Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Can God be Loving and Wrathful, Part 2

Two readers have posted excellent questions to my blog of a few days ago by this same title. On the basis of this blog "Anonymous" even labelled me extremely arrogant and unsaved . I understand his or her consternation.

In his quote D. A. Carson, probably the worlds foremost New Testament scholar (Doctorate from Cambridge) notes that the Bible consistently labels sinners as God's enemies. That is what makes his love so amazing and extravagant. He loves those upon his anger/wrath rests. Is it possible to distinguish wrath from hatred? The Bible often describes God's hatred of evil-doers. "You [God] hate all evildoers" (Ps. 5:5). "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Mal. 1:2-3). Ps 11:5 reads, "The Lord's soul...hates the wicked.  Ps 106:40 even tells us that God "abhorred" Israel. And the Israelites were his favorites.

This is what makes God's love so amazing. He loves his enemies (might we say those he hates) with an extavagant love. To understand this we need to remember that love is an action whereas hatred is a feeling. Carson wants us to know that God served and loved us even when he didn't like us. If God did this for us, we are duty bound to do the same.

Reconciliation with his enemies cost him his Son's death by slow agonizing torture. For this reason Jesus tells us to love our enemies. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:44-45). Why? God loved his enemies. For this reason D. A. Carson can write "so why should love and hatred be exclusive in us? " If God loved those that he hated, so should we, and we should love them extravagantly. Remember, love is something we do. Hatred is something we feel. We can serve and love those that we don't like.

Hints on how to "Preach the Gospel to Yourself"

Blake Rispens sent me this link http://www.ordinarypastor.com/?p=3854. It is an ordinary pastor telling us how to preach the gospel to yourself. He puts a unique and important emphasis on delighting in the God the gospel reveals. Enjoy and apply...

Unstoppable (Movie Review)

UnstoppableInspired by the true story of the unmanned train incident in Ohio in 2001, director Tony Scott’s latest film “ Unstoppable (rated PG-13) is entertaining and kept me on the edge of my seat. Denzel Washington, Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds) star in this true story of an unmanned, half mile long train charging through Pennsylvania while carrying a toxic load of molten phenol.

We begin in Fuller Yard in Northern Pennsylvania when Dewey, played by Ethan Suplee, a train yard employee, is ordered by the yardmaster (Dawson) to move a train to a different track to make room for an outgoing train full of school children on a field trip. While moving the train, against a co-workers advice, Dewey sets the gears to a low speed and jumps off to switch the tracks leaving it unmanned. While Dewey is off the train the levers fall of their own devices leaving it to pick up speed and causing Dewey to unsuccessfully re-board the train thus allowing it to leave the yard unmanned.

Meanwhile, Will Colson (Pine), a young conductor four months out of training, and veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Washington) begin their day in Southern Pennsylvania with a routine drive of their locomotive to a nearby yard where they pick-up their train for the day. Only after attaching their train to the locomotive and beginning their drive are Colson and Barnes given orders to pull off the track. While idling in the siding, they witness the unmanned train speed past them. Hearing of several failed attempts by the company to stop its runaway train Barnes decides to put his train in reverse and catch the unmanned train, coupling it to his and stopping it from behind.
Knowing full well “Unstoppable” would be predictable I still experienced the intended suspense. Washington, Pines and Dawson perform their roles beautifully keeping me on edge for the full hour and a half. While I do not believe “Unstoppable” must be viewed on the big screen I do recommend it at least be viewed, by ages Jr. High and up, as a weekend rental. There are a few swear words spoken in fits of frustration, and Barnes’ daughters earn their way through college working as waitresses at Hooters, but overall it is clean and focused mainly on the action. (Reviewed by Stephanie Spurgetis)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How can God be both Loving and Wrathful?

John 3:16 is often called the "end zone verse" because of its ubiquitous appearance on football game posters. "God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son." God does love us, and the depth of his love surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:19). It is higher than the Heavens (Ps 103:11).
However, John 3:16 needs to always be held in tension with another important verse, Rom. 1:18. "For the wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men."
When these two verses collide, as they eventually do with all sober, thinking Christians, they present us with a problem. How can they both be true? Do we just ignore the wrath of God and cling to his love? Or, do we honestly attempt to find a solution? Does God love man and hate man at the same time? If so, can we reconcile these seemingly contrary ideas?

They reconcile at the cross. There God's love and God's wrath meet and shake hands. They become friends. That is because the cross of Christ is simultaneously a display of God's wrath towards sinners and his love for sinners. Jesus stands in our place and God pours out his intense anger on his Son in our place. God the Father does this so that he can lavish his divine love on us. Martin Luther summed it all up with the idea that we see God's love through his wrath.
For these reasons and others noted New Testamen scholar, D. A. Carson, wrote, “The Bible can simultaneously affirm God’s wrath toward people and his love for them: it does not intimate that God’s love and his judicial “hatred” are necessarily mutually exclusive. So why should love and hatred be exclusive in us? (Love in Hard Places, pg 42)

Have you grappled with this idea? Would love to hear your solutions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Toy Story III: Fun for the Family

Toy Story 3Disney/Pixar does it again in the third (and supposedly final) installment in the Toy Story franchise. “Toy Story 3” (rated G) is fun for the whole family. The original cast of characters are all present. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack return as the voices of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie. All our old favorites are present and accounted for as well as new characters who are introduced with finesse and trademark Pixar humor.

As Andy prepares to leave for college we are reminded of the fun which began fifteen years ago in 1995 with Pixar’s first movie “Toy Story”. As Andy cleans his room in preparation for leaving home to begin his Freshman year of college he finds all the old gang buried in his toy chest. Through a series of unfortunate events all of Andy’s toys, minus Woody, are sent to the curb as opposed to the attic like he originally planned.

Believing Andy has abandoned them they end up at a day care center where they are excited to enjoy kids who will finally play with them. Thinking they have caught their big break Slinky, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm and the rest settle into their new home looking forward to endless hours of playtime with the toddlers. However, the real test of their friendship comes with the introduction of Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (aka Lotso) as the King of the day care. He rules with an iron fist striking fear into the hearts of the new comers. Predictably, Woody arrives to save the day, and his friends, from destruction at the hands of Lotso and his gang of misfits. Eventually they make their way back to Andy where he finds his old friends waiting. What becomes of their fate is left up to you to find out.

I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. While I did get a little misty eyed as Andy and his mom wrestle through their emotions of Andy leaving home, I admittedly laughed the whole way through. Buzz’s spanish mode steals the show followed closely by Ken and Barbie who bring joy and laughter with their stereotypical ditzy personalities. I highly recommend “Toy Story 3” as a family event where dad, mom and the kids can enjoy a night of fun together. - Stephanie Spurgetis

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Doe the gospel begin with Sin?

God Who Justifies, TheIn his excellent book, The God Who Justifies,  James White writes, “Paul’s indictment of the entirety of mankind forms the foundation of the gospel message. There is no good news where the bad news of man’s sinful state is not clearly proclaimed and perceived. The results of sin (The depravity of man) demand a God-centered gospel.”

What do you think? Does White have it right? Do we begin with the knowledge of man lost in sin, or do we begin with the love, mercy, and grace of God? Why or why not?

As always, your thoughts are deeply appreciated.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Humility Always Precedes Conversion

Over the next few blogs I want to insert some material from a manuscript I am preparing for publication by P&R . It concerns the importance of humility for the Christian life. The first reason humility matters is that it is necessary for conversion.

God saves those who believe, not those who work. But the belief that saves always includes some level of humbling. However, millions confess Christianity whose faith accomplished little or no humbling. Millions attend church regularly that have never been humbled under the doctrine of sin. According to R. C. Sproul, over 75% of North American professing Christians don’t even believe in Original Sin. But true faith, the faith that saves, always humbles. If there is no humbling, it is unlikely that saving faith exists.

This insight began with Augustine (354-430). He suggested that humility is the soil from which all the virtues grow and pride the soil that produces the vices. Up until the Reformation this was generally accepted. John Calvin (1509-1564), who was a student and fan of Augustine, suggested a deeper analysis. Just as unbelief is the source of pride, faith is the beginning and source of humility. Think about it. Real heart-felt faith in the gospel always humbles. After all, it is a message about man in sin, under judgment, standing before an angry God who wants to be our friend. Our predicament is so bad that we cannot improve it with human effort. God is the only One that can solve our problem, and God commands us to respond not by “trying harder.” Rather, we are to abandon all confidence in human effort. We are to merely believe, repent, and live by unmerited favor. No matter how you slice it, this is humbling. By contrast, failure to believe says “I am good enough. Surely, if God exists he will accept me. After all, I am every bit as good as my neighbor.” These express arrogance.

In other words, biblical faith always initiates a humbling process. By contrast, unbelief leaves us in our arrogance. You can profess belief in an orthodox creed and lack this humbling faith. If the above is true, it stands to reason that God has designed the gospel to produce this faith, to humble men and women, to bring them face to face with their moral and spiritual bankruptcy and God’s gracious solution.

That is the contention of this book. I hope to convince you, and change the way you conduct ministry.

In order for this humbling to happen saving faith must assent to several vital truths. For example, I am justified by faith alone. Justification by faith alone implies that I am hopelessly lost, that my moral condition is so desperate that my best efforts will avail me nothing. I am a sinner and cannot save myself. I can only be saved by casting myself on God’s mercy. I find God’s favor by believing not working. This is a humbling message.

Saving faith also confesses that I am not smart enough to make my own rules for life. It agrees with the Bible about who God is, the sinfulness of sin, man’s nature, God’s sovereignty in creation, the nature of Jesus Christ, and a host of other issues. Saving faith confesses that Hell is real, that I am in deep trouble with God, and that I will end up in Hell unless I put my trust in Christ’s sinless life and substitutionary death. Saving faith confesses that Christ is Lord and decides to obey him. Each of these confessions makes us smaller and Christ larger.

Therefore, we should not be surprised at these texts. "You save a humble people” (Psalm 18:27). "The Lord…adorns the humble with salvation" (Psalm 149:4). "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). “Poverty of Spirit,” is a synonym for humility. Later Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Becoming childlike implies simplicity, dependence, and above all humility. Each of these texts implies one thing: Humility is a precedent to conversion. If that is the case, our message should provoke a faith that humbles. To do this our gospel must begin with the Bad News and then progress to the Good News.

None of this should surprise us. If the great sin is pride, God must have designed the mechanics of conversion to produce its opposite—humility. Jonathan Edwards noted that humility “is a great and most essential thing in true religion.” Then he notes, “The whole frame of the gospel, and everything appertaining to the new covenant, and all God’s dispensations towards fallen man, are calculated to bring to pass this effect [humility] in the hearts of men. They that are destitute of this, have no true religion, whatever profession they may make, and how high soever their religious affections may be.”

The Pharisees were Jesus’ enemies. They resisted him at every turn. Why? They were proud, and their pride barred them from salvation. They refused to do what those that get saved do. They refused to humble themselves. With this in mind Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). For the Pharisee salvation meant renouncing confidence in their righteousness. It meant admitting that, despite their formidable self-discipline, they were “sick.” This they were unwilling to do.

The Pharisees were the neediest people in Israel. They were sinners under the wrath of God, hurtling head long towards final judgment, yet they refused to humble themselves and believe. Why? They were convinced of their goodness. They thought they could merit God’s favor. It is no different today. The default condition of every unbeliever is Pharisee to the core.

If this is true, we should seek to humble those to whom we communicate the gospel. In later chapters we will see that this is exactly what God has designed the gospel to do. We will also discuss ways to help those to whom we minster humble themselves so that they can be converted.