July 18, 2013 1 Comment
July 17, 2013 Leave a comment
I ran across a wonderful quote this morning on daveblackonline…
“There are no closed doors to the Gospel provided that, once you get inside, you don’t care whether you ever come out again.” — Brother Andrew.
Brother Andrew is a Christian missionary best known for smuggling Bibles into communist countries during the height of the Cold War. He wrote a book about his experiences entitled, “God’s Smuggler.” His quote and his book reveal an attitude every Christian should pray for — the attitude Christ, himself, alluded to in John 12…
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. — John 12:24-25
May God grant that we come to care more about the Gospel than we do our very lives. He has clearly granted it before.
July 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Christians can learn a lot about unity in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians — if only we properly understand his use of two little words.
We’ll get to that in a sec. First, let’s make sure we understand the context of this letter. It is written to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ — to Christians. Paul makes this clear in his opening remarks…
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus…” — Ephesians 1:1
There. We now know to whom Paul is speaking. Remember that when we get to the pronouns “you”, “us”, and “we.” Got the context? Good. Let’s proceed.
In Chapter 2 Paul points out to the Ephesians who they once were — sinners deserving every ounce of God’s wrath.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” — Ephesians 2:1-3
Now, in case you were unaware, mankind is a mess. Even if Scripture did not make that abundantly clear in places like Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:18-19, Jeremiah 17:9, the first three chapters of Romans, or the passage in Ephesians quoted right above, we would still know this to be a fact just from the empirical evidence all around us. People lie, cheat, steal, and kill all the time. They do it as individuals and they do it as groups. This calls to mind a quote I ran across once…
“One thief is called a criminal. Ten thieves are called a gang. One hundred thieves are called the mafia and 100,000 thieves are called the government.” — Anonymous
This is why we have crime and war. People are just no good — individually or in groups. And Paul is pointing out to the Christians in Ephesus that this is who they once were — just like the rest of mankind.
And now those two little words…
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith.” — Ephesians 2:4-8
Paul wants these believers to know just what God did for them. He:
- Made them alive
- Saved them
- Raised them up with Christ
- Seated them with Christ in the heavenly places
Paul also pointed out why:
- Because God is rich in mercy
- Because of God’s great love with which he loved us
- So that He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace
Paul then tells these believers what is possible for them as a result…
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” — Ephesians 2:11-16
There had always been animosity between Jews and Gentiles just like there has always been animosity between people groups all around the globe. But, we know from Revelation chapter 5 that this salvation God provided for the believers in Ephesus He has provided for members of every people group in the world. He will save for Himself a people from every nation and tongue. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the Church — with one voice praising God and singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” A Kingdom comprised of people who didn’t like one another very much. How can these people come together in unity? Let’s consider it.
There was a more dangerous animosity between God and man — one that was completely justified on the part of God. And yet, God reconciled sinful men to Himself through the work of His Son Jesus Christ. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, is pointing out that those who have been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus should, necessarily, be reconciled to one another. If God was able to kill His hostility toward us, then our hostility toward one another should be killed as well. Especially when you consider none of us occupy the moral high ground.
Dear Christian, is there something going on today that threatens to put you at odds with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Don’t be surprised. Because of the influences of our world, our culture, and our flesh there will always be a temptation to allow animosity to grow between us.
July 1, 2013 1 Comment
Every July 4th, Americans commemorate America’s independence from England. It is an occasion worthy of celebration. In the history of the world there are far too few instances where individuals have come together to throw off the shackles of tyrants.
When the colonists drafted the Declaration of Independence, they listed the string of abuses committed by King George III of England and his government agents. Contained in that list were references to high, confiscatory taxes, being forced to house British soldiers, being forced to allow soldiers into ones home to search for… well… whatever they wanted to search for, and just generally being treated as a kingdom asset to be used at the king’s discretion instead of as a free individual.
But, too many Americans will make the mistake of assuming, since they are free from England’s tyranny, that they are free from all tyranny. This is just not the case. In fact, America now exists in an increasing state of tyranny that (in many cases) exceeds the tyranny of King George III. Consider…
- Americans now pay higher tax rates than did the colonists under King George III.
- The U.S. government is actively seeking to curb (and even eliminate) a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms.
- The U.S. government collecting the private information of citizens without their consent and without warrants. A practice that a former member of the Stasi (the East German secret police) says will be used against citizens.
- The U.S. president now regularly issues decrees (in the form of “executive orders”) that carry the weight of law.
- U.S. government agencies (the IRS) are used to intimidate political enemies of the president.
This list, which goes on and on, provides crystal clear evidence of one inescapable truth: America is free from England, but America is not free.
All of this reminds me of a line from the movie, “The Patriot.” Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, is debating with the delegates of the South Carolina legislature whether or not to join other colonies in seceding from England. He asks this question, “…why should I trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away? An elected legislature can trample a man’s rights as easily as a king can.”
In that simple question, Gibson’s character hits upon a key doctrine — one that must be properly understood if we are to ever enjoy true freedom — the doctrine of man’s depravity.
Mankind is evil. This is a fact that is clearly declared in Scripture…
“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” — Isaiah 64:6
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” — John 3:19
“The heart is deceitful about all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” — Jeremiah 17:9
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” — Ephesians 2:1-3
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All of these things come from within, and they defile a person.” — Mark 7:21-23
But, even if you don’t believe the Bible, the fact that mankind is inherent sinful is clearly observable in the world around us. Our innate selfishness, cruelty, greed, deceit, pride, foolishness is recorded throughout human history.
This fact was not lost on America’s founders. James Madison knew it, and insisted that governments only be established with precautions taken to limit the amount of power consolidated in one place.
“What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” — James Madison
Thomas Jefferson knew it and helped outline (in the U.S. Constitution) the kinds of precautions Madison was talking about…
“In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” — Thomas Jefferson
But power is addictive. And when evil men get their hands on power, they always try to accumulate more. That is why, over the course of more than 200 years, the federal government of the United States has morphed from a very small, limited government into a bloated leviathan that recognizes no limits on it’s own power.
So, where does that leave Americans who recognize this march toward totalitarianism? Where are most people (who want to reverse this trend) expending their efforts? I’ll tell you…
… In getting the “right kind of people” back into office.
This is why a proper understanding of the doctrine of man’s depravity is vitally important. We must understand there is no “right kind of people.” If you think we just need a better president, better senators, or better representatives then you are ripe for some very bitter disappointment. You are essentially saying the answer is to take enormous amounts of power out of the hands of infinitely corruptible people and put it into the hands of other infinitely corruptible people.
We’ve done that — for years.
Remember, just because a man occupies a government office does not mean he discards his sinful nature or his fleshly tendencies. Power is a strong temptation. An unregenerate man can’t be trusted with it. A regenerate man (a Christian) has been instructed by his Lord to “flee temptation” and ought to refuse such power.
We certainly have no business placing our trust — our faith — in a collection of mere men simply on the basis that they are called “the government.” Men are incapable of being better collectively than they are individually. This is why you can always count on the state to violate the rights of others, the biblical doctrine of man is in effect regardless of the number of men in the group.
So, does that mean freedom is lost for good?
No — because true freedom was never dependent upon men in the first place.
Men are slaves to sin…
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” — John 8:34
We are all helpless in our bondage to our own sin. If left to ourselves, we will always do evil. But real freedom comes when we are set free from this sinful nature that plagues us all.
“So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” — John 8:36
When God removes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, capable of responding to Him, we see ourselves for who we really are. We see others for who they really are. We recognize there is only One who is worthy of the kind of devotion we too frequently give to other men because they happen to hold some office.
I feel completely free today. Not because all of the despicable things the U.S. government has been doing don’t apply to me — they do. But because I know they are on a short leash. My Lord and my God has them completely under control. They will not exercise one iota of power over me that He does not allow. He may allow them to exercise more control than I think they should, but I trust Him.
Look to Scripture. Look to history. God has allowed tyrants to reign before. But it has always been for a purpose. His beautiful plan of redemption is unfolding on the pages of history and, in the end, even the wicked deeds of tyrants will have been nothing more than the sovereign maneuvers of a Holy God.
I am free today with a freedom no man can take.
If you want freedom — I mean real freedom — don’t look to the flag…
Look to the cross.