Friday, November 30, 2012

Most Popular Baby Names

Every blog needs a bit of light-hearted trivia. So here is a piece of very interesting trivia for expectant parents––the 100 most popular names for boys and girls. I was surprised. I think you will be also.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

God's Infinite Love for Sinners!

Loving His Enemies
The cross displays the glory of God, and one aspect of his glory that should astound us is his love for those that have rejected and abused him. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. He told us to love our enemies. He said this because he turned the other cheek. He loved enemies, and this is glorious news for sinners.

First, in his hour of great need he asked his disciples to watch in prayer with him, but they failed him miserably. So great was his agony in Gethsemane that he sweat blood. "My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death" (Matt 26:38). In other words, he was so depressed and anxious that he was suicidal. Yet, the three––Peter, James, and John––fell asleep on him, not once, but three times.

The three  disappointed him. They showed callous indifference in his hour of greatest need. Yet this is why Jesus will die, to atone for their lack of love, for their lack of faithfulness, and their lack of care.

To make matters worse while Jesus is being tried by the Jewish authorities, Peter is in the background confessing, "I swear I do not know the man" (Matt. 27:74). Three is the number for exclamation. The three fall asleep three times, and Peter denies Jesus three times. The threefold repetition points to the seriousness of the sin and the bankruptcy of the sinner. For this Jesus died, to atone for Peter's betrayal.

Then to make matters even worse, the Jewish people, the chosen people, those who professed to love God, those who looked down on the Gentiles for not loving him, when given an opportunity to free the God they profess to worship, cried out "crucify him" twice and then called down a sacred curse upon themselves. "Let his blood be upon us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25). Again, the number three. They rejected him three times. Jesus will die to atone for the sins of many in this crowd that have betrayed and forsaken him.

What can we say? God's love, mercy, and grace are too remarkable for words. God's love is not love for friends. With that we are all familiar. We all love friends. No, God loves his enemies. He dies for those that betray him. He suffers infinite pains for those that reject him, mock him, and spit upon him. No wonder Paul described it as love that surpasses knowledge.

If this is true, how should we respond?

First, we need to revel in God's forgiving love. Many reading this have also denied him, rejected him, or been unfaithful to him. He loves you. He forgives you. He has gone the full mile for you, and if need be, he will go further.

Second, we need to go and do the same. Jesus said "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). In other words, this is what God is like. Like Father, like Son. God's children share their father's moral and spiritual paternity. They love their enemies, they forgive their enemies, they do whatever is necessary to reconcile with their enemies, even at great personal expense.

God's infinite love for sinners is a wonder to behold!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The real Downton Abbey

The BBC series Downtown Abbey has taken the modern world by storm. Set in the WWI era, it is the story of an old, wealthy, family–– a fixture of  Old World nobility––and the changes it must endure as it enters the flux of the modern world.

The real Downtown Abbey is a similar story. You can find it here. It is a fascinating read about servanthood and generosity.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Fascinating look at the Liberal Left!

Author's Book

In their new book, What Motivates Cultural Progressives, authors Yancey and Williamson report their findings on the attitudes and values of those that comprise the liberal left. Bradley Wright from Christianity Today interviewed them. You can find it here. It is a fascinating study. Here is an except. 

"I was very surprised by the intense animosity that many of the respondents expressed. Here are people who are highly educated, which most people assume would make them more enlightened, but many of their statements were flat-out hateful. They spoke against prejudice, but they themselves expressed deep levels of religious prejudice. To give one example, one of the respondents found out that his friend had a born-again experience, and he ended the friendship solely for that reason."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Humble Yourself With Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so it is a good time to pause and meditate on this crucial  virtue. 
       As we repeatedly stress at Grace Christian Fellowship, humility is the great virtue. Without it the other virtues will not prosper. And, the heart and soul of humility is thankfulness. When we thank God we are confessing that we are not sovereign over our own lives, that Another is, that we are utterly dependent upon him for everything, that we have no right to anything from his hand but judgment, and that, if this is true, we are always getting much better than we deserve.

This is the root and foundation of a thankful heart.

Thankfulness assumes and confesses these truths. This is why we find an ungrateful child so unattractive. The child is not in contact with reality. He or she is proud. They think they deserve better than they are getting, and we know that this is patently false. It is the arrogance––expressed by complaining––that we find so distasteful. 
      For this reason scripture makes much of thanksgiving. "Enter his gates with thanksgiving" (Ps. 100). "Giving thanks always and for everything" (Eph. 5:20). "Be thankful! …admonishing one another…with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:15-17). Brothers and sisters, the Bible doesn't contain many statements more comprehensive than this. 
     So, as you eat turkey next Thursday surrounded by family and friends, humble yourself with thanksgiving. Take the low road confessing  your great need and God's great goodness. Confess what you deserve and the judgment you have not received. Instead, at the expense of his Son, you are getting kindness, mercy, grace, and love.

So, "overflow with thanksgiving" (Col. 2:27). 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

How do Christians in China Pray For Us!

Chinese Christians Interceding for America
Many American Christians are discouraged that the Democratic party won the elections. Looking down the road, some fear restrictions on our religious liberties and/or increased persecution. The birth control mandate, many think, is a good example of more to come.

A friend of mine was a missionary in China for two years. He told me that the Chinese Christians pray for the church in America on a regular basis, but this is how they pray. They pray that we will be strengthened and sifted by persecution. That is not how most of us want them to pray. Why would they pray that way?

The Bible clearly portrays persecution as a blessing. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake... Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:10,12).

"Blessed?" "Rejoicing? "Gladness?" We do not usually associate these words with persecution. To us this subject is entirely negative. However, the church in China has been greatly persecuted and they have experienced the benefit. They want us to share in their joy.

So, what are the benefits of persecution? First, it purifies the church of religious people. Religious people go to church for various reasons, but the primary one is not allegiance to the Lordship of Christ. These are the  pharisees of the modern world. They are generally apathetic, unmotivated, confident in their own virtues, and feel little need for Christ. When the world turns up the heat of persecution to avoid rejection or suffering they compromise or abdicate.

However, for some modern pharisees persecution becomes a converting experience. It motivates many of the lukewarm to white-hot zeal. It turns them towards God. That is the second benefit of persecution.

The third benefit of persecution is that it produces a sharp demarcation between the church and the world.

A fourth benefit of persecution is that it puts secondary doctrines in perspective. Our unity is not around the timing of baptism or a model of church government. It is a around the gospel. The world will not persecute us for our views about secondary issues. It is the gospel that they hate. Therefore, persecution forces us to unify around what really matters.

Fifth, persecution produces joy. "They [the apostles] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41). If increased persecution or restriction of religious liberty should come, may each of us experience this joy for ourselves.

Maybe the triumph of Obama and the liberal left is an answer to the prayers of our brothers and sisters in China? Only time will tell. In the meantime, don't fear persecution, look to it expectantly, as a source of great benefit.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cal Thomas Sums It Up

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas is the most widely syndicated columnist in America. Looking back on Tuesday's elections, he sums up the message. A cultural divide has fractured America, and things will probably never be the same. What does this mean for Christians? You can read it here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Biblical View Of Civil Government, Part IV

These Men Are Not our Hope
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on civil government. We have made the point so far that the Fall in Genesis three made civil government necessary. In the world to come there will be no civil government as we know it. 

The results of the presidential elections have distressed and disappointed many of us. All of this begs the question. How should we relate to civil government today? The answer to that question is fraught with many ambiguities. 

Our relationship with civil government is always an oxymoron. Since God created civil government to restrain evil we should be thankful and submissive, but since those that run civil government are themselves sinners the State ends up perpetuating as much (sometimes more) evil than it restrains. Therefore our application is gratitude salted with a deep and profound pessimism.

Six applications…

1. Christians rightly related to Civil Government are thankful

In a fallen world civil government is a necessary blessing. Life would be hell without it. Even the worst civil government is better than no civil government. The book of Judges tells us what that looked like, anarchy.  There was no king in Israel. Everyman did what was right in his own eyes. 

2. Christians rightly related to Civil Government are submissive.

I will let scripture do the heavy lifting. (Romans 13:1) "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." (1 Peter 2:13–14) "Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good."

3. Christians rightly related to Civil Government are clear about Sin

It is the conclusion of most observant historians that the less a people believe that men are sinful the more sin they will in fact actually perpetuate. By contrast, the more a people believe that man is sinful, the more virtuous they will in fact actually become. Therefore, when discussing the Believers relationship to civil government the first thing you must be clear about is human nature. (See Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Vision).  This has huge implications.

For example, Christians that understand sin reject all forms of utopianism. Utopianism is the belief that man collectively, i.e. civil government, can create a utopia on this earth. Hitler, Pol Pot, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were all utopians. They believed that they could usher in a “workers paradise” through civil government. Twentieth century “utopianism” has caused the brutal deaths of at least 200 million people. These deaths were the byproduct of social engineering. Here are some examples in contemporary society…progressive tax codes to redistribute wealth, eugenics (selective breeding of people), China’s one child policy, racial quotas in  hiring or admission to schools, etc..  

Belief in man’s goodness leads to “Utopianism” which in turn leads to social engineering.
Note: Because of its confidence in humanity, the Democratic platform is fundamentally utopian. It tends to see Civil Government as a social savior. By contrast belief in God’s Word gives us a clear understanding of man in sin, which transfers our trust from the State to God, which in turn leads to limited government. Christianity motivates dependence upon God not civil government.

 “Only God’s love," notes Robert Culver, "is strong enough to perfect man, and then only by divine redemption. Our hope for the future, however much we may approve of good government, does not lie in man at all. Our hope is in God. ‘Behold, you God will come." 

“Put not your trust in Princes, in men in whom there is no salvation” (Ps 146).

For example, Christians clear about sin support the need for a strong police force. Because liberals tend to be unclear about sin, they are soft on the need for Police and other forms of social coercion.

Christians clear about sin reject all forms of political “idealism.” From Republicans to Libertarians to the Tea Party, there are no ideal candidates or parties. There is no perfect political system. All are blighted by sin. Engagement with all involve significant compromises.

Christians clear about sin support a strong civil defense. Because they believe in sin they believe that other nations will attack and seek to dominate. Therefore they place limited value on negotiation.  

Christians clear about sin also support social structures that encourage personal responsibility.  For example, they reject the concept that “fairness” means an equal distribution of wealth. Instead, they tend to support capitalism. Why? Capitalism best restrains the lusts of fallen man and best directs human avarice to the advantage of the culture at large. Capitalism rewards family, hard work, and thrift. It also punishes laziness and the inability to defer gratification.[3]

For example, Christianity motivates the support of social structures that encourage sowing and reaping. Christianity discourage social structures that obstruct this process, i.e. socialism and its fruits––welfare, tax structures that penalize prosperity, etc.

Christians clear about sin reject environmentalism. Environmentalism is the conviction that my problem is something outside of me––patriarchy, racism, sexism, colonialism, socialism, communism, ethnocentrism, Specie-ism, industrialism, homophobia, etc.. By contrast Believers are clear about the problem. Our fundamental problem is indwelling sin. In the words of Jesus––(Matthew 15:19–20) "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”"

Christians clear about sin don’t give ultimate trust to Civil Government, including Democracy. They never put their final trust in men or human institutions. (Jeremiah 17:5–8) "Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

4. Christians Rightly Related to Civil Government Prioritize Political issues with God’s priorities.

The sanctity of human life is of first importance to God. The Democratic and Republican platforms are polar opposites on this issue.  This appears in their respective positions on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, etc. 

Sexual Morality is also of first importance to God. Marriage and Family depend upon commonly accepted biblical standards of sexual morality. The Democratic and Republican platforms are opposites in this regard also. The issues are same sex marriage, the normalization of homosexuality, sex education in public schools, etc. For example, The Republican Platform reads, “Marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage.”

Religious freedom also matters greatly to God and to God's people. Every nation needs churches free to preach the gospel. The church is a prophetic presence, light and salt, in secular culture. When civil government muzzles the church, secular culture suffers. 

There are other issues, (Size and scope of Government, Foreign Affairs, Care for the poor, etc.), but Christians carefully triage all of these issues with God’s priorities.

5. Christians rightly related to Civil Government work to improve Civil Government.

Past Christians have engaged the political process. Our Political and religious freedoms are the direct result of Christianity. In fact, we owe a debt to John Calvin and the Puritans for the whole concept of modern political freedom.[4]

We need Christians who share these convictions in every level of Civil Government.
We are duty bound to become informed about political issues. We are then duty bound to vote our conscience.

We are duty bound to pray for Civil Government. We should pray for spiritual revival. A sinful people cannot remain a free people.[5]

6. Christians rightly related to Civil Government always keep the main thing the main thing.

Improving Civil Government is never the main thing for us. The gospel is the main thing.
That was the New Testament priority.  Chemical abortion was rampant in the first century. Slavery was rampant in the first century. Homosexuality was rampant in the first century.  Many men had Catamites, and it was accepted practice. There were almost no civil liberties. There was no guarantee of a speedy trial, or for that matter a trial of any kind. Poverty was rampant.

Yet, the authors of the New Testament showed little interest in any of these social issues. The apostles were not social crusaders or political reformers. They were interested in one thing––the proclamation and dissemination of the gospel. Why? Because the Government that concerned them was the reign of Christ that had begun and which would find fulfillment in the world to come.

Ultimately, that should be our concern also.

[1] For more on this subject see Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions, (New York: Basic Books, 2007)
[2] Ibid, Culver, pg 29
[3] See Jay Richards, Money, Greed, and God, Why Capitalism is the Solution Not the Problem.
[4] See Douglas Kelly, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World, (Phillipsbuirg: P&R)
[5] See Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide 

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Biblical View of Civil Government, Part III, Redemption

THIS IS THE THIRD article in a series on Civil Government. The first looked at Civil Government as it existed at Creation. The second examined the affect of sin on civil government. You can find the first here and the second here.

The point of this blog is that God promised a second Adam to restore the dominion forfeited by the first Adam.

(Isaiah 9:6–7) "6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."

We have already discussed how Christ showed us what submission to authority looks like. We have also discussed how Christ’s cross shows us what the exercise of God’s authority looks like. It is the happiness and welfare of the citizens of God’s kingdom at the divine King’s infinite expense.

Christ’s cross also shows us what the pre-requisites for the delegation of God’s authority are––humility.  (Philippians 2:9–11) "9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
On the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection God the Father gave the Second Adam the authority that the First Adam forfeited.

(Matthew 28:18–19) "18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”"

Jesus is currently seated at the Father’s right hand. By his sovereign power and authority, he governs all things. He is gradually subduing all things to his rule and authority. Someday he will return to culminate the full restoration of the first Adam’s dominion. He will raise the dead. He will judge all men. He will save the Saints. He will condemn all unbelievers. And he will create New Heavens and a New Earth. Then Rev 11:15 will be fulfilled.  “The Kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: And he shall reign forever!”

Utopia, the Garden of Eden, will be restored. Sin will be banished. God will liberate Creation from its bondage to sin and death. And, once again there will be no need for Civil Authority.

When we think of Civil Government this is our hope. We hope for the day when sin is abolished and there is again no need for Civil Government.

However, today we live in a fallen world, and the existence of Civil Government continually reminds us of the curse of sin. So, here is the big question. How should we relate to Civil Government? 

The answer to that questions is the subject of the next blog. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

How Can I Serve God 9:00 to 5:00?

Martin Luther put a huge emphasis on the goodness of labor whether manual or intellectual. He called it vocation, and to him it was a way to serve God. This is true whether a homemaker, president of the United States, a school teacher,  or a garbage truck driver. God calls every believer to a vocation, and that vocation is his or her calling, and it is sacred. It is a way to serve God by serving humanity.

One of today's better lutheran thinkers, Gene Edward Veith, has written an excellent blog on this subject. You can read it here. Would love your comments when done. 

The Media and the Culture of Death

Trevin Wax has blogged about the media complicity in the drive to keep the culture of death safe, legal, and rare (yeah, right!). He poses ten questions that the media never asks those who are pro death. You can read them here. Wouldn't you love to here these posed to President Obama or Nancy Pelosi?