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August 06, 2009

After a week’s absence (based on a week’s vacation) I am back today with the next chapter (Chapter 7) of Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. The topic for this reading is “The Excellence of Contentment.” I do trust that many of you continue to read the book with me.

Summary

Every week I feel the need to begin with an expression of my affection for this book. Today will be no different! What a great book this is. There, I said it again.

In this chapter Burroughs seeks to teach how contentment is an excellent virtue and an excellent fruit of the Spirit. He offers ten points:

By contentment we come to give God the worship that is due to him. He says “You worship God more by [contentment] than when you come to hear a sermon, or spend half an hour, or an hour, in prayer, or when you come to receive a sacrament.” “It is but one side of a Christian to endeavor to do what pleases God; you must as well endeavor to be pleased with what God does, and so you will come to be a complete Christian when you can do both.”

There is a great deal of strength of grace in contentment. “It is an argument of a gracious magnitude of spirit, that whatsoever befalls it, yet it is not always whining and complaining as others do, but it goes on in its way and course, and blesses God, and keeps in a constant tenor whatever befalls it. Such things as cause others to be dejected and fretted and vexed, and take away all the comfort of their lives make no alteration at all in the spirits of these men and women. This, I say, is a sign of a great deal of strength of grace.” How beautiful is contentment? “There is no work which God has made-the sun, moon, stars and all the world-in which so much of the glory of God appears as in a man who lives quietly in the midst of adversity.”

By contentment the soul is fitted to receive mercy and to do service. “If we would be vessels to receive God’s mercy, and would have the Lord pour his mercy into us, we must have quiet, still hearts. We must not have hearts hurrying up and down in trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if we receive mercy from the Lord.” He uses a universal metaphor: “If a child throws and kicks up and down for a thing, you do not give it him when he cries so, but first you will have the child quiet. Even though, perhaps, you intend him to have what he cries for, you will not give it him till he is quiet, and comes, and stands still before you, and is contented without it, and then you will give it him.”

As contentment makes fit to receive mercy, so fit to do service. “When the Lord has any great work for one of his servants to do, usually he first quiets their spirits, he brings their spirits into a quiet, sweet frame, to be contented with anything, and then he sets them about employment.”

Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations. “The Devil,” Burroughs says, “loves to fish in troubled waters.” Thus if we are content, we are better able to resist the Devil. “If a man is contented to be in a low condition, and to go meanly clothed if God sees fit, such a one is shot-free, you mighty say, from thousands of temptations of the Devil, that prevail against others to the damning of their souls.”

Another excellence is the abundant comforts in a man’s life that contentment will bring. “Contentment will make a man’s life exceedingly sweet and comfortable, nothing more so than the grace of contentment.”

Contentment draws comfort from those things we do not really possess. How can this be? “Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to our conditions.” “There is more comfort even in the grace of contentment than there is in any possessions whatsoever; a man has more comfort in being content without a thing, than he can have in the thing that he in a discontented way desires.”

Contentment is a great blessing of God upon the soul. Quite simply, God extends special blessing to those who are content in him.

Those who are content may expect reward from God, that God will give them the good of all the things which they are contented to be without. This one was particularly interesting to me as its implications are incredibly far-reaching. Burroughs says, “There is such and such a mercy which you think would be very pleasant to you if you had it; but can you bring your heart to submit to God in it? Then you shall have the blessing of the mercy one way or another; if you do not have the thing itself, you shall have it made up one way or another; you will have a bill of exchange to receive something in lieu of it.”

By contentment the soul comes to an excellence near to God himself, yea, the nearest possible. “A contented man is a self-sufficient man, and what is the great glory of God, but to be happy and self-sufficient in himself? Indeed, he is said to be all-sufficient, but that is only a further addition of the word ‘all’, rather than of any matter, for to be sufficient is all-sufficient.”

There is a lot to chew on in this chapter and an unusual number of quotable phrases. I look forward to reading this chapter’s “opposite” next week as we look to the evils of a murmuring spirit.

Next Week

For next week, just press on with chapter 8, “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit.”

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
March 20, 2009

Late this afternoon we heard from Thabiti Anyabwile on “Cosmic Treason: Sin & the Holiness of God.” He began by joking that his name is Swahili and roughly translated means “suffering for Jesus in the Cayman Islands.” And then he got down to business. He read Numbers 25 and divided his exposition of this chapter into four sections. He wanted to use this passage to make some observations about sin as cosmic treason.

The horrible context of this chapter (1-6)
The height of conflict (7-9)
The honorable commendation (10-13)
The harrowing condemnation (14-18)

The Horrible Context

This episode in the history of Israel follows the exodus in which God drew his people out of bondage. He had given them his Law, telling them that they were to have no other gods apart from him, no gods above him. God pledges to be their God and that they will be his people. Immediately prior to this chapter, Israel had run into Balaam and Balak. Hidden from Israel at this point was the divine hand of God protecting and preserving them.

So how striking it is when we come to Numbers 25 and we see that Israel, the people of God, have fallen into sexual immorality and idolatry. The people began to whore with the Moabites. The physical immorality is merely a symptom of the spiritual immorality and adultery. The tragedy of verse three of this section is that the Israelites yoked themselves to another God. We have not properly understood this passage until we have seen it as treason. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. God in his holy and righteous anger pronounces a death sentence through a violent execution.

Thabiti pointed out things in this passage that define cosmic treason:

Sin is moral in nature, transgressing what is right. It is a negation of what is right. What is good and right for Israel is to worship this one, true God apart from whom there is no other. But rather than do what is right, they denied this God. We live in a culture that denies any wrongdoing whatsoever or denies that our sin is objectively wrong. To speak with people about their sin is to hear that it is not sin, it is not wrong. They establish their own moral authority contrary to God’s.

Sin is personal in nature. It is against God himself, provoking his wrath. Sin is apostasy, turning away from God. Our culture teaches that sin is not often against anyone but is just a mistake or a blooper. But this passage makes it clear that our sin does land on something. It lands squarely in the sight of a holy God who will not look upon sin. Our sin is an offense against God, a personal rebellion against him. It not only incites his anger but is also treasonous, rebelling against the rule and love of God. Israel is often called God’s wife. Can you think of a more treasonous act than to declare union with a husband but then to commit adultery with another?

Sin is dangerous in that it provokes the wrath of God. The scariest thing in the world is people living like there is no danger associated with their sin and God’s wrath. They have a kind of false assurance where they think they are okay with God, but have no saving, covenantal relationship with God. There is no situation more dangerous than that.

Sin is so treasonous that God declares a death penalty against it. It brings the danger of God’s judgment.

The Height of Conflict

God has spoken in verses four and five about the judgment of those who will engage in apostasy and in verse six we see the start of it. This is a vivid illustration of the treason we are talking about. God has been correcting, in fiery anger, the sin committed against him. While the people are gathering outside the tent of meeting, an Israelite man sees the people gathered around and does not join in the covenant worship of God. Instead, he walks by, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of God himself. And all this while the people are weeping over his sin. The whores are creeping while the people are weeping. It is a striking display. This is brazen sin. He is thumbing his nose at God.

Phinehas sees this, picks up a spear, follows this man into his tent, and in the very act of sexual immorality he drives it through the both of them. He kills the Israelite man and the Midianite woman. It is his action that stops the plague God has sent on his people, killing 24,000 of his people.

Sin is contempt toward God. Most people believe sin is a mistake, a mess-up. But at the very heart of sin is contempt toward God and toward his holiness and righteousness in particular.

Sin poisons our sympathy so that we side with the sinner in his sin before we side with God in his holiness. What is your reaction when you hear this? What is your reaction to Phinehas and his action along with God and his action in killing 24,000 people? Were you identifying with the sinful man and woman or with Phinehas and his action? Did you have instinctive and impulsive action that caused you to identify with the whore in their whoredom rather than the judge and his javelin?

Sin leads to our ruin as God puts down our rebellion. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The wrath of God is revealed against ungodliness. Our sin leads to our ruin apart from Christ.

Sin should cause weeping before God because it is the offense that it is before God. We ought to be people weeping over sin. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.

Honorable Commendation

As a priest Phinehas’ job is to represent God and to make sacrifices on their behalf. He understands his calling and this is what God commends in him. Phinehas is jealous with God’s jealousy. And so it ought to be with God’s people, so it ought to be with the men who stand behind the pulpit and teach the children of God. When God is most glorified and honored, his people are most satisfied. What else should a pastor care about than that God should be made known and that he should be loved and glorified? To care most about anything less than the glory of God is treason.

Sin requires discipline. God is dealing with his people as a Father loves his children. He does this so that we may participate in his holiness. God’s love walks hand-in-hand with his holiness. Resolve now that if you stumble into sin that you will receive God’s correction.

Sin requires atonement. God’s wrath must be turned away; there must be reconciliation between the sinner and the holy God. Phinehas the priest points us toward the great High Priest. It is Phinehas who makes the sacrifice that appeases God in Numbers 25 but it is Christ who will make the full and final sacrifice to appease God.

Numbers 25 is about the gospel of our Lord, about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He does this not for a moment, not for a chapter of the Old Testament, but eternally. It was Christ who was the true priest of God.

Harrowing Condemnation

The only point the names of these people is mentioned is in the final few verses of this chapter. Sometimes you hear names that are forever associated with treason. Verses seventeen and eighteen identify these two as the Benedict Arnold’s of the book of Numbers. God calls them to account for their cosmic treason and calls to account the Midianites as well. He uses the Israelites as the means of punishment against this nation. God exercises his judgment in this time and in this way.

With time running out Thabiti spent just a few moments closing with a powerful call to respond to the gospel.

May 28, 2007

When I take the time to do some edits to these live-blogged articles I often notice how often it is that speakers change from “me” to “you” to “us.” When I run through these articles I see this all the time and am tempted to change it, but generally choose to leave things just as they are. So if you see me go from first person to second person to third person, chances are that is just the way the speaker spoke. And now you’ll start looking for it!

One other quick note: when I go to conferences I often challenge whoever accompanies me to guess how long it will take before we sing “In Christ Alone.” We usually guess by sessions (i.e. “I guess it will be in the third worship session” or “I guess it will be in the fifth worship session.”). It took us until the fifth worship session at this conference, but that has now given this song the distinction of being the only one that has been sung at each of the six conferences I’ve attended this year. It is possible that “Amazing Grace” has also been featured at all of them, but I don’t think it has been.

This afternoon we had the privilege of hearing John Piper preach. And best of all, he preached the message that has been at the very foundation of everything he has said and written since his ministry began: that the deepest pleasures for God are pleasures in God. It went something like this:

He began with a seven question discernment test. The first five answers were universal and the final two personal.

Who is the most God-centered person in the universe? God.

Who is uppermost in God’s affections? God.

Is God an idolator? No.

What is God’s chief jealousy? To be known and admired and trusted and obeyed above all others.

What is the chief end of God? To glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.

Do you feel most loved by God because He makes much of you or because He frees you to make much of Him forever?

Are you God-centered because God is supremely valuable to you or are you God-centered because you believe you are supremely valuable to Him?

People bristle at what Piper is about to say—about this message he has been preaching for so many years. He has found that there is a way of looking at the truth that stirs up people’s sediment of pride. The root of pride is not severed without seeing that God keeps the first commandment to love God above all else. The root of pride is not seen until we know that God does everything to the glory of God. It is not until we know that God sees Christ as supremely valuable and until we really like it that God has no other gods before Him and that He alone is God in His own eyes.

He will argue from the Bible that God is supremely valuable to God and that there is no more God-centered person in the world. Jonathan Edwards, as you probably know, was the one who opened his eyes to this. If God does an illumining work so you see this, you’ll never read the Bible in the same way and you’ll see this everywhere in the Bible.

First Piper walked us through the Bible, taking the high points of redemptive history to see what God says about what He does. The answer is always the same: that He does it for His glory. He did this under six headings:

Predestination - Ephesians 1:5-6 – “God predestined us…unto the praise of the glory of His grace.” As clear as day it says that God’s design in your predestination is His glory.

Creation – Isaiah 43:6-7 – “Everyone whom I created for my glory.” Everything is made to make God look good and for the display of His glory. We are to magnify Him like a telescope (which makes huge things look more like they really are), not a microscope (which makes small things look big).

Incarnation – Romans 15:8-9 – “Christ became a servant…to glorify God for His mercy.” You get the mercy and He gets the glory. The reason for His mercy is to bring glory to Himself. The ultimate integrating motif of the Bible is the glory of God (and not, as so many believe, the love of God).

Propitiation – Romans 3:25-26 – Paul says that if God is to pass over sins the Son of God has to die in order to demonstrate His righteousness. The problem is in verse 23: “all have sin and fallen short of the glory of God.” And now we’re back to glory again. Sin is an attitude or action that belittles the glory of God, making a choice that can only be explained that we value something else more than the glory of God. Sin is something you do when you don’t treasure God’s glory as you should. You trample His glory in your simple preference for something else. God could not just pass this over or He would be unrighteous. There are only two ways that God can vindicate the worth of His glory: by sending you to hell or by accepting Christ’s death on your behalf. So there, right in the center of the gospel message, is God’s God-centeredness.

Sanctification – Philippians 1:9-11 – This is a prayer in which Paul asks God to do something in accord with His own designs. He prays that people’s love may abound so that they may be filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ to the praise and the glory of God. Paul asks that God would pursue His own glory. He asks that we may be sanctified unto the praise and glory of His name.

Consummation – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – Jesus is returning to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed. He is coming to be glorified and to be magnified. That is why He is coming, ultimately. There are other things He will do, but this is the ultimate.

We could spend another hour doing this but these suffice to show that God does everything for the ultimate reason of bringing glory to Himself. In everything He does He is exalting Himself.

There are some biblical reasons that a person might squirm at this. The most obvious is that this doesn’t sound loving, since, after all, “love does not seek its own.” But we can’t just write off all of these texts. There are other understandings of “love does not seek its own.” It is not wrong for God to seek His own glory in saving sinners. Many people believe God would be morally defective to demand worship. So what is the answer to God’s God-centeredness being morally defective? The answer is that we define love in the wrong way. We define love, morality, to mean being made much of. “You make much of me and I will like the way you love me.” But this is not the Bible’s definition.

Here is what love means in the Bible: love labors, plans, suffers to enthrall the beloved with what is totally and eternally satisfying. It is a heart commitment to plan and labor and suffer and if necessary to die to enthrall the beloved with that which will totally and eternally satisfy their soul. That’s love! Here’s the catch: God is the one being in the universe who, to do that, must be self-exalting. If God plays a mock humility He would be hateful and cruel. He would withdraw from us and bury the one thing that will satisfy our souls totally and forever, namely, Himself! This is not a morally defective God. This is not an unloving God. God is the one being for whom the highest virtue is self-exaltation is the most loving act because in exalting Himself he offers to me the one thing that will satisfy my soul forever and ever and ever.

Piper shared the mission statement for his church (which also happens to be his personal mission statement): “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” Some people have asked, “Where is love for people in there?” This mission statement is the definition of love for people. The church exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God means that it exists to love. What else would people want to do other than to enthrall people with God’s supremacy in everything forever in Christ? What more can be added except practical outworkings of how one might display that passion. The essence of God’s love is to do whatever He has to do to make Himself our joy and satisfaction.

So here was his closing exhortation: Do not, in your quest to be a discerning generation, begrudge God’s God-centeredness. If life has taught Piper anything it’s that this truth is like true north in his life’s compass. He does not have answers to many, many questions but it is amazing how to have one good, clear, solid, true north in your compass sheds light on anything. Does this behavior conform to this reality of God’s pervasive and eternal God-centeredness? Does it conform to the meaning of the love of God of spending Himself at the cost of His Son’s life to save me for His glory?

I’ll be back in a few hours when Piper takes to the pulpit again.

December 26, 2006

I’ve often wondered if children in school continue to read Huckleberry Finn. It is a truly great story by a master storyteller and is a book I enjoyed a great deal when we read it in the eighth grade. I can still remember my teacher, who also happened to be the school’s principal, reading the story aloud to us and helping us understand it. While it is a great story, it is also one that has a certain word appear many times. It’s that word that has only recently, I believe, come to be known as the “n-word.” Just uttering that word these days is enough to end careers and destroy friendships. And yet, even a few decades ago, it was considered acceptable in a story. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Huckleberry Finn is no longer read in schools simply because of that word.

Words come and go. There are thousands of words that have fallen out of use or have had their meanings changed as time has passed and the language has evolved. And, of course, many thousands more have been introduced into the language, some coined to express something very specific (i.e., “metrosexual”) and some to describe a new object or technology. Sometimes it is good for words to pass out of common use, and the “n-word” is one of these words. Hurtful, derogatory and laden with bad memories, there is no benefit to maintaining this word. But there are other words that we need to maintain, we need to keep in our common lexicon.

One of these words, a word we need to hold onto, is “sin.” This word is found only rarely now outside the bounds of the church, and sadly, almost as rarely within. In the past few weeks I’ve read several books which speak of errors, mistakes and bad judgment, but never of sin. All of these books are written by and about Christians. In his autobiography, Shawn Alexander writes about making many mistakes in his life, but never of committing sin. When writing about Joel Osteen, his biographer admits mistakes in Osteen’s life, but never charges him with sin. Dr. Phil’s wife, Robin McGraw, has done many dumb things, but to the point of the book I’ve read, has not sinned. And so on. Humans seem eager to admit mistakes and error, but loathe to admit sin.

There is something about this word, this little “s-word,” that offends people. We are not offended by mistakes. We are offended by sin. The problem is that sin and mistakes are not the same thing.

I’ve thought about this for a while now and it seems to me that the reason we are afraid to admit sin lies in its definition. Where a mistake is something like “a wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention”, according to the Shorter Catechism, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Mistakes are inevitable in this life and, while they may be a product of the Fall, they are not necessarily sinful. I may make a mistake about the time I am to pick my son up from school and arrive fifteen minutes late. This is not sinful, but it is a mistake. I have made a mistake and my son has suffered just a little bit as he had to wait a few minutes. And so I apologize to my son and the situation is over. But when I sin against my son, perhaps by snapping at him when he is inquisitive and I am tired and grumpy, I have not made a mistake; I have sinned. I have offended both my son and God. I have offended my son but have ultimately offended God. David says in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Of course David had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and the whole nation of Israel. And yet he knew that his ultimate sin was against God.

And so it seems that we are afraid to admit sin because it requires that we admit we have offended God. And when we admit to offending God, we admit that we are deserving of His punishment. We are deserving of His wrath. We are deserving of hell. And who wants to admit this? To admit to this is to go against our sinful natures and all that we believe about ourselves.

When we refuse to utter the “s-word,” and worse, when we refuse to view ourselves as sinners, we refuse to admit our need of a Savior. We tacitly suggest that we can remedy our own mistakes rather than relying on the Savior who has paid for sin.

August 06, 2006

I have been reading John Ensor’s The Great Work of the Gospel and came across an interesting section I thought I’d share with you today. Ensor is reflecting upon what motivates God to forgive sinful human beings. I was particularly interested in the quote he provides from his friend Dana Olson, who suggests the reason God decided to allow sin in this world: so that He might be able to show mercy, an attribute he could not otherwise display. What follows is excerpted from the first chapter of Ensor’s book.

There is one question that rises above all others, one question I did not think to ask until I was in seminary and took a course on the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards, an eighteenth-century Puritan preacher and philosopher, has been called America’s greatest thinker. He wrote a treatise titled The End for Which God Created the World (published 1765). It asks why God does what he does. What motivates God to do one thing and not another? The reason this is important is that it gets to the very heart of the issue before us. What motivates God to want to forgive?

The fuller answer will develop as we go, but for now, let me summarize what I think the answer is. Why should we take God’s invitation and promise to heart? Because God’s own great passion is to glorify himself in our knowing him and enjoying him. More particularly, he wants to show us his grace; more particularly still, he wants to show us his infinite mercy, to the praise and glory of his own name. In other words, God desires to make his mercy the apex of his own glory in the eyes of all creation. It is the ultimate reason for the creation of the world and the plan of redemption. It is the ultimate reason we should believe he is ready to do a great work of grace in us!

Dana Olson, a pastor friend of mine, opened my eyes to this. He wrote:

Prior to creation God had no means of revealing one pinnacle attribute of his glory, mercy. While he could within the fellowship of the Trinity express love and maintain justice, mercy inherently requires some injustice or inadequacy before loving-kindness can be expressed in forgiveness. For this reason God set in motion redemptive history—to manifest his glory by revealing this very capacity to redeem, mercy.

God wants to do a work “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). God wants to show us his grace so that we “might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). This is precisely the reasoning of Romans 9:22-23: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory … ?” In his final judgment God will display the power of his wrath. But God could not demonstrate his capacity for mercy apart from ordaining a world of sin and a way for redemption. He endures with great patience the impenitent, so that he can magnify his all-glorious mercy in the eyes of those who put their hope in him!

My question is whether or not you agree with Olson, and hence with Ensor. Do you feel it is likely that God set redemptive history in motion particulary so he could display mercy, an attribute he could not otherwise display?

September 24, 2005

I received the following news from Nancy Pearcey. I have had opportunity to browse through the Study Guide Edition of Total Truth and it looks great. I will have a thorough review of it next month.

World Journalism Institute is happy to announce that the study guide edition of Total Truth:Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity is now in bookstores. Total Truth is an award-winning book on Christian worldview by Nancy Pearcey, WJI’s Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar.

The new study guide edition is a great resource for Sunday School classes and study groups. It goes far beyond the typical guide by offering 30 pages of significant new content—fresh stories, examples, and illustrations to bring the book’s themes to life. Each chapter also suggests on-going activities to guide readers in detecting worldview themes in their work and daily experience.

Nancy Pearcey has “road-tested” the material with students in WJI’s journalism courses and their feedback has been highly enthusiastic. Many say it greatly enhanced their reading of the book.

“Virtually every day I get emails from readers who want to know if there is a study guide available for Total Truth,” Pearcey told WJI. “The book is being used by churches, schools, and study groups around the country—even by reading groups among Capitol Hill staffers.”

The study guide edition is an outstanding tool to help readers dig deeper into the text and learn how to be equipped with a Christian worldview. It is available from your local Christian bookstore or Borders, or online from Amazon, Christianbook.com, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores. Total Truth won the Award of Merit in the Christianity & Culture category in the Christianity Today Book Awards for 2005, and the ECPA Gold Medallion Award for best book of the year in the Christianity & Society category.

September 03, 2005

The following was sent to me by Lighthouse Trails Publishing:

At around 1:15am (EDT), Steve Muse’s wife, Catherine, passed away quietly and peacefully. She was 49 years old.

The outpouring of prayers, concern and compassion have upheld Steve and his family during these past few difficult days. He is comforted to know that Catherine is in the loving arms of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Catherine never waivered in her concern for others, nor in her defense of God’s word. She remained steadfast to the end of her earthly life.

Above all, Catherine loved the Lord, and would want Jesus Christ to be glorified. While she will be missed by her family and friends, let us all rejoice, and look forward to the day when we join together with the the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in heaven, forever and ever.

And what a glorious reunion that will be.

For those who wish to contact Steve and his family by regular mail, his mailing address is:
Steven Muse
PO Box 232
Delanson NY 12053

You can also reach by email at smuse@erwm.com.

July 06, 2004

Hang on to your hats, because I am about to spiritualize (and very possibly trivialize) one of the great laws of physics. Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, in its simplest form, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Take a look around and you will see this law in action every day.

Have you ever seen a slow-motion replay of a big boxing match where the broadcasters show the punch that finished the match? A gloved fist flies towards a face and at the moment of impact you can see the law in effect. As the glove meets the face, it reacts according to the amount of force applied to it. When the fist meets flesh, the point of impact is compressed inwards – perhaps a cheek is pressed into the boxer’s mouth. As that happens, the force of the punch pushes the entire head in the same direction as the fist is travelling. The opposite cheek sags eerily outward and a spray of sweat flies off the man’s body. The action of the fist striking with stunning force produces an equal and opposite physical reaction.

While this law is true in the physical world the framework of this law applies equally to Truth. Through history we have seen that for every Truth God reveals about Himself, there arises an equal and opposite error. Whenever God has chosen to reveal new Truth about Himself, an opposite falsehood has arisen to lead people astray from the Lord.

The history of Truth’s progressive revelation to mankind is not constant. Through history we have seen that for truth to progress, God must first reveal it in an objective sense. There must then be a combined effort on the part of God and men to subjectively reveal that Truth to church or society. Where the objective revelation may take place in a moment or a day, the subjective revelation may take years or ages. Consider God’s revelation of His Law to Moses. In just a short while He wrote the Law on the tablets, objectively giving His Law to a particular man. It was then the combined task of God and Moses to subjectively integrate these Laws into society.

History, then, when viewed through a wide lens, is a series of these great epochs as God first makes an objective revelation and men then slowly integrate this Truth into society. The first is an action on God’s part and the second is a reaction on the part of men. While there is always a positive action in reaction to Truth, there is also an opposite negative reaction that arises in direct opposition.

J.A. Wylie describes the waves of action and reaction as being similar to the tide rising on a beach. A great wave crashes down on the beach, and for a moment it seems that the beach and the land beyond must be flooded. But in a moment the ocean’s fury is spent and the wave retreats, washing back towards the sea. But a careful observer will see that not all the ground that was gained by the great wave has been lost. Before long another wave crashes on to the beach and more land is gained by the ocean. And thus, by a series of advances and retreats the tide flows in and the beach is gained. And so it is with Truth.

I want to briefly consider this in the contexts of four of the great epochs in history: God’s original revelation, God’s revelation to Moses, early Christianity and the Reformation.

Revelation After Creation

At the close of Creation God created a man in His own image and placed him in the Garden of Eden. The crowning achievement of His Creation, man was given a position of great honor and responsibility. Man was given dominion over the earth and entrusted with the responsibility to tend it. Everything was given to him but a single tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man walked in perfect communion with God. We do not know what Truths God revealed to man at that time, but we can presume that it was just exactly what he needed – no more and no less. God told man what he needed to know to thrive in a perfect world. It was in this beautiful world that there arose the first error as Satan convinced man that He could be like God. In opposition to the Truth that man is limited and God is infinite, arose the opposite error. Satan convinced man that he could be like God. The waves receded so that by the time of Noah the Bible tells us everyone on the earth, with the exception of Noah and his family, hated God and sinned continually.

Truth gradually progressed in society. But as Truth had progressed, so had error. Paganism took root as the opposite of the pure worship of God. The tower of Babel arose as men reached to the heavens to usurp the glory due only to God. We see that paganism, though in a primitive form, arose and thrived as the evil alternative to God.

Mosaic Revelation

Many years later God’s children found themselves in bondage to the Egyptians. It must have seemed like the world contained nothing but darkness and surely the Israelites must have felt that God had abandoned them to their sin. But this was not so. Just when it seemed that things could not deteriorate any further, God providentially raised up Moses. After leading the people from their slavery, God gave Moses new revelation about Truth. Over the course of many years, this Truth was subjectively integrated into the Israelite society. The tabernacle and later the temple were built as places to worship God. The feast days were integrated into the calendar and the ceremonies into times of worship.

During this time error also increased in direct opposition to the pure Truth of God. Baal worship progressed in its influence and in its evil. The ceremonies of pagan worship grew in proportion to match the ceremonies of god-ordained worship. God’s people were continually led astray by more developed forms of pagan idolatry that directly contradicted true worship.

The Early Church

Jesus’ death marked the end of the Mosaic era. The ceremonial and judicial laws were fulfilled in the Savior. In place of law and ceremony God planted a church – a church that was not merely an extension of His plan for His people but was the fulfillment of His plan. His plan all along led to this church, composed of men and women, Jew and Gentile, black and white – a church of people from all races united in their love of God. But the laws of truth were in effect even then, and there quickly arose opposite errors. The simplicity of the early church was polluted as jealous men fought for rank and position. Whatever God instituted was quickly matched by a corrupt opposite. Simplicity gave way to symbolism, free grace to man’s work and sacrament to ritual. The early church gave way to a Roman religion that for over a millennium seemed to hold back the tide of Truth’s progress.

The Reformation

Once more the waves receded so that the beach again appeared to be bare. Once more it seemed that God had allowed the shadow to cover the earth. But there, in the 16th Century a light flickered. God allowed one man, Martin Luther, to take a stride forward in Truth. Following in Luther’s footsteps other men came to rediscover great truths that had seemingly been lost since the time of the apostles. Within just a few years this Truth had been integrated into Christianity in the movement that came to be known as the Reformation. Similarly, within a few years, there had arisen errors to match these ones. As truth unfolded in a more complete form, so more complex errors were invented. Arminianism arose as a means of lessening the terrifying prospect of God’s absolute sovereignty. Catholicism continued its corruption, attacking the principles of Protestantism – Christ’s sufficiency, His completed work and God’s free grace.

And So On

And so it continues. Even in our present day, hundreds and thousands of years after these great revelations, Truth marches on. The truths God revealed to Adam, to Moses, to the apostles and to the Reformers continue to challenge the church. There is little reason to doubt that more epochs will unfold, or perhaps are unfolding even now, as God more fully reveals Truth. As Truth progressively unfolds, error continues to oppositely assert itself.

It is of foundational importance to note that while each Truth further strengthens its position, each error further corrupts the attempts to undermine God’s revealed Truth. Each truth draws closer to perfection while each error draws closer to destruction. Just as a child lies to his parents and as his ficticious story progresses it becomes less and less plausible, so error upon error progressively undermines the position of those who fight against Truth. God’s Truth must and shall prevail. In the end error will be destroyed; Truth will reign supreme and shall be fully revealed. We will know Truth even as Truth knows us. There will be no more equal and opposite reactions to the Truth.

June 24, 2004

I know so little about love. This thought occurred to me just a few weeks ago and I began to look at love to see what it is and how I can learn to love more and love better. It is no great mystery that the Bible places great emphasis on love. The word “love” appears hundreds of times through the Scripture as God tells us not only how much He loves His children but also how we are to display God’s love to others.

It did not take me long to learn about the unbreakable link between love and humility. Love is impossible without humility. If I want to excel at love, I first need to learn to be humble; to learn to count my own joy and pleasure as less important than the joy and pleasure of someone else. Perhaps the key to love is learning to derive pleasure from someone else’s pleasure. Selfless love is to find pleasure in another person’s pleasure.

I think of my daughter and how much she loves it when I blow on her tummy. I derive no pleasure from the act of blowing “raspberries” on her stomach, but I derive nearly endless amounts of pleasure from hearing her squeal “stop!” and then “again!” I receive pleasure from her pleasure. While I could be reading a good book or surfing the Internet, thus deriving pleasure directly from my actions, I choose instead to find pleasure through my daughter’s pleasure. I put myself first by putting her first, finding pleasure in her pleasure.

I wish I could say that this was the rule rather than the exception, but far more often I seek to find pleasure selfishly.

I found in the Bible that there are two types of humility, and though they are related, they are distinct. God tells us to first to be humble before Him and then to be humble before our fellow man.

Humility before God is a humility before His Word. I need to approach the Bible with humility each time I open its pages. I need to acknowledge that the Word is the teacher and I am the student. I need to allow the Bible to tell me who I am and describe my condition as a human being. I need to accept the Bible’s solution to my condition. Psalm 25:9 says “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.” If I approach God’s Word to humble myself before it, God will guide and teach me. If I approach His Word with pride and with a haughty spirit, God will oppose me, for “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

When I read God’s Word with an attitude of humility I can learn from the tragic times faced by characters such as Samson or David. I know that I am as human as they were and as prone to sin as they were. I see myself in the words of Genesis 6:5 which says “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” When I read Jeremiah 17:9 I know that it describes my condition; I know that it is my heart that “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If I approach these same passages with an attitude of arrogance, feeling pride in my own abilities, I will learn nothing.

I believe this attitude of humility is what separates those believers who really “get it” from the masses of professed believers who never do - those people who continually show an attitude of arrogance before God do not allow Him to change and mold them. They make gods of themselves, believing that they are capable of doing God’s work in their own lives. They deny the truth and gravity of their situations. I can think of so many people I have known who never humbled themselves before the Word. When they read about sin, they saw other people. When they read the passages of Scripture that demand changes to their lives or that went against what they believed, they refused to humble themselves. I have been in that position and have refused to change and I am sure you have been too.

God forgive us for our arrogance and give us humble hearts.

When we have humbled ourselves before God, we are able to show His love to others by humbling ourselves before them – by esteeming them better than ourselves. Without first humbling ourselves before Him, we merely show our own love which is fatally flawed and full of sin. I think of Mother Teresa, a woman who outwardly showed love to so many, yet just a brief look at her life will show beyond any dispute that she never humbled herself before God. Think of the good her life could have accomplished had she been able to show God’s perfect love to the world rather than only her own selfish love.

Imagine how my life would change and how your life would change if we were truly able to derive pleasure from the pleasure of others. Imagine if we dedicated the time we spend deriving pleasure from television to gaining pleasure from the joy of helping others and esteeming them better than ourselves. Imagine how Christians could impact the world around them if we really understood the value of humility.

Many months ago I studied the book of Proverbs and learned the absolute importance of wisdom. Since then I continually pray that God will help me grow in wisdom. I have recently begun to pray that He will also grant me humility before His Word, so that He can change me and so that I can then show His love to the world around me.

June 08, 2004

There has been some controvery in the Forum since I posted my article about How To Hear God’s Voice. Perhaps controvery is overstating it, but people have been asking what I mean by “God’s voice.” This gives me the opportunity to write about something I’ve been meaning to say for a while now.

Two Christians may experience the exact same thing, yet relate it to others in a completely different way. I grew up in the Reformed churches and never once heard anyone use the expressions “God told me” or “I told God” or anything like that. I know that these people were equally in tune with God as the evangelical crowd I spent the next years of my life with, but they simply did not express themselves that way. When faced with major decisions in life they would seek God’s counsel and very often would find it and respond appropriately. When asked about the difficult time they may have faced leading up to a decision they would be very “I-centered.” They would say that “I prayed about it and then I decided to go ahead with it…” What they meant was that they asked God’s will and found peace that moving forward would be within His plan.

Evangelicals might relate the same experience in different words. I think of a man I heard speak in a church some time ago who related how he had faced the difficult decision about whether or not to take a new opportunity with his company which would require moving to a new town. He said things like “…and God said to me, ‘do you have faith that I will lead you?’” or “I said ‘God, do you really want me to pack my family in a van and move to a whole new city?’” He related the whole experience as if it was an ongoing conversation between himself and his Maker. I asked him about it later and he told me that God had never really spoken to him - it was merely his way of expressing what he felt, what he thought and what he read in the Bible.

I do not believe that God speaks to us audibly anymore, for He has no need; He has given His perfect, complete revelation in the Scripture. However, He does whisper to us through His Word and through the Spirit who indwells us. I believe both these men had very similar experiences. They had an inkling that they were supposed to do something. It may not have been something they wanted to do but was something they felt they were supposed to do. So they turned to God in prayer and devoted themselves to reading His Word and soon both found comfort that they knew His will in how to respond. Later on they expressed what had happened in vastly different terms, but I think the actually processes they went through were similar. They expressed themselves in the words they were familiar with from the church tradition they were part of.

Ultimately, I believe we have all we need in order to make decisions and have assurance that we are moving forward within God’s will. So long as we ensure that what we intend to do does not contradict the Bible and we bring it before God in prayer, I believe we have the freedom to move forward with security that God is with us. The seven pointers my pastor provided fit within this framework. They merely give us some pointers we can use to determine if something we feel we are supposed to do is God’s will and not just our own (or Satan’s).

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