My grace is sufficient for you…

–2 Cor. 12:9.

These words should be engraven on the palm of every believer’s hand.

My grace…My love is enough for you. These are the words of Christ. He says, to those who seek deliverance from pain and sorrow, ‘It is enough that I love you.’ This secures and implies all other good. His favor is life; his loving kindness is better than life.
– Charles Hodge

FROM MY HEART… Seeing What God Sees! Part 3

There is a saying from the German Poet Goethe, “that talent is formed in solitude, but character in the storms of life.”  So when we began this series and I asked, “What are those distractions that you really want, or love, or maybe even crave?” and “Are there idols in your life?” what I was really asking is, “where are you in your life?”

I remember when my kids were small and we were taking a trip, they would ask, “are we there yet?”  And when one would start, the others would chime in, over and over they would ask, “Are we there yet?”  In unison, in stereo, louder and louder, in concert, they would repeat the question, over and over, until it would drive me crazy!  Mom, would then turn around and administer corrective action, and calm would return to the vehicle, for at least a little while.

That is how it is with unchecked wants, loves and cravings. So, because of this and from these questions, we have therefore come full circle to the problem of breaking stubborn habits, changing destructive attitudes and conquering addictive sin.  Why? Because the answer is found in the fact that all those distractions, idols and unhelpful cravings, without being checked, turn into destructive habits, self-destroying attitudes, and vicious, unrelenting compulsions…every time!

Last time, we also looked at how that there were three things which were requisite in order for an individual to successfully make the changes necessary to put this pattern of self-destructive behavior behind them.  And yes, there are a lot of self-help books that purpose alternative, though similar points and perspectives. But for the Christian, these items are really almost self-evidentiary upon reflection and prayer.  In short, they are:  1. Acknowledge that, “God is good.”  2.  Owning up and take responsibility for your behavior.  3.  Trusting in God’s grace for you.

If you are one who is suffering from the effects of self-destructive behavior and you have tried to change, only to fail in an endless cycle of pain, then you know that each of these three items may be some of the hardest pieces of advice for you to accept.  But accept them you must.

What Next?   Seeing With God’s Eyes!

Ask yourself, “What would God like to accomplish in my life?”  Is it just the eradication of stubborn sin? That alone would be an awesome accomplishment, and something we could really be proud of, but in God’s eyes, that would not be enough. Do you think that God is working in you so that rise above sinful temptation?   I think that we would all find that a blessed relief!  Wow, no more real temptations; smooth sailing, Christ-like, saintly lives with no real personal struggle….  No, God is aiming for more than that, and he wants us to get a bigger vision!

God wants to develop within us tempered, Christ-like qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Recall Goethe’s poem, “…but character in the storms of life”… nothing could be more true.  Listen to Moses, “Remember every road that GOD led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. …” (Deut. 8:2 MSG.).  If God put the Israelites through rough times to develop their character, do you think that he is going to let you skate through life “on flowery beds of ease?”  No way!  But God is going to be there for you, no matter what you have to go through, and he is going to be there for you even when you don’t hear him or see him; he will be there.

But let’s be perfectly clear here:  Surrendering your heart and life to God is the first step in this very long journey, and the “all important step”.  Fortunately, God gives you the grace and ability to make this step, he does it all…so there is not boasting on our part, but it is still, only, the first step.

However, what is the practical outcome of this first step?  The “out working” as theologians like to call it, is that our lives are changed from being self-centered to being God-centered.  We are now beginning the process to change our focus.  Instead of focusing on ourselves, instead of focusing on our problems (which are not our real problems, by the way…, another item to be dealt with later), we are instead focusing on God; and in response to his love and through his love, on our solutions to these manipulative compulsions.

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, this is all very well.  But what I was really looking for was just “quick fix”, something that would just relieve the symptoms; I wasn’t looking for some life changing, monument building, change to who I am.  My answer is: “you and everybody else.”   But a quick fix to character doesn’t exist, and it sure isn’t easy.  But you can do it!

You may also want to look at the other side of the coin.   Look at all those who decided not to change: drug addicts, sex addicts, those who let laziness rule their lives, those who let deception rule their lives.  How did things end up for them?  Now, ask yourself this question, what makes me think that I am just different?

I think that John Greenleaf Whittier said it best, “For all the sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’”  Think about it.

Mike W. Pursley

Post Tenebras Lux

Growing deeper in your understanding …

Our concept of theology as application will help us form a better view of theological progress. Theology progresses as it learns to apply God’s word to each situation it encounters, and we have seen evidence of that throughout church history. The great strides in theological understanding come about when the church creatively and faithfully responds to difficult situations on the basis of Scripture.

The Reformed faith is especially well-equipped to make theological progress. In the Reformed faith, the concept of application is not a threat to sola scriptura, because Calvinists believe in a comprehensive revelation of God in Scripture, the world, and the self. Everything reveals him, for everything is under his control, authority, presence. Nor ought Calvinists to be burdened with any demand for absolute precision or objectivity. The Reformed faith has a clear view of the Creator-creature distinction; only God has perfectly precise and perfectly objective knowledge (though even for him, such knowledge is not devoid of subjectivity)…

Reformed theology has also made exceptional progress in the more common sense of learning new things from Scripture. These discoveries too, however, our applications or contextualizations, answers to current questions. Lutheran theology has not changed very much since the seventeenth century, nor has Arminian theology. But Calvinism has developed new understandings of the covenants, of redemptive history, of biblical inerrancy, of apologetics, of theological encyclopedia, and of the relationships of Christianity to politics, economics, education, the arts, literature, history, science, and law. That progress has come about because belief in the sovereignty of God sets the Calvinist free to explore the fullness of God’s revelation in Scripture and creation.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God307-308

Doubt-Killing Promises

 by Justin Taylor

slide1858_image007Even though Charles Spurgeon lived about two hundred years after John Bunyan, I think Spurgeon regarded Bunyan as a friend. He said the book he valued most, next to the Bible, was The Pilgrim’s Progress. “I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire.”

Perhaps one of the reasons Spurgeon resonated with this classic was its realistic portrayal of depression, doubt, and despair. Spurgeon and Bunyan, like their Savior, were men of sorrow, acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). When Bunyan went to prison for preaching the gospel, his heart was almost broken “to pieces” for his young blind daughter, “who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides.” Spurgeon’s depression could be so debilitating that he could “weep by the hour like a child”—and not know why he was weeping. To fight this “causeless depression,” he said, was like fighting mist. It was a “shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.” It felt, at times, like prison: “The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back.” Spurgeon felt what C. S. Lewis describes after losing his wife, in one of the most honest and painful passages I have ever read. Lewis said that when all is well and life is happy, God seems present and welcoming with open arms.

But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited?… Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in our time of trouble?

Some will find that sense of bewildering despair hard to comprehend, perhaps even a bit exaggerated. But for those who have been there, it is all too real.

For those who have felt trapped in Doubting-Castle, guarded by Giant Despair, take heart that the best of Christians have stayed there too. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). And for those who have never darkened its harrowing doors, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (v. 12).

What is most instructive in Bunyan’s allegory is how Christian and Hopeful finally find the way of escape. Christian says:

“What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting- Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and hopeful immediately came out.

What was the key? It was called “Promise.” God has given us “his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4).

How do we know these promises will come true? Because “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ Jesus]” (2 Cor. 1:20).

How do we take hold of these promises? By faith, in hope. God tells us, “call upon me in the day of trouble,” with the result that “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). As we believe His promises by faith, He gets all of the credit and the glory (Rom. 4:20).

And did you notice where Bunyan says that the key was all along? In Christian’s “chest pocket.” I think Bunyan here is pointing us to Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” We all know that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), But this “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), cannot do its piercing, sanctifying, healing work if it remains simply on display in our homes rather than dwelling at home in our hearts. If we take God’s Word with us, if we meditate on it day and night, we will always have our weapon in battle no matter where we are.

So, dear Christian, take God’s Word—especially His promises—into your heart today, by faith and in hope. And the next time you find yourself in Doubting-Castle, and hear the terrifying rumblings of Giant Despair at the double-bolted door, remember that you have had the key of escape all along. If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.

FROM MY HEART… Ground Rules for Change, Part 2

There is a story about a young man who came to Socrates and said,

imagesCAFF6R67“Teacher, I want very much to be one of your students, I want to learn what is “Truth.” To this, Socrates replied, “Come with me.”  And with that, Socrates led the lad down the lane, into the center of the Piazza and over to the village fountain.  Standing on its edge, Socrates gathered up his robe and stepped into the middle of the water. The young man looking at the teacher for a second, gathered up his robes, and also stepped into water.   Suddenly, the wise old teacher turned around, grabbed, and then thrust the student’s face into the water and held him under so that he couldn’t breathe. Desperately, the lad thrashed and struggled, but Socrates would not let him up for air. Finally, when he could stand it no longer, Socrates let go and the young man came up, gasping and angry. “Why did you do this to me?” Socrates replied, “When you were in the water, what did you want more than anything else?” Air, sir, air! The young student answered.  Socrates looked at him, “When you want to know what is “Truth” as much as you wanted air, you will find it.”

 Before you can know the truth, at least, the truth about yourself, and also before you can act upon these “truths” to which you may be privileged to discover, there are some “ground rules” that you are going to have to come to terms with, and that you will have to agree too, first.  Why the ground rules?  Because, when that inner pain subsides, when that inner thirst or need subsides, it’s way too easy to excuse ourselves.  Often we may say that, “we are just human” or offer some other excuse.  We may become pessimistic, defiant and if not checked immediately, begin again to repeat the pattern.

Ground Rules

 1.    Acknowledge to yourself (and to a friend if you can)  that, “God is good.”

Yes, God could have prevented Satan… who started the problem of sin, but he didn’t.  Yes, God could have prevented, the cancer cell, the accident, the rape, the death, the divorce, any of the many things which may have induced you to go down a path of pain, of defeat, of rebellion, of self-treatment that may have already ruined a portion of your life.  God IS good.  What happened to you was not an accident.  God was NOT taken by surprise. God can, and will, use even the most tragic things in your life to bring about good… “For those who love Him”.

 2.    Own up and take responsibility for your behavior.

Yes, life may have been rotten to you, absolutely rotten. But don’t give in to the “blame game”, other people, situations, family, your genes, or even God.  It was the way you have reacted to whatever has happened to you that has determined where you are now.  It was the Greek sage, Epictetus, that said, It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.   However, I like the way Charles Swindoll puts it best,  “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  So, own up to your own behavior.  Don’t blame anyone else for your actions. In the end you are going to own up to them anyway, so you might as well do it now, so you can get on with life.

3.    Trust in God’s grace for you.

George Patton once made the observation that, “there has never been an army who has taken to the field of battle who believed that the gods were against them, and won.”  Just as an army can’t win believing that God is against them, neither can you.  You must believe that God loves you and wants to deliver you; that is called faith!     God has promised you deliverance, believer, with many precious promises through out scripture.

The philosopher Seneca once exclaimed, “Oh that a hand from heaven would come down and save me from my besetting sin!”   Well, the good news is that a hand has come down from heaven to save you from your besetting sin.   But you must agree to the ground rules for you to begin your turnaround.  Ready to go?

Next time we will talk about how to make that turn around.

Until then,

Post Tenebras Lux
(Out of Darkness into Light)


FROM MY HEART… Are there Idols in your life?

What are those distractions you really want, or love, or maybe even crave?    …Are there Idols in your life?

Part 1.

“Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness” Jonah 2:8

downloadI believe that there are certain subjects that, if you are truly a Christian, or even human, you cannot approach or even think about without a certain amount of self-searching.

Often, this self-searching is painful and we avoid it.  Why? Because the deeper we go, the more painful this digging around inside of ourselves usually becomes.  However, If there has been some great calamity that has accosted us, taken away our peace, robbed us of our loved one, or perhaps destroyed a relationship important to us, we may then, out of necessity, seek to dig down and find out why things went wrong, or yet, why we went wrong.  It is a time when we are forced to examine not only our behaviors but also our values.  It is a time when we try attempt balance out our deep core beliefs with the person who we really think we are.

We encounter just such a self-examination as this in scripture with Jesus is sitting down with his disciples at the “last supper”.  Jesus is about to be crucified.  He wants to let his closest companions know this.  He wants them to decide about whose side they are on, he wants them to decide on this crucial question of who he is before the crisis begins.  He wants to also let them know that even a close disciple of Christ, a disciple who has spent years deep of fellowship with the master… can still betray him.

And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”   Matt. 26:21

Is it I …?

When we have messed up, when we have followed after vain idols, when we have switched out our core values, when we have played spiritual harlotry, when we have become so successful in covering our tracks outwardly, that in our minds “looking good” means more to us than “being good,” and our cover just becomes “part of the game”; have we not completely “forsaken our faithfulness”?   Do we not justly call down upon ourselves God’s corrective anger …against sin …against OUR sin, and against OUR unfaithfulness?

What do we do?

But what do we do when we ask is it “I” and the answer is yes?  What do we do when the answer is yes when we look deep inside ourselves and all we find is …blackness?

In the move “Wallstreet” the memorable character, Lou Mannheim tells the about to be devastated Bud Fox, that “Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”  The pop insight almost works, but leaves out the crucial choices that have to be made for a recovery which is both for man’s sake and for his reconciliation to God and his fellowship.  Because the question is, “should man do something about his character”, “will man do something about his character” and “what should he do”.

It is at this point in our discovery then that we have some choices to make.  These choices often reveal to us who we are, and also, where we are with God.  For instance, we could make the choice Judas makes: Acknowledge our error, even the depth of it, and then simply end it all.  Acknowledging our errors, our wrongfulness, is never enough; it may be a good start, but simple acknowledgment of our own wrong is not a good finish.  In visiting folks at the hospital, or people in some other point of extremis, I have found interesting how often these difficult points bring on a clarity of thought that would have been very well rewarded at an earlier time; lives would have been changed, relationships would have saved, a destructive spiral would have been reversed.

Another choice people often make is to deny responsibility by blaming others or other things.

“…And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”  Genesis 3:12

I have heard that in the old, old French Bible this passage goes something like this: cherchez la femme, or loosely translated, “blame it on the woman”.  Wow, blaming others is one excuse that has never worked, and it did not, nor will it ever work with God.  Yet, how often do we use it.  Remember, when we were growing up we used to hear, “the devil made me do it”?  Not even the Devil will be held completely responsible for our sins.

An alternative popular choice that you hear is, “times have changed” or, “we live in a modern generation”.  Not long ago Harvard Business School was looking over their students final exams, when the administrators discovered that widespread cheating had taken place. When confronted the students simply responded that everybody had done it.  When they were failed, the students couldn’t figure out why it was so bad. Ethically, they merely believed that they had discovered “an advantage” and that they had availed themselves of “an opportunity to get ahead”.

As you can see, there are many ways we may try to dig ourselves out of the darkness of our own souls.  But the most common way is probably to never look at it; to never engage in the type of deep soul-searching that brings the light of honesty to bear on our habits, our values, and our attitudes.  We simply go on, excusing ourselves by whatever means necessary, or by whatever means comes quickest to our minds …until it is too late.

In our next session, we will look at the God directed, choices and steps necessary to correct this defective behavior and bring ourselves back into a healthy, faithful relationship with God.

Post Tenebras Lux
(Out of Darkness into Light)

Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world?

Understanding 1 John 2:2

Pastor John Samson

Those who have read my interview with John Hendryx will know something of my struggle in coming to understand and appreciate the doctrines of grace. One of the biggest hurdles I encountered was my traditional understanding of 1 John 2:2. It acted much like a roadblock in my thinking, preventing me traveling along the road known as reformation highway for a long period of time. How are we to understand the verse then?

Let me start by affirming that scripture is explicit in saying that Jesus died:

for God’s people (“He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people” – Isaiah 53:8; “He shall save His people from their sins” – Matt. 1:21);

for His sheep (“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 – note that Jesus categorically states that some are not His sheep – “but you do not believe because you are not My sheep.” – John 10:26)

for His friends (“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:13-14;

for the Church (“… the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” – Acts 20:28; “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her…” – Eph. 5:25, 26).

Indeed, as God allows us to gain a glimpse into the future, Revelation 5:9 reveals the song of the throngs of heaven as they sing to the Lamb upon His throne, “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Notice that it does not say that He ransomed everybody in every tribe, etc., but that He ransomed people for God from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.

Yet at least at first glance, 1 John 2:2 seems to strongly deny this idea that Jesus’ death was designed for a particular people. The verse states, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

I don’t believe that scripture contradicts itself. That is in fact why we are told to study the word of God in order that we might rightly divide it (2 Tim. 2:15) rather than simply throw up our hands saying a particular verse contradicts others on the same subject. “All Scripture is God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and because there iso ne Divine Author of Scripture who does not contradict Himself, I am convinced that hard work and careful study will eliminate apparent contradictions.

I have written elsewhere about the principles of correct interpretation of scripture. In my article entitled “Playing Marbles with Diamonds”. I refer to twelve principles of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics). We start by affirming that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture. Though there may be many applications of a verse, it only means what it was intended to mean when it was written. With this as a foundation, two more principles would apply here:

1. Consider the Author – who wrote the book? (what was his background, language, culture, vocation, concerns, education, circumstance, what stage of life?)

2. Consider the Audience (why was the book written? who was the audience? what would these words have meant to its original recipients?)

My friend, Dr. James White once wrote, “Remember when you were in school and you had to take a test on a book you were assigned to read? You studied and invested time in learning the background of the author, the context in which he lived and wrote, his purposes in writing, his audience, and the specifics of the text. You did not simply come to class, pop open the book, read a few sentences, and say, “Well, I feel the author here means this.” Yet, for some odd reason, this attitude is prevalent in Christian circles. Whether that feeling results in an interpretation that has anything at all to do with what the original author intended to convey is really not considered an important aspect. Everyone, seemingly, has the right to express their “feelings” about what they “think” the Bible is saying, as if those thoughts actually reflect what God inspired in His Word. While we would never let anyone get away with treating our writings like this, we seem to think God is not bothered, and what is worse, that our conclusions are somehow authoritative in their representation of His Word.”

With this in view, we approach the First Epistle of John, which is a letter written to a primarily Jewish audience. So in 1 John 2:2, as in the rest of the letter, we have the Apostle John, a Jew, writing primarily to fellow Jewish believers in the Messiah. He writes of Jesus Christ being “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only (Hebrews), but also for the whole world (the Gentiles).”

A third principle I mentioned in the article relates to the concept of considering the author’s context. This refers to looking at all of a person’s writings – John’s writings, Paul’s writings, Luke’s writings, etc. When we look elsewhere in John’s writings we notice in his Gospel an exact parallel in John’s use of words, which gives us a great deal of insight as to what he (John) was referring to.

In John’s Gospel, chapter 11, verses 51-52, John wrote these words, “he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

When we see this in chart form, the parallel with 1 John 2:2 is easy understood:

John 11:51-52                                                           |                                1 John 2:2

He prophesied that                                                |                                and

Jesus                                                                           |                                 He Himself

Would die for                                                           |                                 is the propitiation for

The nation                                                                 |                                our sins

That he would gather together in one             |                                 for

The children of God scattered abroad            |                                 the whole world

Dr. Phil Johnson (who provided this helpful chart) writes, “There is little doubt that this is how John’s initial audience would have understood this expression. “The whole world” means “people of all kinds, including Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, and whatnot” as opposed to “ours only” i.e., the Jewish nation. What the apostle John is saying in the John 11 passage is particularly significant: Christ died so that he might gather “the children of God” the elect, from the whole world.”

I believe therefore that rather than undermining the case for Christ’s death for His elect sheep, 1 John 2:2 actually affirms it. When we understand the verse in its Johannine context (the writings of the Apostle John) then the correct interpretation becomes very clear.

Posted by John Samson on October 28, 2005 01:48 PM