The Lesson I Learned Last Month

It has been nearly two months since I have blogged. Externally, my world did not change much since my last post, internally, I feel as if I have been to hell and back. Well, mostly back anyway.

About a month ago I underwent an extreme trial with some heavy spiritual oppression manifesting in intense inward introspection and questioning my salvation. The one Monday was the worst day I have had in years, and the whole week was the lowest I have been since being married.

There were numerous contributing factors; unaddressed stress buildup as a first year teacher and first year father, fatigue from disrupted sleeping patterns, weighty thoughts that have gone unvoiced, the pressure of decision making, reading too many articles, wasting too much time on the internet; I am sure there are more.

I didn’t realize how much all this was weighing on me. I thought I was doing alright, but apparently I wasn’t doing as well as I thought. I don’t doubt that there were (and are) spiritual forces oppressing me for one moment; but what was alarming to consider was that this oppression was most entirely internal. There was no persecution, my schedule was the same as it has been for most of the last year, and no sudden emergencies or situations that I can recall, nothing that would necessarily trigger something like this.

I was awakened to just how open I am to spiritual oppression. It is alarming how vulnerable and susceptible I am to oppression.

I have mostly emerged now, and I have learned a few things from my ordeal.

 

1. I can loose it all: my joy, my peace, my desire for God, my ability to pray, my zeal, my job, my marriage, my family, my health, my sanity, and my mental stability; and ultimately I will be okay because:

2. I can never lose the righteousness that is in Christ Jesus, by which I stand blameless before God. It was never mine to lose in the first place, only mine to gain. Jesus already lived the perfect life, and he already gave that perfect life up for me. I can’t change that. I may lose everything in this life; I cannot lose the work of Christ on my behalf.

3. Theology books or articles are only of benefit to me if I am in daily fellowship with Christ through his word.

4. If I am not walking with Christ daily through prayer and his word, theology becomes lifeless and even poisonous to me.

5. I am in desperate need of integrity and personal, practical holiness. (NOT more knowledge)

6. I need to connect with friends more, even briefly.

7. I need to be in bed before 10pm whenever possible.

 

 

Walking with the person of Christ can be tricky for me I guess; when things get uncomfortable, I see just how much I love to turn to all manner of christian activity or thinking to fill my soul instead of going to the person of Jesus. I hope to never have to learn this lesson again!

Jesus help me walk daily with you in simple submission to your tender loving leading. Don’t let me wander from you! Stay close to me, you are the only good I know and the only hope I have. Apart from you I will surely be destroyed. I covet your presence, for I am weak. I need your strength, for I am easily swayed. I need your resolve because I bend to compromise. I need your guidance because I wander into danger. Save me from myself and all that is around me by the joy of your presence, the peace of your kindness, and the power of your word.

 

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On Christian Manliness

I was grumpy this morning.

It happens occasionally. Usually it is an unnamed dissatisfaction, an uptight sort of irritation that is just there it seems. I attempt to identify the cause of this feeling, (have I ate anything in the last seven hours?) but only for a few seconds, as prolonged efforts only compound the sensation. The best remedy is to name it aloud; “I am grumpy right now.” It is often helpful to have an engaging conversation as well.

Today, however, I had a bit of a rant.

After my wife graciously heard me out, (which is a long process; I have to stop myself mid-rant to make sure the things I am saying are truly valid, I hate making inaccurate or meaningless statements) she suggested I should blog about it. I won’t rant here, I’ll just express my thoughts.

The topic: Christian Manliness.

Manliness in the church has been a hot issue in the last decade. Many books, programs, seminars, conferences, and group study materials have been produced to address and solve this issue of manhood. I personally have read a couple books addressing this issue. I have been to the “Wild-at-Heart” conference, a weekend-long event specifically targeting the area of Christian manliness. I have even participated in “Novemberfest”, a celebration of manliness that included a couple of my guy friends eating bratwurst and ultra hot wings, watching braveheart, and drinking really dark beer, all without a shirt on; and no shirts allowed.

Essentially, while many of these activities and products may make people feel manly, they certainly do little to nothing to actually produce true manliness in an individual. In some cases, they actually are harmful in that they wind up establishing framework for manhood that is quite other than what scripture would tell us. This is detrimental in that case, even if manliness is achieved, it is an earthly manliness which is of little spiritual value, compared to a godly manliness, which is of eternal worth.

And so basically my rant was that the proposed fixes for Christian manliness tend to look in all the wrong places.

The power to grow in manliness is not repeated viewings of Braveheart, or Rocky or any other MAN movie (certainly not The Expendibles, as I heard one man suggest recently!) nor is it doing any number of manly events or activities. As many of the MAN books or seminars that I am familiar with would point you to some of these things, they too are powerless to produce true manliness.

No; the power to grow in manliness comes from sound doctrine.

I have experienced this to be true in my life. I am in many ways not the same person I was just a few years ago. I have grown leaps and bounds in confidence, maturity, wisdom, and strength; and I can connect most all of this growth to truths I have learned about God, Christ, sin, myself, the world, the flesh, the devil, the Holy Spirit, and so on. Having a proper understanding on these issues has positioned me and empowered me to make decisions that I would not have made before, decisions that reflect the growing maturity as a man.

What I have realized is that true manliness is not a standalone character trait or collection of traits; rather, true manliness is the male expression of godliness. The “manliness deficiency” I experienced as a boy, and adolescent, and right up into my twenties was really a godliness deficiency.

It follows then that the cure for any lack of manliness is not to redefine manliness, nor to expose ourselves to worldly displays and complexes of manhood, nor to engage in more “man activities”, but to seek godliness. 

This reminded me of some messages I had heard a year ago that were immensely profitable to me. A pattern of spiritual growth is outlined in 1 John 2 that I want you to notice. John outlines his reasons for writing his letter, starting in verse 12.

I am writing to you, dear children, 
   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 
I am writing to you, fathers, 
   because you know him who is from the beginning. 
I am writing to you, young men, 
   because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children, 
   because you know the Father. 
I write to you, fathers, 
   because you know him who is from the beginning. 
I write to you, young men, 
   because you are strong, 
   and the word of God lives in you, 
   and you have overcome the evil one.

This scripture outlines three progressive categories of spiritual maturity: CHILDREN, YOUNG MEN, and FATHERS. We can apply this very profitably to a discussion on biblical manhood. Notice how each category is defined:

CHILDREN – Sins forgiven for his names sake, and they know their heavenly father.

YOUNG MEN – Have overcome the evil one, are strong, the word of God lives in them.

FATHERS – Know him who is from the beginning.

I’m going to add one more category to lump in everyone to whom none of these categories apply:

OTHERS – Sins not forgiven, don’t know the heavenly father.

By noting the differences in each category, we can discern what is necessary to move from one category to the next:

OTHERS –> CHILDREN

The process of spiritual maturity (and growth toward true manhood, to stick to our topic) begins with SALVATION. Consider John 1:12 – But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. You begin the process of spiritual growth as a Child, born again into the family of God. God is the heavenly father to every true Child of God. Note that the Child has his sins forgiven and knows his heavenly father; these are the first things that accompany salvation, the forgiveness of sins and the knowledge of the loving heavenly father.

It is critical to note that the Bible recognizes no true maturity, no growth, no manliness apart from Salvation. That is the absolute beginning; the scriptures d. I will return to this thought later.

CHILDREN –> YOUNG MEN

While it is wonderful to know the heavenly father, and have their sins forgiven them, this would be a sorry place to end. There are two full categories of maturity (and degrees of true manliness) that await the newborn Christian, and by all means he should strive to attain them.

Consider now the difference between the Child and the Young man, specifically of what they take in. I have a child of 8 months, and while he is happy and healthy, he has a habit of indiscriminately putting whatever he can get his hands on into his mouth. For this reason, it is imperative that I as the loving parent am on constant duty to ensure he does not take in anything dangerous. Now, I can say with confidence that as a young man, he will not have retained that habit. As a young man, he will know what to take in and what not to take in, what is good for him and what is bad.

This is precisely the physical picture of the spiritual reality that we are considering in this shift from the Child to the Young Man. The Child consumes indiscriminately, taking into his mind and heart all manner of teaching or philosophy; some good, much useless, and much detrimental.

The Young Man however has no such problem, we are told that his is strong, and that he has overcome the evil one. What a feat that is! Should believers not strive with all they have to earn that claim? For we know that the evil one is none other than the Devil himself, the enemy of all that God is and all that we would become. How is it that a mere child can grow to overcome Satan himself?

The answer comes in considering further our enemy. He goes by many names; for today let us consider him as “The Father of Lies” (John 8:44) and “The Deciever”. We can think of how one with names such as these might be overcome; by the truth! One who is grounded in the truth cannot be deceived, and one who knows the truth will recognize the lie. The greater the knowledge, the greater the scope of our victory.

It is by DISCERNMENT and DOCTRINE that children can mature into young men, even overcome the devil. Consider Hebrews 5:14 …solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. The mature man is practiced in discernment, noThey no longer need to take in to know, they can often identify early on what is good and evil, what is true and false, and thus they overcome the devil and grow strong.

YOUNG MEN –> FATHERS

Overcoming the Evil One is marvelous, and one would wonder that it is not the pinnacle of spiritual maturity and manhood. Yet we have one more echelon to attain, and that is the category of Fathers, who “know Him who is from the beginning.” This speaks of an intimate knowledge, a deep wisdom, and a close and steady walk with the Alpha and the Omega. To know Him who is from the beginning is to be well acquainted with righteousness, to have shared in the sufferings of Christ, to have explored the depths of God’s heart and communed with the All Holy God.

Young men know their doctrine, have discernment, and are no longer susceptible to false teaching or false doctrine; but there is much more to God than doctrines. They lay the boundaries by which we have the immense privilege and honor to commune with God himself. As the Young Man continues his walk, he will experience many things that will sanctify him, make him Christ like. As he shares in the joy’s and sorrows, trials and victories, he shares in the very life of Christ, established firmly in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the relationship honed by years of communion and fellowship with God eternal.

And so it goes like this:

OTHERS

Salvation

CHILDREN

Discernment, Sound Doctrine, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

YOUNG MEN

Life Experience, Faithful Obedience, Constant Communion

FATHERS

To apply this to the topic of Christian Manliness, the thing to remember is that true manliness is really the outworking of godliness through a male individual. True manliness comes by growing spiritually, by growing in godliness.

It is dangerous to define manliness by categories other than the ones present in scripture. To do so is to establish a target outside of God’s word, and it is impossible to grow in godliness unless our eyes are fixed on the right target. Many Christians get caught up looking at some successful businessman or some character in a movie as if they are a model for manliness. Forgetting the fact that these men or characters show no regard for God, his word, or his righteousness, Christians hold these characters up as models of manliness worthy of emulation.

This is totally backwards! Consider the categories. Maturity BEGINS with salvation, before that, there is nothing worthy our consideration. Whereas many Christian men today may esteem certain traits of unsaved men with high regard, even jealousy; this is due to a worldly complex of manliness that has crept (rather unimpeded if I might say) into the church of God. This worldly system doesn’t account for godliness one wit. I think it is disappointing to say the least that men can get caught up treasuring the worldly constructs of manliness rather than godliness, which is of immeasurable value!

On another note, I can’t help but see this as revealing either a great ignorance or disregard of the value of salvation. It is supremely offensive to God that we would fail to consider the value of our salvation when we compare ourselves to other men. Whatever we may see in others that we desire for ourselves, the fact is that if the person we envy is without God and his salvation, there is simply nothing there we should desire in the slightest; certainly not when we have been blessed with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN THE HEAVENLIES in Christ Jesus!! We have the greatest treasure and the most powerful resources in our Salvation! O God that we would not forget that our salvation is the supreme possession, as our Salvation is none other than the person of Jesus Christ himself. He IS, in every way, the entirety of our salvation. To neglect Salvation is to neglect Christ, and to esteem anything higher than salvation is to esteem it above Christ. In him we have everything, manliness included.

The man who is saved for one minute is more mature and more manly in the eyes of God than Alexander the Great. If you are a Christian man, then so are you. You are more blessed than he, you are more mature than he. You are in the truth. Stand in it! Revel in it! Rejoice in it! Be eternally satisfied with your salvation, and covet not for a moment anything other than Christ and his glorious eternal reward!


At the Cross: Sovereignty Revealed

This is the third post in a series that will conclude on Good Friday. Each day will feature a different perspective of the Cross of Christ, focusing in on just one of the many themes revealed in his crucifixion.

Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus?

Some say the Jews killed him. Jesus had come to them offering the kingdom of God, yet his own people rejected him. “He came to that which is own, but his own did not receive him.”  Although the overwhelming majority of his miraculous deeds were given to the Jews, it was also Jews whom Jesus offended by his words and deeds. It was the most influential and prominent Jews that were the most incensed by Jesus’ blistering rebukes and brilliant intelligence. These men did not long tolerate Jesus seeming attempt to bring the socio-religio-political landscape that had so profited them to ruin. These jealous men not only plotted to kill Jesus, but succeeded in dragging the common masses into their scheme. Pilate made his offer to the people: The notorious Barabbas or the innocent Jesus.

 …the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. – Matt 27:20

The chants of “Crucify!” grew so loud Pilate could no longer address the crowds: they were a full on mob now. They got their wish.

Some say the gentiles killed him. – Although the Jews no doubt wanted Christ crucified, it was not in their power to have this done. The Jews were living under Roman governance at the time of Christ, and while they were permitted to deal with their own manners, the power to execute belonged solely to Rome. Therefore all criminal cases involving capital punishment were handled by Roman officials, all of whom were Gentiles. The chief priests and elders wished Jesus dead, and not having the power to have him thus punished, he was brought before Pilate. Though multitudes of accusations were hurled upon Jesus, Pilate knew it was for jealousy that Jesus was handed over. He sent Jesus another step up the Roman political totem pole to Herod, who in short order sent Jesus back, having deemed him to be no threat to anybody.

Pilate knew the accusations against him were false, and attempted to get Jesus off the chopping block so to speak. He offered to have him scourged first and then set free: the chief priests wanted more. Then he offered the people a choice between Barabbas and Jesus: the people chose Barabbas. And so, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” – Mark 15:15

The Jews wanted Jesus crucified, but it could never have happened without Pilate’s decree.

Some say that Satan killed Jesus. – Of all the evil days seen on the earth, It is hard to imagine a more unjust, more cruel, more wicked, more senseless, more hateful, more evil day than the day of Jesus death. An innocent man was betrayed by one friend and abandoned by the rest, arrested illegally and tried illegally. Falsely accused, spit on, hit, mocked, punched, abused, flogged, tortured and murdered.

How could Satan not be responsible?

Seeing as he is the “father of lies” and that “he was a murderer from the beginning”, it is right up his alley to be behind something so evil and so wicked. We know historically he was in the mix somehow, because he took up residence in Judas at the end of the last supper.  Filled by Satan, he went out quickly to betray Jesus, kicking off the darkest 24 hours since the dawn of creation.

Certainly he was hard at work throwing all his furious hatred and rage against the son of God.

Some say that you and I killed him. – Historically, both the Jews and the Gentiles were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, and Satan was no doubt involved in tempting and inciting the mobs to extreme wickedness,  Yet believers today should know that while Jesus’ crucifixion is indeed a historical event, the implications touch every individual who has ever lived and ever will live. The crucifixion of Christ is in a sense “THE” historical event.

The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” – Romans 3:23; and that “the wages of sin is death” – Romans 6:23. It isn’t hard to put two and two together. All are sinners who deserve death. The “All” there refers to you, it refers to me, to our friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers…everyone alive…everyone who was alive….everyone who will be alive.

Except for Jesus, the sinless one. 

While every one of us should receive according to the evil works of our hands; Christ deserved none of it.

But he did die, and we see why in Isaiah 53:

…he was pierced for our transgressions, 
   he was crushed for our iniquities.

The 2nd verse of “How Deep the Fathers Love” speaks also of this by the lyric “It was my sin that held him there.” Were we not sinners, Christ would have had no need to suffer and die the way he did. It is a trustworthy statement that his death was brought about by our sin; his death was brought about by us. By you. By me.

So who was responsible for the death of Jesus?

All of the answers above have merit. In some way, the Jews, the Gentiles, Satan, You, and I all had a part in putting Christ on the Cross. We are all responsible in some way, we are all guilty of the death of Christ.

Yet there is another answer that compliments all of the above:

God is responsible for the death of Jesus.

Scripture credits God with taking Jesus to the cross far more than the Jews, the Gentiles, Satan, You, or even I. Consider the following:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.Isaiah 53:4

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and…the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, – Isaiah 53:10

God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him – 2 Corinthians 5:21

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did:
sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin – Romans 8:3

 

God is also responsible for the cross of Christ. He willingly offered him up, sent him to the cross, made him sin.

 

How is this Sovereignty Revealed?

 

What is unreal to consider is the thousands of individuals who were involved in the whole deal. Each one operating independently, out of his own faculties, making his own choices. And yet not only does Jesus get crucified EXACTLY on schedule (prophecy after prophecy was fulfilled during the last week of Jesus life, especially on that fateful Friday.) but the independent actions of all those people worked together to accomplish the perfect will of God.

In Peter and John’s prayer recorded in Acts 4, they say “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

How fitting that they address their prayer to the “Sovereign Lord”!

And to put this in perspective, exactly when did God purpose Jesus to go to the Cross? Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as “the Lamb Slain from the foundation of the world.”

 

At the Cross, The Sovereignty of God is revealed: for there, on Calavary, the plan God drew up before the heavens and the earth were spoken into being came to pass through the independent action of countless individuals. The personal choices and efforts of all the Jews, all the Gentiles, Satan and all his demons; all of them in total rebellion against God, by their combined efforts accomplished nothing but their own undoing.

At the Cross, they accomplished the fulfillment of the greatest plan ever devised in the infinite mind of the God they utterly reject.

 

 


At the Cross: Righteousness Revealed

This is the second post in a series that will conclude on Good Friday. Each day will feature a collection of thoughts on a different aspect of the Crucifixion of Christ.

The cross is often seen as a display of the righteous requirement of God in relation to sin and sinners, in that God’s righteousness condemns and punishes every instance of sin at every point; and to that I say “Amen!”. Sin was revealed in its fullest sense at the cross, when Jesus bore in his body the sins of the World. Scripture says Christ actually became sin, that God made him to be sin. In becoming sin itself, Jesus drew the fierce and righteous indignation of God upon himself. As sin is condemned, he was condemned. As sin is punished, so he was punished. The cross is a revelation of the righteousness of God in that it is a full demonstration of a truly righteous response to sin.

This is not the only glimpse of righteousness to be seen at the cross.

The righteousness of God is revealed not only in God’s righteous response to sin, but also in Christ’s righteous obedience in becoming the ultimate sin offering. This is the righteousness of God revealed through Jesus humanity.

Righteousness is a personal characteristic, but it is also a path:

     “…he leads me in the path of righteousness for his names sake.” – Psalm 23:3

As a man, Jesus was led by his father in the path of righteousness. We read that he grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man; Christ accumulated favor with God by continuing in righteousness through obedience and continual fellowship with the father; it is accumulated by walking faithfully along the path of righteousness.

Scripture testifies that throughout his life, Jesus loved righteousness and was bound by his love for the father to follow that path. At his baptism, John was astounded. Should not the messiah be doing the baptizing? But Jesus would not have it: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And so he was baptized, another faithful step along the path of righteousness.

It was not an easy path.

The path led him immediately to the desert. 40 days without food. Tempted by Satan.

The path led him to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth.

The path led him to call out 12 disciples to share in his ministry and life.

The path led him to heal the sick, raise the dead, and perform many signs and wonders.

The path led him to preach repentance unto eternal life through faith in the father.

Along the way he suffered many things at the hands of many people, yet he wavered not, but trusted in his father as God led him down the path of righteousness.

It led him through over three years of intense public ministry, wherein he suffered the ignorance of his disciples, the unbelief and rejection of the people he was to minister to, the people he dearly loved.

It led him to heartbreak, anger, frustration, exhaustion, and sadness.

It led him to Gethsemane, to THE hour of THE darkness, where he stared into the coming storm of Calvary, where he gazed into the cup of wrath filled to the brim.

His whole life he had walked in perfect harmony with the father, loving righteousness and hating sin. He had walked the path of righteousness faithfully every step of the way, not for one instant choosing to break fellowship with his heavenly father. And now he was about to become the very thing that he hated to perfection.

He was going to become sin.

He was going to be alienated from his father, separated from the one whom he had loved perfectly from the beginning.

It is no wonder he asked for the cup to pass.

It is no wonder he prayed for any other possibility.

     “Yet not my will but thy will be done.”

He knew what awaited him on that path of righteousness: the rugged altar on which he would become the ultimate sacrifice.

It is no wonder he sweat blood.

It was not the impending physical trauma that caused him such unprecedented stress, it was the sin bearing; the sin becoming.

Yet he arose undeterred, full of resolve, determined to go to the cross.

     “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

And so he went willingly to the cross, where upon he became the sin of the world. It is here that God, his father, the apple of his eye, turns his face away from his only son and utterly rejects him. It is here that Jesus cries out not to his father, but for the first, and only time, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Separated from God, the agonies Christ experienced those few hours that Friday will never be known to you and I. Yet even then, his father nowhere to be seen, Christ still was faithful, and faithful to the end. There, at the finish, a loud cry of triumph from Calvary rings throughout  eternity:

“IT IS FINISHED!”

The perfect righteousness of God, fulfilled perfectly by man. The perfect law of God unbroken. The perfect sacrifice for sin accomplished.

The righteousness of God leads God to punish sin, yes. But that same righteousness that so blazes against sin also accomplishes our redemption. The righteousness of God left Christ no other option in the Garden of Gethsemane; there was no other way but for Jesus Christ to become sin for us. To turn away was to abandon the plan of salvation and to leave the cup of God’s wrath full for us to drink. The righteousness of God required Jesus to humble himself in order to secure our redemption.

 Jesus, being in very nature God, 
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 
    rather, he made himself nothing 
   by taking the very nature of a servant, 
   being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, 
   he humbled himself 
   by becoming obedient to death— 
      even death on a cross!

The righteousness of God is therefore revealed in both through God in his perfect judgment of sin on the cross, and in Christ the man: a) by his attaining perfection through his works, qualifying himself to become the perfect sacrifice for all sin for all time, and b) by his becoming our sin so that we can become his perfect righteousness, so that we can own it, be justified forever before God by it, be purged from a guilty conscience to serve and worship the living God by it.

Friends, I believe the 24 words underlined below to contain the greatest truth we will ever comprehend. I pray that the God of righteousness will open your eyes to show you that the exact same righteousness Jesus demonstrated throughout his life, the very same righteousness of God himself, becomes your righteousness when you believe on him. This verse is the heart of the gospel. Believe it. Receive it.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21

He has done it all, from beginning to end! Glory be to Jesus Christ and God the father! Amen!


At the Cross: Sin Revealed

By God’s good grace, this post will mark the first in a quick series entitled “At the Cross”, that will conclude on Good Friday. Each day will feature a collection of thoughts on a different aspect of the Crucifixion of Christ.

Sin abounded on an unprecedented scale during the final 48 hours leading up to the Cross.

The holy son of God was betrayed by one of his closest companions. His disciples failed him twice when he asked them to watch and pray in Gethsemane. He was illegally arrested by a mob then taken away for an illegal trial where he was mocked, ridiculed, beaten, and spit on, but not before he was abandoned by his dearest friends. One of whom even cursed and swore that he never even knew “that man”.  He was falsely accused by his people and he was treated as a joke by the gentile rulers. Though they found him innocent of all accusations brought against him, he was whipped and scourged as the worst of criminals. He was then denied by his people for a murderer and a traitor.

The same people who saw him heal the sick, cast out demons, and perform many signs and wonders were now shouting:

“Crucify! CRUCIFY HIM!”

And they did. They crucified him without mercy. Though nobody could find a single fault in him. Innocent on all accounts, Jesus was murdered on a cross.

So Black

So Ugly

What is terrifying to consider is that the people were not the only ones screaming for his Crucifixion.

God was with them.

In their sin, those people were calling for exactly the same thing that God was calling for. What they wanted in their lusts, God wanted in his holiness. Extreme Punishment.

The people wanted him punished for what he had done.

God wanted him punished for what we have done.

Jesus became sin, and in doing so, revealed the nature of sin in a way that could never be seen otherwise. In no other way could you and I see the full manifestation of sin, in all it’s blackness and ugliness. We are so poisoned, so sick with sin, so ONE with sin that there is no hope of seeing it for what it truly is in ourselves.

No, sin is revealed to us apart from ourselves; not in the sins of the people who mocked, betrayed, abandoned, tortured, and cursed Jesus, but in Jesus himself. Only in him could the fullness of sin be revealed in such an undisputable display.

The sin he became is my sin. It is your sin. It is our sin. It is unspeakably wicked and rebellious and it invites incomprehensible fury from the God who utterly hates sin, and who is committed to obliterating sin wherever it may be found, who will one day remove all trace of it from his presence forever.

It is no trivial matter. As the Thomas Kelly wrote in Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted:

Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great,

Here may view it’s nature rightly, here it’s guilt may estmiate

Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load

Tis the Word, the Lord’s annointed, Son of Man and Son of God.

The Cross reveals sin and decalres all men sinners of the worst pedigree.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…” 2 Cor 5:21a


Leadership Summit Review part 3 – on partnering with the Catholic Church

This is the final post in my Leadership Summit Review. After this it will be back to the 3rd installment of Salvation in the Gospel of Matthew. I’m excited to get back into the Bible!

Tim Schroeder made one more suggestion during his session with Reg Bibby that I want to address. Admittedly, he suggested it very passively; but nevertheless, it was a part of the message presented to Canadian Evangelical Churches, and so I will address it.

Evangelicals should seek to build partnerships with the Catholic Church

A quick disclaimer before I begin.

*** The statements I make here come from the result of personal study on Catholic doctrine. I don’t believe very many Catholics really understand the doctrines that the Catholic Church is built upon, so I want to be clear that I am talking about the Catholic system of doctrine, not individuals who are Catholics, as there are no doubt some who would reject the teachings I attribute to the Catholic Church; though I do attribute them correctly.  I plan on contacting an experienced catachist in the Catholic church in the near future to hear his response to some of these issues and ensure I have a proper understanding of the Catholic position.***

There was plenty of verbal tiptoeing into this topic during the session, and I would say it was warranted; Catholic/Protestant discussions are full of historical and doctrinal landmines. Tim was obviously aware that even mildly suggesting Protestants consider partnering with Catholics in ministry would “ruffle a few feathers” as he put it. Hence the hedging and cautious introduction to the topic.

While my feathers weren’t ruffled, so to speak, I definitely perked up when I realized what he was suggesting, because it is something I could never condone. In fact, I am obligated by my love of the truth to vehemently oppose it, and I will tell you why.

The Catholic system holds to certain doctrines/traditions that I am compelled to reject outright. They are…

1) Catholic church tradition is EQUAL in authority to scripture. 

This is the most significant point at which Catholicism departs from biblical Christianity, and it is the root from which probably all of their errors flow. As they have made church tradition of equal authority with scripture, they are able to speak where the bible does not speak, perpetuating many false doctrines by the “authority” of the church.

Because of this, they fail to properly interpret the Bible. The correct way to handle scripture is to interpret it by the highest possible standard: itselfAllowing scripture to interpret scripture yields the greatest doctrinal purity and the most accurate understanding of the text. Departing from the sole authority of the scriptures is a sure step away from truth into error and heresy. The following points are the major points that form the great divide between Catholics and Evangelicals; and all of them are the result of making Church tradition equal with the inspired Word of God.

2) Church councils are infallible and irrevocable  – Since church tradition is of equal authority as scripture, it follows thus that decisions and decrees of church councils must be of equal truthfulness to God’s word as well. Hence the belief that the decrees of the church councils are indeed on par with the very Word of God.

The results are startling to read for the first time. Listen to the following points from the Council of Trent in 1563, keeping in mind that to be “anathema” is to be “damned” in the strongest possible sense.

Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone (supra, chapters 7-8), meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.

Canon 11. If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost (Rom. 5:5), and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.

Canon 12. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy (supra, chapter 9), which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.

Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works (ibid., chapter 10), but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.

Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.

Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.

The fact is that catholic church tradition damns anyone who holds to some of the dearest truths in scripture. Catholic church tradition damns me. It probably damns you too if you are reading this.

I want to say here that I doubt I would find one person in the Grande Prairie Catholic Church would would pronounce damnation on me for any one of these beliefs. However, that doesn’t get the Catholic Church system off the hook, it just makes them bad Catholics.

What is interesting is that an established Catholic recently told me that the church councils were indeed infallible. I asked him “well what about Trent? You say that Catholics and Protestants are brothers that need to be united, yet your tradition pronounces anathema on the core of our beliefs, justification by faith alone.”

He told me that actually, the council of Trent had been rescinded.

Really?

So is church tradition infallible or not? Is it on equal authority with scripture or not? Has God started saving people differently since the reformation that now it is okay to believe these things? Does god damn people differently now?

There are only two outcomes possible. Either Church Councils are NOT infallible and ARE open to error, OR anyone who believes that Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is damned to hell.

I’ll happily bet my eternity that the problem is on their end.

3) The mass re-presents the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary and confers forgiveness and remission of sins through participation – This issue is serious. If there is one question I want to know, it is how can my sins be forgiven. How can I be made right with God? How can I be justified in his eyes, so he can accpet me instead of reject me?

I have both read it in Catholic literature and heard it from multiple professing Catholics that forgiveness of sins actually happens at the Mass. Since the actual body and the actual blood of Christ are presented at the mass, and the actual sacrifice of Jesus Christ is re-presented, then the resulting forgiveness of sins is applied to me as I participate in the mass.

I asked one Catholic if my sins were still with me since I have never been to a mass. Apparently there are two types of sins; some of which can be forgiven through simple confession to God and true sorrow for sin, others require the services of a priest. But just to be sure, the person I asked promised to refer me to someone who could help me understand these things better.

The bible makes a sharp distinction: either your sins are forgiven, or they are not. Either you are saved, or you are not. There is no in between. Yet Catholic church doctrine/tradition on sin and confession and forgiveness really muddies the waters. This is not a good topic to be fuzzy about! I know God hates sin and will punish sinners. I want to be certain that I am in good standing with God. Thankfully, Jesus is abundantly clear: “unless you believe I AM, you will die in your sins” is the negative side, the positive side would be “whosoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life.”

We’re talking about the Gospel here. I’m convinced the good news is far better than the Catholic church ultimately makes it to be.

4) The Catholic Priesthood is legitimate.  The book of Hebrews is clear that in the New Testament church age, all believers now function as priests. Yet the Catholic Church has built up a priesthood that ultimately acts as a “middle man” so to speak between God and the people. The system discourages people from coming to God directly, instead directing them to the priest. Yet scripture tells us that all believers become a royal priesthood, brothers and sister

I’ll list two more without going into detail.

5) The Pope as God’s delegate on earth and the doctrine of Papal Infallibility – the pope is prevented by the Holy Spirit from even the possibility of error, because he is God’s representative on earth.

6) Purgatory – relieves people of their guilt over sin, ultimately they will be alright. Allows people to be unsure exactly about their sins, can lead to people working their way toward a less time in purgatory.(as a side note, I have seen in a Catholic Church a place where you can pay money to have a candle lit. The candle represents praying saints who by their prayers can get people out of purgatory faster)

7) The veneration of relics and saints – The council of Trent also had some anathemas for anyone who denied that relics conferred the blessing of God, along with those who denied the practice of praying to the saints.

8) Mariology and other strange doctrines allowed to circulate openly – The assumption of Mary (see below), the immaculate conception of Mary, Mary was sinless, etc.

***Update*** My inlaws just returned from a cruise around Europe, where they visited some Catholic Churches, and I guess they were in two different Churches that both claimed to be the place where Mary ascended to heaven.

9) The apocrypha considered Holy Scripture  – This is a problem because neither Jesus nor the apostles quoted an apocryphal source once. All of the apocryphal books were penned during the intertestamental period when prophecy had ceased; all were written after Malachi, the last prophet, and before Christ. Therefore they cannot be inspired. Many of the points listed above are based upon teachings found in apocryphal literature rather than in the inspired Word of God.

There are more, but I will stop here. These are the big ones.

All of this to say that there are some serious differences between evangelicals and catholics on practically all of the important theological areas.

Not to say there are not similarities. Yes we both believe in Jesus. Yes we both believe in original sin, the fall, biblical history, and the universal need for salvation. Those similarities, however, do not make us compatible. The standard for faith must be the whole of Scripture and nothing more. The differences can seem subtle on the surface; in reality they are very great, and very dangerous!

When Tim Schroeder uses Reg Bibby’s data to suggest evangelicals consider partnerships with Catholic Churches, it is coming from the idea that together we can have a greater religious influence in Canada. God has not called us to have a religious influence. Instead he commands us regarding truth. God calls his church to love, embrace, proclaim, guard, and defend his truth in the midst of a world of lies and counterfeits. A church that does not guard the truth will become tainted by error and ultimately fruitless. There is to be unity among believers, but it is a unity in truth first and fellowship second.

The true church can have no partnership with the Catholic Church. Instead, we must approach them as ministers of God’s truth, calling them to the purity of God’s word and the simplicity of faith in Christ.

What it ultimately comes down to is that the Catholic church is not a partner in the gospel, but a mission field for the gospel.


Leadership Summit review part 2 – on Ministry

I didn’t write any of my thoughts on the session at the leadership summit with Reg Bibby and Tim Schroeder.  It is a shame I have waited so long to finish this post because these thoughts may no longer be on anyone else’s mind. I can’t let it rest now, there are things to be said before I continue with my “Salvation in Matthew” series.

There were two suggestions that were forwarded in that session that I want to address, I think they are crucial.

I’ll answer them in individual posts.

People are not looking for a church, they are looking for ministry.

This is a true statement indeed. It should be no surprise that people are looking for ministry. Everybody is needy in some way or the other, I can’t think of anyone whose life would be better without some ministry. I agree completely with the statement; where the problem comes in is it’s application.

“People aren’t looking for a church, they are looking for ministry, so go and give them ministry!” was essentially the message for Canadian churches in the Leadership summit session.

I think this may be the wrong message to send.

Churches ought to be firmly established on the solid rock of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. In them can be found God’s purpose, plan, provision and promises to his church. The scriptures will inform the mission, worship, theology, structure, direction, methodology, and ministry of the true church.

We are given plenty of instruction in scripture about how we are to engage and interact with unbelievers. In fact, we are given a ministry specifically just for them in 2nd Corinthians 5:

…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This is the ministry of the church, mandated by God.

People are looking for ministry, but that is not the ground by which the church ministers to them; nor does it determine the style of ministry the church should engage in. People may want us to deal with them in any number of ways, yet God alone knows all things, including what a persons true needs are.

Now please understand; There is nothing wrong with showing kindness to those around us, far from it. Only remember that the ministry of reconciliation is of eternal importance, and we ignore it at great cost. It is far easier to minister to others in a way that is socially acceptable than it is to minister to people in the way God has called us to minister to them. Often I think churches can take the easy way of serving without confronting, but what kindness is it to withhold from sinners the very message that can save them? I can say that because I know I personally do it all the time. I actively pray it would be otherwise! The Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation, remember! We are not to be ashamed of it! For churches to ignore it while pursuing other ministries is a gross reversal of priorities and a defection from the mandate to preach the gospel and make disciples.

Paul says in Romans that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. If sinners are not hearing the Word of God, then they are not coming to faith, regardless of what other ministries they are benefiting from. I think many Christians would say that it isn’t the churches job to be nice, but how many churches are known simply as “nice”? What good is that? The world is filled with Christ rejecters who are extremely nice. When they see the church being simply nice to everyone, that can often just confirm them in their sinful unbelief. “The’re just like me, so I must be okay!”

Nice doesn’t confront the world with the reality of their enmity with God. Only the work of the Spirit through the Living Word can do that. Well we have that Word! It has been given to us that we might proclaim it everywhere! Let us be persuaders of men, pleading with them to be reconciled to God for their great good and Christs great Glory!

One final note on principle.

A way to discern if a principle is valuable in taking you where you want to go is to carry it out as far as possible in your mind. If implementing the principle to the fullest extent leads you somewhere you don’t want to go, then chances are there is a flaw in the principle, even though it may seem wise at first.

“People are not looking for church, they are looking for ministry, so go minister to them.”

This statement follows a principle, and that principle can be extrapolated even further.  The next step would be to not do/be church because that is not what they are looking for. I don’t think anyone would jump to that conclusion, but if you follow the principle right to the end, that is where you end up. This informs me that the principle implied in the statement is faulty, though it might seem good at first.