Thursday, May 28, 2009

Does God Desire That All Should Be Saved?

Paul, when speaking about praying for leaders and rulers, says in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 -

"This is Good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth."

The question that came to mind as I read this is: Is it God's desire that all people (everyone who has ever lived or will ever live) to be saved?

If this portion of Scripture means that God's desire is that all people get saved, then doesn't that notion imply then that God's desired plan has failed when people reject him and are sent to hell? Can sin and creation somehow have power over the will of God? Can man's "free will" somehow overpower the will of God? If so, then we are serving a God who we can control and whom we can manipulate. What kind of God is that?

As we read this passage of Scripture, it is important for us to look at the context with which the writer is writing. Since he is exhorting the people to pray for their leaders and their salvation, instead of worshiping them, we can conclude then that what is meant by "all people" should be understood as "all kinds of people." This means that God is not a respecter of persons. In God's eyes, kings and servants are the same. It is God's desire to see a diversity of people come to know him.

Calvin says that God's desire for the salvation of all "means there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation." However this doesn't somehow imply a universalism of salvation, but says that salvation is for all types of people: any race, any economic status, any denomination, etc.

Above all this, there remains one thing that God desires more than people's salvation, that being His Own Glory (Is. 48:11). R.C. Sproul says,

"The Lord is glorified when sin is punished in hell and so God's supreme desire is met even when people are not redeemed."

What is the application here for our lives? We must understand our role in this. We are not God, but are called to imitate Christ. We are to be very careful in this imitation, because we don't know the hearts of people. We are commanded to spread the message of the gospel with words, and show how those who have been transformed by such message, by our actions.

Belief in the sovereignty of God is not meat to stifle evangelism, but meant to fuel it. Meaning, when we understand that we are not in control of the "results" of evangelism, and will not be judged on results, it allows us freedom to proclaim the gospel to all, while trusting that God is in control of the transformation of the hearts.

In what ways are you/or are you not fulfilling the call to spread the message of the gospel? When you do share the gospel with others, are you trying to manipulate them to get the result that you want, or are you relying on the God to do what he does in the hearts of people?


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Late Sunday Reflections

This Sunday was a great worship experience at Idlewild! We continued our series - Tough Questions: The Believers Guide To The Christian Life. This weeks question was, in my opinion one that is foundational to a person's growth in their sanctification. The question is: Did God know, before he created the "perfect" world, that sin would enter it and ruin it? If so, why did he go ahead and create in the first place?

How you answer this question really depends on your theological perspective. The following was the answer that I gave to my congregation on Sunday:

"In God's sovereignty and holy wisdom, God permitted (ordained) sin to enter the world with the purpose of magnifying the glory of himself through Jesus Christ."

This does not imply that we glorify God when we sin. However, due to our sin, we are in desperate need of the grace and mercy of God, that comes from the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary and his resurrection from the dead. When we are called out to his salvation, we, who were once enemies of God, are now adopted into his family. As his adopted children we now bring glory to him, by pursuing to live a godly life and growing in our knowledge of God.

At the end of the service, I had the awesome and humbling opportunity to baptize for the first time. I had the privilege of baptizing a young man who came to know the Lord this Easter.

Over all, it was an incredible Sunday! John and Kelley did a wonderful job leading us in worship via praise, and Sunday night it was great to continue our walk through the book of James. I am looking forward to next Sunday as we go ahead with yet another question. Praise God for what he is doing in the lives of individuals in our church, and I am humbled and grateful for God allowing me to be a part of the journey.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Quote of the Day: The Peace of Knowing God

"There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God's favor to them in life, through death, and forever."

-J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pp.31

Eternal Life and Knowing God

I recently finished studying Hebrews during my personal study time, and began my journey through the book John. During this time, I also read the TableTalk for the day, and I began reading two books: Knowing God by J.I. Packer & Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul. I have to say that I am most excited about this time, and am learning a great deal through it.

I am a firm believer, but at times not a great practitioner, that pastors need to have a time in which they are pursuing communion with God and seeking to grow in holiness. I feel deeply that this time needs to be separate from their sermon preparation time, not because we don't grow as we wrestle with and sweat out the text because we do. However, I spend at least 20 hours a weak in sermon preparation just for our Sunday morning service. Yet, we still have Sunday night services and mid-week services at our church, and I have found that I can preach these services from the overflow of my personal time with God. This is not the purpose of my personal time, but is an outcome, along with growing in holiness and knowledge of God, of that time.

All this said, here is what I have been learning, and presented to my church last night.

We are told in John 3:16 that "whoever believes in him (the only Son of God) should not perish by have eternal life." If the gift of faith in Jesus is eternal life, then what is eternal life? We find from Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, that eternal life is "that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3)."

We can conclude then that eternal life is: A lifelong, both present life & eternity, journey of getting to know the One True God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

What then is meant by the word know? Is this implying that we know a bunch a facts about God? Is this speaking of knowing God in that we are saved?

I don't think that is all it means. I believe that to know God means: that we are pursuing to know God and to be known by God in an intimate relational way, that actually involves knowing God as you do a person.

J.I. Packer lists the following evidences that one knows God:
  1. Those who know God have a great passion for God.
  2. Those who know God have great thoughts of God.
  3. Those who know God show great boldness for God.
  4. Those who know God have great satisfaction in God.
We cannot know God apart from the study of Scripture. However, as we study Scripture, we are not merely seeking to learn a bunch of facts about a higher being, but we are so desperately seeking to touch and taste this glorious God, and be affected by the truths that we do learn. How are we affected by them? The Bible tells in Hebrews 4:12, us that the Word of God is active and living, and it's purpose is to transform the hearts and minds of the reader.

We can be assured that if we are pursuing this intimate relationship with God, we are encountering eternal life, not in its totality but we are getting a taste of greater things to come. We are experiencing the gift that is knowing God.

Monday, May 11, 2009

False Teachers and the Power of the Gospel

I read the following in this months Tabletalk by Ligonier Ministries:

"In Ephesus, the false teachers used the law neither to restrain sin nor to provoke repentance. They failed to focus on the law's opposition to ungodliness, keeping the church from seeing its need for the life-giving gospel, instead using it in a way God never intended.
-R.C. Sproul

After reading this I began to think a lot about my experience with the church, and the majority of "techniques", if you will, of today's great innovative leaders. Just as a prelude, this post is not condemning in nature, and is not meant to be handled as such. It is only an observation and an invitation to join an ongoing conversation.

My experience with the church, either the church I was a part of or what I read in books or heard in the media, was quite like the church of Ephesus. The handling of the gospel was never about the life-giving power that can be found in it's message, other than that of eternal life (and I am not certain that was well explained either). Pastors and teachers did not want to call sin, sin because they were fearful that they may offend and the people may leave, hurting their growing numbers. Then you have those who have taken the "gospel" to the other extreme, and used it as a weapon to carry on a tradition or specific agenda.

Then in the middle you have those like those in Ephesus. They, trying to be relevant, have chosen not to teach a gospel that encourages repentance of sin, because they want to effect people's lives by giving them what they want to hear. We do not focus on ungodliness, except those sins that we don't deal with. You will never hear sermons about pride, gossip, busybodies, and such, even though the church is full of these personalities. You will hear only messages about how to handle your finances, how much God loves everyone (never discussing God's wrath), how to have a great sex life with your spouse, and so forth. It's about enjoying the life you have now, but never focusing on the life-giving gospel that allows you to enjoy total satisfaction in Christ.

I wonder just how many of our churches are being led by false teachers? As a pastor, I wonder how many times I may have taught a false gospel, even though I may not have realized it? Because any teaching that focuses on one part of the gospel and refuses the other aspects, is a false teaching.

We as pastors, and us as Christ followers, must at all times be sure that we are seeking this life-giving gospel, and sharing that same gospel to others. Sometimes such living can cause others to be uncomfortable, at times people may become angry with you, and you may not be the most popular person, but God will be glorified with your life, and lives will be eternally effected not by you, but by the gospel.

As I continue my journey as a pastor, I am reminded just how true this realization is. I am noticing that individuals that hear the gospel, do not know how to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I am noticing that people really don't understand how the Scriptures apply to their everyday life. I am also noticing that people don't realize that to be a Christian is supposed to be about an ongoing, growing, and healthy relationship with Jesus our Savior. It is not about doing more, it is about being focused on Him more and less on ourselves. We don't get, that we can find total satisfaction and rest in our Heavenly Father. I pray that we will return to our first love, and proclaim from the rooftops of our lives, the life-giving power of the gospel. May we continue to pursue godliness, not because we are somehow trying to earn God's love, but because he loves us and we love him. May we be very careful as pastors and Christ followers not to present a false gospel, but the whole of the gospel to everyone around us. May we not use God's Word in a way that He never intended it to be used.

Sunday Reflections

I am going to keep this short. Yesterday was obviously a great day for the following reasons:
  • The people of Idlewild gathered together and worshiped God (a wonderful service: Sunday School, music was great, and the presentation of honoring the mothers was beautiful)
  • It was Mother's Day (shame on you if you forgot)
  • We began our Tough Questions series, addressing the first question: What Is Church Discipline, and What Is It's Role In The Church Today?
  • It was mine & Allyssa's 6th year wedding anniversary
  • As a result of a young man getting saved on Easter, I am going to be baptizing him next Sunday (I warned him it was my first, so he should bring his flippers)
  • Ate a delicious meal prepared by my sisters for our mother
  • Allyssa was so kind to spend the afternoon watching me play golf (I shot my all time best...85. Allyssa, being the honest person she is, would not allow me to cheat, so it is an honest score)
Overall, it was a fantastic Sunday. It was a tough sermon, but I pray that God continues to work in the hearts of the hearers and their pastor. Most importantly, my hope is that God was glorified in our lives yesterday.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Scripture Memory Tools (via Media)

This post from Bob Kauflin is a fantastic idea about memorizing scripture through music. He offers those passages of scripture that their church put to music for download in this same post. I encourage you to go and check out this great tool.

Another tool for this, specifically with children is Seeds Family Worship. Click on both, and I highly encourage you to seriously consider purchasing these CD's. I want to personally thank one of my friends and accountability partners, Micah, for introducing me to these cd's, but also to Tim Challies for drawing my name from his virtual hat, leading to my winning the whole package of these cd's for my family.

(HT: Worship Matters)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Reflections

Even though the rain was coming down, and people were working tirelessly on preparing for the days events, this mornings' service was great. I really sensed the presence of God in a whole new way this morning, even though we covered a very sensitive subject.

The text for the day was 1Peter 3:1-7, and the sermon was entitled, "Christ-Centered Marriages". Most people who have sat in traditional baptist churches and heard sermons on this topic, have heard that the husband is to rule the family (in a dictatorship kind of way), and the wife is to obey him (in a slave to a slave-master kind of way). Because of this I chose to be very direct, thorough, and somewhat non-politically correct in my language. I am quite sure that people felt a little uncomfortable with my use of certain words like (if you are seeking your future wife or your wife for physical pleasure only and treating her like crap the rest of time, you are treating her like a whore). I say this as one who has treated his past girlfriends and wife in that way. What is a prostitutes purpose? For men to use them for their own pleasure, never thinking about the pain and trauma that the woman is going through. I hate to say it, we men have treated women like this, in and outside of marriage, for far too long. Someone needs to say it, and I guess I am just dumb enough to say it.

I chose to be very gentle in my delivery to the ladies, but was still intentional in all that I said to them. I tried to encourage the ladies to pursue a Christ-Centered life (personal pursuit of Christ in their personal life), while submitting (honoring, respecting, and trusting God without fear) to their husbands role as head of the marriage relationship.

With the men, I chose to not be so gentle. For far too long we have treated men as though they are delicate and not men. I told the church, specifically the men, that if they were not leading their families well, then they would fall into one of two categories: cowards or chauvinists. Cowards are those guys who say yes all the time (and say yes mam to their wives all the time) and who are so afraid to offend anyone that they fail to lead. The Chauvinists are those guys who overpower their wives and treat them like slaves and doormats. Neither lead their families well, but look out for themselves.

The point is this: that if we are going have Christ-Centered, God-Glorying marriages, both husbands and wives each need to pursue their own individual relationships with Jesus. I tried to give illustrations from our marriage, not as one's who have it all figured out, but as a couple who is being challenged by this passage and whose marriage is being transformed by the Word of God. My wife was so generous and kind as to allow me to use these illustrations, which were very personal to her.

Overall, I hope people were able to look beyond the language and hear the message that Peter is presenting. I personally think that the language used was needed for an element of shock factor, as well as to get people out of their comfort zone and really evaluate their own marriages. My desire this morning was to help stir husbands and wives to evaluate where their marriages and personal relationships with Jesus are. Judging by the response I received from many of the visitors and members, I feel like it was a success. As one lady put it, "I'm not used to this kind of preaching, because I actually learned something today." That statement alone both scares me for the congregation that she is apart of, and encourages me that God is using a young punk kid like me to bring glory to his name, and facilitating change in the hearts of his people.

Thank you God for giving me the mercy needed to pursue you and shepherd the flock you have entrusted to me. Help me not to treat this role of pastor as a hired hand, but as a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life and reputation for his sheep. I pray that you will continue give me wisdom in all aspects of my life, and help me to never cower due to my desire to please man. Help me be strong and courageous, while standing firm on the power of the Word of God and it's sufficiency in my life. Thanking you for loving a sinner like me.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spiderwebs Along The Narrow Path

Jesus says in his teachings in Matthew 7:13-14,

"Enter by the the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

This past week, a friend of mine introduced me to a hiking trail that we have in our community that I had no idea was there. I love to be out in the woods, and I especially love hiking. There is just something peaceful about being in creation in it's original context that makes you feel alive and somewhat closer to the Creator.

On Wednesday morning after my men's accountability group, I decided to take my quiet time outdoors. So I packed up my ESV Journaling Bible into my CamelPak, and set out on the trail. I soon realized that I was the first and only person to take this trail on this day. How, you my ask. Well, when you are 6'1" and you are the first hiker out on a specific trail, you realize quickly that you are either the first person to take the trail today, or the tallest. The reason is very simple: You get caught up in all the spiderwebs. This trail is already very narrow and windy, but when you add the element of annoying spiderwebs, it makes the seemingly easy trail a little more difficult.

In the same way, the narrow path, that is the one that follows the Way (Jesus), seems seemingly easy, until you set out on it. For those who think that following Jesus is easy, and who say that the Christian life is so much fun, I would say back, "I don't think your on the same path as me." Like being on that trail this week, it seemed easy until I started getting caught in all the spiderwebs and then realized this path is really narrow. Why? On a narrow path it is imposible to avoid the spiderwebs. In the same sense, on the path that leads to Jesus, it is a given there will be trials and situations that are unavoidable, but they are profitable for your maturity and sanctification process.

Yesterday was one of those days. There has been a person who has really been a thorn in my flesh since I began the journey that I am on. I pray daily for this person, I am always friendly with this person, I try and encourage this person, I attempt to go out of my way to show this person love, but in the end, this person always has a complaint and/or a criticism. It is difficult in these times, because you want it to be easy. You want the person to see your love for them and Christ's love for them, but they are not looking for that. They become the equivalent to an annoying spiderweb that one runs into on the perverbial narrow way. You can't avoid them. You can't retaliate. You can only press forward and continue the journey, and pray that God will transform them from a spiderweb into a sojourner with you on the way. That is my prayer.

If you want any easy life. If you are looking for a "spider-web free" path, then the way of following after Jesus is not the path for you. This pathway is narrow, it is full of trials, struggles and suffering, but it is the path that leads to life everlasting. It is the path that leads to satisfaction. It is not the way for the faint of heart, but is the way for those who are willing to die to self and persevere.