Thursday, June 28, 2007

How to drown your sorrows

From Spurgeon’s “ The Immutability of God:”
It has been said by some one that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.

And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatary. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul, so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.
I can vouch for this truth. When my spirits are low, I’ve read the lament psalms and found them to be little comfort. But in reading the royal psalms, or God’s answer to Job, or one of Paul’s doxologies I have found that my problems will seem suddenly distant and small. Those things of Earth that grow strangely dim definitely include the troubles of the mortal life. In magnifying God, my spirits are lifted. When God looks bigger, my trials look smaller.

(Recommended reading: Here Ed Welch recommends reading Job 38-42 every day for a month – “If you read these chapters every day for a month you will find that they are a treatment for almost anything.” HT: Justin Taylor)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Calvinist? Arminian?

After my ruminations on the first paragraph of Ephesians 1, some might wonder why I said nothing about election. After perusing my list of favorite blogs, my friends and family might be wondering if I’m a Calvinist. So I thought I should state clearly where I stand on the election question:

I don’t care.
I’m not a Calvinist, nor am I an Arminian. I’m a non-participant in the debate. I’ve found neither side’s argument completely convincing thus far, and I have insufficient interest to continue searching at this time. That is for one reason:

It doesn’t matter.
Now, in the end, maybe the Calvinists are right, maybe the Arminians are right, and maybe there’s another position that’s closer to the truth. I doubt we’ll know this side of glory. The simple fact is, if there is Calvinist-style election, we don’t know who is elected. We were instructed to go make disciples; we go everywhere and tell everyone. Some will become disciples – however that happens, when it happens we are indebted entirely to God through Jesus Christ. But the how and why are beside the point.

I’m not trying to give theology a bad rap. I love theology, and I think everyone should know what they believe and why they believe it, but this particular debate generates lots of heat and no light and the answer should have no bearing on how we live our lives because:

The election question does not change the Great Commission or the Great Commandment.
I have enough trouble living those out. I’ll save this question for heaven.

More on Ephesians 1

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ephesians 1: We get to know how it ends!

Why did people go see the movie Titanic? Because they wanted to know how it ended? The same can be said for many movies including The Passion of the Christ and 300. Why go see a movie when you know how it's going to end? Because you want to see how they get there.

In this passage, Paul tells us that we already know how the story's going to turn out.

Eph 1:9-10 – The paragraph ends with this, that just because He felt like it, God let us in on His plan which had been the big secret for eons – namely that all things would be brought under the rule of Christ. Once again we see that the Fall and the cross were not surprises but God's plan. And we have emphasized here the glorious truth that, because He endured the cross, Christ will be given authority over all things. Because of this, we do not have to worry about how things will work out. Things may not always go our way, and they may not even seem to be going His way, but in the end, Christ will be seen to be ruler over everything.

The simple truth of history is that we already know how things are going to work out – we're just waiting to see the details of how it comes to pass.

More on Ephesians 1

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Out and about in Sin City

My work sent me to our national organization's annual meeting; fortunately my wife's in the same profession and is here too. (My parents were gracious enough to keep the kids.) Since they put us up in a nice hotel, I was sure I’d have free internet access (plus many other amenities). I was wrong.

We’re in New Orleans this week. It’s still trying to recover from the blow dealt it almost two years ago. It’s also still filled with darkness. Set aside the bars and casinos – there are things in New Orleans that give whole new meaning to “Sin City.” Please pray for this city – for its recovery physically but also spiritually.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ephesians 1: Lavished with grace

Eph 1:7-8 – We have redemption "in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." We probably need a sufficiently terrible view of our own depravity before we really understand just how richly we are blessed. (For that, I suggest reading Romans. Or the newspaper.)

God did not just toss us a bone; He has lavished His goodness on us, redeeming us from our sins and adopting us into His family. A child who's been given a wonderful present has every reason to feel grateful, but the child who's been literally buried in presents had darn well better realize and respond to just how much he's been given. Our problem is that we've both been buried under presents repeatedly and been told (by various parties in various ways) that we deserved the gifts. We've had the audacity to grow used the story of how we were raised up out of the mud and made rich.

Even so, we mustn't say that God didn't know what would happen. He lavished His grace "with all wisdom and understanding" – He knew exactly what He was doing and thought it worthwhile (which makes His love that much harder to understand).

More on Ephesians 1

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ephesians 1 (aside): Let's let everyone into heaven!

Many people say that a god who will not forgive everyone isn’t worthy of worship. I particularly like this version: A god who's not “at least as compassionate as me” isn't worth serving. These folks think that eventually everyone will end up in heaven.

Frankly I think a heaven created by such a god would be just too much for me. Just think about the people you’d have to keep apart. Alexander the Great would tease Hitler because, after all the trouble he went through, he didn’t even conquer the world. Stalin and Mao Zedong would raz Hitler because they killed a lot more people and ruled much larger empires. And then Pol Pot would whine that, after all the people he killed, all he really got to run was a dinky little 3rd world country with little in the way of wealth or weapons. But then this whole bunch would form a clique and call Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson “the lightweights.”

Some would say, of course, that these folks wouldn’t make it into their envisioned heaven, but that would be because they don’t see that a god who forgives everyone can’t very well hold Hitler’s sins against him and a god who holds Hitler’s sins against him will have to judge everyone else by a consistent standard as well. Even as lenient a standard as simply doing what we know we shouldn’t would leave us all habitual offenders with thousands of stains on our souls.

The truth is that we don't like to talk about God punishing sin largely because we don't understand sin. Sin is, first and foremost, rebellion against God. No, lying is not just as bad as murder, but lying is rebellion just like murder. We live in a universe created by a holy God. In ages past, Satan convinced untold legions of angels to join him in rebelling against God. He then convinced Adam to do the same, and that sin stained Adam and became an innate tendency to rebel against God that was passed on to each of his descendents. Every sin we commit is joining in Satan's rebellion, and so our sin joins us to Satan's fate.

To those who don’t like the idea of hell, I say that God doesn’t like it either. That’s why He gave us a way out. In His incomprehensible mercy, God has chosen to provide us, at a very high price, a way to avoid joining Satan in the consequences of his rebellion. He has offered us clemency, but it is on His terms. If we try to dictate the terms of His clemency, we only further spit in His face, we only persist in our rebellion.

But if we lay down our arms and accept His gift, He has offered to cast our sins into a sea of forgetfulness. And not only that, He has offered to adopt us as His very own children! That is a God worth serving!

More on Ephesians 1

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ephesians 1: Created for redemption

Verse 7 starts: “In him we have redemption…” I think we’ve grown used to the idea that we’ve been redeemed, saved, rescued. It doesn’t hold enough wonder for modern American Christians. I pray that this idea will grab hold of us as it deserves because, as Oswald Chambers put it, “once you realize all that it cost God to forgive you, you will be held as in a vice, constrained by the love of God.” (1)

This is the gospel: We were in rebellion against our King. We deserved destruction, and yet we were redeemed. When we had nothing to offer and nothing to make us attractive, we were bought with a price – and what a price! We are redeemed “through his blood.” God became a man for the sole purpose of shedding His blood for us. In all of human history there was only one who did not deserve death, and He died for us.

There is a trend these days to talk about how the cross was not (or was not merely) about God forgiving us our sins; instead they want to talk about God repairing the relationship, or adopting us, or freeing us from spiritual bondage. All that is true, too, but we must never minimize the truth that we had rebelled against a righteous God and deserved destruction, but God, who is rich in mercy, paid the debt we owed so that He could be both just and justifier of him who believes. They seem to think it makes God small to hold our sins against us, but this beautiful truth makes God big.

The great Judge knew we were guilty and still went to great lengths to create for us a way out. This was not an afterthought or damage control – He created us knowing this would be necessary. He made us to redeem us. This does not make God small; it makes God huge!

More on Ephesians 1

(1) My Utmost for His Highest, November 20

Friday, June 8, 2007

Ephesians 1: Saved for God's benefit

Verse 6 introduces a truth that will be repeated a few times in Ephesians – we are redeemed and adopted “to the praise of his glorious grace.” This is not to discount God’s love for us or to in any way reduce the value that He sees in us, but the simple fact is that salvation is, first and foremost, about Him. We are saved that we may glorify Him. We are saved so that He may display His grace to the universe. We are saved for His benefit.

It seems that the whole question of meritorious works should be settled by this point. If we could in any way contribute to our salvation, it would detract from the credit that He receives for it. If nothing else is learned from the OT, this should be clear – God Almighty does not share His glory.

For my own name's sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another. (Isaiah 48:9, 11 NIV)
Our God is jealous for His glory, so we can say that we are saved for good works, but we cannot say we are in any shape, form, or fashion saved by good works.

More on Ephesians 1

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ephesians 1: Are we friends or children?

Verse 5 says He chose us to be not only holy and blameless but also “adopted as his sons … in accordance with his pleasure and will….” Here is one of the great mysteries of God’s plan – He created us, we rebelled, He redeemed us; now He calls us not just servants or even friends but sons.

Perhaps you’ve heard the song “Friend of God.” I heard a dj, in response to that song, say that to be God’s sons and daughters is nice, but it’s great to be God’s friend. Huh? I had a professor put it this way: my friends can come into my house, kick off their shoes, and grab a drink; my kids can rearrange the furniture. My friends are guests, but my kids are at home!

Now, if we were merely servants or guests in His house it would be far more than we deserve, but He goes so far as to call us “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

Why did He do this? “In accordance with his pleasure and will” – in other words, because He wanted to. What other reason could there be, really; there is certainly nothing in us to merit such favor. Such love comes simply from who He is. And He is awesome!

More on Ephesians 1

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ephesians 1: Creation and Calvary

Ephesians 1:3-10 is one of those passages of which I am sure that I could never dig my way to the bottom. Verse 3 starts with a praise to God for the blessing He has given us in Christ; the rest of the paragraph seems to be an elaboration on that notion. Verse 4, then, gives us this gem: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

This whole paragraph repeats the same notion that is so clearly stated here – God has been working on a plan from the beginning. Before the creation of the world He knew about the Fall. Our God was not surprised by Adam’s rebellion, and the cross was not a last ditch effort to save us. Before He made Adam He knew it would lead to the cross. And still He made Adam.

We talk about how low Christ sank and how deep He sacrificed to hang on the cross, and I believe we can only grasp a tiny bit of what it really cost Him, but also we have to remember that His plan from the beginning was to redeem His own. We should never forget that He created man with the cross already on the horizon. What love.

More on Ephesians 1

Friday, June 1, 2007

Is ignorance no excuse?

There’s a story in the news about a man who was charged with a felony for using a store’s free wi-fi. The interesting part is that no one, including, of course, this man, knew this was against the law. Of course, someone will say, “ignorance is no excuse.” We can debate that as far as human law goes, but you’re probably right.

Thankfully, though, ignorance is an excuse with God. We will not be held accountable for that which we do not know. In God’s justice, those with the law will be judged according to the law, and those without the law will be judged without it.

However, while we can be grateful that God will judge us fairly, we don't get off easy. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” And “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” So, even though God will not judge us by what we don’t know, He will judge us by what we all know and by the standards that we ourselves employ. That will be enough to convict every man – every man whose debt has not been paid by Christ.