Monday, August 27, 2012

Is Atheism Rational?

In his new book A Shot of Faith to the Head, Mitch Stokes impales the "New Atheist" on the sword of his own logic. From logic the atheist argues for atheism. He references absolute values like Justice to make his case. For example, he argues that theism has created pain and suffering throughout world history. But if there is no God there is just chance. There are no absolutes. Neither mercy nor cruelty matter. Suffering has no intrinsic value. All that matters, as Mao famously said, is power proceeding from the barrel of a gun. Without absolutes justice disappears. That is because justice is the measurement of behavior on the basis of absolutes.

Here is a sampling of Stoke's logic. 

 “The notions of design, rationality, and absolute standards cannot exist in a naturalistic world, in the world of the atheists. Without absolute standards—of which there must be many—their worldview would entirely collapse. And this poses a serious problem for any atheist who claims that belief in God is irrational. In fact, it takes the legs right out from under such a claim. If there is no designer, then there is no proper function, and therefore there is no such thing as irrationality. But then there’s no such thing as rationality either. There’s only a sterile, impersonal “desert landscape.” Beliefs are neither rational nor irrational. They just are. But if the Christian story is true, then there is such a thing as irrationality. And as we saw, those who don’t believe in God are  from it.”[1]

here is the bottom line. The Atheist must use theistic presuppositions to argue for atheism. He is impaled on the horns of a theistic dilemma. 

[1] Mitch Stokes, A Shot of Faith to the Head, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012) Kindle Edition, location 3629

Friday, August 24, 2012

What is the Key To Sanctification? (Part Three)

This is the third and last article in a series on the key to growth in godliness. In part one we learned that self discipline, by itself, is not the answer. Something more is needed.  No one is really undisciplined. Our problem is a lack of motivation. Everyone motivated person will grow in self-discipline. 

Green House Grow Lights
In part two  we suggested that it is the Holy Spirit's job to motivate us. He does that by illuminating certain crucial truths––most commonly the moral beauty of Christ. Illumination can be defined as the spiritual "experience" of knowledge. 

People buy "grow lights" to encourage the growth of green house plants. As long as the plants sit under a grow light they grow rapidly and become fruitful. Illumination is God's grow light. What I am saying is that to the degree that Believers sit under the Holy Spirit's light the same happens to them. They become fruitful. 

You can tell when you have experienced illumination because it has certain symptoms. Hebrews 11:1 describes two. They are a growing "assurance of things hoped for," and  "conviction of things not seen." Heb. 11:6 adds another––a growing confidence in God's goodness––confidence that God rewards those that seek him. Today's post answers the question, why is the subject of illumination so important?

The first reason that illumination is important is that it is usually the last thing we think of when someone is struggling with spiritual growth. There are several reasons. First, many are not aware of the importance of illumination. Others assume all professing Christians have it. Last, many think illumination is in their control. Just study the Bible and it will automatically come. 

But these assumptions are mostly false. Without illumination a professing Christian is not a Christian. They are a person with biblical knowledge, but they are not born again. This is the crucial spiritual "plus" added at new birth. Notice how Paul describes New Birth. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Did you notice the experiential language? The change that occurs at New Birth is likened to the change that occurred at creation. When God said, "let there be light" there was light in the heavens. In the same way, when God regenerates a person they become a "new creation." What is new is that they are now beholding the goodness of God in the person of Christ, and that insight is producing "assurance" and "conviction." 

These assumption are false for another reason. Illumination is outside of our control. Yahweh is the God who hides himself. He is the only Being in complete control of being known. You can't just know God because you want to, you can't lay your hands on illumination through sweaty hard work. It is God's gracious gift. We wait for it from a posture of profound humility and eagerness. 

We could say that illumination is truth tasted, or experienced. Jonathan Edwards described it as the difference between knowing all about honey and actually tasting honey. When God gives us a spiritual "taste" of truth it moves the thirteen inches from our head to our heart. To the degree that it does everything changes. 

A second reason that illumination is so important is that it is the difference between a godly piety and a pharisaical religion. The religious person has knowledge, but it doesn't seem to be changing them, humbling them, or producing the fruit of the spirit. They walk for years without changing. They are spiritual "know it alls." They are hard to be around. They lack illumination. The fruits of illumination are humility, love, joy, peace, faithfulness, etc. We love to be around people like this. 

If illumination is this important we should seek it above all else. There are two dimensions to this "seeking." First, the godward dimension. As we have seen, God is ultimately in control of illumination. He gives it, and he is a liberal giver. Therefore, we should seek it hopefully. "Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened." He loves to reveal himself, and he is most apt to reveal himself to the humble, those quick to repent of sin. 

But second, there is a human dimension to illumination. We are responsible to seek it, pursue it, and ask God for it. Although those who practice the spiritual disciplines are most apt to receive it, they should never presume that they already have it or that they don't need more. 

How does this knowlege affect those who minster to God's people? For those in ministry understanding the nature and power of illumination is critical. We should preach and counsel with a great sense of our need and poverty. Our people need information, but information is never enough. They also need illumination. This puts us in a needy posture. illumination is outside of our power, and unless our people get it nothing will change.  

Last, it means we must continually preach Christ. Christ is the subject the Holy Spirit loves to illuminate. When the Holy Spirit illuminates the nature and character of Christ to those we preach or counsel to everything changes. 

Are you sitting under God's grow light? Do you even know he has one? Have made the mistake of assuming it? Don't do that. Instead, cry out with the Psalmist "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?" (Ps. 27:1). 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What is the Key to Growth in Godlliness? (Part Two)

God's Motivator
In our first post on this subject I said that no one is undisciplined. In fact, a lack of discipline, or will power, is seldom the problem.  Instead, a lazy man, or an inconsistent man or woman, suffers from a lack of motivation.

The Holy Spirit, who cooperated in the design of our physical and emotional frame, knows this. That is why his work is fundamentally motivational. What motivates Christians is a spiritual sight of the moral beauty of the  Glory of God in the face of Christ. Paul described conversion in these terms (2 Cor. 4:6). He also described sanctification in these terms (2 Cor. 2:18).

Seeing Christ this way is a byproduct of illumination. Illumination is more than knowledge. Knowledge is never sufficient by itself. Illumination is something added to knowledge. It occurs to the degree that the heart beholds the Glory of God hidden in the face of Christ. To the degree that this happens the believer is ruined for this world. Why? He or she increasingly sees that Christ is his or her happiness. We are hard wired to pursue our happiness. So, when this happens we quit looking for happiness in entertainment, new "things," promotions, or relationships. Instead, we pursue Christ.

However, this does not mean that knowledge is unimportant.  Illumination is like a spiritual parasite. It lives on knowledge. It feeds on knowledge. In fact, it will starve to death without knowledge. Therefore, Bible study, listening to sermons, and spiritual reading are very important.

But, here is the rub. In and of themselves, none of these are ever enough. I am reading a book on the Reformation by an Oxford Scholar. He is an excellent historian, and I am amazed at his accurate grasp of the subtleties of Christian doctrine. The reason I am so amazed is that he is a self professed agnostic homosexual. He is not a Christian. He has knowledge, but he lacks illumination. Therefore, he has no capacity to believe or love the doctrines that he understands so well. Many attending our churches are the same way. They know doctrine. They may even believe it at an intellectual level. But without illumination nothing changes. There is no "conviction," "assurance," or confidence in God's goodness.

Motivation comes and people change to the degree that the Holy Spirit puts his spotlight on what we know. When he does we see that knowledge with the eyes and ears of our hearts.  We "experience" knowledge at the heart level. This is what the Psalmist meant when he wrote, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8).

We are utterly dependent upon God for this. We cannot produce it or manufacture it. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of it when he said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”(Luke 10:21–22)

The signs of illumination are at least threefold. First, a growing conviction about the truth of the subject illuminated, second, a growing assurance about the truth of the subject illuminated, and third a growing certainty that God is good that he can be really trusted. Reference to these fruits can be found in Heb. 11:1-6. Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians five always ultimately follow.

In summary, "Illumination" is the key to Christian motivation. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It feeds on knowledge. Its fruits are conviction, assurance and growing confidence that God is good.

Our third blog post will talk about why this subject is so crucial.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross

Here is an excellent piece by Carl Trueman on the heart of Luther's gospel, the Theology of The Cross. Read it as you ask the Holy Spirit for spiritual illumination. No message could be more important to the church today.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What is The Key To Growth in Godliness? (Part One)

We all want to grow in godliness, but we often get discouraged. We have struggled with fear for years, but it isn't getting better. We decide to be patient with those around us, but within 24 hours lapse back into the old impatient behaviors.

So we re-dedicate ourself. We do well for a week or two and then fall off the wagon. "How can I change?" the heart cries. How can I grow in godliness? Into what socket can I plug for the spiritual power I so desperately need?

Maybe the fear of God is the key? Will an accountability partner solve my problems? I know. The issue is faith. If I could just get more faith. How about scripture memorization? Maybe that is the missing ingredient?

Although each of these tools are helpful, they are not the key to spiritual growth. There use might indicate that I have found the key, but they are not themselves the spiritual key.

The key is simple. It is motivation. The truth is, no one is undisciplined, We don't lack discipline. We lack motivation. Think about it. Why do diets fail? Diets take will power. As long as the image of a sleek and trim body grips me I will discipline my eating. However, if you are like most, it matters for a few days and then fades.

Michael Phelps the Olympic swimmer has won more medals than anyone in Olympic history. This required incredible self-discipline. It meant hours of grueling self-discipline in the pool. How did he do this? He was motivated. Amongst other things, olympic medals and fame motivated him. But the important point is this: The motivation produced the discipline, not the other way around.

It works the same way for the spiritual athlete. Self discipline is a byproduct of motivation. Self discipline is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:23). Christians need power to discipline their speech, their use of time, and how they spend their money. How does the Holy Spirit help us do this? He motivates us. That is his job. The Holy Spirit provides the motivation, and the motivation produces the self control.

In other words, motivation is the key to sanctification. To find out more tune in to part two of this series––coming soon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bitter Sin Makes for Sweet Grace!

As Paul neared the end of his life he wrote these remarkable words to his young disciple, Timothy. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life"(1 Timothy 1:15–16). 

Was Paul serious when he said of himself, I am "the foremost of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), or was he just writing this for effect? "The foremost of sinners" is not how we usually think about Paul. To us he is a mighty gospel hero, the one who willingly went through off-the-charts suffering to extend the gospel, in fact the man to whom God actually revealed the heart and soul of the gospel and then commissioned him to preach it to the Gentiles. 

No, Paul makes his perspective perfectly clear. God saved him to display "his perfect patience" towards sinners. He did this to encourage despairing sinners like you and me. 

If we pause for a moment to reflect and meditate on Paul's past, his self-deprecating remarks make more sense. His friend, Luke, described what Paul was like before his conversion.  He "ravaged the church" even "dragging off" men and women to prison (Acts 8:1-3). By self-admission Paul confessed to the sin of blasphemy (Ac 9:1-2), and remember, this was a serious sin. The penalty was death by stoning (Lev. 24:10-23). He was a "persecutor." He even labeled himself an "insolent opponent" of Christ's followers.

Much of Paul's self-loathing flowed out of his Judaism. Although he he was born under the law, and committed to it, he was unfaithful to it. In Romans two he condemns himself with his own words. He knew the law but did not keep it. Therefore, he was worse than the Gentiles who had no knowledge of God's law. Apart from Christ he knew he faced a severe judgment. 

In addition, he was a Pharisee. As such he was puffed up in religious pride. In Phil. 3:2 he described Pharisees like himself as "dogs, evildoers, those who mutilate the flesh." Paul knew that in God's sight, and apart from grace, he was a "dog" an "evildoer."In fact, his propensity to pride and boasting was so great that, even after his conversion, God was forced to give him a "thorn in the flesh...a messenger of Satan" to harass him (2 Cor. 12:8).

Paul was actually a blessed man, and he knew it. He was most blessed because God had given him a clear view of himself. He possessed the self knowledge that many of us today lack. In fact, his clear understanding of who he was apart from God's grace, rather than a negative, actually proved the depth of his relationship with God. For the more one knows God the less he thinks of himself, and the more he thinks of God.

There is an old saying that sums up Paul and his life. To the degree that sin becomes bitter grace becomes sweet. God made Paul's sin "bitter" in his own sight. Therefore, Paul served God extravagantly. He knew that of which he had been forgiven. In the words of Jesus, "He that is forgiven little loves little" (Luke 7:47). His great sufferings, chronicled in 2 Cor 11:21-29 point to the knowledge of a great love proceeding from the knowledge of great sin forgiven. 

Is that how we see it? Is that how the spiritual life works for you me? Most of us think that the closer we get to God the more satisfied we will become with our spiritual progress, the more contented we will be with our spiritual victories, and the less we will think about our sin. 

The truth is just the opposite.

The closer we get to God the clearer we see the bright whiteness of his holy moral purity, and the more we see our own imperfections by contrast. Before we thought little of lying. Now a simple exaggeration alarms us. The closer we get to God the more amazed we become that he chose us, that he would send his Son to bear the wrath that we so justly deserve. In other words, as we get closer to God we become more satisfied with God and less satisfied with our self. We trust God more and trust self less. We need God more and need self less. We are more dissatisfied with our spiritual progress and more satisfied with all that God has done and become for us. 

This was Paul's experience. It is why with great conviction he could describe himself as the "foremost" of sinners. In fact, this been the increasing conviction of all of God's servants. To the degree that sin becomes bitter grace becomes sweet. 

Listen to Jonathan Edwards. “Such is the nature of grace, and of true spiritual light, that they naturally dispose the saints in the present state, to look upon their grace and goodness little, and their deformity great. And they that have the most grace and spiritual light, of any in this world, have most of this disposition.” [1]

Because God was kind to Paul, he saw himself as the chief of sinners. How about you and me? When you are tempted to give up because of that repeated sin that has again just reared its ugly head, do you remember God's grace to Paul, the foremost of sinners. When you become discouraged and wonder if you will get the grace you need to persevere to the end, remember God's grace to Paul, the foremost of sinners. 

Paul was the poster boy for "unmerited favor," the kind that comes to every person that believes the gospel everyday. 

Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 2, pg 893 (Ages, Rio WI, 2000)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Triumph of Christianity

Just finished Rodney Stark's latest book, The Triumph of Christianity. Marvin Olasky of World Magazine rated it his top book of the year, so I purchased a copy. Stark is an historical iconoclast. He shatters historical idols, and he does it effectively. Here is a sampling.

There is biblical evidence that Jesus might have grown up in wealthy family. The majority of the Jews in the Mediterranean world were eventually converted. Constantine meant well, but caused great damage to the church. The Crusades were not the unmitigated evil that historians make them out to be. The Reformation succeeded in areas where Roman Catholic control was the strongest and failed where it was weakest. Europe has never really been a Christian Continent. Europe, not the Middle East, became the focal of Christianity because of Islam, not in spite of it. State religions have done much to retard the growth and success of the gospel. The "Dark Ages" never existed. They were a fabrication of 18th century Enlightenment philosophes. The Spanish Inquisition was a consistent force for justice, restraint, due process, and enlightenment" (pg. 337). The scientific revolution grew because of Christianity not despite it. The Romans government persecuted the early Christians not because of their doctrinal position, but because they met in congregations and worshipped corporately, which few of the other Roman religions did.

His descriptions of city life in the first century are worth the price of the book alone. "The tenement cubicles were smoky, dark, often damp, and always dirty. The smell of sweat, urine, feces, and decay permeated everything. Outside: mud, open sewers, manure, and crowds. In fact, human corpses—adult as well as newborns—were sometimes just pushed into an open sewer" (Pg. 109).

I Probably don't need to say more. Hopefully, these comments will whet your appetite for this book.

I have two reservations. The first is his overly sociological approach to the history of religion. Stark claims to be a believer. He teaches at Baylor University. Yet, he describes conversions from a strictly secular, sociological perspective. He gives little credit to the Holy Spirit working supernaturally in the heart of individuals.

A second, and greater objection, is his lack of conviction about biblical authority. In his discussion of the rise of modern science, he says that there is no conflict between science and Christianity primarily because of the principle of "Divine Accommodation." Stark describes it as the idea "that God’s revelations are always limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend—that in order to communicate with humans God is forced to accommodate their incomprehension by resorting to the equivalent of “baby talk" (Pg. 292-93). Then he suggests that the Genesis account of creation didn't really happen that way. It was just God's baby-talk to generations that could understand nothing more.

If you can look past these limitations, this is an excellent book, one to provoke careful rethinking of many old stereotypes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why Should We Rejoice in the Final Judgment?

For a generation that values "tolerance" above all other virtues, no fact is more distressing than the Final Judgment. Through his Son Jesus Christ, God the Father will show himself intolerant of every thought, word, and deed that does not live up to the expectations of his righteousness. In the end, how to get through the Final Judgment will turn out to be life's one, great, insurmountable problem. 

Christianity Today has done the church a big favor by publishing this article by Trevin Wax, a blogger from the camp of the "new Calvinists." Take a moment to read it. I don't think you will be disappointed. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Secret to Conquering our Spiritual Enemies

What happens on earth is a function of unseen spiritual realities. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood," Paul reminds, "but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places(Ephesians 6:12).

Homosexual Protestors in Front of a Chick Fil-A
My last post referenced an agitator that interrupted a talk that I gave on biblical sexuality and biblical men and women's roles. What has happened to the president of Chick Fil-A in recent days is another, more graphic example, of the same reality. Satan is a liar and murderer. he is malevolent. “He was a murderer from the beginning," Jesus told the Jews. [He] "does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44). 

All of these qualities showed up in his hatred of Jesus Christ. Through unbelieving servants the Davil slandered Jesus and then motivated both Israel and the Roman government to crucify him. He will do the same with you and I if God allows him. “Then the dragon...went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus." (Revelation 12:17).

Last week the President of Chick Fil-A mentioned to a group of Southern Baptists that he believed that marriage was only for members of the opposite sex. For this the mayor Chicago and the mayor Boston vilified him and promised to keep his restaurants out of their cities.

Note: Chick Fil-A has not been accused of mistreating employees or even discriminating against them on the basis of sexual preference. In fact, just the opposite. This restaurant chain has an outstanding record of equal treatment to all regardless of sexual preference. In other words, the media is persecuting Chick Fil-A for nothing more than religious conviction. This event is a direct threat to our cherished religious liberties.

So, how should we respond?  God wants us to conquer our enemies. But how do we do that? Do we threaten, cajole, persecute, control, or hate? Do we use physical violence? Do we use the government to impose biblical law? No!

We conquer our enemies the same way Jesus conquered his. He conquered the Devil by dying!  “And they have conquered [the Devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Revelation 12:11). This means faithful testimony to the gospel, even in the face of stiff resistance, the loss of property, or even life itself. It means faithful testimony to God's plan for men and women's roles.

Let us pray for grace to be faithful witnesses!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is Spiritual Warfare Real?

Rev. 19:11-16 King of Kings
Since the sixties, a battle for sexual purity and sexual identity has increasingly ravaged the western world. Its origin is spiritual. What we see on earth refects a conflict in heaven.

I was speaking to a group of Christian adults about sexual purity and the importance of biblical men and women's roles. I had just made the statement that the prophet Elijah epitomized true masculinity, and that his nemesis, Jezebel, represented a perversion of femininity when suddenly a man stood up, raised his hands, and turned slowly to the audience, “Stop this man. He is preaching heresy. I can’t believe we are listening to this?”

My first response was panic. What should I do? Should I defend myself? How will I restore order? Not knowing what else to do, I prayed, “God help me. Show me what to do.”

Immediately a supernatural peace blanketed me. With it came a certainty that God was in control, that he would restore order to the meeting, and that he would take care of me.

My antagonist spoke for a few more minutes and then sat down. An anxious quiet settled over the crowd. We all wondered what would happen next.

Then the pastor of the church, who was in the audience,  rose and defended  my thesis. Finally, I was able to resume where I had left off.

I was naïve. This resistance surprised me. Given my subject matter it should not have. Although I have been teaching the Bible for almost thirty five years, this is the only time this has happened. It happened because my subject threatened the devil’s jurisdiction.

I had just experienced a minor case of spiritual warfare.

Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. It is but against the “rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12). It is easy for we Evangelicals to be naïve about spiritual warfare, but it is all around us, and when evidence of it surfaces it can be intimidating. The Devil will speak through anyone, believer or unbeliever, that either through ignorance or malice, will allow themselves to be used.

Satan actively disseminates rebellion. We fight the same enemy today that Jesus and Paul fought. The conflict is over the same issues, but it often looks s different in each generation. For example we have moved from the worship of Asherah in the 8th century BC, to the worship of Diana in 100 AD, to Mary worship in Catholicism today. All three are forms of female idolatry. In terms of parent/child relationshipsm the battle has morphed from infant sacrifice in the 8th century BC, to “exposing” children under bridges in first century Rome, to today's culture of abortion.

Brothers and sisters. Let us not be naive. Let us walk dialed into the spiritual world. Unless God intervenes Christians will experience more, not less spiritual oppression in the years ahead. But this need not be a cause of fear. Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lord. He will conquer! We may lose an occaissional battle, but we will never lose the ultimate war...