Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Reformed Dude Named Alex Jordan sings I Will by Paul McCartney

Readers of this blog who don’t know me too well probably think I’m very, very serious all the time, because I write on heavy topics like “hell”, I’m studying Reformed theology and seem to enjoy theological debates and quoting Scripture.   Well, I won’t deny that I have a serious side to my personality– we should be serious about serious topics!  But honestly, I’m really rather silly (when no one is looking) or at home, joking around with my wife (uh oh, this is sounding like Ann Romney’s speech last night about her husband Mitt Romney— how he’s so serious in public but in private makes her laugh all the time… it was a great speech, by the way).  Anyway, my wife could testify that I am quite the clown and that my humor is even a bit strange sometimes.

All that to say that I think sometimes we all get stereotyped because folks may know only one facet or aspect of one’s personality.  But all of us are more complex and interesting than that; we can’t be defined by just one thing.  And especially in the Internet age, you may be able to know something of what makes me tick from reading this blog, but of course this blog is just a public persona I present and of course doesn’t encapsulate who I am as a person.  On the other hand, I am trying to make this blog more reflective of my total personality, and I think reformed theology at its best is wholistic and tries to deal with man in his totality.  Anyway, here I am getting all serious again.

Today I want to share another side of myself– the musical side.  I am a Beatles music fan and to some that may seem out of place for one who professes to be a reformed Christian.  But I like the Beatles for their music.  I’m not following them in their philosophy, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t.  I think talent is a gift from God, and I have always admired Paul McCartney’s way with a tune, which has inspired me in my own songwriting.  Anyway I have been meaning to post videos of songs (both original and covers), and keep procrastinating about it.  So tonight I just decided to record and post a quickie video of me singing Paul McCartney’s song “I Will”, from the Beatles’ White Album.  I recorded it using my Samsung Galaxy SII phone, and the results were not bad considering it’s just a phone.  For future videos I’ll be experimenting with better devices for recording both the audio and video, but right now, without further ado, may I present you my rendition of “I Will”.   Hope I “pass the audition”, as John L. once quipped.

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Filed under From Me to You, Original songs

Is Christ’s Death Sufficient to Pay for Sins? A Conversation Continued

A couple of days back, in a post titled Discriminating, Unfathomable, Precious Grace, I shared a theological conversation I have been having with someone from the Internet regarding hell, the Cross of Christ, and the nature of God’s grace.  Below, the conversation continues, since my friend wasn’t satisfied with the answers I have given him.  He writes,

Thanks for trying to answer, but you don’t see the logical inconsistency in your answer?

The penalty for sin is by definition paid by those who don’t repent – after all, those who repent have their penalty pardoned. So if Jesus was pardoned, he paid the penalty equivalent to those who repent, which is no penalty at all.

That means that Jesus didn’t pay the full penalty for sin that is and will be paid by sinners. In other words, he didn’t pay the price for sin, because if he did, he would still be in hell.

Corcoran, I will respond to what you wrote, point-by-point:

The penalty for sin is by definition paid by those who don’t repent

Do you mean by this that people who don’t have their sins atoned for by Christ must pay the penalty for their sins themselves?  If that’s what you mean, I agree.

… after all, those who repent have their penalty pardoned.

Yes, their penalty is pardoned through repentance, but only if by “repent” you mean that they place their trust and faith in what Jesus did for them at the Cross.  The repentance God requires is perfect obedience to His law, but no one except Jesus Christ ever achieved this. Repentance that saves is repentance that receives Jesus’ perfect record as one’s own, by faith.

So if Jesus was pardoned, he paid the penalty equivalent to those who repent, which is no penalty at all.

To say Jesus was “pardoned” is incorrect.   The Cross is the opposite of pardon— Jesus was punished there, for the sins of others, so that they might be pardoned through Him.  He achieved a pardon for sinners by paying their penalty. Contrary to what you seem to be saying, Jesus paid a penalty that was required because mere human repentance is imperfect and would never satisfy the demands of a perfectly righteous, holy God against sin and sinners.

That means that Jesus didn’t pay the full penalty for sin that is and will be paid by sinners. In other words, he didn’t pay the price for sin, because if he did, he would still be in hell.

No, the Bible teaches that He indeed pays the full penalty of sin for sinners who by faith appropriate what He did for them, but sinners who spurn and despise that salvation obviously won’t get the benefits of it, instead they will be punished by God for their disobedience.

Again the full price for all the sins of the elect (thereby giving the sinner eternal heaven in place of the eternal hell he deserved) was paid at the cross, for God chose to invest the action of Jesus Christ on the Cross with eternal authority, scope and power.  Therefore Jess does not need to “still be in hell”– I’m not even sure He went to hell at all in the sense you’re saying.  Certainly Scripture teaches that Jesus overcame the power of death and hell on behalf of many sinners, but whether He did this by actually going to hell is a matter of debate. If He did go to hell as part of this process, it was obviously for a few days only and Jesus did not have to remain there since He successfully accomplished the salvation of the sinners whom the Father gave Him and for whom He laid down His life.

You may find the above “logic” unsatisfying, but I think it’s what Scripture teaches.

Jesus pays the penalty for those who cannot repent in a satisfactory and complete way, because they are too sinful (Romans 3: 20, 23, 28; 4:13-14) to keep the law.  If anyone could have been justified with God by keeping the Law, there would have been no need for Jesus to sacrifice Himself on the Cross.  There is only one way for one’s sins to be paid for fully -to place one’s trust/faith in what Jesus did, seeing His death as something done for one’s personal sins. According to Scripture, not everyone will believe in this way, and those who do not will be condemned for not believing in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18). That condemnation is hell, where sinners will have to face the wrath of God apart from the covering or forgiveness of sins offered through Jesus Christ.

It’s my aim not to win the argument here but to give God glory because He is the One who purposed to use the death of Christ to save many, and I think it is dangerous and irresponsible to deny Jesus’ urgent warnings about the hell to come.  I hope then that you and everyone who reads these comments will be persuaded, if you do not already believe, to trust in Christ Jesus’ death alone as the death that saves sinners, since as Scripture testifies whosoever believes in Him will be saved from the wrath to come, and will receive eternal life.

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Filed under Grace, The Cross, Theology

The Word of God and The Faith

What is the Bible– the Word of God or the word of men? If it’s God’s word then what it says has timeless relevance and application. Moreover God who wrote it through men intended it to speak to future generations, including our own. Did He not anticipate the fantastic number of cultural changes that would happen throughout the centuries? Peter describes the Word as prophecy that comes from God through men.  And Paul could write that there was “a faith” we need to know, pass on and defend. Obviously he thought that the content of the Christian faith– its essential message– could be defined and understood, both in his day and into the future.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV).

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1 ESV)

They must hold the mystery of the faith with ma clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9 ESV)

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV)

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you (1 Timothy 6:20-21 ESV)

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Filed under The Word of God, Theology

Discriminating, Unfathomable, Precious Grace

So, as I seem to be doing often (maybe too much) these days, I was posting comments on a blog article and have ended up in a sort of debate with various folks about the nature of hell, among other things. Now I figure if I am going to spend my precious time thinking about these issues and writing long comments on someone else’s blog, I must as well turn them into a blog post right here on Reforming Christianity. Someone named Corcoran posted the following question:

If the penalty for sin is eternal torment, and Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, why is he not in eternal torment at this moment?

I responded,

It was God’s plan to make Christ Jesus the source of eternal salvation for His children, the One who would perfectly and completely bear all His people’s sins at the Cross. Christ took upon Himself the full wrath of God. Accordingly, He paid the eternal penalty for the sins of His people at the cross and accomplished what He set out to do– the eternal salvation of His people. This free gift of salvation is to be received by faith alone, because we can do nothing to merit or earn it. He suffered once for all (all of His followers, and once for all time), in accordance with God’s plan. Thus according to Scripture, it is not needed for Christ to continue to suffer for sins since He has already done so.

See, among many other passages: Hebrews 5:9, 9: 11-28, Romans 5:1, 8-9, John 10:14-18.

In between this exchange was someone else interjected their comments saying I wasn’t giving a very good answer. I responded to them too but they were not too happy with that answer either. I guess he’ll need to give his own answer then. But to get back to this particular conversation, here is Corcoran’s response to me:

So all isn’t everyone – we wouldn’t be wanting “indiscriminate” grace. But isn’t indiscriminate part of the whole definition of grace? Because if grace isn’t indiscriminate, it has to be earned. But you say it isn’t earned. That means that God is indiscriminately graceful only to people he chooses. Of course that means that if people do not receive grace, it isn’t their fault and punishing them is indiscriminate.

But that’s another topic. To get back to my point, you say the answer to my question is unfathomable, but only “god-man” could accomplish it. But how can you be so sure about the god-man part if in fact the question is beyond human ability to grasp? It has to be one or the other. Either it is unfathomable or you know the answer.

And finally my reply to him, which makes up the remainder of this blog post. What do you think of my answer?

Corcoran,

It is not what I want that is important. It is what Scripture declares that is relevant and needs to be understood properly. I know the dictionary definition of grace as well as anyone but I’m more interested in what Scripture says about how God Has demonstrated His grace. Scripture shows that a loving God nevertheless chooses some but not others to be recipients of His saving grace.

In John 10, did not Jesus say He lays His life down for His sheep?(John 10:7) This is discriminating isn’t it? It does not say He lays down his life for all, but only for His sheep, and Jesus defines His sheep as those whom He knows and who know His voice and follow Him (John 10:3-4). So we can conclude: all are not His sheep; only those whom Jesus knows and who follow His voice are His sheep (i.e., His people)

Similarly, Jesus distinguishes between those who believe, and those who don’t believe. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)… And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65). According to Jesus’ teaching here in John 6 and elsewhere in the gospels, do all believe? Will all receive God’s offer of grace through Jesus Christ? Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.(Matthew 7:13-14) So many did not believe in Jesus then, many do not and will not believe today.

Yet Jesus explains unbelief in John 6 by saying it is only those to whom it has been granted by the Father that come to Jesus; that the Father must draw people to Jesus. In John 8 He says something similar, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47). Jesus explains the source of belief in someone in terms of God’s action in or upon that person, describing those who hear and believe His words as those who are “of God”. But people are not naturally of God. Scripture states of all believers before they came to Christ: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul says that all were by nature children of wrath, following after Satan, dead in sins and walking in disobedience. Yet the grace of God comes to such people, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.(Ephesians 2:4-9)”

Here again we see the thought that it is God who must act upon sinners by His grace—yet that He does not do this for all people is patently clear in Scripture and from observation.

Going back to Jesus’ analogy of “sheep”, Jesus elsewhere says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left (Matthew 25:31-33). This apparently describes a time of judgment in which Jesus separates His sheep from goats. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”(Matthew 25:41-46). Now is this passage teaching that it’s only those who do good works who will be saved? This passage does point to good works as evidence that one will be saved by Jesus at the judgment. But as Jesus says elsewhere, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21). The Bible teaches that good works are produced in us by God. We may not boast before God, but only humbly point to His grace upon and in us. Yes, grace is not something we can earn, yet as I have shown from Scripture, God’s love and grace are discriminating.

You wrote, “Of course that means that if people do not receive grace, it isn’t their fault and punishing them is indiscriminate”. I give you Paul’s answer, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?(Romans 9:19-24).”

So we have Scripture telling us that God must act in us so that we can hear His voice and bear good fruits and come to Him and live for Him, and says that if this doesn’t happen we will not come to Him and we will be condemned for our sins. I find Scripture saying that we have a moral responsibility to obey the God who created us, and at the same time I see Scripture describing us-apart from God– as without hope and by nature sons of wrath. These truths and many others are, according to Scriptural testimony, are “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”(Romans 11:33-35). We can know what God has revealed, for example, He revealed Himself as the God-Man. This is altogether different than being able to explain or fully understand His ways.

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Filed under Grace, Hell, Theology

Abortion and Todd Akin: Political Correctness Distracts from Real Issues

Congressman Todd Akin’s ill-conceived remarks on rape, during an interview in which he was asked a question about abortion in the case of rape, were certainly unfortunate.  Yet the media frenzy that has ensued in response to his remarks illustrates yet again the negative, inhibiting effects of political correctness on public discourse.  The congressman apparently was operating on misinformation– the notion that somehow the female body thwarts pregnancy in cases of rape, which of course is not true scientifically.  His thoughts on this may seem far-fetched, but others have shared this misconception.  Thus it seems Mr. Akin’s words were not just poorly chosen (he apologized for his choice of words the following day), but reflective of this misunderstanding.  What did Akin mean by using the phrase “legitimate rape”?  I’m not entirely sure, but it’s clear this is the phrase most were offended by, even many pro-life Republicans.  OK, so Akin is, or was, seriously misinformed on the science behind rape and pregnancy, and he used very unfortunate language.   Yet it seems clear from the interview in which his remarks were made, and his subsequent apologies that Mr. Akin is not unsympathetic to rape victims.  Rather, as a consistent pro-life advocate, he was emphasizing his concern that the unborn child conceived under the horrific circumstance of rape is nevertheless a human being whose life and rights also ought to be protected.  Aborting the unborn child, he argues, only creates a second victim in such tragic circumstances.

An effective way to defeat the view one opposes is to frame the public debate in language favorable to one’s cause.   Framing abortion as a matter of “women’s health”, portraying it as a “choice” and thus as an issue of liberty, has been a powerful, successful tool in the pro-abortion arsenal, one that has helped sway the thinking of many to their side on the issue of abortion.  What better way to put the anti-abortionist on the defense than to bring up scenarios of abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, or when the woman has been raped.  Just to raise such questions arouses natural sympathies towards women, shifting the focus of the abortion debate to women’s health and her freedoms.  But while it is a tactic that works, it is also a maneuver that diverts attention from realities about abortion.  The fact is that only a small minority of abortions each year are performed because of rape, or a mother’s life being endangered. “Only 12% of women included a physical problem with their health among reasons for having an abortion (NAF). [Just] one per cent (of aborting women) reported that they were the survivors of rape (NAF).”

Rape or health concerns account for relatively few abortions, so to frame the abortion issue by bringing up rape and health concerns is effective, but disingenuous.   The vast majority of abortions in the USA are performed to avoid the inconvenience of bringing a child into this world.  “On average, women give at least three reasons for choosing abortion: three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school, or other responsibilities; about two-thirds say they cannot afford a child; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.” “Nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended; about 4 in 10 of these are terminated by abortion. Twenty-two percent of all U.S. pregnancies end in abortion. (AGI). “At current rates, nearly one-third of American women will have an abortion (AGI).”

Since Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that  legalized abortion, nearly 50 million legal abortions have occurred in the U.S., between 1973 and 2008 (AGI).  Abortion in America has become a way of life, as the stigma surrounding having an abortion seems a thing of the past.  It is a billion dollar industry that is highly profitable for its practitioners.

So by all means, let the debate on abortion continue.  We can discuss whether or not the unborn are indeed human beings with rights just as their mothers have rights.  Or argue whether it is more humane to allow abortion when societal conditions might seem to indicate that bringing more children into the world will just mean the world gets more neglected, abandoned and abused children.  But let’s not be fooled into thinking that the primary issue when it comes to abortion is either women’s health or rape, when the facts demonstrate that abortion is mostly about unwanted pregnancies, killing for convenience, and profit.

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August 22, 2012 · 11:43 pm

Surprised by the Gullibility of the Charismatic

I just finished re-reading an article, Should Type-R Charismatics Get a Free Pass? that Phil Johnson posted a few years  ago at Pyromaniacs, a stylish blog that consistently (and sometimes with sarcasm and great humor) offers sharp biblical critique of charismaticism.  A few days ago, I posted here at Reforming Christianity my own brief reflection on charismaticism, titled The Subjectivity of Charismaticism.  Responding to a commenter on that article,  I asked:

Could it not be that the underlying principle that God speaks today via unverifiable personal revelations is faulty and leads into many errors?

Mr. Johnson’s excellent article ably tackles this question, asserting that:

The belief that extrabiblical revelation is normative does indeed “regularly and systematically breed willful gullibility, not discernment.

He demonstrates this by pointing out that even the most theologically, biblically sound charismatics (“Type R”, i.e., Reformed charismatics, such as Wayne Grudem or blogger Adrian Warnock), seem unwilling to connect the excesses and errors of the movement with its underlying principles.  Jack Deere’s book, “Surprised by the Power of the Spirit” extolled Paul Cain, a man once regarded by many as a highly gifted prophet and miracle-worker.   The book features an enthusiastic endorsement by Wayne Grudem, and in the book Deere credits Paul Cain as having changed the course of his life.  But as Phil Johnson’s article points out, Paul Cain’s track record of accuracy in prophetic announcements was abysmal, and Cain’s ministry would later be discredited, as he confessed long-standing alcoholism and homosexuality.  Johnson even tells about the time he, Lance Quinn and John MacArthur met with Jack Deere and Paul Cain (at Deere’s request). Cain appeared to be drunk!  Even with this knowledge about Paul Cain coming to light, brought to the attention of Mr. Grudem by Phil Johnson, Grudem stood by his endorsement of Jack Deere’s book.

I have observed among charismatics precisely this lack of discernment that Phil Johnson is talking about.  Despite the fact that charismatics like Paul Cain or Todd Bentley are demonstrably ridiculous and utterly unbiblical in their practices, the more responsible, biblically oriented in the movement typically are loath to acknowledge or admit the errors. Instead they rationalize them, arguing that we ought not to “throw out the baby with the bath water”.  In other  words, don’t dismiss all charismatic gifts because of the excesses and mishandling by the few.  This principle is true enough, but as Johnson points out, saner, more biblical charismatics actually represent a “fairly small minority of the worldwide charismatic community.”  Most of the movement is characterized by the excessive and the unbiblical!

A few years ago I wrote quite a bit about Todd Bentley on my previous blog, Jordan’s View, in an article titled Sickness, Healing and the Christian, Pt 1(Dangerous Deceptions). For a brief period in 2008 Bentley was a rising star in charismatic circles, the central figure in the so-called Lakeland, Florida “revival” that was being broadcast internationally, night after night, on the network GodTV.  Bentley was described as highly anointed, personally holy, a man deeply gifted in miracles and the prophetic.  It turns out that during the time of the revival meetings Bentley had been dealing with serious marital problems; these would eventually lead to his suddenly dropping out of the revival. A short time therafter all of the marital issues surfaced; Bentley divorced his first wife, and married someone from his ministry team.  Bentley’s marital problems were known to many who were endorsing him, yet Bentley was allowed to carry on. Even after his divorce and a brief period of being marginalized, it seems many in the charismatic community have welcomed him back with open arms, and he has been rushed back into public ministry. So what am I saying here? It’s not that one can’t be in ministry and have sin in one’s life. In that case, no one would qualify for ministry. But Bentley was one for whom it was claimed that his closeness with God and his personal holiness was the source of the supernatural powers flowing through him and his ministry. So it does tremendous damage to the credibility of Christianity and to the honor of Christ when someone is claiming to heal and speak in the power of God, yet is carrying on in this way.

Today I looked up Adrian Warnock’s coverage of Todd Bentley, recalling that at the time he’d posted many articles on his blog on Bentley.  Despite the fact that Warnock thoroughly covered the Todd Bentley story from beginning to inglorious end, I couldn’t find any posts in which Mr. Warnock himself took Bentley to task for his failure to live up to biblical standards in ministry, or in private.  Unfortunately, this lack of calling out such shenanigans and condemning them is all too typical.

Now I really do sympathize with the charismatic desire to see great miracles happening in our day. Who would’nt like to see healings, and revival sparked by the Spirit?  Yet we must not allow the desire for such things to cloud our judgment and remove our discernment.  If the sinful, unbiblical antics of a Paul Cain or Todd Bentley can escape the severe disapprobation and condemnation they deserve, it demonstrates that biblical discernment has entirely gone out the window among most charismatics, even among those who ought to know and do better.

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Filed under Charismaticism, Discernment, Theology

The Ultimate “Why”

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:1; cf. Luke 11:13).

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18; cf Luke 18:19)

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:9-12, ESV)

Many labor under the delusion that man is basically good, and that it is environmental factors such as poverty, an abusive home or other bad influences, that turn people toward evil.  For this reason, many reason that to be acceptable to God (if indeed He truly exists and there will be a time of reckoning wherein this God will judge all things) one simply must be found at the positive end of the scale, when a lifetime of good deeds are weighed against bad.  Surely on this basis God will accept us and we’ll make it into heaven, for our good deeds must count for more than our bad deeds, and comparatively speaking, we are not as bad as some others!  Perhaps we think to ourselves, “I love my kids, don’t cheat on my wife or girlfriend, pay my taxes, do a little volunteer work, and I’d gladly give up my seat on the bus (if an old lady happened by); plus, I’m not a serial killer!”  Are these all good things?  Of course.  Everyone knows right and wrong.  No one need go to church to live a moral life.  There are fine, decent, upstanding men and women, both in and out of the church, who live their lives doing right by their neighbor and being kind and loving to their families.

Why then does Scripture teach us (see passages above) that no one is good, and moreover, that we are all evil!  This is exactly what Jesus Christ, the one whom Christians believe was God-in-the-flesh, affirmed.  Why does it say “no one is seeking for God?”  Why does it put unbelievers in the category of disobedient, followers of Satan, destined for wrath due to innate wickedness?  This doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t sit well. One protests, “Hey, don’t call me evil. I’m a good, decent guy.  I know I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m far, far from evil!”  By human and worldly standards, one may very well be an outstanding citizen.  But God’s standard of righteousness derives from who He is, a holy God in whom there is no sin, no moral imperfection, no blemish of character.  Now we have never encountered a sinless person, and if we saw one probably wouldn’t know what to make of them.  Such a person would be strange and foreign.  Yet there was One who walked among us who was without sin.  He is the same One who said we are all evil.  But why does He say this?  He says it simply because it is the truth about us humans: we’re sinners by nature, and sin has corrupted us to the very depths of our being.  In reformed teaching this is known as the doctrine of “total depravity”.  This doctrine doesn’t signify that any of us are as evil as we might be (after all, most of us are not serial killers).  It means though that every part of human nature has been entirely corrupted by the effects of sin– our thought life, our emotions, even our bodies (which will someday die– due to the curse of sin).  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  And Jesus Christ has come to undo this terrible fall– as it’s written, He “takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29).  By His death on the Cross, Jesus destroyed the power of death, power the devil had over us (Heb 2:14).  Does this sound like science fiction?  Perhaps.  But as the saying goes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

When we think about someone such as James Holmes, the suspect accused of opening fire on people in a crowded Colorado movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 58 others, we naturally ask, why did he do it?  The specific impetus for this particular man’s actions are likely quite complex.  The science of human behavior may someday be advanced enough to be able to explain, or even predict, the actions of such a person, in terms of a number of contributing variables.  But this still would not give us the answer we’re really looking for, the ultimate “why”.  Why does evil exist?  Why did an all-powerful and good God create a universe in which evil is an everyday occurrence?  Does the Bible give us a fully satisfying answer to these questions?

The Bible does give us at least the beginning of answer to these important questions. In Genesis the Bible story of the creation of the world relates how evil came to be a part of this present world.  Evil is the result of a bad human choice, one that was made under the influence of an evil, fallen angel.  So particular evils happen since then because a principle of evil exists in this fallen world we are born into.  If sin had never entered the world, there would be no death; there would be no evil acts.  But sin did come into the world; and apparently, a good God allowed this to happen.  Since God is not only good but holy, wise, all-powerful and loving, it seems He uses sin and all its evil fallout, while abhoring it and intending to someday completely rid the world of it.  His aim is to accomplish a redemptive purpose that perhaps could not have been accomplished otherwise, one that brings about the most good and blessing for mankind while bringing the most glory to Himself.  And though we too have fallen under the influence of sin, a mighty Savior has come to break its power, if we have faith to believe and put our trust in Him.

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Beware of “Spiritual Formation”

Yesterday I posted a spontaneous reflection describing how I find that the “noise” of this world can keep us continually distracted, in such a way that we lose ability to focus our thoughts on things of eternal importance.  We may get so wrapped up in the worries, cares and “busy-ness” of this world that we neglect to give attention to God, and draw strength from Him.

Today I would like to point you to a helpful article series by Gary Gilley that critically examines a trend in many evangelical Christian circles today towards spiritual practices (or disciplines) often included under the banner “spiritual formation.”   The practices include such things as contemplative prayer and lectio divina (sacred reading).  While it’s certainly true that we need discipline in the Christian life, many (not all) in the “spiritual formation” movement advocate practices that are more mystical than they are biblical.  I therefore commend Dr. Gilley’s article series as an aid to helping discern right and wrong spiritual practices in accordance with Scripture.  It is so important that we remain biblical as we walk with God.  We must not burden ourselves or others to pursue spiritual disciplines not authorized by Scripture.   And I want to clarify that the primary intention of my article yesterday was to say that getting alone with God in a quiet place is a good practice, one modeled by Christ Himself. Yet Scripture does not lay this practice down as a commandment we must obey.

Dr. Gilley is a long-time pastor who writes from a reformed perspective. I have been reading his helpful articles and reviews for some time now.  The series of articles I mention above is as follows:

Solitude and Silence
Sacred Reading (Lectio Divina)
Contemplative Prayer
Spiritual Formation

 

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Filed under Discernment, Hearing from God, Orthopraxy, Theology

Noise- Enemy of the Soul

As my wife will attest, I really dislike noise– I’m always ranting about jerks who drive by our house blasting their car radios so loud my TV  rattles violently.   In those moments, I’m rattled too, and feel dark and violent impulses.  But don’t worry, I’m not a gun owner.

My mother tells me I was always very sensitive to noise, as a child and even as a baby.   Perhaps then, my antipathy to noise is a personal quirk.  Or maybe I’m deficient in some vitamin.  This could be, but I think I’m not alone in my aversion to noise, and I think there’s good reasons to think the constant noise we deal with in modern life in America is not a good thing for anyone’s soul.  Really, for the life of me, I have a hard time understanding why people enjoy blasting music into their ears (especially, BAD music– another rant).  I’m a music lover myself– and occasionally I turn up the volume a bit– certain songs just sound better that way– but I can’t imagine sitting in my car, mindlessly listening to the “boom-boom-boom” at sound levels designed to destroy eardrums of entire neighborhoods.  I can’t figure out how or why that is enjoyable to some people.

More than ever, we’re the plugged-in generation– especially the younger folk among us– from sunup to sundown we’re attached to our devices– TVs, cell phones, iPads, PCs, Macs, car radios, tablets, etc–  it seems we can never not have background noise.  Is this constant din a comfort to our souls?  Can we not stand a few moments of silence?  Perhaps in the silent moments our secret frustrations, disappointments, sadness, musings  about death and God and what’s it all about– are apt to come tumbling into our heads, giving rise to feelings of dreadful anxiety.  Such reflection is stressful, unpleasant and unnerving.  Maybe we find it comforting then to have noise that distracts us from these questions to which we don’t think we have answers.  I’m as guilty as anyone of listening to music, or watching a movie as a way of de-stressing and not facing issues in my life.  I don’t think those moments of escapism are necessarily always a bad thing.  Music has wonderful power to calm our souls.  Having a good laugh while watching a TV show, or feeling a thrill as we watch an action movie may not just distract, but bring temporary respite to a weary soul.

But the danger I see in today’s habit of allowing the constant noise of modern life to overtake us, rarely stopping to be silent, is that this practice diminishes the capacity to be  reflective, which in turn short-circuits personal growth.  Not all of us have genius IQs, not all of us have gifts of artistic or creative expression, but I’m convinced that by keeping ourselves continually distracted, we don’t allow our minds and souls the opportunity to think the profound, creative thoughts we’re capable of having.  What is genius anyway?  Is it not the result of concentrated effort to solve a creative problem or solve a scientific puzzle? But when our minds constantly flit about from one thing to another, we lose the powers of concentration and focus that could bring us into genius insights, healthy self-recognition, and perhaps even place us on the path to finding truth.

So as you can see the noise I’m talking about isn’t just loud sounds, but it’s also the noise we manufacture to drown out pain, soothe fears, to forget and ignore our troubles.  In this sense, we’ve all been noisemakers at times, haven’t we?  But  this noise making works against us, because after the distractions are over, the problems and questions still remain.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ was God-in-the-flesh.  He came to Earth to live His life as a flesh and blood human being and to demonstrate how we ought to live.  Jesus was a busy man and full of life.  He attracted followers wherever He went, He spoke as no Man before Him ever had spoken, He had powers that attested to His special relationship with the Father.  Yet in all the activity of His life, we have this report about Him… “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed (Mark 1:35).”  Apparently it was the custom of Jesus to get away from everything and everyone, to be alone, presumably in a quiet place, and to pray to God.  Oh, how we need this as human beings!  If Jesus Christ, the Perfect Man, needed time alone in a quiet place to pray to God and be strengthened and find direction for each day, how much more do we as imperfect beings require this time of quiet.

If you don’t yet know this Jesus, you can find Him through the Bible.  Read a gospel such as the book of Mark of John, and there you will see a picture of the perfect human being, the One who came to show us how to live and how to die.  And for those of us who know Him and follow Him, may we take time each day to go to that quiet place, to be alone with our God and reach out for His grace.

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Filed under From Me to You

Home Pages – Why Use One?

My personal Netvibes page

Recently Google announced that it would be retiring iGoogle, a personalized homepage service they have offered since 2005.   Many iGoogle fans are protesting, and Google says iGoogle won’t be phased out until November 2013, so perhaps with enough user feedback they’ll change their minds.  But some of you may be asking, “What’s a home page” or “Why do I need a home page?”

A personalized home page is set up by a user to be the “landing page” when opening their browser of choice as they connect to the Internet via their PC, Mac, or laptop.  Home pages provide a convenient way for users to gather together in one place the information they want ready access to.  Typically users place on their home page such things as local weather, personal calendar, email, news feed, favorite blog and anything else they want quick access to.  I have been using home pages for a long time, and have found them very helpful for their intended purpose of conveniently gathering together information in one page.  iGoogle is one of the home pages services I’ve tried out over the years, and I like it because it has a clean look and and loads quickly.  However I have mostly used Netvibes, which I found more customizable, especially visually.  But I have also found that Netvibes often loads slowly, especially on pages which include  a lot of media content.

So why use a home page?  Well, as already noted, they provide convenience in getting to information one wants quickly.  Instead of visiting several different sites for information on weather, news, calendar, email, etc., one can put all this information in their personalized home page.

But it seems with more and more people accessing the web via their cell phones , iPads and tablets, leaders in the web industry such as Google are focusing technical efforts on developing apps which provide the same rapid access functionality that home pages have provided.

As a smartphone user I am a big fan of the Pulse apps, which provide lightning fast access to the big news stories of the day, customized by user selection of sources.  Pulse also has a cool web-based version of their apps, which I have been using lately as an alternate home page.  Feedly is another favorite of mine.  It takes one’s existing Google reader feeds and arranges them in a magazine-style web page.  And Google Reader is my favorite feed reader, with the usual clean Google look  and intuitive functionality.  Both Feedly and Google Reader also have mobile apps.

So I’ve found that home page services and feed readers alike provide convenience and efficiency as one seeks information from the Internet, whether it’s news, weather or reading favorite blogs.  Personally I think that there will still be a need for home pages like iGoogle in the foreseeable future, but if iGoogle is gone there will always be other good alternatives.

Do you use a home page?  If so, which one do you use?

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