Monday, June 30, 2014

Preservation of the Saints

...should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? -Isaiah 8:19b

You know I think I may be brain-damaged.

How else could I be sitting at breakfast reading "Blackburn Strawberry Preserves" on the jar in front of me and be reminded of the Irish exclamation, "Saints preserve us!"?

They really can't, you know. Preserve us, I mean. Besides, we are the saints (Deuteronomy 33:2-3 for starters), those called out, set aside, and sanctified for their God.

Only God can preserve those whom He has called (John 10:28-29; follow the references from there).

Preservation of the saints is the "P" in the TULIP acrostic, presenting the Five Points of Calvinism.

"Perseverance" is also used in the acrostic. Hmmm. Looks like a job for the saints! God preserves by power of his indwelling Spirit. We persist by that same powerful Spirit which seals us unto redemption.

So, Blackburn jellies and Irish exclamations aside, God preserve us.

BTW, I here link to an essay on the Five Points by R.L. Dabney, my favorite Confederate theologian:

His crystal-clear explanation of Irresistible Grace (effectual calling) removed the last of my doubts about Reformed doctrines. I recommend it. Right thinking leads to right practice. How else can we obey God if we don't understand what He has revealed Himself to be? 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grace Flows Down Like Water

And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. -John 1:16

What do you have that you did not receive? 1 Corinthians 4:7b

I have heard it said that Jesus does not want our ability but our availability. May I offer a quibble here?

I agree that it is true that our talents are gifts from God to be used in his service. In fact the danger here is to fall into some sort of mush-mouthed  "aw shucks" false humility in admitting this fact.

Sin is indeed "crouching at the door," desiring to trip us up. Our nature is such that, even though regenerate, even our good deeds may become occasions for sinful pride.

And it is on this point that I quibble with the above statement, however well-intentioned it may be. Why or how am I available to God? Is it because that, now that I have believed in Jesus, I am a better person than I was? A "new creation," even?

Well. Yes. But that doesn't get to the heart of the matter, which is simply that it's ALL a gift. Grace, you see.

For as I look into my heart (and like Paul writing in Romans 7 am driven to near despair), I find many obstacles, all sorts of objections and excuses, to whatever good God-pleasing thing I feel led to do.

Remnants of the old, self-pleasing man still remain and he is prone to inertia (remember the second Law of Physics?). So I find a need to pray, not just for strength and ability to perform the task at hand, but the desire, the compulsion even.

Jesus said, "I must be about my Father's business." That's the kind of desire I need, O Lord.

That grace.

 I know that I am heaven-bound, a stranger in this land, a pilgrim making my way home. But praise be to God, His grace did not cease to flow at the hour of my salvation.

For as the hymnodist John Kent wrote: "Hallelujah, Grace shall reign eternally."


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

If You Hate Jesus

One of the things that "gets my goat (I have no goats, actually, but I understand this term to imply frustration and aggravation)" is to see "Click if you love Jesus," or "'LIKE' if you love Jesus," or worst of all, "If you love Jesus, you will forward this."

Maybe it's just me, but these things seem the "religious" equivalent of the "Double Dog Dare." Instead of cowardice (or perhaps, in addition) they suggest that if I don't comply, I am a moral reprobate.

That's probably the pride stinging.

At any rate, as I viewed a "Christian" website, some time back, I noticed a large red button at the bottom of the page and the label "Click if you HATE Jesus (yes, it was that kind of website)."

Let me state right here and now that, contrary to what some may think or say, my clicking the button was motivated not by hatred of Jesus, but by (idle?) curiosity. Which I understand may be a sin in itself.

What followed was a dire warning in large red letters (larger than these, even) and a graphic rendering (rather skillful, really) of the flames of hell.

Theologically, I could find no fault with this, though the lack of loving concern in the presentation troubled me.

So what's my point? Well, like the folks with the above website, our intentions might be good. But we should be careful, don't you think, of the manner in which we express ourselves. That what we say should be in line with Scripture. Take this excerpt for example:

The Remonstrant Articles
Article 1
That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” and according to other passages of Scripture also.
What's wrong with the above paragraph? Obviously written by some folks who love Jesus. In fact, they loved Jesus so much, they sought to defend Him from the charge of being arbitrary and unfair. Rather than viewing God's grace as "irresistible," they thought of it as merely restoring man's corrupted will to a neutral state, able to choose Christ or reject Him.

Historical context, and the other four articles, here:                                                                    

"God is a gentleman," is how it's phrased these days. But I don't find that in Scripture.

What I do find is that Jesus chose us and not vice versa (John 15:16); that nobody could come to Jesus unless drawn to Him by the Father (John 6:44 & 63-65). Paul provides specific examples of this choosing and drawing in Romans 9:10-29 (and elsewhere).

Does not the notion that God would supernaturally intervene in a sinner's heart merely to give that person the option to reject Himself seem extremely illogical as well as wildly improbable?

Here's the question, finally: Do we really love Jesus if we represent Him as something other than what he has shown Himself to be in Scripture?

Monday, June 9, 2014

No "Mellow" in Melodrama

Some folks calls it "melodrama," I call it "soap opera," mmmhmm. -Carl Childers, if someone were to ask him what he thought of how overly self-absorbed people tend to behave.

I have received many good pieces of advice in my day, some from very unlikely sources. I cannot recall where I learned the following gem, but it went something like this; "Each time you find yourself getting angry, you should stop and ask yourself, 'What am I so mad about?'"

I had a bad temper and was not particularly proud of it. So when I began to follow this advice, I was shocked to realize that an estimated 99% of my anger was caused because things were not going exactly as I might have preferred.

No ill treatment at the hands of others, mind you, no deliberately hateful attitudes on their part. Just life. And it was pissing me off.

Isn't that shameful? I was ashamed. I needed to be. Somewhere in this same time frame, I learned the simple expression, "Oh well."

Not that I want to be indifferent. Not about things that matter, anyhow. Just in matters concerning my own pride or convenience.

I don't know if its the night-time dramas or the reality shows on television or what, but there seems to be an epidemic of self-absorbed behavior going on.

Maybe I shouldn't blame TV. Maybe it's just bad parenting. I don't know.

Don Henley pointed out in one of his songs that we live "in such a graceless age."

Maybe that's it. Maybe not enough Christians are sharing the grace that God has so freely given us. You know: forgiveness, selflessness and some of that fruit of the Spirit like lovingkindness and self-control.

Someone once told me there are two kinds of people in the world: those who live their lives like a soap opera, and those who live it like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Not necessarily sound advice, but I think a wise saying.

There is another wise saying: "Get over yourself."

I'm trying, alright?

Friday, June 6, 2014

On My Nerves

When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. -C.S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters"

I am a reasonable man.

Giving our nature to gloss over our own offenses and magnify those of others, I must begin by examining the truth of the preceding statement.

Actually I realize that I can be quite unreasonable, an annoying tendency stemming from another annoying tendency of mine to always want to be right which stems from the mother of annoying tendencies, which is my (unreasonably) competitive nature.

Which has as its root, I imagine, the cardinal sin of pride.

The devil loves wedges (he may love wedgies too, the spiritual kind I mean). Having separated man from God, he now wishes to separate us from one another; husbands from wives, parents from children, ministers from their congregations.

Each of us, if Satan had his way, would dwell in his own separate compartment, all alone and miserable with his own petty and vicious thoughts for his company.

Sound like anyone you know?

A pretty extreme picture, I admit, of someone who has gone as far as they can down the road of selfishness, bitterness and prideful anger.

Also an accurate description of hell, do you think?

Lewis was a very astute observer of the human heart and understood the power of the Holy Spirit to change that cold unfeeling heart to one full of love, first for Christ, then for one's fellow creatures.

"For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20b)"

So yeah, there are things about you that make me want to pinch your  head off. And I understand completely that at times you want to slap me so hard that I would burst into flame.

The thing is, yall, God has placed us together. We will no doubt be irritated as our swollen egos bang up against each other. And we will be tempted to sin by being angry at one another.

But we are called to love and forgive, to overlook offenses. That is the hardest thing to do. Harder than Chinese arithmetic.

But it's how we grow, right?

Or as my wife has so helpfully put it, "It's over. No use to keep harpin' on it."