Wednesday, May 15

GRACE defined like no other!

I sent this out to both our church family as well as to our Western New York ministerium. I thought it'd be good to put it "out there" on the internet as well. 
Dear Church Family as well as my Fellow WNYCB Ministers:
I'm going to take a chance. As Phyllis' Dad used to say, "Columbus took a chance." But how often have we asked the definition of "grace," and we received an answer like the acrostic, "God's Riches At Christ's Expense," or, God giving us what we do not deserve. These are fine such as they are. But if given out too often, they may become old hat, even trite, and therefore they tend to lose depth of meaning.

Now, read the following from the English Congregational pastor, John Henry Jowett (1864-1923). Warning, you'll have to read it more than once. But you'll WANT to do so. . . . I hope.

God bless you all,
Pastor Dave
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.
—Ephesians 1:7–8

  I walked alone by the incoming sea. I read the words of my text to the accompaniment of the roar and advance of the incoming tide. The onrush of the ocean seemed to get into the words. The grace of the Eternal was rolling toward the human race in a wealthy and glorious flood.
  I am grateful for this comment of the ocean tide. I am grateful for its suggestion of energy in the ministry of grace. Grace is too commonly regarded as a pleasing sentiment, a soft disposition, a welcome feeling of favor entertained toward us by our God. [That] interpretation is ineffective. Grace is not the shimmering face of an illumined lake; it is the sunlit majesty of an advancing sea. It is a transcendent and ineffable force, the outgoing energies of the redeeming God washing against the polluted shores of human need.
  Grace includes thought and purpose and good will and love. We do it wrong and therefore maim ourselves if we esteem it only as a perfumed sentiment, a favorable inclination, and not as a glorious energy moving toward the race with the fullness and majesty of the ocean tide. Wherever I turn in the Sacred Book I find the mystic energy at work. In every instance it works and energizes as an unspeakable force.
  Let me cull a little handful of examples. “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart.… And God is able to make all grace abound to you” (2 Cor. 9:7–8 NASB). Do you catch the connection? Let each one do, for God will make grace abound. Grace is the dynamic of endeavor! “God our Father by his grace gave us good hope.” We have good hope! The lamp is kept burning. The light does not die out. All the rooms are lit up. Grace is the nourisher of optimism. “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Heb. 13:9). Grace is the secret energy of a fortified will.
  Grace does not flow from a half-reluctant and partially reconciled God, like the scanty and uncertain movements of a brook in time of drought. It comes in oceanic fullness. It comes in “his kindness, tolerance and patience” (Rom. 2:4), “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

Wallis, D. (2001). Take Heart: Daily devotions with the church's great preachers (146). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Friday, April 12

Dr. Walter Martin on How the Devil Steals Your Church

After Paul had urged Timothy to keep in mind that there will be those who depart from the faith, he then exhorted him to warn the church about such.   If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Timothy 4:6). Those who are in leadership must be especially careful here. It is our responsibility first to KNOW the truth well, and then to FIGHT for it. This is not new. But it needs restating . . . desperately! 
There is a progression that takes place in liberal theology: It begins with a corrupt bibliology, a corrupt view of the nature and the inspiration of Scripture. They have a corrupt theology because once you are picking and choosing from the Bible what you want, your theology has to suffer from it, because your human reason is corrupt… every major theological seminary that has turned from orthodox Christianity began with disbelief of Biblical doctrine. There wasn’t a single exception.
This corrupt Bibliology then lead them to the next step. Their theology began to be touched by it, their view of the Cross, the Virgin Birth were both immediately questioned; then came the miracles of Christ… And finally they had emptied the Gospel of all its content; they were simply using the outward shell so that they go on collecting money from the people and the churches; because they knew that if the people in the pew knew that they were apostate, they’d throw them out. So the strategy was hang on to the trust funds; hang on to the money we’ve got; hang on the properties we control, and we will gradually educate the laymen into this new approach to theology.
And then finally we will take control of everything. The gradual process of feeding you theological poison until you become immunized enough so that you don’t know what’s happening to you. And when you wake up to what’s happening to you, it’s too late they’ve got everything. That is not a baseless charge, I stand prepared to prove that the Cult of Liberal Theology in the United States has deliberately and consistently followed this methodology to entrap, control and dominate the denominations and the churches of the United States and our educational institutions. (The Cult of Liberalism, available from Walter Martin Religious InfoNet)
Dr. Walter Martin

Tuesday, March 26

How can we really be safe?

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. -Proverbs 29:25

Why is the fear of man worse than the fear of God? 
It "lays a snare." Well, you say, isn't it obvious? God is greater than man. OK, that does make a lot of sense. So, again I ask, why do we fear men over God? It is certainly a misplaced trust. But sin really doesn't make much sense no matter what that sin is.

We fear man in part because we see them, which means in our mind, we don't see God! At least on a level that means the most. That's a serious problem. Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, tells us that what motivated the heroes of faith, like Moses, was that he acted on faith because he saw Him "who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). We have good example of this unbelief in Jacob who upon waking from his ladder dream (Gen. 28) exclaimed, "Behold, God was in this place and I did not know it." Yes, it was good that he recognized God WAS there. But no, it was not necessarily good that he had not realized that until then. Not unusual truly. We tend to miss these things for we are so bound to the material world. And until God shows himself to us in an uncontested and glorious way we operate in a blind acceptance of the truth--our version of it. We bless God that Moses exhibited such faith in the midst of such opulence and power in Egypt.

But the main reason we fear man more than God is due to our low view of God and falsely inflated respect for man. So, why does the fear of man "lay a snare?" Simply because man cannot promise or fulfill what God can. So, trusting in man is bound to trip us up. When we don't take everything to God in prayer, that is one way in which we affirm that our fear of man and not God. What? Can a man, my wife, a new job or a friend or money really help me to the core? No. And when we try such things (as good as they may be in themselves) we turn God away and our hope of a true solution.

Why is trust in God safe?
First, because there are no contingencies he has not anticipated. There are no bumps in the road he is incapable of crossing. I can't change my past, but the Lord Jesus can save me from their domination in my life. What can I do about the future? But God knows it very well. No question there. Trust in the One whose reach goes in both directions, the past and forward and that with ease!

Second, trusting in the LORD is safe because his love is not conditioned on our own goodness or performance. So many have lived with the fear that they might lose the relationship they have with another. And in this world, that may very well be true, yes, may have even happened. But IT CANNOT HAPPEN WITH GOD! Has he not said, "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). In the Greek language multiple negatives emphasizes a point. In this verse, there are an unprecedented FIVE, that's 5 negatives! God means to make a point. Thus, we must mean to let him! And please don't say that you're an exception.

Third, we are safe in the fear of the LORD because he is all-powerful. This is not just a doctrine to be believed, but a truth to be delighted in. Most people are not very powerful. Some of us may in fact be rather weak in any number of ways. But not God. There is no trouble which he cannot overcome. He may not want you or me to overcome our issues right away, because there may be a much larger strength we cannot gain until we suffer. But he is all-powerful just the same.

Fourth, this leads to another very important reason to be safe in the fear of the LORD, and that is because God is all-wise. In summary, God lovingly foresees all contingencies and is completely powerful to make happen even the impossible. But add to this that he is ALL WISE and you have an indomitably accurate force. He knows every harm and benefit which can come to us. And if you trust that God is good, then you can rest in his wisdom.

Lastly, God is sovereign. All of his attributes come together in this awesome truth! Here is a wonderful explanation from the Puritan, Steven Charnock:
The power of God is that ability and strength whereby He can bring to pass whatsoever He pleases, whatsoever His infinite wisdom may direct, and whatsoever the infinite purity of His will may resolve. . . . As holiness is the beauty of all God’s attributes, so power is that which gives life and action to all the perfections of the Divine nature. How vain would be the eternal counsels, if power did not step in to execute them. Without power His mercy would be but feeble pity, His promises an empty sound, His threatenings a mere scarecrow. God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature.  
Can you not see how we have every reason to be safe in God?

Monday, March 25

For Whom Did Christ Die? C. H. Spurgeon

Many rail against the doctrine of "limited atonement." But know that it is not the effect or power of Jesus' atoning work that is limited, but it's application. Charles Spurgeon has interestingly had the respect of Christians on both sides of this issue. But while some readers may continue despising this doctrine, Spurgeon here explains just one reason it is a good doctrine, in fact, better than universal atonement. God's glory is at stake. May I add one thought here. If you read this and imagine, "Well, if I am not elect, then can I be saved?" That is the wrong question. The right question is, "Do I want to be saved?" Jesus did say, didn't he, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved . . ." (John 10:9). Let's not worry too much about the divine counsel of God. Study it, yes. But bow before it. If you wish to know God, then turn to him. But in order to rightly understand the complete and finished work of Christ on the cross rightly, consider the following . . .

"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." 
John 6:37
Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, "It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself," they say, "to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty. I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood.

There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins.

Once again, if it was Christ's intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood that seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished he sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!"

Saturday, March 23

Resurfacing on the Blog . . . Seeing the Genuine Savior

Yep, that's what I'm doing, resurfacing after a stuttered quietus (blog entries here and there). One of our Elders, Gary Appleby kindly urged me to continue writing, for which I here give him thanks. It's not that anything urgent has prevented any blogs necessarily. But one thing we are all learning from the Worldwide Web and that is, simply put, that it IS world wide! And it seems to be becoming even more so as time passes. My point here is simply that what one thinks in the confines of his own office in a small rural town like Perry, NY is that a small word may be a "shot heard round the world!" Or it could be just heard by the few. Either way, that's no problem. We don't write for fame or for a sure return. We often have no idea who reads what we write. But if God puts something on our hearts, the reception is not so much our responsibility as is the penning of those thoughts. The Spirit carries truth home to the heart, and only He.

American Christianity seems to often base its success on numbers, or as it's put, we seek "more bang for the buck." But that can be an elusive goal, and worse it will likely divert us from what is most important. In fact, it's almost guaranteed to do so. Jesus' entrance into this world went completely against the tide of expectations, Jewish, Roman or otherwise. If Jesus entered the world and were always perceived as the most "together," wealthy, influential,  or powerful, then on what basis would folks have followed him? I'm not saying that this is the only reason Jesus entered the world in Bethlehem poverty, but it certainly figures into the salvation equation.

In the late 1980's I did some construction work for a young man who it turns out was a millionaire. In talking with him, he shared with me that he had met and married his wife before ever telling her that he was wealthy. When he met her he drove a beat up old VW van (pea green, I believe). Why do this and take a chance of erecting a wall of distrust between yourself and your new bride? Well, because he had had experience in the world and knew that there were women who'd be quite ready to marry him for his money. He was also a nice looking guy to boot. Later, in speaking with his wife, she shared her initial disappointment that he had not felt her trustworthy enough or her love genuine enough to share this knowledge. Part of us can understand both sides in this situation. Jesus took all that off the table. If anyone were to place their trust in Christ, it would have to be on the basis of the unvarnished truth of his diety bound up in humble human form.

Those who have eyes of faith, can see the value of the genuine article. And this faith comes from God. Palm Sunday exultation gives way to angry hatred and crucifixion within just one week! Man is fickle. But God is not! And he knew quite well the state of this world which he came to save.

Wherein does your trust lie? Those who see through Jesus' ignominious death will in the end discover that they are married to One who unimaginatively wealthy! But He never misleads. Follow Christ. Yes, follow Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 31

Aching For Heaven?

The following drives to the heart of what God designed for this life. This should be the church's aim as well. Read and re-read these words from William Sangster. They hit home!

At home with the Lord.  —2 Corinthians 5:8

Deep in the human heart there is a homing instinct, profound, persistent, ineradicable, that we often ignore and might even deny.

There is something in us that earth can never satisfy. It is common for people to say and to believe that if they only had this or that thing they would always be happy, and some of them die believing it. But the evidence of those who obtain the treasure does not bear them out. It satisfied for a little while—and then there was the old, persistent hunger again, clamorous as ever.

Earth does not satisfy us. I cannot help but feel that that is an impressive fact. I believe that there is in us a homesickness for heaven, that that ache which earth cannot satisfy can be satisfied by God, that all feel it, but only some understand it.

God has put in the heart of everyone of us a longing for himself. The mass of humanity does not understand it. People just know that there are times when they want to be quiet, times when they want to be alone, times when the calendar or the stars or death speaks to them. They hunger and they thirst—but for what?

It is part of the service of religion to make the hunger of our souls clear to us.

You may have lost your way, but don’t lose your address. Don’t deny that hunger in your soul. Don’t say, “It isn’t there; earth satisfies me; when this life is over I will have had all that I want of life.”

The homesickness for God in your heart is a precious, divine gift. It won’t make you less keen to serve others here below, but it will be a constant reminder to you that the most permanent dwelling earth provides is a tent, and at any time the word may come to draw the pegs. We are, indeed, strangers and pilgrims here below.

Here we sojourn; there we belong. You will work with zest and skill and thoroughness in all that concerns the outworking of God’s purpose on this earth, and you will work the better because, by faith, you have the perfect always in view.

—William E. Sangster

Wallis, D. (2001). Take Heart: Daily devotions with the church's great preachers (40). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Tuesday, January 1

Puzzled By Life's Trials? There's Help!

What are you planning to do this year to improve spiritually? I suggest taking in God's Word. No surprise there. Read with the Holy Spirit's help. Read in order to KNOW God more intimately. Last year I read 5 different devotionals in addition to reading through Scripture. As a pastor, I have that luxury. Perhaps your job or schooling prevents such a time constraint. I understand that, having been in the labor force for many years--construction, sales, etc. But we can do something. And certainly more Christians could do more. Well, one devotional I am going to read this year has as its preface the following (in part). Compiled by Diana Wallis, she culled out of the writings of great preachers of the past such teachings as might aid our spiritual examination and improvement. I include the following for your beginning-of-year encouragement. And maybe you'll get your hands on a copy of this or another good and challenging devotional and stick with it throughout the year. God bless you richly!! Here's an excerpt from Wallis' compilation:

The preachers quoted in this volume weren’t of the smile-God-loves-you variety. They didn’t sugarcoat life. Take this, for example, from a sermon preached by Arthur John Gossip shortly after the death of his wife:
I do not understand this life of ours, but still less can I comprehend how people in trouble and loss and bereavement can run away peevishly from the Christian faith. In God’s name, run to what? Have we not lost enough without losing that too? If Christ is right—if, as he says, there are somehow, hidden away from our eyes as yet… wisdom and planning and kindness and love in these dark dispensations—then we can see them through.… Already some things have become very clear to me. This to begin, that the faith works, fulfills itself, is real, and that its most audacious promises are true.… Further, one becomes certain about immortality. You think that you believe in that. But wait till you have lowered your dearest into an open grave, and you will know what believing it means.
 When facing calamities large and small in our own lives, surely we can take heart from such testimony as that.   
That the gospel is clearly proclaimed in these pages may seem superfluous in a book whose audience likely already believes in Christ. But, first, these preachers did, after all, proclaim the gospel. And second, the gospel is the great joy of believers. So be reminded, and meditate on the truths of it.

Wallis, D. (2001). Take Heart: Daily devotions with the church's great preachers (6–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.