Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15

About Me

I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Does God Change His Mind?

Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD." But Samuel said to Saul, "I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel." As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you. Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind."
~1 Samuel 15:24-29

One of the perplexing puzzles the ardent Bible student may come across in his or her study concerns the issue of whether or not God changes His mind pertaining to His plans and purposes. Scripture is clear that God does not change in His character or with His plans and purposes (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), yet there are some places where it almost appears that He does alter His plan in specific situations (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:12-14; 1 Samuel 15:11,35; Jeremiah 18:8; Jonah 3; Joel 2:14; Amos 7:3,6). In fact, within the same chapter and context of 1 Samuel 15 we find God as expressing "regret"or "grief" over making Saul king (vv 11, 35) and then a statement that God never changes His mind (v 29). A teaching known as "Open Theism" uses such passages to validate their claim that God does not know the future for certain and often makes mistakes and has to resort to plan B when plan A fails. Does such passages indicate a contradiction or imply that God's plans are not perfect so that He has to change them? In the style and manner of Paul, I answer "absolutely not" and "may it never be!" A closer study into these issues reveals that God does not change His mind pertaining to His overall plan and purpose anywhere throughout Scripture but consistently brings about what He has planned without those plans ever being foiled.

Much of the debate concerning these passages revolves around the meaning and usage of the Hebrew word, nachem. In almost all of its occurrences in relation to God, the term is in the Niphal stem.1 In this stem, it can carry several meanings such as: 1) “be sorry, moved to pity, have compassion;” 2) “be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent;” 3) “comfort oneself, be comforted;” and 4) “comfort oneself, ease oneself.”2 Generally, the word indicates emotion. This means that several of the usages of the term does not necessarily have to be translated as change one's mind but would better be understood to convey grief or sorrow. As with many Hebrew and Greek words, context is the ultimate deciding factor as to which meaning to apply to the word. For instance, Genesis 6:6 should be translated as The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth instead of The LORD changed His mind that He had made man on the earth because the word is used right alongside a Hebrew verb that means hurt, pain, grief. It is not implausible for God to ordain a certain event as part of His sovereign plan that would cause Him grief when it occurs.3 While God is transcendent of time and able to view all past, present, and future events simultaneously, He is also able to make distinctions between them. This enables Him to experience certain emotions at the moment an event occurs within time though being aware of the event eternally outside time.4 This is the case with Joseph. God ordained the events of his brothers' treachery in permitting them to sell him to the Ishamaelites but used their evil sin to place Joseph in the second highest position in Egypt to save his family and prevent God's chosen people from dying out. For a God who hates sin (Habakkuk 1:13), any sin would cause Him grief, yet these sins he permitted as part of His plan to save His people (Genesis 45:7-8; 50:20).5 A look at the wider context of 1 Samuel 15 shows that Saul's failure as king was not unknown to God but apart of His overall plan to teach a lesson to the Israelites.

After Saul’s two acts of disobedience (1 Samuel 13:8-13; 15:9), God expresses His grief in
making Saul king (15:11). This in no way indicates God being ignorant of Saul’s disobedience when He first chose the man for this position. In fact, God never planned for Saul’s dynasty to endure. In his prophecy to Judah, Jacob predicted that The scepter shall not depart from him Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet (Genesis 49:10). Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1-2) when God planned that one from the tribe of Judah would have an everlasting kingdom. If God intended for Saul’s dynasty to continue, unaware of his future disobedience, then He would have contradicted His previous promise. The overarching narrative indicates that God had a specific purpose for Saul in his short-lived dynasty.

The people had asked for a king so that they could be like all the nations (8:5). This displeased the LORD but He granted their request and gave them the king they asked for; one just like all the other nations had. In fact, Saul's name in Hebrew comes from the Hebrew root that means to ask, inquire. The author describes Saul as resembling what one would expect from a king (as all the other nations had) outwardly (9:2) and then shows how such a king fails miserably. After the people’s king’s first act of disobedience, God states that He has already chosen His king; the one after His own heart (13:14). The verbs for seek and appoint in Hebrew both convey the perfect tense, which indicate that these are both completed actions. At this point where God has rejected Saul as king, He has already found the replacement and does not have to go looking for one. This one does not look like a king the other nations have (16:7-11) and is from the linage of Judah as God had prophesied. In fact, David appeared so unkinglike that his own father did not even call him out of the field to be considered by Samuel. Though Saul’s kingdom would have been everlasting had he been faithful (13:13), God used the means of His disobedience to fulfill His ultimate plan of having a descendant of Judah to reign over His people. Thus, this was not an act of God responding emotionally to something that He had not been aware would occur or signifying that He made a mistake. His grief resulted from Saul’s failure as king which He intended to use to chastise His people. The statement Samuel makes in response to Saul's pleading for another chance after he had already been told that God has taken the kingdom away from him further indicates that God does not change his mind pertaining to His plans and purposes.

After rejecting Saul's request to pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD (v 25), Saul grabs the edge of Samuel's robe and the prophet uses the tearing of it to inform the king that God has likewise tore the kingdom aware from him and given it to someone else. He then states that when God makes a decision, it is final. God does not lie or change His mind. The parallel of nachem being with the verb to lie indicates it should be taken as change of mind in this context. Though given in reference to Saul's rejection as king, the prophet attributed a timeless principle of God's character. Not only does this verse state the impossibility of God changing His mind, but also of Him lying. Just as the statement that God cannot lie is not limited to this case, the same must be true of Him changing His mind since the two are parallel. If one argues that God sometimes changes His mind and other times does not, then that would also mean that God sometimes lies, a claim with no support found anywhere in Scripture.6 Even in the places where nachem conveys the idea of change of mind, it simply means a change of direction but never a change in His overall plan He will carry out. God may change His direction but never is the new direction outside of His ultimate underlying plan. Several of these references must be read in the context of the old covenant with blessings given for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). God thus brings judgment on the disobedient but blessing upon the obedient or repentant. In his call to the nation of Israel to repent, Jeremiah describes God to them as a potter who crafts Israel as His clay the way that He desires (Jeremiah 18:5-6). He states that in one instance God might speak words of destruction to a nation but would take back the destruction described pending on the condition of their repentance (vv 7-8). Likewise, He would bring judgment upon a nation that sought to do evil when He had said that He would build them up previously (vv 9-10). Therefore, in several cases where God is described as changing His mind or relenting concerning coming judgment in response to man’s repentance, He technically is not changing His mind but enacting this principle that He established. He is dealing with man as He has predetermined. Such is the reason why Jonah did not desire to warn the Ninevites of their coming judgment (Jonah 4:2). He knew what would happen if they repented and he wanted them to experience judgment instead of mercy.

This truth that God does not change in His character and in His perfect purpose and plan is comforting. While people on this earth may and will let you down, we have a Heavenly Father who is true to His every word and with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17). We can confidently go to Him for guidance of our next step because He is in full control and has planned out the very steps He has for us to take (Psalm 139:16). He is a God who never makes mistakes and Whom we can trust to always do what's right (Genesis 18:25), even when we may not understand all that He does (Isaiah 55:8-9). We can celebrate our salvation as God's perfect plan of sending His Son to die on the cross in our place was accomplished just as He intended without any variation of His plan. To God be the glory that He does not change but does as He sees fit for our good and His glory!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

1-Genesis 6:6,7; Exodus 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:11,29; Jeremiah 18:8,10; Joel 2:13,14; Amos 7:3,6; Jonah 3:9,10. The one exception can be found in Numbers 23:19 where the Hithpael form of the verb is used.

2-F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007) 637.

3-John Piper, “Why the Glory of God is at Stake in the ‘Foreknowledge’ Debate” Modern Reformation 5 (September/October 1999) 43.

4-Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998) 301.

5-By far the greatest example of this can be seen with God permitting the sin of the murder of His perfect Son as part of His perfect plan of redeeming sinners (Acts 2:23). Basically, God used sin to conquer sin.

6-Bruce A. Ware, God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000) 88.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Meaning of Christmas

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
~Matthew 1:18-25

A common and important question that is often asked around this time of year is "what is the meaning of Christmas?" After taking the time to step away from all of the hustle and bustle the holiday season brings, have you ever pondered the significance of the day? Just why is it so important? What is special about it? Depending on the person, it appears that Christmas has carried several different meanings.

Much of the rituals and things we associate with Christmas actually have a pagan origin. For the ancient Romans, this time of December meant a celebration of their harvest god, Saturn. This "Festival of Saturnalia," as they called it, was accompanied by the exchanging of gifts and decorating homes with greenery.

For many, the "most wonderful time of the year" has become the "most stressful" as Christmas means baking enough food to feed the army of family that are only seen once or twice a year and finding the perfect gift for everyone. It signifies long lines and crowded stores. It means emptying one's wallet or purse and purging the credit card into more debt that will take half of the upcoming year to pay off. It means tales of a man named Santa Claus or St. Nicholas who travels in a sleigh with eight special reindeer (nine if you count Rudolph) from the North Pole and delivers gifts down people's chimneys. It's a marathon of either a story of a young boy who defends his house from crooks after being left home alone, a boy whose one sole desire and wish is a Red Ryder BB gun who winds up shooting his eye out, a Scrooge who gains the spirit of Christmas, or a man who learns that he has a wonderful life after all. It's bright, twinkling lights, evergreen trees, and far too many decorations. It's songs about Grandma getting run over by a reindeer and chestnuts roasting over an open fire.

The Real Meaning of Christmas

But for the Christian, Christmas has an even deeper meaning. It is the time that has been set aside to celebrate Jesus' birth. No one really knows for sure His exact birth date. In fact, He possibly was born in the Spring since the shepherds are described as being outside watching their flocks. Though this has been debated as certain scholars argue for cases of shepherds being in the fields also in the wintertime. All that Scripture tells us concerning the date is that it occurred around the time under Caesar Augustus' reign when Quirinius served as governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-2). While this may be helpful in determining the year, the specific month and date remain a mystery. However, the precise date itself is of little importance compared to the significance of the event.

No Ordinary Man

Matthew opens up his gospel showing us how extraordinary this event was. This is not the birth of any ordinary man. He identifies Jesus as christos, the Greek parallel to the Hebrew mashiack, meaning anointed one. Through the lineage of his legal father Joseph, Jesus was the son of David, the son of Abraham. This is significant as this indicates that He is the divine king promised to David that would rule eternally (2 Samuel 7:16) as well as meeting the requirement that a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, / And a branch from his roots will bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1). By beginning the record of Jesus' genealogy at Abraham, Matthew demonstrates how Jesus was connected to God's covenant to the Patriarch. He came out of the great nation God promised He would make of Abraham and through Him, provided the means for the salvation for both Jew and Gentile so that all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8). Thus, Jesus was not an ordinary man but the long awaited Messiah that the Old Testament prophets have foretold would come. At Christmas, we are celebrating the Messiah.

No Ordinary Birth

Matthew highlights Jesus' miraculous birth as well. At the end of the genealogy, the apostle points out that Jesus was the son of Mary but not Joseph. The whom in Greek is feminine and singular, indicating that he is referring to Mary specifically and solely (v 16). A common rule in Greek grammar is that the pronoun will always match the antecedent it replaces in gender and number. Had Matthew intended to describe Jesus as being the son of both Mary and Joseph, the pronoun would have been plural in number and possibly male in gender. If Joseph served as the reference, it would be male and singular. However, Matthew wants to be clear that Jesus is the product of Mary through the Holy Spirit. He emphasizes this further by mentioning that Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit before they [Joseph and herself] came together (v 18, emphasis added). In order to stop Joseph from breaking off the betrothal as he was planning, an angel of the Lord informs him that no foul play had been involved from Mary but the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit (v 19-20). Those who insist on denying Jesus' virgin birth have torn out the entire first chapter of Matthew's gospel! Matthew connects this virgin birth to the prophecy Isaiah gave to King Ahaz that described this distinct miraculous event. (For a further exposition of this prophecy, see last year's post entitled: The Hope of Immanuel) This was no ordinary child but the Immanuel promised from long ago. He was "God with us." He was the "Son of God." He was fully God and fully man. He was God incarnate. God becoming flesh. John elegantly words this so well in his gospel account of Jesus' birth: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). At Christmas, we are celebrating God coming to earth in the form of man.

No Ordinary Purpose

Actually, Christmas is not about Jesus' birth at all. It really is a celebration of our salvation. This extraordinary man Who had an extraordinary birth had an extraordinary mission. As part of the instructions given to Joseph in his dream, the angel tells him to name the child Jesus. In the Hebrew culture, names meant something. You would not just name your son Jim and your daughter Jill because of fondness for the way the names sounded. Names in Hebrew carried great significance. The names of Jacob's sons and daughters came from the feelings of his wives in their ongoing war with each other (Genesis 30). Upon the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines, Phinehas's wife names her new born child, Ichabod (No glory), to signify God's glory leaving Israel (1 Samuel 4:21). Elijah's name literally means My God is Yahweh, which is a fitting name for the one whose ministry can be characterized by his steadfast stand for Yahweh, the one true God, in the midst of all the idolatry prevalent at the time (recall his challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:20-40). In Hebrew, Jesus' name is yehshua, meaning Yahweh is salvation or Yahweh saves. The angel explains the significance for such a name. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (v 21). Jesus' purpose is to save His people from their sins. His people refers to the Jews in this context but due to their rejection of Christ, God providentially opened up salvation to all mankind (Romans 11:11). All men are born by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and have sinned (Romans 3:23; 5:12) and thus under God's wrath (Romans 1:18). We are due to experience spiritual death, which is eternal separation from the grace of God (Romans 6:23). Man was in terrible need of saving and could in no way save Himself. Thus, God provided a substitute through His Son. As Paul puts it, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus took man's sins upon Himself and suffered God's wrath as punishment for them. Those who then place their trust in Christ, God views as righteous as if they had lived Christ's righteous life since He had viewed Him as if He had committed their sins. So Jesus was actually born to die. There is a reason that all four gospels spend more time recounting the last week of Jesus' life leading up to the cross than they do any other part of His life. This was His purpose. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The reason that God became flesh, Immanuel, was so that He could then die in the sinners place to save those who are moved to come to Him through faith.

The meaning of Christmas is not simply a little manger scene on a certain starry night but so much more. This is just a small event in the grand plan of God's redemption. The meaning of Christmas is God's salvation given through His coming to earth in the form of man and dying to give man life. John Piper made a good point in a recent sermon that Christmas is "mainly preparation for Good Friday." I pray that through all the different meanings of this holiday that fight to distract us, that we would not lose sight of this important truth. May this Christmas be a celebration of God's salvation. May we who once were spiritually blind and now can see and who once were spiritually dead and now have been given life glorify God for His work not only on this one day out of the year but the 364 remaining! For those who are yet blind to this profound and significant meaning of this holiday, may God open your eyes to see the truth and cherish Christ for Who He is and what He has done!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Guidance of God

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
~Acts 16:6-10

There are two words everyone, whether young or old, are concerned about. These two words are "God's Will." People are always inquiring as to what "God's Will" is for their life or what God would have them do in a specific situation. The questions range from whether it is God's will that one looks for a new job, whether one should buy the new house, or who one should marry (I have personally searched for an answer pertaining to this one and have found numerous names of Marys and Marthas but nothing that seems to correspond to my current situation). Often, people speak of God's will as being lost. That it is somewhere hidden and needs to be found. However, God's will has never been lost but is given clearly in His Word. Scripture tells us that For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Of course, these are examples of God's will generally for our lives, you may be wondering about the specifics. Though to hear God's guidance pertaining to the specifics we need to be obedient with the general. In Acts 16:6-10, we see how God guided Paul specifically to where He had for him to serve and in turn how He will guide us as well to where He wants us to be or do for His glory.

In this passage, Luke takes us with Paul on his second missionary journey. After having a dispute with Barnabas over the inclusion of John Mark in the mission, Paul started out with Silas. His goal in this trip was to visit some former churches to check on their progress as well as deliver to them the decree that had been decided upon at the Jerusalem Council. Along the way he picks up young Timothy who joins him in his work. After making his rounds to several of these churches, Paul decides to go preach the gospel in an unreached territory. In his first evangelistic tour he traveled no farther west than Antioch in Pisida. Now he appears to be heading to Asia to proclaim the greatness of God and the work of Christ.

In heading in this direction, Paul was basically doing what God had called him to do; preach the gospel to the Gentiles. God told Ananias before he met Paul that His purpose for him was to “bear His name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul even stated to the Galatians that God had called and prepared him to “preach Him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:16). Likewise, God has a specific purpose for us to serve and glorify Him. I like how my mentor always put it that God “wires” us for certain types of ministry. God’s Holy Spirit grants us different gifts in certain areas as well as desires which lead us to gravitate towards certain ministry fields. An evangelist has a heart for full time evangelism and a pastor for preaching and teaching God’s Word. (Such is the reason why I cannot stop teaching whether it be behind the pulpit, writing a blog/facebook note or in casual conversation over dinner.) It’s where their passion and desires lie. Paul was just seeking opportunities to do what God had placed on his heart. A start to whatever ministry endeavor the Lord has in store must start with us looking for those opportunities to exercise our gifts and live out our yearnings.

However, as Paul heads West, he hits a road block. It’s like coming up over a hill in your car to see the orange cones laid out in front of the entire roadway. You’re not going any further in that direction! Here is a clear example of Proverbs 16:9. Man makes plans but God determines the outcome. The group are described as passing through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because they were not able to preach in Asia. We don’t know what really happened to prevent this. Luke attributes it to an act of God by describing the Holy Spirit as the One forbidding them to proceed. He does not give us the specifics. It might have been the inner leading of the Spirit simply telling them no. A prophet, as they were still some at this time, might have uttered such. God may have sovereignly orchestrated certain events to occur to prevent Paul from going there. Regardless of how, God clearly said “no” to Paul’s plan to bring the gospel to the people in Asia, at least at this time. Later God does send him to Ephesus in Asia. It was just not in God’s plan and design for Paul to go at this specific moment.

Paul could have stopped and went back to Antioch or “thrown in the towel” in heading to these uncharted territories to proclaim the gospel. Instead, he continues to search for other opportunities, this time heading North to Bithynia. A “closed door” does not necessarily mean that God wants you to give up the ministry He has called you to. It might just mean that He doesn’t want you to do that ministry at the place you are seeking. God wasn’t saying no to Paul preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Only no to doing this in Asia. God had another place He desired for Paul to go. For those whose plans have not worked out, it could be that that place is not where the Lord has for you to serve currently. He may have somewhere else planned for you or some work to do both in and through you before you go. The same may be said for the one whose finances are not where they need to be to participate in a certain ministry that is starting.

Upon Paul’s change in direction towards Bithynia, he again faces another road block. Luke informs us that the Holy Spirit again redirects Paul. He somehow does not permit him to this area as well to proclaim the gospel. We find out what God is up to here shortly. There is a reason for the constant redirection. There is always a reason for any door or doors that God closes. Usually its a sign that God has another purpose in mind. This is what Luke shows us occurs with Paul.

Paul still does not give up and now goes west again to Troas. He continues to seek opportunities to do the work God has called him to. Here, while he is seeking, God reveals to him where his next area of service will be. Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia who holds out his hands and asks the apostle for help. After two shut doors, now God has both provided the reason for them. He had planned to send Paul and the group to minister to the people of Macedonia, not Asia or Bithynia. Luke tells us that there was no doubt this was where the Lord was leading them. The group “concluded” that God called them to bring the gospel to the Macedonians based on this vision and they left “immediately.”

Notice that the vision came while Paul was seeking the opportunities God may have provided for him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Many times God does not provide us with the specifics of where He wants us to go until after we have begun to seek the opportunities ourselves or follow the limited instructions He gives. Abraham is a clear example of this. God simply told Abraham to move without the details of where he was to go. It was not until God led him to the promised land of Canaan that he pointed out that this was the land He had promised him (For a further exposition of this narrative, see Paul had no specifics pertaining to Macedonia before this. He was just aiming to glorify God by fulfilling the calling He had for him. In God’s timing, he was directed away from where he was not supposed to go and shown where he was. Too often we are so busy seeking and waiting for our clear specific call that we fail to focus on the steps that God calls us to walk today. Not only does God determine the end of where He would have us to serve but also the means for us to get there. We need to "be faithful today in order to be where God will have us tomorrow."

We don’t know how long it took for Paul to receive this “Macedonian Call.” It might have been days or months. Much of these journeys would have been done on foot so it was probably a few months. You may be waiting for a little while before God gives you a clear call to wherever He would have you to go. Just don’t quit seeking. You may not get a vision since Scripture seems to indicate that God primarily speaks through His Word to us today (Hebrews 1:1-2). But He will make it clear in His timing where He wants you to go.

God will direct you just as He did Paul. Pay attention to those “closed doors” and keep moving ahead seeking the opportunities that are available for you. Maybe while you are seeking, you will get the answer to where it is the Lord will have you to go. Maybe you will get your “wherever” call while you are seeking or find the opportunity that God has planned for you all along. Praise God that He guides us through both the open and closed doors as to where He would have us to serve Him for His glory!

In Christ,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration: Why I Would Like to Sign It But Cannot

Many are aware of this now but last Friday, the Manhattan Declaration was unveiled. This is a joint statement made by Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelical Christians calling for everyone to take a stand on the issues of the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty. I wholeheartedly affirm and can join myself in fighting for these causes as all three are biblical issues. Scripture calls for the church to protect and lookout for the oppressed and forgotten ones such as the widows and orphans. The unborn fetishes that are so easily designated as a "choice" and killed would certainly fit into this category. The authors of the document hit the proverbial nail on the head when they define our culture as a culture of death. The number of those infants who have become victims of abortions is always sobering. The Bible also is crystal clear on the definition of a marriage being between one man and one woman. To craft any other type of union and attempt to claim it as a "marriage" would be a distortion of the objective definition that God Himself has given. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). I have written more on the importance of the biblical definition and understanding of marriage in an earlier blog entry. I also concur with the importance of the rights of conscience and religious liberty. Many instances of Christians in the workforce being required to perform abortions against their consciences because of their understanding of Scripture's teaching on the matter are growing. Also, the reality of what is happening in certain states that have legalized "so-called" same-sex marriage (so-called because as I have previously stated, this does not constitute a marriage)are also clashing with the consciences of those pastors called to uphold the Word of God in their life and preaching and teaching possibly might increase as well. Overall, I found the document well written and can fully agree with its overarching message and support the three causes it calls to rally for. However, I cannot sign it.

My issue with the statement deals with the ambiguity of certain terminology. The statement claims that Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good and It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season (emphasis mine). My question is which Gospel of costly grace does the document refer to? Notice that the declaration comes from Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians. These groups do not proclaim the same gospel. Catholics for instance promote a gospel of justification by faith and works while evangelicals (the group which I could be classified in, of course depending on how the label is defined)teach what I understand to be the biblical gospel of justification by faith alone. As Paul states, For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:28) and For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I cannot therefore align myself with such a statement that is not clear exactly to which gospel it is our duty to proclaim, especially in light of the fact that those I am joining with might not be proclaiming the same gospel.

Some may accuse me of being too nitpicky concerning this since the main point of the statement is the common three causes of the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage, and the rights of conscience. However, the gospel is never insignificant regardless what matter the issue may be. Martin Luther rightly stated that the church stands or falls on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He declared that the doctrine is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour. John Calvin likewise stated, Wherever the knowledge of it [the doctrine of "Justification by Faith"] is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown. The major issue for the early church always was the gospel. Paul wrote to the Galatians concerning the Judaizers who wanted to add the works of the Law to the Gospel by demanding that the Gentiles were not saved unless they were circumcised and obeyed the Law. He described this teaching as a different gospel and even not a gospel at all. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). I could not see Paul signing a document that was aligned with the Judaizers, especially with their different "gospel." The apostle's whole reason for not exercising all the rights that he was entitled to (1 Corinthians 9:3-18) was to not hinder the gospel's presentation. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it (1 Corinthians 9:23). Even in discussing those who preached the gospel to promote themselves while Paul was in prison, he states What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice (Philippians 1:18). The thing that ultimately mattered to Paul was the proclamation of the gospel.

Also, I believe that the solution to each of these moral issues ultimately comes from the gospel. The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. While legislation may help, it will not eradicate the culture of death in our society as this is the result of man's sinful nature. In describing man in his total depravity, Paul quotes Isaiah 59:7-8 saying, Their feet are swift to shed blood, / Destruction and misery are in their paths, / And the path of peace they have not known (Romans 3:15-17). The power to wash, sanctify, and justify from a life of sin whether it would be idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, stealing, or alcoholism is only found in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The main job of the church is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost. I think Augustine made a strong point that the church is to be the conscience of the nation, impacting it through the faithful preaching of the Word and godly living. This declaration is an attempt to do just that. However its ambiguity concerning the gospel, in light of the fact that groups are attached to it that have a major different understanding of the gospel, is discrediting for it is the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). Not wishing at all to compromise the gospel which is central in any issue of morality or life generally, I cannot sign the declaration in good conscience. I affirm the importance of standing for the issues but not the declaration itself. I encourage those with like minds concerning these three important issues to read the declaration yourself and decide whether you should sign it or not. Many others, much more prominent and smarter than I, and who I greatly respect, have both chosen to sign it as well as decline it.

Desiring to preserve and proclaim the gospel of God's grace,
Soli Deo Gloria!

PS. Dr. Al Mohler of The Southern Baptist Seminary explains why he signed it and Dr. John MacArthur and James White both explain why they did not.

Update: Dan Philips has some very good questions for those who have signed and for those who are considering it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Did Jesus Wear Designer Clothes?

A nice article from Christianity Today concerning the exportation of the so-called "prosperity gospel" (which is not the Gospel at all because it presents a different Jesus than that described in the Bible who promises to save from material poverty instead of delivering man from God's wrath that is rightfully upon the sinner and a "vending machine" god who grants whatever one wishes after they dispense their faith and money) to Africa and the harms that follows. It continually breaks my heart to see the damage such teaching has done. Many who "buy" into it really do wind up even poorer. They wind up rejecting the "god" that the prosperity teachers presented after they did not receive their BMW or their crop failed once again. Then when a missionary who teaches the truth of the Word of God comes, they are even more hardened to the genuine Gospel because of the false hope of the counterfeit. The very last section of the article entitled "Grace Through Suffering" is very well done. May God show people the true wealth in having a relationship with Christ where material things do not matter and are not necessary!

In Christ,

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Reformation Day!

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. ~Romans 3:28

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the work of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:8-9

This doctrine [Justification by Faith] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour. ~Martin Luther

Wherever the knowledge of it [the doctrine of "Justification by Faith"] is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown. ~John Calvin

Tonight many will spend their evening "trick or treating," celebrating a so-called holiday called Halloween and not realize an event that transpired 492 years ago on this day that marked a major turning point in the history of the church. October 31, 1517 marks the day the German monk named Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, an event most scholars identify as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. These "theses" called the authority of the Pope in matters of salvation into question and sought to expose how the "treats" of the indulgences that were sold were actually "tricks" with no real significance except for making the pope and those who sold them very wealthy. An indulgence was a letter the Catholic church sold that promised forgiveness of sin and an early release from purgatory (a place the Catholic church conceived of where one would stay after death but before heaven which length of stay was based on the number of sins one committed in their earthly life). Luther's posting of his theses on "All Hallow's Eve" was instrumental. The next day the church would celebrate "All Saints Day" so they would see these as they walked in. Luther's students actually took the list and made copies with the aid of the new printing press creating quite a stir. The first ripple of Reformation fervor had been struck and would gain in momentum as God enlisted others such as Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin to join the cause. Several current protestant denominations are products of God's work through them.

Many may question why such an event is a big deal. Why would a man complaining about certain teachings in the church be something to celebrate? People do this all the time. However, I think the celebration really is about God and how He used this man with his many, many, many flaws (he clearly had an anger problem and appeared to promote some wayward morals) to call His Church back to the truth. The Catholic church had repudiated the Bible's teachings on salvation by creating a synergistic economy of grace where man cooperated with God for his salvation. The selling of indulgences was a form of works-righteousness where the church taught that one could earn their salvation by paying a certain price for an indulgence. The sacraments became viewed as works that one must do in order to receive God's grace. In the Pope claiming the authority to grant the remission of sins based on a sale of an indulgence, he placed himself above both God's Word and Christ Himself. Many were blinded by such teaching (and some still are today) thinking that they could earn their own salvation.

The Reformers combated such views and practices. They claimed sola scriptura, that Scripture alone was the only authority for the believer. This led Luther to translate the Bible into German so people at the time could have a personal Bible and be able to study it on their own instead of relying on the false teachings of the priests who were the only ones who could own and read one. The Reformers called the people back to the truth taught in Scripture that one was justified (declared righteous in God's sight by God Himself) through their faith in Christ and not by any works that they could do. They rightly stated that salvation was by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (sola Christa) for the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria) as Scripture taught. Paul explicitly states For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is a gracious gift given by God and received through the means of placing one's faith in Christ. The Lord used Luther as well as the other Reformers to call the church back to this truth, a truth foundational to the gospel.

Let's celebrate God using such men with their numerous flaws (much like we each have) to call the church back to the truth of His Word, especially with the central doctrine of "Justification by Faith," as well as pray that God would continue to raise people up with a passion for His Word and boldness for His truth to continue to reform His Church as to where He would have it to be.

Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Work in Progress that Will be Completed

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
~1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

In the closing of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives them several instructions on how they should live. He provides advice on how they should treat their elders (vv 12-13) as well as each other (vv 14-15). He also commands three things they ought to do in direction to God; Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks (vv 16-18). Notice that these three are categorized as God's will for the believer. So, for those who struggle with what God's will is for you, here is part of your answer. If you are not following these three commands, you will not be where you need to be to hear His guidance for personal areas of where God may be directing you. The last couple of instructions call for examination, holding on to the good, and staying away from evil (vv 19-22).

These are all clear commands for the believer. In fact, 15 of the verbs used in this passage are in the imperative form in Greek, indicating them being used as a command. These instructions pertain to the believer's sanctification. This is the fancy term used to describe the process of the believer progressing towards holiness. It is the process those who are have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are currently involved. In Justification the sinner is declared righteous by the means of their faith in Christ. In Sanctification the sinner is progressively made righteous and in his final Glorification, the believer is presented righteous by Christ before God's throne. Sanctification serves as the bridge God uses to bring the sinner whom He now views as being as righteous as Christ to be perfect in glory where he will no longer be able to sin. Thus, we are a work in progress yet to be completed.

Right after giving this list of instructions, Paul then prays that God would sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v 23). Although he had just given exhortations of what one should do as part of their seeking to live a holy life for God's glory, he asked for God to do the work to aid in the believer's progress. This coupling of an exhortation followed by a promise of God providing and enabling the believer to live it out is common through out Scripture. One of the clearest pictures of this in in Philippians 2:12-13. In v. 12, Paul commands to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Then he gives the reason that we are able to follow this command: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). Therefore, we work only because and on the basis of God's work within us. Paul must have realized that apart from God's grace, we would not be able to heed these admonishments given and progress forward. The truth that these are not easy tasks can be seen in the lack of them being performed and in specifically how we struggle to live them out daily. We need God's daily doses of grace to help us live for Him to bring Him glory. Augustine realized this when he stated in his Confessions, Command what thou wilt, but give what thou command. Thankfully, our sanctification is not in our own hands but God's. Paul held a similar hope for the church of Philippi, For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

This work of God to sanctify entirely led Paul to describe Him as faithful because not only does He bring one to salvation (Paul's typical use of the verb for to call) but He will complete the work He began the day they became born again (He also will bring it to pass). The it refers back to the sanctifying just previously mentioned. Jesus Himself promised that of those who are saved, He will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). In the unbreakable "Golden Chain of Redemption" in Romans 8:29-30, Paul describes those who have been foreknown by God, predestined, called, justified as also glorified which is a future state. Glorified is in the past tense, indicating that in God's mind it has basically already occurred because He fully intends to complete the work He started. The author of Hebrews even describes Jesus in His role of divine priest as For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Perfected is in the past tense while the participle for to sanctify is present tense. This indicates that Christ through His death completes (another possible translation for the Greek verb teliow, defined as "complete, finish, accomplish, bring to its goal, perfect") the one who is currently in the process of being sanctified. Also, the verb is passive, pointing to God as the one who ultimately does the sanctifying of the believer. The passive form of a Greek verb indicates that the subject of the verb receives the action instead of performing it as the active form would signify. God will ensure that the believer will come to the completion of his sanctification in glory. Other Scriptures reveal that He does this through means such as suffering (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:3-9), discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11), and possibly warnings not to stray from the faith (Hebrews 6:4-8).

This should be a major encouragement for us. We are not left in our Christian walk alone. God is with us and will guard, protect, and bring us to glory as we strive forward to serve Him. God does not just pick us up on the side of the road, dead and dirty due to our sins, then give us life and wash us just to hand us a Bible as a roadmap and drop us off on the side of the road saying "I hope to see you in glory." Instead, He not only picks us up off the side of the road but will drive us all the way to glory. So, let us move forward and struggle to live for the glory of God and praise Him for His enablement to do so as well as trusting that He will complete the work He has begun and continues to do in our lives. Praise God that while we are currently a "work in progress," we will be complete due to God's power and grace! May we rely fully and solely on Him to live for Him!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lessons From 9/11

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
~Luke 13:1-5

Today thousands in the nation take time out of their busy schedules to commemorate and remember those who lost their lives in the horrible tragedy which occurred the morning of this day eight years ago. Many of us remember how that day changed the way we thought about the country, our loved ones, and even our lives. Many still are struggling with what they have seen, or with those they have lost in the tragedy. Some lives may never be the same again. While not belittling the victims of the tragedy, I want to look at what those who are still living can learn from this event.

The days following the 9/11 attacks brought several questions. Several of these questions concerned God and His role in the event. People struggled with trying to grasp any reasons God may have allowed or permitted this to happen. Some wondered if the people who went for what they thought would have been a normal day at work deserved to play the victims of such a horrible scenario.

Clearly God was in control of that day and is still in control of our world today. Scripture tells us that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Through Amos God communicates, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? (Amos 3:6) and Jesus says that a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from your Father (Matthew 10:29). Even Satan himself is under the sovereignty of God. Jesus acknowledged to Peter that Satan could not test the disciples' faith without God's allowance. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat (Luke 22:31). Likewise, Satan could not tamper with Job without God's permission and He set clear boundaries where Satan would not be able to trend. In the first meeting with Satan, God agreed to let him test Job but would not allow him to put forth your hand on him (Job 1:12) and the second time God gave Job into his control but would not permit him to kill His righteous servant. Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life (Job 2:6). This is a very comforting truth. Our lives may seem like they are spirling out of control, but the truth is that we are still in God's hands and He is working to bring things to His ultimate purpose. You may be down at your lowest, but we have hope that God IS in control and causing all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even in the worst of times, we have comfort knowing there is a loving and good God in control who has a purpose in the suffering. God was there that day on 9/11 and, even amist the sorrow, several testimonies to His goodness have been proclaimed. His sovereign hand never left the situation!

The second major question the World Trade Center attacks spawned is one which is a common response to every huge natural disaster or catastrophe: "What did this group do to deserve this?" This was seen after the tsunami in India as well as New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Jesus was asked a similar question about 2000 years ago. While speaking to a large crowd, a group informs Jesus about an atrocity which Pilate had committed. The exact situation is unknown to us today but we can infer that it had something to do with a slaughter of Jews during their sacrifices. Not only was this a terrible occurrence, but it took place during worship which made it even more horrendous. Jesus realized right away the question that they had concerning this issue. They thought that this plight was the result of them being greater sinners than all others. However, Jesus sought to turn their perspective completely around.

Instead of agreeing with their assumption, Jesus took the focus off the victims and placed it on the questioners. The reason this group was slaughtered was not because they were greater sinners. The ones who were killed were no more sinners than the ones commenting concerning them. (Note: This does not necessarily mean that the events God permits to occur are punishment for specific sins. John 9 makes it clear that, while a result of the curse of sin, not all infirmities and incidents are due to specific sins.) Those who died in the tsunami, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and with Hurricane Katrina were no more sinners than those of you reading this note as well as the one writing it. We deserved the same! I will never forget a powerful sermon my pastor preached right after the tsunami a few years ago. He told us that the question is not "why them?" but should be "why not us?" We didn't deserve God's mercy to not have the tsunami happen in America, or to not have been in the Pentagon or World Trade Center on that day, as well as having the hurricane wreck havoc on the NorthEast or MidWest. As Scripture tells us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We get so used to God's mercy we have problems when He shows us His wrath.

Jesus actually warns the crowd of an even greater fate, much worse than what happened with Pilate and the later example of the falling of the tower of Siloam. Unless they repent of their sins, they will perish (Luke 13:3,5). This is Jesus' urgent plea to those who are lost in sin. Repentance means a turning from sin. It is the flip side of faith. One turns from sin in repentance and then turns toward Christ by placing their faith in Him. The likewise may refer to the sudden and unexpected death of those in the Temple and at Siloam. Those who went to the Temple that day to offer their sacrifices did not realize that they would not be returning home. The possibility of the tower falling on the group in Siloam probably never occurred to them. Likewise, if the crowd does not turn from their sins and turn to Christ they will suddenly and unexpectedly (to them) experience the punishment for their sins. The author of Hebrews tells us that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

No one is guaranteed of their next heartbeat or breath. If we should learn something from modern headlines, it is that death is no respecter of age. If you have not turned from your sins and placed your faith in the Lord Jesus, then Jesus' plea for repentance is for you. Like those in the Temple and at Siloam, you do not know when the day will come and it will be too late. Many who left for work that morning of 9/11 did not know that they would not leave the building. Several wives did not know that they would not see their husbands again. I am not attempting to scare anyone, I just want to point out reality. For us who are Christians, this is a reminder that life is too short to waste! Let us give out Jesus' plea to those who need to hear it in our families, schools, and at our places of employment!

Praying for those involved with the attacks in any way as well as us who can learn from God's mercy,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Problem with the Title "Calvinist"

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake.
~2 Corinthians 4:5

A title I often have problems with is that of "Calvinist." Granted, I do wholeheartedly believe, embrace, and teach the "Doctrines of Grace" (the so-called "Five points of Calvinism") as I see them all taught in Scripture. If I did not see these being consistently taught throughout all of Scripture, I would never hold to them or teach them myself. These doctrines have been summarized, though not perfectly, in the acrostic TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement (though I prefer to think of it as "Definite Redemption" in that Christ's death secured the salvation of all who believe, that it was an actual redemption instead of a potential one), Irrestible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints (the truth that Jesus is not only the author of our faith but also the perfector of it (Hebrews 12:2) and that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)). One of my issues in carrying such a title is the fact that I do not like titles in general except for that of Christ (see my previous post, "What's in a Title?" for more on this: But there are some other reasons as well.

One issue I have with the title "Calvinist" is that it places too much emphasis on a man and not enough on God's Word. The first thought in someone's mind when they hear that someone is a "Calvinist" is a French Reformer in Geneva and not God's Word. The connotation is that one is a follower of Calvin instead of Scripture. Yet the entire reason that most (unfortunately not all, there are some who hold to more of a system instead of the truth of Scripture) hold to such views is due to their study of Scripture. I did not always hold these views of God's grace but it was through years of studying God's Word that the Holy Spirit began to open up my eyes to man's utter sinfulness and God's supreme sovereignty and the implications of them. I found myself arguing with the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans and realized that either I had to be wrong or Scripture was and since Scripture could not err I must have been the one with the misunderstanding. The more I studied the more the Lord began to show me how things fit together in His Word and prompted me to glorify Him for His work. In fact, the only reason that Calvin held to such views himself was because of his resolute study of the Scriptures. He is recognized by several scholars today as being one of the finest exegetes and expositors of God's Word. The Word of God was central in his ministry to the flock God entrusted to him in Geneva, especially in his teaching and preaching ministry to them. While he may not have been correct in all of his views and teaching (especially concerning infant baptism and the millennial kingdom in my understanding of Scripture's teaching on them), he clearly sought to be as true to the text as possible.

There was an article in Time magazine a few months ago that identified what the author of the story believed were the top ten forces changing the world. The resurgence of Calvinism was number 3. While many Reformed bloggers and authors were a buzz with excitement over this news, I was disheartened. I would have loved the line to have read that the Bible was the force changing the world and not "Calvinism." After all, agreeing with the "Prince of Preachers," Charles Spurgeon, I believe that the doctrines taught by "Calvinists" are really doctrines taught by Scripture and nothing more or less. If only the true source of change was noted instead of a dead man who saw himself as worthless and all that resulted from him being the work of God through His Word.

Also, the title is often mistaken and misunderstood. I don't know how many times, upon hearing my teaching of Scripture and identifying me with the "Calvinist" label, that someone has accused me of being against missions and prayer. Anyone who knows me would recognize how preposterous such claims are. No Christian can be against missions and prayer. Both are clearly taught and commanded in Scripture. To not participate in missions somehow and prayer are acts of disobedience. In fact, a lack of concern for the lost may be evidence of the condition of one's heart. Most of the greatest evangelists in our history would fit the label of "Calvinist": George Whitefield, Jonathon Edwards, Dwight L. Moody (to an extent),William Carey (labeled the "father of modern missions") and Charles Spurgeon. Those who do hold to such views that evangelism and missions as well as prayer are unnecessary have veered far from the bounds of Scripture. Historically those who have erred in this way have been referred to as "hyperCalvinists." Unfortunately, such a distinction between the two are no longer made today, leading to highly exaggerated caricatures of those who are seeking to live out and be faithful to sound doctrine. In fact, Spurgeon both argued against the Arminians and HyperCalvinists in what he saw both to be misunderstandings of the teachings of Scripture.

Due to Calvin's name, a common misunderstanding is that those who carry such a label agree with the Reformer on everything. As I have mentioned earlier, I have major disagreement with his views on infant baptism and eschatology (the study of the end times). I actually came to understand the Doctrines of Grace before reading much of Calvin's works. I began reading him after God began to reshape some of my views through the study of His Word. In fact, the title is a misnomer as Calvin was not the first to teach these doctrines. Luther a generation before him taught such truths and Calvin also quoted Augustine who taught them as well. I would also argue that the teachings of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John concerning these doctrines predated all of these men.

Lastly, such a title is unfair to Calvin himself. He would probably roll over in his grave to hear that people are going around calling themselves his followers. His ultimate goal in life was to bring glory to God. The entire reason that he devoted himself to the systematic expository preaching of God's Word was that he believed that it was the best way to display God's glory that shines through His written Word. In honoring the Word of God he sought to honor the God of the Word. In fact, Calvin's body currently resides in an unmarked grave somewhere in Geneva just as he requested so that no one could turn it into a shrine. Even in death he wanted people to focus on the God he proclaimed and not himself. Too bad many have built such a shrine around the fallible man whose only good came from the God who worked both in and through him.

I realize that there is no way to escape the label or change it as it has become well-established over the many years since the Synod of Dort. Though I do fit such a label and will continue to hold it, I will continue to strive to be true to Scripture regardless of whether that makes me an Armianian, Calvinist, Dispensationalist, or (insert any other theological system here). May we not get caught up with our title that we forget the truth we proclaim!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Trouble with Trusting

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

~Proverbs 3:5-6

Webster’s dictionary defines the word, “trust,” as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” and as a “dependence on something future or contingent.” In other words, it is placing complete assurance in something else. This word plays an important part in our lives as we exercise it daily. We trust our money to the bank when we make a deposit. We trust that our kids will be safe when we drop them off at school or daycare in the morning. We trust that the driver in the adjacent lane at the crossways will actually stop at the light or sign. We trust that our car will take us through the stoplight to our upcoming destination. In fact, I bet you didn’t realize that all of these routine actions consisted of you placing your trust in something or someone. You seldom think twice about the bank not safely keeping your money . . . well, maybe that one is not as true now with the economy, but you get my point. While these actions of trust appear easy due to us carrying them out everyday, why is it then so hard to trust God who has a much better tract record than the banks which can close, the traffic that might not stop, and the car that does not always run? This seems to be the area in which we struggle the most. The fact that we worry is evidence that we are not trusting God. For worry is us trying to handle the situation than “letting go” of the problem and “letting God” take care of it. Among the rich treasures of wisdom found in Solomon’s proverbs, is an exhortation to trust in the Lord and instructions how to do so.

The father’s list of instruction to the son include the necessity of trusting in the Lord. Trust is a necessary component of our Christian life. Not only is placing our trust in Christ for our problems a remedy for our anxiety, but also essential in winning the spiritual battles we go through daily. We can never accomplish anything in our strength but only in His. As Zechariah puts it: Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (4:6). Trust is also important due to our desire to be obedient to the way that God has called us to live. The father is not encouraging us or persuading us to place our trust in the Lord. Instead he is commanding us as the Hebrew verb is in the imperative form so indicating. Therefore, we cannot choose whether to trust in the Lord or not. To choose not to place our trust in Him would be to choose to be disobedient to the Lord’s desire for how we are to live our lives. This is the last thing we want to do. But the question then arises: How should we place our trust in the Lord?

One way in which Solomon instructs us to place our trust in the Lord is with all our heart. This refers to our inner self. The word heart in the Bible is used several ways to refer to our emotions, mind, or will. Together these make up our inner composition. Thus, this is a call to deep inward commitment and not merely outward appearance. Telling people that you are trusting God and mimicking a peaceful smile does not constitute fully trusting the Lord. Remember, All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, / But the LORD weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2). The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. Genuine trust must come from the heart and work its way out.

Notice that this is all your heart and not half. This is an undivided trust. We cannot trust God halfway with the other half trusting in the world. We cannot trust in both God and wealth. In fact, the main point of Jesus’ oft quoted teaching on worry in the sermon on the mount is not anxiety. Instead, it concerns in Whom or what one places their trust in. Right before Jesus tells the crowd of disciples do not be worried about your life, He states that You cannot serve God and wealth. The previous context has been whether one’s true treasure was earthly or heavenly. Jesus’ main thrust then is that you need do not need to place your trust in money for daily necessities but in God who can supply all your needs. God takes care of the sparrows and lilies and they do not work for a living. One good thing about the economic situation we are currently in is that it is a visible reminder the frailty of money and the foolishness in placing our trust in it.

A good example of one who placed his full trust in the Lord was King David. While David could never be described as perfect due to the recorded sins of the situation with Bathsheba and the taking of the census later on in life, God described him as having followed Me with all his heart (1 Kings 14:8). David was solely devoted to the Lord. This trust in the Lord was what granted the young shepherd boy victory in the battle over Goliath the giant. He stated that The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine (1 Samuel 17:37). He trusted that the LORD would deliver the giant into his hands (1 Samuel 17:46) and God used him as His chosen instrument to strike down the giant. He did not trust in the armor Saul offered him or his own strength, but instead God who won the victory. We would do well to imitate such a one who trusted God with all their heart.

Another way this text tells us to place our trust in the Lord is by not leaning on our own understanding. This is the opposite of trusting the Lord with all our heart, with all our being. The idea of leaning is that of depending or resting upon something. Instead of depending or resting upon God, this is trusting in what we think is right. One of the biggest mistakes a Christian can make is to rely on his feelings to determine where God may be leading us instead of seeking Him in prayer and through study of His Word. While God gave us emotions and these feelings, they are not the best tool for discernment as they move up and down like a roller coaster and can easily be manipulated. How many times have we made a decision based on an emotion we were having at the time to discover it was not the best choice to make? This could be just one example of depending on our own understanding instead of God Himself. We need to remember the wise counsel later in this book that There is a way which seems right to a man, / But its end is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12). What we often think is right leads us down a wrong path. We believe that we know what’s best to find out that we have done it wrong all along. A couple of years ago I helped a friend put together a nice wooden entertainment center his family at just purchased. Being the typical stereotypical guy, I assumed that I did not need to look at the directions as I had put several of these together before and they were basically all the same. I was leaning on my own understanding. I finished the masterpiece only to discover that I had built it completely upside down! Had I actually relied on the instructions rather than what I thought best, this might not have happened. The same can be said for us spiritually. God surely knows better than we and we need His instructions to know what to do. Everything that we try to do only results in being backwards. I can attest to the fact that every time I have tried to do something my way I have fallen flat on my face. However, when I seek to do things God’s way, it is successful; not because anything I have done but due to Him. This is why it is important to not lean on what we think is best but rely on God Who knows what is best.

Again we cannot trust fully in two different things at once. We cannot both rely on our own understanding and God simultaneously. Too often than not, our understanding of how we should approach a situation is quite the opposite as to the way that God has for us. Isaiah tells us that For My thoughts are not your thoughts, / Nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, / So are My ways higher than your ways / And my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). Submitting to God and trusting only in Him can prevent much heartache that comes when we try to operate based on our own understanding.

The third way the father instructs us to how we should trust in the Lord is in all your ways acknowledge Him. This has to do with our focus. We need to have a Godward focus and recognize His hand in everything that we do and are given in life. The fact that the author states that we are to do this in all ways indicates everything. From the time we open our eyes in the morning to the last thought before we sleep, we are to be acknowledging God. This all ways carries no exceptions. There is not something that we can do where we should not be glorifying God. Scripture calls us to worship Him in everything we do and to do all with the purpose of bringing Him glory. Paul tells us Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17). This would include the minute things in life. I read an article by John Piper not too long ago where he talked about the importance of “drinking orange juice for the glory of God.” Even an everyday small thing such as drinking our orange juice with breakfast should be done for God’s glory. We can acknowledge God by thanking him for the orange to make the juice, the one who processed the juice, and the ability to taste the juice. We can also acknowledge God as being in control of all things. One of the greatest comforts for the believer is the promise of Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Even in the most distressing circumstances, the truth that God is in control and nothing happens outside His knowledge and ordaining, can be soothing. Even through the pain we can acknowledge God by thanking Him for the pain, although it hurts, knowing that He purposes to use it to further conform us into Christ and bring Him glory. We can take joy in problems knowing that God’s end result is endurance (James 1:3).

Also, in trusting God through acknowledging Him in everything we do, we receive the benefit of God clearing several obstacles out of the way on the path we are following. The result of constant and consistent acknowledging of God is for Him to make our paths straight. Just like it is easier to hear someone when you are looking at their face, it is must easier to discern God’s direction when our focus is on Him instead of other things. It is like driving. When you are focused on the road ahead of you, you are less likely of veering off of the road and leaving your lane. But it is when you take your eyes off the road to look down at your CD player or over at the scenery on the side that your driving no longer is straight and you start weaving. The reason that the path you may be on does not seem straight could be due to your failure to not acknowledge God in all that you are doing. This could be due to the failure of not having an attitude that seeks to glorify God in all that you do. A lot of times we wonder why God has not shown us where He would have us to go when the real problem is that we are not looking towards Him. It may not be that God is not speaking as we presume but that we are not listening. Jesus’ statement bears a close resemblance to this: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). We need to focus on God instead of all these things and God then will take care of those as well.

Take a moment to reflect your life, especially concerning some problems you are currently experiencing. Are you characterized by a complete trust in Christ, careful not to lean on your own understandings, and have an attitude which acknowledges God in all that you do? This is the essence of what it means to trust in the Lord. Much of our lives are harder than they need be due to our failure to live out the original command given to trust in the Lord. May God aid us in fully trusting in Him and in Him only, through thick and thin, and sunshine and in rain.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why I Believe the Bible

A question I am often asked is "Why do I believe the Bible to be truly God's Word?" This is a very good question as the reason which I hold to the positions and views I do all spawn from what I see Scripture as teaching. The Bible is the sole authority that governs my life and what I have devoted my life to studying and teaching. Unfortunately, many Christians respond with a "deer in the headlights" look upon receiving such a question. They are unable to think of the reasons why they hold to the Bible being God's Word and what distinguishes it from any other book available. While I cannot speak for others, here is my attempt to answer such a question:

I. The Bible's Testimony about the Bible
One reason I believe the Bible to be God's inspired, inerrant, and infailable word (at least in its original manuscripts) is that it claims itself to be. At least 3,808 times the Old Testament authors refer to a statement as being Thus said the LORD. The prophets are described as having the word of the LORD coming down upon them before they spoke His words (Jeremiah 1:1-2; Ezekiel 1:2-3; Joel 1:1; Hosea 1:1). The clear implication is that the prophets spoke what God had told them to speak and thus were delivering His message.

The New Testament authors also viewed the Old Testament writings as being God's very word. Peter tells us that But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21). Though written down by the instrument of man, the ultimate author of Scripture is God whose Holy Spirit moved men to write down His very words. Paul refers to all Scripture as inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Literally, the Greek reads that all Scripture is God-breathed. The all Scripture that Paul refers to is the Old Testament as that would have been Scripture for both the apostle and Timothy. (A fuller exposition of this text may be found in a previous blog post here) The author of Hebrews even states that the author of Psalm 95 is ultimately the Holy Spirit and not David. Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, . . . (Hebrews 3:7). A similar case may be found in Peter's discussion of the necessity to choose Judas' successor based on Scripture in Acts 1:16. He states that the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David (Acts 1:16) indicating the Holy Spirit as the author and David as the means. The New Testament writers are unwavering in their testimony to God's inspiration of the Old Testament writings.

Although the New Testament as we have it today had yet to be completed at the time, there is evidence that the New Testament authors considered their own writings as Scripture, God's very word, as well. For instance, Paul quotes a statement of Jesus recorded by the author Luke and calls it Scripture in I Timothy 5:18. The quote is alongside one from Deuteronomy. Luke's writing is deemed authoritative by Paul in teaching that elders should be paid for their service. Also, Peter explicitly labels Paul's letters as Scripture. He states that the untaught and unstable distort his writings as they do the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). So, according to Peter, Paul's letters are a part of Scripture. Furthermore, these letters were intended to be read aloud to the congregations and admonish them (Colossians 4:16). One cannot persuasively argue against the fact that all of the writers of Scriptures deemed the words as not being their own but God's. Someone may attempt to postulate that the authors of Scripture were mistaken or outright lying, but they cannot deny the consistent and clear evidence of them viewing their writings as the very words of God. The succeeding reasons I provide all show the credibility of Scripture which would validate the explicit claim of the authors pertaining to the divine origin of their written words.

II. History's Testimony about the Bible
Another reason I hold to the Bible to be God's word is due to the evidence from history as to its authenticity. The Old Testament contains several prophecies of the coming Messiah that God planned to send for the redemption of His people Israel as well as hints of including other nations as part of the plan. If the Old Testament is God's word as it claims to be, then these prophecies must be fulfilled precisely as they are written. All of these prophecies did find their fulfillment in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, about 300 predictions pertaining to the first coming of the Messiah are seen clearly in Jesus. The parallels between the descriptions of the psalmist in Psalm 22 and 69 to the events surrounding Jesus' crucifixion are striking. To argue that those who were responsible in crucifying Jesus intentionally orchestrated and performed His death as it occurred would be preposterous when they were upset at His popularity and claims to be God. The last thing they would have desired would have been to validate the very claim that bothered them the most about Jesus. There are several places in the gospels where the authors explicitly make the connection of something in Jesus' life to be a direct fulfillment of a prophecy God made in the Old Testament. Jesus' birth in Bethlehem was no mere coincidence but occurred just as God had promised it would. But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / Too little to be among the clans of Judah, / From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, / From the days of eternity (Micah 5:2). Also, there is no other reputable case in history where a virgin has conceived a child apart from the account of Jesus' birth from Mary before she came together with Joseph. Isaiah predicted such a miraculous birth (Isaiah 7:14) and such occurred just as prescribed (Matthew 1:18). (A fuller exposition of Isaiah's miraculous prophecy can be found here). While a few of these predictions corresponding to certain things in one's life could be possible, the possibility of all of them, particularly the more miraculous ones (ie. the virgin birth and the resurrection three days later), is an impossibility unless God has predicted and orchestrated things as such.

Also, no significant archeological discovery or finding has yet to prove Scripture historically inaccurate. In fact, the most recent finds have done quite the opposite. Names of certain Biblical Hebrew kings have collaborated with extrabiblical writings and materials of the same time period recorded. Historical sites described in Scripture have been uncovered and the details provided by Scripture shown to be true. Scholars believe they have found the location of Sodom and Gomorrah where there is indeed evidence of destruction from an earthquake or volcano that would have led to fire falling from the sky and bringing destruction. Lack of archeological findings for certain events or descriptions in Scripture in no way disprove anything that occurred. It just means that remains were not left or that they have yet to be found. What has been discovered though has only pointed to the authenticity of the Bible being God's word and have not cast any doubt on it.

III. The Coherency and Consistency of the Bible
The Bible is a collection of 66 different books written by possibly 35 different authors living in different areas and eras, writing in different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and yet as a whole does not contain any errors or contradictions. Moses' account of creation and the beginning of man and John's record of his revelation of Jesus Christ he received on the island of Patmos are separated by approximately 1500 years! While many have claimed to find apparent contradictions between books and authors, a closer study of the problems reveal these contradictions to be just that, apparent. I have spent much time, particularly during my undergrad studies in college, closely examining such so-called "contradictions" and found them not be contradictory but harmonious. Those who think that they have discovered a contradiction may just need more time to study both passages and figure out what they really are saying. After extensive study, they may find that there really is no contradiction at all. Such coherency and consistency all throughout the Bible leads me to conclude that God must have been behind the authorship of this book. The different authors all teach on the overarching theme of God's gracious salvation of rebellious sinners through the substituionary atonement of Jesus Christ. I know of no other anthology by different authors that fits together as well as these 66 books. In fact, I have read a book by one author where within it he or she contradicts himself or herself. Only God could work through the various authors of Scripture to bring about His very word pure and unaltered.

IV. Personal Testimony about the Bible
There is something about the Bible that sets it apart from any other book. The impact this book has had on individuals throughout history cannot be overlooked. Close to 2000 years old and the book still plays a major part in many peoples' lives. To date, it is the most bought and most stolen book. Though the authors addressed a different audience in a different time period it still speaks directly to issues we experience in our everyday lives. What church does not have problems similar to those addressed to the church of Corinth? Many lives have been changed from reading this book. By God's grace, through this book, many have become better fathers and husbands, wives and mothers, and sons and daughters. Humans are stubborn creatures (just think about yourself for a minute for proof) and one of the hardest things is to attempt to convince them to change something in their lives. For someone to undergo a complete transformation from hating God to loving Him, from living for themselves to living for Him, and from loving themselves to loving others after reading this book must be the work of God in their lives. I have no other way to explain it. This is just what Scripture describes that it does. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23). God uses His Word as the means of drawing people to Him. What other book has such an effect? It was through the preaching and teaching of this book that I saw how holy God was and how much of a sinner that I was. It was through this book that God convicted me of my sins and brought me to place faith in Christ as my only hope of salvation.

V. The Holy Spirit's Testimony about the Bible
While all of this evidence appears to me to be crystal clear pertaining to the Bible being more than just an ordinary book but the very Word of God, the ultimate reason I have come to see the Bible as God's Word is due to the deep seeded conviction in my heart wrought by the Holy Spirit that it is so. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bible is God's very word and must be my standard for how I am to live my life to bring glory to Him. All of these facts sit before everyone and several still deny the reality of this being God's Word. I think that the conviction came first and then with the conviction God opened my eyes to see the evidence that was there before me the entire time. John Calvin puts it well when he points out: "For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit." I pray that God would open up any eyes who are currently closed to these facts and not only would He give them a conviction that the Bible is indeed His Word but give a desire to read, study, mediate, and live out this Word. And if you have been given eyes to see that the Bible is true, you must deal with the ramifications of what God's Word says about God's holiness and your sin. May we not only honor the Word of God but in so doing also honor the God of the Word.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Birthday John Calvin!

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and I will praise your name
for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

~Psalm 138:2

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
~2 Timothy 2:15

Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God
~John Calvin

I don't how many know this or care but today is the 500th birthday of John Calvin, one of the instruments God used to spread the Reformation throughout Europe. One could easily argue that he is one of the most influential theologians in history next to the apostle Paul. Personally, he is one of the "Johns" whom God has used to greatly impact my life and aid in teaching me His Word (the other two being John MacArthur and John Piper). Regardless of whether you agree with him theologically or not (while through my study of Scripture I wholeheartedly affirm, embrace, and cherish the doctrines of grace he purported, I differ with him on his understanding of infant baptism and amillennialism), there are things we all can learn from his life and ministry which had at its heart the glory of God. A fresh look at Calvin teaches us several things:

1) The Importance of the Word of God
The backbone of Calvin's ministry was the Word of God. This was central to his work in Geneva. In fact, upon seeing the many problems which existed in the church at Geneva, Calvin concluded that the only remedy to the problem would be to preach God's Word and let God straighten the people out through it. Calvin labored at teaching the flock that God had entrusted to him what God had communicated to them through His written Word. He preached ten sermons every two weeks at the same time writing several commentaries which he has blessed the church with today. His belief on the centrality of God's Word led him to preach through the Scriptures verse by verse. Such a commitment is shown in his return to Geneva after his banishment to start preaching from the exact verse he left off at his last sermon three years prior. He is known as the "prince of expositors." Every minister would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of his ministry. Every born again believer would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of their life and work; whatever God has called them to do.

2) The Importance of Embracing, Proclaiming, and Sharing the Glory of God
Calvin had one thing which drove his actions. This was his zeal for the glory of God to be made manifest and shared. The impetus for the strong commitment of teaching God's Word just discussed came from Calvin's perspective that to honor the Word of God would be to honor the God of the Word. He felt that the best way to display God's glory to the people was to preach God's Word which revealed His glorious work of redemption throughout history. He even stated at the end of his life that "I have written nothing out of hatred to any one, but I have always faithfully propounded what I esteemed to be for the glory of God."1 Such a commitment to living for the glory of God should be one which envelopes our lives as well. I have already shown from Psalm 67 what I believe reveals God's glory to be the impetus of missions (see my note: "Missions is About God"). Paul tells us that Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Nothing should be a higher priority for the Christian than seeking to bring glory to God in everything that he or she does.

3) The Importance of Scholarship
Calvin was a pastor-theologian; something many claim today can't exist. In one moment he could write a treatise explaining what Scripture actually says about "free will" and then in another minister to one who was grieving the loss of a loved one. In fact, Calvin at first could not see how the two went together. He desired to be a scholar and write books concerning the faith. His whole purpose in writing The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his "magnum opus" respectfully, was to teach the pastors who were suffering persecution in France the faith that they were dying for. However, God continued to direct the Reformer to the pastorate where he used his scholarship in his teaching. He was not only a pastor shepherding his flock but a scholar seeking to teach God's Word as thoroughly and clearly as possible. It is interesting that for many decades historical scholars were perplexed with what translation Calvin used in his teaching. It was not until recently they realized the reason for their mystery. Calvin did not use a translation but translated the original Hebrew and Greek on the spot from the pulpit without ever mentioning a Hebrew or Greek word! Such scholarship is usually laughed at today with ministers who desire to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and pine over what God originally spoke in the original languages with them being accused of wasting their time on frivolous matters. I actually think the church would benefit more from scholarly pastors such as Calvin as well as Jonathon Edwards and John Piper which have followed him. Personally, I sense that God is calling me to be a pastor-theologian and it was through studying Calvin's life and ministry that my eyes were opened to this possibility.

4) Dedication
Calvin's hard work in ministry is enough to make the busiest pastor today in 21st century America appear lazy. Not only did he keep up with his extensive preaching schedule and strive relentlessly to write his commentaries, he also visited people in their homes and managed his administrative responsibilities at his church. He also had a wife and kids to minister to, some kids which I believe he took in. He never would have had time to waste hours in front of a TV or playing video games (not saying that these are wrong but we do need to be careful how we spend our time-Ephesians 5:15-16). These would have slowed him down from the work of ministry. Upon his latter years in poor health, people begged him to take a break. He was even preaching in his bedroom. The Reformer's answer was "What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?"2 Unfortunately, and not admirable, he occupied himself so much with the work of the church that he did not take care of his health. (Something the current commentator as well as others would be wise to take heed about.) Calvin's dedication to what God called him to do reminds me that no matter how overwhelmed I feel with what God has on my plate, I can accomplish what He would have me to do if I rely on His strength through His grace.

5) How God Uses Men Despite Their Many Flaws
Calvin is another reminder of how God uses the most flawed men to do His perfect work. The Bible is full of those who had several weaknesses which would have hindered their effectiveness if it had not been for God's supernatural work both in and through them. Abraham had wavering faith, Jacob was a trickster, Moses couldn't speak, Jeremiah was too young, Gideon was unsure, David committed adultery and murder, Samson was a womanizer, and Peter denied his Lord. Yet, inspite of all of these and possible because of them, God chose to use such weak vessels so that He might get the glory. Calvin is no different. He had his flaws. Just the mention of the name "Michael Servetus" brings the sober reminder of Calvin's role in his execution and no discussion of the church's role with the state is complete without a reference to Calvin's Geneva and how the merging of the two entities was disastrous. This birthday is not a celebration of Calvin. He was a mere man who was nothing. Instead it's a celebration of a great God who sovereignly chose to work through such a weak vessel to bring Reform to His church for His glory as He had purposed. Calvin was just an ordinary man who was used by an extraordinary God. Just as we also are. Praise God for John Calvin and the work that He accomplished with his life and ministry. May God use us, as insignificant as we are, to further His Kingdom for His glory as He sees fit.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

1 John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1975) 110.
2Preface to John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009) xiv.