There are still many mysteries to solve such as the question of when Satan fell from heaven.  However, God did not include that account in detail in the Bible.  It's clearly something that we are not meant to know or risk our salvations by satisfying our curiosity.  Just look in the telescope, be informed, and still have faith like a child that does not question God but questions everyone else.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

He Placed Him Crosswise in the Universe

This is my last post on Justin Martyr's first apology.  I make no apologies that next I will start his second apology.

Justin closes his letter with an amazing observation about Plato that I had not known before.  "He placed him crosswise in the universe."  That is what Plato said.  He assigns a first place to God.  Then, he is aware of a Logos in the second place as "a power placed crosswise."  Finally, he assigns a third place to the "spirit borne under water."  Plato has a concept of the holy Trinity.  He almost hints at knowing the cross, but as Justin said of all pagan imitations of the Truth, they never quite understand the concept of a deity sacrificing himself for his people, especially with a humiliating death on the cross.

Accordingly, Plato got his ideas from Moses.  Moses wrote about a world made by just God's Word.  He understood that God and God's Word were separate persons but still one God.  He had a concept of the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2.

Where does "crosswise" come in?  It comes from the account in Numbers 21 about the bronze snake that Moses had placed on a pole.  The people were justly dying from a plague due to their constant ungrateful complaining to God.  God told Moses to place the snake on a pole.  The people could just look to it and be healed of their disease.  Clearly, Plato is impressed by this undue generosity from and offended God.  It might be God's way of revealing Christ and his sacrifice to Plato.

Matthew 11:27, however, states in no uncertain terms: "no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."  Nobody, not even Plato, can know God the Father unless he had revealed the Son to him.  How did he reveal himself to Moses?  It was not God the Father.  It was God's Word in the burning bush.  It was the Angel of the Lord, Christ himself.  Christ is God's physical revelation of himself to us.  Moses knew Christ.  The Jewish followers through the centuries only knew that God had spoken to Moses.  They had no concept of the Christ who would one day be looked to as the only cure from their deserved damnation.

Finally, Justin describes the welcoming of a new convert.  He believes in Christ and gets baptized into the visible church.  Then the church gets together with a holy kiss, brings out bread and wine, and celebrate Eucharist which is only for those who believe the truth of Christ.  Justin says an interesting thing which corresponds with my view of communion that I believe RC Sproul teaches.  It is "from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished."

Instead of the elements becoming Christ's body and blood, instead, Christ's spirit transmutes our spirits to heaven to partake of his true body which is there and cannot be in more than one place.  We don't bring him down here, but he brings us to him.  Justin Martyr believes what Calvin believed.

The apology ends with three letters from the Roman leaders.  Adrian says that anyone who accuses the Christians should be awarded more severe punishments.  Antoninus declares that he would have thought that the gods themselves would see to it that such offenders should not escape.  If they are so true, then they can defend themselves.  And lastly, Marcus Aurelius affirms that these supposed "atheists have God as their ruling power entrenched in their conscience."  In fact, they prayed for his army to not starve to death and for five days they had rain while the enemies had only hail.  Whether they ultimately accepted Christ or not is unknown, but nobody can deny his Presence.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I've Reached the Renaissance

I have reached chapter 25 of Christianity through the Centuries by Earle Cairns.  Medieval history has just ended and is rapidly transitioning into the Renaissance and anything that catalyzed the Reformation.  I have just written about the internal struggles in the Church with the Great Schism, the Babylonian Captivity, the 2 or 3 popes at one time, the tempests caused by Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, and general disappointment in the lack of spirituality among the church leaders.

Before I get to Luther, Cairns sets the background of culture changes that began outside the church, but also influenced church history.  So far, the would-be reformers in the current Catholic church wanted religion to be more personal.  Everything was in Latin, and they wanted lay people to have more access to Scriptures and theology.  They wanted the Scriptures to be the chief source of authority.  If the pope or church councils conflicted with it, then the Scriptures were to prevail.  Also, they wanted the Roan church to be simply more democratic in its organization.  They wanted less rule by one or a few people and more public input to hold the leaders accountable.

Voila, the Renaissance Era occurred from 1350 to 1650.  Nobody woke up in 1350 and said, "Yay, it's the Renaissance now!"  Things simply transitioned from medieval structure to modern structure.  The scholars rediscovered classic Greek writings and searched the original Greek and Hebrew Bible manuscripts.  There was also a rise of a middle class and a need to study things empirically rather than deductively.

Italy was still the cultural center of Europe.  It has many relics from its past greatness, and hey, it has Rome.  The Renaissance really started in Florence when Lorenzo de Medici commissioned artists to decorate his surroundings.  Around the year 1453, Constantinople fell, and thus Greek thinkers migrated to the Western empire bringing with them their classic manuscripts.  Men like Manuel Chrysoloras and Petrarch reached Florence where the people wanted to learn the original languages.

Renaissance Italy saw the rise of individualism over identifying oneself with a family or a group of people.  It saw more versatility.  For example, Michelangelo was a painter, and architect, and a designer.  Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, inventor, scientist, innovator, experimenter, and on and on.  With the increase in art patronage, people grew to appreciate the beauty in nature and in many to an extent that it became a cult.  The joys of the present in this life took precedent over religion which mostly involved eternity and the future.  The result: people still accepted church dogmas and rites, but their religious life was mostly divorced from their daily lives.  It became like Christianity in the southern united states.  It's more of a culture thing than a sincerity thing.

Popes began contributing to this rebirth in art and humanism.  Nicholas V supported architects to repair bridges, aqueducts, and great churches in Rome.  He donated his whole library to form the Vatican library that is still enjoyed today.  To show how indifferent people were to religion at the time, Nicholas's secretary, Lorenzo Valla, began exploring the science of textual criticism and discovered that the Donation of Constantine was a fake.  Nobody punished him or even slapped his wrist. 

Julius II is the pope who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.

Leo X was pope when Martin Luther began is revolution.  He was a member of the Medici family, the same family that began the Renaissance, and was such a patron of the arts that it trumped his spirituality.  He is the one who started selling indulgences in order to support the building of St. Peter's Cathedral.  There will be more on him later.

This enthusiasm leaked beyond the Alps and reached the northern continent.  While Italy was more secular, Germany, France, and Spain wanted to study the Bible in its original languages.  Their humanism was different in that it cared for individual men and women who had souls.  Their goal was not to glorify man as a rational creature.  The following is a numbered list of influential people who led the northern Renaissance which was more a hybrid of secular and sacred.

1. There was a man named Savonarola who carried on the same work and Wycliffe and Hus in Italy.  He was also martyred for suggesting that the church leaders were less than perfect.  He had followers led by Marsilia Ficino who translated Plato into Latin.  They desired to integrate the Bible and Greek philosophy.

2. Jacque Lefevre wrote a Latin commentary on Paul's Epistles in 1512 France.  This paved the way for the Huguenot activity that occurred when the Reformation happened.

3. He was born Jiminez Francisco de Cisneros.  He became Cardinal Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo.  Queen Isabella came to him for confession and he was the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.  He founded the University of Alcala to train Bible clergy and printed his own translation of the Greek New Testament in 1514.  He also supervised the publishing of a Polyglot Bible, or a Bible with many languages side-by-side.

4. John Colette, a Wycliffe disciple, belonged to the Oxford Reformers in England.  He came back from Italy and began lecture to develop a literal meaning of Paul's Epistles.  This troubled the waters because most religious scholars tried to find an allegory in all of Scripture.  Colette wanted the literal reading.

5. John Reuchlin went to Italy and learned Hebrew, its language, literature, and theology.  He wrote the Hebrew grammar textbook and dictionary called Of the Rudiments of Hebrew in 1506.  This is the man who also advised Philip Melanchthon when he was in school.

6. The most influential man was Desiderius Erasmus.  He never desired to leave the Roman Catholic church, but he did want to reform many abuses that he noticed.  He wrote satirical works against the leadership, and he also produced a Greek New Testament in 1516 by using four Greek manuscripts.  People began comparing the Ren church to the NT church and grew more dissatisfied.

7. This time also saw the increase of science and geography as men had a greater interest in nature.  This led to Vasco de Gama, Columbus, Copernicus, and Galileo.