Tag Archives: Sovereignty

God is Always on the Throne

23 Jan

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Last week, we covered a lot of ground. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes when you’re the one determining punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith and also suggest you ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback regarding your walk of faith. This morning, we’re going to look at who is ultimately in charge.

Our passage today comes from Pro. 21:1-9. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

throneSo, who’s in charge? That’s a great question that many people ask, particularly in times of national or international crisis. Solomon reminds us that, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” What’s that really mean? Are we all just puppets in a crazy game controlled by God? The answer lies in the very difficult concept of God’s sovereignty. I really believe that if you take God out of the equation, life would implode. It is God who keeps everything in motion. In Is. 46:10 God said, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”

Ultimately, God’s purpose will always be accomplished. Don’t confuse sovereignty with God’s will. When we consider the model prayer offered by Jesus in Matt. 6, He prayed that God’s, “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is not always accomplished here. One significant example is people dying without receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 3:9 tells us that God is, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” So, what can be gained by people dying apart from Christ? I can honestly say I don’t know. God uses everything at His disposal to accomplish His ultimate goals. He often uses you and me to accomplish it. That is the privilege of free will. God wants us to choose to do His will just like you want your kids to choose to do what’s right instead of forcing them to. Sometimes you might use enticements or rewards for your kids to do what you want. You supervisors and managers will sometimes do the same thing – a bonus or time off. But it really does your heart good to see people do what’s right because it’s the right thing and they choose to do what is right. When you consider a higher plain, God will lead and guide people to do what will ultimately accomplish His plan. For us, it’s spending eternity with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know what lies beyond that and does it really matter?

 We saw God’s way, now look at man’s way. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” Back in Pro. 16:2 Solomon said, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.”  There’s not much difference in the two verses. Evaluating the motives of people can be very difficult. I confess that I sometimes am not a good discerner of people. I tend to believe what people say at face value, but I do learn to read them. When you consider motives, you can do the right thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, and you can do the wrong thing for the right reason. Does that sound like gibberish? Let me give you some examples to help you understand. Here’s the right thing for the wrong reason. You financially support the work of the ministry because you can take a tax deduction. Your kids are good and obedient all day so they gain favor to go out that night. You volunteer to teach a class so everyone sees how smart you are.  What about the wrong thing for the right reason? You steal food to feed your family. You lie to someone to avoid hurting their feelings. You withhold the truth from someone so you don’t alienate them. The best and wisest thing to do is the right thing for the right reason. You give to the work of the ministry knowing that ministry costs money and God has blessed you with financial resources. You speak the truth in love regardless of the consequences knowing that truth sets people free. That’s where God wants us. If you’re not sure, pray like David when he said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

This leads right into the next verse. “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.” When I read this verse, I immediately thought about Samuel and Saul. In 1 Sam. 15, the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint Saul as king of Israel. Samuel gave Saul this command from the Lord: “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:3) Those instructions are clear. So, Saul got together his troops and went to battle and defeated the Amalekites. The Bible says, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (1 Sam. 15:9) Saul is the king of Israel and blamed the people for his disobedience. The conclusion is found in 1 Sam. 15:22-28 that tells us by one act of disobedience, Saul is stripped of his throne. Obedience is the utmost and highest principle in the Bible. As I often say, everything we do can be placed securely under the umbrella of obedience. Giving, prayer, Bible reading and study, serving God and others, as well as a boatload of other commands and principles in Scripture.

Let’s review some principles already covered. “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.” Don’t be proud or your torch will be snuffed out. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” The way to gain advantage in this world is to work hard. The word diligent means careful and conscientious in one’s work. The assumption is that the work is not sinful and the hard work puts you in a favorable position. If you’re hasty: that is, you cut corners, take the easy way instead of the right way – you’ll come to poverty. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Dishonesty and fraud get you nowhere. Cheating is stealing whether it’s knowledge or material goods. “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, because they refuse to act with justice.” This verse is tied to the previous one. Solomon is talking about the violence that the wicked use against others. The violence they engage in will come right back to them. “The way of a guilty man is crooked, but as for the pure, his conduct is upright.” It’s a contrast between the guilty/wicked and the godly/pure. Evil people do evil things. Righteous people do righteous things. The only power in us to do what is good, right, holy, and pure comes because God has granted us the power of the Holy Spirit when we accept the gift of His one and only Son. When we go back to Genesis, we learn that. “The Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” (Gen. 7:1) Noah was righteous and that’s why he was spared.

Let’s spend some time on the next one. Solomon says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” He makes a comparison between two things. Living in a relatively uncomfortable place at peace or living in a comfortable place with an uncomfortable situation. No one lives on a roof, right? In biblical times, the roof of a dwelling was typically flat and often served many purposes. In 1 Sam. 9:25, “Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof.” In 2 Sam. 11:2, David walked around the roof where he saw a beautiful woman bathing. In Ps. 102:7, David was, “like a lonely bird on a housetop.” In Acts 10:9, “Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” The roof was a great location for prayer, meditation, meetings, and was sometimes used as a place to sleep.

It’s better to be on that rooftop than it is with a contentious woman. Just what is a contentious woman? This woman is quarrelsome, prone to argue, disagreeable, and is no fun to be around. What does she argue about? Anything and everything. She fights against everything done. She is desperate to be the boss, to be in charge and to control everything that happens in the home. If the man tries to exercise his authority, she gets all the more contentious. He finds it more comfortable to retreat to the roof. As we have seen, Proverbs is a book of wisdom and perhaps this is the wisest thing for the man to do. Go to the roof where he won’t be tempted to engage in her contentions. Little is accomplished by arguing with someone that will not hear the other side, will not listen to reason, and will not accept what they consider defeat. I can imagine that it’s difficult living with some spouses. I know that some people come from dysfunctional homes where the love of God was not prevalent. I know it may be tough to be at home because of what you have to deal with. Wisdom dictates the best course of action. You still need to be the man that God has called you to be. Have you loved your wife unconditionally? Have you demonstrated it? A dedicated time of earnest prayer away from the fussing and fighting is better to do than quit. Too many people take the easier road and that’s to give up. I’ve heard a ton of reasons why not holding true to the marriage covenant is the only course of action. When you say, “I do,” that’s a very serious commitment that should only be broken by death.

Don’t take the road that Adam took when he blamed Eve. Take responsibility for the relationship as the one that is in authority. And don’t what if: what if she won’t follow? What if she leaves me? I assure you that God understands what you’re going through and He understands the seriousness of the marriage covenant. We just saw in 21:1: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When God told Abraham that Sarah was to have a baby and she overheard and then laughed, God asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14) It really comes down to a matter of trust and no one ever said it was easy, fun, or would change overnight, but don’t exclude the power of God from the equation. Waiting on God to move and work in people’s lives is tough, especially when they’re in your own home or family.

We are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. God’s not wishy washy, so don’t you be either. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. It’s best to be honest always. We closed out with a very difficult relationship. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, I pray that you would allow the power of God to transform your life because He is always on the throne.

Dealing with Heavenly and Earthly Relationships

16 Jan

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Last week, we began by asking the rhetorical question, who is without sin? The cleansing we enjoy is not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus did. Youngsters say what comes to mind because they haven’t developed the ability to hide their motives. We looked at a number of principles for daily, principled living for the home, the job, and at church. This morning, we’ll finish up this chapter by looking at some important relationships.

Our passage for today is found in Pro. 20:20-30 and I hope you take the time to read it.

We start with a relationship that everyone has. Not everyone may have children, but everyone has parents. “He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness.” Ex. 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Under the Law, cursing your parents was a capital offense; it was punishable by death. That seems pretty harsh by today’s standards. Rebellious kids can be extraordinarily draining on parents. When this occurs, the lamp will go out. We’re not talking literally, we’re talking metaphorically. In Survivor, when you’re voted out, they snuff your torch signifying your death in the game. This is the illusion Solomon is giving us. When it’s dark out, you need a lamp to see. If you’re rebellious to your parents, you are metaphorically put in the dark.

“An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end.” If your mind is drawn to the prodigal son, you’re on the right track. This verse is connected to the previous verse about parents. Inheritances typically come from the parents and sometimes the worst thing you can do for your kids is give them money or possessions they don’t have to earn. There’s nothing wrong with providing for your children in the future, but the kids shouldn’t expect it. And most certainly, they shouldn’t demand it early. That’s what the prodigal did in Luke 15. In Lu. 15:12, the son says, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” The son leaves and, “squandered his estate on loose living.” (Lu. 15:13) Easy money does not guarantee financial stability.

Our next relationship involves the Lord. “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” Paul repeated this in Rom. 12:17-19, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Paul quotes Deut. 32:35. The Lord will take care of you and will fight your battles on your behalf, but don’t assume that your enemies will be struck down. We’ve got to keep Paul’s command in the forefront of our mind when dealing with people that provide us with challenges. As much at it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Do what you can to foster peace: do what you can to be kind and loving, patient and compassionate. If people don’t respond the way you think they ought to, so what? It’s not on you. Don’t think you’ve always got to be the one looking out for yourself. Many times, He puts someone in the path that will fight on your behalf, but it’s still God working.

“Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and a false scale is not good.” We saw this exact principle in 20:10 and way back in 11:1.Don’t be dishonest in your business dealings.

“Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way?” I’d like to spend a bit of time here to talk about some important principles that many people discount. Keep in mind that Solomon said in 19:21, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” And back in Pro. 16:9 when Solomon said, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” In everything we do, we have a necessary dependence on God. That is not a bad thing. Our understanding of what goes on around us is severely limited. We can only see so far and we rarely understand or consider the impact our actions have on others. When you talk about God’s sovereignty, there is a tendency to become fatalistic. Whatever happens, happens, and that’s the way God wants it. We become like little puppets controlled by God. I think that’s the wrong way to look at life. Of course, we should have a desire to follow God’s will and I believe He has a purpose for us to fulfill. I don’t think it’s necessarily to have a global impact or somehow accomplish incredible things for Christ. I think for most of us, a simple life of passionate, zealous, and complete obedience will accomplish much for the Kingdom of God.

We often cannot comprehend what God is accomplishing behind the scenes of life and we would be foolish to think that it doesn’t matter. Humanity has free will, but God is the One that connects the ties that bind us together to accomplish His will. While I can assuredly say that not everyone follows God, everyone does play a part in fulfilling God’s will. God knows all the variables; He knows everything that can and or will change; He knows how the weather affects us, how people affect us; He knows all that and He is still the One that controls the universe. The fatalist says that nothing I do will change what will happen. Not true. Follow God and watch Him work in you and through you. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had not divorced; I wonder if my dad had not changed companies that led us to SC; I wonder what would have been if I went to Carolina instead of Winthrop. I wonder if I had not joined the Navy or only served for six years; I wonder if Kari and I had not married. I could go on and on, but God knew the decisions I would make that affected not just my life, but the lives of all the people in the last 53 years that I affected and those lives that affected me; good or bad, positive or negative. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have through God.

“It is a trap for a man to say rashly, “It is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry.” This is a strangely worded verse has been interpreted several different ways. When taken in light of Eccl. 5:4-6 and Pro. 18:7, it seems the best interpretation is don’t make promises you cannot keep. It doesn’t matter if it’s a promise to God, although that one is really bad, or promises to a person that you either cannot keep or do not intend to keep. A common occurrence these days is saying you’re going to do something and in the back of your mind it’s true unless anything else comes up. One of the troubling things to me is how quick people are to let go of commitments they have made. It can be as simple as a child agreeing to clean their room and then doesn’t or being a member of a church committing to participate and support the body and then allowing that commitment to be superseded by other things. There truly are few people that can be relied upon.

Let’s shift over to royalty. Back when kings ruled the land, part of their responsibility was to mete out justice. This is handled by judges today and this is the angle I’m coming from. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them.” Winnows means scatter. Wisdom dictates that you separate criminals so they cannot devise evil schemes against people. It’s a great idea, but we put criminals together. One of the best places to learn how to commit crime is in jail or prison. We don’t do a great job of rehabilitating criminals that are incarcerated. Here’s a good question: is that what prisons are for? I submit to you that jail and prison are a place to go to pay the debt owed to society for the crime that has been committed. “Driving the threshing wheel” over someone gives further evidence to support a separation. The threshing wheel was used to separate grain from the chaff. A common form of the threshing wheel consisted of a couple of wooden planks that had several rollers attached underneath that were fitted with iron teeth. The thresher sat on the planks that were pulled by a team of oxen. As the threshing wheel rolled, the iron teeth would separate the grain. If you picture the threshing wheel rolling over a man, you can imagine the damage that might occur – even death. Our constitution protects people from cruel or unusual punishment so this method of punishment would obviously not be used here. Solomon is telling us that it takes a wise judge to mete out the proper punishment. I’ve got to remind you that biblical wisdom comes from God. The wise ruler must distinguish between the godless and the good and also has to use discernment in determining the punishment required.

The next verse is a really beautiful depiction of Christ’s love. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being.” When you look at God’s design for humanity, this makes perfect sense. Each of us has life breathed into our soul by God. Every human conceived, whether that life was actually born or not, was created by the power of God. Rom. 1:20 tells us that God put in us a desire to know Him. Humans are the only segment of God’s creation created in the image of God. We are created in God’s image with the ability to think and understand. In 1 Cor. 2:11, Paul said, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” The spirit of man is an illusion to our conscience which has been designed in us by our Creator.

Solomon mentions two virtues of a good king. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness.” Loyalty and righteousness come from the same Hebrew word which means covenant loyalty. Loyalty means a strong feeling of support or allegiance. In context, Solomon is talking about a mutual loyalty between the king and his kingdom. By application, you can see the far reaching implications of loyalty. I’ll ask the question, what are you loyal to? Certainly, family comes to mind. There are people loyal to their jobs, sometimes at the expense of loyalty to their families. Given that we’ve just finished the college football season, we saw a lot of people very loyal to their teams. When it comes to your loyalty to God, how is that demonstrated? If we keep the meaning of loyalty in mind, can you demonstrate a strong feeling of support or allegiance to God if you don’t pray, read or study your Bible? What about not participating in the things of the church? I often wonder how someone can say they pray and read their Bible faithfully yet don’t participate in church. Coming to church every week is included in that, but I’m talking about a daily loyalty to God because He is worthy of our loyalty.

“The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.” Young men tend to rely on strength while older men tend to rely on wisdom. I’m not as strong as I used to be, but I’m a whole lot wiser than I used to be, and that’s not to say that I have my wisdom tank filled.

Finally, “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts.” This is still talking about kings and punishment. Stripes refer to actual punishment inflicted as a result of a wrongdoing. “Strokes reach the innermost being” refers back to verse 27.

I know we’ve covered a lot of ground today. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes with punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith. Ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback.

An Immovable Object

15 Aug

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Last week, Solomon gave us a principle we can all live by: think before you speak. There is rarely any issue that must be dealt with that doesn’t afford you the opportunity to think before speaking. If you’re a child of the King and you get sick or diagnosed with some disease, allow the Spirit of God to minister to you through the illness. When your spirit is broken, no one can bear that. Don’t allow defeat to enter your mind. Be willing to learn, no matter what state of life you’re in; that’s what biblically wise people do. Bring gifts when appropriate, but not with the hope that they’ll get you anywhere. Before drawing conclusions about an issue, make sure you get all the facts from everyone involved. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself in the folly of speaking without thought. This morning, we’re going to peek into God’s sovereignty as well as the difficulty of relationships.

Pro. 18:18-19 says, “The cast lot puts an end to strife and decides between the mighty ones. A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.”

Don’t you just love games of chance at the fair? There really is no such thing as chance. The last time our little fair came to town, I had an opportunity to chat with some of the operators of those games. The games are next to impossible to win because they’re designed to give the operator the advantage. They hope you’ll keep playing so they can get more of your money. Solomon starts off by talking about chance: “The cast lot puts an end to strife and decides between the mighty ones.” Back in Pro. 16:33 Solomon told us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” In Bible days, the lot was one of the methods used to determine God’s will and I provided several Scripture references where lots were cast to determine God’s will in that message. That’s not quite the same thing that Solomon is saying here. The strife here is a disagreement, “between the mighty ones.” Mighty ones are powerful people. We don’t know if Solomon is thinking about any one person in particular. When you are not a mighty one, this verse has no meaning for you. Your boss gives you an assignment that you don’t like and you have no recourse, but to accomplish it. That’s an application, but Solomon is talking about compromising when two people are trying to exert their will on each other. When no compromise is possible, the lot is cast to determine who wins. Think about it as playing rock, paper, scissors. Drawing straws, picking a number between one and ten. The outcome is left to chance. Sometimes settling by chance prevents an argument or disagreement from developing. When the lot is used, in essence, the outcome is considered to be a demonstration of God’s will. If the mighty had their way, everything would be settled by power.

In a spiritual sense, nothing is left to chance. Since God is sovereign, all things are controlled by Him. Let me give you a mind bending reality. here is a difference between God’s perfect will and His permissive will. There are people, even in Christian circles, that will try and tell you that since something happened, it is God’s will. God does allow things that are beyond our ability to understand and in the grand scheme of eternity, His will is accomplished. With our finite minds, we are unable to grasp that especially when we are on the receiving end of something that seems impossible to bare.

This next verse is a real eye opener. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.” Brother here means a close friend and can also mean a sibling in Christ. I can’t tell you how many broken relationships I have seen in the church. It’s not that some people aren’t willing to reconcile, they won’t even talk to one another. It just goes to show you how damaging pride is when two people professing a relationship with Christ are unwilling to resolve an issue. Turn over to Eph. 4:1-6 and let’s look at one of Paul’s mandates to believers. I don’t know about you, but I for one am growing increasingly weary of people that say they are a believer in Christ, but are unwilling to walk in the Spirit. I want to point out a couple of key words in Paul’s passage. The first is walk which gives us the idea that our faith is who we are, it’s our way of life and we don’t turn it on and off. The second is humility which we have seen throughout Proverbs and gives us the idea that all of us need to be open to learning. The third is tolerance. We’ve gone way of the rails with this word. Tolerance is defined as the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. Look at what Paul says in 4:14-24. What you were is not what you are because Christ imparted the power for transformation in your heart. Nowhere is tolerance defined as acceptance. The truth is the truth even when it doesn’t line up with your thoughts or behavior. The fourth word is all of v. 3: “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Diligent means careful and conscientious. Preserve means to maintain in the original state. Acts 4:32 says, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” It takes consistent, intentional effort to maintain what Paul, Luke, and Solomon are talking about. And there really is no acceptable alternative than to work hard at working out differences.

Broken relationships are quite damaging. Too often when a relationship is broken, one half of the relationship has no idea what happened. There’s generally some hurt, sorrow, wrongdoing, or deception that has occurred and that brother becomes in the words of the Very Reverend Henry Donald Maurice Spence, “A potent and irreconcilable enemy.” Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of it . . . I know I have. On my birthday in 2015, I got this message from someone that used to be here at C4: “Happy Birthday Brother, Pastor & Friend.” On June 19th, less than three months later I received this message from the same individual: “I can honestly say that everyone that you should strongly look at your choice of calling yourself a pastor because you really do **** when it comes to dealing with people.” This individual was unwilling to come and talk to me about whatever the issue was and instead chose to attack me in a message. I’ve messed up in my life. I’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time, I’ve done things I regret, I haven’t done things I should have, but I hope I don’t make excuses about what a failure I am. I take responsibility for my actions, I’m willing to apologize, I’m willing to do what it takes to resolve issues when I know about them. As I said before, many times you don’t know there’s an issue until you get blasted. Other times I get blasted when I provide sound wisdom, but that wisdom is not followed and I still get a nasty email that I call a drive by. It’s a drive by because the person lacks the courage to say what they said in an email, message, or text to your face. Broken relationships in the church can impact the entire body. Contributing to this is the lack of acknowledgement that problems exist. Wherever there are people there will be issues, but we must be willing to work to resolve those issues. I’m reminded of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery that’s told in John 8. Jesus told her to, “Go. From now on sin no more.” (Jo. 8:11) Jesus wanted her to live a life that represented the transformative power of grace and truth that He represents and sin is not part of that picture. 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us,” so John recognized that we will sin, but God’s desire is that we live holy lives because He is holy. (1 Pet. 1:16) When sin is allowed to run unchecked and uncorrected, we fall into the apostasy that Jude warned us about in his short letter. Solomon is saying it’s easier to capture a strong city than it is to win a brother that is offended. I want you to really get that picture in your mind. Relationships between people of faith should be filled with love, grace, and mercy, but that doesn’t mean ignoring the unchanging standard of God’s Word. How easily are you offended? How thick is your skin? How readily are you willing to receive correction? It’s almost to the point where you don’t want to say anything to anyone because of what they might say back. It can be something as casual as missed you at church Sunday and the person gets all offended.

Solomon closes the comparison by saying, “And contentions are like bars of a citadel.” If you insert the pronoun “their” before contentions, you’ll get the idea. Contentions are the issue at hand. That’s the reason that person is offended, whatever it might be. Remember too, that the offense may only be perceived, not real. That’s the reality that we live in. We often operate based on what we think about something rather than what the actual issue is because we don’t want to confront anyone over anything because when we do we’re made out to be the one in the wrong. It’s quite a cycle. Those issues, “Are like bars on a citadel.” A citadel is a stronghold in a city. Really get this word picture. Contentions, issues, disagreements, strife are like bars in a prison. They keep you trapped, locked away like a prisoner with no hope of escape. When we allow those issues to control us, we fall into the schemes and traps of the devil. I will admit that I have a hard time letting go. I’m a guy that really desires to resolve issues, but what I am finding more and more is that people don’t want to resolve issues. They want to stay mad or they want to pretend something never happened, but the issue is there, lying dormant until something else happens and everything resurfaces.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it seems really strange that the only place where we allow disagreements or contentions to actually separate or break relationships is in the church. You’ve got someone at work that rides your case and causes you trouble at every turn . . . you get up and go to work every morning. You’ve got that bully at school that uses every opportunity to harass you . . . you go to school every day. You’ve got that neighbor that is always complaining to you about your kids or pets, but you don’t move away. But in the church? One wrong move, one wrong word, one failure, one misstep and that’s it; they’re gone. What’s odd is that many people are oblivious to the issues because they’re unwilling to address it. I do believe these type of people are in the minority, but the wake of destruction they leave behind is widespread and if it’s not resolved, they’ll take that destruction with them wherever they might go.

Don’t think there’s no hope. Prayer is always a key to seeing hearts changed, but the heart that is changed is not necessarily the offended one. Understand where we are in the scope of eternity. We’re in the last days where people are turning away from absolute truth. Everything that happens is part of God’s eternal plan, but we’re not briefed on the specifics of that plan. We saw some important qualities from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that we must put into practice on a regular basis. The screams for tolerance today is not the same tolerance Paul talks about in Scripture. Sometimes people are unwilling to acknowledge their sin choosing instead to blame others and sometimes even blame God. Contentions between people can give you the feeling that you’re trapped in a prison. Love God, love others, do what you can to spread the hope that is found in Christ and you might just find that the immovable object that was in your path will move out of the way by the power of God.

Mighty Slow

1 May

MolassesYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we started off talking about a different kind of evil. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to peer pressure. Watch out for the neighbor that tries to lead you in a way that is not good. You should be able to recognize this guy because he winks his eyes and devises perverse plans. Be on guard, watch out, remain steadfast. As you pay attention, you’ll grow in knowledge and understanding which leads to wisdom which leads to longer life which leads to the development of gray hair which is the normal course of our spiritual walk with Christ. Gray hair is like wearing a crown so treat your elders with respect. This morning, we’ll see that a man’s temperament is at the top of the list of desirable attributes.

Proverbs 16:32-33 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord.”

Speed is relative. When I was in the Navy we had the saying, “Hurry up and wait.” It seems like we’re always waiting on something or someone. We tell our kids, “Hurry up.” “You’re slow as Christmas, or molasses.” We wait in the checkout line with the slowest cashier ever. We have to wait for our food in the restaurant and wish they’d hurry up. Being slow is not always a bad thing. We’re also told slow and steady wins the race. Slow down and smell the roses. In our seemingly contrasting world, Solomon tells us no different. Solomon starts off with the character of a man. He said previously, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.” (Pro. 14:29) He also said, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.” (Pro. 15:18) Now he says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty.” Notice he doesn’t say never gets angry, but it takes a while for the wise man. This verse comes right after Solomon talked about the gray headed man. The general thought is that as you grow older, you develop patience; you’re not easily provoked, you don’t take the bait to get into an argument, you think before talking, you consider the circumstances. In other words, you demonstrate biblical wisdom. You know who else is slow to anger? Ps. 103:8 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” Listen to James’ expectation in Ja. 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” There should be progressive maturity in Christ. It should be steady. Just like in our biological growth, sometimes there are periods of growth spurts and sometimes there is slower growth, but always growth.

Being, “slow to anger is better than the mighty” is another example of how the Bible emphasizes qualities that are not elevated in our society. It doesn’t say being mighty or powerful is wrong, but when you compare it to anger, it’s better to be in control of yourself than it is to be strong and powerful. Solomon explains why when he says, “And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” This is one of the identifying traits of a mature Christian. Can you hold your tongue? Can you control your emotions? Are you anxious? Worried? It’s better to be able to control yourself than it is to be strong. The greatest battle you may fight just might be the one that you fight within yourself.

Solomon also talks about sovereignty. He says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Back in Bible days, the lot was one of the methods used to determine God’s will. Lots were cast to determine the scape goat in Lev. 16:8. The Promised Land was divided among the Twelve Tribes by lot in Num. 26:55. The sailors cast lots to determine the cause of the calamity in Jon. 1:7. Lots were cast by the disciples to see who would replace Judas in Acts 1:26. We don’t know exactly that the lot was. It could have been flat stones like coins, varying length of sticks, or some other dice like device. When you consider God’s will, I assure you that it can be quite the conundrum and it’s not left to chance. So if God controls all things, then what about the evil and wickedness in the world? I think it’s a fair question, but you have to understand a very difficult concept. There is a difference in the permissive and perfect will of God. God is in control of all that happens and there are things He allows for reasons we may never know or never fully understand. Nothing that happens catches God by surprise. He can see tomorrow as clearly as He sees yesterday.

So even if something happens by chance, ultimately, God is in control. That brings us back to the sovereignty of God question. Paul exclaimed. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom. 11:33) We can thwart God’s will too. The fatalist says whatever will happen will happen. If whatever happens, happens, why would God command us to pray? In fact, you can say that about all the Christian disciplines we have. Evangelism, missions, worship, etc. Just because something happens doesn’t mean it’s God’s will. Romans 1 tells us that’s not so. We have choice. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Ja. 4:7) Some things are from God and some things are from the devil. Solomon says, “Every decision is from the Lord.” Everything that happens in our life is carefully evaluated by God and is allowed to happen or not. Don’t confuse the verbs allow and cause. Jer. 29:11 says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” God’s plans for us are always good, but that doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen. We live in a fallen, sin filled, self-centered world where we make decisions based on us. Even in tragedy, God can be glorified. Even in crisis, God can be glorified. In sickness, God can be glorified. We don’t know the ripple effect our lives have on eternity. In tragedy and crisis, our faith can grow; our trust in God can grow. God is not the source of evil, but He does allow it in this world and in our lives. We can wrestle with the whys of it all, or we can trust that God knows what He’s doing. I admit that is a very challenging decision.

Are you going to let your circumstances dictate who God is? For some people, God’s character and love change depending on how good their life is going. God is awesome, right up until your spouse is diagnosed with some awful disease. God is awesome right up until your kids do something that turns your world upside down. God is awesome right up until you lose your job, your car dies, or a tree falls on your house. God is awesome right up until the time that something happens that doesn’t line up with your plans.       When we evaluate that in light of Scripture, we can’t find where that’s true. Either God is the same always or He’s not. You can’t have it both ways. The sovereignty of God is a very challenging concept to understand and I will not pretend that I understand all the whys of life. I think a lot of the time; God just wants us to defer to Him. Paul said, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:1-5) I walk through life; what I have observed is there are rarely periods of growth in our faith when all is going according to our plans. It’s when those plans change or are totally blown out of the water do we really learn how to trust in the One that allows those deviations. Solomon is not saying, “Hey believer, just sit back and hang while God does His magic.” We should and must engage in an intentional daily pursuit of all things Jesus.

The fatalist’s theme song goes like this: “Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours, to see. Que Sera, Sera. What will be, will be. Que Sera, Sera.” All we have to do to discount that is go back to the Bible. Just a moment ago I told you that Jer. 29:11 says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” God does have plans for you. During Paul’s second missionary journey, the Spirit of Jesus prevented him from preaching in Asia and from going to Bithynia. Things don’t always make sense and God wants us to trust Him. It should be an easy enough thing to do. So you need to ask yourself, what’s keeping me from totally trusting God?

The Debate Rages On . . .

18 Sep

I love a good, healthy debate on the truths of Scripture. My wife sent this to me and thought it was pretty good. I agree so I’m reposting this article from the Gospel Coalition. One interesting thing to point out that the author does as well, is this argument of Reformed Theology is mostly between theologians, between church members, between pastor friends. etc. We’re spending time in the church debating matters of Scripture and missing the point of the Gospel. I have never met one single Calvinist, or one single Reformed Theology guy that does not believe he is NOT one of the elect. Not one time has someone told me, “Yeah Ian, I have thoroughly studied the Scriptures and I’ve come to the conclusion that Christ offers limited atonement and I wasn’t offered that atonement.”

Here is the article in its entirety.

A Word to My Calvinist Friends

Brothers,

Consider me irked. Irked, as in, “I love you, guys, but you’re talking down to me, not with me.”

That’s my basic response after reading a brief interview with Matt Barrett and Tom Nettles about their new book Whomever He Wills (Founders, 2012) that puts forth a robust argumentation for a Reformed view of soteriology.

Many of you are my friends, including some of the authors of this volume. So, allow me say at the outset how much I admire your conviction, your theological rigor, and your commitment to rightly interpreting the Scriptures.

Let me also put this little squabble in perspective. When I consider the culture’s current trajectory as well as the disturbing evangelical capitulation to culture rather than biblical truth, this in-house debate between people who believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture is just that, in-house. It is certainly not the most important topic for discussion.

But as one who doesn’t follow your logical arguments all the way to their conclusions, I confess my frustration with the type of condescension that often accompanies your passion for your position.

Particular Redemption in Service to Universal Atonement

Here’s an example from the interview. Consider how the question is worded:

What about the death of Christ have convictional “four-point Calvinists” perhaps failed to adequately consider?

Instead of asking, “Why do you reject the unlimited atonement view?,” the question is framed in a way that treats four-point Calvinists like they have simply failed to adequately consider all the relevant points. The implication is this: Oh, those four-pointers are good guys, but they obviously haven’t thought it through as well as we have.

No, my brothers. There are plenty of us who reject the traditional Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement precisely because we have adequately considered the arguments and have found them wanting. The reason I stand with theologians like J.C. Ryle, Millard Erickson, Gregg Allison, Bruce Demarest, and Bruce Ware is because their argumentation is more persuasive than yours.

I understand you believe you are safeguarding the reality of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice when you affirm a definite atonement position. Many non-Calvinists believe they are safeguarding the free offer of the gospel by affirming the general atonement position. The truth is, just as Calvinists can believe in definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel, so also can non-Calvinists believe in general atonement and penal substitution. Neither one is necessarily lost by either position. That’s why I defend Calvinists from the charge that taking a limited atonement position necessarily leads to apathy in evangelism. I’d appreciate it if you’d defend your general atonement friends from the charge that our position leads to universalism instead of saying our view “threatens to tear apart the Holy Trinity.”

Yes, there are statements in Scripture that stress the particularity of Christ’s sacrifice and its universality. But to squeeze universal feet into tight, particular shoes is precisely the wrong choice to make. Instead, when the particular texts are nestled snugly into their universal shoes, they fit more naturally.

In the context of the Old Testament, particularity serves universality. God chose a particular man in Genesis 12 (Abraham), in order that through his seed, the whole worldwould be blessed. God’s chosen people, Israel, are not selected merely to receive God’s covenantal benefits, but to be God’s missional people, a light to the nations. In other words, God’s choice of Israel was prompted by His love for the nations. The particular nation of Israel was the means by which He would provide redemption for all people.

In the same way, Jesus can say that He comes only to the lost sheep of Israel, not because He has no heart for the Gentiles, but because it is the particular nature of His ministry that will provide the catalyst for worldwide restoration. His mission to Israel enables the church’s mission to the nations.

Likewise, our election has a missional component. We are chosen to be the means by which God’s salvation extends universally. The particular nature of our salvation has, as its intention, the universal extension of the gospel as a sign of God’s benevolent heart to all.

So, just as my friend David Schrock can title a chapter “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed,” I like to say, “Jesus died for the sins of the world,” and I don’t need an asterisk either.

Calvinism and the Gospel

Leaving debates about the extent of the atonement aside for a moment, I want to point out something else that continues to trouble me – the equation of Calvinistic soteriology with the gospel itself. I wish, for the sake of all of us, that you would abandon this divisive rhetoric, not because it’s divisive but because it’s simply untrue. The gospel cannot be reduced to a particular view of soteriology.

Now, to be fair, you consider the doctrines of grace as “the foundation on which the gospel itself is built,” not the message itself. And when you quote Charles Spurgeon’s words equating Calvinism and the gospel (a place where I believe the great Spurgeon got it wrong), you are not saying that those of us who do not subscribe to all the points of Calvinism fail to believe the gospel. Instead, you consider this shorthand for biblical Christianity.

I get what you’re saying. But please consider what it sounds like to those of us who disagree. It sounds like you are making a systematic presentation of theology the gospel. As if the gospel were a set of doctrines, not the announcement of King Jesus. Plus, it smacks of elitism and sends young Calvinists back to their churches, thinking that if their pastors haven’t parsed the petals of TULIP, they aren’t really gospel preachers.

Let’s be very clear. The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the world, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).

The gospel is not the ordo salutis. It is not Grudem’s systematic theology. Nor is it the fivesolas.

I understand your desire to buttress the gospel announcement with a robust, theological vision of soteriology. But I think a stronger case can be made that one’s ecclesiological underpinnings are just as important (if not more so) to safeguarding the gospel. (I digress. That’s the Baptist coming out in me, so I’ll need to save that for another time, another post.)

Conclusion

So, my brothers, I thank you for your love for the Lord, the Scriptures, and the church. I simply ask that you consider the effect of your rhetoric on those who disagree with you, and that even when you disagree, you do not put forth your view with condescension.

Side by side with you,

Your Calvinist-loving but sometimes frustrated friend,

Trevin

Two Buts

23 Jul

Check out the podcast for this message.

Peter provided some significant and challenging instructions in vs. 8-12. This is the type of personal behavior that we should demonstrate as a manifestation of Christ’s life changing power that resides within us. Peter now shifts to practical application.

1 Peter 3:13-15 says, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Just a quick recap from last week. Peter told us to keep our tongue from evil and lips from speaking deceit, turn away from evil and do good; we are to seek peace and pursue it. We are not to participate in any form of evil and the idea is that the Lord is our protector and we are doing good in service to Him. Obviously Peter knows what is going on in the world and he says, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.” Blessed to suffer. Wow, that’s an oxymoron, but Peter is speaking from personal experience. Remember after Jesus established the church, the apostles were performing many signs and wonders. The Jewish big wigs didn’t like what they were doing. They were thrown in jail, but were released by the Holy Spirit and were found preaching in the market place. So the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the whole senate, and the Jewish elders got together and decided what to with them. It was decided to simply beat them and they were told in Acts 5:40, “Not to speak in the name of Jesus.” Acts 5:41: “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Suffering and hardship did not deter them. I think it made them even more determined to do the work of the Lord. It sure isn’t like that anymore. People look for an excuse not to come to church, look for reasons why they can’t serve. Perhaps the fire of the Lord has gone out, but that’s not possible is it? Acts 5:42 goes on to say, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” They were being the church that Jesus intended it to be.

Peter says, “Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” The Apostles weren’t the first ones that had the idea that serving God was what Christians ought to do. How about the three Hebrew children? In Dan. 3:17-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They had standards. They weren’t going to let a little thing like being burnt to death deter them from serving the Lord. Paul told Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”  (2 Tim. 1:7) The idea is that we should be motivated by God’s power rather than focus on our weaknesses. God is able to work through us if we’ll only allow Him. The whole idea Peter is expressing is don’t let the man get you down or keep you down. You do what is right regardless of the consequences.

Peter answers his rhetorical question by telling us what not to do, now he tells us to do be ready. V. 15 says, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” There’s that great “but” word again. “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Sanctify comes from the word that means to separate from profane things and dedicate to God. Set your heart on God. Peter ties this verse to the previous verse by saying but. This is the contrast. When you set your heart on God, when you focus on Him, any fears you may have, any apprehension that may come, any doubt about what you are doing will all be dissuaded or put to rest, God will put your mind at rest and keep you calm even as you face trials. Pro. 18:10 says “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.” Set your heart on God and be ready. When your heart and your entire being is focused on God, you will be noticed. When you’re noticed, you need to be ready to explain why you are the way you are. Notice that we are not to get ready, we aren’t to call someone, we aren’t to read a book or go to a conference, we are to, “always be[ing] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Defense comes from the Greek word apologia where we get our English word apology. It is the ability to make a reasoned statement or argument. Always. That means always. No special time to prepare a defense, no study time, no delays. Notice the verse says, “to everyone who asks you.” Anyone has the right to ask another on what grounds he regards his religion as true. The real meaning behind this verse is that we are to always be ready, willing, and able to give strong reasons why we decided to follow Christ. This is not just how we got saved. It is how and why we got saved. What caused us to embrace the fact that Jesus is the Christ and what caused us to make the decision to follow Him? It is not an intrusion into our personal lives.

When asked this question, some will say, “Religion is a private matter.” “It’s personal.” “I don’t discuss religion.” “That’s not what I believe.” Maybe you’ve heard those very things. We are to, “give an account for the hope that is with us with gentleness and reverence.” People will approach you about religion in many ways. Some want to ridicule you for believing. Some want to criticize you. Some want to harass you. We are to respond gently and recognize the importance of the subject. Pro. 15:1 reminds us that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

So the question for us today is, are you ready? Are you willing?