Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (11)

Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

(Click here for a great Q&A over at Reformed.org)

Let me suggest there are two simple premises to sound theology.

First, that God wills perfectly. What He has decreed with happen, without any doubt, down to the seemingly-random casting of lots (Prov 16:33). His promises are more dependable that the sun rising in the East, or the rising temperatures of summer.

Second, that Man sins willfully. By this we mean that man sins in what he does, for by nature and by deed, we are hell-bent on rebellion against our Creator. Some of our deeds are obviously sinful, at least to most: when a man murders another, for example, in violation of the sixth commandment (Ex 20:13). Others are more subtly sinful, for they benefit our fellow man instead of harming him: when we donate to the local children’s hospital to our own glory instead of His (John 3:19-21). Sinners sin, and in no ways can they glorify God in their actions, for they do not seek His glory: none ever has (Rom 3:9-11). Either a work is done of faith by one who loves Him, or it is sin. We recognize with Christ that sins differ in their extremity (John 19:1-11), but we all follow our father, Adam, consistently, and we act in accordance with our hearts.

Beyond these simple truths we need to develop our ideas precisely, and with an eye toward the consequences of our ideas. We should move slowly. We must work outward from the Word alone, allowing Scripture to speak to us while not allowing our culture to speak through Scripture. This is difficult to do, even for the very wise, but the Spirit indwells us if we are his, and God above has given us the writings of many wise men who came before us. It is possible for us to know, and in so knowing, to obey, and so increase His glory within our land.

 

Sublime

I drown in tears that do not fall
Each smile a lie I do not tell
Each breath a page I do not write
My life a book I do not read

In shadows vain we seek for light
Blind guides who call our stumbles dance
Our wretched shrieks a symphony
Our groping hands a deep romance

How long, O man, how long until
With eyes to beauty drawn we see
The truth that lies beneath the sun
Sublime divine simplicity

-Charles Baldon, April 2014

Getting the Words Right (Anger)

Words – even at this late stage in the long defeat of the West – mean something.  And something that helps us to get a Biblical perspective on things is to get the words right.  Using the proper word for what we’re experiencing allows us to quickly identify the problem.  We’re good lawyers in our own defense, though, and often we know that we’re sinning, so we’ll hide behind a wall of vague words that obscure what’s really going on in our hearts.

Offended, frustrated, annoyed, put out, upset, irritated, enraged…

No, you’re not.  What you are is called angry, and from here you can handle it righteously or sinfully.  In righteousness you’ll respond either justly or graciously, depending on the circumstance and your role in the relationship.  If you have some role of authority in regards to the offender (ie, a policeman or parent) you’ll need to consider the just response.  A lack of accountability is not gracious, but that’s a different blog post.  If the offender is your authoritative equal – say, a fellow member or attender of your church – you’ll need to respond graciously.  You’re even allowed to overlook the offense altogether, sacrificing your right to be angry to the Lord – true story!  Responding in sin leads to, say, posting on Facebook about how offended you are [that is, angry] and how terrible the offender is.  Or constantly thinking about how you’ve been wronged.  You might really be a detail person. But we tend to be very detailed people when it comes to those who’ve offended us.

Anger, handled unrighteously and given time to fester, grows into bitterness.  The offender doesn’t “rub you the wrong way,” or “irritate” you.  They don’t make you angry, either.  The anger comes from in you and nowhere else.  You’re bitter, and at this point your sin has become the problem you need to deal with immediately.  Biblically, you do this by forgiving the offender and confessing your bitterness as sin before the Lord.  You are going to spend the rest of your life on earth bumping into other sinners, and sometimes it will feel like everyone is in a race to sin against others faster than they can get sinned against.  You need a plan to deal with this: know your heart, your tendencies toward anger and bitterness, and be ready to confess.  Constantly.

I know I barely scratched the surface here of our various euphemisms for anger and bitterness, so feel free to post yours in the comments.  One thing about all our euphemisms a good friend pointed out to me… you won’t find any of them in Galatians 5 where the fruit of the Spirit are listed.  Something to think about.

*edit* Here’s a great booklet by a pastor named Jim Wilson (along with a couple others) on anger and bitterness.  These are sins worthy of our attention, so common are they in our lives and our culture.

Next time on Getting the Words Right, we’ll tackle tolerance.

Kingdom Building

Christian ethics is no less than the human expression, made possible through the Holy Spirit, of the Divine character.  The foundation of our obedience to the will of God is the atoning death of Christ at Calvary.   The only proper and grateful response to what He has done for us is dedicating our lives to that which brings Him glory: this is our highest ethic.

A person outside of God’s saving grace has some inkling of God’s righteous justice.  Or rather something more than an inkling, as Paul lays out in the very beginning of his letter to the Romans: that person knows, and rejects the truth he knows for the lies his or her sinful heart prefers.  This is a harsh judgment to make, but a critical, Biblical one: and we must make it upon our own hearts first and foremost.  We all begin under a just sentence of condemnation for our rebellion.  In our flesh, we do not want to obey.  We don’t even want to acknowledge the existence of a law by which we can be judged disobedient.

But in His grace!  A glorious place to reside, and from this glory comes ethical order.  Our souls having been quickened by the Spirit, having responded to the Gospel of grace with joyful, repentant sorrow, are ready for something more: the work of building Christ’s kingdom, in His name, and upon His earth.  The truth of justice has devastated our souls, and truth of grace has built them back up again in His image.  Truth – we elate! – is knowable.  Both God’s justice in judgment and gracious salvation of sinners express His character; and having been justified, in the process of being sanctified, we begin to glimpse the beauty of His law as David did.  To know God is to know truth.  To love God is to love truth.

We live in an age where, without a trace of irony, the only truth we seem to embrace is that there is no truth.  In our culture we base ethics upon desire; that which the people want, the people should have.  This has the ultimate effect of destroying us.  It is shifting sand, and trying to build an ordered society upon a foundation readily susceptible to the tides of human opinion leads to moments of success followed by lifetimes of regret.

But building a well-ordered society that truly meets human need is possible: and more than possible, inevitable.   The ultimate triumph of good over evil is coming. And we, my Christian brothers and sisters, have been called to prepare the earth.  For all will bend the knee to Him.  His sovereignty is universal and will be recognized as such by all men, everywhere.  In justice or in grace, all will give Him glory.

What is your role in building His kingdom?

a Christmas blessing

The end of another year draws nigh, and we approach the most holy of our days as His children, the Christ Mass.  Praise be to the Gifting God for the blessing of His Great Light in the form of a helpless babe.  Listen, then, and I will tell you a wonder:

How a great King set aside His crown, His sovereign right to rule;
How the mightiest ever among us was celebrated by the lowliest at His birth.
His very people, whom He came to save from death, sought death for Him instead…
for you and I, just assuredly as any soldier of Rome, put those spikes into hands and feet.
He walked among us, as a child, as a man, as a servant, seeking faith He rarely found
even in those He held most dear-
Truly, the world was not worthy of Him.

And so, on a day as black as that winter’s night was bright, they

-we-

took him,

We beat Him, we punished Him for our own sin, and the King of Heaven lay down unto death…

But it could not keep Him.

Indeed, the very grave knew defeat that glorious day, when the Light forever banished Darkness from the souls of men who would seek Him.  The babe that was born this night we celebrate became the greatest of gifts to men…

Hope.

For you see, the beauty of the Christ is that it makes life unfair.  Thanks be to the High King of Heaven, never again need you and I fear being treated fairly for the evil we have done!  Our hope is His Grace, and our just fate is stayed by His Mercy.  And so this day, as you reflect on all that has gone before you, offer thanks to our Blessed Lord for his wondrous bounty.

May the Three of Limitless Love renew the strength of your heart, that your true Hope be found in the Lord of Heaven, far from the wickedness of this world;
May the Three of Perfect Peace bless you richly as you strive ever onward for the Kingdom, and may the rewards of your labor be vast in a place suffering no decay;
May the Three of Boundless Joy bring laughter to your lips, and rejoice with you this day, for your Salvation has come in the form of a babe, Immanuel, God with us!

a Christmas shower

We serve a good God, and he showers us with blessings.  At least, that’s what we’re supposed to say about Him, right?

But really, as I think more about it, the whole thing is getting ridiculous, and I think somebody should talk to Him.

I mean, the whole idea of “Christmas” in the first place is patently absurd – just who does this God think he is?  Who, in the midst of a kingdom-wide rebellion, starts handing out presents?  Maybe a fake gift or two, the kind that blows up on demand.  In a war, that makes sense, a kind of exploding-Trojan-horse-thingy.  But what king in his right mind would send his only son, his heir, to the other side as a gift?  And then, when the rebels (like we couldn’t see this coming) kill the son once they’d had their fun torturing him, the king (who apparently hadn’t learned anything from this whole experience) used their very act of murder to redeem the rebels and declare the war over, bringing the rebels back into the kingdom…

Explain this to me, exactly.  Because if you were pitching this story to me as the pilot for your new TV series, I’d boot you out of my office.  I mean, who’s ever going to buy it?  The whole thing jumps the shark!

And then, to top it off, the King instructs His people (remember, those former rebels) how to spend some the blessings He has given them.  And blessing these people is certainly a huge step in the wrong direction.  A pardon, I suppose, if you really were feeling particularly generous, might – might – be appropriate.  Perhaps for a couple of the more photogenic rebels, maybe some of the cuter children.  But the leaders at least need to die, right?  Publicly?  But no, the King, this “good” God, he takes these people out of slavery, gives them a bunch of cool stuff, and then tells them to party.  Seriously.  Like they mean it.

Read with me:

Deuteronomy 14:22-27 (ESV)

You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

It’s got to be a textual error.   The manuscripts got copied wrong, or something.  Whatever you desire?  Whatever your appetite craves?  Good meat?  Great wine?  So to worship this God, rebels-turned-citizens are forced (at least He’s forcing them to do something) to spend some of their money on a huge party, and all this is designed to teach them… to fear the Lord always?

Like I said before, someone really needs to talk to Him.  This is getting out of hand.  What’s next?  People actually singing at the top of their lungs in church?  Spontaneous hugging?  Joy that doesn’t come from stuff?  If we’re not careful here, someone’s heart might just grow three sizes in one day.  And you and I both know what that means for the church…

Liability.  An enlarged heart is a serious medical condition.

I’m recommending we call our insurance brokers right now.  Bump up those church policies so we can sleep well tonight.

Oh, and when you talk to Him (you did catch the part where we agreed that you should be the one to talk to Him, right?), make sure you mention the name of a good lawyer.

If He keeps this up, He’s going to need one.

And I suppose it’s in keeping with the season to say “Merry Christmas,” but try to tone it down a little.  The last thing this world needs is a bunch of crazies running around acting like their King.

of virtue and law

Law should not protect people, law should protect virtue; by virtue of this, the virtuous are then protected by law.

This our Founders showed an understanding of, as they attempted (imperfectly, but earnestly) to tie man’s law to Divine virtue.  And it is this principle that guides true progress: we do not yet perfectly reflect the Divine virtue in our earthly laws, and so we continue to examine and refine that which we believe should be law.  We do not change for the sake of the people’s ever-changing desires, but for the sake of virtue, which assures the people’s highest good.

The Progressive is correct: things need to change.

The Conservative is correct: things need to change in a specific direction.

of theology and tulips

First off, a beautiful photo, courtesy of the interwebs… tulip

but more importantly, a beautiful truth from the Word.  (Quick note – this isn’t meant to be an explanation of the Gospel from scratch, but rather a hopefully-helpful short guide for Christians who hear these terms thrown around and wonder what all the fuss is about.)

“TULIP” is an acronym from the early Protestant Reformation, designed as a clear and simple way to express 5 critical truths of the Christian faith.  These points are not exhaustive, in regards to either the character of God or His glorious gift of salvation, just helpful.

T – Total Depravity.  In Adam, all mankind sinned, and so we are depraved, or morally corrupt.  When we say this condition is total, we aren’t saying that we are as bad as we could possibly be, just that every part of us – every word, every thought, every deed, every emotion – is tainted by the presence of sin.  And being morally corrupt beings tainted by sin, we are both unwilling to turn from our sin and unable to save ourselves from the penalty of our sin, which is death.  So are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners?  The Biblical answer is a resounding “yes!” (Romans 1-3, Ephesians 2)

U – Unconditional Election.   Elect is the Biblical term for those who have been chosen by God to be saved,  from before the foundation of the world.  We see this glorious truth worked out around us on a daily basis as people are saved by grace through faith, and so become part of the church, or the elect.  Unconditional simply means that this election on the part of God is not because of anything we have done, or any condition we have met.  In other words, God isn’t saving the “good” people who have earned it, He is saving those whom it is His good pleasure to save, for we all justly deserve Hell.  This salvation is not determined by the sinner, but by God Himself.  (Romans 8-9, Ephesians 1-2)

L – Limited Atonement. Limited atonement simply means the redemption of the cross was particular to a group of people; or in other words, that every sin of those being saved was absolutely forgiven, forever, through Jesus’ atoning death there.  Instead of limited some scholars use the word definite, in that Jesus went to cross as part of a concise plan of salvation, put in motion by God before the foundations of the world.  When Jesus declared the debt of sin paid, it wasn’t potentially paid, or partially paid, it was fully paid.  Period.  And that’s the story of Scripture from one end to the other: God expressing His sovereignty in the salvation of a particular (not universal) group of people. We don’t tend to freak out when we read in Exodus that God redeemed Israel at the expense of Egypt, because of time and cultural distance, but this phrase above all others – calling the atonement limited – often throws Christians into fits.  All the doctrine of limited atonement states is the clear Scriptural principle that God is working out His plan to save His church, the bride of Christ, and Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of His bride – not the whole world, or the whole world would then be forgiven and be His bride. Thus, the word “limited” is used to describe the atonement. (Genesis 12, Exodus 3, John 19, Ephesians 5)

I – Irresistible Grace.  The grace of God expressed in salvation is irresistible in the sense that those God has purposed to save will be saved.  People do make real choices in the real world that have real consequences, and the best way to understand this truth is to understand that in our basic sinful natures, not one of us seeks God.  Not one of us wants to seek God, and so we do what we want instead of what He wants.  We act consistently with our nature.  As the Holy Spirit regenerates a heart, the nature of that heart is changed, and so responds to the Gospel by faith, in accordance with it’s new nature.  Again a real choice is made in the real world by a real person, and once again that choice is consistent with the new nature of the person in question.  So God’s grace is absolutely irresistible, and our choices absolutely are real moral choices; these truths are not incompatible. (Romans 3, Ephesians 2)

P – Perseverance of the Saints.  God’s mark upon the Christian (literally, His seal of redemption upon us) is the Holy Spirit.  Those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit are well and truly saved: eternally saved.  Our salvation is both complete, and still being worked out in our daily lives as God sanctifies us (makes us more like Christ).  But the Bible leaves no doubt whatsoever that those whom God has purposed to save, will be saved, as we stated under irresistible grace.  And our glorious hope comes from the fact that God keeps His word and does not fail His people: His deliverance has been promised, and to His own glory He will save us.  As for those who appear to be part of the church and then fall away or leave the church, the reality is just that: they never came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, they merely maintained the appearance for a time.  Those whom He knows, He keeps, and no one can take us away from Him. (Matthew 7, John 10, Romans 5-8, Ephesians 1-2)

Progress?

It's not a sofa, it's a KLIPPAN.

It’s not a sofa, it’s a KLIPPAN.

(This is a continuation of a thought, it started here.)

So then, progress.  As I was asking before, who doesn’t like to make progress?

But when I pull that IKEA furniture out of those nifty flat boxes, I know I’m building a couch (or a SCHWERGENKLEIN, or something).  I know where I’m supposed to be going, even if it takes me a while to get there.  Ok, a long while.  And a few drinks.

But what is our modern progressive movement building?  What are we progressing towards?

The two great arms of the modern Democratic party are encircling America at this point, and I have no doubt at all that it was intended to be a hug.  But while the one arm gives me a gentle pat full of tolerance, non-discrimination, of letting me do pretty much whatever I’d like to do with full government and legal sanction, the other is squeezing way too tight and micro-managing my behavior, right down to how much sugar I eat, because I certainly can’t be trusted to make my own decisions responsibly.

And here is where it all breaks down, because somewhere in this contradictory mix we think we’re making progress.  And while I do agree that some things should be different than they are, perhaps we should pull out those instructions, count the screws [insert political joke here], and get a clear picture of what we’re building before we start with the hammering and the sawing.

Just a thought.  Now I need a drink.

Progress!

Forward.

Forward.

Progress.

Forward.

Evolving.

All these words are finding their place in the gay marriage debate, front and center on our national stage.  And all I’m asking you to do today is consider them, what they mean, and what they imply.

To move forward, to make progress, and in the sense that we use the world ‘evolve,’ a person (or group of people) must be going somewhere, moving toward some goal, some end.

So what is it?  Where is the goal?  What is the endgame?

That’s not the end of my thought here, but it is the key question.  It was actually a conservative politician who got me thinking about this, Matt Salmon (R-AZ) who has a homosexual son.  In his comments, he stated publicly that he did not support gay marriage by saying this:

“It doesn’t mean that I don’t have respect, it doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with some of the issues. It just means I haven’t evolved to that stage.”

Hm.

So in essence, Mr. Salmon is saying that if he were more evolved, further along the path, he would hold the position of being in favor of gay marriage.

And so, if gay marriage is progress along a path, presumably (to its proponents) a good, dare we say righteous, path…

Where does that path end?  When does the progressive who wants to change things until we get it right become the conservative who thinks we have it right?

Just some stuff to think about as you continue on with your day.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this; drop me a line in the comments.