Repentance – The Key to Faith

Remember the story of the rich young man who came to Christ with the question so many seekers ask, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). Jesus knew this young man’s heart. He had a sense of his own self righteousness. So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Then Jesus told him he must keep the law perfectly. This man claimed he had done that from his youth. But he must have had a sense his efforts had fallen short or he would not have asked the question in the first place. So Jesus asked him to do one more thing – to sell everything he had and come and follow him. This was one commandment the young man could not obey because he was too attached to his wealth. So in great sorrow he went away.

Mark tells us that Jesus had great affection for this young man, despite his lack of total commitment. So why did Jesus let him go? Why didn’t he make things a bit easier for him? Jesus did not require others to sell all their belongings in order to follow him. Commenting on this incident to his disciples, Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:23).

The Fallacy of Seeker Friendly
What would happen in this same context today? If an evangelist were to sense that a person’s wealth might be a hindrance to the gospel, he might very likely lower the bar just enough to let him in. In fact, many evangelists would go even farther and promise the young man that a life of service to Christ might mean even greater riches. This is what is known as the prosperity gospel.

I met a woman once who said she would never have come to Christ if the evangelist had confronted her with her sins. She needed to hear all about the blessings first. There is a very popular book in Christian bookstores called “The Shack.” The main character encounters God as a black woman. This man had issues with his father, so the author of the book presents God as someone more soft and compassionate, someone that will be easier for him to accept.

It seems that many folks today simply cannot trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of conversion through the word of God without a little assist from the evangelist. We need to soften the message to make it less offensive and more palatable. But the core of the gospel message is that sinners need  to be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul says this message is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Who wants to acknowledge the fact that their transgressions are so offensive to a Holy God that it required the death of his Son to save us? Today that same gospel is no less offensive than it was 2000 years ago. We should expect people to have difficulty accepting it.

The Call For Total Commitment
Here is what Jesus said to those who had reservations about following him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” (Mt. 16:24). “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37). “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).  “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:60). “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” ( Lk 9:62). “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mk 10:29-30). Does that sound like he was making things easier for them? On the contrary, he expected total commitment without reservation.

Jesus said that his followers should expect to be hated by the world because the world hated him, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

The Apostles affirmed what Jesus said. Acts 14:21-22 says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:1). The Apostle James said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2). Paul told his disciple Timothy that, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles all began their messages with an appeal to repent. John the Baptist and Jesus both said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2, Mt 4:17). Peter accused his listeners of killing the Son of God, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23). Stephen launched a diatribe against the religious leaders for their hypocrisy just before they stoned him, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53). The entire first chapter of Romans is a condemnation of the lawlessness of man without God. Paul begins by saying, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).

Spiritual Blessings are not for the Natural Man
We must recognize that the natural man cannot receive the things of the spirit, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). So when we offer spiritual blessings before the Holy Spirit brings new life, the natural man misconstrues this as an appeal to his  natural desires. To him becoming a Christian under these terms means all things are going to go well with him. But the blessings are not natural blessings. They are supernatural blessings that come with repentance and submission to the lordship of Christ. And they are accompanied by tribulation. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”  (John 16:33). The peace that Christ gives comes in the midst of turmoil. It is not an escape from hardships. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). This is the kind of peace that martyrs experience in the face of death, not the peace that comes from looking at a beautiful sunset. The unbeliever does not associate peace with calm in the face of peril. In describing his own sufferings, Paul told the church at Rome, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39). He experienced the comfort of Christ in the midst of all kinds of terrible times. This is the peace that Christ confers on the believer.

So the person who comes to Christ for all the blessings without acknowledging his own sin and repenting will fall away when times get tough. That is not what he signed up for. And that is why, despite the dysfunctional relationship a man had with his father, we should not try to redefine God as a kindly Black woman or something else that he is not in order to make him more appealing. He is a holy and righteous God who cannot tolerate sin and will not receive us unless we come to him humbly, confessing our sins and asking for his forgiveness. That is the only way anyone can ever be ever reconciled to God. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of enlightening that man or woman with the truth of the gospel regardless of his or her background without false comforts offered by us. He did it in Paul’s day in a society as morally bankrupt and full of dysfunction as our own. He can still do it today.

Sacrificing All For Christ
The thrust of Jesus’ message to the rich young man was that in order to become a disciple he would have to put Christ first. Jesus was testing his willingness to do that by asking him to leave his possessions behind and come and follow him. In another passage. Paul said, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8b). Like Paul, those who would inherit the blessings of eternal life must be willing to forsake all to follow Christ. Those who come to Christ in an attempt to “gain the whole world,” or as we would say today to “have it all,” will only lose their own souls.

 

Posted in evangelism, Repentance, salvation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

I recently had a conversation with a woman who is very active in church Bible studies. These are normally small group studies that are based on an inductive Bible study method. People are free to draw conclusions about what the Bible means based on their own self discovery without necessarily being guided by the traditional historical interpretations of the church.

I was surprised that this woman had never heard of Arminianism despite having taught various Bible studies for fifteen years. I was also surprised to learn that the elders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church which I used to attend had never heard the words “Reformed Theology.” These represent the two most common views on soteriology or the study of salvation in the Christian faith.

Definition of Reformed Theology
To put it simply, Reformed Theology is how the founders of the Protestant church understood the great doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the theology upon which the Protestant Church was built. It is expressed in the great confessions of the Protestant faith such as the Westminster Confession, the Belgian Confession, The London Baptist Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Confession, the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles Creed. These documents explain the basic teachings of the Bible regarding such biblical truths as the nature of the Trinity, justification by faith, unconditional election, the preservation of the saints, the limited scope of Christ’s atonement, irresistible grace, and the total depravity of mankind.

Unfortunately, the modern evangelical church has for the most part neglected these confessions and the orthodox doctrines they represent. Few churches recite them as part of the worship service or teach them in catechism class anymore. They are rarely if ever referenced in preaching or in Bible study. Consequently, most evangelicals have ceased to believe or practice much of what they teach.

Unconditional Election
For instance, the vast majority of evangelical Christians believe that people either accept or reject Christ based on the exercise of their own free will. But that is not the faith the Reformers confessed. In fact, that teaching was condemned by the church at the Council of Dort in 1619. The Canons of Dort say, “In accordance with this decree God graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of the elect and inclines them to believe, but by a just judgment God leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen.” (Canons of Dort, Article 6).

The Reformers believed it is God who chooses to save some people and to leave others in their sins based solely upon his own determination.  The Westminster Catechism puts it this way, “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ.” (Chapter 10.1).

In the same way that God chooses to save some, he consigns others to unbelief. This is very evident in the way Christ veiled the truth in parables so that many of his hearers were unable to understand what he said. Matthew 13 says, “Then the disciples came and said to him, Why do you speak to them in parables? And he answered them, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Mt 13:10-11).

On the other hand, Christ very plainly revealed himself to others, like the woman at the well. When she said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25) Jesus’ response to her was very straightforward and unambiguous, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26). He kept nothing hidden from her because she was one of his chosen ones.

Irresistible Grace
The doctrine of irresistible grace says that it is not possible for those whom God has chosen to resist his will, nor is it possible for those whom he has not chosen to come to faith in him. The best example of a man who could not resist the will of God is the Apostle Paul. He was on his way to the city of Damascus to arrest Christians when Jesus suddenly stopped him in his tracks with a blinding light and a voice from heaven that said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 26:14). Saul simply said, “Who are you Lord,” to which the voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” So Saul did what he was told. Later Ananias showed up in response to a vision he had received from God, and said to Saul, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 9:17). Then Saul arose, ate something, and was immediately baptized. Saul never took the initiative in any of these actions.  God called him, commanded him, gave him back his sight, and filled him with the Holy Spirit before he did anything. He had been chosen by Christ and his only option was to obey. This is irresistible grace.

The doctrine of irresistible grace is expressed in Article 10 of the Canons of Dort, “But the cause of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God. This does not involve God’s choosing certain human qualities or actions from among all those possible as a condition of salvation, but rather involves adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as God’s own possession. The Westminster Confession puts it this way, “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.” (Westminster Confessions 10.2) Saul was a passive participant until he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then did he begin exercising his faith by preaching in the synagogue. (Acts 9:20). He could not resist God’s call despite the fact that he was a sworn enemy of Jesus Christ.

Limited Atonement
If it is true that God calls only some to salvation, then it follows that the sacrifice Christ made on the cross  covers only the sins of those whom he has chosen. Those who have not been chosen still must pay for their own sins. If Christ’s sacrifice covered everyone’s sins, then Christ’s death on behalf of the elect would have been superfluous and a terrible waste. If, on the other hand, atonement is available to all but depends on whether or not they accept it, then his sacrifice is ineffectual for those who reject him. Since God is sovereign, nothing he does is ineffectual. The Westminster Catechism 10.1 says, “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death.” This idea that Christ’s sacrifice covers only the sins of his chosen ones is called “limited atonement.”

Total Depravity
Total depravity does not mean that man is incapable of doing anything good. It means that no man is capable of humbling himself before a righteous God in genuine repentance. Romans 3:10-11 says,

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
not even one
.”

Reformed theology teaches that sin has so radically corrupted the human soul that repentance is impossible unless the Holy Spirit first imparts a new nature that can respond to God. Jesus told Nicodemas, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5-8)

Spiritual rebirth precedes believing faith. It is an invisible process that takes place at God’s direction and is prompted by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

Justification by Faith
This doctrine is understood in much the same way by both evangelical and reformed believers and so does not require explanation other than to say that all men are born sinners and cannot achieve righteousness on their own. The only righteousness available to them is the righteousness of Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life and then offered up his life as a sacrifice for the justification of the elect.

Preservation of the Saints
This doctrine is more commonly known as the perseverance of the saints. I prefer the term preservation over perseverance because, like every other aspect of salvation, it is a result of the sovereignty of God. Preservation means that God keeps us saved. Perseverance means that we remain saved. In either case, the true believer cannot lose his salvation. But the reason why is important. If salvation is entirely a work of God, then he cannot fail to bring his work to a successful conclusion. He holds us in an unbreakable grip. As Paul says in Romans 8, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38). He explains his reasons for such confidence in the preceding verses. If God did not withhold his most precious Son but gave him up for us while we were still at enmity with him, why would he withhold any good gift from us now that we have been reconciled to him? The Judge Himself has justified us. We have no reason to fear condemnation.

The Westminster Catechism expresses this truth beautifully. Chapter 17.1 says, “They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”

Why Theology is Important
These doctrines should inform our study of the scriptures. They provide the guard rails to prevent us from going astray and a context to help us reconcile seemingly contradictory verses of scripture.

For example, how are we to understand a verse like 1 Timothy 4:9-10 if we do not put it into the larger context of scripture? At first glance it seems to be telling us that Christ saves both believers and unbelievers, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” The doctrine of justification by faith alone tells us that only believers are saved. So in what sense does God save all people? And what is special about the salvation of those who believe?  Well, we already know that the salvation of those who believe is forever. So from what are those who don’t believe saved? They are spared from immediate destruction by the wrath of God which would consume them if it weren’t for his patience and mercy. Paul explains this seeming contradiction in Romans 9:22-24, “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…?” 

Bible study that is unguided by sound theology is prone to error. I have heard all kinds of error taught in small group Bible studies. In small groups, everyone’s contribution is welcome. But not everyone’s contribution is equal.  Some believers are more firmly grounded in scripture and their insights are more accurate. Many of these groups foster a “there are no wrong answers” type of environment. But there is only one truth, not multiple versions of the truth. God wants us to understand the Bible one way and one way only – the way he intended it. That is why we must respect the contributions of those great saints who came before us and whose wisdom has withstood the test of time.

The meaning God’s word does not evolve with time. It remains the same throughout the ages because God does not change. If Bible study produces novel teaching, it is producing heresy. Yet Christian bookstores continue to pump out the latest Christian fad from Church Growth strategies to Seeker Friendly to the Purpose Driven Church to Contemplative Spirituality to the New Apostolic Revival. You would be hard pressed to find Christian classics like the works of St. Augustine or Martin Luther or John Calvin or any of the reformers or Puritans on the shelves of Christian bookstores.  Yet the true church has been built on the shoulders of these great saints, not the promoters of the latest evangelism technique or church growth method.

 

 

Posted in Assurance of Salvation, Election, False Teaching, Reformation, Reformed Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Affections – The Sign of True Faith

There is a show on local Christian radio here in the Chicago area called, “In the Marketplace with Janet Parshall.” The host likes to quote Luke 6:45b, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”  The preceding part of that verse says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” (Lk 6:45a). The gist is that a man’s words are an indication of what is in his heart, therefore we can know something about what he believes by what he says. So, if a man says that Jesus Christ was a cynic, we would not expect him to be sympathetic to the Christian faith. Yet on one occasion, Mrs. Parshall reprimanded one of her callers for suggesting that President Obama, the man who said those words, is a Muslim. She objected because Mr. Obama himself claims to be a Christian and she believes we should take him at his word. Barack Obama is the same man who forced Christian employers to provide health insurance policies that cover abortion in violation of their Christian beliefs and who blames the Christian church for many of the world’s evils. A quick search for Obama quotes on Youtube shows that he is far more sympathetic toward the Prophet Mohammed than he is toward Jesus Christ. Judging by his words, it is far more likely he that he is a Muslim than that he is a Christian, despite what Janet Parshall says.

Words vs. Deeds
In today’s pluralistic culture, it is considered uncharitable to pass judgment on another’s profession of faith despite that person’s unchristian or even anti-christian behavior. Who can know what goes on inside someone else’s heart, the argument goes. If he calls himself a Christian, we should take him at his word. But the Bible is clear that when a person becomes a believer, his behavior always changes. The reason it changes is that true believers receive new spiritual life when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in their hearts. So that Spirit, the very Spirit of Jesus Christ, immediately begins producing new Christ-like behaviors. If it doesn’t, it is likely that spiritual birth never occurred.

Not only will the Holy Spirit begin to change the new believer’s behavior, it will also begin to transform his affections and thought patterns. “Old things are passed away, behold all things have become new,” says 2 Corinthians 5:17. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” With faith comes transformation of the believer’s very thought processes to conform them to the mind of Christ.

In the heart of every true believer there is a love for Christ demonstrated by a desire to know his word and to obey it. Jesus says that the one who loves him will obey his commandments, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). The person who does not practice obedience to Christ neither loves him nor is loved by Christ or God the Father.

There is also a love for other believers and a desire to spend time with them in worship together. The writer of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,” (Heb 10:24-25). David had a profound love for worship. He said, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Ps 122:1). He also had a deep love for God’s word. Psalms 19 and 119 are filled with praise for the word of God and the benefits of obeying it. The Psalmist says:

In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
(Ps 119:14-16).

The rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:9-10)

A true believer will have a craving for sound biblical teaching and preaching. He will be able to say with Peter when Jesus asked the disciples if they would ever leave him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The true believer will have an insatiable appetite for the word of God.

Misplaced Affections
My wife and I recently left a church we had been attending for several years because we could no longer bear the cavalier attitude towards the word of God. The pastor was not a good preacher. It was clear he put very little effort into the preparation of his messages. He took every opportunity to outsource the preaching and teaching to others. He relied very heavily on his wife who was a much better preacher and teacher, but she contracted cancer and passed away. Without her, he was simply unable to carry on and soon secretly remarried and resigned his pastorate. The church, which actually has three congregations, is now without a single pastor, all three having moved on. Only one of the pastors devoted himself diligently to the preaching and teaching ministries.

There is a small group of people in that church who have become discontent with the lack of good preaching and teaching and are looking for another church. But the amazing thing is how few are willing to leave in search of better pastures. Most are content with the pathetic quality of the ministry of the word of God. This raises serious questions about the genuineness of their relationship with Christ, which apparently is not strong enough to overcome their desire to stay in familiar surroundings.

My wife and I, on the other hand, did not have to go far to find a church where the ministry of the word of God is held in high regard. Just one mile down the road we found a church where the pastor is a very skilled Bible expositor and the worship is refreshingly reverent. We have tried to encourage members of the other church to join us by sharing sermons with them and inviting them to come to worship, but only a few have taken us up on the offer.

The Path to Revival
It is sad because this little church is clearly on the wrong path and on its way to extinction if things don’t change. And there are many more churches where the same thing is true, where there is a lack of appetite for the faithful preaching and teaching of the word of God, where the ministry is based on the personality of the preacher or the attractiveness of the programs or personal friendships rather than faithfulness to the ministry of the word.

Social Media – Barometer of True Affections
There are few places in our society where discussions of religion and politics are welcome. But social media presents a great opportunity for sharing spiritual truths because it is an open forum where anything and everything can be discussed. Facebook is a powerful indicator of where people’s real affections lie. Christians post pictures of the food they eat, the company they keep, their activities, their families, their hobbies, and their travels. But very few share anything about Jesus Christ from the word of God or Christian media.  Few exhibit the change in affections from the things of this world to the things of Christ.

Matthew 17:17-20 says, “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” So it is possible to distinguish between believers and unbelievers based on their conduct and what they cherish regardless of their profession of faith. If we were only able to rely on a person’s profession, then the church would cease to be a redeeming influence on the world, since its attitudes and behaviors are in many cases no different from the attitudes and behaviors of the world.

The book of Acts records how the scribes and elders marveled at Peter and John when they were brought before the council for preaching Christ, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 3:13). We need a revival of sound biblical teaching that will lead to genuine transformation of people’s affections from the things of this world to the things of Christ in order that the world might take note of the fact that we have been with Christ and give glory to God. As Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Posted in Church Reform, Lukewarm Church, new birth, Reformation, Revival, sanctification | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Let Your Wounds Cripple You

One of the most tragic things that can happen to a person is to let discouragement define and defeat him.

Yielding to Discouragement
There is a man who lives in my town who lost his business to eminent domain. The city wanted his property for a project and they forced him to sell. Rather than simply accept a situation he could not change to pursue other employment, he decided to protest by pitching his tent on public property. He has lived in this tent for years now through the hottest summer days and the coldest winter nights. I drive by him several times a week on my way to and from town. He has two tents now and a little solar panel for powering his laptop so he can maintain his Facebook page. A little sign that says, “He is risen” is perched beside his tent alongside another that says, “Resist.” This man was a perfectly normal businessman before tragedy struck.

I also know a woman who has been unable to get over a personal tragedy that happened  many years ago. She has become a hoarder and her townhouse is so crammed with stuff that it is impossible to get in the front door. Her plumbing sprung a leak and she cannot afford to have the damage fixed, so she showers at the Park District. Her neighbors have complained to the condo association about the mess and the association has warned her to clean up the place and fix the plumbing or she will be forced to move. When my wife and I learned of her situation, we decided to try to help her. I took her to the bank to apply for a loan for the repairs, but she did not qualify. Every place she went, she rehearsed her woes before strangers who were powerless to help. None of these abnormal behaviors were characteristic of her before the tragedy.

Just this past weekend we attended the graduation party of a friend. She completed her masters degree in family counseling, quite an accomplishment for an immigrant from rural China who could not even speak English a few years ago. Her husband, born and raised in the United States, was unable to graduate from the same program. After she thanked the group for their support, he got up to speak of his own depression over his academic failures, throwing a wet blanket on her celebration. During that evening, I heard from other members of the group who shared their own personal discouragements, a practice that was encouraged by the leader, reinforcing their negative attitudes. These folks are headed down the same road as the businessman and the hoarder.

The Destructive Power of Negative Thinking
I have noticed a pattern among people who nurse their grievances. They are so consumed with their own hurts that they are of little good to anyone else. They become a drain on the sympathy and generosity of others. If they do not find a way out of their malaise, they will experience repeated defeat and discouragement as they come to expect the worst from life. This ultimately leads to serious psychological impairment.

For instance, the woman who became a hoarder constantly complained that her mind just wasn’t working right. She was often confused and unfocused. The man who took up residence in a tent posted his solution to abortion on his Facebook page. His idea is to harvest the embryos from pregnant women who don’t want a child and plant them in women who do. He thinks this will save the children and appease pro-choice advocates at the same time — truly a bizarre idea.

I myself harbored resentment for some personal tragedies for years. It eventually lead to manic depression. Only when I was willing to let the resentment go did the depression go away restoring my thought processes to normal.

Reality Check
We live a very privileged life compared to previous generations. Yet we complain much more. Life is filled with conveniences and comforts that our parents and grandparents could never imagine. Some of them watched comrades brutally slain in World Wars I and II. Others experienced hunger and privation in the Great Depression. Yet they were not preoccupied with their own suffering. They expected life to be tough because that is all they had ever known.

Even the queen of England recently had to admonish Prince William and Harry to stop their “soul baring” over their mother’s tragic death and take up their royal responsibilities like their ailing grandfather, who at age ninety-six has only recently decided to relinquish a very active role in the affairs of state.  It seems not even the royal family is exempt from this kind of defeatist mentality.

Unbecoming Behavior
Nursing grievances and harboring grudges certainly does not befit the child of God, given the blessings he or she enjoys in Jesus Christ. Paul breaks into a marvelous eulogy of praise as he enumerates these blessings in the first chapter of Ephesians. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” he says as he goes on to describe the blessings that belong to believers. These include adoption into God’s family (v 5), redemption through the blood of Christ (v 7), forgiveness of our sins (v 7), union with Christ (v 10), an eternal inheritance (v 11), and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (v 13). Then he goes on to pray that the Ephesians will lay hold of these blessings, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (v 16-19).

These blessings have been secured for us by Jesus Christ, though we will not realize them fully until we are with Christ in heaven. But that does not make them any less real. In the meantime, Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus promises us that life will be difficult because we are aliens in a hostile world. Yet the Apostle Paul can say, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). In his letter to the church at Rome he says,  “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:37). There are many examples in scripture of saints who have endured abandonment by their families (Joseph), multiple catastrophes (Job), torture (Samson), beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck (Paul), and betrayal (David). None of these wallowed in their misfortunes. All were commended for their faith. 

Be Strong
God tells us to be strong in the face of adversity. He said to Joshua “be strong and of good courage” when he went up against the inhabitants of Canaan, a people far greater in number and much larger in size. Paul told Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:2). Hebrews describes the men of faith this way, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Heb 11:32-34). These men were not incapacitated by misfortune or undone by their hardships. They overcame adversity through faith in their service to God.

We must not let the past drag us down by continually rehearsing our failures. Paul called himself the least of the apostles because he persecuted the saints. But he did not let guilt disqualify him from serving God. He said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).

How does God respond to those who wallow in their weakness? Ask Moses. When God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” And how did the Lord react? “Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (Ex 4:10-14). God does not indulge our excuses the way our enabling brothers and sisters sometimes do in the name of compassion.

The Antidote
Isaiah says of our Savior, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Is 42:3). That is to say, he will nurture and strengthen the smallest faith and fan it into flame.  For our part we must abandon the mindset that makes excuses and “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and… run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2).

Philippians 4:8 gives us the antidote for the kind of negative thinking that can incapacitate us for Christ’s service, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). What are these things? They are the very things that Paul describes in Ephesians 1 – all the benefits that are ours in Jesus Christ. By consciously focusing on these things, we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds and transform us into vessels that are fit for Christ’s service (Rom 12:2). The alternative is to spiral down into the abyss of self pity where we are of use to no one, and to receive condemnation from a Master who expects us to produce a generous return on the price he has paid for us. 

Posted in sanctification, spiritual growth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Theology Matters

We live in a pluralistic society comprised of many nationalities, languages and religions. In order to accommodate all the diversity in such a society, those who shape our institutions have upheld multiculturalism as our most basic defining value. It is our tolerance for such diversity that they feel holds us together. So they call for acceptance of all manner of differences from race to gender to sexual proclivities and even perceived gender identities.

This propensity for inclusiveness has led to a profound inability to differentiate between attitudes and behaviors that are conducive to the well being of society and those that are not. Clearly some behaviors promote such things as strong families, good mental health, peace and prosperity and others do not. But to be dogmatic about these things is considered the height of intolerance. To make them a matter of contention is even worse.

Unfortunately, this attitude has crept into Christian circles, where there is a tendency to accommodate a variety of viewpoints with respect to the meaning of scripture. Yet if the purpose of scripture is to reveal the true nature of God, then any given passage of scripture can only have one meaning — the one God intended it to have. That is, unless you believe God is unsure of what He wants to say or how He wants to say it.

That is why theology is so important in interpreting scripture. A wrong understanding of God will ultimately lead to an incorrect understanding of His Word. Yet the permissive attitudes of society have so permeated the church that it is considered bad form in many Christian circles to insist upon a single authoritative theology when interpreting scripture.

Theology is important because differences in theology produce different understandings of scripture, which, in turn produce different attitudes and behaviors. For instance, the person who believes that the Bible teaches that man is so corrupted by sin that he cannot choose Christ unless the Holy Spirit first imparts some spiritual life to him will feel very differently about the security of his salvation than the person who believes he has enough spiritual vitality to make a decision for Christ in the first place. The first person will believe that he can rest on Christ’s sufficiency in preserving his salvation, since the One who chose him cannot possibly make a mistake. But the man who believes he was the one who chose Christ has no such assurance because he is relying ultimately on his own flawed will. Ironically, the man who has a greater consciousness of his own sin is the one who also has a greater confidence in his own salvation!

The man who relies wholly on Christ for salvation also approaches evangelism differently from the man who accepts Christ of his own volition. He realizes that it is Christ through His word who draws men and women to Himself, and not his own ability to persuade through rhetoric or methodology. So he proclaims the word and then lets the Holy Spirit use that word to bring repentance and faith to those whom God chooses. The other man couches the gospel in appealing terms in order to reduce objections because people make choices based on perceived benefits and a belief in their ability to judge what is best. This attitude produced the “seeker friendly” movement, which spawned the “megachurch” which has placed the appeal of worship in the pleasure of man rather than the pleasure of God. The result is that there are a multitude of comfort seeking Christians rather than sacrifice keeping saints in the pews. That is why much of secular society considers Christians a bunch of hypocrites.

So the difference between wrong theology and right theology can be the difference between a people pleasing church and one that provides a striking contrast between the holiness of God and sinfulness of man. That’s not inconsequential!

Posted in Reformed Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Easter and Evil

We are all familiar with the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. But several things jumped out at me as I considered the Easter story again this year in the run-up to Holy Week. These are observations I had not made before.

1. Christ did not die from the wounds inflicted upon Him on the cross. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17-18) He had to willingly give up his spirit when He died on the cross.

2. Every other crucified person eventually lost the strength to lift up their body so they could take another breath. When they no longer had the strength to do so they suffocated. So they all lost consciousness before dying. Jesus was not only conscious when he took His last breath, but his last words were a loud cry which took a full lung of air, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! And having said this he breathed his last.” (Lk 23:46) He did not suffocate. He gave up His spirit. 

3. Jesus was nailed to the cross at about 9 am. The first three hours He received merciless ridicule and torment from the bystanders. But God’s wrath did not descend upon him until noon when the sky suddenly went pitch black as though someone had flipped a switch and turned out all the lights. There was no sun or moon or stars. This was not an eclipse. We know because Jesus was crucified on Passover. Passover is based on the lunar calendar and always occurs during a full moon. When Jesus was on the cross, the moon was on the side of the earth opposite the sun, not between the earth and the sun. The darkness that enveloped the earth was supernatural. It was palpable and absolutely terrifying.

4. The crowd was so terrified that they stopped mocking and immediately began beating their breasts in fear. Now God the Father began pouring out the full measure of His wrath against sin. A violent earthquake broke rocks into pieces. Graves were opened up and dead people came to life. (Lk 23:44-49, Mt. 27:45-54) Amazingly, this display of divine fury was directed against the One God called, “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” ( Mt 3:16-17). It was not directed against those who mocked Him and scourged Him and crucified Him, as one might expect. Jesus was absorbing the punishment of those very people. So for three hours Jesus endured the hatred of man against God and for three more interminable hours he suffered the wrath of almighty God against sinful man. He could have chosen to stop the whole ordeal at any time, but He didn’t. He yielded to His Father’s will which was to make Him an offering for sin.

5. Jesus died at 3 pm, the exact hour the priests began the Passover sacrifice of thousands of lambs for the sins of the Jews. At that same time, the massive curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Jewish Temple was ripped from the top to the bottom as though an invisible hand had torn it in two, no doubt throwing the Temple into chaos and disrupting the sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice had opened access to God.  Animal sacrifices were no longer necessary.

6. Some years later in 70 AD the temple was finally destroyed by the Romans as Jesus had predicted. This effectively abolished animal sacrifice. Now the Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the same site, desecrating the place where the temple once stood.

Jesus’ Boundless Love
Think about the events leading up to Good Friday from Jesus’ perspective. From the very beginning Jesus knew how He would die and when it would happen. Because He knew all things, He knew what it would feel like. Yet this was the very purpose for which He had come and the time he called, “my hour.” He had an eternity to think about it, to anticipate it. In the days leading up to His crucifixion, he said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Lk 12:50). As he contemplated what awaited Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, his anguish was so great that he sweat great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). Even so, He was not consumed by His own troubles to the extent that He could think of no one but Himself. Any other human being facing the same fate would have been unable to think of anyone but himself. But even in the midst of His agony, Jesus’ foremost thought was still the welfare of His loved ones.

Consider Jesus’ prayer for His disciples the very night before His crucifixion. This was the night Judas betrayed Him. See how he pleads with the Father to protect the disciples, to sanctify them, to fill them with the love of God and to unify and glorify them together with Him and His Father (John 17:6-26). What a heartfelt and selfless prayer given the awful events that await Him in just a few hours! The entire prayer is devoted to His followers. He made not one plea for Himself.

Then consider the selfishness of the disciples. Rather than share Jesus’ sorrow after He told them they were going to Jerusalem where He would be killed, they began to argue about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven! Jesus had to sit them down and wash their feet to show them that in His kingdom the way to greatness is through humble service (Luke 22:14-27)! Another selfless act of compassion.

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, Where are you going?” (John 16:5)  He is disappointed that they show no concern about His troubles. He says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (v16). Finally the disciples want to know what He is talking about. But He tells them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (v 12). Despite their indifference to His sorrow, He is worried about how they will take the news! He does not want to burden them with the details of His coming death because it would crush them! And yet He is the one who is about to be crushed for their sins, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Is 53:5). And in a very magnanimous gesture toward such heartless friends, He says to them, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me,” (John 16:27). Shortly after that, they all abandoned Him. That is hardly something someone would say to His closest friends on the eve of their betrayal!

Then Jesus asks His disciples to pray for Him as they await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. While He is pouring out His soul in prayer to His Father, His disciples fall asleep! Finding them all asleep, He says, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mt 26:40). Even then He didn’t chastise them for their lack of compassion. Instead, He warned them against falling into temptation, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mt 26:41). Then when the soldiers came to arrest Him, Jesus interceded with them to let the disciples go free, leaving Himself without any earthly companions to provide comfort through the coming ordeal (John 18:8).

After His trial when Jesus was carrying His cross to the place of His crucifixion, a great crowd followed Him. The women were weeping loudly. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Lk 23:28) because He knew that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans just a few short years later in judgment for their unbelief. He was grieved because of the ruin that would soon come upon them!

In the days just before His crucifixion, he gazed longingly at Jerusalem and speaking of its coming devastation said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 13:34)He was grieving for the bloodthirsty mob that was about to ruthlessly scourge Him, mock Him and nail Him to a cross!

His very first words as He hung on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). He told the thief who had been mocking Him along with the others but suddenly decided to repent, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). No hesitation, no recrimination, only compassion.

Then, Jesus saw his mother standing with John. The Bible describes John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). He was very close to the family and was there offering comfort to Mary. The Bible says, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son!” Then he told John, “Behold, your mother! ” (John 19:26-27) After that John took her into his home to care for her. In Jewish custom, it was the practice of the elder son to look after his mother in her old age. Now, out of compassion for Mary, Jesus was handing her care over to the disciple who was closest to Him.

God Absorbs Evil
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the epitome of evil. Man’s rebellion against God had culminated in the murder of His only Son. And people ask, “How could a loving God allow evil?” Evil is our fault! Nonetheless, Christ is not indifferent to the evil we have brought upon ourselves. He absorbed the full force of that evil — the worst that man can do– the first three hours on the cross. Then He absorbed the full fury of God’s wrath against evil the second three hours on the cross. He was betrayed by man and abandoned by God. That is how God dealt with the problem of evil — by absorbing it and then destroying it so that evil-doers can be set free from the power of evil. The book of Hebrews puts it this way, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

Jesus did this to show the extent of His love, mercy and grace to a people who were hostile toward Him. It is not good people who go to heaven, but forgiven people like the thief who repented on the cross. Some of the sinners in heaven are worse than those in hell. But the sinners in heaven have all been forgiven.

The Immeasurable Riches of God’s Grace
In the book of Revelation we have an account of heaven as seen by the Apostle John. All of heaven gathers round the throne of the risen Christ and says:

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.
(Rev 5: 9-10)

What makes Jesus worthy of such praise is the gracious way He responded to His Father’s will — to endure the physical abuse and utter humiliation of the cross and the wrath of Almighty God for the sake of the very people who were so determined to destroy Him. Without Easter it would be impossible to know the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and mercy.

As the book of Ephesians says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7).  Jesus Christ took the worst both man and God had to offer and in exchange offered love and life and even a place of honor in His kingdom! In the words of that great hymn, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Jesus. What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord!

Posted in Easter, salvation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where America Went Wrong

While listening to the news the other day I heard a leader in the Democratic Party ask the most recent Supreme Court nominee if he took the extreme position that abortion is murder. Then I heard a report about a legal case in California involving two folks who exposed the officials of Planned Parenthood on video discussing the harvesting and sale of aborted baby parts. The story was not about Planned Parenthood violating federal law but about the violation of their free speech rights because they were recorded secretly. I don’t see how taking the actual words of people and disseminating them widely without commentary can be considered a violation of free speech. To  me it seems more like amplification of free speech. There was a third item about a county in Maryland that was taking action to protect the rights of two illegal immigrants who had violently raped and sodomized a fourteen year old girl in a school bathroom. The fourth report was an update on the overturn of a piece of legislation in North Carolina that would have protected the privacy of women and children from members of the opposite sex who want to share their bathrooms in public places.

There was a day when these kinds of views would have been considered extreme. But today those who condemn them are called extremists. When I was young, homosexual behavior was not accepted by society. Gay people were referred to as “queers” and “faggots.” In those days, these were not complementary terms. Although there were effeminate men and female “Tomboys,” no one would have suggested that the men should be allowed to use the women’s bathroom and the girls to use the men’s facilities. In fact, all the Tomboys eventually outgrew their boyish ways and many turned into beautiful, very feminine women. And most of the effeminate boys later developed masculine identities.

Don’t Force Your Morals on Me
But I think I know where all this began and how it all came about. When I was a child, there was a running debate about whose morals were right. Although no one advocated the kind of perversion that passes for evolving morality today, people did rebel against the idea that the Ten Commandments should be the moral standard for everyone. The argument “Who are you Christians to shove your moral standards down my throat” was often heard. Nevertheless, people in those days would have been abhorred at the idea of ripping babies out of their mother’s wombs and selling their body parts for medical research. Almost everyone would have considered such actions abominable and tantamount to murder. Becoming pregnant outside of marriage was looked upon askance. The high school girls who were sexually active were considered “loose” and  easy targets for sexual predators. They were in the minority and generally such behavior was frowned upon. The notion of “consensual sex” was not considered a justification for extra-marital affairs. And if some guy were to suddenly come to school dressed “in drag,” as they said in those days, he would have been scorned by every self-respecting male. All of these values are expressed in one form or another in the Ten Commandments.

So even though people objected to the Ten Commandments as a universal moral code, biblical morality was nonetheless deeply embedded in the social order. But even back then the foundation was being laid for the day when an anti-moral minority would hijack the media, academia and the courts and use them to impose their own upside-down view of morality on the rest of society. So today, what used to be considered good conduct necessary to the flourishing of a healthy and prosperous society has come to be called extreme, right-wing and dangerous to the rights of people who insist on undermining the common good.

So, for example, while prayer, the Bible, the cross, the creche and other symbols of Christianity have been removed from the classroom and other public places, prayer rooms have been provided for Muslims, adherents of a pagan religion that oppresses women and brutally murders people of other faiths. While the left-wing zealots insist on rights for practitioners of sexual perversion, they deny the rights  of Christians to practice and share their faith in public. They oppose censorship when it comes to pornography, but attack advocates of conservative ideas and values when they speak on college campuses. While touting  “tolerance” they have imposed their own oppressive moral code of “Political Correctness” in place of the Ten Commandments.

Moral Chaos
The result has been a very mixed bag of morals that has no coherence or consistency because it is based on the dictates of a few radical extremists rather than an objective moral order. For example, the proponents of these extreme views insist upon the right of people suffering from gender dysphoria to use whatever public restroom they like, whether male or female, violating the right of normal men and women to take care of personal business in private. On the other hand, they insist on the privacy of women who choose to abort their own offspring, denying unborn babies their right to life. So in their moral order, or lack thereof, the right to privacy trumps the right to life but not the right to use whatever bathroom one chooses. By extension, the right to use the bathroom of one’s choice trumps the right to life. This is the kind of moral chaos we live in today.

In today’s moral universe, the top rungs of the moral order are “tolerance,” “inclusion” and “diversity.” Every viewpoint must be respected including the viewpoint of those who are the most intolerant. In this scheme, right and wrong is evolving with changing moral standards and should therefore be decided in the public arena.   However, it is not majority rule. A small, but very vocal group of political and social elites has set the agenda by virtue of an aggressive strategy to take control of those levers of power that are least susceptible to public persuasion, like the courts, academia, and the media. This view is called “Secularism.” According to this view, those who insist on an unchanging moral order are “on the wrong side of the arc of moral history.”

The Tyranny of the Left
As long as these folks get their way, everything goes along fairly peacefully. There was comparatively little social unrest during the Obama years. But when Trump got into office, things rapidly went south. Rather than using the legitimate means of dissent provided by our system of government to express their opposition, they immediately took to the streets in violent protests. They have employed the media and courts to intimidate those who used the lawful means of a popular election to promote their views. These self-styled champions of tolerance will use whatever means they deem necessary to silence their opponents.

That is why those who stand for traditional values are loathe to openly express their political and religious views publicly. The left, on the other hand, doesn’t share the same fear because their opponents are law-abiding, peaceful citizens. It is not unusual to see liberals emblazon their cars with all kinds of stickers protesting everything from global warming to the right to life. But I didn’t see a single Trump bumper sticker during the last election cycle. People don’t want some angry leftist to “key” their car.

How We Got Here
I still remember when our side warned that gay rights would eventually lead to gay marriage. Back then, the left said we were over-reacting. Since then the courts have not only affirmed the right to gay marriage but the right of one gender to use the public bathrooms of the other. And the idea that traditional morals are in retreat is openly embraced as inevitable.  No one on the left accuses the right of over-reacting to their radical moral agenda anymore. They just consign them to the “basket of deplorables” who are on the wrong side of the “arc of moral history.” They don’t have to hide their agenda anymore because they have so thoroughly intimidated conservatives.

There is no single cause for this moral collapse. But there were significant mileposts on the way. Many people cite the removal of prayer from the public schools. Back in the early 1960s when that happened, America had the best schools in the world. Now they rank below some former third world countries in math and science.

Another significant milepost was the opening of stores and other businesses on Sundays. There is a very memorable line from a recent popular movie that captures the importance of this development for the rise of secularism. It is based on the true story of a doctor who established the relationship between serious brain trauma among professional football players and collisions on the football field. When he tried to publish his research, he was met by fierce opposition from the National Football League. In a meeting with one of the officials, he was asked, “Do you really think you can win this battle? Do you know who you are up against? Why we’re so powerful we actually own a day of the week. The one that used to belong to God!

The Importance of a Sabbath Rest
God set aside the last day of the week as a day of rest from the very beginning of creation. He told the Israelites, “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; anyone who does work on the Sabbath day must surely be put to death ...for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:15-17). This was so important that refusal to obey carried a death sentence. Not only did God command his people to refrain from work on the Sabbath, but he also commanded them to give their land a rest from cultivation every seventh year. Their failure to do so was one of the reasons they were eventually banished from the land he had given them (Lev 26:34).

Why is keeping the Sabbath so important? By setting aside their daily tasks and coming together as a people to worship the Lord, God’s people not only honor him but identify with him publicly. For the Jew, the importance of the Sabbath was to honor God as Creator, the giver of every good thing. For the Christian believer, the reason is to honor Jesus Christ for saving us from our sins. We keep the first day of the week as our Sabbath because that is the day on which Christ arose from the dead.

When merchants began opening their stores on Sundays many years ago, Christians stayed home. But over the years as the practice became more widespread, they eventually began shopping on Sundays too. Now there is no longer any one day of the week dedicated solely to the worship of God. Life goes on at the same pace as it does the rest of the week. There is no opportunity to completely rest from our labors and withdraw from worldly pursuits. Because there is no break in the rhythm of daily life, people come to church distracted by all the things that occupy their minds during the week. The family has no opportunity to set aside its normal activities to spend time together in worship and quiet reflection. Instead, it is pulled apart as adults pursue their pastimes and children participate in sports and other activities after church. The only quiet time left is Sunday evening when everyone is preparing to go back to work and school. Instead of spending this time in evening worship like so many people used to do, now many spend it watching Sunday night football.

So What is the Remedy?
It is probably too late in the game to turn things around on a societal scale. We will never be able to get stores to close their doors on Sundays again. Nor will we ever persuade people to give up their Sunday sports and shopping. But one small thing we can do. We can begin coming to church early, making a beeline for the sanctuary and spending ten or fifteen minutes going over the order of worship. I like to read all the scripture passages and the lyrics to the hymns.  This quiets my heart for worship and gets me thinking about the content of the message.

I don’t know about you, but I am terribly weary of people coming into church on a Sunday morning at the last minute, spending time talking noisily with their friends in the lobby, and making their way to the sanctuary to take their seat at the very last minute. We all have enough control over our own behaviors to at least change the way we approach worship on a Sunday morning. Maybe if enough of us get seated early, others will take notice and follow suit. At least that way we can change the church worship culture to make it a little bit more reverent and respectful of the One who deserves our adoration. It may seem like a very small thing given the overwhelming secularization of our society, but it might be a small first step in combating the secularization of the church.

Posted in Worship | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment