Monday, July 25, 2016

A Touch of Humor - Turnabout

Is this country in a state of spiritual weakness? What can be done about it?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Pretense

God wants our willing obedience, not our grudging pretense of devotion.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Augustine

For no fruit is good that does not grow from the root of love. If, however, that faith be present which worketh by love, then one  begins to delight in the law of God after the inward man, and this delight is the work of the spirit, not of the letter; even though there is another law in our members still warring against the law of the mind, until the old state is changed, and passes into that newness which increases from day to day in the inward man, whilst the grace of God is liberating us from the body of this death through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Augustine of Hippo, 354 - 430 AD, On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 26 (translated by Peter Holmes, Rev. Robert Ernest Wallis, and Benjamin B. Warfield, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, First Series, Vol. V, p. 94).

Is a good work only a good work if motivated by love? What are the implications of this?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Whence Morals?

Outside of the teaching of the Word of God there are only two arguments for the sinfulness of human beings. All of human history and all of human experience. We try frequently to evade this conclusion by grading on a curve. But God does not grade this way (Romans 3:23; Matthew 5:48; James 2:10). However, there is a deeper question here: why is it we as human beings fall short of God’s standard? But more than that, we even fall short of our own standards. What person who has more than a rudimentary idea of right and wrong can say they honestly consistently live up to it? So what are the possible explanations for this?   

We can say that this is just the way it is. Human beings are just more developed animals, with a veneer of civilization. We really cannot expect any more from them. Which makes our situation hopeless. And leaves us with the question of where we ever got this strange idea of moral standards anyway. Do animals evolve standards of behavior that are totally contrary to their nature? Or we can put our trust in progress; if we just have enough education, enough science, enough time, we will overcome our problems. The problem with this is it has been the philosophy of western civilization for some time now. And it has failed miserably. Instead of a culture steadily ripening toward perfection we have experienced two world wars, the cold war, the killing fields, Nazism, Communism, the atom bomb, chemical and biological warfare, and many other major setbacks. The last century was quite possibly the bloodiest one in the whole history of the human race. Or maybe if we just try and work harder at it we can change things. But we always seem to fail.

The Christian answer is that we live in a world in rebellion against God (Romans 3:10-12; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Now I realize that this raises the question of whether it is fair for me to be responsible for something that is the result of the sin of another (Romans 5:12, Genesis 3:1-7). I do not know of an easy answer to that one. I am not sure God’s justice always fits our ideas of fairness. But it is this situation that makes a solution possible. It is because we live in a world in rebellion against God that God can intervene and offer salvation. Jesus Christ, the One who is without sin, can offer Himself to pay the price for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18-21; Hebrews 2:14-18) and can undo what was done in Adam (Romans 5:15-20). Therefore, we can be saved through faith in Him (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Acts 16:31) and can wait for a time when God will change this world from its present condition to one in conformity to His will (Romans 8:19-23; Philippians 3:20,21; Revelation 21:3,4). For only in Christ do we find a real solution to the problem.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Led Into Difficulty

God can discipline, but He also can lead people into a difficult situation. We see this happening with Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 14). God had just delivered them from Egyptian bondage. But the Egyptians were pursuing them to recapture them. And God led them to a place where they were trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea. They were following where God led them, and it looked like an impossible trap. We see a similar event in the life of Christ (Matthew 8:18-27). Jesus gave the disciples orders to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And while Jesus was sleeping, a storm came up strong enough to cause  veteran fisherman to fear for their lives.  What should we make of this?

There is a tendency to believe that if someone is undergoing difficult circumstances it must be because they have done something wrong. There is a real Biblical basis for believing that God does use circumstances to correct people (Hebrews 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29-32; 1 Kings 8:31-53). But there are also clear passages of Scripture that repudiate the idea that this is a universal explanation of all suffering (Job 1,2; John 9:1-3; Isaiah 53). We are given the idea that those who follow God should expect trouble (John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; James 1:2-4) and even persecution (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12,13; Matthew 5:11,12). Why does God allow this? I do not claim to have easy answers or ones that explain every case in detail. But the basic idea is that God’s goal is not to make us happy but to teach us to trust Him, even in difficult circumstances (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; Hebrews 11:13-16). The result is that the struggles we go through help us to grow in Christ and become the people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28-30; 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-9).

Now the Israelites who followed Moses experienced clear deliverance when God split the Red Sea. The disciples of Jesus also experienced such a deliverance when Jesus calmed the sea. But Abraham died never possessing the land he was promised or seeing his descendants become a great nation. Elijah was taken up into heaven when Ahab and Jezebel were still reigning and Israel was still worshiping Baal. Jeremiah died with Judah having gone into captivity and the last remnant in the land going down into Egypt. So what we need to remember is that God is able to deliver us from whatever situation we find ourselves in (Luke 1:37; Matthew 19:26; Jeremiah 32:17). But God acts according to His will, and why He does particular things may be beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 55:8,9; Ephesians 1:11). However, we need to trust Him even if things do not go the way we think they ought to (Isaiah 40:31; Psalms 127:1,2; Hebrews 11:6).   

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Freedom from Slavery to Sin

In a fallen world under sin and a curse, we develop a distorted view of reality. We see freedom as the ability to indulge ourselves in everything we want to do. We see God has being a mean cosmic killjoy for not allowing us this freedom. And even if we decide to go along with what God says, we feel ourselves grand and noble for giving up such obviously desirable stuff for God’s sake. The Scripture wants to reorient our thinking here. We are told that those who commit sin are slaves to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:16; 2 Peter 2:19). We can see this with the gross sins: alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, and similar addictions. They start out as pleasurable and attractive and something desirable. But over time, craving sets in, and it becomes difficult to even try to give it up. It becomes clear that you do not have it; it has you. But we need to realize that other sins can have the same effect. We can start out grumbling and complaining about every minor inconvenience until we develop a habit of complaining that is hard to stop. We can go around telling tales about other people until we acquire a need to have things to tell about others. Every sin we start out thinking is a good thing is, in the end, a form of slavery that takes us captive.  

This therefore requires us to rethink our ideas of freedom and slavery. From God’s perspective, sin is not a good thing we heroically give up, but a slavery He has come to deliver us from (John 8:36; Romans 6:18; Galatians 5:13). For the fact of the matter is that sin, far from being a good thing, is the thing that would have destroyed us (Romans 6:21-23). As C. S. Lewis points out in The Screwtape Letters, Satan cannot produce a real pleasure, for every good thing comes from God (James 1:17). But sin is taking those pleasures in the wrong way or at the wrong time or in the wrong amounts. Underneath that is a set attitude of self-centeredness. We think we can live for ourselves, but ultimately we will end up either serving God or serving sin, with the consequences involved in that choice. Now do not get me wrong; I am far from claiming I have accomplished this change of perspective. I still fight with seeing sin as desirable and something to be pursued. But I believe the goal must be to change our way of thinking until we see sin the way God sees it. This, I believe, must be the ultimate answer to the accusation that if we are saved by grace, why not just go out and sin? God has paid an enormous price to rescue us out of that slavery (1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:24,25). Why would we want to go back into that bondage?