Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sovereign Comfort in God's Providence

This may be an uncomfortable read. It may stir you a little bit and leave you feeling a little uneasy. That's true of any of the big doctrines of the Christian faith. Propitiation (1John 4) is upsetting. The incomprehensible nature of the Trinity is so mind warping that I feel dizzy just thinking about it. The eternal nature of God is inscrutable. My mind gets scrambled after I try to think about it. I can't even think about it because I don't have anything to compare it to so I just try to think about it and then my mind gets the blue screen of death. 

But God's providence is uncomfortable in a different way. The implications are endless.
"If God has providence over everything, that means..."

He has providence over everything and that's okay. It's actually good.

Providence and sovereignty naturally overlap and intersect but I want to really focus in on providence because there's a specific direction I'm going with this post and the term providence better articulates this particular attribute of God. 

We're going to think about our individual lives and how God works in them. Just think about your life for the moment. We can all point to different areas and times in our lives where God, through His providence, worked things out for us or where He accomplished something on our behalf using very unconventional means. He's done it in the past, He's doing it now and He's going to do it in the future. That's how He works virtually all the time...through providence. 

When we survey the Bible we see a lot of supernatural things going on. We see the parting of the Red Sea. We see a speaking donkey. We see Elijah and Elisha doing their things. We see Jesus turning water into wine and raising the dead, we see the Apostles healing people and prophesying and then we see people in Acts speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. 

It's a series of incredible and miraculous events. It's God's glory on display. He's achieving His ends and using miracles to do so. Miracles are cool. Miracles are genuinely awesome. Awesome is a strong word but miracles are inexplicable supernatural events so the word fits. 

God used miracles in the Bible for very specific purposes. I can't think of any miracle that was completely random and undocumented.
"Tim, that's circular logic! If it's undocumented, then it obviously wouldn't be in the Bible!"
Touche! That's kind of my point!

"Tim, are you saying there are no miracles happening today? Are you.............putting God in a box??????!!!!???"
No I am not saying there are no miracles today. In fact, I know of at least 1 miracle that is a legitimate miracle: the regeneration of my soul. I went from being spiritually dead to now being spiritually alive. That is indeed a miracle; the miracle of regeneration. So I can't say that no miracles are happening today when every day I wake up knowing I was once dead in my sins but am now alive in Christ! Amen? 

Let's get to the meat of this post.

Does God still perform external miracles today? I am fully convinced there are no miracle workers today. I believe with a high degree of certainty that the Apostolic gifts ceased around the completion of the New Testament or when the Apostle John died. That's another topic and you're free to disagree with me. If you do disagree with me, I encourage you to not redefine the gifts as many in the Charismatic/Continuationist movement have done. 

Again, I'm not saying God can't perform miracles. I'm saying He's not using miracle workers today. We don't say God can't add to the Bible if He wanted to, we say that He's chosen not to. That's a fair question but if you get hung up on something I haven't said, that's your own fault. 

This post is about where our assurance and comfort comes from. Is it dependent upon God doing a miraculous work in our life like regrowing a limb or multiplying food in front of our eyes? Is that what we trust in? 

Or do we trust that if we are faithful to God and obey His word, He will provide for us, If we trust God, He will mature us? Is our assurance of God's care over our life built upon His ability to work all things together for our good in accordance with His holy nature or His ability to turn water into wine? It's awesome to know He can change one thing into another with His mouth so don't get me wrong about that. But what if He doesn't do that and we're left with a 5 gallon jug of Ecto-Cooler? Do we still have assurance that He's concerned about us and that He's even out there?

What if our loved one dies? God could have intervened and saved that person miraculously. Why didn't He? 
What if our loved one survives? What if our loved one is diagnosed with terminal cancer and then it's suddenly gone? What if you're convinced that's a miracle? You're praising God and you should be! But then what if a week later the hospital calls and tells you that there was a colossal clerical error and your loved one's x-rays were switched with someone else's (and that person now finds out they do have cancer)? So it wasn't a miracle but just a natural byproduct of human fallibility. Do you still praise God? 

YES! Your loved one is still alive and perfectly fine! Do you care that it wasn't a miracle? I sure don't! Whether God does a miracle in our lives or not is, to be honest, irrelevant to how much we should trust Him. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

God Hates Divorce

American Christianity is a well documented pendulum. We shift from legalism to antinomianism. We shift from zeal to apathy. We go from deeply theological songs to man-centered praise music. The pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth. It would seem now that there's some emphasis on being extraordinary or completely antithetical to the average believer. This has even crept its way into how we view marriage.

Christians should be the last group of people buying into the false notion of The One. Matt Walsh wrote a great article on this a while back and I highly recommend you read it as it will kind of help you understand where I'm coming from. If you already recognize that Christian marriage isn't dependent upon a proper alignment of cosmic light sources but rather a proper alignment of regenerated people, then you can skip his article for the time being. 

My in-laws have been married for 40+ years. Neither of them have a bachelor's degree. They never made a ton of money. They had difficulty getting pregnant. They weren't even born again until later in their marriage. But they're still in love. It's observable. I see it every time I see them. They entered into their contract in imperfect circumstances. Non-Christians. Not wealthy. "Uneducated." But they're still married. 

Am I saying they didn't have problems? Do you think I'm that naive? Of course they had problems! They're 2 different human beings! I'm certain they had tons of problems. But they're still married.
Melanie's parents and my parents had about a 2% chance
staying married. 

My parents have been married 40+ years. Neither of them have a bachelor's degree. They never made a ton of money. My mother was told she was infertile. They weren't even born again until later in their marriage. But they're still in love. It's observable. I see it every time I see them. They entered into their contract in imperfect circumstances. Non-Christians. Not wealthy. "Uneducated." But they're still married.

Am I saying they didn't have problems? Do you think I'm that naive? Of course they had problems! They're 2 different human beings! I'm certain they had tons of problems. But they're still married. 

What is going on here? How can both of these couples still be married? You know how? It's so simple. They didn't get divorced!
"Tim, don't patronize me! That's obvious!"

But in today's society, it would be perfectly acceptable if they had. The world would expect uneducated people who aren't wealthy to get a divorce. That's become the expectation. 

Malachi 2:16
"For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the LORD of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."
That passage goes deeper than that and is about more than just marriage but the point doesn't change, in fact, I believe it's intensified! God hates divorce because it shatters the stability and beauty of something He created for our good and for our pleasure as the greatest illustration of His love for the church!  

Here's what I'm trying to drive home: ordinary, average, every day couples have extraordinary, exceptional, unheard of marriages. Neither Melanie's parents nor my parents are, as the world defines it, exceptional human beings. They aren't famous inventors, athletes or movie stars. They are just normal people. They don't have super powers. They aren't extraterrestrials. They are just normal people indwelt with the same Holy Spirit you and I are, access to the same Bible, forgiven by the same Savior and praying to the same God. 

Therefore, my wife and I have no excuse to not be married til we die. None! No excuse! In fact, because we got married as believers and had incredible examples of marriage in our parents, we have even less excuses than none to not be married til we die!
Better or worse? Our friend Amanda has a great
take on that! 

It is alarming and frightening how many marriages are dissolving within the Christian community. My wife and I aren't oblivious to temptations. In fact, our senses have been heightened to be on guard for temptations because of the plague of marital dissolutions. We are building up wall after wall to keep out anything that might interfere with our marriage.

Marriage is a beautiful thing. It's incredible. I say this without any doubt: I love my wife more every month. Maybe not every week or day but every month. We have some pretty bad days and sometimes some bad weeks. But we're still married. We are committed to this deal. We have to be! We want to be!

The harder we've worked at our marriage the easier it's been. Say what?? Yea I said it! Isn't that true of the Christian life too? When you're lazy and avoid church, avoid the Word and fill your mind with junk, isn't it tough to be a Christian? But when you're working hard, being in community with God's people and filling your mind with truth, isn't it way easier? Substantially easier!

But marriage is still not easy. It can just be easier. Every marriage is between 1 selfish man and 1 selfish woman and then later on some selfish little humans join the party. We go from being selfish as individuals and then we become selfish as a couple and then we have kids and have to learn to stop being selfish as a couple. It's this unrelenting process of shedding selfishness.

We've got practical tips we learned as a couple: have a joint bank account, express feelings, lower your expectations, don't smother, being alone with members of the opposite sex is not okay, etc. And we've got basic Christian tips: go to church together, read together, pray together, socialize with other Christian couples, no secrets, don't let problems build, etc. 

Here's the biggest one: love one another. Love is a choice 100% of the time. When I love Melanie, that's something I choose to do and I will myself to do it if I have to. I know Melanie wills herself to love me. She has to most of the time! Can you imagine being married to me? Give Melanie a word of encouragement next time you see her. She's an impressive woman.
I know I am actually talkin' bout love,
but that song was in my head. 
Every Christian has the capacity for love and relationship. Not every Christian has to be married but every married Christian has to love. The mushy gushy feeling? It's not like it was on your first couple dates but there's something better. There's no longer a feeling there but a knowledge. I know my wife loves me. I know it because I see how she loves me everyday and that she wouldn't do the things she does if she didn't love me. That's a much deeper love. And that's what I need. And that's what every Christian is capable of.

Isn't that our Christian life too? We evolve from the feeling of being loved to the knowledge of being loved as we grow closer to God. We know God loves us and that's 10x more comforting than feeling that He does. 

Having a lasting marriage that thrives is not something available only to some! It's there for anyone who wants it. Choose to love your spouse. Choose to build walls to protect your marriage. Choose to fill your minds with truth and with good things. You've got problems? Okay, deal with them! See a counselor. Talk to your pastor. Just don't give up! If you're a believer I am 100% confident you can make your marriage last and make it incredible!
The next time you're reading the Bible think about how much it all applies to your marriage.
"But Tim, there's like 5 passages in the Bible about marriage!"
5 passages about marriage but most of the Bible can be applied to your marriage.
That's the extent of my dancing. Just
standing still and swaying.

Take for instance when Jesus tells the rich young ruler he cannot follow Him unless he gives up his wealth.
How can that apply to marriage?
First, it's not about marriage but we can make a pretty good secondary application:
We need to be willing to give up anything that's putting a stumbling block between us and our spouses. If your job is keeping you from your spouse and it's damaging your marriage? Bye bye job. If you keep in contact with an old girlfriend? No sir. You cut that crap out.
Your sports obsession is interfering with quality time with your wife? You compromise until you figure something out (hoping Melanie has stopped reading by now).

The Bible isn't about marriage. The Bible is about Christ. So men, we take what we know about Christ and we emulate His character in our marriages. Ladies, you take what you know about the bride of Christ (the church) and you emulate that in our marriages.

Friends, marriage is messy and crazy but it's not as complex as we make it out to be. My desire for this generation to rise above such a low view of marriage is increasingly daily. It tears me up in a severe way to see marriages not thriving and rips me up even more to see them falling apart. Give your marriage over to God and let Him completely crush your selfishness and build an extraordinary marriage with 2 normal people. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Playing Favorites With the Gospel

There is a particular group of people very much ostracized by the Christian community today. They are a group that has been largely despised by most Americans. The Christian community does not tolerate them. We do not accept them. We kick them out of our churches when their attitudes and behaviors are made known. Why do we treat this group of people so much differently than other groups of sinners? There's even some uncertainty as to whether they are born this way or if they've come into this lifestyle from a lifelong series of choices. Why do we treat racists the way we do?

Woah woah. Did I just say racists? Wasn't I supposed to say homosexuals? I'm confused.

Imagine how bizarre it would be if we gave a racist a platform to spew his hate and his anti-God lifestyle? Wouldn't that just be dumb on our part? And wrong?

Is there any sin we're more willing to "have a conversation with" than homosexuality (probably anxiety. Christians think anxiety is a sign of humility and not a sin, but I digress)? Why don't we have conversations with racists? I'm confused. Why are we so eager to reconcile with homosexuals but not with racists? Don't racists need to hear the good news too? Are they beyond the scope of God's redeeming love?

A few months ago when racism was all the rage there was a panel discussion (A Time to Speak) with some prominent Christian leaders. There were a couple white pastors and Christian leaders and the rest were black pastors and leaders. All of them, except for 1, spoke as conservative liberals. I call them that because I think they preach Christ from the pulpit but sound, at least on Twitter, like a typical brainwashed liberal. The term white privilege was thrown around and the one guy kept saying Anglo over and over and over. They incessantly stated there was systemic racism in the criminal justice system. All the same politically correct mumbo jumbo you'd hear on MSNBC was being said by conservative Christian leaders.

Not to my surprise or the surprise of anyone familiar with his ministry, Voddie Baucham manned up and dropped truth bomb after truth bomb on the rest of the placating panel. The salient point of his time was when he asked why Christians were so eager to have conversation with homosexuals but not racists. He wasn't actually asking for conversation with racists but simply pointing out the insanity of giving the platform to people in willing rebellion of God.

There were two separate discussions but the first one was so unacceptably unbalanced (1 dissenting view and 0 law enforcement officers) that I couldn't handled another ill-conceived lecture.

Racism is not a sin tolerated by the church. Racism should not be tolerated by the church. The Bible doesn't even address race. It addresses ethnicity and cultures, but not race. That's all I need to know. Racism is wrong because race is a man-made concept and it's wrong because all people were created by God and in His image. Pretty simple. The Gospel is for the Jew and for the Gentile. Who is the Gentile? Anyone who is not a Jew. So the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone.

Who is everyone? Is it everyone but racists? Or are racists still human beings? So why do we play favorites with the Gospel? Why do we rationalize so many sins on behalf of people?

Why aren't we eager to twist the Bible to tolerate racism when we're eager to do so to tolerate homosexuality?

Do you know why racism isn't talked about a whole lot from the white pulpit? Because no one tolerates it. TV shows don't glorify racists. Colleges don't teach people to accept racists. Our kids aren't watching movies where 2 racists get married and have a lovely family. We're not watching car commercials where 2 racists are kissing. We're not seeing people getting sued for not baking  cake for racists. We're not seeing our government overstep its bounds to implement illogical laws in favor of racists.

But didn't James write to his people, the Jews? Yes! Wasn't he addressing his ethnic group? Yes! I don't think that's wrong. I think it only makes sense for a pastor to pastor people he connects with. A local church is going to be comprised of a group of people representing that community. But what about diversity? Well is diversity mandated in the Bible? Is every local church to be made up of X% whites and Y% blacks and so on? Or should a local church represent the community in which it's located? Which seems more practical and reasonable to you?

This does NOT mean an inner-city church shoos away a rich Latino man or a midde-class Asian man. This does NOT mean a suburban church doesn't welcome a black family from downtown. The church doesn't have a say over who comes in the doors in terms of ethnicity, class and other superficial stuff. I'm just saying a local church is going to reflect the community in which it's located and that's not a bad thing. We can't get all worried about not having enough black people. That's no way to look at church. Would I love if more black people attended my church? Of course! I think that'd be great! When I look at my church I think it reflects fairly accurately its surrounding environment. It's in a predominantly white middle-class area and that's who most of the members are.
Look at how diverse this group is! Is this even remotely realistic?

Back to James. Was he a racist for writing to Jews and not to others? No! He was a Jew writing to Jews. Why is that wrong? Why is it wrong for a black pastor to write to a black congregation about black issues? Why is it wrong for a pastor in the suburbs to write to suburbanites about issues in the suburbs? None of those things are wrong if what they are teaching is consistent with the Bible!

What would be wrong is if James wrote to the Jews and just bashed the church in Ephesus for not being Jews. Or if a black pastor preached a sermon on white privilege or if a suburban pastor preached a sermon telling people that black people are inferior. It'd even be wrong for a white pastor to try to make white people feel guilty for being white and bash police officers as a collective group in the process. That would be wrong and irresponsible. Thank goodness that isn't exactly what happened on the A Time to Speak panel.

I couldn't keep myself from rambling and rabbit trailing. My apologies.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Immunity to Bad Decisions

There’s a vaccine for cancer. It’s been around for a while and has almost completely eradicated this awful disease. But I’m not going to give my son the vaccine. Why not? Well let me tell you, oh uninformed one! You need to do some research! I read about this research some guy did a while back that proved the cancer vaccine increases a child’s likelihood of being dyslexic. Even though the guy who did the research later admitted his findings were bogus I am still not going to vaccinate my son. What’s the reason for my obstinance?  Because I love my kid I take advice from former MTV stars. Britney Spears has spoken out against the cancer vaccine. Since Britney is famous and all famous people are experts on everything they speak to, I can trust her. Oh sure she based her opinion on the research that was later proven false, but what does that matter? She’s a celebrity. She can’t possibly be wrong.

Do you see why some people might think I’m a little bit crazy? Maybe just a little off my rocker? Especially if I’m also going around trying to convince people that 9/11 was an inside job and Sandy Hook was orchestrated by the government to take guns away from people (how’d that work out? Oh, the complete opposite effect). Certainly you’re free to not vaccinate your child and you’re free to believe the government planned 9/11 and Sandy Hook. That’s your prerogative. Read carefully. I’m NOT saying the government is wonderfully moral and pure and morally incapable of doing those things. That’s NOT what I’m saying. I’m not saying I trust the government. What I am saying is that no reasonable evidence exists that would lead me to jump to such irrational conclusions - namely that our government is actively concocting a relentless barrage of diabolical schemes.

The reason I am pro-vaccination is because all the evidence strongly suggests that vaccines are doing good work and there’s no evidence to lead me to believe it’s causing autism. Do I think you’re crazy for not vaccinating? Yea, a little bit and I’m sure you think my wife and I are crazy for some of the conclusions we’ve come to. I also don’t think the government should force you to vaccinate your child. I also don’t think your rights are being violated if a public school won’t allow you to enroll your unvaccinated child. That’s the choice you made when you chose not to vaccinate. Sorry. Home school that kid.

Let’s take a look at Josiah and see what we can glean about the importance of making well-informed decisions based on good information. Josiah was a good king. One of the few good kings of Judah.

2 Chronicles 35
20 After all this, when Josiah had set the [d]temple in order, Neco king of Egypt came up to make war at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out to engage him. 21 But [e]Neco sent messengers to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, so that He will not destroy you.” 22 However, Josiah would not turn[f]away from him, but disguised himself in order to make war with him; nor did he listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to make war on the plain of Megiddo. 23 The archers shot King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” 24 So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in the second chariot which he had, and brought him to Jerusalem [g]where he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.

What’s Josiah’s deal? Why didn’t he listen to Neco? Neco spelled it out to Josiah! Josiah was a good king who made a really bad decision based on good information. If Josiah, a good king, can make bad decisions based on good information then certainly we can make bad decisions based on bad information! We are likely to always make a bad decision if we’re using bad information as the basis for our decision.

Any decision we make, whether it be the mundane choice of where to go out to eat (I wonder how much time couples spend per year pondering that question), what church to attend or whether to be a 3, 4 or 5 point Calvinist we need to base all of those decisions on the best information we can get ahold of.

What does Jesus say?

Luke 14
How fitting that a notorious false prophet,
Rex Humbard, ran out of money to build a
tower? And then Ernest Angley took it
over! Quite appropriate. 
27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

Admittedly the context of that passage is about being a disciple of Christ but a secondary principal we take from that is the importance of research! Do I really want to be a disciple of Christ? Let me examine what the Bible says it will cost me. Oh, it’ll cost me a lot. Am I ready for that level of commitment? And to the lesser degree we examine each and every decision carefully and with good information. We don’t consult the Koran or Hemingway when choosing (uh oh, did a 5 point Calvinist just say choose?) to be a disciple or not. Neither would we consult a former MTV star when deciding to vaccinate our children or not. We’d consult the best available source of information, seek Godly counsel and pray. Just don’t base your decisions on bad information! Don’t base your decisions about Christ on any of man’s words or actions. Base your decision about Christ on the book He authored!