God Decides 2008!- Does Election Exist?

September 30, 2008

(As sometimes happens, I seem to have gotten away from doing a series which I promised a long time ago. But after much delay I am now beginning the actual working out of the series God Decides 2008!, a look at the doctrine of election as we see it presented in the Bible and why the Calvinist view of election should be a humbling, not a self-aggrandizing, conviction. For an introduction to this series look here.)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” -Romans 8.28-30

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” -Ephesians 1.3-5

The definition of election used most generally in religious circles is that God has chosen a certain group of individuals for his purposes. Thus, the first question we come across in dealing with the topic of election is whether or not we even have a picture in Scripture of God selecting out any number of peoples for any particular reason. If the Bible is silent here then we have no further reason to talk about this matter.

But the Bible is not silent here. In fact, this is one of the topics in Scripture on which I believe the verdict is absolutely clear:

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” -Romans 8.33

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” -Colossians 3.12

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.” -Titus 1.1

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” -1 Peter 2.9

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” -Revelation 17.14

What is above is an extensive, though not exhaustive, listing of verses in which various biblical authors, Paul, Peter, and John, all refer to saved people of God as ‘eklektos’ or ‘picked out, chosen.’ Now, we aren’t going to get into just yet who this is or if it is all saved people (or if all ‘eklektos’ people are saved), but the point is that there appears to be great evidence to the cause that God certainly has an elect group of people for one reason or another. Of course, I have quoted Paul, Peter, and John, but the big question we must always ask is, Did Jesus ever say anything about this? The answer to this can be found in Matthew 24:

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (vv.21-31)

Thus, even Christ himself speaks of a group of people known as “the elect,” a group who will be “gather[ed]” when he returns.

Therefore, as to the question of “Does election exist?” there seems to be little arguing the fact that the answer is “Yes”!

The Power of Words and the Wonder of God- A Look Back at the 2008 DG Conference

September 29, 2008

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” -James 3.9

This past weekend I had the blessing of being in Minneapolis, MN for the 2008 version of John Piper’s Desiring God National Conference. This years topic was The Power of Words and the Wonder of God and included as speakers John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Sinclair Ferguson, and Paul David Tripp. There was also musical worship and a couple of Panel Discussions, alongside massive Christian fellowship, which all added up to a supremely joyous three days.

On a personal note, by an act of providence, though I was traveling by myself, I wound up encountering a couple of guys from my hometown that I had served in church with and was able to spend a great deal of time over the weekend with them. I was also able to meet up with several other Christians, particularly some who roam around in the blogosphere.

The message shared in the conference itself was fantastic. All of the speakers really challenged us on how we use words in our life, if we are using them in effect to focus people on the Gospel or if our use of words is more likely to lead people to sin. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson looked at how difficult mastering the tongue is through the passage in James 3, giving the illustration that what comes out the mouth reveals what’s inside the heart. Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Ministries shared how music can biblically accentuate our words. Mark Driscoll addressed using hard words and sometimes controversial words. Paul Tripp explored the use of words and how no words are neutral, they either give life or give death. And Pastor Piper closed it all up with a look at how words can be used in a biblically eloquent way and practically what doing this may accomplish.

To me, the biggest takeaway that I got was my need to work on being less harsh in the words I use, something which appears more in my day-to-day vocal interactions with people around me than it does here on the net, and so I want to be more conscious of that.

I have composed a review of Mark Driscoll’s message which should be available shortly as a guest write-in on the Ignite UK Pastor’s Blog. As well, all of the conference messages are available in various media formats at the Desiring God website.

I would highly recommend trying to attend a Desiring God conference in the future. I know that in listening to past conferences I had become aware of how impactful they could be and the experience of being there certainly did not disappoint. The title of next years conference is With Calvin in the Theater of God, which I’m sure will have an all-star lineup of speakers. Check it out if you can.

(UPDATE: Here is the link to the review posted on the Ignite UK Pastor’s Blog.)

Calvinism in the SBC- An Open Letter to Johnny Hunt and Jerry Vines

September 27, 2008

Over the past couple of posts as well as one last week I have been addressing an issue that I have with current events in the SBC as it pertains to attitudes towards Calvinism. As I have shared, a great deal of this concern revolves around the statements and actions of SBC President Dr. Johnny Hunt and retired SBC minister Dr. Jerry Vines. Because the burden on my heart over this matter has been so great I took it upon myself to compose a letter to send to these gentlemen. I am currently in the process of obtaining the appropriate addresses to reach them at, but I thought I would share my words with you guys as well. Please read this carefully, understanding beforehand that I mean no disrespect to either man and only wish to express a concern God has weighed on me with, and then feel free to send me feedback and comments on this matter. I am prayerful that this issue will not blow out of control and that the best of the SBC will win out here and lead to future prosperity as we work to fulfill God’s mission in America and around the world. Enjoy!

(Note: I have attached the letter as a pdf file if you would rather read it in that format; Letter to Dr.’s Hunt and Vines)

Drs. Hunt and Vines,

I write to you today with not the slightest bit of unease in my heart. I know that both of you are busy gentlemen, pursuing a great call from our Lord Jesus, but I pray that our equality in Christ can buy me but a short audience today. In order to frame my reason for writing you I will give a short introduction. I am a 23-year old college instructor living in Gainesville, FL. I first accepted God’s gift of salvation when I was nine years old, and since 2001 I have been a member in a Southern Baptist church. Over the past year the Lord has dealt greatly with me and this past May I felt his call on my life to become a vocational pastor. Currently I am making preparations to go into seminary at a Southern Baptist seminary, though I have not decided which one. I am also a convicted 5-point Calvinist. Because of these two commitments, a commitment to the integrity of God’s work in the Southern Baptist Convention and a commitment to the Calvinist views God has revealed in my heart, I am racked with frustration. This frustration stems from the fact that I see an increasing animosity towards reformed views of Scripture inside the SBC, and it specifically concerns you gentlemen because I am seeing it propagated by the presidency of the convention and under the moniker of Jerry Vines Ministries. This propagation I refer to is in regards to past comments I have heard in sermons and lectures and particularly in light of the upcoming John 3:16 conference. Typically I would be able to let reactions such as this pass, but this time it has been laid heavy on my heart that the continuance of these messages and this conference is both misrepresentative of Baptist Calvinists and destructive to the greater body of the SBC.

To begin with, in speaking of misrepresentation, I want to make every effort to be charitable and respectful in what I say, while still maintaining the thrust of the emotions that I feel in this matter. I want to apologize in advance for any overgeneralizations or misrepresentations that I may accidentally make. That said, I believe that the way in which you gentlemen, the ministries bearing your names, and the pastors who are associating with it are representing the doctrines of Calvinism is untrue to the actual beliefs of those who hold to them. In my opinion, the beliefs you oppose are more rightly termed Hyper-Calvinism, yet, looking at the leaders of the current move towards reformed theology, such as Dr. Al Mohler, Dr. John Piper, Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. Mark Dever, Pastor Tim Keller, and Pastor Mark Driscoll, to the best of my knowledge none of them could be termed Hyper-Calvinist in the least. When one says that ”If a Calvinist is a soul winner it is in spite of Calvinism, not because of it” (as I quote from one of Dr. Vines’ messages in October 2006 at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA) then they have to be turning a blind-eye to the incredible soul winning ministries which are being led by these men and their compatriots without ever once compromising on the Calvinistic principles they hold. Instead, what this statement does say is that, if one is a consistent Calvinist then de facto they must be a determinist and so not interested in evangelism or discipleship. This could not be further from the truth. If nothing else, a consistent Calvinist is interested in those things because they have a high view of Scripture and, as R.C Sproul points out in his book Chosen by God, ”Christ does command us to do evangelism.” (Of course, I do not believe many consistent Calvinists would accept the charge of determinism either).

Another thing I find somewhat deceitful is the title and format of the upcoming conference, The John 3:16 Conference. On the surface, when I first heard this name, I expected to see a conference on the need for global evangelism, which I guess in some perverted sense it is, but more directly it appears to be a ”Why Calvinism in Untenable” conference. Placing such a conference under the heading of John 3:16 seems to imply a natural conflict between John 3:16 and Calvinism. However, it amazes me that this misconception still exists, since in my opinion the conflict was rightly debunked at least 350 years ago by John Owen in his book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Since then, in order to make this same mistake, one would have to be reverting to the aforementioned fallacy of equating Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism, which I hope we won’t do.

As well, to set each point of TULIP up to be attacked unopposed by a non- Calvinist shows little conviction that a rebuttal argument would be defeated. On top of that, the withholding of recorded media from the conference brings forth questions about integrity among the speakers. As prominent pastors there should be nothing keeping them from having their words recorded and disseminated to any interested party (a capacity which it is known FBC Woodstock has), and so not to do so, whether intentionally or not, comes across as a desire to avoid accountability for what gets said and makes it impossible for open theological discussion between both realms of conviction. That type of reproachable behavior stands in sharp opposition to the call of Scripture, as I know we are all aware. I think that this conference would be well-served to take a cue from the Building Bridges conference held at Southeastern seminary last fall, which offered both sides of each argument and was made available through free of charge recording to anyone who wanted to hear.

My second concern, that this type of behavior is destructive, should be qualified with two pieces of information. One, it is well-documented that there is a serious problem with the increasing age of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Hunt mentioned this specifically when you said in an article addressing the SBC as its president that ”I want us to bring the next generation of young leaders into an active participation in our Convention. We have lost much of a generation of pastors, and if we lose the younger generation, we have no future.” Two, it is also well-documented that the number of recent seminary graduates serving as pastors who self-identify as 5-point Calvinists is disproportionately more than the overall number of pastors who self-identify this way (30% to 10%). Since most graduates are young adults this points out what is anecdotally known already, that Calvinism is experiencing resurgence in the youth populations. So, putting this all together, we see that, if the SBC needs to bring in the next generation of young leaders and a good percentage of young leaders are highly Calvinistic, then it would be counterproductive to preach animosity towards Calvinism from the helm of the SBC.

What I think would be more biblical would be taking a step back and realizing that the soteriological differences between people is an in-house debate for wellintentioned, devout Christians, and is not a cause for raising dire concerns from our pulpits and gatherings. By my personal experiences I know this can be done effectively. From 2001 to 2007 I sat under SBC Vice-President Bill Henard at Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. Though I do not believe Dr. Henard is a 5-point Calvinist, this question was of little concern in his congregation as leaders from all sides of the debate were promoted through the church with no litmus test on their leanings, and 1- to 5-pointers grew to spiritual maturity there. Since leaving Lexington in Fall 2007 I have been a member at North Central Baptist Church in Gainesville, FL, sitting under a man greatly influenced by Dr. Vines, Pastor Calvin Carr. Pastor Carr and I have spoken a few times rather openly about where he and I both stand on the issue, which is not the same place, and yet he has shown little apprehension in trusting me to teach members of all ages in the church. This ease, I feel, is because he understands that my goal, as I believe the goal of most consistent Calvinists, is to make converts and disciples to God, not converts and disciples to Calvinism.

This type of sober biblical handling is the key. Taking the approach that Calvinism is a mistake that needs to be corrected and rooted out of the SBC is a potential death sentence. In fact, the SBC’s own research through LifeWay has shown that Calvinistic recent seminary graduates are slightly more evangelistic than their non-Calvinistic counterparts, which is our main goal, right? If we are to be one hundred percent committed to raising up young leaders and growing the church into the future then we need to be understanding that this is a theological difference, when understood correctly as Calvinism and not Hyper-Calvinism, which in no way compromises the fundamental doctrines of the church and which is fully compatible with the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000.

I thank you gentlemen for your time and for your years of service to the Lord in working to reach people for His great name. I pray that my concerns have not been taken as hatred or disrespect, but instead have come across as a heartfelt conviction about the integrity and future of our denomination. In the end I know that our intentions are the same and that the same Lord has spoken into 3 each of our lives.

Grace and Peace Be With You,

Todd Burus

Calvinism in the SBC- Some Verses Addressing Evangelism

September 26, 2008

If a Calvinist is a soul winner it is in spite of Calvinism, not because of it.” -Dr. Jerry Vines, a sermon entitled Calvinism: A Baptist and His Election

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” -Acts 1.8

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” -Romans 10.14, 17

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” -Esther 4.14

Looking back at the debate over whether Calvinism is acceptable in the SBC, I will give the opponents the benefit of the doubt in saying that their main concern is with a Calvinists commitment to evangelism. I agree, if Calvinism leads people to not share the Gospel with the lost nations of the world then it is a thing which needs to be fought against. However, what I am here to say is that, not only is consistent Calvinism not non-evangelistic, but in fact evangelism should be at the core for any Calvinist.

How can I say that, you may wonder, seeing as how the generic mindset of a Calvinist is that “God will save who he will save”? Well, simply because Calvinists do believe that God will save who he will save, and that whomever he has elected he will ensure that they hear the Gospel and are irresistibly drawn to it, the fact remains that the only authorized vehicle ordained by God for making sure people hear the Gospel is by the preaching and teaching of his word. As Peter says in Acts 4.12, “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [than Jesus Christ].” And, if that is the case, then combining this with Paul in Romans 10, we find that the only way people will be saved by that name is by the sending forth of preachers and missionaries to deliver it.

Yet still we are left with that balance: if we are certain that God will accomplish the work, what is it that keeps us from being lazy and just leaving it to someone else to do? Well, the first reason I would give is because what other activity under the sun could be more personally rewarding than seeing a fellow human being come to the knowledge of their Savior through what God does in your personal ministry? The excitement of knowing that God chose you to be the deliverer of the Good News to a soul which no longer has to live under fear of dying and going to hell is a priceless experience that one would have to be a fool to pass up. Still, maybe Calvinists are those fools, what then?

If this were possibly the case then I guess my next retort would be to turn to a passage we just looked at on here, that being Esther 4.14. This is where Mordecai is pleading with Esther to step up and work to secure the preservation of the Jewish people under the hand of her husband Xerxes and he says to her,

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

To me this statement embodies what a consistent Calvinist should be about when it comes to evangelism. Yes, God will save who he will save. But, is it worth the disobedience to his commands (Matthew 28.18-20, Acts 1.8) to just sit back and let others do it? And, for someone who cherishes the role of God’s providence and sovereign decrees, as any 5-point Calvinist must, who are you to say that God isn’t planning on using you to do his work here?

Simply said, to claim that adherence to the classical 5-points of Calvinism makes a person naturally inclined against evangelism is a faulty argument and one which needs to be considered more carefully if we are to choose to drive a wedge through the SBC over it.

Calvinism in the SBC- A Better Response

September 25, 2008

Last week I wrote about the current climate of some pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention who are rising up against the increasing popularity of Reformed theology these days. I talked specifically about Drs. Johnny Hunt and Jerry Vines upcoming John 3:16 Conference which is being billed as “a biblical and theological assessment of and response to 5-point Calvinism.” I also spoke about a conference that went on last fall called Building Bridges at Southeastern seminary.

In light of the fact that The John 3:16 Conference is not hosting any Calvinists as speakers one is left to assume that the tenor of this conference will be one pitted solely against the increasing influence of Reformed theology in SBC life (and I have already spoken at length about why I think that is a bad decision). However, looking back at Southeastern’s Building Bridges conference we can call to mind one particular speech which stands out as the response that I would hope to see offered by the John 3:16 participants. That would be the speech by Southeastern president, and admitted non-Calvinist, Dr. Danny Akin.

In this lecture Dr. Akin provides a multi-level argument for why we should seek a co-existence of Calvinism and non-Calvinism in the SBC, instead of carrying on the fight in hopes that one side will eventually win out. Speaking uniquely from his experiences working alongside both Al Mohler and Paige Patterson, Dr. Akin speaks about Calvinism without the necessity for the “gloom-and-doom” type outlook that I’ve seen expressed in past addresses by Drs. Hunt and Vines. Overall, I think this is the most adequate response that could come from a compassionate non-supporter, and unless the speakers at The John 3:16 Conference build on this message I do not believe their conference can be seen as anything but a step back from where we’ve already been.

Rebuilding the City- A Final Thought

September 24, 2008

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” -Esther 4.14

Though I may return to this idea later, I think I have said what I feel convicted to say for now about the necessity and process for rebuilding the church in America. However, after spending a number of posts going over how we can move towards returning the church to the place where Christ left it, there is one final thought that I would like to share, and this, breaking with the theme of the looking into the post-exilic books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, comes from the book of Esther.

The key verse from Esther, what so many people know, is Esther’s great declaration of submission in “If I perish, I perish” (4.16). Yet what I want to focus on is the words of Mordecai which led her to make this declaration. Mordecai, speaking as a devout Jew who was supremely concerned with the future of Israel, nevertheless knows that in the face of adversity, God will provide someone to save his people (“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.”). In like manner I am coming to you guys fully aware that no matter what happens to the church in America, in the end God will raise up his people to deliverance.

That said, the second part of verse 14 is the challenge I meant to lay out here initially in quoting Nehemiah 2.17 (“Then I said to them,’You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’“), that being “who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” If you are reading these words, please test where the Lord is directing you, where his call is on your heart, and if you feel him leading you to stand up among the church in America, among the body of believers that is beat down and derided in the culture, and call them back to Acts 5.13 status (“None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem“), then by all means do it.

There is no time to be fearful. As has become one of my most favorite verses of late, I call all of you to embrace Hebrews 13.13-14, “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” The church is waiting, crying out for people to lead it back to greatness in this culture, to being a city on a hill and a light unto the world. Join me and be those leaders!

Rebuilding the City- What We Are Building Towards

September 23, 2008

Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’” -Nehemiah 2.17

I have quoted numerous times already Nehemiah 2.17 which gives us the call to rebuild the city (church), but still I think we may ask the question of, Why should we do this?

Many people today are wont to look into Acts and say “What is the true New Testament church? Let’s return to that,” and more often than not this quest leads them into Acts 2.42-47, speaking of living “with all things in common.” Now, as much as I believe that this is the true design for the church, to me the more important aspect is what we see in Acts 5.13,

None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.

To me this is the goal that we should be striving for, that the people may still not be convicted of their sins and come to repentance, but it will not be because they didn’t have the body of believers executing the teachings of Christ correctly.

A common “reason” for avoiding Christianity these days is to say, “Well, I know a bunch of Christians and their Christianity hasn’t made them any better.” Of course, we can be assured that this argument barely touches the surface of why they really aren’t repenting from their sins, but it is hard to argue with the premise when we all know these same “Christians” for who their relationship with Christ does not appear to have made any difference in their life. Thus, if we were to return to the words of Acts 5.13, what I want to call “Acts 5.13 Status,” we would at the least be removing this excuse and thus causing people to be more directly confronted with their sins instead of being able to deflect their failings off onto others.

Is this going to be easy? Certainly not. But I think that reanalyzing the things I have already posted in this series will help put us on the right path. As I’ve said before, quoting Jesus of course, the church, the body of believers in our culture, is meant to be a light unto the world and a city on a hill (Matthew 5.14), and our work of rebuilding the city should be meant to direct us to this Acts 5.13 status; that in seeing us, though the world may not change, they will at least hold us in high-esteem and thus be glorifying God through us. That should be our goal.

How Great is Our God?- More than Lipservice on God’s Majesty

September 22, 2008

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.” -Isaiah 40.25

As I work to prepare a lesson on Chapter 8 of J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God, and I reflect on the lesson I just taught out of Erwin Lutzer’s book Is God on America’s Side, I am have run across two expositions of the same idea.

This is how J.I Packer puts it:

This question [Isaiah 40.25] rebukes wrong thoughts about God.  ‘Your thoughts of God are too human,’ said Luther to Erasmus.  This is where most of us go astray.  Our thoughts of God are not great enough; we fail to reckon with the reality of his limitless wisdom and power.  Because we ourselves are limited and weak, we imagine that at some points God is too, and find it hard to believe that he is not.  We think of God as too much like what we are. (Knowing God, p.88)

And likewise for Dr. Lutzer:

Clearly, the God who was briefly allowed to reenter American public life [following 9/11] was not the God of the Bible but the God of our civil religion. This God is described by [R.C.] Sproul as a certain kind of being. ‘He is a deity without sovereignty, a god without wrath, a judge without judgment, and a force without power.’ Or to say it differently, the God many people sang about was just ‘a bigger one of us.’ (Is God on America’s Side?, p.13)

Both of these quotes are convicting.  As a staunch Calvinist I would want to argue that I have a “big God,” but when put my thoughts in light of God’s overall greatness, how often do I find myself minimizing him?  It may not be the case that I am minimizing God by saying that he has changed and that the things he detested in biblical times he no longer hates (like those promoting a trajectory hermeneutic would claim), but what about the way I live my life?  When I am anxious over something is it not that I am minimizing God’s ability to handle that situation?  When I chose to openly defy what I know God has called me to do is it not that I am minimizing God’s greatness to judge and punish me for rejecting his will?

I think that I spend to little time actually meditating on these points.  I know that the influence of Eastern practices into Christian culture would tell me to look out into the stars and ponder how majestic God truly is, and though I don’t know if I’m quite into that mindset yet, the thought rings true; in my haste and deadly self-reliance, the first thing to go is always the greatness of God, and thus it is this attribute of His that I need to more readily perceive in my everyday life in order to not minimize the limitless maker of all creation.

Power Through His Spirit- Reflections on a Sunday with God

September 21, 2008

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” -Ephesians 3.14-17a

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” -Romans 12.1

At 7:30am I lifted up a prayer that God may remove any burden of sin I may be feeling at that time, any feelings of unworthiness which would separate me from Him, so that I may serve Him well this day. At 8:45am a wave swept over me, warming my insides and doing just as I’d asked. By 6:15pm I sat in the sanctuary, after teaching two lessons of my own, hearing one sermon and sitting through one Sunday School class, and all I could feel in worshiping at this time was the tingling hug of the Spirit around my body.

So many Sundays come and go without so much fanfare. Today was nothing special to begin with, but for whatever reason, on this day the Lord moved in my heart in ways that are hard to explain. Nothing really changed, and yet the impact of being in His presence this day was so great. The knowledge of His glory and power and mercy and grace was so satisfying that it was all that consumed my thoughts.

My day to day life is filled with distractions at all places, making the attributes of God a mere intellectual exercise to talk about. But for one day, those things which I try to pin down through reading and writing fine words became so real and so inexpressible that I understand why I so infrequently get it. Words are not nearly enough.

Standing there with that feeling makes me understand why David dances unashamedly before the Lord and declares that “I will make merry before the LORD. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this” (2 Samuel 6.16-22). It is in feeling this that I understand Jeremiah who says “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20.9). My whole body wants to dance and proclaim the greatness of God! How amazing!

I know that very shortly I shall sin, become distracted and lose focus on this indescribable moving which God has done in me. But for the moment I am grasped by the love of Christ, which fulfills my soul and surpasses my knowledge (Ephesians 3.19), and all I can be is thankful for what He has done! Hallelujah!

Rebuilding the City- Drawing Lines in the Sand

September 20, 2008

But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’ Then I replied to them, ‘The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.’” -Nehemiah 2.19-20

These days it seems there are two things you can count on: one, everybody is going to claim to be spiritual in some sense of the word, and two, everyone will have a “justification” for what they do that comes from the Bible. Mark Driscoll illustrates this point when he talks about a group of potheads in Seattle saying that they all know two verses from the Bible: “I have given you every seed-bearing plant” (Genesis 1.29) and “Thou shalt not judge” (Matthew 7.1). Of course these aren’t legitimate excuses for breaking the law with the use of marijuana, but to most Americans this is a ground which they will not question, that being the ground of faith.

This senselessness creeps into our congregations as well. Look to the Methodist churches in California whose ministers are defying church rule and performing marriages for their gay communicants, making statements in defense of their actions such as “This is my flock. It’s a matter of integrity and a matter of what it is to be a pastoral ministry.” So, in order not to violate the consciences of these ministers the Methodist leaders of Southern California “recognized ‘the pastoral need and prophetic authority’ of clergy and congregations to make marriage available to all.”

Clearly this is a problem. When we have churches that begin changing their stances based on individuals consciences and personal opinions about what is hateful then we lose all notions of a church which is standing on the Word of God. I know I refer to this a lot, but Tim Keller’s quote from his book The Reason for God is so true here:

To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?

Except, unlike in the quote where Keller is addressing people who avoid Christianity because it offends them, what we are finding instead is people who are “embracing” Christianity and yet declaring from the inside that it must change because it is offensive to them. How ridiculous is that?

It is my belief that the church, in order to build its walls strong once again, must take the approach of Nehemiah saying “Excuse me. You clearly don’t belong here. Please get out.” Yeah, it sounds harsh, but so do the words of Jesus in Matthew 7.21-23 when he says “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Guess what? It’s supposed to be harsh. We are not supposed to just put up with whatever in the church. This is repeated numerous times in not so many different ways throughout the Bible (Try 1 Corinthians 5.12-13 which says, “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? . . . ‘Purge the evil person from among you’“).

If we are to be serious about rebuilding the church, returning to the place where God’s presence is felt among us and where we are able to stand as a city on a hill and a light unto the world, then we must not be afraid to be harsh and hurt a few feelings. I certainly would much rather offend a fallen human here on earth than the only perfect God in heaven. The Methodist ministers in California are right, it’s about integrity. But that integrity is not the integrity of being PC in the world, it’s the integrity of standing under God’s Word in every action we take. And sometimes that’s not going to make everybody happy. And it’s not supposed to!