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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Where do we rank?

Posted by Gary on March 9, 2007

Does God view all His children in the same way? I am aware that Scripture teaches that God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11), that is, in regard to salvation God is willing to save any person who repents and places their faith in Christ regardless of their gender or nationality. But does this mean that God does not make distinctions between His children? As a parent it is hard for me to imagine that He doesn’t. I am constantly assessing the status and progress of my children and notice the greater obedience of one compared to the disobedience of another. I also distinguish between obedience that flows from love for my wife and me as opposed to begrudging compliance.

I fear that many Christians are heading to heaven telling themselves that God is going to regard us all equally on the Judgment Day and in eternity to follow. I have always been intrigued by the following verses:

Ezekiel 14:12-20Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness, and I stretch out My hand against it, destroy its supply of bread, send famine against it and cut off from it both man and beast, even though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves,” declares the Lord God. “If I were to cause wild beasts to pass through the land and they depopulated it, and it became desolate so that no one would pass through it because of the beasts, though these three men were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their sons or their daughters. They alone would be delivered, but the country would be desolate. “Or if I should bring a sword on that country and say, ‘Let the sword pass through the country and cut off man and beast from it,’ even though these three men were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their sons or their daughters, but they alone would be delivered. “Or if I should send a plague against that country and pour out My wrath in blood on it to cut off man and beast from it, even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.”

Isn’t something very plain here? God does not regard all those who bear His name the same. God does make a distinction between us regarding our obedience and faithfulness. What an interesting list. Think of all the people not mentioned on it: Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Samuel and David are not mentioned. I realize there is a certain danger in making a comparison here, who can question the Godliness or Scripture’s approval of these men? Yet, God mentions three and only three, why these three?

I will not speculate as to why God mentions Noah, Job and Daniel and not others but here is the greater point, is it not clear that God is willing to hold them up above others? Do we have any reason to believe that God does not do the same thing today? I am not advocating seeking preeminence, or competition but I am am asking us to consider that God does make an assessment of His people and some are more pleasing to Him than others.

Are we content to just be going to heaven? Is there any mark of childhood in us that seeks to honor and obey our Father and to be pleasing to Him? Do we realize that how we live toward God now will be reflected throughout eternity?

Matthew 5:19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Beauty amidst destruction

Posted by Gary on February 20, 2007

My Bible reading recently brought me to the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is much to learn from this well known story not least among the lessons, the fact that God detests some sins more than others. How we need to be mindful of this in our day, most recently as the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that homosexual unions are a state right. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was total, God’s displeasure with sodomy could not have been made more clear. Do we think that we will escape judgment as a nation?

In the midst of this story filled with destruction and judgment is the most beautiful picture of God’s electing love. While it is true that the two angels went to Sodom to destroy, they also had another assignment, to save. The recipients of this mercy as we know are Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family. There are a few statements in this chapter that are powerful in their revelation of God’s determination to save those He has chosen, in spite of ourselves:

Genesis 19:15-16 “When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the Lord was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.”

Lot has been warned by two angels (whose miraculous powers he has seen when they struck the men of the city blind). Lot knows the wickedness of this city and the holiness of God. We would imagine that upon hearing of God’s intention to destroy Sodom that Lot would be quick to leave with his family yet we are told something amazing, “He hesitated”. Hesitated? What could Lot have been thinking? Probably thoughts like many of us who are saved thought when God was calling us out of this sinful world that is destined is for fire. Yes, we knew we were in danger, that God’s judgment was set to fall on us and this world yet even when called to forgiveness and escape, we looked around at our life of sin and balked.

What we are told next is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture, “So the men seized his hand”. Wonderful, merciful love of God. God was not willing to let Lot stand and think any longer. Why not? Certainly God knew the folly of sinners, Lot would have waited too long, he would likely have been overcome by the temptation to stay and so God through His angels grabs Lot’s hand and moves him by force. Where is Lot taken? The Bible tells us outside the city, not he alone but his wife and daughters with him. Not only did God move Lot in an initial sense, He brought him where he needed to be, outside the city.

I wonder how my Arminian friends deal with a passage like this? Didn’t God infringe upon Lot’s will? Free will theology would insist that God would never grab someone’s hand while he is pondering his options. Free will theology would say, “Lot wasn’t sure about what he wanted to do and God being a God of love, who always bows to the will of the creature would never have forced Himself upon someone who had not made the decision for themselves.” Thank God that He does act and move upon us according to His will and intention. When God has chosen to save someone, he saves them in spite of their foolish thinking and possible decisions. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

How does this help the cause?

Posted by Gary on February 14, 2007

Very often people will insist that they do not believe the Bible because it was “written by men”. What these people mean is that the Bible was written only by men and therefore exscuses them from the command to believe and obey what the Bible contains. According to these, the Bible was made up by men who were trying to start a religion that they of course would be in charge of and through it could dominate other people’s lives.

I would challenge anyone with such an objection to make a commitment to prayerfully read the Bible in its entirety. As you read I would ask you to note the many things that are included in the Bible that would never have been placed there if it were written merely by men who were trying to start a religion for their own ends. For example, would Peter have included the narrative of his cowardly denial of Jesus if he was trying to hold himself forward as the religious man to follow? (How unlike ministers of our day Peter was, they would have us think they are nearly angelic, every hair in place, perfect lives…Peter on the other hand tells us that he had to be rebuked by Christ and ultimately denied Him).

While reading the Bible today I came across this verse:

Matthew 28:16-17 “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.”

This scene is after the resurrection of Jesus, just before He gives the Great Commission and returned to heaven. These events are absolutely vital to the Christian faith and what does the Word of God tell us? That even after seeing the resurrected Christ some were doubtful. Now can I ask, does it make sense that men who were trying to establish a religion for their own ends would tell us that some people doubted that this was Jesus risen from the dead? How would this revelation help the cause of this so called man-made religion, how would it help people believe this merely man-made Bible?

Imagine a car commercial with a crowd of engineers in white coats standing around it. The commercial makes tremendous claims about the car’s capabilities. Now imagine that each engineer is asked it he believes the car is all that the manufacturer claims it is. Many of engineers confidently say “Yes, I believe it is”. But every third engineer or so says, “Well, I have my doubts.” Man is not willing to be this honest in his presentation when he is trying to get others to believe something.

The Bible’s honesty is a great proof that it is not merely of men. Yes God did use men to write the Bible, but the end product through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, is God’s inerrant, infallible, perfect Word:

2 Peter 1:20 “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Low or high?

Posted by Gary on February 3, 2007

Evolution and Christianity are diametrically opposed to each other (no new revelation here right?). At the heart of the issue is each position’s view of man. Evolution argues that man began as something very low and that he is continually elevating in his complexity and progress. According to evolution man began as a single cell which progressively advanced in the primordial soup. Eventually, became a fish then developed further so that he could eventually crawl out of the soup, then became upright and here he is today, far more advanced, much higher in form than he was at first.

The message of the Bible and Christianity is the express opposite of evolution’s attempt to explain man’s beginning and current status. According to the Bible, man did not begin as something low, he began as something very high:

Genesis 1:25-27God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Notice that the Bible tells us that Adam was made after God had created beasts and animals. Adam is something higher than animal. Before God creates Adam there is conversation within the Trinity: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image…'” Adam’s beginning could not have been more elevated, he was created in the image of God himself. Adam was righteous, Adam was good, Adam was extremely intelligent, so much so that God entrusts Him with the responsibility of naming all the animals God made (Genesis 2:19).

Man’s story according to the Bible is not one of evolution but one of fall. Man did not begin as something low only to ascend the heights of developement and achievement, he began gloriously high and fell from his position of elevation. Far from advancing in knowledge man’s mind is now darkened (Ephesians 4:18). In the fall, man also lost the freedom God created him with, man is now the slave of sin (John 8:34). How else do we explain highly educated people unable to free themselves from things like drunkenness, drugs and pornography? How do we explain as happened recently an Ivy League professor brutally murdering his wife?

Where you stand in this debate is extremely vital. If you believe you started off as something low you will have plenty of reason to pat yourself on the back for your current status, you have an education, have medicines to heal your illnesses and even indoor plumbing, you have come a long way. But if the Bible is true, than any outward advancements cannot hide the inward reality of the darkness within you. Why do you lie? Why do you gossip? Why are you selfish? Why do you lust? Why do reject God and His claim of authority over you life?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well when he said that according to evolution, man only needs a little more time to shake off the remaining animal within him. According to the Bible, man doesn’t need more time, he needs redemption, he needs to be forgiven for his rebellion, he needs to be freed from the sin he is now the slave of. He needs Jesus Christ.

What do you believe? Do you believe you were once low and are moving upward? Or will you accept what the Bible says about you? Will you acknowledge that you (in your first parents Adam and Eve) were once something glorious and high and that you have fallen? Will you acknowledge that you are not an animal but a being made in the image of God with a soul that will one day stand before God? Will you acknowledge your need of Jesus Christ?

Gospel pillar in Job

Posted by Gary on January 27, 2007

One of the pillars of the Christian faith is the fact that human beings are unrighteous and cannot do anything to earn their salvation. Sinful man’s response to this claim of the gospel is that people do good works (drive their elderly neighbor to the store, give money to the poor, pray…) and that these works have have merit with God and can be counted toward our salvation account. I am convinced that the bulk of humanity believes that we possess some level of righteousness and do some level of good works that earn us favor with God.

I recently read the book of Job and noted with interest that the people of Job’s day understood clearly that good works earn us nothing with God. The young man Elihu states it quite plainly:

Job 35:7 “If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, or what does He receive from your hand?

The idea that good works are an “extra” that what we perform earns us points with God is rejected out of hand by the Bible in this place and many others. Elihu’s question could not make it more clear, righteous deeds result in us giving nothing additional to God, nor does God regard it a favor or an extra that we have done something good.

This passage has a parallel passage found in the book of Luke:

Luke 17:7-10 “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? “But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink ‘? “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'”

Immediately, we do not like Jesus’ terminology. Plug yourself into the story, what are you? A slave. What do slaves do? The will of their master. Service performed by a slave is not an extra, it is not meritorious, it is what is expected. We as sinners want to tell ourselves that doing good deeds is an extra, we think we are doing things others aren’t and this should mean something, should earn us something.

The teaching of the Bible is that that God created us to be good, it is His expectation that we do good and our duty to do good, not some of the time, but all of the time. Consider Jesus’ statements as a number line with positive numbers to the right and negative numbers to the left. If you and I did everything we were supposed to do, if we obeyed God every moment of every day, where would it place us on the number line? The answer is, at zero. Listen to Jesus, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” The ESV is even more helpful, “We have only done what was our duty.”

Dear friend, do not rely on good works to earn you anything with God. Goodness is your duty, every day in every situation, thought, motive and word. You have not done good all the time have you? Nor have I. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came and received the punishment that our disobedience deserves, He did good all the time, He performed our duty and then died in our place receiving in Himself the punishment our disobedience deserved.

Ephesians 2:8-9 “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.”

A man's man

Posted by Gary on January 23, 2007

Our Sunday School lesson this past Sunday was in Acts 10 the account of the Apostle Peter at the home of Cornelius. Cornelius the Bible tells us was a Roman soldier, a centurion (commander of 100 men). In every way we would say that Cornelius was a man’s man. He must have been a man of varied strengths and courage and accomplishments. When we consider the fact that he had been given charge of 100 men, we can be convinced that he was all that most would say a real man is. But these are not the only things the Bible tells us about Cornelius, most importantly, according to the Word of God Cornelius was:

Acts 10:2 “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.”

Immediately I wonder if the world considers Cornelius a man’s man now. Yes he is a soldier and a leader of soldiers but he is a leader of soldiers who fears God. Real men don’t fear anything, let alone God. To fear God means that a man recognizes he doesn’t have all the strength he needs. A man who fears God is also concerned about how his actions will be viewed by God, he does not live for himself and his desires but according to the law and standards of God. How unlike the world’s man this is. The world’s man lives for himself and declares as he pounds his chest, “I did it my way.”

As we read Acts 10 and came to the portion where Peter arrived at Cornelius’s house I was struck as I read the account:

Acts 10:24-26 “On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.””

What do you first think of when you read these events? Like me you probably say, “He did something very wrong, he worshiped a man.” This has often been my first reaction when reading these verses, without question his falling down before Peter was wrong. But on Sunday as I thought about these things two things stood out: Cornelius’s humility and his hunger for God.

Imagine this scene, we are told that all of Cornelius’s relatives and friends are present when Peter arrives and here this soldier, this centurion mind you, this man’s man gets up, walks across the room and falls down at Peter’s knees. I wonder what the others in that room thought as they watched Cornelius? Whatever they thought Cornelius didn’t care. Without question his reverence was misdirected, yet it was reverence just the same. Cornelius did not have a full and proper understanding of who God was but he had a great desire and longing to know God and Cornelius knew that this was the man the angel commanded him to send for. Cornelius’s kneeling was a declaration of his desire for God and his humility before God and whatever else we might say about it, God was pleased to reveal Himself to this man and all those with him.

I came away from this passage reminded that God is pleased to reveal Himself to those who humble themselves and who desire Him. How many men will never come to know God because of their pride, their unwillingness to fear God and seek Him. Many men who have no where near the level of manliness that Cornelius had refuse to fear God, refuse to acknowledge their need of Him, will not bow their knee in front of others or in private. Men who do not fear God nor will acknowledge their need of Him will spend eternity separated from Him in hell. The day will come when God will strip the scales of pride from their eyes and they will see what they are and will mourn forever.
As my life progresses I see more and more my pride, my hardness. I think it is manliness, it isn’t; it is sinfulness. Men often want to be like other men they know, may God help me to be like Cornelius.

Isaiah 66:2 “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

No further comment needed

Posted by Gary on January 16, 2007

Matthew 10:34-39 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be members of his household. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

Do not go beyond what is written

Posted by Gary on January 2, 2007

1 Corinthians 4:6 “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written…”

In preparation for messages I would bring during Christmas week a passage of Scripture caught my attention, I found it especially interesting in light of my Roman Catholic upbringing:

Matthew 1:24-25 “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

What especially interested me in this verse was the word, “until”. When I read this verse taking words at their face value I am told that Joseph did not have marital relations with Mary “until” she gave birth to her Son, Jesus. The meaning of this statement should not cause difficulty, while Mary was carrying Jesus in her womb, Joseph did not have intercourse with her and what is more than implied is that after she gave birth to Jesus, he did.

Those of you who are familiar with Roman Catholic doctrine know that the perpetual virginity of Mary is a pillar of Catholicism. The all-important question of course is can this doctrine bear the scrutiny of Scripture. The verse from Matthew listed above gives us great reason to believe that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus. Interestingly, Catholic teaching is that Mary’s virginity remained intact even through delivery:

“The deepening of faith in virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Profession of Faith, section 2, #499)

If the Bible would have us believe that Mary was a virgin perpetually, why does it not read, “But kept her a virgin perpetually” or even, “But kept her a virgin”?

While reading apologists for Mary’s perpetual virginity I find some saying that the word “until” can mean “not anymore” or “forever”. They quote Genesis 8:7: “And he (Noah) sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.” (Until meaning here that the raven did not return anymore Catholic apologists point out). Another passage mentioned by perpetual virginity apologists is Psalm 110:1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” (Argument: Are protestants saying that God will only allow Christ to sit at His right hand until His enemies are defeated and not after?)

How are we to respond to these defenses? Well, we admit that “until” can mean “not anymore” or “forever”, but what is “until’s” common usage? It is a marker of shift in action, someting was not happening, now it is. To summon Psalm 110 is to refuse to think about the passage at hand. “Until” in Psalm 110 is communicating that God the Father has taken up the work of retribution on behalf of His Son against His enemies which will culminate at a certain point when they are defeated forever. The emphasis in this passage is not how long Christ will sit, it is the defeat of His enemies. However, in Matthew 1:25 the emphasis is on how long Mary was a virgin. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »