Sunday, July 26, 2009

God, help! This theology stuff is boring me!

by David Morris

The weakness of religious affections is just one of the many hazards of an age that disdains doctrine. Nowadays, people foolishly separate doctrine from practice and completely divorce it from emotion. “Dry theology” has somehow become the polar opposite of “warm affections.” Emotion in worship, public or private, tends to be unappreciated, devalued, or even non-existent. Hear this pastoral word from Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the greatest theological mind in American history:

We are nothing if we are not in earnest about our faith, and if our wills and inclinations are not intensely exercised. The religious life contains things too great for us to be lukewarm.

We find that people exercise the affections in everything else but religion! When it comes to their worldly interest, their outward delights, their honor and reputation, and their natural relations, they have warm affection and ardent zeal. In these things their hearts are tender and sensitive, easily moved, deeply impressed, much concerned, and much engrossed. They get deeply depressed at worldly losses, and highly excited at worldly successes.

But how insensible and unmoved are most men about the great things of another world! How dull then are their affections! Here their love is cold, their desires languid, their zeal low, and their gratitude small. How can they sit and hear of the infinite height, depth, length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of His gift of His infinitely dear Son offered up as a sacrifice for the sins of men, and yet be so insensible and regardless! Can we suppose that the wise Creator implanted such a faculty of affections to be occupied in this way? How can any Christian who believes the truth of these things not realize this?

May God give us help to delight in doctrine, to be thrilled with theology, to exult in Him.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Learning Lessons at 70MPH

Yes, this is a personal story. No, I don’t think it’s amusing that your pastor both broke the law and was caught. And yes, I do think you should obey the speed limit and no, this should not give you an excuse to speed. I just thought there might be some benefit to consider some lessons I am learning from flashing blue and red lights.

1. Sin is the breaking of the law, intentional or not.
It all began with a pleasant drive with Cathy to the coast to celebrate our 7th anniversary. Our kids were left behind in capable hands, the temperature was dropping like a rock the closer we got to the ocean, and we were thoroughly enjoying uninterrupted and unhurried conversation. I saw the police car coming down the hill on the other side of the road, saw him make a hurried u-turn, saw him close the gap between us quickly, saw his lights come on.

Perhaps you too know the rest from personal experience, but just minutes and hardly any discussion later we were back on the road with an incredibly weighty half-slip of paper sitting between Cathy and me. And the first lesson was that sin is the breaking of the law, intended or not. I did not intend to speed. I hadn’t set out to break the law, wasn’t consciously aware that I had been, and wasn’t really even in a hurry. I just wasn’t paying attention and, after two hours of “keeping up with the flow of traffic,” had become desensitized to how fast I was going.

But none of that made it less sin. Speeding, of course you know, is sin because it is disobeying God’s ordained government and its rules (Rom. 13:1-2). And sin is no less sin because we didn’t “mean to.” Take a look at God’s character as revealed in the Mosaic Law, and see that all sin brings guilt, even the “unintended” kind (Num. 15:22-30.)

2. Repentance should always be my instant response to sin.
Because speeding is sin, and because I was blithely unthinking about my sin, the sight of flashing lights should have instantly caused repentance. No longer could I go on ignoring or overlooking my sin. When you get pulled over, there’s no escaping the reality that you have broken the law. And repentance should always be our instant response to awareness of sin.

As Christians, our repentance is not the initial, one-time turn from sin necessary at salvation (1 Thess. 1:8-10). Rather, it is the natural response of the redeemed heart when faced with sin. Because we are dead to sin and alive to God, our sin grieves and repulses us. We despair over the broken fellowship with our loving Father, running back to Him in keen awareness that our righteousness comes only from Christ and not ourselves. We agree with God that our speeding is sin and turn our backs on it, instantly choosing God’s commands over our own way.

3. Pride causes self-justification.
Just when I think I’ve responded correctly to my sin, more rears its ugly head. In this case, pride that causes self-justification. Pride is the exaltation of self, the enthroning of me and my wants, thoughts, desires. It is ultimately the worship of the god of self. Self-justification is the foolish attempt to declare one’s own self righteous, using one’s own standards, reasoning, and concerns.

When it came to my ticket, my temptations to self-justification included, “But I normally always obey the speed limit;” “I didn’t mean to break the law;” “Surely he couldn’t get an accurate reading while he was driving;” “Lots of other people have been passing me all day;” “I’ve never gotten a ticket before, so I shouldn’t get this one;” “Other members of the pastoral staff have been just as guilty as me and they weren’t given a ticket;” and one more time, “But I didn’t mean to.” None of those thoughts flow from a realistic view of justice. All of them come from my exaltation of my past goodness, overestimation of my current goodness, and relentless blame-shifting. Pride, ugly and enormous, lies at the root of self-defensive, self-justifying, self-excusing thoughts.

4. Pride causes anger at justice.
When justice is served and tickets are written, pride can also cause anger. “I don’t deserve this” quickly feeds into “and I’m mad that I got it.” Instead of celebrating justice, pride becomes irritated at it. Justice becomes the enemy. When police officers make you scowl, police cars make you snarl, judges make you complain, and tickets make you want to do some shredding, pride has caused anger at justice. If you come to church and don’t want to see Dave Torres’ shining head, blame your pride and not his occupation.

The reason our pride hates justice is that justice rightly condemns us. Justice means we are guilty, we are less than we think we are, we deserve punishment. In an odd microcosm, being angry at getting a ticket reflects an entire worldview that opposes salvation. Unregenerate man doesn’t think he deserves God’s condemnation in Hell. He doesn’t think he’s as bad as the next guy, that his sin is so seriously bad that it should condemn him, that his bad works have outweighed his good. In the ultimate act of pride, unsaved man trust himself for salvation. In recognition of the great sinfulness of this pride, even the slightest hint of irritation at earthly justice should be killed immediately.

5. Romans 8:28 includes speeding tickets.
God makes all things work together for good, which is that those who love God and are chosen by Him be conformed to the image of His Son. Think about God’s sovereign hand in my ticket. Our travel plans weren’t confirmed until Sunday morning, we didn’t leave home until the kids naps were over, we chose to make two stops for food and dessert before traveling…The list could go on and on. Yet at the exact moment that Officer Knox was coming down the hill we were going up. And entirely within God’s control—without assigning any of the blame to Him—was the speed at which we were going up that hill.

God’s good purposes for making me more Christlike this week included a speeding ticket. It hurts the wallet and blights the anniversary trip, but still, it is within His plan. Now I just need to allow Him to shape me. And I need to never speed again.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What about _____?

by Adam Bailie

This summer, David and I are excited to teach through several topical issues that come up again and again in our fellowship with you all. These sermons are no less expository, in so much as their content will flow not from our minds, but from the mind of God as revealed in Scripture properly interpreted.

This summer the Bible will answer these questions: 1) What about eternal rewards? (already done) 2) What about God’s goodness in trials? 3) What about giving in the church? 4) What about the role of women in the church? 5) What about unity among Christians? 6) What about Christians and racism? 7) What about human free will?

Just to pique your interest, here is part of an article by John Piper that I read earlier this week regarding the study of human free will.

Before the fall of Adam sinless man was able to sin. For God said, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). As soon as Adam fell, sinful man was not able not to sin, since we were unbelieving, and “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). When we are born again, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to not sin, for “sin will have no dominion over you” (Romans 6:14). This means that what Paul calls “the natural man” or “the mind of the flesh” is not able not to sin. Paul says this in Romans 8:7-9, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (See also 1 Corinthians 2:14).

How then shall we think of free will?

It is not a saving power. In his freedom to will, fallen man cannot on his own do anything but sin. Such “free will” is a devastating reality. Without some power to overcome it’s bent, our free will only damns us.

Read, pray and prepare for a great summer of growth in grace through the power of the living Word, as we not only hear but do its precious commands!
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Michael Jackson and Grace Church

by Adam Bailie

This past week I have read many comments responding to the tragic death of Michael Jackson. Some were sorry attempts to use Jackson’s death as a cause for a joke, and some were pathetic attempts to immortalize this pagan entertainer.

One lost soul wrote, “Michael Jackson may very well have gone on to unite the world once again and bring about the next age of enlightenment. We have been robbed.... To all of you who cherish what Michael has always cherished, then cherish still. Live your lives with the intent to effect massive, fundamental change...And when you find that talent and have secured the spotlight, teach the rest of the world what Michael taught us. Our generation. Never forget what has happened this week. We have been robbed of hope.”

Later, after a Christian emailed asking in jest if I was making the trip for Jackson’s funeral in Los Angeles, I sketched a quick reply. With Matthew 10-11 ringing in my ears I wrote, “I was struck last week by both the response of the unbelieving fan base (worship) and the believing non-fan base (scorn and mockery). Michael Jackson’s vapor is gone...his blade of grass has withered...his eternity is under way (Jms. 4:13-17). Sobriety, holiness, and evangelistic zeal seem to be natural responses for us as Christians. The world is just worshipping another counterfeit savior. Another idol down the drain, and they mourn accordingly.”

My prayer for our church family is that our understanding of God’s Word will inform our thoughts, attitudes, and actions in every scenario. “Every scenario” includes cultural circumstances that produce national or international response. If we are to think God’s thoughts after Him, then that must affect our response to a human idol’s death. If he died apart from Christ, Michael Jackson is in his eighteenth day of an eternal, literal hell, experiencing the unleashing of God’s infinite fury for his sin. That isn’t funny, Christian. That isn’t a messiah, lost world.

Lord, send us with the great and only Savior for sinners, our Lord Jesus the Christ!
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Monday, July 13, 2009

Losing God in The Shack

Some things never go away, even though you expect them to. And even if they should fade away, sometimes they hang on relentlessly, defying all odds and reasonable expectations. Such is the case with The Shack.

Glowing reviews continue to pour in, with some even calling it the Pilgrim’s Progress of our day. Given the high praise and sheer volume of its accolades, it seems that some feel an almost personal attack when any criticism of the book surfaces. Arguments against critique vary, but the surprise and insult seem consistent.

The experiential argument says, “The Shack changed my view of God. How dare you challenge that?” The pragmatic argument says, “The Shack has swept America. From obscure roots to bestseller, how could something so received, powerful, and successful be bad?” The post-modern argument says, “There you go with doctrine again. This is just fiction and besides, what you believe might be fine for you, but what I believe is just as right. Who are you to judge?”

The biblical view needs to enter at some point. I’m sure most people who read this want to think of themselves as or to be called a mature believer (and if you don’t, you should). So I’m hopeful everyone who reads the two following reviews will rally to and not against a call for discernment. Hebrews 5:14 says the mature, those fit for solid food, have a discernment that comes from the training of constant practice in telling the difference between good and evil.

With those thoughts in mind, here are two of the best critical reviews I’ve read on The Shack.
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Made to Worship

In conjunction with this week's Pastoral Word, I found this quote fascinating and helpful.

"Kids love to be amazed. That is why we enjoy watching sports on TV. We love to marvel at amazing feats that ordinary mortals cannot accomplish. Whether football, basketball, ice skating or skiing, we love to be dazzled by athleticism. This is uniquely human… A brown bear grabs a salmon from the raging Columbia River. No bears line the shores applauding. Little bears don’t idolize Big Brown. They don’t hang posters of him in their dens. Idolizing greatness is innately human. We are made in the image of God and engineered for worship. We are fashioned for the fascination his glory evokes. Worship is a response to greatness."

Tedd Tripp, Instructing a Child's Heart
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