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Archive for April, 2010

When it comes to homosexuality, we don’t always make a good case for biblical orthodoxy. Trevin Wax offers some excellent suggestions here. His basic point is

The debate is not about homosexuality versus other sins. It’s about whether or not repentance is integral tot he Christian faith.

Trevin’s ideas are a good balance of mind and heart. It’s worth a read and some thought.

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Testing, Testing

Last week I started preaching through the book of James. This morning I preached on chapter 1, verses 2 through 4. The subject is trials, and in my preparation I came across some good comments by Daniel Doriani in his commentary on the book in the Reformed Expository Commentary.

When James says believers should rejoice in trials because they test our faith and develop maturity, he addresses more than the hour of crisis or sorrow. James wants the church to live out its faith in the crucible of life, in all its tests. This includes tests born of hardship, such as accidents, sickness, poverty, and anxiety, but it also includes trials that spring from prosperity, such as wealth, knowledge, skill, and high position. Both hardship and prosperity test our faith. Either one can prove a profession of faith to be genuine or specious. hardship brings obvious trials, but success often sifts us too.

Later, he writes,

The trials of life will probe whether we live by our professed doctrines or not. James says life will try us, proving our faith authentic or inauthentic. In life’s tests, abstract theology will not suffice. Genuine Christians fail some tests, of course. James does not think that everyone who succumbs to a foolish idea or a sinful desire is an unbeliever. But faithfulness during trials does prove that our faith is genuine and mature.

He goes on to say,

Thus, times of severe, focused testing will meet us, but every season and circumstance of life tries our faith in some way, testing whether it is genuine or not. For that, we should be thankful, says James, because daily trials prove the authenticity of our faith.

He also says,

At a minimum, trials expose our weakness so we know where we must grow. Trials expose our sin and our inability to reform ourselves. Trials reveal our need of a Savior. (James, pp. 16, 18, 24)

Trials, or tests, then can be defined as anything that challenges our trust in and obedience to God. In that sense, all of life is a trial, not just the “bad” things that happen.

Thanks to John Calvin and Daniel Doriani for expanding my vision of what a trial actually is and expanding my vision of the God who uses them as a means to produce steadfastness and maturity in us.

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Someone once asked a famous theologian (it could be Karl Barth, but I’m not sure) to identify the most important truth he had ever learned. He answered by saying, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Amen! There’s a lot of truth in a children’s song.

There’s a lot of truth in another song children sing, this one on the basics of the Christian life:

Read your Bible, pray every day.

 Read your Bible, pray every day.

Read your Bible, pray every day

and you’ll grow, grow, grow!

Don’t read your Bible, forget to pray;

Don’t read your bible, forget to pray;

Don’t read your Bible, forget to pray

and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.

How much more basic can we get? The two most fundamental ingredients needed for growing and maturing as a Christian are the Bible – hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and applying it – and prayer. We will grow in Christlikeness if these are part of our disciplined routine. If they aren’t, we won’t – it’s that simple.

Yes, there are other spiritual disciplines that should get our time and attention, but the Bible and prayer are foundational. Without them we’ll shrink, shrink, shrink. With them, we’ll grow, grow, grow!

 

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Heavenly Father,

“Do not be afraid.” You tell us that 365 times in Your Word. It must be important or You wouldn’t have said it so many times.

I confess that quite often I’m afraid. I’m sure my brothers and sisters in Christ would admit to that, too. I’m afraid to tell people about the greatest news ever – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to reconcile us to You – because they might think I’m odd or get mad at me. I’m afraid to attempt great things for You because I might fail and look like a failure in people’s eyes. I’m afraid to preach the truth of Your Word boldly because people may not like it and leave the church. Father, You know that I’m not always afraid in these areas (and a lot of other ones), but I am afraid enough to notice it, and I know nothing escapes Your notice. Forgive me, Lord.

Give me the strength, desire, and discipline to unafraid by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Unafraid to trust You; unafraid to speak; unafraid to step out  in faith. You tell us in Your Word not to be afraid because You are with us and are the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. May I fear You and You alone.

In the Name of Him who is unafraid, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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If God wanted to prove His existence to everyone, why doesn’t He just do a bunch of really big miracles? If He did that, everyone would believe, right?

God certainly could do a whole bunch of big miraculous things that would get everyone’s attention – there’s no question about that. But I don’t think everyone would believe in response to the miracles. Miracles don’t seem to have much lasting value, at least in those who witness them.

Janie B. Cheaney wrote this in a recent WORLD magazine:

The answer to that may have more to do with who we are than who He is. The spectacular defeats of Ra and Isis and Baal had no life-changing effect on pagans as a whole, and only little more on believers. Reports of parting the Red Sea made the inhabitants of Jericho shiver, but only Rahab and her family actually changed their allegiance because of it. Poor Dagon, god of the Philistines, seemed to hold the upper hand when the Ark of the Covenant was stolen and carried into his temple, but he ended up minus hands – and head – the next morning (1 Samuel 5). Though embarrassing, the incident did not convince the Philistines to ditch Dagon, only to return to the rival with a peace offering. Yahweh 1 – Dagon 0 – he may be a schmuck but he’s our schmuck.

Even among God’s people, spectacular confrontations had no lasting effect. Remember the Israelite response when fire fell from heaven and devoured Elijah’s altar, after the prophets of Baal had worked themselves into a tizzy trying to coax a little spark from Baal. “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” had as much staying power as shouting “USA! USA!” at victorious Olympic events: a feel-good moment that may glow for a week or a month, but won’t change a life.

Later in the article, Cheaney writes:

The true age of miracles is now: Instead of merely being exposed to scenes of wonder that fade within a generation, human beings are being remade from the inside out, as the Spirit works from the outside in. (April 10, 2010, p. 26)

Cheaney echos something I’ve always believed as a Christian – the greatest miracle is when God changes a life from the inside out beginning with regeneration, continuing with sanctification, and culminating in glorification.

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Write It Down!

 

Listen to what God commanded every king in Israel to do:

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and by doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deut. 17:8-20)

Every king in Israel was required by God to write out a personal copy of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), and then read it every day. I can’t even imagine how long that might have taken, but it’s obvious that it was a huge (and time-consuming) undertaking. The king became, in effect, a scribe and possibly a scholar in regard to the Word of God.

Why would the Lord require something like this?

  1. God’s Word is just that – His Word. The king needed to know that the standard for belief and behaviour is God’s Word and not his own feelings or ideas.
  2. The kings all needed to be reminded that God is the ultimate authority and that they ought to be in submission to Him.
  3. God’s Word and Law were to be taken seriously – not just put on the shelf to gather dust. His Word should be heard and obeyed.
  4. Practically speaking, writing something out for yourself helps you effectively assimilate it. It forces you to slow down and think (when we only read we have a tendency to move quickly, especially if it’s familiar territory).

Like the kings, you and I need to take the Bible seriously. Maybe we should write out a copy for ourselves – it couldn’t hurt (other than writer’s cramp).

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The great guide of this world is fashion and its god is respectability – two phantoms at which brave men laugh! How many of you look around on society to know what to do? You watch the general current and then float upon it! You study the popular breeze and shift your sails to suit it. True men do not do so! You ask, “Is it fashionable? If it is fashionable, it must be done.” Fashion is the law of multitudes, but it is nothing more than the common consent of fools. (Charles Spurgeon)

I think Spurgeon is absolutely right. Respectability – the desire to be liked and respected by others, to be thought well of by them – is a false god, an idol. But it’s an idol many of us seem to have a hard time smashing to pieces.

Why do Bible colleges and Christian universities that started out solidly orthodox gradually move away to something far different? Why does a professor or teacher or pastor begin to espouse views that are beyond the pale biblically? Why do we, over time, either drop or downplay strong biblical convictions?

Respectability may be one of the answers. It’s difficult for us to swim upstream against the strong current of our culture, but for the sake of being faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ we have to do it. Very few of us enjoy being seen as “odd” or “weird” or “one of those people” by our friends, families, or co-workers, but we must not bow and worship at the idol of respectability or “fashion” as Spurgeon puts it.

J.B. Phillips put it well in his paraphrase of Romans 12:2a – “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

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