Thursday, September 30, 2010

31 Days of Imago Dei (Doctrinal Daily Bread)

So last year, I wrote down a list of things that I'd like to write about. The doctrine of Imago Dei (Latin for the image of God) came in at the top of that list. It is so much more important than we realize, guys - it's practical and ties into a ton of different themes in the Scriptures. So let me make a deal with you: come to this blog every day, over the next 31 days of October, and let me show you how this doctrine plays out. Let me show you how it affects your lives; how it affects your understanding of the Bible; how it affects your understanding of God; how it affects your understanding of salvation. Each blog is going to be Daily Bread short, so you can read it in 2.5 minutes. Tune in tomorrow for entry #1! If you miss the blog for a couple of days in a row, I will have a separate page for these entries so that you can go there and catch up.

In the meantime, while you are waiting for the Image of God series, check out the series that are already up on the right hand of the page - there are some sweet entries in On the Holy Spirit (Ryan) and The Gospel of Mark (Me) that you should read if you have the chance.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Psalms With a Twist of Clay

Don't call fire from heaven down upon your Baptist hymnals or boycott Chris Tomlin concerts just yet, but I think we need to sing more of the psalms. We need to sing for our instruction. We need to sing to commit these biblical verses to memory. However good David Crowder and Matt Redman are, they can't claim to have been inspired by God to write faultless and perfect lyrics. Only David, Solomon, Moses, Agur, and the Sons of Korah (all of whom are writers who show up randomly in the Book of Pslams) can claim to have done that. That said, we need to find more interesting ways to sing these inspired verses of praise; the flat choruses of past generations just don't cut it any more (if they ever did!) and they don't draw their hearers into the experience. If we want to experience God through music, though, then Jars of Clay might be setting an example of how to approach the Psalms with good musical style - take note, young worship team members! If you have a band, halfway knowledge on any musical instrument, or some other means of getting an instrument and having people hear you, definitely consider a psalm when you can.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit Part 2

Alright, I apologize for being a bad blogger and for the second entry on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit taking over a month to complete. I think I'm still getting used to having two kids, and my rhythm is all sorts of jacked up.

Why There Are So Many Views
Ok, so in preparation for this second post on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as revealed to us in Scripture, I had a thought that I wanted to share. As I was pondering why there are so many different views of the Holy Spirit, I realized that since everyone is shaped by their culture and church upbringing (and if you don't have a church upbringing I sort of envy you), our views will tend to reflect what our tradition has taught us. So if you're more on the charismatic end of theology, then you talk about the Holy Spirit a lot, but you can tend to not focus on other important doctrines that are as equally as important. Same thing goes for Baptists. It's ok to talk about the Spirit. You're not going to catch a disease. My point being this: there are all areas of doctrine and theology that we will readily admit to not spending enough time on. The problem for us Reformed guys is that we tend to minimize anything that falls outside of the doctrines of grace, or of the Puritans, Spurgeon, Luther, Calvin, Stott, Piper, Keller, you get the point? We need to keep our minds open to the Holy Spirit (ironic enough as that sounds) and listen to the Lord through the Scriptures.

Ask A Question, and Let Scripture Answer
For part two I thought what would be the best way to go about this doctrine would be very straightforward. In part one we discussed how the Spirit was discussed in Creation, in dealing with the nation of Israel, and the New Covenant. In this part, I want to ask a question, and then let Scripture answer it. How is the Spirit to manifest itself in our lives, and how are we to respond to this? This is a loaded question, and you'll get ten different texts of Scripture from ten different people, but I want to address three texts that deal with this question the most direct, and see what the Holy Spirit says to us through this.

Text Number One: Acts 1.8
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

To truly get this verse in context you need to read the first eight verses of chapter one, and in verse 4 Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they have received the "promise of the Father". But notice something about verse 8. Jesus says there is a power that will come upon the disciples when the Holy Spirit is given. In Luke 24.49, which is the parallel passage in Luke's Gospel account (same author as Acts), Jesus says this: "And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” So what Jesus is saying is that there is a power that the disciples will be clothed with from on high, that will allow them to spread the Gospel.

Now fast forward to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost has arrived. The upper room is rocking with the Holy Spirit, and what does Scripture say what has taken place? The disciples have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. What is the result of this baptism? The disciples are speaking languages that they do not know! We know this from verse 5. Jews who were in town for Pentecost heard words in their own language.

So what does this mean for us? Is the baptism of the Spirit for us today, or was this a one time thing that happened to the apostles and new believers in the New Testament? Do all Christians receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? These are all very good questions, but here is where things might get sticky. As I have done my personal study of the way the Spirit moved, specifically in the book of Acts, I notice that the Holy Spirit is being poured out in a way that was truly unique to the Church's history. Peter points this fact out in his sermon a few verses later in Acts 2. He says, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.'" (Acts 2:16-17). So what is happening in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Joel 2.28-32. Namely, that when God pours out His Spirit upon His people, the kingdom will be advanced for the cause of Christ, and things will happen to promote the name of Jesus to help fulfill the Great Commission.

I realize I have not answered the above questions, and here are my responses: I believe that a person receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon conversion, not later. For those who like to point to Acts 2 as proof of this happening, first, you are not an apostle and are not a part of the first Church. This was a specific period of history for the Church, and God used this specific manifestation of His Spirit to point this out. Secondly, when you speak in "tongues" (glossolalia), you are babbling for yourself, not for the edification of the body of Christ, as described in 1 Corinthians 14. Now, I want to say something here. I believe that God can use a person preaching the Gospel and supernaturally translate to another language. It is indeed supernatural, and not the norm. But just because it can happen, does not necessarily mean that it will. Next, if you claim that the evidence for the baptism is speaking in tongues, you have contradicted yourself because does not Paul himself say that "For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (1 Corinthians 12.8-11). In the context of the spiritual gifts, not everyone has the gift of tongues, and that is important to remember because the gifts are not ends in themselves, which is one reason why the Church at Corinth was so messed up (among other reasons). To say that the main evidence for a person's baptism of the Holy Spirit is tongues is like saying all lawyers make bank. Not all lawyers do. There are criminal lawyers, civil lawyers, tax lawyers, and the pay-grade is not all the same. That is why this historical argument makes no sense to me. And to make matters even more entertaining, Paul says that this is the least of all the gifts. And just like the Church at Corinth, we have put it on a pedestal to make it superior, when in fact it is the smallest. It's the only gift mentioned that needs help understanding it!

Bears Don't Like Dr. Pepper

I've been promising Braeden, my six year old, that we would go camping before Charlie was born. We had it all planned out, and then Charlie got here earlier than expected. Not a big problem, we'll go after he's born. Camping in Oklahoma in the summer is not a good idea, I don't care if you have a camper and are literally on the shores of the lake, bad idea. But this past Friday I made good on my promise to take Braeden camping, so we loaded up the car, got all the camping gear, got groceries, and got to the campsite.

The evening was going rather well. We made a fire, I made dinner, and we watched a movie on my laptop in the tent. I know that watching a movie doesn't qualify as real camping but when you have a six year old with you, you have to bend the rules every now and then, right? So the movie is over, Braeden is passed out, and I go clean up from dinner, put everything up, and go to bed. At about 4:00 in the morning, Braeden wakes me up and asks if I can shut the tent door all the way (I left it cracked), and I asked him why and he said "There's something out there." I ignore it, go back to sleep, and about two minutes later I hear footsteps, and am freaked out of my mind because what Braeden saw was in fact, a bear going through our cooler, which I had brilliantly put right by the tent.

I think somewhere in the next two hours I prayed that we wouldn't die by brute force, and the bear came back a few times, successfully getting into our cooler, but I'm happy that all he got was some steak and a few hot dogs. At about 7:30 Braeden woke me up because I had just fallen asleep, and we surveyed the damage. Nothing terrible, but the bear left tracks on the cooler and I saw the bag that the steak had been in when I put it up the night before.

This post really has nothing to do with theology, the Bible, or God (except that His Sovereign hand kept us from harm!), but I wanted to share this with our readers because I think we too easily do things in life and never think about some of the consequences we might face for it. I was a Boy Scout growing up, so I knew that when you put your food up at night, you either keep it up by rope near a tree, or you put it inside where the bear or any other animal cannot reach. Every person has a choice to make everyday, most of them mundane, but it's the small choices that seem to guide where our lives go. My experience with the bear made me all the more aware of that fact, and I vowed to never put my cooler next to the tent again, and I vowed to keep it in a safe place. All that to say, please be careful in the outdoors, and if you get caught unaware by a bear, you'll become a prayer warrior in seconds.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Night Shift to the Glory of God

Maybe I’m a little bit crazy, but I think that working through the night shift (11pm-7am) is a great deal – especially if you are a Christian. And if you are unmarried, have no kids, and are young, I would argue that it is better to work the night shift than the morning (7am-3pm) or evening (3pm-11pm) shifts. The sleep schedule might be tough, but the benefits are worth it. Here are a few reasons why you should consider the night shift.

#1: The Hours Are Perfect for Evangelism
Morning shifts make you too tired after work to do much effective evangelizing during the afternoon. Likewise, shifts done in the evening take up your time just as non-Christians start to hang out at the usual social hot spots. So the usual options leave you too tired, or too busy, to engage the culture around you. It seems like either way evangelism efforts have to suffer because of work. But maybe that isn't the case: if you can work during the night shift, then things change considerably. If you get off from work at 7am, go to sleep at 8am, and then wake up at 2pm, all of a sudden you have hit the perfect window of opportunity; all of a sudden you have 9 hours of the busiest, most social hours available in your city to go out and meet people and tell them about Jesus. And you feel awake, too.

#2: Work Comes At the End of My Day
Most of us go to work and then come back home, and our entire day is defined by what happened on the job that day. We take our work fatigue back home with us. But with the night shift I see the opposite happening: work comes at the end of my day; I get to take my experience of praying, reading the Bible, talking to friends, and meditating on God’s providence in my life, and I take that to work with me. It is a totally different experience, having my work defined by my day, rather than having my day defined by my work. This simple bit of relief is the thing that enables me to show Christ more successfully to my co-workers, friends, family, and some of the random strangers that I meet on occasion. Having work come at the end of your day is a huge blessing.

#3: A Need and Appreciation for the Sabbath
On the night shift, things can be difficult: no matter how much sleep you get, your body naturally wants to go to sleep at night and stay awake during the day. So as a night shift worker you are always fighting your body's natural sleeping patterns. It isn't always that fun. I know I'm beat. So when it comes to Sunday morning I have a lot of love for the Sabbath – that day of the week when we stop trying to be productive, and try to focus on God instead. After a week or two of work, taking a Sabbath to sleep, read, pray, and hang out with our loved ones becomes an indispensable part of our weeks. We no longer have a choice in the matter because we can’t function without it. Taking the night shift makes us more aware of our need for the Sabbath. And taking a Sabbath makes us more aware of our need for God.

Sean Rice is in the TESOL program at Briercrest Bible College, works full time in an overnight position in Caronport, SK, and prides himself on being a huge theology geek. He has been saved for almost 7 years and feels that he has been called to plant a church in Southern Ontario some time after he has completed his studies. In his spare time he writes for The Voice, hangs out with his girlfriend, and studies the works of the Rev. Matthew Henry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Devil Went Down to Jordan (Mark 1:12-13)

Starving, sun-bleached, and surrounded by wild animals, Jesus sure had a rough post-baptism celebration. No one knows why Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, felt it absolutely necessary to go down into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Maybe he was trying to give us a good example, to show what it looks like for human beings to resist Satan; that's the path that I am going down with this post. Option #2 excites me though; since Jesus came to cast [a revolutionary] fire on the earth and to seek and save that which is lost (Luke 12.49-50 and 19.10) -both through his violent crucifixion- maybe the other parts of his life helped to serve the same purpose. Maybe, in being tempted by the Devil, Jesus was actually standing in the place of sinners so that his victory and righteousness could be counted as ours. Like I said, that's not where this post is going, but it's worth a thought just for the implications of it. Let me know what you think about that. But on with the actual post.
The Devil Went Down to Jordan (Mark 1.12-13, With Additions)
"Immediately Joshua, full of the Holy Spirit, was compelled by the Spirit to go into the wilderness to be tempted by the Accuser. He was in the wilderness 40 days. After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Then the Tempter approached Him and said, 'If You are the Son of God, tell these stones, even this stone, to become bread.' But Joshua answered, 'It is written: Man must not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8.3).' Then the Accuser took Him to the holy city Jerusalem, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He will give His angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone (Psalm 91.11-12).' Joshua replied, 'It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 6.16).' So the Accuser took Him up to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Accuser said to Him, 'I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.' Then Joshua told him, 'Go away, Enemy! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him (Deuteronomy 6.13).' Then the Accuser left Him until an opportune season, and He was with the wild animals, and the angels began to serve Him."

-Mark, Matthew, and Luke (HCSB)
(For note on the text, see end of blog post*)
The demon who seems to lead all of the others is called a lot of things. Sometimes he is called Satan (meaning 'enemy'), other times it's the devil (meaning 'accuser'), and other times the Bible just calls him the Tempter. Remember this about him: along with his other not-so-noble qualities (see John 8 where Jesus calls him a liar and a murderer), Satan is also the tempter, the accuser (devil), and the enemy (satan) of all that God calls good.

Temptation: Distraction, Presumption, and Sin
The First Temptation:
Sometimes, the Devil’s temptations are more about distraction than they are about sin. In telling the Messiah to eat bread, the Devil was telling him not to focus so much on praying and meditating on the Bible; he wanted Joshua to be distracted and disconnected from God. Does that happen to us? Sure. I don’t know how many times I have started a project meant to serve God, only to give up because I am hungry, want to hang out with some friends, or need a nap – “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and [spiritual] poverty will overcome you like an armed man,” so the proverb goes. Ancient Christians also experienced this, like St. Anthony, who went out into the desert for prayer and was tempted by Satan with some of the legitimate cares of the world (like family). When the Holy Spirit leads us to do something, we need to keep on going despite distraction and spiritual opposition. Satan wants us to be ineffective.

The Second Temptation: Sometimes the Devil tries to give assurances that we should not have. When Joshua the Messiah was tempted to jump off the temple so that angels could catch him, it is pretty likely that Satan wanted –and expected- Joshua to fall splat on the pavement below and die. The second temptation is one of presumption, imposing on the grace of God. For us Calvinists, this is a big temptation: do we take up dangerous activities because of our trust in God’s providence? I have caught myself doing some really dangerous stunts because “if God has predestined me to die, I’ll die anyways, but if God wants me to live, then I’m gonna land this.” That is really just a variation on Joshua’s temptation to jump so that angels can catch him. Joshua comes back with this quote from Deuteronomy: “Do not test the LORD your God.” Let’s remember not to test God and presume upon his grace.

The Third Temptation: When it isn’t about distraction, or presumption, the temptations of Satan are just outright invitations to sin: when we have spent long enough without praying and reading the Bible (distraction), and we have not been protecting ourselves from dangerous activities or sketchy situations (presumption), we are easy marks for sin. Satan had told Joshua the Messiah to worship him, an outright violation of the first (!) of the Ten Commandments. Likewise, we are tempted to beat up other people, to be sarcastic to our spouses, or to steal something from another person. The reality is that all sin is a violation of the command not to worship other gods besides the LORD: in breaking the commands of God, we make sin our master and worship at its altar, and make it our new god.

Tactics: Opportune Timing, Confusion, and Twisting Scripture
When had Satan come to tempt the Lord? When he was hungry, desperate, and weak. He comes to tempt when the defences have been let down and weariness has set in; he picks his spot and waits “for an opportune season.” That is why St. Peter urges in his letter, “Be alert! Stay awake! Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” How had Satan come to tempt the Lord? By making him doubt his relationship to the Father (unsuccessfully – "if you are the son of God..."), the same as he made Eve doubt her relationship with God (successfully – “God knows that if you eat of this tree…”). Also, Satan likes to use and twist Scripture. He quoted the Psalms to tempt Joshua, showing that Satan and those who follow him are capable of using the Bible in a misleading way. While not exhaustive, these are some of the tactics of Satan.

Resist: Know Who You Are, Speak to God, and Stand Firm in the Word
Our Saviour shows us how to resist the devil, so that he will flee from us (James 4.7). First, Joshua took care to know his relationship to God, and got to be firm in his knowing of who he was: Satan could make innuendos by saying “if you are the Son of God…” all day, but that would not faze Joshua. He knew who he was, and he knew who God is. Second, he spent time in fasting and prayer: this kept the line of communication with the Father open, so that he could ask for strength to fight the Enemy. Third, meditating on, and memorizing, books of the Bible is important: at least two of the temptations were not even direct invitations to sin, and Jesus could only recognize these temptations because he had spent a length of time reading Deuteronomy (where the prohibitions were) just recently – and because of this, when Satan tries to make Joshua do something unwise, Joshua resists him by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy.

The Devil's Party: The Flesh and the World
Satan has backup in your life: the world around you, and the God-built desires that drive your human body, can and will be used against you. Satan already owns all the kingdoms of the world, so culture is his ground. He is free to use the world against you, to peer pressure you into abandoning your zeal for Christianity. As for the God-given desires of the human body, Satan knows that hunger can be turned into gluttony, the drive to procreate can be turned into all kinds of immorality, and the need for sleep can be turned into laziness. For this reason, it would be a good idea to discipline your body like St. Anthony (see link below), to gain control over your bodily drives and psychological needs so that Satan can’t use them against you.

A Quick Word of Advice
Talking about spiritual warfare –because that’s what this blog post is about- is easy. Acting in light of the existence of Satan, and being aware of his temptations to distraction, presumption, and sin in our lives is harder. If this article was helpful, then put the information to good use and resist the devil so that he will flee from you. Find out where his strategies are being put into effect in your life. Pray often for strength. Stay in the Word. Think long and hard about the goodness of God and your relationship to him. Do these things, and your life will be more exciting and God honoring and dangerous.

Some Links for Spiritual Warfare
I do not usually do this with blogs in the Mark series, but spiritual warfare is such an important topic that further reading is a good idea. Here are a few links that I think will help:

  • Matthew Henry on Gospel of Matthew 4.1-11 - Commentary on the temptation of Jesus, with a lot of good application. Long, but worth it. Matthew Henry nails it.
  • Athanasius, The Life of Saint Anthony - St. Anthony was the father of Desert Monastics - the men who left affluence and wealth to go and connect with God in the desert. While pioneering this new lifestyle, he fought in very intense ways with Satan and thus serves as a good role model for us to follow in the midst of our temptation. When reading, focus on his drawn out battles with Satan and demons.
  • Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices - I have not read this 160-page booklet by the old Puritan, but Mark Driscoll recommends it VERY highly. The Puritans tend to be very Biblical, thorough, spiritual, and knowledgeable; I think this would be a helpful resource to print out and read bit by bit.
    *NOTES ON THE TEXT: (1) Joshua. Joshua and Jesus are different forms of the same name. Calling him Joshua sounds more common, and reinforces that God came as a man with a familiar name and without power or glory to attract people to him. It seems more familiar, more real. (2) Compelled. Mark says that Jesus "was driven" by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Matthew and Luke both say that he was "led," so I picked a word that sort of carried the meaning of both descriptions. (3) Names of the Devil. Accurately speaking, the devil has no true name that we are aware of - devil means accuser, and satan means enemy; these aren't actual names, so I just rendered the meaning of the words, and I think that carries more of a punch. (4) Parenthesis. I included the Scripture references in parenthesis to show that Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy every time - this is important because it shows that Jesus was meditating on a book of the Bible, studying through it, which is something that I feel we should do more often as Christians (thus the blog series).

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    What Is Meekness? (Matthew Henry)

    We must be of a meek spirit: facilis, or 'easy,' so the critics.

    What Meekness Isn't: Corruptability or Naivety
    Meekness is easiness of spirit. Not a sinful easiness to be debauched, as Ephraim's, who willingly walked after the command of the idolatrous princes (Hosea 5.11), nor a simple easiness to be imposed upon and deceived, as Rehoboam's, who is said to be young and tender-hearted at the age of forty (2 Chronicles 13.7), but a gracious easiness to be wrought upon by that which is good, as theirs whose heart of stone is taken away, and to whom a heart of flesh is given. Meekness is easiness, for it accommodates the soul to every occurrence, and so makes a man easy to himself, and to all about him.

    What Meekness Is: Taming of the Self
    The Latins call a meek man mansuetus, qu. manu assuetus - 'used to the hand,' which alludes to the taming and reclaiming of creatures wild by nature, and bringing them to be tractable and familiar (James 3.7-8). Man's corrupt nature has made him like 'the wild ass used to the wilderness, or the swift dromedary traversing her ways' (Jeremiah 2.23-24), but the grace of meekness, when that gets dominion in the soul, alters the temper of it, brings it to hand, submits it to management; and now the wolf dwells with the lamb, and the leopard lies down with the kid, and a little child may lead them. For enemies are laid aside, and there is nothing to 'hurt or destroy,' (Isaiah 11:6-9).

    Meekness Serves Love of God and Neighbour
    Meekness may be considered with respect both to God, and to our brethren; it belongs to both the tables of the law, and attends upon the first great commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," as well as the second, which is like it, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

    -Matthew Henry

    Adapted, and edited, from A Discourse on Meekness by Matthew Henry. This is the first of a series of entries taken from Matthew Henry's book, which is out of print and somewhat rare. If any of you would like to join a project to help get Matthew Henry's miscellaneous works online in various forms, please drop me an email or respond to this post! -Sean

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Don't Be Too Accepting... for Everyone's Sake.

    If you are a really loving person, refusing to see faults in other people, then I appreciate you. But I also think that you could be putting a lot of folks in trouble--including yourself. 2 John 1.10-11 might be written to you: "if anyone comes to you and brings false teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." In this passage, St. John was telling an early Christian lady that she would have to (1) identify false teachers, (2) hold them to the fact that they were false teachers, and (3) refuse to have anything to do with them on account of the fact that they were false teachers. To whoever would refuse this advice, St. John gave a warning: "whoever greets [accepts] him takes part in his wicked works." If this man comes along with teaching that goes against God's word, or tries to take advantage of impressionable Christians, or is generally immoral, then the one who accepts him into the church is held responsible for the things that this false teacher does with that acceptance.

    The Danger of Trying to See the Best In People
    Here are 4 dangers that could come with being too accepting:

    1. Close friends will be hurt. By refusing to oppose people like Benny Hinn, you could open other people up to the harm that they cause. If he is actually performing fake miracles, taking money from poor folks by promising them future blessings from God, and living in ridiculous amounts of wealth as a result, then saying "but he really loves the Bible" is only going to keep your friends from recognizing how harmful he can be. If he is actually a crook and you refuse to say anything, then you're only helping him and hurting others. The same goes for more normal people: if the guy down the street is initiating inappropriate relationships with children, then you are harming children by not calling the cops. Sometimes you need to refuse to accept people for the good of everybody else involved. Otherwise you'll ignore the harm that they are doing, and will fail to protect the people around you from that harm because you refuse to see these people as actually dangerous.

    2. You will be hurt. By refusing to confront serious problems with false teachers, you could be led into serious harm or error yourself, either believing false doctrine or being led away from the path that God has told you to go down. I have a friend who spent some time being discipled by this guy who said that he was a prophet, but met none of the Biblical tests for a prophet, and she refused to believe that he was a false teacher. As a result she nearly let him take her away from an important ministry and struggled for a long time afterwards with whether or not she had disobeyed God by not listening to this guy's words. Her self-doubt, emotional hurt, and near involvement in a local cult all stem from the fact that she was just too loving to see this guy for what he really was. This friend of mine is an example, but the same thing could happen to anyone else. As my brother or sister in Christ, I love you: don't let yourself get hurt like this.

    3. Refusing to confront false teachers can hurt them. As the proverb goes, a king without followers is not really a king at all (I'm paraphrasing). In the same way, it's hard to be a false teacher when there is no one to teach, and by confronting them early on you could save them from some serious harm. What they want is for you to say that they can teach you; what they need is for you to confront them on their bad theology, illegitimate 'prophecies', and unfitting lifestyle for a teacher of God's word. If you refuse to do this, then you will only end up humoring them and letting them believe their own hype--to their destruction! Warn them before it's too late. It's the most loving thing that you could do.

    4. You'll end up working against God Himself. When you look at an N.T. Wright or a Brian McLaren, or even entire wayward denominations, and say that their beliefs don't matter because they "wrote the best defense of the Resurrection ever" (N.T. Wright), or "they are reaching a younger generation" (Brian McLaren) or "I like their traditions" (Roman Catholic Church), then you are effectively saying that the Gospel doesn't matter. In that line of reasoning, it doesn't matter that Brian McLaren denies the exclusivity of Christ or the existence of Hell; it doesn't matter whether N.T. Wright tells people that their salvation depends partly on them instead of on Jesus; it doesn't matter that the Roman Catholic Church encourages people to idolize figures other than Jesus as mediators between them and God, or that they teach about a purgatory where Christians -Christians!- suffer for the sins that Jesus already died for before they get to enter into heaven. When you make exceptions for these people, you are saying that the things they deny don't really matter. If you believe that, or tell other people that, then you might find yourself on some very worrisome ground. The acceptance of heresy is the denial of the Gospel.

    To sum up, those sorts of people who love others and overlook faults are good for the church. But they can also be the weak spots; the ones who allow all sorts of harmful teaching to get into the church or allow harmful figures to gain access to places that they shouldn't (like the neighborhood creep who has inappropriate relationships with children). If you are this kind of person, don't allow your accepting nature to harm yourself or others.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    The Points of Calvinism

    In the what we believe section of The Voice, point number two is that we (Ryan, Seth, Nic, and I) are all Reformed: "...we believe in the God who stands as King over all things, and that He saves those whom He chooses, and that His chosen people can not resist His calling to the faith or subsequently fall from it, because He is both persistent and powerful and faithful to accomplish all that He sets out to do." These truths come from the Five Points of Calvinism, also known by the acronym TULIP.

    For your benefit, here are some quick Wikipedia definitions of the Five Points:

    Total Depravity - The doctrine of total depravity (also called "total inability") asserts that, as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. The term "total" in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as possible.

    Unconditional Election - The doctrine of unconditional election asserts that God's choice from eternity of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God's mercy alone.

    Limited Atonement - the doctrine of limited atonement asserts that. Jesus' substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its design and accomplishment. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus's death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is designed for some and not all.

    Irresistible Grace - The doctrine of irresistible grace (also called "efficacious grace") asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The doctrine holds that every influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, "graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ."

    Perseverence of the Saints - The doctrine of perseverence asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with or will return. The word "saints" is used in the Biblical sense to refer to all who are set apart by God, not in the technical sense of one who is exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven.

    For more on the Five Points you can check out these links:

    Solas of the Reformation

    In the what we believe section of The Voice, point number two is that we (Ryan, Seth, Nic, and I) are all Reformed: "...we stand in the tradition of the 16th Century voices of the Protestant Reformation, who declared that we are saved through faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone, for the sake of the glory of God alone, and that we have the Bible alone as our inerrant source of Christian truth." These are precious truths. many men and women have died rather than go back on their stated belief in these principles of basic Christianity.

    For your benefit, here are some quick Wikipedia definitions of the Five Solas:

    Sola Gratia -
    is the teaching that salvation comes by God's grace or "unmerited favor" only — not as something merited by the sinner. This means that salvation is an unearned gift from God for Jesus' sake... this doctrine asserts divine monergism in salvation: God acts alone to save the sinner... Lutheranism holds that this doctrine must not be maintained to the exclusion of gratia universalis (that God seriously wills the salvation of all people).

    Sola Fide -
    is the teaching that justification (interpreted in Protestant theology as, "being declared right by God", and assumed to mean exactly "salvation"), is received by faith only, without any mixture of or need for good works, though in classical Protestant theology, saving faith is always evidenced, but not determined, by good works.

    Solus Christus -
    is the teaching that Christ is the only mediator between God and man, and that there is salvation through no other... in this tradition absolution reconciles the penitent with God directly through faith in Christ's forgiveness rather than with the priest and the church as mediating entities between the penitent and God.

    Sola Scriptura -
    is the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all—that is, it is perspicuous and self-interpreting. That the Bible requires no interpretation outside of itself is an idea directly opposed to the teaching of the Roman Catholic tradition, which teaches that the Bible can be authentically interpreted only by Apostolic Tradition, this being for the Roman Catholic tradition embodied in the Magisterium (that is, the teaching authority embodied in Bishops in union with the Pope).

    Soli Deo Gloria - is the teaching that all glory is to be due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through His will and action — not only the gift of the all-sufficient atonement of Jesus on the cross but also the gift of faith in that atonement, created in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit. The reformers believed that human beings—even saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, the popes, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy—are not worthy of the glory that was accorded them. That is that one should not exalt such humans for their good works, but rather praise and give glory to God who is the author and sanctifier of these people and their good works.

    For more on the Five Solas you can check out these links:

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Terry Jones and the Koran Stunt

    Unless you've been hiding under a rock lately, you know who Terry Jones is and you have heard about his (now canceled) plans to publicly burn thousands of copies of the Koran on 9/11, which is the anniversary of the world trade center suicide bombings. And, like The Good News We Almost Forgot author and Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung recently pointed out, you have probably noticed that it seems like "everybody and their brother has denounced this event and wants to see it halted." Well it has been halted. But according to the Globe and Mail it wasn't because Pastor Terry Jones bowed to international pressure, it's because he never intended to burn the Koran in the first place. The whole thing was a Stunt With A Purpose. After telling NBC that he will 'not now, not ever' burn the Koran, he explains "that his Gainesville, Fla., church's goal was 'to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical.' He tells NBC that 'we have definitely accomplished that mission.'"

    Does This Change Everything?
    Now that we know Pastor Terry Jones' reasons for pulling this stunt, namely, that he was attempting to expose Islam's inherent radicalism and extremism before the world, should this change our opinion of him? Let's recap: (1) His stated goal was to 'expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and radical'--not of Muslims, but of Islam: there is a core element of the religion itself which results in extremism; (2) The world panicked, not because it valued tolerance (that too, though,) but because it came to a realization that Islam is dangerous and that a show of disrespect to it could result in the loss of many lives; (3) Where many formerly made the case that Islam is a religion of peace, their logical fear has made them realize that I. that is not true, and II. that they never really believed that in the first place. All in all, dare I say it, the eccentric pastor of 50 in Florida has done pretty well. It's not every day that a small time pastor of a declining church can truthfully claim to have exposed Islam before the eyes of the entire world. Let me clarify, had he actually burned the Koran, I had a condemnatory blog post all thought out, lined up, and ready to roll. But now that he has said "I never intended to do such a thing: I just sat back and let Islam show itself for what it really is," my opinion is changing. My opinion is changing because his intention seems like a good one. I'm no fan of Islam, and I do believe that it is inherently dangerous and not of Divine origin (quite the opposite). My opinion is changing because he seems to have succeeded in his efforts. My opinion is changing because Pastor Jones has done this at the risk of great harm to his life, and because he did it even though all the world would hate him, and he took all of that personal damage in stride just to get this done. Those are things that could change my opinion of this whole debacle.

    What We Should Do Now
    How should we respond to the events of the last few weeks/months?

    First, we should love all Muslims. Christians who believe that the origins of Islam are pretty dark should not respond with hatred, but with compassion: if we believe them to be trapped by a harmful, destructive, and demonic worldview, then our weapons should not be billboards and megaphones and book burnings; they should be our time and energy and mercy; We should "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12.21). Show Muslims the way through love instead of demonstration.

    Second, we should not be quick to cut off Christians who take unpopular stands. One of the results of Relevant-style Christianity (see: cool christianity) is that we, in the name of relevance, tend to disassociate from anything or anybody that could make people think negatively about us. Even if those things or people are actually not all that bad in the first place. We do this because we want people to like us and say good things about us, but sometimes we just have to say, about the guy who calls Islam evil on national television, "actually I'm going to have to side with him on this one." Take the hate, and give love. If you only say popular things, you become a sycophant, and nobody wants to hear the words of a flatterer and cultural groveller.

    Third, we as Christians should strive to learn about other religions. One of the critiques of Terry Jones was that Christians should learn about people that they disagree with instead of holding small-minded book burnings. That advice is pretty solid, I think. How can we preach to people we don't understand? Find your nearest Buddhist, Muslim, or Wiccan book shop and ask for some recommendations. You can't convince someone to follow Jesus if you don't know what their beliefs are or how their thoughts are being formed through what they are reading. Therefore, be voracious readers: seek to know those who you would try to reach with the Gospel.

    Fourth, we should put our identity in Christ, not in our nation of birth. In my original (planned) denunciation of Terry Jones, I was working off the impression that he was letting his felt offense as an American overshadow his real identity as a follower of Christ: I though t that he was doing all of this only because he wanted to send a message to Muslims to leave America alone, or else. Even though his reasons have been stated more fully than that now, Terry Jones reminds us that we should "seek the good of the city" (or nation) where we are in but that we should not necessarily identify with it and see it as our home. Our home is with Christ in heaven; here, as 1 Peter makes clear, we are just passing through.

    What are your thoughts on this whole news event?


    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Standing Between Extremes

    So I'm reading Matthew Henry, preparing for a blog post on The Gospel of Mark at the end of the week, and this quote pops up: "We are in danger of missing our way, both on the right hand and on the left, and therefore must take heed, lest, when we avoid one extreme, we be brought by the artifices of Satan, to run into another" (commentary on Matthew 4.1-11). As examples, Matthew brings up people who go from legalists who say you've got to work to earn God's love, to being open sinners who take mistake God's grace for a license to live however they feel like; also, people who go from being apathetic Christians to self-righteous zealots. His point is that we should be careful not to fall into extremes.

    Where else could we get caught up in extremes? Human beings are habitual extremists: we go from spending too much money on national projects to spending too little; from taking too much in taxes to giving back more than the government can afford. We go from fascination with house churches to fascination with multi-site campuses. We escape the liberalizing tendencies of modernist enlightenment thought, only to fall into romanticism, or postmodernism, and ruin ourselves. We move from heretical forms of Pentecostalism to cessationism; we stop believing that Christians can be rich if they have faith, and end up believing that the only good Christian is a poor one.

    What the Bible points us toward is that we must avoid the extremist sides of the issues of our day. To be mistaken is to be gravely and seriously mistaken, and to be an extremist wrongly, is to be an extremist sinfully. Don't be an extremist.


    Sean Rice is a TESOL student at Briercrest Bible College in Caronport, SK. When not working or in class, he spends his time hanging out with youth at Saskatchewan's largest youth center and making the Gospel known to teenage kids. His passions are Jesus, theology, teaching, and Reese's Pieces.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    David Says, "Smite the Wicked... Please?"

    This month, I'm on my second round of a year-long commitment to reading the Psalms and Proverbs completely through every single month: I'm starting to notice some patterns. Like, for example, I notice that King David prays for the slaughter of the wicked almost as regularly as I order a bacon cheeseburger with fries. And it comes out of nowhere. Which is unnerving for some people. It is for my girlfriend; she spent a good 15 minutes last week trying to explain it away as if she'd never read anything else in the book of Psalms before. And she isn't alone. Matthew Henry, my great dead mentor, came up with some creative ways of trying to get around these passages too. But I think that the judgment prayers (in Psalms 21, for example) are good things, for a few reasons: (1) God inspired these Scriptures, and did so through the pen and personality of one of his servants--which means that everything in here lines up with His good, pleasing, and perfect will; (2) If God did not eventually answer these prayers, we would be without assurance that God cares about the state of the world enough to judge it; (3) Any God who does not do these things is not worth my respect, awe, or fear, because He would be a pushover who has no power to punish sin; (4) If these are not true prayers, then we have no way to ask God to stop the wicked from oppressing others and leading God's people astray. God loves so much that He will viciously oppose the wicked to defend what He loves. When we reject that truth, I think we do it because we know that we're wicked too. But let God be God. He is altogether glorious and awesome and fearsome on His own. Celebrate that.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Video: Francis Chan, Donald Miller, and John Piper

    Author and pastor Francis Chan has a new video series coming: it's called Basic. Seven videos. The creative minds behind the NOOMA series. Solid foundations for a more authentic Christianity. Learn more about it here.

    Donald Miller recently (or semi-recently?) came out with a book called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. The book is intensely helpful; I recommend it for your consideration. Click on the video above to learn more.

    Do you give into people easily; do you back away from the Gospel out of shame? Be honest. Really, actually, truly honest--do you care too much about what others think? Jesus says that He will deny those who deny Him. Will He also deny those who redefine Him, who butcher His message, who modify Him and everything He spoke for to make it more pleasant to those around them? If this is hitting home, then this sermon jam, called Unashamed, is for you to consider. Please take it to heart.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Charles Spurgeon on Gill's Commentaries

    A very distinguished place is due to Dr. Gill. Beyond all controversy, Gill was one of the most able Hebraists of his day, and in other matters no mean proficient. When an opponent in controversy had ventured to call him "a botcher in divinity", the good doctor, being compelled to become a fool in glorying, gave such a list of his attainments as must have covered his accuser with confusion. His great work on the Holy Scriptures is greatly prized at the present day by the best authorities, which is conclusive evidence of its value, since the set of the current of theological thought is quite contrary to that of Dr. Gill.

    Rabbinical Learning and Hebrew Wisdom
    Probably no man since Gill's days has at all equalled him in the matter of Rabbinical learning. Say what you will about that lore, it has its value: of course, a man has to rake among perfect dunghills and dust heaps, but there are a few jewels which the world could not afford to miss. Gill was a master cinder sifter among the Targums, the Talmuds, the Mishna, and the Gemara. Richly did he deserve the degree of which he said, "I never bought it, nor thought it, nor sought it."

    The Quintessential Anti-Arminian Commentator
    No one in these days is likely to be censured for his Arminianism, but most modern divines affect to sneer at anything a little too highly Calvinistic: however, amid the decadence of his own rigid system, and the disrepute of even more moderate Calvinism, Gill's laurels as an expositor are still green. His ultraism is discarded, but his learning is respected: the world and the church take leave to question his dogmatism, but they both bow before his erudition. The portrait of him which belongs to this church, and hangs in my private vestry, and from which all the published portraits have been engraved, represents him after an interview with an Arminian gentleman, turning up his nose in a most expressive manner, as if he could not endure even the smell of freewill. In some such a vein he wrote his commentary. He hunts Arminianism throughout the whole of it.

    Does Not Allow Himself to Be Run Away With Imagination
    Very seldom does he allow himself to be run away with by imagination, except now and then when he tries to open up a parable, and finds a meaning in every circumstance and minute detail; or when he falls upon a text which is not congenial with his creed, and hacks and hews terribly to bring the word of God into a more systematic shape. Gill is the Coryphaeus of hyper-Calvinism, but if his followers never went beyond their master, they would not go very far astray.

    Readability of Gill's Commentary
    He was always at work; it is difficult to say when he slept, for he wrote 10,000 folio pages of theology. He is far from being so interesting and readable as Matthew Henry. He delivered his comments to his people from Sabbath to Sabbath, hence their peculiar mannerism. His frequent method of animad-version is, "This text does not mean this", nobody ever thought it did; "It does not mean that", only two or three heretics ever imagined it did; and again it does not mean a third thing, or a fourth, or a fifth, or a sixth absurdity; but at last he thinks it does mean so-and-so, and tells you so in a methodical, sermon like manner. This is an easy method, gentlemen, of filling up the time, if you are ever short of heads for a sermon. Show your people firstly, secondly, and thirdly, what the text does not mean, and then afterwards you can go back and show them what it does mean. It may be thought, however, that one such a teacher is enough, and that what was tolerated from a learned doctor would be scouted in a student fresh from college. For good, sound, massive, sober sense in commenting, who can excel Gill?

    Taken from C.H. Spurgeon, "Commenting and Commentaries".