Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

June 15, 2005

“Rebel soldiers were starting at one end of a large room, taking women away one by one and bringing them back after they were finished with them. Helen’s first impulse was to hide and not have to bear this humiliation again. Then she thought of Jesus. He put himself forward as a substitute for us. The fellowship of his sufferings - she moved to the front, to try to protect some of the other women from undergoing a new trauma they might possibly have escaped so far.

She looked back later on this whole period and wrote: ‘We learned why God has given us His name as I AM (Exodus 3:14). His grace always proved itself sufficient in the moment of need, but never before the necessary time…As I anticipated suffering in my imagination and thought of what these cruel soldiers would do next, I quivered in fear…But when the moment came for action…he filled me with a peace and an assurance about what to say or do that amazed me and often defeated the immediated tactics of the enemy.’

She writes movingly of how abandoned she felt…’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ His answer to her was a removal of the fear as if it had been rinsed out of her - and a strong sense of his arms around her, holding her and comforting her. She felt as if he were saying, ‘When I called you to myself, I called you to the fellowship of my suffering. They are not attacking you. They are attacking me. I’m just using your body to show myself to the people around you.”

Those paragraphs are found in Noel Piper’s new book, Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God in the chapter providing a brief biography of Helen Roseveare.

In recent weeks I have been pleading with God to show me where sin has taken a hold in my life - those hidden areas that far too often are difficult to see. There is some sin in our lives that is so obvious that we simply cannot deny it. But there is some sin that is buried far beneath the surface and only God can call it to our attention. In the past days I believe God has answered my prayer and is showing me some of those areas. I think He is showing me how I have valued security and selfishly valued myself far too highly. Life in North America, even as a Christan, can be far too comfortable for my own good.

What was murky in my mind was made clear as I read about Helen Roseveare and other faithful women of God - saints who gave all they had to their Lord.

How many people would be willing to lay not just their lives, but their bodies on the line, as she did? How many would be willing to be used as she was, believing all the while that what men were doing to “the least of these” they were in fact doing to her Savior? How many would be willing to do this knowing that they would have to live forever with the consequences? How many would be willing to do this out of love for women she did not even know?

It was only later, when she had returned to her native England, that she found out an amazing part of her own story. “It was the very night of Helen’s attack. [A] woman had been awakened with a strong sense to pray intensely for Helen, whom she only knew of. She prayed and didn’t feel free to stop until a certain time that she named to Helen. Given the difference in time zones, that was the same time that Helen had been washed through by the peace of God and known that she wasn’t abandoned by Him.”

As Helen Roseveare abandoned herself to men, she was in reality abandoning herself to God and to His promises. She was willing and able to trust that as she gave herself to God, He would be her strength. She knew that her body was but a vessel God was using to show Himself to the people around. She knew in her heart of hearts that the anger of the men was really an anger directed at God. And unbeknownst to her, while she went through her ordeal, other believers were holding her up before the throne of Grace.

“In 1989, 120 young people sat cross-legged in the Piper living room and dining room, covering nearly every square inch of floor space. They had accepted our open invitation to anyone who thought missions might be in his or her future.

As Helen Roseveare stood by our fireplace and looked into their faces, she reached backward toward the mantel and eased a long-stemmed rose bud from a tall vase. As she spoke, she broke off the thorns, the leaves, the petals, the green out layer of stem - every element that makes a rose and rose. All that was left was a lithe, straight shaft. The pieces that lay on the floor were not bad things. But, she explained, they had to be removed if she were going to make an arrow. God does this to us, she said. He removes everything - even innocent, good things - that hinders us from being the arrows that he will shoot for his purposes at his intended target.”

And that is what God has been teaching me. I know now that I need to abandon myself to God so that He can make me an arrow to shoot for His purposes and His intended target. Like so many faithful men and women that God has used for His purposes, I need to allow Him to strip away layer after layer of myself, that I might be wholly and completely His.

I so enjoyed this book, and was so blessed by it, that I am going to post a link to Amazon in case you would like to read it too. I will be reviewing it shortly. I believe it releases in the next day or two, so it should be available to ship shortly.

June 14, 2005

In the forthcoming Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (read my review here), Al Mohler has written a chapter entitled “Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections.” He provides seven principles that can serve as a framework for a Christian response to the issue of homosexual marriage. They are:

  1. We, as Christians, must be the people who cannot start a conversation about homosexual marriage by talking about homosexual marriage.
  2. We must be the people who cannot ever talk about sex without talking about marriage.
  3. We must be the people who cannot talk about anything of significance without acknowledging our absolute dependence on God’s revelation - the Bible.
  4. We must be the people with a theology adequate to explain the deadly deception of sexual sin.
  5. We must be the people with a theology adequate to explain Christ’s victory over sin.
  6. We must be the people who love homosexuals more than homosexuals love homosexuality.
  7. We must be the people who tell the truth about homosexual marriage, and thus refuse to accept even its possibility because we love and seek the glory of God for all.

As part of his third point, Mohler writes about the “yuck factor” that exists in the minds of many Christians and serves as their attempt to deal with homosexuality. Yuck factor is a term that I believe was first coined by C. Gerald Fraser in the early 80’s. It refers to “A revulsion or discomfort that influences a person’s attitude toward a thing or idea.” In other words, and to use Mohler’s definition, “it is an attitude of disgust that lacks any serious moral argument” (page 116).

I am convinced that the “yuck factor” towards homosexuality comes quite naturally to men (and boys). I think all men can remember their school days and think back of times when we expressed disgust at homosexuality. The very thought of what homosexuals do and celebrate brings boys to express the worst insults by implying these acts. It is possible that this shows some cultural conditioning, but I believe boys react naturally at the thought of men doing together what God designed for only man and woman to share. After all, the union of man to woman is part of the perfect Creation ordinance and one that God has surely written on our hearts. Paul tells us as much in Romans 1.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

God gave them up to their passions that were in no way natural.

Back in the days before I began to do web design, when I actually ventured outside the walls of my house to earn a living, I worked with and became friends with Scott, a practicing homosexual. His story was probably quite typical. He had grown up in a weak church, came from a broken family, and up until university had chased (and often caught) girls. But during college he realized that he was attracted to men and soon became a practicing homosexual. He marched down the streets of Toronto on Gay Pride Day and brought boyfriends to office parties. He was proud of his orientation.

I would often talk to him and ask him pointed questions about his lifestyle. I asked if it was true that homosexual relationships bred abuse, and he felt that was true. I asked if it was realistic that the average homosexual man had twenty or thirty or even more sexual partners in a year, and he felt that if anything those numbers might be a little low. He told me about practicing a lisp and teaching himself how to walk like a woman in front of a mirror in his room.

The point is that he was quite willing to admit to me that there was nothing inherently natural about the homosexual lifestyle. He knew this, but as humans are prone to do, justified his behavior as freedom of choice. At times I cannot deny that I felt some of the “yuck factor” towards him. When he and his boyfriend took to the dance floor, swirling across the floor, cheek-to-cheek during the ballads, it was more than a little difficult to feel normal about it. When he boasted about the fun he had during Pride Week, I had to walk away (though I walked away from many co-workers talking about their heterosexual exploits as well).

I found, as has Mohler, that while the “yuck factor” may be instructive, it cannot be trusted as a moral argument. We must note that “human beings have demonstrated time and again that we can overcome any amount of disgust if we are determined to rationalize behavior” (ibid). We are masters of rationalization, able to turn anything to our advantage. I’m sure that as a child Scott found homosexuals just as yucky as the average boy. But as he gave himself over to sin, and even more so as God gave him over to sin, he began to rationalize it away. We should also note that before the believer has been regenerated, he harbors the same “yucky” attitude towards God. The unregenerate man, in his heart of hearts, feels the same was towards God as young boys feel towards homosexuals.

I would suggest that as Christians it may be most helpful to keep the “yuck factor” to ourselves. I do not know that we gain anything in our conversations with and about homosexuals by expressing our disgust towards their actions. We can always plead “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but this falls flat when we can barely look in their eyes because of the disgust we feel for what they do. After all, the “yuck factor” is not consistent as a moral argument. We must dig deeper than that.

It is most instructive to heed Mohler’s advice and to love the homosexual more than the homosexual loves his homosexuality. Do note that we can show love and grace to the homosexual while still hating and condemning homosexuality. All sin is dark and disgusting in the eyes of God. We often do things that are vile before the eyes of a perfectly holy God. He could as easily avert His gaze from us in His disgust. But we know that when we were at our most vile, He came to us and loved us more than we loved our sin. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “God is infinitely more willing to forgive your sin than you are to commit it.” Similarly, God is infinitely more willing to love us despite our sin, than we are to continually pollute ourselves with it. Should we not show the same grace to others?

June 08, 2005

A reader posted a question this morning that I felt I should address, in part because it is of particular interest to me, and in part because the article I was working on was just not coming together the way I had anticipated. The reader had just read through my series on Calvinism and Arminianism and then wrote, “Here’s a question I’m wondering about: Given the tenets of total depravity (the spiritually dead are unable to choose God), unconditional election (saved through God’s sovereign choice) and irresistable grace (once God chooses you and regenerates you, you can’t NOT embrace Him)… what does a Calvinist see as the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel? Does a gospel presentation simply provide the context in which God “pulls the trigger” of regeneration and faith for those He has already chosen? (cf Acts 13:48.)”

I have written several articles about Calvinist perspectives on evangelism in the past, and will tie together several threads.

I understand the confusion people express when they consider evangelism in a Calvinist context. After all, if God is entirely sovereign, and if His grace is irresistable, what possible use can God have for us? This question introduces an antinomy - which is an appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary. The antinomy we face is that between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In short, how does our responsiblity to evangelize interact with God’s absolute sovereignty in the salvation of souls?

First, let’s look at several things God has not called us to do in our evangelism.

  1. We cannot help others realize the desperation of their situation or convince them that God exists as it is the Holy Spirit who must do these things. Men are willfully ignorant of them. 2 Peter 3:5 says “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God.” (emphasis mine) The hearts of men are hard and only God can soften them.
  2. We cannot convince unbelievers of their sinfulness. It is the Spirit who convicts men of sin. Before He died Jesus foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit and said “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). I believe this is one area we tend to get wrong. We often feel it is our job to convict others of their sin. But while we can tell people that they are sinful, it is only the Spirit who can convict them.
  3. We cannot convince them of the necessity and wonder of Christ. A man needs the grace of the Spirit in his heart before he can see this. Isaiah 53:2 prophecies about Christ saying “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Sinful humans can neither appreciate nor desire Christ without the Spirit first working in them.
  4. We cannot produce repentance or faith. Once again, those are God’s works and His alone. We can speak of the reality and importance of them, but cannot bring them about in others.

The Bible also teaches us several things things that we must do in regards to evangelism.

  1. We must pray for the lost. God delights in using our prayers to accomplish His purposes. We should pray for salvation and pray that God would grant the person a heart of flesh; pray that God would use circumstances, either specific or general, to bring people to a realization of their desperation; pray that God would confirm what we are saying through other people or circumstances; pray that God would remove the peace they have in their unrepentance; and pray that God would put people in our lives that we can share our faith with.
  2. We must show our faith in our lives. We need not only to speak about God and what He has done, but we also need to show in our lives that we have changed. Our day-to-day lives are our greatest testimony to unbelievers.
  3. We must share our faith. When opportunities present themselves we are to act as the messenger to deliver the message, free from our prejudices and opinions. We are to present the purity of the gospel, not our spin on it. This, of course, requires knowledge of the Bible and of God’s character. A prerequisite to sharing our faith is strengthening our faith by learning about God and growing closer to Him.
  4. We must invite others to hear the message. We are to invite people to church and other evangelistic occasions. I Corinthians 14:25 speaks of the potential of church services where it speaks of an unbeliever hearing the “secrets of his heart [being] disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” The Bible asks how a person can believe unless he hears the message. It is our job to share that message.

To be consistent with Reformed theology we must say that if a person is one of the elect, he will come to faith and repentance. It is divinely predestined that this will happen and it is impossible for it not to happen. But God has not shared with us two vital pieces of information. He has not told us just who the elect are and how they will be brought to repentance. He has decreed that we are to share the message with everyone, in every way possible (within the bounds He sets in His Word). Charles Spurgeon once said “if all the elect had a white stripe on their backs I would quit preaching and begin lifting shirt tails.” (or something to that effect). God has not put a visible mark on the elect, so we are to treat all men as if they are among the elect, and are to share the Gospel far and wide. We need to share it with a sense of urgency.

It is critical that we realize that we are not to measure success by the visible results. A convincing response to evangelism does not necessarily indicative of a biblical method of evangelism. Perhaps this was best proven by the Catholic Church during their “convert or die” campaigns among the native populations of South America. I’d like to post a length quote from J.I. Packer’s wonderful book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

“If we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray.

Let us work this out. If we regarded it as our job, not simply to present Christ, but actually to produce converts—to evangelize, not only faithfully, but also successfully —our approach to evangelism would become pragmatic and calculating. We should conclude that our basic equipment, both for personal dealing and for public preaching, must be twofold. We must have, not merely a clear grasp of the meaning and application of the gospel, but also an irresistible technique for inducing a response. We should, therefore, make it our business to try and develop such a technique. And we should evaluate all evangelism, our own and other people’s, by the criterion, not only of the message preached, but also the visible results. If our own efforts were not bearing fruit, we should conclude that our technique still needed improving. If they were bearing fruit, we should conclude that this justified the technique we had been using. We should regard evangelism as an activity involving a battle of wills between ourselves and those to whom we go, a battle in which victory depends on our firing off a heavy enough barrage of calculated effects. Thus our philosophy of evangelism would become terrifyingly similar to the philosophy of brainwashing. And we would not longer be able to argue, when such a similarity is asserted to be fact, that this is not a proper conception of evangelism…

…It is right to recognize our responsibility to engage in aggressive evangelism. It is our right to desire the conversion unbelievers. It is right to want one’s presentation of the gospel to be as clear and forcible as possible. If we preferred that converts should be few and far between, and did not care whether our proclaiming of Christ went home or not, there would be something wrong with us. But it is not right when we take it on us to do more than God has given us to do. It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish…only by letting our knowledge of God’s sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault.”

Earlier this year I wrote an article that indicated the best way to determine if evangelism has been successful. You can read the article here. In that article I said, “I contend that it is very easy to know. If we have shared the Good News, if we have shared the message of sin, death, Savior and forgiveness, we have evangelized successfully, for we have done the very thing Christ commanded. We cannot and must not evaluate our efforts in the light of who responds to the message. Don Whitney likens the evangelist to the mailman. The mailman has fulfilled the obligation of his job when he has delivered the mail to me. The measure of success in his job is to carefully and accurately deliver the message. How I respond to the letters I receive is none of his business. And the same is true of the evangelist.”

Ultimately we need to understand that God has not seen fit to share with us how human responsiblity and Divine sovereignty interact in evangelism. While we need to always remember that God is the only one who can bring about salvation, He has decreed that we will be the instruments He uses to take the Good News to the world. And that is what we must do, all the while asking God to equip us to be worthy ambassadors for Him.

June 07, 2005

Last Friday I wrote an article I entitled Pronoun Predicaments and Gender Confusion. My readers will be happy to know, I’m sure, that I have not yet claimed my right (not a privilege, but a right!) to determine that I would like to be female. In that article I quoted Al Mohler who wrote about a bizarre relationship between a transexual and “her” wife. I could attempt to explain it, but I’m sure it is far easier for you to read the article yourself. Mohler said, “this case represents the convoluted complications that ensure when the Creator’s gift of gender becomes an experiment in self-expression rather than a focus of objective identity.”

In the news today was another story which grabbed my attention and reminded me of this. FoxNews is reporting a case in which a man received a life sentence for causing his girlfriend to miscarry her two fetuses. He was charged with two counts of murder. “Gerardo Flores received an automatic life sentence because prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, which was available under the state’s 2003 fetus protection law.”

I am sure most of my readers would agree with me when I applaud the Texas court system for finding this man guilty and for imposing such a harsh sentence. He truly is a murderer and deserves to be punished as such.

But there is more to the story. “Erica Basoria, 17, acknowledged asking Flores to help end her pregnancy; she could not be prosecuted because of her legal right to abortion.” A woman in Texas cannot be charged for causing the deaths of her own unborn children for any reason. After about four months of pregnancy, this young girl decided she did not want to keep her babies and began trying to bring about a miscarriage. She started jogging, and when that did not work, began to beat on her stomach. Finally she asked her boyfriend for help and he stepped on her stomach on several occasions before she finally had a miscarriage. According to another article, “Testimony alleged both may have wanted a miscarriage so the babies wouldn’t infringe on college and social plans.”

The girl received no punishment and was, in fact, not even charged with a crime. The boyfriend will spend his life in prison.

This is a grave and shocking example of what has become of Truth in this postmodern society of ours. A woman has the right to destroy the lives of her unborn children and can even request help with impunity. But when she receives help, her boyfriend is locked away for the rest of his life and she walks away a free woman. Had she sought the help of a professional, there would have been no crime. “Texas law defines an embryo or fetus as an “individual” and allows criminal prosecution or civil action for a preventable injury or death of a fetus. The law exempts health care providers who perform a legal medical procedure, such as an abortion.”

So there we have it. Texas law has dictated what is legal murder and what is not. Where is the objective Truth that murder is murder, no matter who commits it? Clearly this Truth has been suppressed and has been made a matter of choice and preference.

Now I do not mean to say that the boyfriend’s sentence was too harsh. On the contrary, according to biblical standards, his sentence is too light! The Scriptures show that he forfeited his right to life when he took the lives of those unborn children. But what of the girl? She is as much responsible for this murder as he is! Had these children been murdered four months after birth instead of four months after conception, she would also be looking at a life behind bars. But instead she is free.

This case showcases “convoluted complications” much like those inherent in tampering with the Creator’s gift of gender. When our society willfully tampers with God’s gift of life, the law will (and indeed must) be filled with this type of irrationality and contradiction.

“The case was tragic, just two kids in love making mistakes,” said Flores’ defense attorney. The case is tragic indeed. While the two kids made a grave mistake, the greater mistake was made by the state of Texas.

You can read a local reporter’s take on the story here.

June 06, 2005

Today I’d like to reach into the Feedback Files and respond to a question I was asked quite some time ago but had filed away and forgotten about until quite recently (shame on me!). It is a good question and deserves an answer. I have removed some of the pre-amble, but the heart of the reader’s question is this: “A topic that I think would help to flesh out some of the non-Biblical responses that you’ve been getting … is to respond to this question: ‘When does our study of God become a god?”“

And that is a very good question, isn’t it? When does our study of God become idolatrous? This is a charge that is often levelled at Christians, and in particular, Conservative and/or Reformed Christians who may be known better for their knowledge than for their deeds.

Jesus gave us a solemn warning that we can know about God without knowing Him. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). In the last days there will be many who have accumulated vast knowledge of God, but who have never truly known Him. They will know about God without ever knowing Him. The Scripture also tells us that unless our knowledge of God is spurring us on to a holy life, we do not have true knowledge of Him. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-6). We have come to know Him if we keep (or do) his commandments, not merely if we know them.

Near the beginning of 2004 I wrote a post I entitled “The Study of the Study of God.” I recently wrote about this a little bit more in my series that examined our tendency to put God in a box. In the first article I wrote, “Theology has become a bad word in Christian circles. It seems that theology is linked in people’s minds with cold, dead religion that cares more about principles and matters of the head than deeds and matters of the heart. It is associated with fundamentalism and with cold conservatism. Yet if we look at the meaning and etymology of the word we cannot help but conclude that God requires all Christians to be theologians.”

Theology is good. And not only is it good, but it is critical to the Christian walk and is an expectation of God. The word theology is derived from two Greek words. The root “theos” means God and the suffix “-ology” comes from the Greek word for speak. So what theology really means is “speaking of God” or as has become the more accurate definition, “the study of God.” It is impossible for us to grow closer to God (ie “sanctification”) if we do not learn more about Him. While all we need to know to be saved is our own depravity and God’s grace, to grow in that grace we need to learn more about God - about His character and attributes, about our place before Him, and about His will for our lives.

In previous articles I have spoken about this “study of the study of God” as being “theology-ology.” Theology-ology is what happens when we make theology and end in itself. God has not told us to make theology an end in itself. Instead, the knowledge of God is to be only the first link in a chain. Once we have discovered something new about God, we are to examine it in the light of other Scriptures, and if it is consistent with the rest of the Bible, we are to apply it to our lives. This is not always easy, but it is the requirement of God. Everything we can and should know about God can, in some way, be applied to our lives.

God places high value on knowing the Scripture, but much higher value still on doing it. It has become a cliche that “love is a verb,” but what about theology? Theology needs to be more than knowledge - it needs to be knowledge in practice. Of course it goes without saying that we cannot keep what we do not know. Thus we need to study God’s revelation of Himself through Scripture, but need to do so with humility. We need to examine our intent when we study Scripture.

When we study God we should always examine the intent of this study. Do we study to increase our knowledge or do we study to increase our holiness?

1 Corinthians 11 speaks about the necessity of women wearing head coverings while in church. My intent in approaching this passage will probably shape my conclusions. I can look at that section of the Bible in two different ways. I can approach it with the motive of wanting to show that women are subservient to men and that all the women in my church sin when they do not cover their heads as is appropriate according to biblical standards. I can begin this study with the intent of proving to my wife and the rest of the women in church that they need to wear a head covering next Sunday, lest they make a mockery of God. On the other hand, I can turn to this section with a motive of wanting to understand what principles the Bible is teaching and how those relate to people today. I can begin my study with the intent of learning something that I can humbly and prayerfully apply to my life. While it is possible that I will reach the same conclusion, the difference is that I will have allowed God to teach me through His Word instead of allowing myself to read my own meaning into the passage.

Perhaps we can best determine intent by looking at the results of our study of God. What is the result of your study? When you study theology are you brought to your knees in awe at the power and holiness of God? Do you feel righteous indignation at those who speak falsehood in the name of God? Or do you feel pride in your knowledge? Do you find yourself thinking about who you are going to use your newfound theology against, or do you find yourself anxious to turn that knowledge into practice in your own life? Are you seeking to apply theology to your life or to the lives of others?

Another question we need to ask is this: do you find yourself taking comfort in your knowledge of God rather than in the grace of God? You can be sure that your study of God has become idolatrous if you begin to believe that your knowledge of God is what earns you favor before Him - even the tiniest, most miniscule amount of favor.

And finally, the study of God can become idolatrous when we lose the balance between knowing and doing. When we spend the bulk our time studying God, but very little time applying that knowledge through encouraging others and sharing the Good News with our neighbours, we need to re-examine our hearts. Are we storing up knowledge with no intent of applying it? Or do we earnestly seek to take what we have learned and use it to further the word of God?

I will close with some words from my study on putting God in a box. “The warning for us is that we must continually seek the Spirit’s help in applying Scripture to our lives, so that it does not become empty knowledge and an end in itself. Our knowledge of God is useless if it remains only in our minds. All we know about Him should spur us on to worship Him in spirit and truth and to motivate us to take what we know to the world, that others can rejoice with us.”

June 04, 2005

I love television. I love to be able to turn my mind off at the end of a hard day’s work and just lie back on the couch with nothing more to think about than who will be the next person voted off the island. I love following the lives of fictional characters whose lives seem so much more interesting (and funny) than my own. I love a good whodunit, trying to determine which of the good guys is actually a bad guy. I love football, hockey and baseball – some of the best forms of entertainment available.

I hate television. I hate how it makes me turn my mind off, causing me to stop thinking about the important and interesting things I have learned during the day. I hate telling my kids to shush because I don’t want to miss the punch line of a great episode of a sitcom. I hate following the lives of people who don’t exist whose lives are so immoral and godless. I hate seeing my son watching an almost-naked body on television or having him see a dead child on the screen. I hate watching hours of football, hockey and baseball – some of the most mindless entertainment available.

I love what I hate. I love to watch television, though I know most of it has no redeeming value whatsoever. I profess to know that what goes into a mind comes out in a life, yet don’t think I can be affected by filling my mind with garbage. I want my son to be raised with a respect for what is right and wrong, yet continually justify what is wrong because I don’t want to turn off my show. I know that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, yet love to turn mine off. I am a hypocrite.

Why does television have such a hold on me? Why do I not have the self-control to just turn it off? To just walk away? All I can determine is that turning off my mind is addictive. I like to be amused. The word “amuse” comes from Greek words meaning “not thinking” and that is exactly what I seem to enjoy. I enjoy not having anything deep or exciting to think about. I enjoy mindlessness. And perhaps even worse, if I did open my mind I would see all sorts of behavior that contradicts my beliefs.

That is a sobering thought. Where God tells me to fill my mind with purity and holiness, I prefer either to turn it off altogether or fill it with trash.

I have invested a lot of time and consideration into the places where Christian’s lives disconnect from their faith. Or said differently, where the walk disconnects from the talk. For me, I know this is one of those areas. I say one thing but consistently contradict what I say with what I actually do.

Now please don’t think that I am against television altogether and am advocating putting a hammer through your (or my) TV. And don’t think that I watch ridiculous amounts of TV. I just know that this is an area in my life that I am holding back, unwilling to let God change me. I am stubbornly refusing to give up this addiction, denying God the right to use that time for His purposes.

June 03, 2005

Al Mohler recently blogged about Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transsexual who was a guest on the Larry King show. Jennifer began life as James, but went through a male-to-female sex change at the age of 43 and changed her name to Jennifer. Also appearing on the show was Dierdre Boylan, whom James married (when still a man) and to whom s/he is still married after having undergone the sex change.

As I read Mohler’s article and the transcript of the program, I was reminded of an article I wrote early last year. At that time I had been browsing through the newspaper and came across an article that caught my attention. It was a rather tragic story of a young man who hated who he was. At some point in his early teenage years he became convinced that he was actually a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He began to live like a girl; dressing in girl’s clothing and taking estrogen to try to combat his male hormones. As he grew older he began to become promiscuous, engaging in sexual behavior with boys, yet never revealing that he was actually male. Eventually some of the men with whom he had engaged in sexual acts became suspicious and began to think they had figured out his secret. They resolved to find out once and for all, so in a fit of rage tore off his clothes and learned that their behavior had not just promiscuous, but also homosexual. Enraged, they beat him to death and buried him in a shallow grave. One of them later confessed to the crime and they are now (justly) awaiting trial on charges of murder.

It was a terrible story of sin, misery and death. And while the story was tragic, what really stood out to me was that the journalist who wrote about it continually described the subject of the story as “she.” Because this boy had decided he wanted to be a girl, the journalist described him that way. And of course the same is true of Jennifer Boylan, though she, at least, has had her male genitals replaced with female counterparts, at least removing the external evidence of her masculinity.

I am experiencing a pronoun predicament as I write this. How do I determine who is a “he” and who is a “she?” This used to be a simple matter. When a child was born, the doctor would look at the child’s genitals and exclaim, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” based on the external, visual evidence. Of course this still happens. Some good friends of ours are going to visit a doctor in just a couple of weeks to determine if their unborn child is male and female. The ultrasonographer will look for the obvious, external evidence. But in our changing society it seems this is no longer the truest measure of gender. Today gender is something ultimately determined by mind and emotion. Body parts and chromosomes may point the way, at least through the early years of life, but if later in life I decide these have been bearing false witness to my gender, I am free to alter my male identity. When it comes to gender, mind trumps matter.

I see this is a perfect but shocking example of evidence that our society no longer believes in absolutes, for now even gender has become relative. The story I read in the newspaper was about a person who was born male – he had male anatomy, male chromosomes and grew up as a little boy – but at some point he allowed his mind to convince himself that he was female. Now common sense tells us that a human being who has male anatomy and male chromosomes in every cell of his body is male! But our confused, politically correct society seems to disagree. Just because every cell in his body cries out that he is male, we should not assume that he is, for his mind may tell him otherwise. And if a boy decides he is actually a girl, we certainly are not to judge him for that decision. We should assume that he is correct and give him full support.

Mohler rightly points out the difficulties faced when we experiement with God’s gift of gender. “For her part, Dierdre Boylan commented that she is a ‘straight’ woman who has no desire to have sexual relations with Jennifer, through they are still legally married. ‘I do miss having a husband, and being a husband and wife,’ she admitted. ‘I miss our physical relationship. In many ways, particularly now, sort of five years down the road, most of the things that I loved about Jim are still present in Jenny. The things that aren’t there are the most male things.’ That comment has multiple meanings, to be sure. In any event, this case represents the convoluted complications that ensure when the Creator’s gift of gender becomes an experiment in self-expression rather than a focus of objective identity.” Imagine the difficulties faced by their children, who apparently call Jennifer “Maddy” - a word which combines Mommy and Daddy.

Jennifer explains transexuality in this way: “A transsexual is a person like me, someone born in one body with a lifelong conviction that they are the other sex.” So it does seem that today even gender is a decision. If tomorrow I decide I want to be a woman, what is to stop me? I will expect and demand that you treat and address me accordingly!

June 02, 2005

It was a couple of weeks ago when I first heard that Petra had officially announced their retirement. One of the pioneering Christian rock bands, and for many years one of the most popular, Petra has decided to retire after 33 years of ministry. I am a little embarrassed to admit that the news hit me hard. To be honest, I had to hold back the tears. That may sound strange, I admit, but you must consider that Petra has played a pivotal role in my life and in my spiritual development.

It must have been 1991 when I first heard of Petra. At the time I was still (as far as I can tell) an unbeliever, though one who had been raised in a Christian home, but the Spirit was beginning to stir my heart. I visited a friend’s house one weekend and he played me some of Petra’s music from their latest album, Beyond Belief. I scoffed at it, laughing at the mere suggestion of Christian rock music. At the time I was attending a church that gave tacit approval to secular music, but would not hear of Christian rock, so my reaction flowed naturally from the beliefs that had been drilled into me. But at one point when my friend stepped out for a few hours, I copied one of the songs (piracy, I know) and took it home with me. I must have listed to that song, titled “Underground” at least 100 times. My family and friends joined me in scoffing at the suggestion of Christian rock music. But something about that song spoke to me. The words challenged me to develop a faith of my own and to take it seriously, rather than to simply live out the faith of my parents.

I won’t go underground
I won’t turn and flee
I won’t bow the knee
I won’t go underground
I won’t turn and hide from the rising tide
I won’t go underground
I won’t compromise what the world denies
I won’t go underground
And I’m not ashamed of the cross I’ve claimed

I remained skeptical, but the next time I visited my friend I went with him to the local Christian bookstore and bought two albums, Beyond Belief and Petrified (a best-of album). I was hooked. Shortly afterwards, Petra’s next album, Unseen Power was released, and I snatched it up.

These songs continued to stir my heart. They challenged me to find and develop a personal walk with Christ, a concept that was missing from the church I attended at the time. While I had spent countless hours in church, had been educated in Christian schools and had memorized the catechism, I had never been challenged with the idea that perhaps I was not a believer and that faith had to be personal. The song “Beyond Belief” was particularly challenging:

Leap of faith without a net
Makes us want to hedge our bet
Waters never part until our feet get wet
There’s a deeper place to go
Where the road seems hard to hoe
He who has begun this work won’t let it go

There’s a higher place to go, beyond belief, beyond belief
Where we reach the next plateau, beyond belief, beyond belief
And from faith to faith we grow
Towards the center of the flow
Where He beckons us to go, beyond belief, beyond belief

And eventually I did take that leap of faith, finding for myself that the waters did not part until my feet got wet. I remember one evening kneeling beside my bed and just crying out to God to make me His. I was tired of living a fake faith, a faith that was built around doing and being, not built on the firm foundation of grace. And God, in His mercy, heard my cry. I know that God did not need this music to bring me to this point. Yet I firmly believe that it was an instrument He used to show me the necessity of a personal walk with Him.

I am grateful that I have had opportunity to thank the band for their help in this. In 1998 I even hosted and promoted a Petra concert, and was able to sit with John Schlitt for a few minutes, shake his hand, and just thank him for his ministry to me. I have also shared this with Bob Hartman, who founded the band and who wrote the songs that meant so much to me in my spiritual awakening.

I will always be thankful to Petra for their years of selfless ministry. I am thankful that God chose to use them to help open the eyes of my heart, that I could see the wonder, joy and necessity of walking with and in Him.

Petra will be embarking on a farewell tour this Fall, and it appears that Toronto will be on their list of locations. You can be sure that I will be there (my fifth or sixth Petra concert) to thank them one last time for all they have meant to me. For more information, press releases, and so on, visit Petra Rocks My World.

Does anyone else have Petra memories? Favorite moments, concerts, albums or songs?

June 01, 2005

In four previous articles, I have discussed the tendency of Christians to put God in a box of our own imaginations. Allow me to briefly review each of those articles before moving forward in this discussion.

In the introduction we looked at the apparent conflict between God’s revelation of Himself and our tendency to put Him in a box. We saw that while God’s revelation of Himself is always true, it is not necessarily complete. We then turned to three different areas of life where we tend to box God. The first was in our doctrine and we saw that God’s Word is not given to us so that it might restrain or contain God. On the contrary, the Word is given to restrain and contain us! In the second article we looked at Christian piety and saw the importance of never placing limits on God’s ability to act in and through us. And finally we looked at transformationalism and saw that we can limit God in our pursuit of evangelizing the lost.

We need to realize that when we place God in a box, this box exists only in our minds, yet manifests itself in our beliefs, words and actions. When we believe “God is love” we may never take into account His wrath and will reflect this in what we do, say and believe.

Today I would like to conclude this series by suggesting the consequences we must face if we are to have too low a view of God - a view whereby we contain Him in a box.

There was a time in human history where men worshipped the moon. They saw the moon above them and considered it an awesome manifestation of the Divine. And so they worshipped it, paying homage to it as a god. But as civilization advanced, men constructed instruments through which they could study the moon. They came to realize that it was merely a moon orbiting the earth. They saw that it was a giant, dirt ball that had no light of its own, for it only reflected the light of the sun. In the name of science, men were sent to the moon and walked on its surface. Like so many others, I have stood in line at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington to touch a piece of the moon, worn smooth under the pressure of millions of fingers. At this point we can say that the moon has been thoroughly demystified. We know what it is, what it is made of, and even know of its importance to the earth. When we gaze at the moon today, we do so with little of the awe and wonder of men thousands of years ago.

In this case it may be a good thing. The moon does not deserve our worship and it is important that we understand what it is and what it does. But this same pursuit of knowledge has driven us to demystify God. God is not a mere piece of the Creation that can be examined, understood and conquered. Yet this is what many of us have done in our pursuit of knowledge of God.

It is crucial that we maintain or rediscover our awe of God. Too many of us have reduced God to a predictable formula. People complain when their jobs are too routine or that each date with their spouse feels the same as the last. In the same way we can feel that God has become part of a boring routine. When we feel this way, it is probably true that we have, in our minds, placed limits on God’s character and His actions.

So allow me to encourage you to seek to recover a sense of awe before God.

The first step to recovering this sense of awe is to understand that awe begins with who God is - with His character - rather than what He does (His actions). We can only know who He is by knowing and believing His revelation of Himself. What God has told us in Scripture is Truth, Total Truth, and God desires and expects that we know it. There is no excuse for being ignorant of who He is. Yet we need to remember that this is not the complete picture. Rather it is the picture only so far as He saw fit to give it to us. There is much more to God than what the Bible tells us, but no more than we need to know at the present time. When we go to be with the Lord we will know and understand far more.

What I have come to understand is this: that we as humans we cannot be in awe of what we fully understand. We lose the mystery of what we master. It is easy to be impressed by watching wild animals in their natural habitat, but there is far less to appreciate about them when they have been caught, stuffed and mounted on the wall. To continue with the analogy we used earlier, we no longer worship the moon because we now understand it enough that we have removed its mystique. So when we place God in a box, we see Him as far less awesome than He really is. When we catch Him, stuff Him and mount Him on the wall, we reduce Him to the level of a creature that can be fully understood.

And here is something else I have come to understand: expectations run contrary to grace. When we feel that we know exactly how God will, can or even must act we no longer live from grace. Instead we live in expectancy of exactly how God must act in a given situation. Yet God is not as predictable as the path of the moon as it orbits the earth. Read the Gospels; read the Old Testament and you will find multitudes of examples where God did the exact opposite of what people expected of Him. We must not allow our expectations of God to overrule our awe of His grace.

Thus my challenge to myself and to those reading this article is to ensure we have a proper understanding of God. We always need to remember that He transcends any concept or category we can use to define or contain Him. God is infinite and simply cannot be contained. He cannot be boxed. He cannot be conquered. Set yourself free by setting Him free in your mind. Study His Word, and discover anew the awe of God.

May 31, 2005

It is the Lord’s delight to give us what we ask of Him in prayer. With David we all ought to cry out, “O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth” (Psalm 54:2). If Christians did not believe this, there would be no reason for us to ask God of anything. He tells us that we can have this confidence. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15). While most Christian pay lip-service to the superlatives in that sentence (“whatever” and “anything”) very few really believe it.

The fact is that our prayers are often hindered. There are times when it feels like our prayers are reaching the ceiling and going no further. While we can be sure that God does hear our prayers, there are times when He chooses not to heed or answer them. What is especially tragic is that we are the only ones who can hinder our prayers. I cannot hinder your prayers anymore than you can hinder mine. And while we may have done much to hinder our prayers, we are not necessarily even aware of this. Allow me to present six ways we can hinder our prayers so that God will not answer them. This list is incomplete, for there may be other ways our prayers are hindered, but it contains the most likely and significant ways.

Selfish Motives

All humans are selfish. It is part of our human nature that we naturally regard our own interests ahead of the interests of others. And sadly, we often regard our own interests ahead of God’s. In the passage we read above, 1 John 5:14 and 15, the apostle tells us that our confidence comes from asking “according to his [God’s] will.” James similarly exhorts “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).

So the first hindrance to our prayer is our motives. We must ask in accordance with God’s will. We must ask only for things that are consistent with the character and nature of God. We must ask for things that are for the spiritual benefit of ourselves or the person we pray for.

Turning Away From Scripture

If we are not spending time immersing ourselves in Scripture and are not obeying what we have learned, we should not expect God to answer our prayers. Our defiance in ignoring the life-giving Words of the Bible may hinder us from having our prayers answered. Solomon goes so far as to suggest that prayers made from such a hardened heart are an abomination to God. “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).

When we read the Words of Scripture, we ask and encourage God to speak to us. He provides the understanding we need to live lives that bring glory to Him - lives that are increasingly consistent with His standards of grace and holiness. If we thumb our nose at the importance of this discipline and if we disobey what He teaches, He will not answer our prayers.

Unforgiving Hearts

The Christian has been forgiven for the greatest of offenses. He has been forgiven for knowingly, purposely and unrepentantly transgressing the Law of God. And yet we are often slow to forgive our fellow man for the smallest of transgression, for even the biggest of the sins committed against us are as nothing compared to how we sinned against God. God does not honor this attitude. In Mark 11:25 Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Our ongoing assurance of pardon before the Father is in some way dependant on our willingness to forgive others. We must be attentive to our hearts, to ensure that we are not harboring hatred and resentment towards others. If we have this attitude we should expect our prayers to be hindered.

Family Discord

It is God’s will that families live together in peace and harmony. It is, of course, impossible for us to live in perfect peace, but God demands that we maintain close relationships and that we seek harmony in our family relationships. It is foremost the responsibility of the father, as the head of the household, to ensure that there is not discord within the family. When this discord exists, especially in the relationship of a husband to his wife, his prayers may well be hindered. The apostle Peter, a married man himself, exhorted husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, being sensitive to their needs, “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

The relationship between a husband and a wife is to reflect that of Christ to His church. It is to be a relationship of absolute love, adoration and sacrifice. If Christ gave His life for the church, how can a husband do any less for his wife? This is, of course, impossible when the relationship is strained or broken. Thus a man should examine his relationship with his wife to ensure this is not a hindrance to his prayers.

Unconfessed Sin

Just as unforgiveness can hinder our prayers, so can sin in our lives that we have refused to confess before God. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Before we conclude that God has simply not heard or prayers or that it is not His will to give us what we ask, we need to examine our hearts to see if unconfessed sin stands as a barrier between ourselves and God.

While we need to continually examine our hearts, we need also to ask God to reveal our sin to us. We should ask those closest to us what they have observed in our lives. While God most often reveals sin through the reading of and meditating upon His Word, we should realize that if we do not learn our lesson from Scripture, He may have to resort to harsher tactics where our sin is revealed before others, even publically. While this may be difficult and humiliating, He does so because He loves us and does not wish for this sin to continue to corrupt us and to stand as a barrier between Himself and us.

Doubt

God wants us to have confidence in His ability and willingness to provide what is necessary for us to attain to godliness. He wants us to believe that He can and will do what He says. Thus when we doubt - when we ask expecting rejection and when we ask almost hoping for rejection - we will hinder our prayers. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:5-7).

Our prayer cannot be separated from our faith. If we are to ask God, we must ask with expectancy, believing in our heart of hearts that God can and will give what we want, provided that what we want is really what we need! We are to ask with confidence and expectancy.

Conclusion

The eighteenth chapter of Luke is premised with the following words: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus goes on to share the parable of the persistent widow. It is a parable designed to teach the importance of persisting in prayer. It is God’s desire that we persist in our petitions before Him. When we ask and do not receive, we need to examine ourselves and question why our prayers are being hindered. Are we asking selfishly? Have we turned away from God, harbored unforgiveness in our hearts or ignored sin in our lives? Or have we allowed discord to creep into our families? These questions can lead us back to the Word of God and guide us to an examination of our hearts.

Pages