Don’t make the same mistake

I have already written about this a few blog posts back, but something recently hit a nerve again. Recently there were some devastating tornados. It was horrible. Lives were lost and families were destroyed and broken apart. The common question for the person watching it on TV is “Why?”

I personally do not believe we can actually say that we know why. Because we honestly do not know why. There is no way we can really know why. Yet some people and famous Pastors, such as John Piper, feel the need to say something. This time is no different, here is is blog post about it entitled “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God.”

I know it’s lame to quote yourself, and especially from a blog in which you only write every few months, but I wrote about John Piper’s statements about God and his supposed knowledge of why God does what he does. I said,

We like to think we have God figured out. And many times we act like we do have God figured out. I believe we have to be careful of claiming to know why God does what He does. Remember, God is infinite and therefore we could not possibly know why God does all He does. I personally believe we should not try and define the working of God in short pithy statements. But people do it all the time. Famous preachers and teachers do it all the time.

John Piper, to me, is notorious for doing this. He summarizes much of why God does what He does through simple, easy to remember one-liners. They sound good. They seem biblically sound, but is it the whole truth? Can God really be summarized by the fact that He does EVERYTHING for His glory? Can missions really be summarized by saying that “missions exists because worship doesn’t?” To me, John Piper seems to be claiming to know why God does all that He does. And of course he backs his arguments with Scripture, but what else is he leaving out? We need to be careful that even in our theological statements we aren’t putting God in our own theological box. I believe we always need to be recognizing that God is bigger than we can truly describe, and He cannot be put under our thumbnail.”

A pastor of mine from my childhood church wrote on his blog about this today. He humorously called it “OTD: Obsessed with Tornados Disorder.” He confesses it is a rant. And usually I am not much of a fan of rants, but I understand. When things get frustrating enough, sometimes a rant is the best way to deal with it.

I recommend reading it. I think it appropriately challenges some of the reactions of many people, such as John Piper, to events such as tornados. Personally, I was just glad to find out I was not the only one who thought these things.

What happened to the Old Testament?

What happened to the Old Testament?

I took Pentateuch and Historical Books class this past semester. (It was my last OT class of my time here in seminary!) It was so refreshing. Although one semester clearly is not enough to study so much material, it was still vastly helpful to my understanding of who Jesus is and what His atonement really has done for us. This has also been girded by an in depth study of Romans 1-3 this semester in my small group.

But the OT law and the tabernacle…wow! There is simply so much to read and understand. All the laws, the different types of laws, etc. It was interesting to really spend time on them. But God was serious about these things. The sacrifices that had to be offered for the cleansing of the the tabernacle, the sacrifices given for various offenses, the sacrifices given on account of the priest and for the people God took all very seriously. People could not simply enter into God’s presence whenever they wanted. They could not simply ask for God to forgive them and keep on living the same way and be considered righteous according to the law.

When Jesus came and “tabernacled amongst us” the presence of God was amongst all people. If people had seen Jesus, they could say that they had seen God. When Jesus died, He was both the perfect sacrifice given on account of all people and the High Priest who offers the sacrifice on our behalf. Through this “once for all” sacrifice God was satisfied to call all who believe upon Jesus Christ as the atonement for their sin righteous. This means that we can be in a relationship with God without fear or without restrictions. We can now approach God’s throne room in prayer knowing that He will hear us because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Of course we ask for the forgiveness of sins that we commit, but He has already forgiven them. He did so when Christ offered Himself as sin on our behalf. What a privilege! How often do we consider that as we so easily call to God in prayer? Usually because of something WE want.

The Old Testament is packed full of requirements for the people of Israel so that they might remain holy amongst all the people of the earth. They were to be different than all the other nations that surrounded them so that they would stand out as witnesses of Yahweh, the one true God of this world. Of course they fail time and time again. But God is so long-suffering. God is loves giving mercy. And He instigated time and time again opportunities for the Israelites to come back to Him even though they committed infidelity over and over with other “gods.” He pursued them. He pursued them so much that He came down Himself to die on our behalf so that we might be able to be in God’s presence — because He does have to punish sin. He is a righteous and holy God. And therefore sin had to be punished, and so He took the punishment upon Himself by sending Jesus, His only begotten Son, and made Him sin for us. Because of this we can now come into the presence of God. He does not attribute our sin to us. If He did, we would not be able to be in His presence. All we have to do is simply believe that. To God, faith is everything. That is exemplified over and over in His word. And to us faith should be everything. Because if we truly believe this, then it causes us to live our life in a certain way. It causes us to live in such a way that is line with what God expects from people living on this earth. In fact, it is not simply a way, it is THE way. This way only comes through Jesus Christ.

People have wanted to remind themselves over the centuries of the truths about Jesus Christ. To do so they have made creeds to memorize basic facts about God and the church. Two famous ones would be the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. Here is common version of the Apostle’s creed:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. [See Calvin]

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Amen.”

I have read this and thought in the past, “Wow, that’s great!”

But then, after having this class and after a comment made by another OT professor here at Trinity, I realized, “What ever happened to the OT?” There is nothing mentioned about it at all! No mention of the fall, the covenants made to Abraham, David, or Jeremiah. There is nothing mentioned about the tabernacle or the temple. There is nothing mentioned about sacrifices. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that there is no mention of the Exodus! I have a hard time believing that Moses or Joshua would be okay with memorizing a creed that does not mention the Exodus. God seems to think it was pretty important.

The OT is very important. Without it, we really wouldn’t understand how important and gracious Jesus really is to salvation history. As Christians it is tempting to only spend time in the New Testament. It seems more practical. The epistles are very helpful in knowing what we should be DOING. We love to think about what we should DO. But the OT helps us understand who Jesus is and was, and how God has historically dealt with sin. Sin is a very serious thing. We go to church on Sundays and hope that sermon won’t go too long. Punch in, punch out, and we’re good for the next week. But if we had a better appreciation of the OT, and took the time to understand the history of the nation of Israel and the world, we would have a much deeper understanding of our so great salvation. We would have a better understanding of how great a privilege it is to come before God. Ultimately, the OT would give us greater faith in who God is and what He has done for us — therefore causing us to live our lives differently.

Why the Ends Don’t Justify the Means

Why the Ends Don’t Justify the Means

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger.”

That is one of my favorite quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. To me it captures a truth so contrary to our everyday lives that we have a hard time truly accepting it. What that quote says to us practically is that the ends do not justify the means. Most people hold to the pragmatic idea that the ends DO indeed justify the means. It makes sense, right? Yes it does, if you don’t consider God.

In our relationship with God I believe that God is not results oriented. He is not ends oriented. God is means oriented. God cares about why and how we do things. He takes care of results. Are we faithful in how we are to live? Do we justify doing wrong (evil) in order to have a good result?

What I am saying is no small idea. It is not something that goes against a basic philosophy. What I am saying goes against the promoted and enforced American (and probably worldwide) idea of a results oriented society. We define success by the end result of our actions. We do “whatever it takes” to achieve excellence.

Many times we focus on what we believe God wants. We assume he wants us to do this, or go there, or say that. We do things we think God wants, when really what He wants is us. He wants all of us. He wants to KNOW us. It is so evident and clear throughout the prophets that God wants us to know Him intimately. Over and over God stated that He simply just wanted the people of Israel to KNOW Him. God had never left or forsaken Israel. They had left Him. Hosea 13:5 speaks to this idea:

5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of burning heat.
6 When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.”

God was there for Israel the whole time, even in the wilderness. He had never left them. As soon as they had gotten from God what they wanted, they became proud and forgot about God. Sadly, that is often the story of many of our lives.

The church in America has added significantly to the global Christian culture, or even civilization, throughout the world. Yes it has added significantly in both positive and negative ways. But this is much of the history of Christianity. Indeed, some of the most supposed “Christian” time periods in world history are also some of the darkest and bloodiest. But also, Christianity was the “ark” which safely protected civilization from extinction.

I believe that many of the common issues of the church today have come from our pragmatic mindsets. We have forgotten that churches grow. It is not meant to be a business. It is supposed to be a living and breathing organism, a body. We are the bride of Christ. We are not Walmart. The American church needs to examine itself and see if we are letting the word or the world dictate our actions. Os Guinness visited TEDS this past semester and had a few things to say in this line of thought. He said,

 The American church today is desperately weak because it is profoundly worldly. We have helped create the rise of the modern world, and we have become captive to the modern world that we have helped to create.”

In our churches and in our own individual lives we have let the results be the focus. We have let numbers and goals be our driving forces in our personal and congregational lives. But this mindset is too rationalistic and humanistic and it leaves no place for the power of God. Simply put, we lack faith. We lack true faith in the power of God, the power of the Gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit. God is interested in our faithfulness to Him. It was Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15).” But it is not simply about keeping commandments, either. It is going beyond the letter of the law and remaining faithful to Him — for “whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23).”

We are not completely careless about the means which lead to the result. We do care in some realms of life. Think about sports. We prohibit people taking enhancing drugs in order to be stronger and faster. Think about medicine. We want doctors and nurses to follow specific procedures and follow safety guideline to bring people to recovery or to a cure. That being said, we are still constantly bombarded with “the ends justify the means” mentality.

Think of shows like House. House is a doctor whose motto is “everybody lies.” Throughout the last seven seasons Dr. House has shown that he will do whatever it takes to save someone’s life. Yet, if there is seemingly no hope, he has no problem giving a shot of morphine to end someone’s suffering. And as we watch his brash attitude and medical malpractice we are somewhat forced to take his side. We are being persuaded that it is okay to brake a few rules so that the result is good. It is no coincidence that the show is staunchly anti-religion, and especially anti-Christian. That is because the mindset and philosophy of the ends justifying the means is anti-Christian at the core.

If we really believe that God is sovereign, if we really believe that God is good, and if we really believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6), then we will choose to always do what is right, no matter the consequences. To do right is always right because we serve a God who is righteous. To do wrong in order to achieve a good result shows a lack of faith in God, and says to God, “I don’t think that you are in control. I have to take this situation into my own hands.” It is idolatry. It shows that there is a lack of the fear of God in one’s actions. It is one thing to say that you fear God, and then another thing to actually live with that fear in your actions before Him and in your daily life.

Therefore, what I am saying to many sounds naive. To lie is always wrong and to kill is always wrong because sin is always sin and God is always good. God wants us to consistently love, know, and fear Him. We must do all things in faith (Heb 11:6) and heartily unto God (Col 3:23). It is the only way God is honored and glorified. To truly live as though you fear God will require child-like faith.

Sure, it seems often foolish. Sure, it seems often inefficient. But God is faithful, and He demands for us to be faithful as well.

Seven Steps to Genuine Christian Growth

Typically, we as Christians tend to compare ourselves to each other to define the “normal” Christian. If we look to someone we admire or respect as a Christian we many times make them a model of what we think being a Christian looks like. When it comes to sin, we don’t look to the cross or to Jesus, but rather to Christians who are participating in the same sins or “worse” sins as we are. This does nothing but lead to immature Christianity with a shallow faith and much hypocrisy. It is a Christianity that leads to loving by mere word and tongue, but not in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). Unfortunately this seems to be the typical consensus and understanding of what a Christian is like from non-Christians here in America. And this could be because that this is what the typical Christ is indeed like here in America.

Okay, so as we look at our lives I think we would all admit that we are guilty of comparing ourselves to others to help make ourselves not look or feel so bad for all of our shortcomings. By looking at a respected Christian and seeing their shortcomings we automatically think, If he is struggling and he is a mature and respected Christian then how am I supposed to expect to be any better? Or maybe you might say, Look at him! He’s my pastor and he has this problem in his life, then I must not be all that bad. Or perhaps you make yourself feel better by saying, Look at all these sinful Christians around me. I don’t have a problem with that sin. I must be doing alright! This then gives us an excuse to not try to live in obedience to God’s Word. But here inlies a big problem. We are not to compare ourselves to each other to see if we are living out the faith or to define what a good Christian looks like.

We are to only look to Christ, His cross, and His Word. We look to Him and instantly see a man that has not overthrown the law. He has not destroyed the law. He has fulfilled the law. He was a living fulfillment of the law. He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. Then we look to our lives and see that we utterly fall short of fulfilling the law. We are wicked sinners by comparison, no matter how you compare yourself to Jesus. But then is it hopeless? Far from it. God has given us the ability through His Holy Spirit to be able to not sin when tempation comes. Before one accepts Christ it is hopeless, however. They are slaves to sin and to death. But when one accepts Jesus Christ and His atoning death, God gives him freedom from obeying sin and life filled with the ability to love as Christ loved and to live as Christ lived with the ability to obey God and His law. This power is the same power which raised Jesus Christ from the grave (Eph. 2:19-20). We no longer have to serve sin, as we had when we were slaves to it. To serve sin would be as foolish as a freed slave going to back to the chains and imprisonment of his old abusive master.

The duty of the Christian as defined by the Bible can be summed up in two basic requirements:

1.) Be holy as He is holy

2.) Go and tell

How does the Christian accomplish these two things? I believe it can be done by following seven steps. They are easy to write out, but hard to live out. But we should daily be following these steps to be living in a way which pleases God and accomplishes His will in our lives.

1.) STOP SINNING

2.) FEAR GOD

3.) LIVE  CONSISTENTLY

4.) PRAY FOR OTHERS (The lost, our enemies, the persecuted, etc.)

5.) TELL AS MANY AS POSSIBLE

6.) HELP OTHERS GROW

7.) THANK GOD FOR HIS BLESSINGS

Staying Focused on Eternity

As I look to recent “heroes of the faith” (I speak of those God has used mightily in this world. I am not idolizing people here, just admiring their willingness to serve with purity of heart.) there is usually an obvious similarity between them all. They seem to have a healthy understanding of their future home in heaven. Paul understood this and expressed his feelings for desiring to be with Christ. Remember his words in Philippians?

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

More recently we can see this same understanding from Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians when he said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Throughout the centuries martyrs who were not willing to back down from their faith in God or their stand on the inspired Word of God have understood that to die is not really a loss, but a gain. Books have been written of these people. Probably most famously is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Another good source, and fairly recent, is a book put together by D.C. talk of stories of people who were willing to die for their faith called Jesus Freaks (there are also additional additions).

There are scores of people that have lived that way and their memories and testimonies stand as examples to us to keep things in the right perspective. Having a proper understanding of our duty to the Kingdom of God versus the Kingdom of the World will radically change how we see many aspects of our life on this earth.

First of all, and probably most importantly, it affects how we see the people all around us. When we understand that our life on this earth is “a vapor” (James 4:14), we will see people destined for one place or another, for heaven or for hell. This will cause us to live life with an urgency which compels us to be active witnesses for God’s kingdom. We will not be focused on everyone’s day to day well-being but be interested in their eternal destination. When we come to grips with the reality that most often than not the people around us at any given moment are more than likely on their way to hell, it will make the Christian life become very meaningful and realistic. God left us on this earth for a purpose. We are to spread the Good News. We are to warn people of their coming destruction. We are to pull people out of the fire (Jude 23). We are mere strangers on this earth. We are ambassador’s for Christ’s kingdom (2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:20). We should be as passionate as Paul was when telling the lost of their condition. Think about what he said to the Philippians,

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:18-21)

Paul was passionate about making sure others knew that this is the only chance we get to warn others about their eternal destination. He thought about the lost with tears. He had an urgency in which we need to grab a hold of and embody ourselves.

Recently I watched a video made of Rich Mullins where he discussed his understanding of how short life is. His philosophy of death really shows through in his songs such as “Elijah,” where he says “it won’t break my heart to say goodbye.” He had a longing to be in heaven. He had a desire to be with Jesus. And God took him up in a dramatic way.

Our view of Christ’s kingdom changes how we feel about gaining material wealth. When our hearts are set on things above, our desire for the things on this earth diminishes. In fact, the more “things” one has the less likely he is to go to the mission field. There are more things to give up. Everything we have is given by God, anyway. He owns it all.

When we realize how short our life is, the beatitudes will become possibilities in our lives. We will understand our destitution before God. We will weep. We can be meek and merciful. We will have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. We will desire to make peace, and will bless God when we are persecuted. We must have the right perspective of who we are on this earth, especially when things are going well for us.

There are those that shine bright for God when their faith is tested. They are those who understand the role of eternity here on earth. They understand their place in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of man.

Paul_Schneider

 

Paul Schneider was one of those people. He was a pastor during the early Nazi rule in Germany. He spoke out against the Nazi’s and was imprisoned for his stand against the government. He had no backing from anyone. He stood fast in his faith and let the word of God, specifically Esther, drive his faith in God. People urged him to stop what he was doing and think of his family. His reply is was this:

My primary responsibility is to prepare my family for eternal life – not to insure their material well-being.”

Paul Schneider understood that his citizenship is in heaven. He was eventually taken to a concentration camp and was murdered via lethal injection. His life, as well as many others like him urge us to be daily aware of the fact that as Christians, our true home is in heaven. Let us live like it.

The Mission Field: Need v. Call

Last night I ate dinner with a man and his wife from my local church who were  missionaries in Nigeria for over twenty years. They now serve with Overseas Council overseeing seminaries and Bible colleges. Throughout our discussion of our lives we discussed missions in general. As I listened to him discuss his involvement in missions across the world, I thought about the great differences in the spectrum of the various mission fields. The mission field is so needy. The laborers are in such need all around the world. But every area is unique from one another. He discussed how the needs in Nigeria were to keep up with the fast growth of Christianity. He discussed that there really are not enough trained leaders to give the Nigerians more depth to their faith. Many Nigerians are swept away with other false doctrines because of their shallow faith. As I sat and listened to him describe this my heart went out to this country. Oh how I wish I could help prevent wolves from stealing away God’s sheep. Oh how I want to get involved. What a need there is in Nigeria.

But then I remember the country of Japan. A country which lives without ever thinking of Jehovah God. A country hard to the working of God. It’s at the complete opposite side of the spectrum. While Nigeria has in essence too many believers to disciple, Japan many times lacks enough believers to even have church services. Where is the greater need? What about places like the jungles of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea? There are people groups begging for missionaries. Places like Japan ignore Christianity. A missionary can go years without one convert. Is it a waste then for me to go to Japan when there are people groups and tribes and nations who would long for me to come to them? It would seem this way from a simple pragmatic standpoint, but we’re forgetting a major element of missions: God’s call.

There is a difference between need and call. In our eyes it would seem that the places begging for missionaries should be the first place I would go. And a part of me wants to help them out as much as possible. There is something bigger than need, and that is God’s will. God does indeed will that all men come unto the knowledge of the truth. And the truth has been placed in our hands to give to the world. If there are people who are desiring to have a missionary, then someone needs to obey God’s call to go there. But I know that I have been called to Japan. Therefore there is no better place for me to go than to Japan. For there is no safer, nor better place to be than in the middle of God’s will.

From a human standpoint it would seemingly make sense for me to go where I am seemingly needed the greatest. But God knows and sees the whole picture. Japan needs someone who is called to them. That is where I fit in. Who greater needs God than a country that does not even think about Him? Someone needs to tell them about Jesus Christ. God loves all people equally. If people are not hearing about the Gospel, it is not God’s fault. It is our own. Indeed it is true, we have no right to hear the Gospel twice while their remains those who have not heard it once.