He is Risen!

March 31, 2013

Death has no sting. Happy Easter.

“Death is in labour and is unable to hold back its child, the Messiah.”

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One Man, One Woman

March 27, 2013

The Story: Yesterday, during oral arguments in a landmark case Supreme Court case regarding same-sex marriage, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and pro-gay marriage advocate Theodore Olson had a discussion about the Constitution that sheds light on an issue within the church.

The Background: In the oral argument yesterday for Hollingsworth v. Perry, Justice Scalia repeatedly questioned Ted Olson on when same-sex marriage became unconstitutional. From the transcript:

JUSTICE SCALIA: I’m curious, when—when did — when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Sometimes — some time after Baker, where we said it didn’t even raise a substantial Federal question? When — when — when did the law become this?

MR. OLSON: When — may I answer this in the form of a rhetorical question? When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages? When did it become unconstitutional to assign children to separate schools.

JUSTICE SCALIA: It’s an easy question, I think, for that one. At — at the time that the Equal Protection Clause was adopted. That’s absolutely true. But don’t give me a question to my question. When do you think it became
unconstitutional? Has it always been unconstitutional? . . .

MR. OLSON: It was constitutional when we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control, and that that -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: I see. When did that happen? When did that happen?

MR. OLSON: There’s no specific date in time. This is an evolutionary cycle.

Why It Matters: For Christians, this is an era of historical significance—and not just because of the marriage issue. While defending the institution of marriage is an important and worthy goal, the same-sex marriage debate has uncovered a question that is similar to Justice Scalia’s: When did it become acceptable for Christians to embrace and endorse homosexual behavior?

Like Mr. Olson, I would say there is no specific date in time. It was the result of an evolutionary cycle in which the church became more accepting of rampant idolatry.

At its root, the issue has more to do with idolatry than marriage, since same-sex marriage could not have advanced in America if believers had not exchanged the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for the God of faux-love, cultural acceptance, and open theism.

The idolatry of Christian same-sex marriage advocates takes two general forms. The first group still recognizes the authority of God’s work, or at least still believes in the general concept of “sin.” They will freely admit that, like other types of fornication, same-gender sex is forbidden in the Bible, and even excluded by Jesus’ clear and concise definition of marriage. Yet despite this understanding they still choose to embrace same-sex marriage because they have made an idol of American libertarian freedom. They have replaced Jesus’ commandment—”You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—with the guiding motto of the neopagan religion of Wicca, “Do what you will, so long as it harms none.”

In endorsing laws based solely on the secular liberal-libertarian conception of freedom (at least those that produce no obvious self-harm), they are doing the very opposite of what Jesus called them to do: They are hating their neighbors, including their gay and lesbian neighbors. You do not love your neighbor by encouraging them to engage in actions that invoke God’s wrath (Psalm 5:4-5; Romans 1:18). As Christians we may be required to tolerate ungodly behavior, but the moment we begin to endorse the same then we too have become suppressers of the truth. You cannot love your neighbor and want to see them excluded from the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5).

The second group has completely rejected the authority of Scripture and embraced the idol of open theism, a god who changes his mind over time. Not surprisingly, this god seems to change his mind in ways that comport exactly with the secular morality of twenty-first century America. A prime example of this embrace of a progressive, open deity is found in a comment by former evangelical pastor Rob Bell. Bell recently said:

What we’re seeing now, in this day, is god pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters . . . and we’re realizing that god made some of us one way and some of us another and it can be a beautiful thing.

Bell goes on to clarify that what he advocates is not an affirmation and acceptance of repentant sinners, but affirmation and acceptance of their sin. Bell has rejected the God of the Bible, a God that is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and embraced a false idol that tells him that what is considered sin changes based on the fickle attitudes of Americans.

Bell, like other same-sex advocates, has moved beyond the temptation and struggle we all have with idolatry. They have boldly set up their idols for all to see. Yesterday, on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, many Christians displayed the red equals sign—a symbol of gay rights and “marriage equality”—so that their friends, family, and followers would see that they stood with the forces opposed to God’s Word.

For too long those of us in the church have grumbled to ourselves or remained silent about this open idolatry. We fear that if we point out too clearly or forcefully that you can’t both serve God and endorse sin that they may leave our congregations. We seem more concerned with losing the volunteer for the Sunday morning nursery or the regular check in the offering plate than we do with the souls of those in open and unrepentant rebellion against God. We seem more worried about the judgment of the kids in the youth ministry than we do with the judgment of a wrathful and holy God. We are so troubled by the thought that same-sex advocates will fall away from the faith that we fail to see that they’ve already rejected the faith of historic, orthodox Christianity and replaced it with an idolatrous heresy—one that is as destructive and hateful as any that has come before.

What is needed is courage in speaking the truth: We cannot love our neighbor and tolerate idolatry and unrepentant rebellion against God. We cannot continue with the “go along to get along” mentality that is leading those we love to destruction. We must speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31) and accept the fact that those who have fallen away may not ever return. We must choose this day whom we will serve. Will we stand with the only wise God or with the foolish idol-makers of same-sex marriage?

-Joe Carter

Marriage Advice

March 25, 2013

“Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed.” -Unknown

Is there no decency?

March 20, 2013

I’m ticked, and I’m not even Catholic.

“Vice President Joseph R. Biden and HouseDemocratic leader Nancy Pelosi both received Communion during the Mass to celebrate the installation of Pope Francis in spite of their pro-choice position on abortion.

The vice president’s office confirmed Tuesday night that both he and Mrs. Pelosi took Communion during the Mass at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

Some Catholics argue that politicians whose positions on abortion and contraception conflict with church teachings should not receive communion.

“Vice President Biden and Nancy Pelosi should certainly not receive Communion, either at the papal installation or anywhere else. Communion means ‘union,’ and they are not in union with the church on the most fundamental moral issue of the right to life,” said the Rev. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, a U.S.-based Catholic anti-abortion organization.

He predicted a “public uproar” if they took Communion.”

Ban…

March 16, 2013

How about focusing on banning porn rather than soft drinks, firearms, and the death penalty.

“Probation officials are investigating how a man charged with possessing child pornography managed to cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet before carjacking a woman at a mall, fatally stabbing her and raping her 10-year-old-daughter, authorities said.

David J. Renz abducted the school librarian and her daughter as they left a gymnastics class Thursday night at a mall in the Syracuse suburb of Clay, about 150 miles west of Albany, state police said Friday.

Renz bound both victims, raped the girl and drove a short distance to a spot where the girl escaped and was found by a passing motorist, troopers said.

The motorist told 911 dispatchers he saw a man running away, allowing police to quickly send in officers on the ground and a sheriff’s helicopter in the air. Renz was caught a short time later near a wooded area.

It was unclear how the girl escaped or when her mother was killed, authorities said.

“We’re still trying to piece the timeline together,” Trooper Jack Keller said.

The girl was being treated at a hospital Friday. Her mother died from multiple stab wounds.

Renz, 29, had been charged in January with possession of child pornography and allowed to remain free under terms that included staying off the Internet and away from places including schools, parks and arcades. He lost his job at a supermarket, moved in with his mother and hadn’t been able to find other work after his arrest, according to court documents.

Federal authorities said he cut his electronic monitoring device off his ankle shortly before Thursday’s attacks. Probation officials are investigating whether Renz was able to get around an alert that is supposed to go off if the ankle bracelet is removed, Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney John Duncan said.

Renz was arraigned Friday on murder, rape and kidnapping charges and was held without bail. The lawyer assigned to his case, Ken Moynihan, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

The Associated Press generally doesn’t publish information that could identify potential sex crime victims and isn’t naming the woman to protect the girl’s identity.

According to an FBI criminal complaint, agents who went to the North Syracuse apartment where Renz was living in June found in his bedroom four computers that he told them he used to view adult pornography.

Agent Alix Skelton said Renz eventually admitted using the Internet for the past six years to download child porn to a drive on one of the machines, which he turned over to the agents. Technicians determined in November that it had an encrypted hard drive, and Skelton said Renz provided the encryption key. Agents reviewing the drive in December found about 100 gigabytes of child porn comprising more than 500 videos and more than 3,000 images, according to the complaint.

Among the images were two showing sex acts involving prepubescent girls, said Skelton, a member of a unit that targets people involved in online exploitation of children.

Renz was charged Jan. 9 in federal court with possession of child pornography. On Jan. 29, a judge granted a prosecutor’s request for an extension of the time required for grand jury action so investigators could continue going over “numerous items of electric media” for additional evidence.

Renz, who authorities said had no prior police record, was released after agreeing to stay at home at night with an electronic monitor and away from any place he might encounter children.

Late Friday afternoon, state police turned Renz over to federal authorities, who will hold him for violating the terms of his release, court documents said.

Duncan said the cases against him will continue in federal and state courts.

The lawyer assigned to Renz in the child porn case, James Greenwald, didn’t return a call seeking comment Friday.”

Accept No Substitute

March 14, 2013

It is possible to transmit the gospel in a way that never really gets to the root of the problem. Sometimes we share Jesus in such a way that we simply invite people to receive more of what they already want.

“Come to Jesus, you’ll feel better about yourself. Come to Jesus, your marriage will improve. Come to Jesus, you’ll be a better student. Come to Jesus, you’ll find friends. Come to Jesus and he’ll bless you with more stuff. Come to Jesus and your life will improve.”

Now there is a way to many of those statements true. But you really haven’t given the gospel until you also tell people: “Come to Jesus and repent. Take up your cross. Follow him as your Lord, no matter the cost.”

It’s tempting to give a gospel which amounts to “Everything you could ever want! Right now!” Come to Jesus, and I’ll throw in this extra ShamWow! There are whole churches built on this type of infomercial-Jesus, this type of methodology, claiming time is running out, so come now!

Yes, you do receive incomparable blessings when you come to Jesus. But we must also hear, to paraphrase Calvin, that true Christian faith is built on denial of ourselves. This is why some folks have such a hard time hearing the gospel. We think, “God is love, and if God is love then he wouldn’t ask me to do something I don’t want to do.” But what good news is this?

The good news is that God is going to give us more than we could ask or imagine. But the reality of Christianity is that it only comes by a cross. Unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it does not bear fruit.

When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die.

That he might truly live.

Kevin DeYoung

Puppets, Robots, Or…?

March 8, 2013

Earlier in the week I saw this quote from Wendell Berry go out on Twitter:

Just as a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures.

Knowing what I do about Berry, and considering the theological persuasion of those I see repeating the sentence, I wonder if people consider this line from Jayber Crow to be a repudiation of Calvinism. Many people would. I’ve encountered numerous Christians who object to Reformed theology because they can’t believe “we are puppets on a string,” or that God “made us as robots,” or to put it more elegantly like Berry, that God “would coerce the love of his human creatures.”

And yet, that’s not at all what Calvinism teaches. At least, that’s not what we should be teaching. It’s true that Calvin, like Augustine before him, believed the will of God to be the necessity of all things. But the Church’s leading theologians have always carefully distinguished between different kinds of necessity. Calvin, for example, though he held to the highest view of God’s sovereignty vehemently rejected any notion of necessity which entailed external coercion or compulsion. In this matter he was simply following Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and the entire tradition of Christian orthodoxy.

This is why the puppet and robot analogies don’t work, and no Calvinist should own them. While we believe that God’s grace is irresistible and flows from his electing love, we must be clear that this grace renews us from within. It does not coerce us from without. God is not a puppet master pulling on our strings so that we do what he wants apart from our own willing or doing. His will precedes our will, but it does not eradicate it.

Anyone familiar with the Canons of Dort should know that Calvinists do not believe that God works on his people by means of forcible coercion. Instead, we believe that God supernaturally, sovereignly, and irresistibly renews our hearts so that we can feel and choose and do what we ought.

However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and—in a manner at once pleasing and powerful—bends it back. (Third/Fourth Head, Article 16; emphasis added)

In short, Calvinists have no problem affirming that God does not coerce the love of his human creatures. Where we may differ with others is in our joyous affirmation that our love for God is only possible when God—by mercy alone, through sovereign grace, and by his eternal decree—chooses to love us first.

Kevin DeYoung

Culture of Grace

March 8, 2013

Cultivating a Gracious Climate in Your Church

As I’ve said before, a message of grace may attract people, but a culture of grace will keep them. What our churches need, not in exchange for a gospel message but as a witness to it, is a gospeled climate. But how do you get that? How do you develop in your church community a safe space to confess, be broken, be “not okay”? What are some ways to cultivate a climate of grace in your church?

1. Ordain totally qualified elders

We often do well to make sure our elders are solid in doctrine and confident in leadership, but too often we let the just-as-important qualifications slide. Or we skimp over them in assessment. Many churches fail their communities when they ordain the smartest guys in the building because those smart guys lack in qualities like gentleness, long-temperedness, or in shepherding their families well. Consider candidates who live in open, transparent ways, who distinguish themselves in hospitality and generosity, who have reputations for patience and meekness as much as intelligence and confidence. Examine their families. Do they lead their families graciously? Do their kids seem happy? Are their wives flourishing? There is a reason Paul puts the quality of husbanding and fathering at the top of his list.

This is one reason I am particularly fond of older men as elders, particularly men with adult or young adult children. A man may have prodigal children in spite of him, of course, not because of him, and so I want to take that into consideration, but if a man’s children are no longer walking with the Lord I want to know if it was because they grew up in an undisciplined, ungodly home or an overly disciplined, rigid, authoritarian, graceless home. I am not opposed to younger elders with younger children (I am one) or even single elders with none (Paul was one), but older men give you both the benefit of life experience and wisdom, and if they’ve been walking with Jesus for a while, they are often softer in heart than younger men. In short, what you want is not just elders who preach and teach well, but elders who love well, who shepherd well. You don’t want simply ruling elders, but gracious shepherds. Because whatever your elders are, your church will eventually be.

2. Go hard after doctrinal arrogance.

Most everyone who thinks they are right about a particular theological issue believes they came to it through growing in the Lord, not just reading information. Both the Calvinists and the Arminians in your church think that. Both the premillennialists and the postmillennialists think that. Most every one of us believes that we came to our particular view in the midst of our spiritual growth. (And we’re all right about that, sort of.) Thinking this way is only natural. But the danger in this thinking is equating our particular view with progressive sanctification. Doing so means believing that because I believe ______, I am more sanctified than you. The reason you don’t yet subscribe to my view on this matter is because you are more immature in your faith. Suddenly we are creating first and second class Christians in the community. And that’s gross.

Gently but firmly rebuke doctrinal arrogance and root it out wherever you find it. Factions develop over devotion to secondary matters quite easily if left unchecked. Be careful in preaching against sin that you don’t have “favorite” sins, pet sins to rail against. People guilty of such sins may be convicted and repent, but more often they do not hear the message of grace when their sin is repeatedly singled out but that your church is a safe place to have any sin but theirs. And there is an inverse danger in having favorite sins to preach against: it implicitly tells people who don’t struggle with that sin that they must be holy because they don’t struggle with it. By singling out certain sins for special treatment, you are helping everybody else embrace the arrogance of the Pharisee in the temple who was proud he wasn’t the tax collector.

Remind your people often that the demons have impeccable theology, that demons can be Calvinists and Arminians, millenniarians and amillenniarians.

3. Preach a whole gospel aimed at hearts, as well as minds

Preaching that takes the form more of lectures is great for creating information-glutted minds. Sometimes. But while every sermon should convey information — it should definitely teach — the purpose of a sermon is not primarily mind-informing but heart-transforming. Aim at the heart in two primary ways: 1) proclaim good news, not simply good advice, and 2) exult in your preaching. In other words, don’t just preach the text, as much as you are able, feel it. More often than not, churches don’t become passionate about what their pastors tell them to be passionate about but about what their pastors are evidently passionate about themselves. So if it’s clear from your preaching that what really fires you up is the imperatives of the Scriptures, and not the gospel indicatives, guess what? No matter how many times you tell your church to center on the gospel, they’re going to see that your zeal is reserved for the law.

And as you preach the gospel, preach to both prodigals and older brothers. Explain how the gospel is opposed to self-righteous religiosity. Entreat both “brothers” to embrace Christ, the legalist as well as the hedonist. Don’t give the impression that the gospel is just for those obvious sinners, the “lost” people, but for all people, including those in the pews every Sunday.

4. Establish limping leaders

From elders on down, I don’t empower any leader who has no record of or reputation for humility. I want to know if the leader has ever been broken, ever had his legs knocked out from under him. I don’t empower leaders who don’t walk with limps, because they often have no empathy for the broken, the hurting, the abused, or the penitent. I don’t empower any leader who has not confronted and wrestled with his own sin, who doesn’t demonstrate an ongoing humility about his sin and a grief over it. Leaders who do not personally know the scandal of grace set a climate in a church of gracelessness.

5. Promote hospitality, service, and generosity

What values, programs, initiatives do I most want to promote? The ones that are most conducive to closeness with each other and outwardness with the community. Church people don’t learn to be gracious with unchurched people if they are never in proximity with them. And often being in the same work environment doesn’t cut it. We want to facilitate and promote opportunities for growth that involve the opening of homes, the active service of people inside the church and out, and the giving away of money and stuff. Lots of things fit these bills, so you can get creative. But when church people spend a lot of time with each other in these sorts of settings — as opposed to simply classroom type settings or the worship service — they get to know each other in ways that build familiarity, empathy, intimacy, etc. And the same is true of spending time in these settings with unchurched folks, as well. A closed-off, insular, cloistered church is not conducive to a gracious climate. It runs out of air too quickly; people can’t breathe.

6. Take it personally

Most importantly, you I must be what you I want to see. So often as you are I am checking your my church’s pulse — which Bonhoeffer wisely says not to keep doing — we are I am thinking of all the people who need to get their act together, who need a big dose of humility. We may be right about them. But applying to others first is not the humble impulse of grace taken seriously. I need to keep a close watch on my life and doctrine. I need to outdo others in showing honor. I need to practice confession and repentance. I need to humble myself. As I am growing intellectually, I need to hold the fruit of the Spirit up to my heart and be fearless and honest about asking, “How am I doing in these areas?”

For each of us, a gracious climate begins with us.

-Jared Wilson

By Faith

March 7, 2013

By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight

By faith our fathers roamed the earth
With the power of His promise in their hearts
Of a holy city built by God’s own hand
A place where peace and justice reign

We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight

By faith the prophets saw a day
When the longed-for Messiah would appear
With the power to break the chains of sin and death
And rise triumphant from the grave

By faith the church was called to go
In the power of the Spirit to the lost
To deliver captives and preach good news
In every corner of the earth

By faith this mountain shall be moved
And the power of the Gospel shall prevail
For we know in Christ all things are possible
For all who call upon His Name

-Keith Getty

Les Mis

March 4, 2013

One of the most enduring works of art over the past two hundred years is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Rarely does a decade go by without a fresh film adaptation or staging of the classic musical it inspired. Les Mis has stood the test of time for good reason; it is an incredibly moving story of redemption, one that deals with the deepest themes of human life: mercy and guilt, justice and inequality, God and man, men and women, parents and children, forgiveness and punishment, and yes, the relationship of grace and law. It is also a notorious tearjerker. Like a true artist, Hugo burrows inside the ribcage and plays a symphony on our heartstrings. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the entire story hinges on a stunning act of one-way love.

Out on parole after nineteen years in a French prison, protagonist Jean Valjean is denied shelter at several respectable establishments because his passport identifies him as a former convict. He is finally taken in by a kindly bishop, Bishop Bienvenu. Valjean repays his host by running off in the middle of the night with the church silver. When the police catch up to him, Valjean lies and claims that the Bishop had given him the silver as a gift. They drag him back to the bishops house, where Bienvenu not only validates Valjean’s deception but chastises him for not accepting the candlesticks as well. Jean Valjean is utterly confounded. His identity up until that point has been that of thief, prisoner, number, sinner. Now he has been “seen” as human and shown mercy. But it is more than mercy, isn’t it? Mercy would involve simply dropping the charges, but the bishop goes further—he actually rewards Valjean for his transgression! Bienvenu acts, in other words, in the polar opposite way than what would be expected of him. He is not wise or responsible. He treats Valjean recklessly, overruling what the law—literally standing in front of him—demands. He takes a major risk and blesses this criminal who has shown no ability to act in a non-shameful way. His love has everything to do with the sacrifice of the one doing the loving rather than the merit of the beloved. Needless to say, when I first saw the scene portrayed on the screen I fell to pieces.

This one surprising act throws Valjean into complete breakdown mode, causing him to question absolutely everything in his life and the world. In the musical, his bewilderment at the goodness which has been shown him is made plain when he sings:

One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

There is another way to go, thanks be to God, the way of Grace as opposed to Law. It is this way that Valjean takes from this moment forward—or I should say, the way that takes him. He doesn’t become a superhuman or even any less of a broken vessel, but from here on out, his life is fueled more by gratitude than greed, giving than receiving, love than fear. This one moment of grace changes him in a way that a lifetime of punishment never could. In fact, Valjean’s heroic, self-sacrificing actions in the rest of the novel flow directly from the word he hears from the bishop, which is the word of the Gospel.

Just as it is difficult to experience forgiveness without some knowledge of what you have done wrong, so it is difficult to understand the Gospel apart from the Law. If the Law is God’s first word, the Gospel is His last.

Listen closely: the law exposes Valjean (and us), while grace exonerates him. The law diagnoses, but grace delivers. The law accuses, the gospel acquits. The law condemns the best of us, while grace saves the worst of us. The law says cursed, the gospel says blessed. The law says slave, the gospel says son. The law says guilty, the gospel says forgiven. The law can break a hard heart, but only grace can heal one. Which is precisely what happens to Valjean. He may be a fictional character, but our response to his predicament is not fictional. The tears come because each one of us is dying to be treated this way. The scene gets us in touch with that one time that someone did show us a little sympathy when we deserved reproach.

It points us, in other words, to the truth at the very heart of the universe, the one-way love of God for sinners.

-Tullian