Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 7)

Edwards provides 3 more positive signs to know if a work is a true work of the Spirit. I want to give a brief overview of those 3 positive signs in today's post.

1. "The spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God." Commenting on 1 John 4:6 Edwards rightly establishes that a true work of the Spirit is a work which causes us to love his word more and to gain a clearer understanding of his word. If you see a work of a spirit which is not bringing about a greater hunger for the word of God in Scripture, and a greater illumination of God's word to the mind, then you are not seeing a true work of the Spirit of God. Satan may appear as an angel of light but he never points people to the light of God in the Word. Rather, he leads them to increasing darkness. He confuses their minds and leaves them with strange and novel interpretations of what God has said. Satan started this practice in the Garden and he continues it to this day.

2. "...if by observing the manner of the operation of a spirit that is at work among a people, we see that it operates as a spirit of truth, leading persons to truth, convincing them of those things that are true, we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit." A true work of the Spirit of God leads men away from error into truth. Satan is a deceiver. The Spirit of God is the truth teller. If a work of a spirit is leading us away from the lies of Satan and to the truth, that spirit is the Spirit.

3. "If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God." Edwards draws this mark from the rest of 1 John 4, but particularly from v. 12-13, "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit." Edwards presses us to define love as it is so in 1 John 4. This kind of sacrificial payment of great cost to self for the sake of showing kindness to others is the work of the Spirit of God.

However, Edwards warns us that there is a counterfeit of this love which often appears among those with a spirit of delusion. "Indeed there is a counterfeit love, that often appears among those who are led by a spirit of delusion. There is commonly in the wildest enthusiasts, a kind of union and affection, arising from self-love, occasioned by their agreeing in those things wherein they greatly differ from all others, and from which they are the objects of the ridicule of all the rest of mankind. This naturally will cause them so much the more to prize those peculiarities that make them the object of others' contempt." Edwards names groups such as the Gnostics, and fanatics like the Quakers. He goes on to argue that true love is marked by humility which arises from an apprehension of the free grace and sovereignty of God's love to us in Christ.

Let me conclude by reminding my brothers and sisters in Christ that we are not cynical, or quenching the Spirit, when we don't believe every spirit. We are being obedient! We are commanded by God to not believe every spirit but to test them, for many false spirits have gone out into the world. I pray we will take the apostle's admonition seriously and test claims of a work of the Spirit. We are commanded to do no less.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 6)

Today we turn to the second positive sign that a work is of the Spirit of God. Edwards said, "when the spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan's kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men's worldly lusts; this is a sure sign that it is a true, and not a false spirit."

Working through 1 John 4, Edwards has come to v. 4-5 in which John says, "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them." Edwards wants to drive home the point that a true work of the Spirit causes us to overcome worldliness, not to press further into worldliness. He argued that his readers need to understand John's use of "the world" as defined by 1 John 2:15-16.

Edwards rightly argues from his understanding of 1 John that a spirit that is at work "after such a manner, as to lessen men's esteem of the pleasures, profits, and honours of the world, and to take off their hearts from an eager pursuit after these things; and to engage them in a deep concern about a future state and eternal happiness which the gospel reveals--and puts them upon earnestly seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and the spirit that convinces them of the dreadfulness of sin, the guilt it brings, and the misery to which it exposes, must needs be the Spirit of God."

As a short summary, we have learned so far that 2 positive marks of a true work of the Spirit are that He causes in us (1) a growing esteem for the biblical Jesus, and (2) a growth in holiness as defined by turning away from worldliness and the vileness of sin unto Christ and his righteousness.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 5)

Today we turn to consider the sure marks and evidences of a work of the Holy Spirit. Edwards used 1 John 4 as his text and confined his marks of a true work to that text. We will consider those marks from 1 John 4 with him. Let me remind you of the command to be cautious and to "test" claims of a work of the Spirit. Let's be careful to remember that we are not quenching the Spirit, nor being cynical, when we are cautious and test claims. Instead we are being obedient to a direct command.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.~1 John 4:1

Mark 1~ "When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God." Edwards points to this mark of a true work of the Spirit from 1 John 4:2-3. When a claimed work of the Spirit of God is such as to "convince them of Christ, and lead them to him--to confirm their minds in the belief of the history of Christ as he appeared in the flesh--and that he is the Son of God, and was sent of God to save sinners; that he is the only Saviour, and that they stand in great need of him; and if he seems to beget in them higher and more honourable thoughts of him than they used to have, and to incline their affections more to him; it is a sure sign that it is a true and right Spirit."

The apostle John is likely rebuking docetists as he writes this in 1 John. Docetists would claim to believe in Jesus. They denied he had an actual physical body. They believed he only appeared to have physicality. Edwards understands properly that John is arguing that a true work of the Spirit leads us to a greater understanding and affection for the true biblical Christ (though he would also be clear to say that the Holy Spirit could point you to the true Christ as he hardens your heart). Edwards points out the false Christ extolled among the Quakers. He is basically arguing the Holy Spirit leads us into a true biblical understanding of Christ, as best expressed historically in the great Christian creeds.  

Here is the nub of this point: If your "experience of the spirit" does not lead you to a truer understanding and affection for the biblical Jesus, as he is faithfully expressed in the Christian creeds, then your experience can't be trusted. The Mormons claimed great experiences of the spirit, including speaking in tongues, emotional experiences, hearing from God, and healings. Satan is capable of of counterfeits. We must not believe every spirit. We must test them. Tomorrow I will turn to more of Edwards' marks of a true work of the Spirit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 4)

As we continue working through Jonathan Edwards' work, I hope to cover negative signs 5-9 today. Please keep in mind Edwards is arguing for the idea that certain phenomena are neither signs the Spirit of God is at work, nor signs he could not be at work. These are what he calls negative signs. We will turn next to signs that are necessarily present if the Holy Spirit is at work.

5. "It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that example is a great means of it. It is surely no argument that an effect is not from God, that means are used in producing it..." Edwards seems to be arguing Christians should not deny an effect in one person because the example of another person was the means used to bring about the effect. If a man is moved to worship by seeing others worship as he hears the word, Edwards argues this man's worship is not necessarily less genuine. On the other hand, this man's worship could be just an attempt to conform or follow a pattern seen in others.

6. "It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that many, who seem to be the subjects of it, are guilty of great imprudences and irregularities in their conduct. We are to consider that the end for which God pours out his Spirit, is to make men holy, and not to make them politicians." Edwards is arguing that the Spirit works among men who are sinners. He is working to make them holy, but they still struggle with sin. If one argues the Spirit can't be present where sin is still great, then one has not read 1 Corinthians. However, the Spirit is not present where there is no repentance and growth in holiness.

7. "Nor are many errors in judgment, and some delusions of Satan intermixed with the work, any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit of God." It is not only possible but likely Satan will attempt to bring confusion when the Spirit is at work. He will produce counterfeits alongside the true work of the Spirit, so as to confuse God's people. Error and delusions does not necessarily rule out that the Holy Spirit can be at work in the main. Of course, all of this is provided the positive signs of a true work of the Spirit are present.

8. "If some, who were thought to be wrought upon, fall away into gross errors, or scandalous practices, it is no argument that the work in general is not the work of the Spirit of God." Whenever the Spirit of God is at work in men, there are bound to be men who are phonies. Those men may look like the real deal initially. Their fall is no proof that the work of the Holy Spirit was not working at all. The Spirit of God was at work in the apostles while Judas turned out to be a phony. However, most would have considered Judas the real deal as he cast our demons and followed Christ. The devil always sows tares in among the wheat.

9. "It is no argument that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that it seems to be promoted by ministers insisting very much on the terrors of God's holy law, and that with a great deal of pathos and earnestness." It seems that many were arguing the preachers of the day were stirring up excessively emotional responses by speaking passionately about the terrors of the law and the coming pains of Hell. Edwards can't imagine the idea of coldly and calmly speaking of people going to Hell. He believes the minister's primary job is to preach the gospel. He also believes we must warn people with tears of their coming judgment apart from Christ. He does not believe we can rule out men's responses to this kind of preaching as superficial fear. The Spirit of God could very much be at work. He also may not be.

All 9 of these signs could demonstrate we have strange fire and not a true work of the Spirit of God. However, none of these 9 signs necessitate that the general work occuring is strange fire. So, how do we then judge a whether a work is strange fire or a true work of the Spirit of God? To answer that question we will turn to the positive signs of a true work of the Spirit in our next post


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 3)

In today's post I plan to list in rather short form three of Edwards' negative signs of a true work of the Spirit. Please keep in mind that Edwards is arguing that these signs neither confirm, nor exclude, a true work of the Spirit. They are simply phenomena that may exist in the midst of true work of the Spirit or under a false spirit. This list begins with the second negative sign, as I already covered the first in my last post.

1. "A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tremblings, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength." Edwards speaks of the connection of soul and body. He argues that these effects on the body may be a result of the work of the Spirit. If a man captures a glimpse of the Hell that awaits him, or the glory of God, he may have many of these effects in his body. These also may be outward effects of false religion. One simply cannot judge a false or true spirit based upon these phenomena.

2. "It is no argument that an operation on the minds of people is not the work of the Spirit of God, that it occasions a great deal of noise about religion." Edwards' argument here is that an outward and ostentatious display of religious fervor is not a sign of whether a work is a false or true work of the Spirit. The Pharisees caused no little stir with their false religion. The disciples also caused quite a stir in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

3. "It is no argument that a work is not of the Spirit of God, that some who are the subjects of it have been in a kind of ecstasy, wherein they have been carried beyond themselves, and have had their minds transported into a train of strong and pleasing imaginations, and a kind of visions, as though they were rapt up even to heaven, and there saw glorious sights." Edwards argues that great experiences of the imagination may be present during a work of the Spirit. They also may be present during the work of a false spirit. He particularly believes these may be present among those whose faculty of imagination is "too strong and the other faculties too weak." Those who have less developed intellects and discernment may be subject to their own imaginations. He does not believe their imaginations equate to the visions of the prophets and apostles. But he does believe the imaginations of some can be so overwrought by their sense of the beauty and love of Christ that their imaginations are affected.

I hope tomorrow to cover at least 3 mores negative signs provided by Edwards. I hope these posts are helpful to spur you to think more carefully about the work of God's Spirit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 2)

I am not expert on the study of Jonathan Edwards. I enjoy reading him occasionally. I appreciate his depth of thought upon a subject. I don't always agree with his conclusions. However, I am thankful to God for giving teachers such as him to the church. As a leader in the First Great Awakening in America, Edwards was well situated to think about what is a true work of the Holy Spirit. This is why I have chosen to blog through his work, "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God."

Edwards began his work by following the apostle John in imploring us to not accept every spirit, but to test the spirits. We are positively commanded to examine claims of a work of the Spirit. You are not a skeptic, or quenching the Spirit, if you closely examine a work to see whether it is from God. You are an obedient Christian. Edwards then proceeds to lay out 9 negative signs. These are not signs that a work is from the Holy Spirit. However, many of these works may be true works of the Spirit. Yet, they do not remain as true marks by which we judge a true work of the Holy Spirit.

The first negative sign Edwards points to is a "work that is carried on in a way very unusual and extraordinary." The Spirit can do a work that is unusual and extraordinary. He can do a work different from what we have seen in previous works. He is not limited to only do what he has done. It is important to note though that an unusual and extraordinary work of the Spirit must always comply with the rules of Scripture.

If an unusual and extraordinary work does not violate the rules of the Word, it may be a true work of the Spirit. Edwards expects us to see great outpourings of the Holy Spirit. He expects the Spirit to do great works he has not done in the past. He expects us to be skeptical of the claims of these works being works of the Holy Spirit. But we must be careful here! Edwards is not saying that because you witness an extraordinary and unusual work, which does not violate the rules of Scripture, you are thereby witnessing a true work of the Spirit of God. It is necessary that a true work of the Spirit of God not violate the rule of Scripture. But not violating the rule of Scripture is not sufficient to determine whether something is a true work of the Spirit. The positive marks which distinguish a work of the Spirit of God must also be present.

I will continue to work through the negative signs in my next posts. Let me sum up this post with a few thoughts. First, I agree with Edwards. I believe the Holy Spirit can and may do extraordinary works. I also agree that a work being unusual does not disqualify it from being a true work, so long as it complies with the rules of Scripture. Second, I agree with Edwards that a work not violating the rule of Scripture is not sufficient in determining whether a work is a true work of the Holy Spirit. There are lots of counterfeits in the history of God's people. There are signs which sweetly comply with God's Word but which are performed by false spirits posing as angels of light. We must constantly be reminded of our biblical duty to test the spirits to see whether they are from God for many false prophets have gone into the world. Third, I found John MacArthur's sermon working through Edwards at Strange Fire to miss the mark here. He did a superb job of walking through the positive signs of a work of the Spirit. At the same time, he seemed to dismiss all contemporary and unusual works as false. His argument seemed to border on using their unusual nature as an evidence they are false. I believe this weakened his case. His charismatic listeners likely tuned him out here. He may have won their attention better by structuring the argument in a similar fashion to Edwards. It is also true they still may have tuned him out for doing his biblical duty of testing the spirits.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Distinguishing Strange Fire from a True Work of the Spirit (Part 1)

Last week I participated in live streaming the Strange Fire conference. Lots of controversy ensued as cessationists made their case. One of the saddest displays, for me personally, was the appearance of Mark Driscoll to hand out books as a kind of publicity stunt. In the midst of it all, I began to get questions from members of my own church about the biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work. I thought it would be interesting to begin discussing this by working through "The Distinguishing Marks of a work of the Spirit of God," by Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards begins his work by pointing out that true works of the Spirit have always been accompanied by counterfeit works. As the Holy Spirit blows, so too do Satan and his emissaries. Therefore, the church needs rules to distinguish between a true work of the Spirit and a counterfeit. Edwards takes us to 1 John 4 as the fullest treatment in the Bible on marks for discerning a true Spirit from a false one.

Edwards begins by pointing out that believers must be on the alert for false spirits. We must not be those who readily admit that every ordinary, or extraordinary, claim of a move of the Holy Spirit is true. We must be ready to examine every such claim against the signs of a true work of the Spirit given to us by the apostle John in 1 John 4.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.--1 John 4:1

We are commanded by the apostle to not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits. We must be on guard against false spirits. False moves of the Spirit claim to be from God. They appear to look like a true Spirit. Those who perform them look like real sheep and real shepherds. However, we are to be on guard and to test. Why are we to test them? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 

We live in a day when we are told not to question someone's sincere experience. However, the apostle is clearly commanding us not to believe everyone's experience, not even our own. We must test every spirit against the rule of the Word of God. Everything must be examined according to the Word the Spirit superintended. Reserving a positive judgment on someone's "experience of the Spirit" is not cynicism. It is obedience to the apostle's command. Test the spirits. Test them against the Word.

The apostle lays out several marks of the work of the true Spirit of God. Edwards works through those marks. However, Edwards begins by making a negative case. He begins by demonstrating what are not signs or evidences of a work of the Spirit of God. We will turn to those negative signs in the next post.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What is our Denomination?

I am often asked what our denomination is at Sovereign Grace. This is an interesting question that is usually loaded with ideas like, "I hope we aren't in a denomination with some weird ideas or strange cultural practices." Because this is such a loaded question I often like to avoid answering it head on. I would prefer to reorient your understanding of denominational involvement before jumping into the answer.

In brief, to be involved in a denomination is to partner in the gospel with other churches for the forwarding of the gospel among the nations. There are numerous ways to partner. There can be partnerships that involve just the pastors or the whole church. Those partnerships can include everything from encouraging each other to pooling financial resources to accomplish a mission. Further, partnership need not be limited to a denomination. Partnership can include networks, missions organizations, and pastoral fraternities.

Let me state first that Sovereign Grace is an independent church governed by elders who are appointed and confirmed by the members of the church. Sovereign Grace has no outside body that governs her. From time to time, our elders bring in outside pastors to coach us and provide advice to us. We even choose to submit to some of that advice because we don't believe we are the great bastion of all wisdom in leading the church. So, we are not non-denominational in the sense that we don't partner with anyone. In fact, we consider it a virtue to partner with other churches and individuals for the advance of the gospel among all peoples.

Now on to who we partner with. You might say our partnerships are in 3 categories: 1). Pastoral Partnerships 2). Church Partnerships 3) Mission Agency Partnerships.

1). Pastoral Partnerships

I partner with several pastors both formally and informally. I coach other pastors and have been coached by other pastors. I train other pastors at times and I am trained by them. I have sat on assessment teams for the purpose of evaluating a man for church planting with other pastors. I partnered with the Acts 29 network for the purpose of advancing church planting for a time. I still partner with many A29 pastors toward that end. My most formal pastoral partnership is with the Evangelical Free Church of America. I am ordained by them and often have the privilege of sitting in on ordination councils for other men.

2). Church Partnerships

Sovereign Grace participates with two different groups of churches for the furtherance of the gospel. We partner with the Southern Baptist Convention. Wait, aren't those the culturally odd guys who banned alcohol, dancing, and Disneyland? I'm sure some are. However, the SBC believes in the autonomy of the local church. And, by the way, there are greater freedoms to give up. But don't worry, I am going to Disneyland this week. On the positive side, the Southern Baptist convention employs over 10,000 missionaries worldwide. They have the best disaster relief workers in the world, bar none. They provide amazing retirement and benefits packages for pastors. They also have excellent seminaries that men from our church can be trained at for half tuition. We also partner with the Pacific Church Network. This network is a new network with great resources for planting churches in Southern California. The network will assess, train, coach, fund, and encourage men who are planting churches. We are part of planting 4 churches with them in 2014. The plan is for this number to double each year.

3). Mission Agency Partnerships

Sovereign Grace partners with Radius International, and Joseph and Jessica Bonura, to train people to plant churches among unengaged and unreached people groups. We were part of founding this missions organization. Our second class of trainees begins in January 2014. Further, we also partner with New Tribes Mission in the work of Brandon and Brooks Buser among the Yembi Yembi and Biem people groups. We partner with Acts 29 Europe and Steve Timmis for the purpose of planting churches in Europe. Finally, we are also partnering with a few different church plants in Southern California by way of financial support until the end of 2013.

So there is the list as it currently stands. We reevaluate partnerships over time as best fits the mission goals of Sovereign Grace Church. We do not, however, ever allow ourselves to slip into a solo mission for the advance of the gospel among the nations. Gospel partnership is everywhere modeled in the NT and it is our privilege to join with other churches to see Jesus proclaimed among the nations.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Homeschooling Update

Since I took time to write a series of posts on educational options and announce we were going to homeschool this year, I thought I would provide an update from time to time. Our year is going extremely well so far. We still have everyone get up and ready in the morning. However, our morning family worship time has been far less hurried since we don't have to drive the kids to school. I am able to lead the family and then leave for work after getting good time in the Word and prayer with the family. We are super thankful for this privilege. Also, the children are working diligently at their studies and have a lot more time for reading and playing. They are loving it! I will say that homeschooling them in 6th and 7th is a joy for my wife. Homeschooling them K-2 was too much for her. It is going great so far. I would love to know how school is going for the rest of you.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Charismatics, Liberals, and the Haters

As a conservative who holds public office I have had many exchanges with liberals, particularly homosexual activists. I have heard a particular argument numerous times. It goes like this, "who are you to question my experience? My experience is true. For you to question it demonstrates you are an unloving, closed-minded bigot." I'm neither threatened nor offended by that argument. I have no reason to believe that the worldview upon which social liberalism is built has any other grounding than personal experience. There certainly is no place for an absolute truth claim.

What can be frustrating, however, is when a similar approach to establishing truth and debate with others is taken up by charismatic Christians. I have engaged in far too many discussions with charismatics who appeal to their experience and then argue I am some kind of close-minded, unloving, out of touch with the Holy Spirit, "putting God' in a box" rationalist for questioning them. The charismatics and those with a kind of godless worldview seem to have the same basis for their appeal to truth i.e. "I had this experience and who are you to question it. You clearly don't love well."

Enter Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs. He has been bringing up several concerns with charismatic theology as of late. I largely share his concerns. Here is a list of 11 concerns he posted this morning:
  1. Prizing experience over truth.
  2. Unbiblical redefinition of prophecy to validate and legitimatize their experience.
  3. Unbiblical redefinition of tongues to validate and legitimatize their experience.
  4. Mistaking feelings for reality.
  5. Mistaking self-image for reality.
  6. Complete absence of Acts 4:16-level "gifts"-activity since the first century, endlessly rationalized.
  7. Playing host to (and providing cover fire for) the very worst false teachers.
  8. Avoiding Biblical assessment at all costs, and shaming any who attempt Biblical assessment.
  9. Effectively sidelining the Word of God.
  10. Promising the moon, delivering nothing but excuses, dodges, and blame-shifting — at best.
  11. Effectively relocating the center of authority from God's Word to internal feelings and experiences.
Please don't misunderstand me. I know some careful charismatic theologians and pastors. I love these brothers. I don't buy what they are pitching as a proper theology of the work of the Holy Spirit. Many of them engage the issue quite well. However, increasingly the average person I converse with avoids any engagement at all by claiming they are offended that someone even questions their experience.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Homework for Daniel 9 sermon

I love that I pastor in a church where the people are actually asking me for homework to prepare for the sermon. I am happy to oblige! I am going to post several texts of scripture to read through as you consider our text for this Sunday.

1. Daniel 9:24. Please read Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 8; Hebrews 9:11-28; Matthew 3:13-17
2. Daniel 9:25. Please read Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1, 13; Daniel 8, 2 Chronicles 36:22-23
3. Daniel 9:26. Please read Luke 21:5-9, 20-24; Luke 23:26-49
4. Daniel 9:27. Please read Isaiah 42:1-8; Luke 22:14-20; Hebrews 9:11-28; Revelation 21

As you try to grasp what is meant by the 70 weeks, I would also recommend you reflect on Daniel 9:24 as the summary of what will occur by the end of the 70 weeks and read the following texts:

1. Leviticus 25-26
2. 2 Chronicles 36:17-21
3. Genesis 1-2:3
4. Exodus 20:1-17
5. Isaiah 61:1-3
6. Luke 4:16-21
7. Matthew 18:21-22

I will not use all of these texts in my sermon. However, I have been studying all of these and several more as I try to wade through what scholars call the swamp of biblical prophecy. Have fun sticking your feet into the swamp. I look forward to us diving fully into it this Sunday.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Satan's Schemes

As I was working on the studies for our Grace Groups, I was challenged and encouraged by a few thoughts which came from some Puritans. I want to share a few of those thoughts for your edification as well. I hope to share more in future posts. I am deeply thankful to Joel Beeke & Mark Jones for collating so much of this material in their volume, "A Puritan Theology." I encourage you to pick up the book.

The Puritans rightly warned of the need for watchfulness regarding Satan's temptations in the Christian life. The Puritans rightly emphasized the general vigilance we need to employ regarding the devices of Satan and the hope we have in the midst of them.

Puritan Thomas Brooks included Satan's devices in the following quote, "Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan's devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched." I often attend to the first 3 things which should be studied. I seldom attend to Satan's devices. 

Puritan William Gurnall said that no actress has, "so many dresses to come in upon the stage with as the devil has forms of temptation." In other words, Satan tempts us all in different ways. There are a myriad of people with a vast number of different experiences and varying weaknesses. Thus, there are a number of different and personal ways Satan tempts us to sin. It is imperative then that I attend to Satan's devices.

The problem with becoming aware of the active and varied nature of Satan's schemes is that I may become easily discouraged. I can't see how I am able to ever out fox the serpent. This is why it is so helpful to remember that Puritan Stephen Charnock said, "The goodness of God makes the devil a polisher, while he intends to be a destroyer." All the Devil can do to a child of God is be used of God to make me more like Christ. He may tempt me and attack me in painful and wicked ways. However, the Lord is sovereign over all and his loving discipline will bring about the peaceful fruit of righteousness in the lives of all his children. Satan can do nothing about that!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How should Christians respond to the Zimmerman Verdict?

I have served as an adjunct professor for Eternity Bible College. They have a blog to which I contributed my take on the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case. You can read my take on the subject here:

Be Ordinary for God

While I was in Hume Lake last week I heard a young woman who oversaw one of the activities providing a "spiritual" lesson for the people who participated in her activity. She told them that while some of them were not necessarily the best at her particular activity they were all special in God's eyes. That was fine as far as it went. However, she took a turn from there to telling one young woman, "You aren't very good at this but you are special. You could be a model." 

I had to fight my gag reflex. What? Is that what you meant by special in God's eyes? She could put her beauty on display and be a model? Was her worth before God in her ability to potentially be a celebrity with regard to her beauty?

This caused me to reflect on the constant calls I hear in Christian (and secular) circles for young people to recognize they are special. In fact, I read a study recently (can't find it now) that argued a full 25% of young people believe they will be famous. Cue the production of mid-life crisis materials that will be needed in 10-15 years.

We hear the refrain often though. Christian young people ought to be extraordinary for God. They should be radical for the Lord. They need to do big things for God. We are all special.

I have a radical thought. What if we started telling people they ought to be ordinary for God? What if we encouraged them to be obedient? What if we challenged them to just redeem the small things for the Lord? What if we told them they are normal and not particularly special? 

Is it possible that we could stop bowing the knee to celebrity? Could we cease placing the weight of glory on personal achievement? Couldn't we just value being ordinary and obedient before God? 

Let's face it. If everyone is special, extraordinary, and radical, then no one is any of those things. Perhaps a long obedience in the same direction is just too ordinary and insignificant in the eyes of our culture but it is a better description of the Christian life than most of what I hear today. So I encourage you to "Go be ordinary for God."

Monday, July 8, 2013

What are some implications of God's all-encompassing sovereignty?

In the book "A Puritan Theology," there are several questions that emerge among the Puritans regarding the implications of the providential working of God. The authors of the book collate several implications of God's all-encompassing sovereignty and how the Puritans responded to them. Here are a list of those:

1. How does God's providence relate to the laws of nature?

God works through ordinary means, but He is always the one sustaining and upholding all things. Hebrews 1:1-3, Col. 1:15ff

In other words, God made things that operate in a particular manner and he actively keeps them doing so. The birds, trees, human body have ordinary ways they operate but God upholds those natural and ordinary ways of operation.

2. How does God's providence relate to the freedom and sins of men?

Some things we know from Scripture about God's activity regarding our sin:

a). God does not tempt anyone to sin. James 1:13
b). God does permit men to sin. Acts 14:16
c). God withholds grace that would prevent sin. Ps. 81:11-12
d). God powerfully limits sin. Job 1:12, 2:6
e). God sometimes overrules sin to fulfill his holy purposes. Gen. 50:20, Isa. 46:10

3. How can God's providence permit the prosperity of the wicked? 

a). God is gracious, patient, and generous even with the wicked. Matt. 5:45

b). His justice sometimes brings punishment in this life and always in the life to come.

c). The outward prosperity of the wicked teaches us that outward goods are not the highest blessing God bestows on humans.

4. Why do the righteous suffer and die alongside the wicked?

Because God never promised to save the righteous from calamity in this life. Eccl. 9:2, Matt. 5

5. How does God's providence help us know God's will?

It is dangerous to read providence, but at times God does give hints of his will thru his providence.

Knowing God's will:

a). Get the true fear of God and be truly afraid of offending him.
b). Study the Word more and the concerns of the world less.
c). Reduce what you know to practice.
d). Pray for illumination and direction. Beg the Lord to help you.
e). After all this, follow providence as far as it agrees with the Word, and no further.

6. How does God's providence relate to our efforts?

God determines the means as well as the ends. The means is our faith and repentance in justification, our faith and effort (Bible reading, prayer, mortification) in sanctification.

"Pride uses means without seeking God, and presumption depends on God while neglecting the means he provides."

7. Why does God allow for crooked providences in the life of a Christian?

Thomas Boston listed 7 reasons:

a). To prove your spiritual state as a hypocrite or genuine believer.
b). To stir you to obedience, wean you from this world, and set your eyes on heaven.
c). To convict you of sin.
d). To correct or punish you for sin.
e). To prevent you from committing sin.
f). To reveal latent sin deep within your heart.
g). To awaken you from laziness so that you exercise yourself in grace.

8. How do I meditate on God's providence?

Flavel's recommendations:

a). Work hard at remembering and exploring the providence of God toward you. (extensively and intensively trace God's blessings and ways thru your life. Note answered prayer. Give thanks)

b). Trace the connection between the providences of God in your life and the promises of God in his Word. 

c). Look beyond the events and circumstances of providence to God as author and provider. (think of God's attributes and his work in your life, both in good and difficult times)

d). Respond to each providence in an appropriate way. 

Be thankful in good providences and look to the Lord for comfort and joy even in difficult providences.

Flavel~"Consider all your losses are but as the loss of a farthing to a prince."

How do we handle difficult providences?

a). Learn how to resist discouragement by trusting God is working in his timing toward greater blessing.
b). Learn not to assume that we fully understand God's ways and purposes, but meditate on his goodness in the past and promises for the future. Trying to solve mysteries too great for us will only breed suspicion toward God.

William Cowper~

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

The Sovereignty of God

After preaching a sermon on the sovereignty of God in Daniel 4, I was asked for some of the biblical argument I made for God's sovereignty. I have included here some of my notes on the topic for your use.

When considering the Sovereignty of God I tend to want to point people to 3 truths regarding God's sovereignty:

1.  The EXTENT of the Sovereignty of God.
2.  The RULE of the Sovereignty of God.
3.  The GOAL of the Sovereignty of God.

I find Ephesians 1:11 a helpful place to find an outline for the first 3 points:

At the beginning of his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul clearly lays out God’s eternal plan to save us, His sending forth of Jesus to accomplish it and of the Spirit to apply it. In the midst of teaching on our salvation in Christ, Paul is clearly writing of the inheritance we receive in Christ because we have been predestined to receive it. As he does so, he provides the ground for our predestination.

Everyone who believes in the Bible believes in predestination. The argument is over what is the ground of our predestination. Is the ground of it God’s foreknowledge of our future free will choices? Is God’s decree conditioned upon future free acts of his creatures? In other words, is the ground of his eternal decree found in us? Or is the ground found in God’s unconditioned, holy, and immutable will?

He grounds our predestination in something. What is it? Does he ground it in our will? No! He clearly states, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.The ground of predestination is God’s sovereign, holy, and immutable will. 

Paul takes God's sovereignty even a step further. He claims that not only is our predestination to salvation grounded in God’s holy and immutable will, but everything that happens is grounded in God’s holy and immutable Will! Notice Paul says, "who works 'all things'.”

Using Paul's statement in Ephesians 1:11 as an outline, we find at least 3 truths regarding divine sovereignty:

1.  The EXTENT of God’s Sovereignty.

God works all things according to the counsel of His will! How many things? Some things? All things! There is nothing that happens that is outside God’s will. Someone will say, “certainly we can violate God’s will. What about when we sin?” Yes, you are violating God’s will of precept, or His Law, but you are not violating His will of decree. The text clearly says God “works” all things (that is active) according to the counsel of His will!

Let me give you specific categories that God sovereignly decreed (I don't remember where I originally got this list. I believe it was from Berkof. It is not originally mine):

a.  Good and evil events (Isa. 45:7, Job 1:21, Jer. 15:2)

Is. 45:7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

Job 1:21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

b.  Sinful acts (Gen. 50:20, 2 Sam. 16:10-11, Luke 22:22, Acts 2:23, 4:27-28)

Gen. 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people* should be kept alive, as they are today.

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

c.  Free acts of men (Prov. 16:1, 9, 21:1, Rom. 8:28, 35-39)

Prov. 16:9  The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.

Prov. 21:1  The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

John 6:40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John 6:41 ¶ So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 
John 6:42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 
John 6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

d.  “chance” occurrences (1 Kings 22:28-34, Job 5:6, Prov. 16:33, Jonah 1:7)

Prov. 16:33  The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.

e.  Details of our lives (Job 14:5, Psa. 139:16, Matt. 10:29-30, James 4:15)

Psa. 139:16 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.

Matt. 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?* And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
Matt. 10:30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

f.  Affairs of nations (2 Kings 5:1, Ps. 75:1-7, Prov. 21:31, Dan. 2:21)

Dan. 2:21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;

g.  Final salvation of the saints and destruction of the wicked (1 Sam. 2:25, Prov. 16:4, Rom. 9:14-18; Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Pet. 2:8, Jude 4)

Prov. 16:4  The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.

Rom. 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Jude 1:4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Understanding that the EXTENT of God’s Sovereignty is “all things,” what is the RULE of God’s Sovereign Decree? Or, rather, what is the GOVERNING PRINCIPLE of God’s Sovereign Decree?

2.  The RULE of God’s Sovereign Decree.

Another way of asking this question is, “Is there anything outside of God that determines or constrains what He sovereignly decrees or wills to happen, or is His sovereign will completely free of any external constraints?”

“Did God in eternity past look down the corridors of time, and make decisions based on what He saw men would do, or did He decree everything according to His own Sovereign will?”

Look again at Eph. 1:11 "having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will..."

What does it say? He works all things according to the counsel of His will! He does not work all things according to our will or the will of some other. He is God! He is completely sovereign and utterly free in His sovereignty. He is not constrained by His creature. His will is immutable (unchanging) and holy. The pot does not look at the potter and say, "why did you make me this way?"

3.  The GOAL of God’s Sovereignty is His own glory!  Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14

What is God's goal in his sovereign decree? What is he after? He is after his own glory. Paul makes his goal clear in repeating that goal 3 times in Ephesians 1:3-14.

In fact, think about the God-centeredness of the whole Bible story:

God created. God graciously provided for us. God was sinned against. God promised to send a redeemer. God called out a people for Himself. God provided the Word for His people. God provided the Law to show us our sin. God provided prophets to speak the truth. God provided priests. God provided kings. God sent His Son. God, in the person of Christ, perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the Law, God provided the ultimate sacrifice for sins. God sent His Son to the Cross. God resurrected Jesus from the dead. God sent His Spirit. God elects you. God regenerates you. God justifies you. God sanctifies you. God resurrects and glorifies you. God gifts you for service. God gets the glory!

This is why Paul concludes the first 11 chapters of Romans by saying, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

As the Father sent me...

I am privileged to deliver the charge to the graduates of Radius International this year. I have been given a brief window to preach on John 20:21, "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." I decided to put the text of my message in my blog to help me stay concise and hopefully to encourage you as well. This is written to be preached and not read, so bear with the grammatical errors etc. I also want to indicate that this text will likely change as I clean it up, make cuts to shorten it etc. This is really my first draft. In fact, I will cut out the whole beginning section between the lines I have placed below due to lack of time, except for the first paragraph. However, I have included it for your reading.

I want to begin by congratulating you all on working so hard this year to prepare to fulfill the Great Commission. I am thankful for the privilege of being part of encouraging you in your obedience to go and preach the gospel among people who have never heard of Jesus. Radius was started as a dream, and eventually became seen as a necessity, for many of us here and it is deeply satisfying to be graduating our first class of students. 

Joseph asked me to give you a charge as you leave here and hopefully transition to long-term cross cultural church planting. I admit I feel personally unworthy for such a task. I am always mindful that is only Jesus and His Spirit in me as I proclaim his Word that makes me qualified to stand before you, or anyone else, and proclaim his Word.

Let me start by saying that I consider you all far more obedient than myself to our Lord’s command. It is easy to excuse away my unfaithfulness to a clear command of Jesus to go and make disciples among all peoples. It is easy to say I believed I was called to something else in America. It is easy to say I was ignorant of God’s heart for the nations. But the fact remains that I did not lack the ability to obey our Lord’s command and our Lord’s command lacks no clarity!

Yet, I chose my path and I do not regret where it has led me. However, I recognize at the same time that I can be quite thankful for where I am and still realize I should have been more obedient in the past. 

Why do I bring up my own disobedience to the Lord’s command? I bring up my disobedience because I believe it was driven by fear. I was afraid of losing my own life for the gospel. I was afraid Jesus was not worth the loss of all things. I was afraid I could spend my life on making Jesus known among other peoples and lose out on all that the good life in America has to offer me. 

And, I bring up my fear because Jesus understood that fear and even addressed it as he commissioned his disciples.

Look with me at John 20:19-20.

Notice that the disciples have locked the door out of fear. Jesus has died. He was captured, tried, and put to death by the Jewish religious leaders. The disciples were afraid of what would happen to them as well. 

How did Jesus resolve this fear?

He came and stood among them and said to them “Peace be with you.”

Jesus resolved their fear by showing himself to them as their resurrected Lord and spoke to them “Peace.”

I want to elaborate on that more, but look with me first at John 20:21.

Notice, this begins with the statement, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’”

What an incredible scene! Don’t miss what Jesus is doing here.

His last word on the Cross was “It is finished.” He has paid the debt for your sin in full. He has accomplished what the Father gave him to do in dying for sins.

His first word to his disciples in his resurrection is “Peace be with you.” He actually says this to his fearful disciples twice. Why?

John Stott answers this well, “We learn then that the Church’s very first need, before it can begin to engage in evangelism, is an experience and an assurance of Christ’s peace—peace of conscience through his death that banishes sin, peace of mind through his resurrection that banishes doubt. … Once we are glad that we have seen the Lord, and once we have clearly recognized him as our crucified and risen Savior, then nothing and no one will be able to silence us.”

As those who will go to suffer for the gospel among a people group you have never lived among, and who will sacrifice so much of what you came to enjoy in the US, and who will possibly suffer diseases, hardship, and pain you would not have suffered in the US, is it not good to hear from our resurrected Lord that we have peace with God and thus we really can be at peace in life because Jesus is making all things new?

When you are in the field suffering for the gospel, you will likely reach the point where your only assurance is that you have a Lord who resurrected from the dead and that he is worth it. You may be left with nothing but the promise that you are at peace with God and his eternal peace is yours when you are faced with major unrest in your circumstances. And, you need to know and trust that God’s peace is enough.

This is the ever important setting for what Jesus says next.

Look again at John 20:21.


“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

This is John’s version of the Great Commission. This command from Jesus to reach the nations with the gospel is repeated at least 4 times in some form in the Gospels and Acts.

When God gives a command it is important. When he repeats it numerous times it only increases the importance and centrality of the command.

So, what does this command mean? How has the Father sent Jesus? 

Well, we need to look first at the immediate context and then consider what else the gospel of John says about how the Father sent Jesus.

As we look at these two contexts, we will learn at least 5 aspects of Christ’s having been sent that apply to our being sent (I will go thru these rather quickly):
1. Jesus hasn’t finished his mission. He is still working it through his church. 

One of the aspects of John 20:21 you don’t readily pick up in English is that verb “has sent” is in the perfect tense.

The perfect tense stresses that this sending was a past act that has ongoing implications.

In other words, Jesus was sent in the past, but his mission continues. He is at work saving people and we are his body sent out to continue his mission.

This is what Luke means when he begins Acts 1 by saying that in his gospel he “dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection were only the beginning of his doing and teaching.

Jesus’s work continues through his body, the church. This is what Paul is referring to when he says in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...”

Paul doesn’t mean that Jesus’s affliction lacked anything necessary for our justification. He means that the suffering of Christ is not complete until his ministers suffer with him as we gather his church.

This is why Radius focuses on reaching the unreached people groups no matter the cost to us. We want to see Jesus’s message carried to those He wants to save in every tribe, tongue, and nation. 

This leads quickly to the second point.
2. Jesus was sent in the power of the Holy Spirit and so are we.

Look at John 20:22.

Jesus was empowered by God’s Spirit to speak God’s word and do God’s will. He promises numerous times to give the disciples the same Holy Spirit.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus says “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit come’s upon you and you will be my witnesses...”

No man is saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit and no man contains in himself the power or skills necessary to be effective in ministry.

The Holy Spirit qualifies you and Jesus promises he will be with you and empower you for the task.

And, the Holy Spirit works through the Word, which is why Radius has focused on equipping you to teach people the Bible story from Genesis through Revelation. The Spirit blesses and empowers his Word to the salvation of people.

For faith comes through hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.~Romans 10:17
3. Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news of salvation and so are we.

Look with me at John 20:23.

Jesus went and preached the gospel and cared for those in need. As he did he had authority to offer forgiveness of sins.

As those who are sent, we have authority to offer forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ as well. I don’t mean we can forgive sins, nor does Jesus.

His point is that when we bring the gospel to people and they believe, they will be forgiven. When we do not bring the gospel to them, they will not be forgiven as Jesus is the only name under Heaven by which men must be saved.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. That is what the Father has sent him to do.

Now, Jesus has sent us to do the same. This is why Radius stresses church planting and not other good endeavors.

Does Jesus care about the whole person?

Absolutely! However, our ultimate concern is the salvation of their souls for eternity and thus this is why you see the apostles fulfilling the Great Commission by planting churches throughout the book of Acts.
4. Jesus was sent humbly into the world and so are we. 

In the High Priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus says the following, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Jesus did not proclaim the gospel from the heavens.

Jesus was sent to live among us as one of us. He took on flesh and dwelt among us. He humbled himself and took on the nature of a man.

He suffered with us. He grew with us. He felt what we felt. He knew us.

He is sending us in the same way. We are sent to humbly live among people and know them and suffer with them as we bring the gospel to them.

I want you to hear how John Stott reflects on this:

“I personally believe that our failure to obey the implications of this command is the greatest weakness of evangelical Christians in the field of evangelism today. We do not identify. We believe so strongly (and rightly) in proclamation, that we tend to proclaim our message from a distance. We sometimes appear like people who shout advice to drowning men from the safety of the seashore. We do not dive in to rescue them. We are afraid of getting wet, and indeed of greater perils than this. But Jesus Christ did not broadcast salvation from the sky. He visited us in great humility. … We cannot give up preaching, for proclamation is of the essence of salvation. Yet true evangelism, evangelism that is modeled on the ministry of Jesus, is not proclamation without identification any more than it is identification without proclamation. Evangelism involves both together.”

This is why Radius in committed to long-term, incarnational church planting.
5. Jesus was sent to be about the Father’s will for the Father’s glory, and we are sent likewise.

Finally, you can’t read the Gospel of John and not notice that numerous times Jesus says he was sent to obey the Father’s will. He is all about the will of his Father.

He is all about the will of his Father because his ultimate end is the glory of his Father.

In John 17:4, Jesus says, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”

Our aim is the glory of God and that aim is hit through obedience to the will of our Lord.

We are sent to do the will of our Lord! We are sent to teach others to do everything the Lord has commanded!

This is ultimately why Radius exists at all. We exist because we believe we are sent to do the will of our Lord...and we believe he has been emphatic and clear that we are “to make disciples among all peoples.” It is our prayer you will remain committed to the same.