Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Impracticality of Doctrinal Ignorance

I remember the first time I was confronted about my ignorance of Christian doctrine. I was working as a teacher at South High School. One day, a student came to me and asked a question about how he should view the aberrant theology of his friends. I did not know how to respond. I was not even able to articulate what was wrong with their doctrine, let alone the dangerous consequences of it. Until then, I did not find it a practical matter to really know the doctrine I professed to believe. My student challenged me about my ignorance and I knew he was right. That day became a turning point in my life.

Over the next several years, I went about the task of studying the doctrines of the Christian faith. I was so enamored by the depth of our faith that I started attending seminary. The more I studied doctrine the more my picture of God, His work, and myself changed. I saw a growth in grace that led me away from what was a “pharisaical” view of what it meant to know Christ (i.e. being a moral, church-going, middle-class, Republican) to a Biblical view of knowing Christ (i.e. having self-abandoning love for the gospel of the glory of Christ). What changed? I came to understand the doctrines of my faith!

As I shifted into a pastoral and teaching role, I began to hear my old attitude reflected among other Christians. I would constantly hear people tell me that doctrine is nice, but what we really need is practical teaching. I would tell people that doctrine is practical, and they would often shrug me off as a young idealist. Even recently, as I was talking about how all of Scripture points to Christ, I had a Christian woman tell me that it is nice to talk about such things, “but that kind of teaching really belongs in the college, because it is just not practical for the average working person.” Is doctrinal instruction impractical? Is it impractical to plumb the depths of the doctrines that are revealed in Scripture?

I am sure most people would answer these questions, “no.” However, if I pushed them farther and asked about more specific doctrines, like the atonement, many would probably change their response. For example, if I asked the average church attendee how important they think penal substitution, or imputation, are to understand, most people would respond negatively. I would argue that most do not know what they are, and don’t care.

A couple of years ago, while at a Ligonier Conference, I was reminded once again of the practical nature of doctrines most people do not consider worth studying. Commenting on Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” Dr. J. Ligon Duncan said, “If you do not understand the atonement you cannot truly know how to love your wife!” You cannot love your wife as Christ loved the church, if you do not understand His atoning sacrifice for the church. You simply cannot imitate what you do not know! Suddenly, it becomes painfully obvious how impractical it is for a husband to be ignorant of the doctrine of the atonement.

Using the doctrine of the atonement as an example, we can see several other areas where it is incredibly impractical to be ignorant of doctrine. In John 15:12-13, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” In Jesus’ reference to his own impending sacrifice, we learn that the atonement is foundational to an understanding of how we are to love other believers. I cannot truly love my brothers and sisters in Christ if I do not understand the atonement.

In Matthew 20:26-28, Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In Jesus’ response to the desire of two of his disciples’ request for leadership, we learn that true leadership is only understood in light of the atonement. If someone does not understand the atonement, he does not understand true leadership.

In Ephesians 4:32, Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We cannot understand how to rightly forgive one another if we do not understand the atonement.

It is impossible to truly live the Christian life, if we do not have a right understanding of the revelation of God and His work given to us in Scripture. Therefore, not only is it practical for the average working person to learn the truths revealed in Scripture, it is terribly impractical for them to remain doctrinally ignorant!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Trinitarian Nature of Supplication in the Lord's Prayer

As I have been studying the Lord's Prayer, I have been struck by the Stott's insight into the Trinitarian nature of supplication in the Lord's Prayer. Each of the requests can be ascribed to a role filled by a member of the Godhead.

1. "Give us this day our Daily Bread," can be ascribed to the Father's role in creation and providence.

2. "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors," can be ascribed to the Son's role in atoning for our sins and bringing us forgiveness.

3. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," can be ascribed to the Spirit's role of indwelling us and empowering us to be holy.

How to Pray for our Daily Needs

As I preached this week on the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer, I thought through 3 requests that should be made for our daily needs:

1. Ask God for what is necessary for each day. He knows what you need and promises to provide. Matthew 6:11, Matthew 7:7-11, Matthew 6:25-34, Phil. 4:19.

2. Ask God for what is necessary to keep you humble and bring him glory. He has provided you with abundance so you can enjoy it and be generous to others, not so you will trust in it and deny Him. Proverbs 30:7-9, Luke 12:13-21, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, James 4:2-3.

3. Ask God for the needs of others. Jesus did not teach us to pray, "Give me this day my daily bread," but "Give us this day our daily bread." Matthew 6:11

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Silent Holocaust

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. Psalm 139:13-16

Today commemorates the 36th anniversary of the beginning of the greatest holocaust in world history. It is a holocaust that has seen the systematic destruction of approximately 50 million innocent human beings. It is a holocaust that has possibly engaged over 80 million people in the role of being an active participant in murder. It is a holocaust that has been endorsed by over 150 million people as a great freedom. It is a holocaust that has left another 150 million people in relative apathy. It is a holocaust that most of us never see, but that we are all affected by. The greatest holocaust in world history is a silent holocaust. It is abortion.

It was January 22, 1973, when the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade took place. On that day, America entered an era of barbarism and murder unknown in human history. It was a day that confirmed we do not need to fear the barbarians on the outside of the gates nearly as greatly as we must fear the barbarians inside the gates. It was the beginning of a war on the innocent unborn that has claimed over 50 million civilian casualties. It is a war on women and children led by politicians and judges. It is a war that lurks in the background of our daily American life. It is a war that daily kills the most innocent among us, while we remain relatively emotionally detached and unaffected.

With the legal approval of abortion, the landscape for world war has changed. The most dangerous place in the world is not a Muslim nation, or the frontlines of the war in Iraq, or North Korea, or the most dangerous inner city. The most dangerous place in the world is the womb of a woman. The war is no longer over territory, or oil, or religion. The war is now over making life more convenient. The war is no longer fought by soldiers, but by doctors, nurses, politicians and judges. Those who were at one time sworn to uphold life are now in the primary role of taking it.

So, what do we do about it? How do we stop this murderous reign? Is it even possible to bring an end to this silent holocaust? These are all questions that must be answered. We can bring an end to legal abortion in America. We should bring an end to legal abortion in America. It is our responsibility as Christians to enter this war as the protectors of the unborn. The Bible is clear that these unborn children are fully human. The Bible is also clear that murder is evil. There is no neutral ground in this war. We either stand and fight on behalf of the unborn, or we become complicit in their murder (Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 5:28-29).

Our fight for the unborn must include: prayer, education, care for orphans and women who have been abandoned in pregnancy, and participating in the political process. We need to pray for the women who are pregnant, confused, and desperate for help. These women are also victims of our culture of death and quick fixes. They are being lied to about the reality of abortion. We must pray for them. We must pray for those in the medical profession to have the boldness to come out against this barbaric procedure. We must pray for God to change the hearts of those in political office and in the courts. We must pray for those organizations, like Right to Life and Crisis Pregnancy Centers, who are fighting for the unborn. We must begin to educate young and old people alike to the reality of abortion. We must show the gruesome nature of abortion. We must bring forward the testimonies of the women who have been personally hurt by the procedure that they were led to believe would help them. We must help fund those groups that are putting out information on abortion.

The biological evidence is on our side. We can now see more in the womb than ever before! We must get this video evidence out. On this note, I have attached a link to a video on abortion. It is very graphic, but I urge you to watch it. You will not be able to remain silent anymore. I want to caution those women who have had abortions to think long and hard before choosing to watch this. It may be best for you to abstain from watching it. Here is the link.

We must participate in caring for the orphans and those women who have been abandoned in pregnancy. We can help with this through participation in the ministry of the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center. We can participate in sidewalk counseling (this is the ministry of talking with women who are going to Planned Parenthood to seek an abortion) in front of the Bakersfield Planned Parenthood. We can participate in adopting children that have been orphaned. It is our responsibility and privilege to care for the weak (James 1:29). We must participate in the political process to bring an end to abortion.

When you fight against abortion you will be called a single-issue voter. You will be called a religious nut. You will be accused of oppressing the rights of women. None of this matters when it comes to fighting against the murder of millions of babies! You can engage in the political process by helping groups like Kern County Right to Life or the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center. You can participate by refusing to support or vote for a politician who is pro-choice.

I often hear the objection that one issue is not enough to decide who to vote for. I agree with this logic. However, one issue is enough to decide whom not to vote for. In other words, I may not vote for you because you are pro-life, but I will definitely vote against you if you are pro-choice. How can we possibly vote for a man or woman who agrees with everything we hold to, but who wants to uphold a law that declares war on the unborn? I will not cast a vote for those who think it should be legal to kill innocent babies! If I am marginalized politically, so be it. If we stand and fight on this, I believe those in favor of abortion will be marginalized politically. It is our compromise and apathy on this issue that has brought us to this point. We cannot afford this course of action any longer. We have only been in this fight for 36 years. It may seem like a long time, but men fought for an end to slavery far longer. Those who stood for abolition were marginalized for many years. Eventually, their prayers were answered and their tireless efforts paid off. Oh, that the Lord will raise us up in this battle and we will see an end to this silent American holocaust. Oh, that God’s church will wake from its slumber and allow this holocaust to remain silent

Monday, January 19, 2009

John Calvin on Slothfulness in Prayer

“That we lie on earth poor and famished and almost destitute of spiritual blessings, while Christ sits in glory at the right hand of the Father, clothed with the highest majesty of empire, must be imputed to our slothfulness and the narrowness of our faith.”

Source: Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Living God's Will

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”---Deuteronomy 29:29

After preaching a couple of weeks ago, I got one of those emails that every preacher of the Bible loves to receive. One of the young ladies in attendance said, “Your sermon has been much on my mind this week. It's caused me to look at where I have been and where I am now in a new light... and that's great.” Of course, every pastor is filled with delight upon hearing that people have been led to think about their own lives as a result of a sermon. Perhaps, even more exciting is when people go a step further and begin asking questions spurred on from the sermon. This young lady continued her email with the following question, “Do you think it's possible to not live out God's will for your life?”

As I thought about how to answer her question, I decided to answer it in the newsletter, because those who begin to understand the sovereignty of God so often ask it. I have always believed God is sovereign. For many years, my definition of His sovereignty, however, only accounted for His right to have authority over all things. I thought he waived some of this right in order to provide us with some measure of freedom. Certainly, I believed that He knew what I and all other creatures would do. I believed His foreknowledge was exhaustive. However, I did not believe He was acting in my free decisions. I thought this kind of activity on God’s part would rob me of freedom and make Him the author of my sin.

I remember how offended I was when I first learned that God not only has the right to have authority over all things, but that He exercises that right. I learned that He not only exhaustively foreknows all things, but He actually decrees them. I was offended because I did not like the idea that God is actually exercising His sovereign will, rather than allowing me to autonomously exercise mine. Suddenly, I realized that God was involved in every area of my life. God creates, sustains, and redeems His people. He decreed everything that would come to pass and He is sovereignly active in every decision. When I came to understand this truth, which I do not intend to defend here, I had all sorts of questions. One of the questions I had was the same one the young lady from our church body asked me. Is it possible to not live out God’s will for your life? I offer two answers to this question:

1. Yes, it is possible to violate God’s will for your life. God has clearly revealed His will for your life throughout Scripture. We call this God’s preceptive will. If we want to know how God would have us walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, we must look to the Bible. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We must have our minds transformed if we hope to live out the will of God. This transformation of our mind happens only through studying the Word. Psalm 119:9-11 answers the question of how a young man can keep his way pure,

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

When God gave us His incomparable gift of the Scripture, He also gave us the responsibility to open this gift of revelation and live by it. Through the Bible we have both moral commands and general wisdom that are given to us for our benefit and His glory. We not only can violate God’s preceptive will, we do it all the time. We call this violation, “sin.” As believers in Christ, we are continually thankful that Jesus kept the preceptive will of God perfectly.

2. No, it is not possible to violate God’s will for your life. Did I just contradict myself? Although it may seem like I am contradicting myself, I am talking about a different will of God. When we speak of God’s will, we not only speak of His preceptive will, we also speak of His decretive will. God has sovereignly decreed all that will occur. He decreed to create, to permit the Fall, to elect men to salvation, to send His Son as the Messiah, to send His Spirit, to establish His church, and to eventually consummate His kingdom. He controls the universe, the physical world, the brute creation, the affairs of nations, man’s birth and lot in life, the outward success and failures of men’s lives, things seemingly accidental, the persecution of the righteous, the supplying of the needs of His people, the answers to prayer, and the exposure and punishment of the wicked (see
Berkof’s “Systematic Theology,” 2nd ed., for a good detailing of this).

When I explain how exhaustive God’s sovereignty is over the affairs of men, people often ask me if I am saying God is guilty of moral evil. Scripture is clear that God is not guilty of evil. We are guilty of evil. Yet, God has decreed to permit our sinful acts. After Joseph’s brothers committed an evil act against him, he said in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Peter understood God’s decretive will in regard to Jesus’ crucifixion in a similar manner. In Acts 2:23, Peter said, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” When we say that God decreed to permit these evil acts, we do not mean that He gave people the right to do evil. Instead, we mean that God gave people the ability to do evil.

God does not always reveal His sovereign decretive will to us; prophecy is an exception. Instead, the secret things belong to the Lord. He did not tell me whom I would marry. He did not tell me I would be planting a church. He did not tell me I would have two children. He did not tell me Hurricane Katrina would happen. He has not told me who the next President of the United States will be. He has not told me who will win the many athletic competitions this year, nor has He given me the winning lottery numbers. I have not been called to figure out the secret things of the Lord. I have been called to know, trust, and obey what He has revealed in His Word.
I imagine that, like me, the young lady who asked the question wanted to know if she could violate God’s decretive will. We all want to know if we can marry the wrong person, or choose the wrong job, or buy the wrong house, or go to the wrong college, or choose the wrong mission field. The answer is, “no.” However, we can make an unwise or sinful choice. We can make a choice that violates the preceptive will of God, and we will be held accountable for those unwise and sinful decisions. I pray that we would learn to attend to the preceptive will of God and trust Him to sovereignly care for everything else.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Characteristics of those in whom the Kingdom of God is "coming."

This week I preached on the second petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Your Kingdom Come." I explained that when we pray this we need to understand that we are asking the Lord to come in the ultimate eschatological (last days) sense, and for him to come here and now. We are asking the Lord to spread his kingdom in our hearts and the hearts of others. So, what does it look like when God spreads his kingdom of grace in the hearts of men? What are the characteristics of those in whom the kingdom of God is "coming?" I have listed 5 characteristics. This list is not comprehensive.

1. Our self-righteousness is replaced by the realization that we are completely spiritually bankrupt. Matthew 5:3

2. Our loathing of suffering is replaced by rejoicing in the fellowship of Christ's suffering. Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 5:3; Philippians 1:29, 3:10.

3. Our pursuit of self-protection and comfort is traded for the pursuit of righteousness. Matthew 6:33

4. Our deepest treasure is no longer found in the riches of this world, but in the riches of Christ. Matthew 13:44-46

5. Our half-hearted and weak devotion will be replaced by confident and thankful worship. Hebrews 12:28

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Logic of God's Loving Self-Exaltation

As I was preaching on the first petition of the Lord's prayer this week, it struck me that Jesus tells us to pray for God's Name to be hallowed. In other words, God wants us to pray that his Name will be set apart as holy, glorified, crowned with all praise! In fact, all of Scripture demonstrates that everything from creation to redemption is for the glory of God's Name. God is relentlessly pursuing the praise of his own glory. He wants his character to be displayed and rejoiced in. This begs a question:

How God can be loving and yet so self-exalting? How can God be relentlessly self-interested and still be love? Doesn't the Bible tell us love is not self-seeking (1 Cor. 13)?

Yes, the Bible does tell us love is not self-seeking. For any man to seek his own exaltation and glory would be the ultimately unloving act. So, how can it be loving for God to pursue his own glory?

Let me answer this by giving you a series of 7 questions that provide the biblical logic for God's loving self-exaltation:

1. What is more loving than providing the object of your love joy?
2. What provides more earthly joy than that which transcends self, is grander than us, more beautiful than us, more awe-inspiring than us? (Just think of the joy you receive in a sunset on the beach, or the birth of your child, or your wedding day, or a great sports moment, or a great sacrificial act).
3. What is the consummation of your moments of earthly joy, if it is not praise? Is your praise not the fulfillment of your joy? (Simply think of the spontaneous praise offered during a great sports moment).
4. If the moments of joy we experience on earth are temporal, would it not be superior to receive that which can bring eternal joy?
5. What can bring eternal joy, which consummates in praise, other than the only eternally praise-worthy Lord of all? If you can experience the only eternally joy-inducing and most glorious, majestic, beautiful, and awe-inspiring God of all, why would you settle for some lesser and temporal joy?
6. What would be more unloving than to point the object of your love away from the all-sufficient, eternal joy of God, so that they can rejoice in a temporal moment alone?
7. What could be more loving than for God, in whose right hand is found joy forevermore, to continue to display his glory, so that the objects of his love have the privilege of consummating their joy in eternal praise?

Therefore, for Jesus to bid us to pray, "Hallowed be Your Name," is the most loving prayer in which he could direct us. For it is in God answering this prayer that we receive eternal joy which consummates in the praise of his glory!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Major Gift of New Land!

Sovereign Grace received a major gift this last week of 18.2 acres of land. We had been praying all year that God would provide land and on December 30th I had the privilege of officially signing for the gift. Here is a picture of our land on Snow Road and Old Farm Road. Our land is outlined in red below.