Reformation and Election . . . but not the kind you’re thinking.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

November 4 is a momentous day for United States citizens.  With the touch of our fingers on a computer screen, we will cast votes that will impact the leadership and policy at all levels of our government for decades to come.

Today, October 31, is also a significant day.  Not because of costumes, candy corn, and cauldrons, but because of what happened on this day nearly 500 years ago.  On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk and professor of theology named Martin Luther posted 95 grievances against the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church on the door of the Church of Wittenberg.  This common occurrence of posting debate challenges on the town bulletin board yielded a very abnormal result.  It proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back in sparking the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  Thus, October 31 is remembered by Christians (at least some) not as Halloween, but as Reformation Day.

The major tenets of the reformation movement were the re-estabilishment of the Scriptures as the only infallible source of authority for the church and the clarification that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  As reform swept across Europe, others were used by God to help fuel the fire set ablaze by Luther.  Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and others devoted themselves to the task of preaching the gospel and challenging the established church at its core doctrines.  Were it not for God’s use of these mighty men’s preaching, writings, and lives, we might still be groveling under the shroud of a man-centered, hopeless, works-based religion.

So what then is the relationship between these two important dates:  October 31, 1517 and November 4, 2008?  As all history is interwoven and grafted together, the significance of this event from history past has enormous implications on this election.  As the awakening that started with Luther’s posting of the 95 theses spread to England, the reformers there were faced with immense and growing persecution from the monarchy which would not tolerate the notion that the Bible had greater authority than the king.  So several Christian Puritans left England and came to the New World on the Mayflower in 1620 and compacted to establish a new colony for the glory of God and the advancement of Christianity.  They committed themselves to enacting laws for the general public good and to forsaking selfish interests.

How far we have come since the pilgrim’s arrival on the beaches of the Massachusetts Bay!  They desired freedom of religion; we have mutated that wish into godless secularism.  They humbly submitted themselves to the “external word” of God (the Bible) that is eternally true and authoritative.; we proudly herald that there is no objective authority–each generation is free to decide what is “right” for them.  They believed in social good for all people; we have traded love for self-indulgence and laziness.  They cherished piety; we flaunt immorality.

We should thank God for those who have gone before us to secure the freedom we live in.  But let us take seriously the task of voting lest with the touch of our finger, we drift further away from the moorings of Christian liberty and find ourselves shipwrecked on the rocks of a godless society.

 

p.s. – thanks for spurring us on to think and write, Tim.

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An Open Letter to My Nieces and Nephews

The following paragraph is an excerpt from a weekly update that my wife’s sister and her husband sent as missionaries serving in South Asia.  Their children are already learning of the offense of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:23) and that those “who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

“While playing the other day, one of our kids accidently stepped on one of the local kids’ chalk drawing of one of their religion’s gods.  The kids apparently tried to tell them that JC was the one true Gd – and that didn’t help!  And then their friends got offended, and all of a sudden it seemed to turn into a small free-for-all against the little light-skinned foreigners and their ‘religion.’  Some strong words.  One of our kids got slapped.  Another one’s arm twisted.  After they came in from playing and told Mommy about it, one thing they kept saying was, ‘We were only trying to tell them the truth!’  It was a dose of reality, but still hard for the younger ones to understand why others don’t care about JC.”

I wanted to send my nieces and nephews an e-mail response in view of this recent incident, but that is not always easy to do because of the need to “clean-up” e-mails before they’re sent.  So instead I’m using this blog (which hasn’t been used for anything else in almost a year – actually, tomorrow will be a year) to communicate my thoughts to them.

Here is my encouragement to them::

To my much-loved nieces and nephews,

 

I read this week’s update with a heavy heart but also with great delight.  To hear about bruises, scratches, and ouches on those I love naturally concerns me.  But your stand for the truth fills my soul with joy to know that you are confessing Jesus before the kids (friends and foes) in your neighborhood.  Jesus said, “Everyone who confesses Me before men (or women or children), I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 10:32). 

                        

I have been studying and preaching through the gospel of Matthew at our church in Georgia.  In Matthew 10, before He sends the apostles out as missionaries, Jesus explains to them what it means to be a disciple of His.  He tells them that following Him will not be easy.  It will even be very painful at times.  Some of those difficulties and costs include:  (1) being attacked by people (v. 16-18); (2) being betrayed by family members (v. 21)—I thank God that your mommy and daddy love Jesus too, but as you are no doubt learning, there are some children who are rejected by their parents for following Jesus; (3) being hated because of Jesus’ name (v. 22); (4) being forced to move because of persecution (v. 23); (5) being called names and mocked (v. 25); (6) being hurt and even killed (v. 28).

 

But Jesus also gives comforting words of encouragement to these missionaries.  Every Christian can know and experience these blessings in some measure, but frontier missionaries realize these promises in deeper and fuller ways.  These pleasures include:  (1) Knowing that you are sent by Jesus (v. 16); being able to give  testimony of Christ through your sufferings (v. 17-18); (3) being given the right words by the Holy Spirit when you don’t know what to say (v. 19-20); (4) experiencing God’s fatherly care (v. 20); (5) enjoying heaven at the end of it all (v. 22); (6) seeing firsthand, the gospel spread like wildfire (v. 23a); (7) knowing that you are part of Jesus’ family (v. 25); (8) being assured that the truth will win in the end—that truth that you were so bold to proclaim – “Jesus is the one true God” (v. 26-27); (9) knowing that all people can do is hurt your body—they can’t touch your soul (v. 28); and (10) having confidence that you are valued by God (v. 31).

 

Even numerically, the pleasures of following Jesus as missionaries beat out the pains (10-6).  But this is not a mathematical formula.  The blessings don’t just slightly edge out the costs.  The joys of following Jesus are immeasurably greater and will last for eternity.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Mat. 5:11-12).

 

I know this recent incident is rather small in the grand scheme of the gospel’s advance and the persecution of the church, but I pray that God will use it (and others that may come) to make deep impressions on your hearts—that Jesus is more valuable than anything.  More than popularity, more than money, more than safety, even more than family; Jesus is worth more than anything.  I pray for you kids often.  I certainly pray for your safety and protection, but much more than that, I pray that you will be faithful, compassionate, bold, humble, passionate, and Truth-filled lovers, followers, and proclaimers of Jesus.  I know there will be times when you are afraid, but when those fears come, cling to Jesus and say, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can mere man do to me?” (Ps. 56:3-4).

 

There may be people who think your mommy and daddy are crazy or even cruel for taking you kids out of America and into an “unsafe” place.  But I thank God for your parents’ willingness to “go” and their desire to see Jesus’ proclaimed where He is not yet named.  They have counted the cost and are faithfully following their Lord and Savior.  Their work (and yours) is an honorable one for the sake of the Kingdom.

 

I hold each of you very close to my heart and I hold you up in prayer to the Father who cares deeply for you.  Thank you for encouraging me by standing up for Jesus in your neighborhood.  May God use each one of you to “shake the gates of hell” through the progress of the gospel in South Asia!

 

With much love,

 

Your Proud Uncle Justin

 

“Give me one hundred men (or, ‘5 nieces and nephews’) who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God . . . and they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”  (John Wesley)

 

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Not THAT clever

 While I really did like the “clever commercial“, it was not so clever to deserve a headline position for 6 weeks.  So to get it off of the top of my site and for your own edification, here are a few quotes from my current reading, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul by Octavius Winslow (1808-1878).  I know that sounds like a ridiculously long title and may lead you to think, “Boring!”  But such a judgment would be way too hasty.  The forty pages I have read so far are packed full of heart-wrenching words for this follower of Christ with an ever-present evil tendency to forsake my first love, Jesus Christ.

The first paragraph of the book exposes the problem he is addressing in this work:

“If there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is, that, after all God has done for him–after all the rich displays of his grace, the patience and tenderness of his instructions, the repeated discipline of his covenant, the tokens of love received, and the lessons of experience learned, there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency of which is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God.”

And . . .

“The state of secret departure from God may exist in connection with an outward and rigid observance of the means of grace; and yet there shall be no spiritual use of or enjoyment in, the means.  And this, it may be, is the great lullaby of his soul.  Rocked to sleep by a mere formal religion, the believer is beguiled into the delusion that his heart is right, and his soul prosperous in the sight of God.  Even more than this, a declining believer may have sunk so deeply into a state of formality, as to substitute the outward and the public means of grace for a close and secret walk with God.”

One more . . .

“The loss of spiritual enjoyment, not of a spiritual perceptionof the loveliness and harmony of the truth, shall be the symptom that betrays the true condition of the soul.  The judgment shall lose none of its light, but the heart much of its fervour; the truths of revelation, especially the doctrines of grace, shall occupy the same prominent position as to their value and beauty, and yet the influence of these truths may be scarcely felt.”

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Clever Commercial

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Dressed to Bless

I have been preaching through Matthew’s gospel for several months now.  This past Sunday I was in 5:27-30, that portion of the sermon on the mount where Jesus goes after the narrow, accepted standard of sexual morality.  It was easy for me to apply the text to the men, knowing from experience the temptations that relentlessly come to us.  But I needed some help in understanding the struggles women face in this area.  My wife then stepped up and wrote an article for our church bulletin on one such temptation that women face–modesty.  Below is her article for your education (men) and exhortation (women).

Summer is officially here!  Our sweaters are put away and our shorts are out.  In these hot Georgia summers, how do we as Christian women choose to adorn ourselves?  Are we attempting to look like and fit in with the world or are we setting ourselves apart for godliness?  Fashion magazines, clothing stores, television, peers, and our own desires to fit in or stand out all tell us and show us what we “need” to wear.  In our culture it is becoming more and more difficult to find stylish yet modest clothing.  You might ask, “Why is modesty really so important”?  We all have heard teaching on modesty numerous times, but it becomes a bit more obvious every summer that we need to be more diligent in applying God’s word in this area.  If modesty was an idea from man only, we could call it legalism.  However, instruction for being modest and chaste is God-given, so we must pay attention.  We will begin by going to the heart of modesty–our hearts!!

Modesty is the fruit of a well kept heart. In 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul states that “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel” and the attitude in so doing is “with modesty and self-control”.  Practically speaking, “respectable attire” would be that which is not extravagant, showy, revealing or sexually enticing.  Paul’s appeal to Timothy was not a legalistic claim for women to dress in only a certain type of clothes.  In the contrary, it was an appeal for those “women making a claim to godliness” (1 Tim. 2:10) to appear as such.  The dress and appearance of women in the church is one way in which the church may distinguish itself from godlessness.  Our hearts are the center of our being, our minds, our wills, and our desires.  We have studied much in the past year about keeping our hearts with all diligence (Prov. 4:23) for “out of them spring the issues of life.”  The way we choose to adorn ourselves says much about the attitude and allegiance of our hearts.  Do our wardrobes communicate that we are God-fearers?  Modesty as defined in the Webster’s dictionary is “freedom from vanity or conceit” and “propriety in dress, speech, or conduct”. We can say then that immodesty is the fruit of a prideful heart.  Self-control is defined as “restraint over one’s impulses, emotions and desires.”  Here we can apply this teaching of modesty by being self-controlled and deliberate with our attire.  Even as I write this, I am praying and asking God to reveal any area of my heart or wardrobe that needs attention.  We are all about this heart work together. 

Modesty in our dress flows from a humble heart. Immodesty is an attempt to draw attention to myself instead of bringing glory to God.  This can simply be called arrogance or pride, a matter of the heart we must consider.  CJ Mahaney in his book Humility: True Greatness says, “The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive.”  What is my motivation, then, when I am out shopping for new clothes or at my closet door choosing what to where?  Is it what will draw the most attention to me and my figure today?  Is it what will turn the eyes of men?  Or am I choosing modest yet attractive apparel to honor God?  Our prideful hearts say our preferences are better than God’s way.  Dethroning ourselves and our desires, and humbly submitting to God may require reassessing our wardrobes.  Be it casual or formal wear or swimwear, and whether church friends are around or not, this is an opportunity to be intentionally counter-cultural in expressing the fear of the Lord.  A wedding is an example of one such opportunity.  Brides and young ladies who will one day be brides, guard your hearts in your pursuit for the perfect dress.  Your wedding is a time to demonstrate the glory of God in the covenant of marriage.  For the Christian bride, this is one of the holiest times of your lives as you make vows before God and the church.  You are a display of the body of Christ being presented to the Groom.  This day should not be one to wear the most revealing thing you’ve ever worn.  You will be the center of attention.  A modest, yet beautiful dress should accentuate the face and heart of a bride who loves her Lord and her husband.  The same can be said for dress on Sunday mornings for worship as we gather to praise God, not one another. 

Modesty is one manner in which we serve others in the body of Christ. God has created men and women very differently with tendencies towards different types of sin.  As this morning’s message shows, Christian men must be constantly on their guard against the sin of lust.  How women dress can effect men and cause them to sin.  Even to those who are on guard and do not sin, it can be a great distraction.  We, as Christian women, can show care for our brothers in Christ by dressing modestly.  Church should be one place where they are protected from the sensual dress of women.  In this sense, we see modesty as being a matter of responsibility not just preference.  Al Mohler has this to say of men, “If it’s a male and he’s still breathing, he’s going to be struggling with visual stimulation that will lead him to sin.  And you need to care for your brothers, to serve them by not allowing that to happen.” 

Lastly, modesty assists in the furtherance of the gospel. As believers we are to be holy as Christ is holy.  We must live in a way that is consistent with our faith.  May there be no contradiction between our appearance before the world and the gospel message we proclaim.  It is the glory of God at stake and the world is watching!  As we live authentically, may we not tend towards self-righteousness.  We must love the lost, no matter how they are dressed.  Our ultimate goal is not to get them fully-dressed but to share the gospel that will save their souls. 

The exhortation given to women through Paul to Timothy is to all Christian women, young and old.  Even for our very young girls we have to search for modest clothing.  To the older women, your instruction to younger women, daughters and granddaughters is most effective when you model modesty as well.  Young women and girls, listen to the instruction of your fathers, mothers and older women in this area.  Their wisdom can provide great protection. 

God is the giver of all things beautiful!!  The call to modesty is not a call to be unattractive or to wear only burlap sacks.  We are to display the beauty and grace of womanhood that comes from a heart that finds ultimate pleasure in God.  Let’s assist one another in the high calling of well-kept, humble hearts that seek to exalt Christ.

If you are interested in reading or hearing more on modesty, here are a few helpful resources:

Modesty Survey – by the rebelutionaries

The Soul of Modesty – audio message by C.J. Mahaney

Modesty Heart Check - by the Girl Talk crew

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Flair for the Dramatic?

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Election Versus Evangelism?

“If God is totally sovereign over people’s salvation, why bother with evangelism?  I mean if God has chosen who will be saved, then it doesn’t matter whether or not we share the gospel with others, right?  If Calvin was right, can’t God just bring them to salvation without us?”

Questions like these are quickly brought forward as arguments against the doctrine of divine election.  A reformed understanding of the doctrines of grace (a.k.a. predestination, Calvinism, etc.) is regularly charged with deflating efforts in evangelism.  Is this necessarily true?  Certainly a hyper-calvinistic belief system which thinks real human responsibility is pure fiction would lead to an anemic or non-existent passion for evangelism.  But biblically, historically, and experientially, I can say with full confidence that a firm belief in God’s sovereign saving grace will actually bolster one’s tenacity for calling sinners to Christ.  The biblical arguments for this position are carefully laid out by J. I. Packer in his classic work, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

Clearly less convincing than Scripture but still significant, the history of missions and evangelism is also filled with the stories of soteriologically reformed men who had a tenacious zeal for gospel-telling.  One such man was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers.”  He was certainly one of the church’s greatest evangelists – a Baptist/evangelist extraordinaire – and he was (gasp!) a “Calvinist.”

Did Spurgeon believe in the reformed doctrine of election (i.e. Calvinism)?  Hear his own words:

“There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer–I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.  But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views” (A Defense of Calvinism, C.H. Spurgeon).

But doesn’t belief in the doctrines of grace lead to passivity in evangelism?  Again, hear Spurgeon:

“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies.  And if they perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay.  If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for” (Spurgeon At His Best, compiled by Tom Carter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991 reprinted edition, first published 1988), 67).

So the rock-solid belief that God must sovereignly work to bring men and women and children to salvation does not stifle evangelism, but rather fuels it.  It gives us hope that the gospel’s heralding WILL be fruitful. 

The big issue, however,  is not how we “feel” about evangelism, but are we “doing” evangelism?  Are we actively and rightly telling others the only way to the Father through the Son?  We have been commanded by God to preach the gospel.  We have been commissioned to make disciples.  Am I obeying my Lord by ordering my life (time, resources, and energies) around these commands?

For very practical encouragement and help in evangelism, Jesse Johnson, outreach pastor at Grace Community Church, has a few new and helpful posts on evangelism over at Pulpit Magazine.

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