Friday, November 11, 2005

Sam Storms' book, Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist

I just finished the book Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist by Sam Storms today.

I've read through most of the comments on Tim Challies blog and the tilt therein seems to be toward the cessationist viewpoint. I am amazed at how brothers and sisters who claim to so adamently cling to the Scriptures so easily disregard what it says on the subject of spiritual gifts and just formulate some rules based on anectdotal evidence. If you despise and reject spiritual gifts based on your observation of their misuse, are you not formulating doctrine from your experience and not from Scripture? Like J. Edwards' argument that Sam picked apart in the book (Edwards is usually really awesome), almost all of the scoffing at the spiritual gifts I hear is based on some observations of abuse, not on Scripture. It seems that somehow some have come to think the appropriate response to abuse is disuse, when in fact the appropriate response is to follow God's command in the Scripture:
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy...But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. (I Cor. 14:1,3)

Just think; many non-Christians take an analagous approach in their decision to reject Christ. Since there has been so much abuse in the name of Jesus Christ (i.e. the Crusades, etc.), they choose to set it aside altogether. What a tragedy! They will by no means be cleared of their obligation to obey the Scriptures simply because others abused and mishandled the Word of God. "Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar." (Romans 3:4) That so many have abused them is a pitiful excuse indeed for rejecting the spiritual gifts.

Even if someone chooses to not heed the clear teaching of I Cor. 14 that commands us to desire to prophesy (as well as the example of the church and the apostles in Acts), he has got to be in denial to think that the gifts aren't operating. They are! The proof is in the pudding! People are getting healed, accurate prophetic words are being given. Two places I know of where you can view this stuff in action for yourselves is the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (where there has been nonstop 24-7 prayer going on for over 6 years now) and Clover Creek/Newsong Church in Tacoma, Washington. I've experienced this stuff personally.

Most of what purports to be a biblical argument against the gifts consists of the explaining away of the texts that seem to clearly indicate their existence as well as a baffling twisting of I Cor. 13 that can at best be called prooftexting.

A lot of the cessationist arguments seem to be based on extrabiblical logic. Here's a good metric for any of the logical processes you may go through to figure out if the gifts are still in place: imagine an unbeliever using analagous logic to figure out whether or not he should become a Christian.

Here are some of the other Scriptures Sam used in the part of the book that argues against cessationism:

I John 4:1-3 (John seemed confident that the saints of his day could avoid being led astray by the evil one as they listened for God's voice; why can't we?)

I Thess. 5:19-21 (Storms says, "non-canonical revelation [to a non-apostle] was not inconsistent with the authority of Scripture then, so why should it be now?" p.178)

Brothers and sisters, take to heart what Sam covered in the book as well as in the Epilogue about fear being the biggest motivating factor in the rejection of the gifts. If you think something is too wierd to be from God, show that Scriptures concur with you. In fact, stories of the saints of old encountering the supernatural in the Bible tend to be slightly bizarre, so biblical precedent is decidedly on the side of the wierd. I think that subconsciously, a lot of cessationists think, "Well, I certainly can get by just fine without the spiritual gifts, and to try to pursue them would only open the possibility to make mistakes, so I'd better just play it safe. There's just nothing to be gained by messing around with this stuff. The risks far outweigh the rewards." Again, this is human reasoning which happens to be contrary to Scripture. Just obey! It's very simple. You will probably make mistakes along the way, but obedience is worth the price. As always, God has something great in store for you as you obey the Scriptures in faith.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Free and Fair Trade

This blog is about evangelism, taking the gospel of the Kingdom of God to everyone in the world. In order to effectively preach the good news of Jesus, we as Christians must model Jesus' life and obey His commandments; otherwise, the world will see us as hypocrites and want nothing to do with the Savior. We are His ambassadors.

Last night, I thought of two passages in Scripture that talk about people who hold to correct fundamental doctrine, having proper intellectual faith, but failed to care for the poor and needy and did not have saving faith. The first is the parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46.

"Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not
do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (v. 41-46)

The second is the passage from James about faith and works.

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (v.14-17)

I brought these two passages up in order to establish that caring for the poor and needy is fundamental to faith in Christ. According to the Scriptures, it is central, not peripheral; it's non-negotiable.

I plan to post more at later times about the issue of poverty and evangelism both as connected and individual issues, but in this post, I want to solicit comments about the debate over fair trade vs. free trade. Today, President Bush signed into law the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which removes certain barriers to trade among the U.S. and a number of Central American nations. Many proponents of fair trade, such as Oxfam, are against CAFTA. Here is an editorial in the Washington Times by a U.S. Congressman in support of CAFTA.

After reading these articles, I'm not sure what to think. Both sides claim that passing or stopping CAFTA, respectively, will help the poor in Central America. I would appreciate comments from people that can help us all figure out what the best position on this issue really is. Thanks!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Jesus and the Old Testament

I decided to go through the Gospel of Matthew and record all the references to the Old Testament. This might seem odd, but the reason I thought about doing this is that I was thinking about the debate over the interpretation of the creation account in Genesis. A while ago, I attended a panel at a church about creationism and evolution, and the basic view presented there was one of agnosticism toward the subject and an openness to theistic evolution. I realized that Jesus and Paul (original sin from Adam in Romans 5) both use the literal details of the Genesis account of creation to establish doctrine.

Realizing how Jesus and the gospel writers viewed the Old Testament tells us how we should view and interpret Scripture. So, without further ado, here is my list from Matthew. It's probably not perfect, and you can probably find this in a book somewhere.

1:23 Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, prophecy that the Messiah would be born to a virgin

2:6 Scribes and priests quote Micah 5:2, prophecy about Messiah

2:15 Matthew calls Hosea a prophet and quotes Hosea 11:1

2:17, 18 Matthew calls Jeremiah a prophet and quotes Jeremiah 31:15

3:3 Matthew says John the Baptist is he who was spoken of by Isaiah 40:3

4:4 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 in response to Satan's temptation

4:6 Satan quotes Psalm 91:11,12 to tempt Jesus

4:7 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16

4:10 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13

4:14-16 Matthew attributes current events to the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1, 2

5:17-19 Jesus says He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill. He confirms their inerrancy by saying that not "one jot or one tittle" would pass away till all was fulfilled.

5:21 Jesus quotes Exodus 20:13 or Deuteronomy 5:17

5:27 Jesus quotes Exodus 20:14 or Deuteronomy 5:18

5:38 Jesus quotes Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, or Deuteronomy 19:21

5:43 Jesus refers to Leviticus 19:18

6:29 Jesus refers to 'Solomon in all his glory,' a historical reference to I Kings

7:12 Jesus sums up the Law and the Prophets with the golden rule

8:11 Jesus makes historical reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (told of in Genesis), referring to future events in which they will be involved.

8:17 Matthew says Isaiah 53:4 is fulfilled in Jesus

8:20 Jesus refers to Himself as the 'Son of Man,' a clear Messianic reference to Daniel 7:13. By calling Himself by this title, Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy, the Messiah and the King of 'all peoples, nations, and languages.'

9:13 Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6

10:15 Jesus speaks of literal, future events involving Sodom and Gomorrah (specifically, the day of judgment). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is from Genesis, and this saying of Jesus is proof that the Genesis account is literally and historically true.

10:35, 36 Jesus quotes Micah 7:6

11:10 Jesus quotes Malachi 3:1

11:21 Jesus makes reference to past and future events involving Tyre and Sidon (references to which are found in multiple books in the Old Testament)

11:23, 24 Jesus refers again to Sodom

12:3-5 Jesus refers tot he story of David eating the showbread found in I Samuel 21

12:7 Jesus again quotes Hosea 6:6

12:18-21 Matthew quotes prophecy that is fulfilled in Jesus, Isaiah 42:1-4

12:23 Multitudes refer to Messianic prophecy asking if Jesus is the 'Son of David'

12:29 Jesus refers to the prophet Jonah and the historical city of Nineveh

12:42 Jesus refers to the Queen of the South visiting Solomon, an event recorded in I Kings 10

13:14 Jesus calls Isaiah 6:9, 10 'prophecy' and quotes it.

13:35 Matthew refers to Messianic prophecy fulfilled by Jesus, Psalm 78:2

15:3-6 Jesus quotes Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, or Exodus 21:17 to rebuke the Pharisees, and He saya that those passages are the 'commandment of God.'

15:7-9 Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13

16:4 Jesus again refers to the sign of the prophet Jonah

17:3, 4 The transfiguration: Moses and Elijah appear, corroborating the life of Moses as written of in the Torah and the life of Elijah as written of in I and II Kings

17:10-12 Jesus and his disciples refer to the prophecy of the coming of Elijah before the Messiah, found in Malachi 4:5

18:16 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 to establish doctrine of church behavior

19:4-6 Jesus quotes Genesis 1:27, 5:2, and 2:24. He refers to the literal details of the creation account of Adam and Eve to establish the doctrine of marriage.

19:18 Jesus explains why Moses allowed divorce, a historical reference to the Torah

19:18, 19 Jesus quotes parts of Exodus 20:12-16, Deuteronomy 5:16-20, and Leviticus 19:18

21:5 Matthew attribute Jesus' actions to the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9

21:9 The people quote Psalm 118:26 to praise Jesus

21:13 Jesus quote Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 in one sentence

21:16 Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2

21:42 Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22, 23

22:23-28 The Sadducees refer to the Torah and the law of a brother raising up children with his dead brother's wife if she has not yet had a children.

22:29 Jesus rebukes the Sadducees rebukes the Sadducees for not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.

22:31, 32 Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6, 15 and says that these passages were 'spoken to you by God.' This is a direct and unequivocal statement by the Lord Jesus Himself that the words of Scripture, penned by a human being, are in fact the words of God.

22:37 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, the first and great commandment

22:39 Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18, the second great commandment

22:40 Jesus says that on these two commandments hang the Law and the Prophets

22:43-45 Jesus quotes and refers to Psalm 110:1

23:2 Jesus confirms Moses' authority

23:23 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for neglecting matters of the Law more weighty than tithing

23:25 Jesus makes historical, literal reference to the murder of Abel (written of in Genesis 4) and the murder of Zechariah (written of in II Chronicles 24)

23:39 Jesus quotes Psalm 118:26

24:15 Jesus quotes Daniel 11:31 and 12:11, speaking of 'Daniel the prophet'

24:36 Jesus refers to the events of the days of Noah (written of in Genesis 6-10) to explain the end times

26:24 In reference to His impending death, Jesus says that he goes 'just as it is written of Him'

26:31 Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7, a Messianic prophecy

26:54 During His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says that the things that were happening to Him at that time were a fulfillment of the Scriptures.

26:56 Speaking of His arrest, Jesus says, "all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled."

27:9 Matthew says that Judas' betrayal and surrounding events were the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 32:6-9

27:35 Matthew tells of the dividing of Jesus' garments and says that was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 22:18

27:46 While hanging on the cross, Jesus cries out with a loud voice quoting Psalm 22:1, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

27:47, 49 Some references to Elijah by onlookers to the crucifixion

28:1 Matthew refers to the Sabbath, an article from the Law of Moses

Some interesting facts about the Old Testament from the Gospel of Matthew:

Jesus quotes Scripture from twelve (12) Old Testament books: Deuteronomy, Exodus, Leviticus, Daniel, Hosea, Micah, Malachi, Isaiah, Genesis, Jeremiah, Psalms, and Zechariah.

There are seventy (70) references to the Old Testament, including quotes, historical references, and corroborating evidence, almost all of which are made by Jesus or Matthew, to a total of sixteen (16) books: I and II Kings, I Samuel, Jonah, and the books listed above which Jesus quoted.

Jesus makes eight (8) literal refences to people or events written of in Genesis, including the existence, past and present, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the existence and future judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah; the creation of Adam and Eve 'at the beginning' as male and female and that as a basis for the doctrine of marriage; the murder of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, and the guilt for that murder being placed on the certain people; the events of the days of Noah and that as a picture of the events of the end times.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Blogdom of God

Adrian Warnock, in his UK Evangelical Blog, is compiling a big list of Christian blogs called the blogdom of God, so if you are a Christian blogger, check this out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I'm Pretty Busy

This is not a normal post, but since I haven't posted in over a week, I wanted to come on and let people know that I am pretty busy right now, since the quarter is winding down, and I have some research work to be finished before I move on. Also, we just finished a big event here at Stanford that I helped organize, a gathering sponored by most of the Christian groups on campus aimed at building unity and spurring on the spreading of the gospel on campus. A lot of my time in the past month went toward that. Anyway, if you find any great posts that deal with evangelism in some way or another that you think I ought to link to, or if you have something else in some other form that I ought to post, send me an email (there's an email link on the right hand side bar.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Cross Cultural Evangelism

This blog is about evangelism, and Adrian Warnock over at his UK Evangelical Blog has a post entitled "How to share the gospel across cultures" that is worth reading. I want to particularly highlight that cross cultural communication is one idea that is attacked by postmodernmism, so it is important to understand what the Word says about the subject, so check out Adrian's post.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Demolishing Darwinism

In the last post, I reported on Dr. Michael Behe's talk at Stanford and the angry response it invoked. Here is a link to an article written by Behe that briefly outlines one of the arguments against evolution. Here is an article in the Boston Review that blasts Behe's claims. Compare for yourself. The blindness and bias of the Darwinist camp is painfully evident. One of the arguments the author of this article makes is that of a programmer writing code for software. You add some feature to your code to make an improvement and then later on down the line, that feature becomes indispensible to the overall operation of the software. This is how a system that appears to be irreducably complex could develop in a Darwinian fashion. This argument illustrates the disconnection from reality that plagues Darwinist theory: the analogy relies upon the intelligent agent (you, the programmer) who is designing the system. In order to have effectively made his point, the author would need to describe a self-organizing system that makes improvements on itself - because these small improvements are the supposedly simple and believeable steps that could have turned into complex, essential parts down the road. Darwinist theories always beg the question: where did this apparent design come from? When you ask that question, they'll tell you about the parts and process from which a particular biological system was formed and somehow downplay or fail to mention the unimaginable complexity of those building blocks, hoping you will not keep inquiring where those came from, and so on until it is apparent that life did not spring from non-life, one of the most important scientific discoveries ever (made by Louis Pasteur, for whom the process "pasteurization" is named.) History has shown many times that an overwhelming majority can be wrong. Near unanimity is not proof.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Veritas Forum/ Intelligent Design

I am a graduate student finishing my MS in electrical engineering at Stanford University this Spring quarter. The Christian groups at Stanford are sponsoring a series of talks and discussions this week called the Veritas Forum; the Veritas Forum happens at colleges and universities across the country. Last night, I attended a talk by Dr. Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. His talk was excellent and simple, based on absolutely solid science and logic. I intend to get my hands on his book as soon as possible.

At the end of the talk, there was 20 minutes for Q&A from the audience. I have never seen so many people jump so quickly out of their seats to question a speaker. Five questions were asked. Four of them were hostile to Behe's thesis, and of the four hostile questions, three of the people asking the questions were visibly and audibly upset. I mean they were angry. It was actually slightly uncomfortable when one gentleman was so angry that the hypothetical scenario he was proposing to Behe in order to make his point wasn't even making sense (to me or to Behe) yet he kept saying the same thing into the microphone.

Imagine one of those suspense movie scenarios where one person is pointing a gun at another person in order to make them do what they want (drive them somewhere, give them information, whatever) and they have the gun in their jacket pocket so that other people may be around but will not realize that this coercion is occuring. If the situation gets out of hand, and the gunman decides the hostage is going to get away, he might have to actually pull the gun out of his pocket and brandish it openly. At that point, the gunman has lost the strategic advantage, because now all the previously ignorant bystanders realize that a crime is in progress and will flee and the police will be arriving shortly. This isn't a perfect analogy, but follow me here. Satan has blinded the minds of the lost into believing delusions, however, they don't even realize that they are being attacked in such a manner, and neither do others around them, for the most part. But when the evidence against the delusion (in this case, the delusion of Darwinism) is convincing far beyond a reasonable doubt, the blinding influence of Satan becomes apparent. I'm telling you, last night it was like the light switch was turned on in the room and it was readily apparent that the Darwinists were wearing blindfolds. You could wave your hand in front of their face and they wouldn't be able to see it at all. The blinding work of the devil was evident (refer to my first post).

I talked to my dad about it after I got home. He reminded me that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation and can crack the hardest heart. At least, some seeds were planted last night. I pray that they grow and flourish and that those who are clinging dogmatically and unreasonably to the Darwinist fantasy will be able to see the plain truth.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Drawn to Pleasure

John Piper's book, Desiring God, is great, and you should read it. It seems that Piper's favorite saying is, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." This is very true.

The Lord has drawn me into the pleasure of knowing Him, and I want to help others know that same pleasure. It is what they are already seeking without knowing it. The other night as I sat down to pray, a bunch of theological issues that I had been thinking and praying about over the week prior were filling my head. I like to think about questions until I have answers; if there is an controversial issue, I feel the need to sort it out in my head so that I can both know what to think and do and help others with the same issue. But the Lord reminded me that my interaction with Him is not solely intellectual. I do not only learn knowledge from Him; I develop intimate, personal knowledge of Him through supernatural experience that surpasses understanding.

He reminded me that He wants me to take pleasure in Him. Not only that, but He wants to be my greatest pleasure of all, the object of my heart's desire. If that is not the case, the Scriptures indicate there is an extremely serious problem with me. This idea of enjoying God and being a "Christian hedonist" (a phrase coined by Piper) is not an optional rung in the ladder of Christianity, one of those steps of maturity that you might attempt someday after you've taken enough sermon notes. It's absolutely indisposable and foundational. It's equally for the newest Christians and the oldest. Don't go another step until you have hot, passionate desire.

One of the passages that God brought to my mind was I Corinthians 13:1-3. It precedes verses 4-8 which tell us that love is not just words and feelings, but action. Verses 1-3, however, contain a list of really commendable works that one could do and a declaration that those works are absolutely worthless if they are done without love. So then, what is love? This text shows us that love goes beyond feelings of fondness, and it also goes beyond our actions. It is even possible to give all your possessions to the poor and sacrifice your life for a great cause (even the cause of Christ, I speculate) and still not have love. So what does it really mean to love God if you can be a bona fide martyr who ministered to people with powerful spiritual gifts, had perfect doctrine, and led an impeccable life of service to the poor, and still not necessarily have loved God?

It seems that one attribute of real love that cannot be counterfeited is that a lover takes pleasure in that which he loves. People tend to spend their time doing what brings them the most pleasure (or what avoids the most pain, e.g. if we didn't work 40 hours a week, some painful financial consequences would follow.) This is why people don't pray much and don't read the Bible much: it gives them less pleasure than the other activities which compete for their time. Most Christians I know desire to desire Him, but they don't find it happening. They want to enjoy Him, but they just don't, and they can't figure it out. Sadly, some have resigned themselves to believing that fellowship with God was never meant to be pleasurable in the first place and so when they speak of prayer, they speak of it as a duty, an obligation that the Christian should fulfill in hope of some sort of unknown payoff in the future. And so they complete just the minimum amount of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with the saints that it takes to avoid feeling guilty.

The built-in human desire for pleasure has, in the name of holiness, been denounced too often as a function of the base, sin nature of man. Just like the other atributes God has made us with, the desire for pleasure can produce heinous results when it is perverted, but that does not mean the original, God-given form is evil.

In fact, desire and pleasure are the two of the biggest features in the human relationship created by God to most prominently display what the relationship between Jesus and human beings ought to be: marriage. Sex is the thing that distinguishes the marriage relationship from every other type, such as father-child, mother-child, friend-friend, and brother-sister relationships. And where in nature did God choose to give human beings the most poignant experience of both the longing of desire and the mountain tops of pleasure, but in sex? Since sex is central to marriage, what does this picture in the created order tell us about God? Remember that, "...what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse..." (Romans 1:19-20) The created order testifies loudly that loving God means desiring Him passionately and finding your highest pleasure in him.

So, where are you? What are you supposed to do if you realize that you don't currently find your greatest pleasure in God? You want to want Him, and you wish you could enjoy Him. You may have found a replacement for the ecstasy of God's presence such as the pleasure of learning intellectual truths about God or service or ministry. These pursuits are good, but do not use them as a substitute for the incomparable rapture of the fire of God's presence. Realize that the situation in which you find yourself is not off the beaten path; it is not uncommon to human beings. In fact, I think it is, in a way, the central struggle for every person - the struggle to walk in faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I don't think I would be taking too great a liberty with the text to replace the word 'seen' with either the word 'felt' or the word 'experienced.' Just like Abraham waiting for his ninety-year-old wife to bear him son, you have been promised that in God are greater pleasures than you can imagine (I Peter 1:8, Psalm 16:11, and 37:4), but at this point, you haven't experienced it. In fact, your experience so far tells you that the opposite is true. Like Abraham, you may have begun to doubt that such an incredible, impossible thing could actually be true and so you have launched your own effort to satisfy your craving for pleasure in God with the pleasure of ministry or service or learning or other good pursuits.

If you can just get the smallest spark of faith in your heart that your greatest joy in this life can be dwelling in God's presence, a mustard seed of faith that God will answer you in such a manner when you seek His face (read Psalm 27), then go someplace alone and ask God for it! Pray and meditate on His Word in faith that He will change your heart and supernaturally reveal Himself to you as you seek Him. "But without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) Do it today, and keep doing it; He will meet you there.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Another McLaren Post

I know this blog is supposed to be about evangelism - this is related. There's just so much wrong with Brian McLaren's teaching, and he's such a central figure in the emergent church movement that it merits refutation. I posted the following as a comment to an entry on 'one mo blog.'...

In my finding out about the emergent church, it seems that it is necessarily postmodern in philosophy and that Brian McLaren is the main spokesperson. Just want to state my assumptions here. There is something very wrong with blurring the lines of truth and deciding to take your cues from something other than the Lord Himself, chiefly and authoritatively through Scripture. Postmoderism is in direct conflict with the Word of God. The postmodernism I am attacking here is the one that it seems (from reading A.G.O. and his open letter to Chuck Colson) McLaren has been carried away with. It affirms that there is absolute truth but is extremely skeptical of anyone's claim to know that truth. But the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us in spite of any linguistic, cultural, demonic, perspectivistic, or emotional barriers in our lives. This is absolutely clear from reading, in context, 1 John 2:20-21, Heb. 8:8-11, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 8:32, Matthew 15:1-9, and the fact that God has commanded us to teach His commandments across cultures using human language.

McLaren's humility is false. A lot of his charm comes from his constant statements of self-skepticism, which are only evidence that his teaching is not anointed by God but rather by academia. Did Jesus, or any of the prophets, or any of the apostles, or the early church leaders demonstrate their humility by prefacing their declarations of truth (which in some cases subsequently sealed their fate as martyrs) with comments like "some of what I'm saying is wrong, I just don't know which part it is."? That is not humility at all, because humility means having an accurate (not deprecated) view of oneself and of God. An accurate view will cause one to fall on His face in speechless awe at the wonder of God and yet have the boldness to enter His presence through confidence in the work of the cross and inequivocally declare the truth to the lost of the world who so desparately need it instead of this double-speak. Why is McLaren publishing books if by his own confession he is writing partly in error? Because he thinks that good ideas are the best you can get, that you can't really, finally understand the truth and then subsequently communicate it without introducing error. This is why he refuses to acknowledge the authority of the Bible:

"That oft quoted passage in second Timothy doesn't say, All Scripture is inspired by God and is authoritative, it says that Scripture is inspired and useful - useful to teach, rebuke, correct, instruct us to live justly, and equip us for our mission as the people of God. That's a very different job description than we moderns want to give it. We want it to be God's encyclopedia, God's rule book, God's scientific text, God's easy-steps instruction book, God's little book of morals for all occasions. The only people in Jesus' day who would have had anything close to these expectations of the Bible would have been the Scribes and Pharisees. Right?"(p.52, The Story We Find Ourselves In)
McLaren voices many insightful criticisms of the church, but don't let agreement with his criticisms draw you into agreement with his propositions. The thing that really makes me angry is that He doesn't point to Jesus Himself as the solution to the church's problems, but rather to the worldly shift from modernity to postmodernity. I want to shout when I read McLaren's stuff, "Look at Jesus! Gaze on His beauty and let Him supernaturally touch you! Seek His face until He fills your heart with fiery passionate love for Him!" My heart is groaning with love for our Lord Jesus and absolute hatred for the lies of postmodernity concerning the truth.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Expose Brian McLaren

Ok, everybody, I've got to warn you in the strongest terms: do not heed the teaching of Brian McLaren. Here is a good review of McLaren's book, The Story We Find Ourselves In, written by Barney Coombs at Salt and Light Ministries. There are plenty of dangerous teachings out there, but this one needs more attention, because so many Christians are being carried away with his teaching. Here are a few quotes from that book which Coombs compiled; If you don't understand why these statements are grossly in error, then post a comment, and I will answer your question:

“Well, I’m wondering whether you have an infallible text…” (p.50)

“The Bible contains history….but lacks the modern concern for factual accuracy, corroborating evidence, and absolute certainty.” (p.56)

“That oft quoted passage in second Timothy doesn’t say, ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is authoritative,’ it says that Scripture is inspired and useful—useful to teach, rebuke, correct, instruct us to live justly, and equip us for our mission as the people of God. That’s a very different job description than we moderns want to give it. We want it to be God’s encyclopedia, God’s rule book, God’s scientific text, God’s easy-steps instruction book, God’s little book of morals for all occasions. The only people in Jesus’ day who would have had anything close to these expectations of the Bible would have been the Scribes and Pharisees. Right?” (p.52)

“Old notions of truth and knowledge are being deconstructed. But we don’t need to get into all that vocabulary. The old notions are being questioned”…and “new understandings of truth and knowledge that might improve on them haven’t been fully developed yet.” (p.61)

“Truth means more than factual accuracy.” “My goal in life is to help people love God and to know Jesus, not to hate the Buddha or disrespect Muhammad.” (p.60) “I’d have to say the world is better off having these religions than having no religions at all, or just one, even if it were ours.” (p.63)

“I’m not against systematic theologies. I’m beginning to see them as an artifact of worship from the modern era, no less sincere or magnificent than medieval cathedrals – in fact you could call them modern conceptual cathedrals” (p.24). Neo goes on to say, “I believe that the modern version of Christianity that you have learned from your parents, your Sunday school teachers, and even your campus ministries is destined to be a medieval cathedral. It’s over, or almost over.”

“In a post modern world we disabuse ourselves of the myth that theory precedes practice” (p.162).

Servant Evangelism

Kande Wilson from the Cincinnati Vineyard has a good blog called the Outreach Chick Blog. This post from it is about some of the experiences of her church doing servant evangelism in Cincinnati.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Preaching Hell to Postmodern People

In contrast to the errors of Brian McLaren and the postmodern/emerging church movement that seeks to minimize the doctrine of eternal condemnation and salvation in favor of a challenging-sounding, works-based philosophy, there is some great wisdom out there for preaching the gospel in a totally faithful, Spirit-led way that will make sense to postmodern people. Thanks to my friend Nathan Fleischaker for directing me to this wonderful article by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Read this article!!! Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:

"The gospel certainly is not less than the understanding of truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and calls that 'the core of true salvation.' "

The guy on the bench

I was on my way to Quizno's for lunch yesterday, planning to have a tasty sub and then sit down to do the class reading for the next day and go over my research data. I passed a guy on a sidewalk bench with a sign out asking for money. I don't usually give people money for fear of misuse, but this was a perfect opportunity. "Do you want a sandwich?" I asked, and he said he would. I sat down next to him and we both dug into our sandwiches; I was pretty hungry. We started talking about random stuff, and a high school girl came up and asked the homeless guy for a cigarette, a request which he did not grant. I pointed out that she was too young to smoke and asked her if her parents let her smoke, to which she replied that she was 18 (riiiigggghhhht...) I was hoping to have an opportunity to speak some conviction to her, but she got on the bus and left.

I and the homeless guy sat for a long while talking about things. After he brought up religion and the fact that he grew up a Baptist in Texas, I asked him what he thought and learned that he pretty much stuck with his Baptist beliefs, but it was evident from other parts of his story that he justified certain immoral behaviors even though he knew what the Bible said about them. He just made excuses.

Now, he could have been giving me a story, but I don't think he was. I am fairly preceptive about fables, since I've talked to a number of homeless or disturbed people. This guy was all there, very much in control. After a while, I finally learned that he had been in prison for 13 years on a murder charge. Living in a bad neighborhood in Dallas, his stepdaughter was offered drugs several times by local hoodlums. He warned them never to offer her drugs again, but they flaunted his threat. So after it happened again, he picked up a firearm, walked down on the street, and shot and killed as many as he could, 3 of 7, laid down the weapon, and waited for the police. Remorseless, he was sentenced to over two hundred years in prison and spent 13 years in solitary confinement until he was finally granted a retrial, had his sentence reduced, and was released. Wow.

So, he can't really stand to sleep indoors anymore or to be around too many people. After all that lonely time, he's pretty much a loner now, too. If he has enough supplies, he'll just stay at his campsite for days on end. And sometimes he has to walk out of church early, because he just can't take being in the big room with so many people anymore. He has everything he needs: some clothes, a bike (with all necessary tools in a handy zipper bag attached to the bike), a helmet, and a backpack.

This guy needs a friend, so I will try to be one and continue to share with him. Although he professes Christ, he was unrepentant about his crime. Pray for this guy.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Brian McLaren Danger/ Review of "A Generous Orthodoxy"

I've been researching the "Emergent Church" for about a month. The biggest figure in this movement is Brian McLaren, and his teaching is unbiblical and dangerous. But before I start on McLaren, let me say that lack of definition and central agreement is a hallmark of the emerging church and so everything by that name cannot necessarily be lumped together. Some people may mean something different and might not be straying from the Bible. To some, "emergent" just means being more relevant to culture. If you want a quick understanding of McLaren’s error, read his paper submitted to an evangelism roundtable at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the strong response of Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton. I read his book, "A Generous Orthodoxy," and it makes me want to hurl.

The best lies are mixed with truth. The more truth mixed in, the more effective the lie. In his book, McLaren spends most of his time criticizing the current state of the church, and almost all of his criticisms are insightful and need to be heard. I spent 85% of my reading time nodding my head, because his criticism was apt. This is what hooks most people; most of the praise I hear for McLaren lauds his assessment of the current state and blithely opens itself to his remedies. What sickens me is the ungodly solutions he proposes which basically are to compromise conservative theology with liberal, labeling propositional truth claims as "modern" instead of biblical.

Like the definition of the emergent church, postmodernism is a hard thing to nail down, but I think I have some insights. McLaren vigorously refutes the idea that postmodernism denies absolute truth. If you read his letter to Colson and A Generous Orthodoxy, you will see that McLaren believes the postmodern myth that although there may be absolute truth, we can't claim that we know it absolutely. He writes (p. 286) , “In Christian theology, this anti-emergent thinking is expressed in systematic theologies that claim (overtly, covertly, or unconsciously) to have final orthodoxy nailed down, freeze-dried, and shrink-wrapped forever.” Jesus said, however, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." To deny the believer's supernatural enlightening and knowledge of the truth denies one of the fundamental aspects of the New Covenant. The writer of Hebrews 10:16 quotes Jeremiah 31:33, "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord." If he were to remain consistent with his claims, McLaren would certainly take issue with the "modernism" of the analytical, dichotomistic thinking that the apostle John displays when he wrote, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth." We are not subject to the same sea of doubt that the postmodern philosophers allow to bully them into hopelessness about accurately communicating truth across cultures using human language, because we have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, who gives us the knowledge. If God is for us, who can be against us? Yes, we as Christians claim boldly to have exactly what the world thinks laughable and ridiculous; we know and communicate through the power of the Spirit the eternal and absolute (but not exhaustive) truth about who God is and who we are. Thank God, He has given us the answer.

There are too many troubling errors in McLaren's teaching to report here, but the most glaring of them is probably this, from p.260 of A Generous Orthodoxy: "I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts." This is in direct contradiction to 1 Corinthians 6:14-18, "...what communion has light with darkness?"

Ok, now for the bottom line. The church has problems that stem from following human solutions and guidance instead of seeking the supernatural experience of God's power, guided by every jot and letter of His Word. McLaren's academic, futile, and dangerous errors are more of the same and will not yield lasting good fruit. You want to be relevant to the post-modern culture? You have to see Him and know Him. If you've fallen into relying on five-point methods and your own human actions, including prayer and Bible study, then repent. Prayer alone changes nothing, but when God hears prayer, He intervenes to save us and reveal Himself. Bible study without a heart that cries to understand God experientially as a father, lover, and friend will yield nothing but religiosity, futility of thought, and pride, just like it did for the Pharisees. Transitioning from modern to postmodern in order to be more palatable to the world is a just another junky human idea contrary to Romans 12.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Take Action: Pray, Write, and Give

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them - those who are mistreated - since you yourselves are in the body also. (Hebrews 13:3)

On the right hand side of this web page, you will find links of various types; one category is labeled "take action." In this post, I'd like to highlight one of the organizations whose website is linked there. Voice of the Martyrs publishes information about the persecution of Christians worldwide. I encourage you to browse their website and sign up on their email list. I signed up and regularly receive notices about Christians in foreign countries who have been falsely accused and arrested for their faith in Jesus. VoM provides easy links in their emails that allow you to send a letter of encouragement to that brother or sister in his own language and also to lobby government officials to release them.

Right now, their top story is about a church in Khambay, Pakistan that was attacked during its Easter services. Four armed persons opened fire during the service, killing one and wounding six.

Take time to pray for this congregation and other specific Christians you can learn about through VoM. By understanding the sacrifice that some of our brethren are making in order to follow Christ, we will be emboldened to sacrifice what we have as well - money, social position, reputation, safety, security, and more - in order to spread the gospel. And by praying for them and sending letters to them in prison, we can ease their burdens. I encourage you not to forget them.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Prayer and Evangelism

Pray for the salvation of those you know.

1 Timothy 2:1 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men…”

Pray that God would provide an opportunity to be a witness to those people.

Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

Pray every day.

James 5:16-18 “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

Don’t feel guilty if you miss a day or two, or three.

Psalm 51:16-17 “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart--these, O God, You will not despise.”

This is not about success or numbers. You are already successful because you are loved by God and are a lover of God, notwithstanding your failings.

Be ready to explain not only why you are a Christian but why it is reasonable to be a Christian.

1 Peter 3:15 “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;…”

Don’t worry about not being able to answer every question or how eloquent you are. It is God who opens people’s eyes and saves them, and He will certainly not be restricted because you are not super awesome. In fact, He loves to choose those who are not super awesome to do His work so that in the end, everybody realizes that it’s Him who is super awesome.

Prayer and evangelism are inseparable.

Ps 51:11-13 “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.”

Your heart will be softened and warmed by the fire of God’s word and His presence when you are praying. Your love for the lost and your desire to see them saved from death will grow in direct proportion to your experience of God’s love and mercy for you. Without this fire that is only found in prayer, you may get burned out because your motivation is misplaced.

Expect to draw near to God. There are no guarantees about anything else.

James 4:8 “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

You may or may not experience outward success as you share the gospel. Bad things might happen to you as a result. People might not respond to the message. The Bible is full of examples of people who endured all kinds of external hardship and lack of external success while drawing near to God. (David, Jonah, Joseph, Abraham, Moses, Paul, John, and Jesus to name a few)

Friday, March 25, 2005

Father Email

My sister and brother-in-law, Suzanna and Othniel, live in Tacoma, WA, and had their first child, Ariel, last September. A few days ago, Suzanna wrote this and sent it out to the family along with a picture of little Ariel:

We can’t get over the delight of parenting the little pumpkin pictured in the email. If anyone were to try to harm our innocent little girl in any way, it would take an army to keep us away from intervening immediately and wrathfully. Most of us have heard the words, “God loves you,” and “Jesus died for you.” But have you ever thought about Fatherhood? Have you ever thought what it would cost a Parent to reject His child upon seeing him or her in the throes of the worst possible pain? What about that moment when the Father saw Jesus the Innocent hanging in anguish from a tree, and did not intervene to save Him? Have you ever realized that the Father let the wrath you and I deserved fall on Jesus as He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Bible says that Jesus bore our shame on the cross, and God had to turn away in that moment because His holiness could not bear to look upon it. Spend a couple minutes researching child sex trafficking or the Holocaust and that “theological point” becomes easy to understand—human wickedness is too disgusting to witness. Some of us have considered the cost Jesus Himself paid in going to the cross, but what price could you offer any parent to allow that to happen to their child? Did you know He did it for the sake of redeeming you and me? “BEHOLD, WHAT MANNER OF LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN UNTO US…” Did you have any idea you were so loved and valued, that your worth was priced so high? If you have ever been tempted to think that you are not precious, imagine telling that to a Father who paid such a cost for you. And if you have ever been tempted to think that Jesus is just one of many ways to God or have thought you could satisfy Him by being a good person, again, imagine telling that to a Father who paid such a cost, because one day you will have to. Finally, if you’ve ever been tempted to think that your pain is too deep to be healed or your (heart, marriage, family, identity) is too broken to be restored, imagine a Father describing the above trauma to you and then telling you that after the horrendous death, His Son came back to life and now they live together in perfect wholeness and joy. Your pain, be it ever so deep, is not deeper than His healing. YOU ARE SO VERY LOVED.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The 'tract' (or essay) I wrote - "What is Christianity?"

The following is the 'tract' that I wrote and handed out to people on the street (I referred to this in my last post.) Feel free to use and reproduce this for ministry purposes.

It is NOT

…a political agenda or a vision for the optimization of the human condition, although it does speak about right and wrong, justice and injustice, and therefore can have implications for those in government.

…a purely social philosophy that seeks only to end relational problems among humans and their organizations (i.e. personal fights, divisions, and wars), although it does speak to the relationships between people as a matter of primary importance, seeking to bring peace, mercy, justice, and reconciliation in the human world.

…an opiate for the masses, a comfort pill for intellectually weak people to swallow so that they don’t have to deal with difficult facts, although God and His truth are the greatest sources of comfort and refuge in the universe.

…a philosophy that empowers some people to exploit and subordinate other people or cultures for their own selfish gain, although it does give us a justification and motivation for systems of legitimate human authority and governance whose purpose is to serve all people by establishing peace and justice.

…defined by individuals or groups for themselves. Instead, it is defined by the absolute standard of the Word of God, the Bible.

…simply a system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules, which is what most people identify as a ‘religion.’


…a personal relationship with the one true, living, present God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

To understand where we are as humans in relation to God, we must understand the history of God’s dealings with man. The majority of the Bible consists of the account of this history. In the midst of this historical record is God’s revelation of who He is, who we human beings are, what actions God and mankind have taken, and what we ought to do now.

Before the existence of the universe, God existed forever from eternity past; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had fellowship among themselves, and this fellowship is called the Godhead, or the Trinity. God is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-present (omnipresent), and all-knowing (omniscient.)

God created the universe from nothing. He spoke, and the universe, including matter and energy, existed.

God created angels as well as some other beings who were in His own image, humans. Being in God’s image means that humans possess certain attributes of God such as being an individual person, having a spirit and soul (emotions, will and mind), the ability to love and have relationship with others, as well as a multitude of other attributes such as creativity and the desire for pleasure. Yes, that is correct, the desire for pleasure is one of God’s attributes that he has shared with us; I will speak later about how God fulfills this desire that He created.

It is clear that in the process of creation, God retained all authority, the rightful ability to command all things, both that which is without a will and those who have wills. In the former case, God exercises both authority and control; all creation except for humans and angels instantly conforms to His command without exception. In the latter case, God exercises authority but not complete control. He chooses to delegate a measure of authority to humankind over the rest of the creation. He willingly partners with human beings and shares the authority over the creation, for the most part giving autonomous control of themselves to human beings. In so doing, He initiates fellowship and friendship with humankind while God and human mutually derive pleasure from the creation. He glorifies Himself both through the display of His power in the process of creation and through the display of His love in fellowship with humans.

In contrast to the irresistible commands God gave to the rest of creation, the commands He gave to humans were able to be disobeyed because of the measure of autonomous control He granted them.

God is perfect, not because He conforms to some external standard, but because He Himself is the standard of perfection. Humans were created perfect in the beginning and remained so as long as they remained in unadulterated fellowship with God. When humans chose to disobey God’s command, they were necessarily choosing to break fellowship with God. Once their fellowship with God was broken, they were by definition ‘dead,’ since God is the source of life. He is life; nothing can be ‘alive’ that is apart from Him. Although their bodies were originally intended to persist forever, the death that was wrought in their spirits because of separation from God eventually manifested itself in their physical bodies. Also, because of the authority God had given humankind over creation, the physical condition of the universe was tied to the fate of humans and therefore manifested the same death in the form of decay, most notably identified by the second law of thermodynamics.

Although their fellowship was broken, God’s love for humankind lived on, as strong as ever, unfading, unrelenting, and not willing to give up. God passionately pursued a renewed fellowship with humans in the same way that a man pursues his bride.

After the break of fellowship, the fall of humankind, some humans sought fellowship with God, even though it was imperfect because of their fallen condition. I don’t know why this happened with some people and not others; my best guess is that it was attributable to some combination of God’s calling individuals and the response of those individuals. No one but God knows the full extent of how or whom He attempted to have relationship with or to what extent various people sought Him or responded to Him. One thing is for sure, and that is that God is just and merciful. To whom He directs favor, calling, and mercy is completely up to Him, and He does not choose on the basis of the merits of the person called. He chooses according to His own purposes, which is completely right for Him to do. We must realize that God’s highest regard is for His own glory, not for the glory or pleasure of humans, and rightfully so. It would be wrong and unjust for Him to have an ultimate regard for anyone or anything above Himself and His own glory, because He is the highest and greatest of all, the most beautiful of all, and the One in whom all things have life and existence.

It is with this in mind that we should approach the subject of God’s choosing of the nation of Israel to be the bearers and preservers of His truth and desires for the benefit of all humankind. The Jews were and are no better or worse than the rest of humankind. It is God who is glorified in their choosing, not the other way around. There are volumes that could be written on this topic, but we will summarize the points that are pertinent to a basic understanding of God’s pursuit of reconciliation with His beloved creation, human beings.

First, the very process by which He chose Israel to bear His Word for the world’s benefit is intended to show how God freely and arbitrarily extends His plea for reconciliation to all people. The Bible tells us that Abraham, the physical ancestor of the Jewish race, became God’s friend through having faith in God, or in other words, believing that whatever God said was true and whatever God commanded ought to be obeyed. It was because of God’s personal, yet imperfect, relationship with Abraham that God decided to set Abraham’s descendants apart as the bearers and preservers of His Word. If God’s choosing one man’s descendants to be set apart for a special purpose seems unfair to you, it might help to think of this from a personal perspective. Although you may care about all the children in the world, is there not a special place in your heart for the children of your close friends?

Second, the people of Israel were chosen with a purpose and a plan in God’s mind to reconcile every single human being (both Jews and non-Jews) to Himself. Through the physical lineage of Israel, God chose to incarnate one of the members of the Trinity, the Son, Jesus, in order to save the world. The lives and circumstances of the births of those in the genealogy from Abraham to Jesus were intended to be prophetic pictures of how God would repair the relationship between Himself and humankind, with the intent that by reading those accounts, we might better understand God’s plan of salvation for us. In particular, certain recorded events in the lives of David, Ruth, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were orchestrated by God to show us over and over again that He would bring reconciliation between Himself and humans simply through faith; it would not depend on the good works of the individual. Through the lives of these Israelites, He showed time and again that His calling of all people to be reconciled to Himself was completely born of His own desire and choice, not prompted by any merit or goodness of the humans he was calling and irrespective of their good or bad deeds (Jacob), their social or economic standing, or their race (Ruth.) Just as in the process of creation, God is using the process of reconciliation to display His glory, both through His power and His matchless love for all people.

Third, Israel was the bearer and preserver of God’s revealed Word. In order to let humans know the truth about who He is and what He wants from them, God has spoken to a variety of individuals throughout the centuries, prompting them to write down what He has spoken as Scripture, and the collection of Scripture is the Bible. God supernaturally revealed some key points in human history to Moses, as well as the specification of the manner in which God was to be worshipped and His strict law was to be obeyed. Again, much has been written on these subjects, but I will draw out the points that will help in understanding the path to reconciliation with God.

First, we must understand the Law and its purpose. The Law was full of all sorts of minute details and technical requirements as well as more general and overarching moral principles. To obey it required total dedication, and yet no one ever was able to go through life without breaking it. Why did God hand down a seemingly impossible set of commandments? The apostle Paul explained later, in the New Testament, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the strict detail of the Law was meant to show us that God’s standard was absolute perfection and that every human being falls short of that standard. But one should not stop there! Paul says this realization of the impossibility of perfection that the Law brings is intended to compel us to seek God’s merciful redemption and salvation – His free gift of atonement for our sinfulness, the only possible remedy and the only possible path to reconciliation between God and man. He said the Law was his “schoolmaster” to bring him to Christ. Just as without the nerves in your hands, you wouldn’t feel pain from touching a hot stove which tells you pull your hand away, without the Law, we wouldn’t know that we were sinful and in need of salvation. And without a nation of people who would faithfully pass down the written Law from generation to generation, all of the rest of the world would never get to read it.

One important, yet often confusing, part of the Law was the many sacrifices that God commanded the people of Israel to perform ritually and perpetually. There were multiple purposes for the sacrifices, which included incense, drink, grain, and animals. The most important aspect of the system of sacrifices was that God commanded animal sacrifices to be made where the blood of the animal was spilled because of the sins of the people, their breaking of the Law. God never said these sacrifices actually absolved the people of their sins – it is clear that the blood of animals never could satisfy God’s perfect justice on behalf of the sins of the people. So, why did God command the sacrifices for sin to be made? The answer is that it was a picture of the true salvation to come. It is amazing how analogous the details of the Jewish rituals that God had ordained are to the way Jesus came to save humankind. Just as the people of Israel were commanded to offer a pure, spotless, innocent lamb, spilling its blood and killing it as a symbolic sacrifice for their sins, Jesus said He is the “Lamb of God,” lived a perfect, sinless life, and was slaughtered, spilling His precious blood as atonement for our sins. Unlike the blood of animals, however, the blood of Jesus does actually atone for sin and can make us righteous in the sight of God regardless of what sins we have committed. The whole Old Testament system of sacrifices was set up so we could understand this slightly odd arrangement when it happened. In contrast to other religious teachers throughout history who showed up on the scene and spread a new message, Jesus was the fulfillment of several thousand prior years of prophecy and revelation.

So this is how God fulfilled His plan to restore His relationship with us, His human creations. He could not have simply ignored our sin and invited us back without consequence, because His perfect justice would not allow it. But because of His great and awesome love for all of us, both Jew and non-Jew alike, He bore the consequences of our sin on Himself so that we wouldn’t have to be separated from God forever as we deserved. No one but God can perfectly describe this transaction in an exhaustive way that dispels all mystery, but we can understand the basic fact of the matter: Jesus received the punishment for our sin on Himself in order to reconcile us to Himself.

The description I have made brings us to this day in history and the choice that stands before you. God has extended His love and grace to you and awaits your response. Will you be reconciled to Him? Would you turn away a neighbor who came to you and said, “Please be my friend?” How much more should you receive the friendship and adoption of your Creator who has loved you and sacrificed so greatly in order to make reconciliation possible?

There is another factor that you should consider: time is limited. Each of you knows that your life is short, finite, and like a vapor that appears for a little while and vanishes away. You do not know how long you will live, maybe 90 or 100 years at best. I urge you not to put off or postpone this decision, because today is always the best day to be reconciled to God. You may wonder why urgency is required. The answer is very important, and it is an often misunderstood part of Christian faith: the judgment of God.

Before understanding God’s final judgment of the world, you must understand that God’s desire is for every single human being to be reconciled to Him, to be ‘saved.’ Those that perish in God’s judgment will have nothing to attribute their condemnation to but their own hardness of heart, because on God’s part, there has been no lack of proactivity and sacrifice in His attempts to bring them close to Himself. This judgment sounds incredibly harsh and inconsistent with God’s mind-blowing love unless you understand of what exactly eternal condemnation and eternal life consist. The worst part about eternal condemnation, the real kicker, the thing that makes it ‘hell’ is that the people in it are forever and hopelessly separated from the presence of God. Likewise, the very best part of eternal life is not the pleasures of golden streets, mansions, etc., but rather that those who partake of it get to enjoy perfect and intimate fellowship with God forever. They get to see His beautiful face and rest in His arms! Once you understand this, it is painfully obvious that, simply understood, God’s final judgment is to solidify for eternity the choice that each individual has made, to be or not to be reconciled with God. As I wrote previously, God created us with the desire for pleasure, and eternal fellowship with Him is the fulfillment of that desire.

I beg you and plead with you to be reconciled to God today! There is no complicated process or church membership that is needed, because God promises that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus, the man born in Bethlehem who lived about 2,000 years ago and was crucified by Pontius Pilate, is God and you believe in your heart that God the Father raised Him from the dead, you will be reconciled to God. You will be ‘saved.’ If you truly believe these things, you will want to tell God that you are sorry for the sins you have committed in your life such as (possibly) hating other people, lying, cheating, and being selfish. Start to love and obey God’s commands which are for your benefit and are found in the Bible (I suggest you start with the book of Matthew.) Your salvation does not depend on you or any other person, but rather on God’s unshakeable promise which you have received though faith in Jesus Christ. God sees everything that is in your heart, and He is eager to hear your prayers. He has been waiting for you, calling you, and longing for your friendship.

Written by Sam Peterson

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

My Experiences Witnessing

Twice in the last few weeks, I've gone out street preaching in dowtown Palo Alto, just a few blocks from my apartment. I really didn't know what exactly to do at first; I was nervous. I just knew that God was calling me to do something to step out of the comfort zone and be obedient, and He had placed a burning desire to see His power move and capture the hearts of the people for Himself.

I wrote up a 'tract' and made copies of it to hand out. It was really more of an essay entitled "What is Christianity?" because it was over 5 pages long, single-spaced. I'll probably post it here soon. I first walked up University Ave., where I intended to witness and then wandered back off that street to a less crowded area, because I was still pretty nervous and wasn't sure exactly how I was going to do this. So, I prayed and thought for a little while, and the Lord gave me courage to go talk to people. I don't know if my approach was the best, but I tried to get the passerby's attention and then ask them what they thought of Jesus. If they expressed some sort of interest, I usually asked them if they wanted one of my tracts. I convinced a bunch of these people to take one to read later because I had written it myself and it wasn't literature from a big organization.

I had some decent conversations with a few people who were already religious but thought they would get to heaven by being good people. The most likely people to stop and actually talk to me were the old and the young. The vast majority of people who passed by either said "no" without stopping or ignored me altogether. Some people laughed with contempt and only a couple got angry. I could tell by the looks on a lot of the faces that they really looked down on me for asking such an ignorant question.

When I was with my friend the other time, we had a long conversation with a guy who was really off the deep end with all sorts religious/political conspiracy theories that looked to Eastern religions for the answers. The one thing that struck me toward the end of our lengthy conversation was how impervious he was to any sort of logic. Logic is generally my style. I usually think I can convince people of the truth. But it wasn't happening. On our way home, we got to buy some homeless guys some sandwhiches and talk with them a little.

It was after this experience and talking to my sister on the phone that I studied the passages in Matthew about the kingdom of God and the power of Satan. there's no hokey-pokey magic incantaitons here. Just realizing what the Bible said we ought to be mindful of: we have an adversary who is seeking to destroy us. The unsaved aren't just floating out in non-committal without Jesus; they are under Satan's thumb, serving him and being actively deceived by him. What does this tell me? My attempts at logically convincing somebody to follow Jesus are futile by themselves. The power of God must do the work. The person's heart must be broken over their sin and the arrogance of living apart from God's commandments in order for them to realize the truth of Jesus' claims.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

First Post

Hello, whoever you are! This weblog is called "plunder the goods" in reference to Jesus' description of his actions in saving mankind in the Bible, in Matthew 12:29.

"Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, 'Could this be the son of David?' Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, 'This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.' But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: 'Every kingdom divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.'" (Matthew 12:22-30, emphasis added)

The house is the world, the kingdom of Satan, or in other words, the place where Satan has authority. The strong man is Satan and the demons. The intruder breaking into the house is Jesus. The goods are the hearts of the people of the world. Jesus said that when he cast the demon out of the man and healed his body, he was plundering the devil's goods. From this we can infer that those who are not in the kingdom of God (i.e., they have not submitted themselves to the authority and rule of Jesus, the King) are under the authority and influence of Satan. They are part of his kingdom. Every one of us, before we came to Jesus, was a subject in the devil's kingdom, being deceived by his lies and under his authority. We were those whom the apostle Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4...

"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them." (emphasis added)

Note in the above passage that Paul refers to the devil with a title of authority, "the god of this age." In Ephesians 6:12, Satan and the demons are once again referred to with titles of authority, confirming Jesus' teaching that Satan has a kingdom of which the demon-possessed man was formerly a subject...

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (emphasis added)

In order to deliver a person from the kingdom of the devil into the kingdom of God, the power of the devil in that person's life must be bound by the power of God. The key to this happening is repentance from sin (sin is rebellion against God), and we know this by reading the passage quoted above from Matthew in the context of the chapter and a half of text that follows it.

The Pharisees, whose unbelief Jesus was addressing in the passage, were told by Jesus that they were "evil." ("Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." verse 34) So, he began by telling the Pharisees about Himself plundering the goods of the devil's kingdom in order to transfer them into God's kingdom, then he warned them about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and now he explains to them that they are essentially bad and cannot bear any good fruit even if they try. And they were definitely trying. Of all people, the Pharisees were the ones who prided themselves on knowing the truth of the Scripture and living righteous lives. Jesus pointed out their fatal and fundamental problem: they were evil and were still under the sway of the devil, under his authority which rendered futile all their attempts to understand God's truth and live holy lives.

So, how could the Pharisees have gotten themselves out of this terrible situation? The answer is that they couldn't have gotten themselves out, but only God could pull them out by His power. How then could God be moved to rescue them? What could they have done? Certainly, the answer is not what they did. They were still trying to use their minds which were deluded and their eyes which were blinded by Satan to reason through Jesus' claims.

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.'" (verse 38)

Surely a miraculous sign would be significant evidence with which to back up Jesus' bold truth claims and the authority with which he presumed to speak, which had been irritating them so much.

Jesus answers these people who were "evil" and whose minds were captive to the devil's deception (just like every human being before they are saved from this state by Jesus) and tells them that no, He will not give them the miraculous evidence they were looking for in order to accept His claims. Is Jesus purposely trying to prevent them from being saved? On the contrary, He denies them the sign, because it wouldn't have done them any good. The mind that is imprisoned by Satan's deception is totally impervious to the reason and reality of God.

Jesus, the Great Physician, then gives them the heavenly presciption they so desperately needed: repentance!

"But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.'"

Now we understand why Jesus began his preaching by saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17b)

Reading Matthew chapter 13 will give you a fuller understanding of how exhaustive explanation and evangelistic strategy are useless to reach an unrepentant heart. Only the power of God through Jesus Christ can restrain the devil, plunder his goods, and reveal the truth to the hearts of those rescued people. Let us preach the gospel, calling people to turn their hearts to God in humility.

This blog is open for exhortation and encouragement among those who are seeking to preach, share, and live this gospel of the kingdom of God to the whole world. This is a good place to share your experiences in evangelism, some wisdom that the Lord may have given you from the Scripture, or to ask a question.