Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pope: Half Right

If I were a Roman Catholic, Pope Benedict would be my kind of pope. He's a straight shooter who has no time for theological liberalism or cafeteria Christianity. Lately he's been talking about the reality of hell. It's not some bogeyman to keep the faithful in line, he says. It's "the ultimate consequence of sin itself. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy." So far so good. However, the Pope runs aground when he states as the determining factor of ending up in heaven or hell man's free will. As a Calvinist, I know that man's will is in bondage, and we are incapable of choosing God or heaven. The fall of man affected us to such a degree that we are, apart from God's sovereign grace, enemies of godliness, and at war with spiritual things, at war with God himself. How do I know this? Sing along with me: "The Bible tells me so."

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (Ephesians 2:5).

Dead men can't choose to come alive again, and sinners can't choose Christ apart from the sovereign mercy of the Father. The issue of free will is knotty because it offends against man's pride and makes God seem capricious in choosing who is saved. Charles Spurgeon probably put it best. He once said that on the front of heaven's gate is written, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). But when you enter heaven and turn around you will see written on the back of heaven's gate, "No man can come to me, except the Father which sent me draw him" (John 6:44).

So the Pope has it half right. Heaven and hell are eternal realities, but it is God who decides who goes there. As God said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy" (Exodus 33:19). If you desire to escape the alienation of hell, run to Christ, but remember it was God who put that desire in your heart in the first place. Such is the mystery of our faith, but true faith always exalts God and humbles man.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Medical Update

Yesterday I began my final round of arsenic trioxide, which is delivered to me on an outpatient basis at Hackensack University Medical Center (a great hospital, by the way). It has few side-effects, but renders me exhausted at the end of the day. After this four-week treatment, I will be "handed over" to the transplant team, where I will have my own stem cells harvested and frozen, given high dose chemo (the really awful kind), and then I will receive my stem cells back. This means I will be unable to preach or teach for some time. The treatment should last until late May, with at least a month of recovery time.

Not being able to preach is very difficult. There is nothing I find more fulfilling in my vocation than preaching Christ crucified. In the meantime I try to read (if I can stay awake!), and offer my thoughts here on this blog. Given all the medications I am on, my offerings here may not be all that profound...

I covet your prayers, and am deeply thankful for the support of my church, those who drop me off at the hospital each day, and my family and friends who work very hard to make sure that I don't have to worry about anything but getting well. I want to repeat something I read on Dr. Mohler's blog: when my wife is present, I feel okay, but when she is absent, I struggle to cope. Such is the blessing of a godly, compassionate wife.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Facing the Right Direction

A sermon from Philippians 3:4b-14 on the proper focus of our Christian pilgrimage.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Psalm 107

Writing about Psalm 80 the other day, with its refrain, "Turn us again, O God...", made me think of Psalm 107, which has a refrain appearing four times:

"Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men" (v.8, 15, 21, 31).

While Psalm 80 reflects a plea from fallen men, beseeching the Lord to save them, Psalm 107 reflects the desire of God's heart for men to turn to him and worship him. We know from the apostle Paul that God "desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). These two psalms, then, represent the nature of man's relationship to God. We desire God to "rend the heavens and come down," for we are broken and in need of God's healing presence. God desires us to seek his face and give thanks for the many blessings we experience each day. We need communion with the Triune God, and God stands at the door of our hearts knocking, desiring to come in.

Before each refrain in Psalm 107 is a reminder of what God has done for his people. For example, in v.6-7, God's people cry out in distress, and he leads them in the right way. In v.14, God is said to have brought his people out of darkness and the shadow of death. In v.20, God heals his people. In v.30, the storms of our lives are stilled and we are led to our desired haven.

So according to Psalm 107, we have a long litany of reasons to worship God, but the most precious reason is that it pleases God, and is the desire of his own heart. In addition, we can make this refrain a part of our prayer life. God's desire must become our own, and so we must plead with others using the words the Holy Spirit inspired the psalmist to write:

"Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!"

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Being Reconciled to God

A sermon on reconciliation from 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Does It Mean to Be Reformed?

Theological langauge has gotten slippery over the last century, and it's hard to know what certain words actually mean anymore. For example, the word "evangelical" has been so stretched of its content that it is essentially a term referring to anyone who is not a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or flaming liberal. Another word in danger is "Reformed." John MacArthur (a fine Christian, mind you) is trying to make Reformed theology fit with dispensationalism and premillennialism. John MacArthur may be a fine Christian, but he is not Reformed. For an excellent definition of what it means to be Reformed, and why MacArthur is not a Reformed Christian, Kim Riddlebarger provides a copy of an article written by Dr. Richard Muller (see picture), who is perhaps the most prominent scholar on Reformed theology and Calvinism today. I strongly recommend it. Here is the link.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's Greek To You

I've updated my "Sites of Interest" and noticed that two are Canadians. I like both Canada and Canadians (I sure love hockey!). Check out Old Paths and Jim Vellenga's blog, as both are excellent. I've also added to my sidebar a daily passage from the Greek New Testament. To read the full passage just click on the date above the text. I put this on primarily for my own benefit. It forces me to keep my Greek skills honed, but others may enjoy it too.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Facing the Wrong Way

For some reason I love psalms which have refrains. For example, in Psalm 80, which was written by Asaph (who wrote the second most number of psalms, after David), the following is found three times:

"Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved" (v.3).

Most modern translations begin the verse with the word "restore," but I prefer the KJV "turn" because it carries with it the idea of repentance, which in the original languages of the Bible means to change direction, to change one's mind. This implies we are facing the wrong direction. We are looking at the world, desiring its gold and its power, and ignoring God and His spiritual riches. Our eyes face down, when we should be looking to Christ enthroned in majesty. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-2, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."

Psalm 80's refrain also reminds us that it is God who saves, not man. It is God who turns us to face the things which matter. It is God who turns us to face our sinfulness. It is God who turns us to Christ. "No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). Asaph repeats his plea to emphasize our inability and God's sovereign will in our salvation. This Bible truth can never be repeated enough, given our pride, our worldliness, and our desire to save ourselves. So we must plead with Asaph, "Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved (v.7, 19).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Happy Birthday Norman

Today is the birthday of Norman Blake, one of this nation's musical treasures. He is an accomplished guitarist, songwriter, and preservationist of traditional American music. If you haven't heard of him, well, I'm sorry. I strongly suggest you invest in some of Norman's music. A great place to start is the double cd Fields of November. My favorite song of his is "Last Train From Poor Valley." You can purchase his music from iTunes or at

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Baudrillard's Thesis

Jean Baudrillard died Tuesday. He was a French philosopher and social critic whose main thesis was the theory of "hyperreality." In a nutshell, he believed that reality was being replaced by a simulated world created by the media. If you are a fan of the movie The Matrix, you will understand this thesis. Baudrillard's book, Simulacra and Simulation, even makes an appearance in the film. But in a delicious twist, the book is not real, but rather a hollowed out simlulation of a book which serves as a storage container for illegal computer disks.

Before you dismiss Baudrillard's thesis, consider the following. Do you know the names of your neighbors? Do you socialize with your neighbors? Do you belong to a service organization (e.g., the Lions, Elks, or Rotary)? Do you attend church? Home builders no longer put front porches on new houses. Instead, huge media rooms are created for us to live out our "simluated" lives of watching television and movies, playing video games (one of the most popular is called "The Sims"), or chatting online as alternate selves with names like "2Cool4U."

Baudrillard's thesis also helps us understand the decline of worship attendance in small churches, and the rise of mega-churches. A parishioner once said to me that when they retired and moved elsewhere, they would seek out a big church, so they could worship anonymously. In other words, where true social contact would be minimized. In a world of alternative "realities," we choose the controlled environment. For example, note the popularity of Las Vegas, with its New York City, Egypt, and Venice hotel recreations. Why travel to Europe when you can experience the simulation? Walt Disney World is the ultimate example of simulated reality.

Baudrillard, however, was at heart a pessimist. He counseled people to avoid searching for reality. Where do we find the real in a sea of illusion? For Christians, the real is found in an ever deepening relationship with God and fellow believers. It is found not in simulation, but in restoration ~ the restoration of our brokenness in communion with Jesus Christ. Reality is the world God created. Baudrillard's "hyperreality" is the creation of man. One leads to peace and healing, the other to isolation and despair. In the language of The Matrix, do you take the red pill or the blue pill? I say, "Sleepers awake!"

Sunday, March 04, 2007


My paternal grandfather and the poet W.H. Auden were born in the same year - 1907. My grandfather was a New York City policeman, with a violent temper that mellowed with age. He was married to a difficult, likely mentally ill woman, but I remember him with fondness. I am also fond of Auden, who was also a man of contrasts. Auden is experiencing a revival, mostly because of the resonance of his poem "September 1, 1939" with the events of September 11.

He began as a modernist, along with Pound and Eliot, but his poems were more accessible (and yet he is considered a poet's poet, and not as beloved), and then embraced a more formal style as he grew older. He was a homosexual who became a Christian, struggling to reconcile the two. In 1941 he published a volume entitled, The Double Man, which is an apt description of his life and work. He coined the phrase "The Age of Anxiety," which served as the title of a volume of poems for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948.

Auden deserves more attention and appreciation. Here is one example, "Underneath An Abject Willow"

Underneath an abject willow
Lover, sulk no more:
Act from thought should quickly follow.
What is thinking for?
Your unique and moping station
Proves you cold;
Stand up and fold
Your map of desolation.

Bells that toll across the meadows
From the somber spire
Toll for these unloving shadows
Love does not require.
All that lives may love; why longer
Bow to loss
With arms across?
Strike and you shall conquer.

Friday, March 02, 2007

An Excellent Overview

For an excellent overview/summary on the issue of homosexuality in the church click here.

The Issue of Clarity

The Associated Press reported yesterday some remarks by the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori (I suppose being elected the head of a denomination makes one more reverend than all others). A supporter of gay weddings and gay clergy, Mrs. Jefferts Schori is trying to get the liberal majority of her church "to roll back their support for gays - at least for now." If she fails in this effort, the worldwide Anglican communion will essentially disassociate itself from the American church.

The comments which really bothered me, however, were about idolatry. Here is what she said:

"We are being pushed toward a decision by impatient forces within and outside this church who hunger for clarity. That hunger for clarity at all costs is an anxious response to discomfort in the face of change which characterizes all of life. The impatience we're now experiencing is an idol - a false hope that is unwilling to wait on God for clarity" (emphasis mine).

What Jefferts Schori is really saying is that God has not been clear in the past. She is saying that God's Word lacks clarity, and that the desire for clarity requires patience, a waiting for God to speak more clearly. In other words, until now, she believes God is guilty of mumbling. I can only assume that Jefferts Schori ignores 2 Timothy 3:17, which states that Scripture thoroughly equips every man of God. Therefore, our desire for clarity is not an idol, nor a false hope, but is rather the expectation of God's promise to teach us all things through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

The Bible is clear on such subjects as homosexuality, liberals merely object to its teaching and are waiting for God to change His mind. Conservatives know better. God's Word is unchanging and will outlast heaven and earth. God has spoken, and only those who born again and possess the Spirit of God can discern and accept His words (1 Cor 2:14). As our Lord said in John 8:43, "Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do." And in v.47, "He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God."

The issue isn't one of clarity. God is absolutely clear on matters of faith and morals. The issue is that of faithful obedience to God's Word. Such a desire to obey God is no idol, but the mark of true faith. Those like Mrs. Schori merely want to undo what God has done, and unsay what God has said. This is a clever ruse, but in the end a futile endeavor. For God's people will always stand up and defend the "faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Numbers 23:19).