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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Human Wisdom and God

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin maintained that “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” He goes on to make this point: “Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God” (Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011], 1:108.)

Humans continue to rely upon themselves to determine who God is, and ordained ministers, it seems, want to remain in their positions even while denying that a personal God does, in fact, exist. Rather than creating God, ordained clergy may deconstruct God.

The United Church of Canada (UC) was formed in 1925 with the merger of four liberal denominations in that nation. One sees something of the theological location of the UC with the top blog post featured on its website: “Making a Pitch for Trans Awareness.” In other words, anything goes. Well, almost anything.

The Reverence Gretta Vosper may have gone too far even for the UC. According to the Canadian Press and reported in Canada’s CTV News online on June 30, “An avowed atheist fighting to keep her job as a United Church minister is now waiting to hear if a review panel will recommend she be defrocked for violating her ordination vows. In an appearance before the panel this week, Gretta Vosper defended her views, which include a lack of belief in God and the Bible.”

The UC professes to be a body of Christian, asks “new members to profess their faith in the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and to commit themselves to faithful conduct in the church and in the world,” according to the denomination’s website. Additionally, the church states: “As members of one body of Christ, we acknowledge our Reformation heritage and the teaching of the creeds of the ancient church, particularly the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds.”

But the words of Scripture and the truths of the Reformation and orthodox creeds evidently mean little to the church as a whole and even less to Rev. Vosper. The minister maintains that she does not believe in God in the traditional sense: “Were I to be given incontrovertible proof that a god does, or gods do, exist, the evidence of the cruel and capricious realities of disparity, tragedy, illness, and anguish in the world, and the truth that our world and our experience of it is wrapped not only in beauty but also in excruciating pain, would prevent me from worshipping it or pledging my allegiance to it.”

And so we have a minister who says that even if deity does exist, the bad things existing in the world would prevent her from worshiping this deity. I will give Rev. Vosper credit for saying what many ministers would like to say but fear the consequences. Unfortunately, Rev. Vosper has chosen the wrong side in this debate. Showing herself to be a fool (Psalm 14:1), she foolishly promotes the world’s wisdom and places herself in opposition to the God who has revealed himself through his creation, his Son, and his Word.

Rev. Vosper and all who deign to create deity in their own image or deconstruct deity according to their own “wisdom” will find themselves confronted by the very One they modify or deny: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me” (Job 38:2–3 [ESV]). What the world lauds as noble will be revealed by God to be terminally foolish.

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In Luke 19 we find Jesus and his disciples nearing Jerusalem. Because his disciples assumed that the kingdom of God was about to appear, Jesus told them a parable, beginning in this way: “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” Jesus was pointing to his death and going to heaven, but he would return one day to establish the consummated kingdom of God.

For those who reject the biblical Christ, this is the bottom line: “I will not have him to reign over me.” The bottom line really is whether we retain our autonomy or surrender it to Jesus.

Many mask their rejection of the rule of Christ by claiming they do follow him, but everybody else who follow the Bible are the ones who misunderstand the real Jesus. The real Jesus, they say, is all about love, and that’s the Jesus they follow. This love is one that allows all things, whether it is same-sex marriage or folks changing their gender or women having the right to abort their unborn baby, etc.

The Bible, of course, calls such things “sin,” but these “Christian” rebels claim that the Bible is simply a manmade book and really doesn’t carry any authority.

Amazingly, many of those who refuse to bow to Christ are in the Christian ministry. With academic degrees and ministerial standing, they undermine the very faith that they claim to follow.

One such minister is in a mainline denomination that endorses same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. Without shame he claims: “I think the Bible is wrong about most everything. It is wrong about evolution, slavery, women, and gays. It has no authority on those topics. I think the Bible is wrong about cosmology, history, our future, Jesus, and God. The texts were all written by human beings without any supernatural or special revelation. Yet I preach in a PC(USA) pulpit.” He mocks, “Run! Flee! Escape while you can into the refreshing waters of pure doctrine!”

To those who leave the denomination because it refuses to address such heresy, he taunts: “We will need plenty more break-offs before we finally give up on the oppressive notion of the Authority of Scripture. The Bible contains no truth outside of what we can discover through public means of inquiry. Don’t misunderstand. I enjoy the Bible. It is a marvelous human book. I read it and study it with all the critical means at my disposal. In so doing, I will do my part to undermine its Authority which I think is the next important step for religious freedom.”

And so we learn that his issue is the authority of Scripture. This minister enjoys the prospect of a god of his own creation, a god who basically endorses all that he himself approves, a god who is basically a mirror image of what he conceives as good. No holiness. No righteousness. No divine justice. No fear of God.

This minister and countless others discount the Bible because it doesn’t endorse such a view. It presents a holy God who requires perfection in order to dwell in God’s presence. The Bible takes issue with sin, but the Son of God came to earth to satisfy divine justice for those who will submit to Christ. But that’s the thing — this minister, who happens not to believe in the afterlife, refuses to bow.

But bow he shall, as will all of creation: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11 [ESV]).

 

 

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Why is sin really so bad?

It may come as a surprise to many Christians, but our society really does believe in sin. Of course, the issue is who determines what sin it. Our culture at large believes it is a sin to deny two persons of the same sex the opportunity to have their union sanctioned by the state. It is a sin to declare that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. It is a sin to prohibit a woman from having an abortionist end the life of her unborn child. Eating French fries is a sin. Eating anything fried is a sin!

An increasing number are saying that parents who teach their children such things as biblical creation, the exclusivity of the gospel, traditional marriage, and the wrongness of abortion are guilty of child abuse. We laugh at such extremism, but if the last five decades have taught us anything, it has taught us that today’s extremists become tomorrow’s academicians and politicians.

The issue of sin is a mixed up affair in America. We get some things right. Theft is still a sin. You cannot walk in a bank and demand money that belongs to others without consequence. Lying is considered a sin, depending upon who is lying to whom. It’s all relative, right?

That is the heart of the issue. Who determines what makes sin “sin”? Our culture pronounces that society itself is the final arbiter, the final say in what makes something sinful. Will such a pronouncement hold up? German society did not rise up against the concentration camps under Hitler. History is replete with examples of a society committing what later societies would denounce as wickedness. Who today holds the guillotine of the French Revolution in high esteem? Well, outside of places such as Iran and North Korea, that is.

Christians will say that something is sinful because the Bible says it is wrong. The Bible is certainly the place we want to go in order to categorize actions, but the question is not which actions are wrong, but why such actions are deemed sinful to begin with. Why is sin really a bad thing?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the long-time pastor of Westminster Chapel in London during the mid-twentieth century, throws light on the question: “Our view of sin has gone astray. We tend to think of certain actions as being sinful, and when we say that we have sinned we mean only that we have done something wrong, and that we are bearing the consequences of that. All that is true about sin, but the real essence of sin is that we are not giving the glory to God that is due to Him” (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1:1 to 23 [Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1978], 132).

Sin is so bad because it is rebellion against the creator God. This is his universe. All glory is due him. When we violate his commands, we seek glory for ourselves. We say that we are in charge, we are the authority, we determine what is right and what is wrong. We usurp the place of God.

Why is sin so bad? The apostle Paul puts it this way: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

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A blue Christmas?

Christmas seems to be a particularly depressing time for many people. Statistics reveal increased numbers of suicides and attempted suicide when compared to other times of the year. Mental health professionals report an increase in cases of depression.

Many reasons for increased depression are offered. Folks get overwhelmed with trying to find the “perfect” Christmas gift. All the festivities can crowd needed rest out of one’s calendar. Expecting one’s Christmas season to match a Hallmark movie doubtlessly produces a blue Christmas for many. Gatherings that force folks to be around others they dislike can be a downer.

Perhaps more persons need to feel blue at Christmas, though not for any of the reasons often offered. The thrice-holy Christ entered the world. Juxtaposed against his holiness, any human should be filled with dread and shame, a state of the darkest blue.

In Isaiah 6 we find the prophet in the presence of the Almighty. Confronted with perfect holiness, Isaiah shrinks, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). Isaiah saw himself and his people as they really were: wicked and evil. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45) correlates what a person says with what a person is. That is not a comforting thought.

One might ask, “Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re talking about Christmas. What does Christmas have to do with Isaiah’s experience with the holy God?” The apostle John records this account in his gospel: “Though he [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:37–41, ESV; emphasis added).

Isaiah saw Christ in his glorious holiness and saw himself as wicked and unworthy. Somehow, that’s a reality we need to grasp during the Christmas season. We are not celebrating the miracle of a birth, though the Virgin Birth was certainly that. We are not celebrating the innocence of a little child, though this Child is the only one who has ever been born as innocent after Adam’s fall. Too much of Christmas in our culture borders on sappy emotionalism, and a lot of it is thoroughly baptized in sappiness. Even the “Put Christ Back into Christmas” campaigns miss the mark, because most people would be aghast at who Christ really is. Perhaps beside manger scenes should be a depiction of Revelation 19:11-15: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Seeing Christ as Scripture depicts him should drive us to the cross, for there “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). Seeing Christ in his holiness reveals us in our sinfulness and lawlessness. By his grace, we loathe our sin, repent of it, and embrace his atonement for us. And, yes, we celebrate Christmas, but for no sentimental reason. We celebrate because our kind, benevolent, gracious, holy Savior God has satisfied divine justice due our sin and has clothed us in his righteousness.

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Thankful, but to whom?

National holidays are known in our nation for their commercialization, and this is especially true, or so it seems, with those associated with Christianity. Easter? New clothes and Easter bunnies, must-have new baskets for the little ones. Christmas? When Christians campaign to “keep Christ in Christmas,” you know it’s a lost cause culturally.

Even the worshipers of darkness find their Halloween sullied with the buying and giving of large stashes of candy for the trick-or-treat darlings in their newly-bought outfits for the occasion. I was waiting in a check-out line at Wal-Mart a few days ago as the cashier was dealing with a customer ahead of me. A cell phone rang behind me, and the woman who answered it notified her caller that she had just picked up her Halloween costume. Glancing back at her, my first thought was . . . , oh well, never mind.

But then there’s Thanksgiving. Finally, a non-commercialized holiday, or so many think. Folks gobble their turkey and dressing as they work their way through the Black Friday sales, getting to bed early so they can get the jump on the crowd the next morning.

Really, though, that is not the worst thing about Thanksgiving. A greater problem with Thanksgiving in our day is that thanks is extended to no one in particular. Watch television news broadcasters. They will run stories about acts of kindness during the Thanksgiving season and may even share some of their favorite Thanksgiving memories, stories about family and food and football, stuff to make you feel all warm inside. But to whom are they thankful? Rarely is there even a nod to God.

Of course, things have not always been so in our country, much to the chagrin of those who try to rewrite our nation’s history. For instance, Governor John Hancock of Massachusetts issued the following proclamation in 1783 to celebrate our nation’s independence from Great Britain:

Whereas … these United States are not only happily rescued from the Danger and Calamities to which they have been so long exposed, but their Freedom, Sovereignty and Independence ultimately acknowledged.

And whereas . . . the Interposition of Divine Providence in our Favor hath been most abundantly and most graciously manifested, and the Citizens of these United States have every Reason for Praise and Gratitude to the God of their salvation.

Impressed therefore with an exalted Sense of the Blessings by which we are surrounded, and of our entire Dependence on that Almighty Being from whose Goodness and Bounty they are derived;

I do by and with the Advice of the Council appoint Thursday the Eleventh Day of December next (the Day recommended by the Congress to all the States) to be religiously observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, that all the People may then assemble to celebrate . . . that he hath been pleased to continue to us the Light of the Blessed Gospel; . . . That we also offer up fervent Supplications . . . to cause pure Religion and Virtue to flourish . . . and to fill the World with his glory.

There has been for decades a concerted effort in the United States to remove any vestiges of Christianity from the public square. We lament the effectiveness of those who hate Christianity. Let’s be honest, though. They have been effective in removing Christian words and symbols because we as a nation have essentially removed God from our lives individually. It’s not a great step to remove God from our lives collectively.

There’s not much we can do directly to reverse our culture’s neglect of God, but we can do something directly in our lives and in our families. We can recover a lifestyle of verbal gratefulness to God for his blessings unto us. A people of God is a people who explicitly give him thanks. David’s words should be ours: “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” (1 Chronicles 16:8, ESV).

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The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul is ChristianAudio’s free download for March. You can find it here. Download, listen, and be transformed.

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I doubt any person has influenced my understanding of Christianity and preaching more than John MacArthur. A series of MacArthur’s audio cassette tapes loaned to me by a former missionary to Brazil opened my mind and heart and understanding to the concept that the glory of God is central to everything. That must have been about 1980, and I’ve followed Dr. MacArthur’s ministry since and am thankful to God for it.

Tim Chailles recently posted a two-part series entitled “10 Questions with John MacArthur.” I encourage you to read and think carefully through Dr. MacArthur’s responses. The first five questions are here, and the latter five are here.

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