Advent: The Time Is Now

RZIM’s Amy Orr-Ewing did a great series of videos last year for the Advent season. The main motif is the kairos, which is the Greek word for time. It’s different from chronos, which refers to the time on your watch. Kairos is qualitative, and refers to important points in time that are pregnant with meaning and significance. They are appointed times when God intervenes in our world and accomplishes a purpose. The best example is when He sent His son, Jesus, into our world to become Savior and King.

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How do you really experience God?

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When our church dived into Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God I reacted with my usual lack of expectation that it was really worth the excitement. I thought it was a typical, off-the-shelf, Christian self-help book until I read a few reviews. I then discovered a much bigger problem.

Blackaby’s book undermines the authority of Scripture only to replace it with subjective measures of the work of God, mainly our perceptions and feelings. He does a lot of harm to Christians by leading them to expect God to provide a special revelation, or assignment, just for them. It’s bad enough that many Christians have an unbiblical worldview (most according to many surveys). We need the kind of clarity that can only come from the Bible which is the word of God.

I thought it was a typical, off-the-shelf, Christian self-help book until I read a few reviews. I then discovered a much bigger problem.

I have heard people talk about the will of God in a mystical fashion my whole life. They told me to seek after it and ask God for it. I was supposed to follow the Holy Spirit’s “leading.” Of course, nothing ever happened and I wondered about what it took to gain this knowledge. And with each decision point I would reach where I hoped God would show me the way I was disappointed and increasingly frustrated.

The problem is that this is an unbiblical way of living the Christian life. I don’t know where it came from but it certainly didn’t come from Jesus. If we want to know the will of God then we must know the word of God. A healthy spiritual life is one where the believer is growing in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not passing from one emotionally stimulating experience to another.

Blackaby wants you to hear God’s “voice” and that includes the scriptures but is not limited to them:

“God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. He uses the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church (other believers). No one of these methods of God’s speaking is, by itself, a clear indicator of God’s directions. But when God says the same thing through each of these ways, you can have confidence to proceed.”

What?! The Bible, by itself, is not a clear indicator of God’s directions? Has Blackaby not read what Paul wrote to Timothy?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Not only is the Bible a clear indicator but it is the ONLY clear indicator of God’s “directions.” Your goal is not to develop a spiritual 6th sense that will indicate when God is “leading.” Everything we need to know in order to live a Godly life is found in the scriptures. Whatever help we get from others only supplements what is in the word of God. It is never a substitute for the revelation of the Bible.

Lest you think that I’m just being a negative it’s important for me to say that we are so blessed to have the Bible as our guide. Peter himself said as much:

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  

And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts…

Peter had an actual mountaintop experience. He saw things that you and I should never expect to see in our lifetimes. And yet, years later, he would go so far as to say that the word of God was far more valuable than any of those miracles he witnessed. It is so important that we understand this because of our temptation to think that if we see a sign then our faith will be solid.

The Bible is explicit, specific, and true. Spiritual maturity comes through time spent in the scriptures. Taking Blackaby’s approach means forever attributing your gut feelings to the Holy Spirit. You can see the fruit of that approach in your churches and among your family and friends.

If God did not reveal Himself to us through His word we would know nothing about Him. Hold fast to the word. It is the only firm foundation.

How firm a foundation you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Why do we doubt God’s promises?

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The story is a familiar one. A man who’s been struggling with sin surrenders his life to Christ. His life has been transformed and now everything is different.

But it’s not long before his sin is back and tugging at his elbow. He finds out that it’s not in the past where he thought he left it. He’s always taking one step forward and two steps back.

He wonders if God was enough, if his conversion was real, if there’s any hope of deliverance in the future. Why can’t he shake it?

You’ve heard a story like that. Maybe it even describes your life. This is the story of Israel’s history and it’s why Exodus 14 is relevant to us.

God delivered them in an amazing way but they fall apart when they see Pharaoh’s army approaching. They’re certain that God has left them to be killed by their former masters. They doubt this whole business of deliverance and pine for the days of slavery.

I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian. It doesn’t take much to make you doubt that God is going to deliver you this time. We may say “Amen” and “Hallelujah” during the sermon but when we’re tested we often act as if we don’t really believe of any of that stuff we heard.

Some of us may even welcome the temptation. Sometimes we see Pharaoh coming and we’re not sure we don’t want him to catch us. Sometimes we seek comfort in our old, sinful ways because it’s familiar, even if it doesn’t make us feel any better.

What do you do when the doubts arise?

The most important thing to remember is that God sent Israel into that situation on purpose. God had a plan to redeem them and a bigger plan to redeem His creation. But that plan includes dangerous, painful, and stressful challenges.

God’s plan sends us into difficult situations but He also makes provisions for our deliverance. We don’t earn or win that deliverance through our own merit. God’s grace is necessary and sufficient. We can draw hope and confidence from knowing that we will be victorious because, ultimately, He is victorious.

Moses gave the people three easy steps to follow: don’t be afraid, watch, and shut up. Fear is of the devil, not God. Watch, because you’re not going to handle it yourself. Shut up is just good general advice and can solve many of your problems.

God is leading you in the bad times as much as in the good times. It’s good to know that we’re not the first ones to experience fear. Eventually we have to decide to believe God (not just believe in Him) and fight the good fight.

The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.

What Does Symmetry Reveal About God?

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In Ezekiel 40 God casts the prophet into a trance and shows him a vision of a new temple with its courts buildings. You can see the symmetry from diagrams of the floor plan. Knowing that every verse of the Bible is there for a reason we have to ask ourselves what this means. What does it say about God? Why did He make it symmetrical?

The unity and diversity in symmetry struck me. It was right there in front of me and I never realized it. The reason why I think this is so important is because it gets to the essence of who, and what, God is.

Philosophers have tried to find the right balance between unity and diversity for thousands of years. They tried to reduce the world down to one essence from which everything emanates but they could only get to four: earth, air, fire, water. What was the fifth essence that unified these? What was the quintessential essence?

University is a combination of the words unity and diversity. There are a diversity of disciplines, sciences, but what is the one truth that permeates them all. This is probably a foreign concept for most college students who simply pick classes like they order off the menu at a restaurant.

The unofficial motto of the U.S., e. pluribus unum, is Latin for “out of many, one.” Unity in diversity.

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We see unity and diversity everywhere in creation but only in the biblical worldview do we see unity and diversity in the creator. We see in the godhead unity and diversity within the community of the trinity. We worship a triune God, one in essence and three in person.

When I think about the symmetry of the temple that Ezekiel saw I now think of how it reflects God’s unity and diversity. When I think of the three sides of the temple I think of the three divine persons. I also see that God brings order out of chaos.

Now we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and God brings His holiness into us. He has brought peace and order to our chaos. Wherever we go we dwell in the holy sanctuary of the Most High.

If I Had To Preach At A Wedding…

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Weddings are like graduation ceremonies in that your expectations for the sermon/speech are pretty low. The speaker has the impossible task of captivating an audience that is impatiently waiting to get to the fun part of the event. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with my brother’s sermon at a friend’s wedding last week.

He highlighted the couple’s admirable commitment to their relationship by guarding their purity before the wedding. They did what seems to be rarer these days by not hooking up and shacking up. They trusted God with each other and their relationship and they’ll be blessed for it.

It got me to thinking: what would I say if I had to give a message at a wedding? What should a wedding sermon sound like?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

We start at the beginning, creation. He made us male and female, equal in His eyes and yet distinct from each other in how we manifest the meaning of humanity. I think of a loose connection with the unity and diversity of the trinity, where we affirm that there is one divine essence and yet three distinct persons. Male and female are both humans and yet they bring something unique to the human experience.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

Or, to quote the theologian Wayne Fontana, “The purpose of a man is to love a woman and the purpose of a woman is to love a man. So come on baby, let’s start today, come on baby, let’s play the game of love, love, la la la la la love.”

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

We read in Malachi 2:15 that the Lord created marriage to establish a Godly seed in the earth. He wanted all men everywhere to call upon the name of the Lord. Your marriage has no higher purpose and it will primarily be fulfilled through the fruit of your union. This basic idea seems to be lost on almost everyone, including Christians. Marriage is not about living or financial arrangements. It’s about pursuing God’s purposes for our lives.

Young people who are single and establishing themselves often have big ambitions to be great or do amazing things in life. Or they may want to simply have the option to go in whatever direction they choose. It doesn’t occur to them that they can effect tremendous change in their own children. No celebrity or famous person will occupy the position you hold in your child’s life. We know the great men of history but we don’t know the parents who devoted themselves to care for their children. If you want to change the world then have children, and lots of them.

Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.

Jeremiah 3:14

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Most important in marriage is the symbol of our relationship with the Lord, who is the bridegroom of His people. Husbands are to their wives what Jesus is to His church. Wives are to their husbands what the church is to our Lord. Even the wedding ceremony reflects this as we watch the bride (the Church) coming down the aisle to be presented before her bridegroom (our Lord) whiter than snow.

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Revelation 19:7-9

In this church age we are betrothed to Christ and we await His coming so that we may enter into the wedding ceremony. We will then be joined together in a holy and eternal union of peace and joy.

The Bible is permeated with language about marriage and weddings. Many of the lessons it gives use these examples to illustrate the things of God. In getting married you will come to have a greater understanding about the Lord and your relationship to Him. May your union be like the union of Christ and His bride. May this wedding revive our hope of our coming union with our Lord as a people.

Amen.

How Much Does Heaven Cost?

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I often heard people say that you can’t buy your salvation and while that is true it is also somewhat inaccurate. Jesus put a price on the kingdom of heaven when He gave us two parables to describe what it is like.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

There’s a legitimate point that my parents and other elders had and I get it. But my economic training tells me that we have to qualify that statement. While you can’t buy heaven you can put a price on it. I know. I need to explain.

There are two economic principles that we need to consider. First, the Subjective Theory of Value says that something is only worth what a customer is willing to pay for it. It has no objective price that applies to everyone.

Opportunity-Cost

The next economic principle is opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of a resource is the next-most-valued use of that resource. For example, you are spending your valuable time reading this blog when you could be doing something else. Whatever you could be doing is your opportunity cost. Since you’re still reading this that tells me that your alternative options are not more valuable to you, at least not at the moment.

We now see some things in Jesus’ parables that weren’t apparent at first glance. When the man found the treasure he sold everything he owned to buy the field. He was also willing to give up any alternative use of his time and the field to acquire that treasure.

The same is true for the merchant who found valuable pearls. He was willing to part with everything he owned to get that pearl.

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How many stories can you think of about people who take drastic measures to pursue a dream? There’s Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, etc. They all were on the verge of financial ruin, some even bankrupt, at one point but they took big risks to succeed.

There’s no doubt about their commitment. If we can risk it all for something as fleeting as business then we can see the value in the everlasting kingdom of heaven. Jesus is clear: in exchange for the kingdom He wants all that you have.

Jesus said that those who look back when they put their hand to the plow are not fit for His kingdom (Lk 9:62). For those people the opportunity cost is greater than following our Lord so they prefer the alternative. He wants followers who prefer the kingdom more than anything.

If someone looked at your bank account would they see that your priority is the kingdom? How about if they looked at your schedule? What’s the kingdom worth to you and is it obvious to anyone?

Jesus wants disciples who’ve decided to follow Him, no turning back. The cross is always in front and the world is always behind them. Even though none go with them they still will follow. No turning back, no turning back.

The Dead Don’t Praise God

Psalm 88 is a psalm of suffering. It depicts the suffering of the people of Israel in exile. Christians can see the suffering of Christ depicted in it. Its language is universal and its applications are limitless which makes its relevance timeless.

I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, 

Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand.

You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths…

You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out.

My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O LordI have spread out my hands to You.

Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah.

The psalmist is in a dilemma because the same God who is faithful, just, righteous, merciful, generous, and mighty to save leads him through trials that cause him to despair even of his life (remember Paul and his despair?). But he makes an important point about the dead that we see in other scriptures too including Ps. 6:5; 30:9; Is. 50:10; Hab. 3:17,18.

Dead men are silent and they can’t praise God. He appeals to God for the sake of His own glory if for no other reason. The psalmist’s picture of death is a gloomy one indeed.

As Christians we need to complete the picture by adding a gospel perspective. This Christian view of death is found in 2 Ti. 1:10; Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15: 17,18, 51-57. It is one full of light and hope.

As Jesus said in Matthew 22, the Lord is the God of the living, not the dead. We who were dead are now alive in Christ. The psalmist’s problem goes away because there will always be people alive to praise God and give Him the glory and honor that is due Him.

America’s Liberty Is Spiritual

It has been some time since my last post. A heavier load of responsibilities has kept me from devoting time to thoughtful reflections.

I was fortunate to come across a very interesting quote in a daily newsletter I receive by email. It’s from remarks that President Calvin Coolidge gave at an Independence Day celebration back in 1926. I think it’s relevant to all believers today and should shape how we think about and pray for our country.

It’s important to remember (for those of you who are Americans) that we have a heritage passed down to us of a political liberty that rests on a solid spiritual foundation.  Enjoy the blessings of freedom in this land today and throughout the weekend.

Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them.

The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.

– Remarks at the Liberty Bell, July 5, 1926

3 Ways The Church Undermines Marriage

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This is not a post about how Christians are to blame for gay marriage becoming legal. It’s also not a sanctimonious rant by a blogger sitting in an armchair. These observations come from personal experience.

1. Financial stability > Marriage

Many Christians undermine marriage by focusing on the financial obligations. The problem here is that Christians put financial security ahead of marriage. You don’t get married until you’re in a steady job, usually after you graduate from college. I’ve gotten the impression as I grew up that marriage wasn’t worth it if you had to struggle. They’re the ones that like to remind you that love doesn’t pay the bills.

2. Success > Marriage

This one is closely related to the first since financial stability can be seen as a prerequisite for success, if not a success itself. The focus here is on maintaining a certain standard of living that includes a house, car, spouse, two kids, and maybe a pool in the backyard. It’s a chasing after a lifestyle.

People often told me that I should complete my education before getting married. Why get married when you have so much on your plate already, nevermind having to support a family? Even sociologists will tell you that it’s better to graduate, get married, and have kids, in that order. But if you hold off on getting married until after you graduate then aren’t you making education a higher priority than marriage?

3. Fun > Marriage

The culture says that only after you’ve sucked all of the juice out of life should you settle down and get married. It’s where you go to die slowly, like a long-term hospice program. It’s a life full of responsibilities, stress, problems, etc. How dreadful!

What do these three problems have in common?

These perspectives on marriage focus on the short term. Rarely do people talk about the legacy they will leave to future generations. That’s probably because they don’t believe they will have one. Their focus is on this life.

In 1900 there were over 1,000 descendants of the famous preacher, Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the early 18th century. Among them were doctors, lawyers, university presidents, medical school deans, law school deans, senators, and a vice president. The impact they had on this country and the world was possible because Edwards and his wife were faithful. They hoped in that which they could not see and they bore much fruit.

I think it’s inspiring to know that I will be remembered by my descendants hundreds of years from now. It makes me ask myself: what do I want to be said of me and my life?

Pew: Christians Believe Everyone Goes To Heaven

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Christians who are believe the Bible is the word of God and is “literally true word for word” make up 59% of evangelicals. However, 57% agreed with the notion that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Among all religious Americans 70% hold that view.

Mind you, these are evangelical Christians who are saying this. Political correctness has penetrated the church as it has with the society as a whole. Nobody wants to be mean and imply that a lot of people will go to hell. How can my friend/coworker/relative go to hell? I don’t hate him.

Many Christians, myself included, fear that the coming years will bring greater hostility towards the church. Now is the time for believers to prepare for future persecution by establishing their faith in the word of God. Can the church face this challenge if the gospel is merely optional, one of many alternatives?

All worldviews have, at their core, a set of non-negotiable truth claims. Like Oprah, too many people think that they can avoid deciding which belief is true by affirming the conflicting claims. All paths lead to God and it’s silly to argue with each other about who’s right. You’re ok, I’m ok.

Tolerance and acceptance are not the same thing. Just because we are not responsible for creating a theocratic government doesn’t mean that we sanction unbiblical beliefs and practices. That’s what it means to be salt and light in the world, saying the unpopular things that no one wants to hear.

Broad and wide is the path that leads to destruction. There’s no room for a bandwagon on the straight and narrow.

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