Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Calvin Quote of the Day

"Those whom the Lord has chosen and honored with His [fellowship] must prepare for a hard, laborious, troubled life, a life full of many and various kinds of evils—it being the will of our heavenly Father to exercise His people in this way while putting them to the proof. Having begun this course with Christ the first-born, He continues it towards all His children. For though that Son was dear to Him above others, the Son in Whom He was 'well pleased' (Mat 3:17; 17:5), yet we see that far from being treated gently and indulgently, we may say that not only was He subjected to a perpetual cross while He dwelt on earth, but His whole life was nothing else than a kind of perpetual cross. The Apostle assigns the reason: 'Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered' (Heb 5:8).

"Why then should we exempt ourselves from that condition to which Christ our Head behooved to submit—especially since He submitted on our account that He might in His own person exhibit a model of patience? Wherefore, the Apostle declares that all the children of God are destined to be conformed to Him (Rom 8:29). Hence, it affords us great consolation in hard and difficult circumstances, which men deem evil and adverse, to think that we are holding fellowship with the sufferings of Christ: as He passed to celestial glory through a labyrinth of many woes, so we too are conducted thither through various tribulations. For in another passage, Paul himself thus speaks, 'We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God' (Act 14:22). Again, 'That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death' (Phi 3:10). How powerfully should it soften the bitterness of the cross to think that the more we are afflicted with adversity, the surer we are made of our fellowship with Christ, by communion with Whom our sufferings are not only blessed to us, but tend greatly to the furtherance of our salvation." (John Calvin)

Martha and Mary

If you are following the lectionary readings for each Sunday, you will notice that some passages are skipped, and we pick up a few verses later.  Last week we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the week before that we read about the seventy being sent ahead of Christ.  There is a passage in between, and whenever you do your devotionals, no matter what you use, always go back to raw scripture and look at the context and the missing verses, because the Holy Spirit will reveal things to you.  Here is what we missed:

21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 

22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

23 Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 

24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10)

So, Jesus is telling his disciples that he is glad that the Father has hidden things from the intelligent and wise and have revealed them to infants.  Are we not to be intelligent?  No, just not intelligent BY THE WORLD'S STANDARDS.  Are we to be infants, not that we are to be SIMPLETONS, but we are to be SIMPLE.  We are to approach the throne of God without agenda, without our complex self-centered-ness.  Jesus is essentially describing the attitude and nature of a true disciple.

Now, when we read this passage in context, what do we see?  We see Jesus telling his disciples that they are not to be intelligent by the world's standards but simple toward God, and the very next verse we get:

10:25a Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.

Now that we have context, we can see that this lawyer is immediately displaying his worldliness.  Wasn't he just listening?  The words "just then" prove that these two events happened together. It's very important that we get the context, so that we can learn as much as we can about who God is, and who we are in our relationship with him.

Before we come to Christ, we are like the lawyer, we are intelligent and wise by the world's standards.  After we come to Christ, the Lord simplifies us, and we become a disciple.  Look at today's gospel passage:

10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

10:39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.

10:40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

10:41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;

10:42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Before we come to Christ, we are preoccupied with the world like Martha, but after we come to Christ, we become disciples and begin learning at the feet of Jesus.  Now, obviously this is not an "all or nothing" game.  There are times when we are like Martha, and there are times when we are like Mary.  Just because we behave like Martha does not mean that we are no longer Jesus' disciples.  The more time we spend in scripture, and more time we are behaving like Mary, the more we are becoming Jesus' disciples.

Look at our Old Testament reading:

Genesis 18
18:1 The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.

18:2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.

18:3 He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.

18:4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.

18:5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on--since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said."

18:6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes."

18:7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.

18:8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

18:9 They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent."

18:10a Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."

Now, once again, some verses have been left out.  Let's look at those verses:

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 

12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 

13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 

14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

Why did Sarah laugh?  Because she knows BETTER than God.  She is intelligent by the world's standards.  She knows that a woman of her age cannot have a baby.  What else has Sarah done with her worldly intelligence?  She decided that the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham for a son had to come through her handmaiden Hagar.  She "solved" God's problem with her worldly intelligence.  We can see where that decision has gotten us.

However, Sarah is saved through her husband.  We can be worldly like Martha and still be saved.  We can be learning at the Lord's feet and still be overwhelmed and distracted by many things.  Paul once again explains what is happening in his letter to the Colossians:

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

1:21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,

1:22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him--

Through Christ's death, you are reconciled to God.  He has brought you from a worried and distracted Martha into a learning and simple Mary, learning at his feet.  However we can be in both camps at once.  C.S. Lewis helps us with a shocking quote:

"You do not have a soul."

This is frightening until we read the second half:

"You ARE a soul.  You have a body."

When Jesus saves us, he brings our souls--ourSELVES--too his feet.  However, since we have a sinful body, too, that sometimes hangs back and continues to worry and distract us about worldly things.  Remember, scripture is food for the soul.  We have been feeding our bodies all this time, but now we are to feed our souls with the Word of God.  As the soul becomes more vibrant and strong, it will be able to drag the bloated and sinful body along with it to the feet of Jesus.

Pray that we will continue to learn who God his, who Jesus is, and that our souls will continue to grow healthy and strong.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Savoy (Westminster Confession) Declaration on Faith

14.1 The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of the seals, prayer, and other means, it is increased and strengthened.

14.2 By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein, and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

14.3 This faith, although it be different in degrees, and may be weak or strong; yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind or nature of it, (as is all other saving grace) from the faith and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.


Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)

The Lawyer asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"  Jesus answers, essentially, "your neighbor is your enemy."  Another question must be asked: who are WE in this parable?  The answer is we can be all of the roles in this parable.

Many times we are like the Priest and the Levite, not having time to get involved.  We know that the world acts like this all the time.  We rationalize it by saying to ourselves that we may be putting ourselves in danger by helping.  We lack the faith to help.  Most of the time we feel like this, but because of this very parable, we know that this is not the way to behave.  We actually motivate ourselves to not behave this way.  Of course, this is not asking for God's grace, but attempting to be a good Christian under our own power.

Second, we like to be in the role of the victim, especially in this day and age.  I'm not saying that we are ever the victim.  There are times when we feel like we have been dragged behind a truck, and this is a way for us to think of Jesus in the Samaritan role, coming to help us and dress our wounds.  However, we lapse into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism again, and we end up asking for Jesus' help only when we really need him, and if you help me, Lord, this time I'm going to be really good.  We need Jesus at all times, the good times and the bad times.

Of course, we are taught in Sunday School to be like the Samaritan, to help anyone in need, to dress their wounds, to put them on our mules, to pay their inn bills.  This is the social gospel, and it is a good role for us to be in, but it is not the point of the parable.  The answer to, "who is my neighbor?" is not the victim, and so we must help him.  The answer to the question is the Samaritan, enemy of the Jew, the one the Lawyer cannot even name.  We are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are oftentimes our enemies, people who do not wish us well.

This is not an easy place to be in.  In fact, it is impossible for us to love our neighbors, and only by the grace of God can we wish our enemies well.  There is another role that we find ourselves in, and it is just outside of the parable.  It is the role of the lawyer.

Note that the lawyer is very well versed.  When asked by Jesus what are the commandments, he hones in on the summary of the law.  This is good.  He didn't try to remember the Jewish ceremonial laws or even the ten commandments.  He went right for the correct answer.  But then, he attacks only the second commandment: loving your neighbor. He has forgotten all about loving God, and this is the problem we find ourselves in.

Look at the following passage from Deuteronomy:

And the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. (Deuteronomy 30:9-14)

Taken alone, without New Testament interpretation, this sounds like the easiest thing in the world.   Even the Lord tells us that the law is not too far away from us.  We can attain it, and like the lawyer, this is just what we do.  We try to save ourselves through the law, and then we actually test Jesus when we run into problems.

Now, listen to what Paul says:

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

God is the one with the power, not us.  We have been snagged by the prosperity gospel, and so we believe in ourselves over God.  The question the lawyer should have followed up with is not "who is my neighbor?" but "How do I love God?"  Remember the sequence of events here: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Keep the two great commandments.  "But who is my neighbor?"  Loving our neighbor is crucial, but only God enables us to love our neighbors, so instead of going down the left fork, the lawyer should have gone down the right one: "How do I love God?" Loving God is the greater of the two commandments.  It is the crux, so to speak, of the issue.  If we want to learn how to love our neighbor, the way is through loving God.  It is the part we have forgotten and continue to forget to this day.  We preach the Good Samaritan and forget that we are all lawyers, attempting to test the Lord every day.

Love God.  He is the one who transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus.  He enables us to love our neighbor, even if that neighbor is an enemy. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Savoy Declaration of Faith on Freewill

The Savoy Declaration of Faith is a reassertion of the Westminster Confession of Faith with some minor alterations pertaining to Congregational Churches.  Here is the section on Freewill:

9.1 God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to do good or evil.

9.2 Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

9.3 Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

9.4 When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

9.5 The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

Words from BB Warfield

B. B. Warfield cared for his invalid wife for 39 years. They didn't have any children. A man endowed with a massive mind and an even bigger heart. An Underdog.

"The fundamental thought is the universal government of God. All that comes to you is under His controlling hand. The secondary thought is the favour of God to those that love Him. If He governs all, then nothing but good can befall those to whom He would do good. The consolation lies in the shelter which we may thus find beneath His almighty arms. We are weak, we are blind; He is strong and He is wise. Though we are too weak to help ourselves and too blind to ask for what we need, and can only groan in unformed longings, He is the author in us of these very longings—He knows what they really mean—and He will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from all that befalls us." (B. B. Warfield, 'Faith & Life')

Thanks to Warren Cruz for the legwork.


I've been listening to Christian debates all week.  This is something I find very interesting.  An atheist and a Christian get together and debate a general topic, like the existence of God.  This debate usually occurs at a university or a church.  If it's at a university, the audience is usually hostile to the Christian, because universities are basically atheist churches.  If it's at a church, the audience is usually sympathetic for the Christian.  Notice I didn't say "hostile to the atheist," because usually the Christians are praying for the atheist's relationship with God during the debate.

Now, I do have to say that the atheist is at a disadvantage, regardless of whether the debate is at a university or a church.  The reason the atheist is at a disadvantage is because the atheist doesn't actually realize the goal of the debate.  He thinks the goal of the debate is to win.  The Christian doesn't care about winning the debate.  The Christian's goal is to share the gospel with the audience.

Now, the gospel during a debate is a watered-down general form of the gospel, and this version of the gospel cannot change hearts, but it can steer people in the right direction.  A debate version of the gospel usually does not include scripture, and scripture is necessary to change hearts.

Why is scripture important to changing hearts?  What is special about it?  What is the substance of the Word of God that makes it a living Word that converts people away from their sinful lives and into God's kingdom?  A biblical preacher or meditation on the Word itself is important.  Why?

Well, what is the gospel?  What is the key to salvation?  Paul tells the jailer in Acts 16:31, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."  What does it mean to believe in Jesus?  Just to believe in his existence?  To believe that he is God?  To believe that he died and rose again?  What?

Dinesh D'Souza says something during one of these debates that made me curious.  His version of the gospel was this: Jesus is different from all other religious figures in that he has paid the penalty for the sins of the world.  All we have to do is ADMIT THAT WE ARE GUILTY, and God lets us off the hook, he saves us, because Jesus paid the penalty.

Imagine going into a courtroom for a trial.  The trial is yours.  The judge asks for your plea.  You don't think you've done anything wrong, and so you plea "NOT GUILTY."  Then the prosecutor comes over and begins to present his case against you.  He proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are guilty of heinous crimes against God and humanity and deserve to be put to death--eternal DEATH.  You can't rebut, because you agree with the conclusion.  But now it is too late.  You have pleaded not guilty.

Now, imagine the same scenario, except this time you plea GUILTY.  You have read the Bible, and you have read yourself into the scriptures, the Holy Spirit has revealed the truth to you, and you are truly convinced of your guilt.  After your plea, the judge leans in and tells you, "the penalty has been paid.  You are free to go."

That's all there is to it, but you must truly believe that you are guilty.  This is the biggest hurdle in today's world.  We are taught from birth that we are not guilty.  Our culture is a victim culture, not a guilty culture.  Where does Jesus come in?  Well, believing in the Lord Jesus IS EQUAL to believing that you are guilty!  They are the same thing.  If you don't truly believe in your guilt, you don't truly believe in Jesus.  Only through your conviction that you are guilty--a conviction that comes through the Holy Spirit interpreting scripture--do you realize that you need a savior and that Jesus is literally the only figure capable of fulfilling that role.

So, admitting we are guilty, REALLY believing we are guilty, is confessing we need a savior, and that savior is Jesus.  Admitting we are guilty IS believing in the Lord Jesus.  We become saved only through that honest admission of guilt.  This is no off-hand, "yeah, I'm guilty" or a deathbed confession.  This has to be true belief in the soul.

And every church skips over this part of the gospel.  They don't want to upset anyone, so they don't want to make us feel guilty.  However, conviction of sin is paramount to belief.  Only when we believe we are miserable sinners, totally depraved, will we honestly believe the gospel.  Let's look at some scriptures for today.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' (Luke 10:1-11)

This is a common application text for church planters.  We automatically assume we are the lambs in this passage, and that is true.  We are the lambs, after we have come to Christ.  Before we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are the wolves, and WE WON'T BE ABLE to believe in the Lord Jesus until we first believe we are the wolves.

And our preachers and pastors skip right over the wolves part.  We are not presented the full gospel of Christ, because we are not harnessed with the role of wolf.  Let's look at an old testament passage:

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her--that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies. (Isaiah 66:10-14)

Look!  It's the prosperity gospel that I've been preaching against.  Well, this passage must prove that the prosperity gospel is true.  While it is true that God does want us to prosper, we never look at that last clause and think of ourselves as God's enemies.  We cannot get the prosperity of God's gospel until we first understand--truly--that we are enemies of God.  We were born enemies of God.  We cannot become friends of God under our own power at all.  We cannot read this passage except as ourselves as the bad guys.  Once we truly we believe we are the BAD GUYS in scripture--another proof for the authenticity of scripture as God's Word (why would anyone write themselves into the story as the bad guys?)--only then can we reach for the antidote: Jesus Christ.  Only then can we read ourselves as the blessed recipients of God's love.

And most Christians in the West do not believe they are the bad guys.  Christianity in the East and the South is growing rapidly, because they are given the full gospel, including the "wolf" part.  We are given a watered-down version of the gospel with a helpful God who wants us to feel good about ourselves.  Believe in the Lord Jesus: admit you are guilty.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

True Calling

I want to talk about true calling. Now, in our Gospel passage today, we have the following three instances of calling.  Let's look at them:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:57-62)

We are going to look at the first and third "calling" first.  What do you see that they have in common? Let's start with number three.  We have someone coming to Jesus and wanting to follow him.  But there is a condition.  He tells Jesus that he must do something first.  I'll follow you, but...  I call this the "Jesus-but" situation.  These are the people who are "trying" Christianity out. They are experimenting.  They are dabbling in faith.  They may be trying Christianity out this week, but Buddhism will be next week, etc.  There's always a condition, and it's a hurdle that needs to be overcome before following.

Now, Jesus responds to this individual that anyone who hesitates, anyone who has a condition, is not fit for the kingdom of God.  But, we see in the book of Kings that Elijah calls Elisha, who then says goodbye to his family before joining him, and there's no problem.  Matthew Levi is called by Jesus, and he . . . throws a party.  Conditions or hesitations are not really obstacles to following Jesus.

The third "calling" and the first have this in common: Jesus never called them.  Jesus rejects the "but" guy, because he was never called.  The "but" guy approached Jesus.  That's the real problem.

Same with the first guy.  Let's call him the Jesus-and guy.  Here he offers to follow Jesus, without conditions.  This sounds like the prefect disciple, but once again, Jesus never called him.  Calling is the initiation of Jesus.  We only respond to the call.  This first guy was never called.

He is also a Jesus-and guy.  He will follow Jesus, but he is going to do it on his own terms.  He approaches Jesus.  He has decided that he wants this.  This is something that he has chosen to do. We see this in the church all the time.  We see people in places of leadership, regardless of denomination, who have worked their way to the top, and they are now in positions of power, and they are leading people astray with false teachings.  Why?  Because they were never called.

We also see this in church leaders who cannot overcome an addiction that interferes with their ministry.  Once again, regardless of denomination, we have people who feel called, but then they are downloading pornography onto the church computer.  Guess what?  You weren't called.  You don't need therapy.  You don't need to try harder next time.  You weren't called to be there in the first place.  Still get help, but get out of the church first.

Jesus responds cryptically, but it makes sense when you realize that following Jesus means poverty, means homelessness, means SERVICE, not STATUS.  The Jesus-and crowd are in it for the status.  They are gregarious and laugh the loudest.  Jesus never called them.

Now, for the middle guy.  Jesus calls him.  "Follow me."  Now, the guy has conditions, and he's hamming and hawing, but Jesus will not be stopped.  We assume because the first and third guys are rejected, that Jesus also rejects the middle guy.  No, Jesus just plunges on ahead and gives the guy an assignment.

Moses, Jeremiah, and many others hem and haw, and try to get out of the calling, but God will not be stopped.  God plunges on ahead and gives them the assignment.  Moses says he can't speak well.  Jeremiah says he is just a child.  God doesn't care.  Here's your assignment.

We also assume that following Jesus means literally walking after him.  Some are called to go to faraway countries as missionaries, but some are called to stay right where they are and preach the Word to their hometown.  Jesus gives that sort of assignment to the middle guy.  He is not to walk after Jesus with the disciples, but he is to proclaim the Word of God to his area.  This is no less following Jesus, and this is no less a calling.

Think of the call you heard and think of others you know.  How do we know true calling?  Well, are you or your friends dabbling in Christianity?  That's the Jesus-but.  Are you or your friends seeking status in the Church?  That's a Jesus-and.  Are you proclaiming the Word to the place where you have been sent--even if it is where you live?  You have been called.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fear of Civilization

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"--for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39)

Let's talk about the civilizing effect of Christianity. What is this man like in Luke 8?  He was a man possessed with demons.  He had not put on any clothing for a long time, and he was not living in a house but amongst the tombs.  Let us think of our current culture: it's a culture of death, and this isn't new.  This has been the case forever.  All of the countries that surrounded Israel were cultures of death. Egypt was a culture of death.  The most opulent part of Egyptian culture was the tombs.  When Pharaoh died, he took all of his stuff with him into the tomb.  It was the most important part of Egyptian culture.  It was a culture of death, and that hasn't changed.

We live in a culture of death now.  The things that people can't get enough of are horror movies, and they tell you it's because they like to be thrilled.  We have a fascination with the evil, with the darkness, and its a preoccupation.  We have Twilight, which is about vampires, which don't exist, but the concept of the dead feeding on the living is real to our fallen, evil nature.  We are into zombie movies; we like the dead feeding on the living.  This has always been the case throughout history, and it's a sign of a culture that is doomed to hell, doomed to separation from God.

So here is a man that is no longer civilized; he is out in the tombs, symbolic of death (and us living in a world of death).  Now, after Jesus casts out demons--and I'm not saying that we are possessed by demons, but there is such a thing as demon possession, and there are principalities and powers among us, trying to undermine us, but they can be separated from us and still have influence over us.  There is direct possession--not for a Christian or someone who has accepted Jesus--but we can be tormented externally by demons, and the world is suffering from demonic possession as a whole, in actuality and also metaphorically.  So we do suffer from demons in many ways.

So here Jesus is, casting out these demons from this man, and they are going into the pigs, which drown, and the rest of the city comes up to see what has happened, and they see three things.  They see the man, and there are three things about the man.  One: he is sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Two: he is clothed, and three: he is in his right mind.

He is sitting at the feet of Jesus.  This is the first of the civilizing effects of coming to Christ.  We are learning, and it's not just any kind of of learning: it is apostolic learning; it is Christ-centered learning. Cornelius Van Til said not only is someone who does not have Christ in their life misunderstanding Christianity, misunderstanding the nature of reality, misunderstanding a God-centered universe, but he doesn't have proper understanding of ANYTHING.  Without Christ, all knowledge is corrupted; even secular knowledge is corrupted. 

You can see it: without the foundation of God, the most brilliant scientists reach wrong conclusions about things, about what they are studying. Sir Isaac Newton is what is considered the greatest scientist in history, and it's because it's because he always had a foundation of Christ beneath everything he studied.  He was learning about God's creation.  He told people he was learning at the feet of Jesus; he was sitting at the feet of Jesus.  I know people who are brilliant, or they SEEM brilliant; they seem like brilliant people, until you start to think about what they've said.  You think about what they have ponderously and thoroughly reflected upon--sometimes for hours, sometimes greatly philosophical and deep--and you realize that their conclusions have been corrupted.  They have reached the wrong conclusions.  As it says in Proverbs--the first verse in Proverbs--"fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  These people do not have fear of the Lord.  They, therefore, do not have the beginning of wisdom, even the BEGINNING of wisdom.  It's like playing chess with a man who stares at the chessboard for 3 to 4 times longer than you do, and then he inevitably makes the wrong move, and ends up with a checkmated king.  He has spent so much time thinking--and overthinking--and he still comes up with this stupid move.  Van Til says this is what happens without God, when you are ungodly, meaning without God, you are corrupted to the point where you can't think properly.  Even the most civilized atheist cannot think properly.

Second, he was clothed.  Now, this is something that fascinates me, because if you have a conversation with someone, especially one of our younger people, there's a lack of modesty with ideas that are not founded in God.  There's a preoccupation with challenging societal norms.  There are thoughts and ideas that come rushing to the forefront that involve what they think is breaking down these "societal norms", norms that they think were created by man, and now it's their turn to change the world.  But where did these cultural things come from--these aspects of civilization, like wearing clothes and living in houses?  They are not things that we decided to come up with arbitrarily.  They are things that came from God as helps for us.  They came from God and naturally come to us as things that we should do when we have a foundation of God in our lives. God provided the first clothing for Adam and Eve, when they had transgressed his law, when they had fallen.  After the curses are announced, and all the horror and defilement have now been heaped upon themselves, because they broke the one law that God had given them, he has mercy and compassion and he clothes them, and this is one of the aspects of the civilizing nature of Christianity.

So what happens with the secular world, what happens with the anti-Christian crowd, is they try to attack this.  You'll be talking to a young person and the conversation will eventually come around with a how, "I think that we should be wearing no clothes" or "nudity is nothing to be ashamed of" or, this is a good one: "in Europe they've detached sex from nudity, and so people can be nude and walking around without it meaning anything sexual; because we in America are puritanical, and blah blah blah blah" and then, in the next breath they say, "Europeans can't understand why we have cheerleaders, because that's sexual," so there's the hypocrisy there.  But what is happening is they are looking to destroy these cultural norms and want everybody to walk around naked, and they want other immodest proposals like covering your body with tattoos or putting metal through your face, all of these self-mutilation things, because the norms need to be destroyed, and they're trying to destroy something that they think man came up with, when it was really a stabilizing effect of Christianity, so keep your eyes and ears open for that.  You'll notice that people tend to try to undo basic civilization, basic things that they think that we came up with to oppress people, but really it was a natural progression of being civilized by Christianity.

The final thing is being in your right mind.  CS Lewis said that reason is supernatural; it is something we have that none of the other animals have; it separates us from the animals--the ability to reason, to be able to reach right conclusions. This is also about thinking properly, which I already talked about.  Your reason can be faulty, and when this man was possessed by demons, he was not in his right mind; he was incapable of thinking properly; and now that Jesus cast out these demons, he is suddenly in his right mind.  As Augustine said, "Faith precedes understanding."  You cannot have understanding without faith, which is a belief in God, in the promises of God, and what God has said, that it is true.  The Holy Spirit incites belief, because our natural proclivity is to not believe.  So faith precedes understanding; the Holy Spirit precedes faith; God is always previous.

The last thing I want to talk about is what happens when the city comes up and sees this civilized man--this man who for years was not civilized--and they see the civilized man sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully clothed, and in his right mind.  What happens?  They are all afraid, and they send Jesus away. This is our natural state: we FEAR civilization; we fear transformation in a person.  We fear.  We want to have nothing to do with it; we say, "can't we all just get along? Leave this person alone! They're living their own lives out here by the tombs, the way they want to live.  Why must he be transformed?"

Looking at John chapter 6 or John chapter 5 and 6, what happens after Jesus feeds the 5000?  What happens?  They try to seize him; they try to make him king, because he is a magic genie who will give them food without them working for it, without them lifting a finger for it.  They want to make him king, so he will just provide for them, and they can go on living their lives exactly the way they've always been living: no transformation, no change. Jesus will take care of us! Look at our culture today: Obama's going to take care of us; the governments going to take care of us; the world will take care of us! We don't want to change! We want a magic genie! We want manna to fall from the sky every day, and even if it tastes like tree bark we will eat it, because it was free; it was something we did not have to work for, because we're fallen sinful people.  We don't want to be transformed. We want to stand on the edge of the abyss, the place where the demons don't even want to go; we want to stand on the edge of the abyss, we want to hold hands, we want to grab each other arm in arm and just hold hands and jump in and say, "let's go!" Whee! And here we are: civilized Christians, people transformed by Jesus, and we're saying, "no, that's not the way to go! Don't go into the abyss!  Go to Jesus's feet! Clothe yourselves! Stop mutilating yourselves! Be civilized! Be in your right mind!" And they say, "no thanks, hater! We don't want your intolerant hating anymore!" And they hold hands and they say, "Whee!" and they jump into the abyss and we watch them and we cry for them, and we pray for them.  Fear of change, fear of transforming our lives.  Jesus has come to transform our lives, to make us in our right minds, to clothe us, to civilize us, to give us homes, to cast out away our demons, to cast them away from us, to cast them out of us, to bring us to his feet, so that we may learn, because knowledge of God is everlasting life. Amen.