Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Those Daring Young Men in Their Dirty Dungarees

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine

Everyone remembers the Living Room at home, this despite many of us never getting to visit the sacred space. It was the immaculate room in your house that no one ever went in. You know, with the plastic covers on the furniture, the lampshades that still had the wrappers on them, and that carefully placed area rug, because Spot left a spot. There is a connection, a ratio between an immaculate appearance and the absence of people in the room. The Bible says one sure way to have a clean barn is to not keep an ox in it. (Of course an empty stall will not plow the back forty.) In like manner, one way to keep a clean home is to never allow anyone in it. On a smaller scale, you can keep that immaculate Living Room by denying most folks entrance. The trouble is, if we’re not in the house, then we’re all out in the dirt. Unless, of course, we live in some concrete jungle. Worse still, some who do live in our homes actually prefer the dirt outside to the clean inside. We call these beings boys.

Recently our son Campbell, along with several of our girls and I, were listening to a storytelling tape we had gotten at the National Storytelling Festival. We bought a tape of stories called “Grandma’s Boy.” In one story the main character, Jack, gets absolutely filthy. You don’t even want to know some of the things that were stuck to him. While we were listening to this story for the umpteenth time, Campbell said, “Mommy, Jack and I are a lot alike. We both like to get really dirty!” Now, what a thing to say! It was totally unprompted. We weren’t talking about anything, just listening and laughing. Campbell’s statement was heartfelt and most definitely true. My grocery bills for Shout, bleach and Oxi-Clean over the past seven years will attest to that.

All parents face temptations in child-rearing. Some are tempted toward being too harsh, some too lenient, some with being too rigidly structured or others too flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. And sometimes it’s not just dad who wants junior to be a mini-him. Too often, mom wants a mini-her, and so tries to raise up a little Lord Fauntleroy. While we can certainly teach our sons to be considerate of our labors in keeping our inside garden clean, we must recognize that they are made for the jungle. Though they may still be young, their default inclination is out. They are by their nature outward looking, and so have to go where the dirt is. That’s why it seems to be magnetically attracted to their clothes, why they don’t usually walk around the puddle but see how big a splash they can make right in the middle of it. We need to be careful not to squelch that while we teach them to honor our labors in our garden.

The first step, as always, is to have a grateful and humble heart. Let us remember that while we are called to tend our garden, that the kingdom isn’t all lily-white doilies and shiny linoleum. Let us also rejoice that God has given us boys and let us rejoice that they are warriors. We happily married our warriors and look forward to one day helping some godly young women to have the same joy in our sons. We should, in fact, be sending them out into the jungle. While this is easier for me than some of you because of the ratio of boys to girls God has sent me (I should actually say ‘boy to girls’), we all need to guard against the temptation of having our little boys help too much with our women’s work. Of course your son can feed the baby her carrots or dust the baseboards, wash the dishes or set the table. But be sure he is also out gathering kindling for the fire and tending to the livestock and that he spends a greater portion of his time doing that kind of work.

Let us likewise praise them in their labors, even if they got that adorable shirt we love dirty. Even if it was your absolute favorite shirt and it will take five washings before it comes out sort of clean, remember that even if you keep the boy in a bubble, the shirt will one day be no more. The boy, however, will one day be a man forever, unless we turn him into a girl. We should delight in the boyishness of our boys, praise God that He made them the way He has. Enjoy your son’s collections of various outdoor stuff. Be interested when he shows you the dirt mound he made into a fort for his toy soldiers. Take delight in the clever way he builds a ramp for his bike or develops a pulley to haul things up into his favorite tree. In fact, be delighted he figured out that grease would make the pulley pull more smoothly. Granted, as women it is sometimes difficult for us to really see things from our boys’ perspective, but we should certainly not make them feel defective because they’re not like us. They can be trained and expected out of courtesy to Mom to take their muddy shoes off before walking across the carpet, but they should not be expected to automatically think to do that on their own. Remember to encourage your husband to encourage the masculinity of your boy. Don’t begrudge him the time it takes, nor the laundry it takes, for Dad to wrestle with his boy in the dirt.

Finally, remember that dirt isn’t bad. God made it and He made man from it. As we’ve argued in this issue, it is both what we work and what we are. It is central to our lives. We should remember as women also that we need not be prisses and should not be afraid to sometimes get dirty ourselves, working and playing hard before the Lord and for His glory.

By Denise Sproul, the White Tornado

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ask RC: Is Faith a Work?

The Reformation was born out of the biblical conviction that a man is deemed just in the sight of God, forgiven, adopted, not on the basis of his own goodness, but on the basis of the goodness of Christ imputed to him. Not everyone, however, is blessed with this imputation, but only those who trust in that provision, and in that provision alone. The debate at that time, and to this day, has been characterized as faith versus works. Though Rome would not affirm, and indeed rightly condemns crass Pelagianism, the notion that we can earn God’s favor outside His grace, she does see a vital role for our personal righteousness, even while affirming that our righteousness is the result of grace at work in us, with which we must cooperate. In framing the debate as works versus faith, however, some miss the very nature of faith.

One way to err on faith is in fact to turn it into a “work.” In this error we see “faith” as a substitute for our obedience. This view suggests that in the Garden God required total and complete obedience from us in order for us to be at peace with Him. When that failed, God graciously lowered His standard. Now all that He requires of us is that we trust in Him. The trouble with this view is that it wrongly makes faith the ground of our salvation. We stand before the throne of God and He asks why He should allow us into His kingdom. We boldly reply, “Because of my faith.” God then answers, “Faith? I love faith! People with faith, that’s just the kind of people I want to have around. By all means, come on in.” This error in the end is faith in faith, which faith will surely not save. It makes the cross gratuitous, which is blasphemy.

A second error turns faith into a work, and therefore rejects it as vital to our salvation. This view rightly recognizes that it is ultimately the finished work of Christ alone that saves. It rightly affirms that a man is justified because his sins were punished at Calvary, and the obedience of Christ is his. This view rightly affirms solus Christus, by Christ alone. In order, however, to fence off the first error, to be certain we don’t look at our faith as meritorious, it denudes faith of its true nature, turning it into bare assent. This view defines saving faith as agreeing to the truthfulness of the gospel message. This error suffers from two key problems. First, in diminishing the nature of saving faith to bare assent it leaves room even for, in principle, the demons. James says even the demons believe, and shudder (2:19). That is, they know God exists, and hate what they know. It is possible to know something and hate what you know. You can know, you can believe, as the devil himself knows and believes, that Jesus died for sinners, and still not have faith.

The second error here is that it doesn’t solve the problem. If we want to denude faith to be certain it doesn’t turn into a work, how does assent not become a work? Just as with true saving faith I am the one believing, trusting, resting, so even if it is mere assent I am the one assenting. In short, if faith is a work, why isn’t assent a work?

We avoid both problems when we embrace the wisdom of our fathers, the Westminister Divines. In their Shorter Catechism they ask, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” and answer, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the gospel” (question 86). Faith is not a work on two counts. First, it is a gift from God. It is not just received by grace, but is a grace. Faith is something God gives to us. On our own it is not possible, for we are dead in our trespasses and sins. And note that our faith has a specific object- as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Second, faith, by its nature, is passive. We rest; we do not work. We receive; we do not earn. There is more to resting than mere assent, but there is not more work. Indeed there is no work at all, just resting and receiving the very ground of our salvation- the work of Christ for us.

Rest. Receive. And rejoice.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Well Enough to Complain

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When we are in fear for our lives, there is precious little we aren’t willing to go through to make it out alive. We will endure long hardship. We will put up with humiliating procedures. We will grit our teeth through pain. We will bite bullets, all hoping to get to that place where the worry will subside, and we can move forward knowing we’re going to be okay. At which point we go back to normal; we begin again to grumble against the smallest irritants, buck against the simplest requests and refuse the mildest indignities.

This is precisely where my bride and I found ourselves. Literally thousands of friends and strangers have faithfully prayed for her after she was diagnosed with leukemia just six months ago. She went through two intense rounds of chemo, weeks at a time in a hospital room, sundry pokes and proddings. She lost her hair, her stamina, even her blood type, but never her will, nor His grace. No leukemia, however, was present in her system, as far as they could tell. The immediate fear had dissipated, and all we were left with was the irritants.

Then we had to deal with the sundry side effects of steroids. Then there were multiple trips to the doctors each week. Then there were needle sticks, competing diagnoses from different doctors. Then we had just enough strength, peace and confidence to be aggravated by it all.

There is a lesson here. All of us, whether we remember it or not, were once not just sick, but dead. What lay before us wasn’t death, but hell, unending torment. When the Great Physician drew near, when He made us alive, we clung to Him, pled with Him, promised Him- Lord, whatever You want from me I will do. Wherever You want me to be, there I will go. Whatever you ask me to endure, I will see through to the end. We were once still caught up in the fear of what might have been. We were once caught up in joyful gratitude for our rescue. We have, however, grown accustomed to His grace. Now that our feet are on solid ground, oddly we find it all too easy to slip. We take it, and Him, for granted.

Now we expect not just peace with God, and the promise of eternal life, but we expect health, and wealth, and comfort and ease. When these are threatened we do not remember our former promises, nor from whence we have come. Instead we grumble, complain. Instead we act as though something is not right with the world, because we do not have what we want. Instead we are put out, annoyed.

Fighting leukemia is a hard job, even when leukemia is on the ropes. It is bone wearying work. It is, however, work for the living. In like manner, growing in grace and wisdom is a marathon, not a sprint. But only the living run the race. He has given us life. Our calling is to give Him thanks. Our calling is to lay down our complaints, and run like the wind.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Death of Dust

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine

We never seem to believe the Word of God. We are told, “Those who hate Me love death” and we pat God on the back for the lovely metaphor. Next we conclude that those green haired kids with the needles in their faces, in the big city, they certainly hate God. And finally we nod our head that yes indeed those who hate Him will be unhappy in hell for a long time. God did indeed write poetically when He coined those words. But such doesn’t mean He didn’t mean it. Who, first, are those who hate Him? We are, by nature children of wrath. Those who hate Him are not merely the flamboyant sinners, but all those as yet untouched by His redeeming grace. All those who fit in this category not only are due death, not only face death, not only will live in eternal death unless reborn, but, as the text tells us, love death. They love it, embrace it, bath in it and dine on it.

There is an important linguistic connection between culture and dirt, and, not coincidentally, worship. Culture-cultivate-cult. See? It all involves the same thing, the exercise of dominion. Culture, as we have noted before, is religion, or cultus, externalized. It is taking from the dirt and making gifts for our god, whether that god is our Maker or is made by us, and whether those gifts are the eggs we eat for breakfast, or the bread and wine we consume at His table. The cruel truth, at least to those who hate Him, is that even their labors in turn become His. They build houses that we live in, and tend vineyards whose wine we drink.

Which is why their hatred is so tightly linked to death. They cannot ultimately escape the claims of God on their labor by building Babel. If they build it, He will come, and make it a footstool for His comfort. In the end, all they can do is destroy. In the end they cannot replace life with false life, but must replace it with death. Sartre was dead wrong when he suggested that the only real question left was death. What he meant was that death was the only remaining answer.

But even suicide isn’t enough. For when our bodies return to the dust, in the economy of God they feed the life around them. So death requires not only that we shed our own lives, but that we destroy the very fecundity of the dirt, that we sterilize reality until it too dies. Consider the vision of science fiction writers. While there are exceptions, isn’t it odd that the future worlds we are treated too often exhibit a sparseness that bespeaks sterility? Men and women dress like one another. Children are neither seen nor heard. But worse still, the ground is the consistency of fine powder, a dust that gives no life. Once we’re inside, everything is polished chrome. The future’s so bright, I must have been spayed.

In what is perhaps the greatest science fiction novel ever written, C.S. Lewis makes much the same point. That Hideous Strength, the final installment of his space trilogy, includes a fascinating conversation about the battle being waged on the moon. The gleeful Filistrato explains to the incredulous Mark,
“‘Oh, si, intelligent life. Under the surface. A great race, further advanced than we…They have cleaned their world, broken free (almost) from the organic…They are almost free of Nature, attached to her only by the thinnest, finest cord.’
‘Do you mean that all that,’ Mark pointed to the mottled globe of the Moon, ‘is their own doing?’
‘Why not? If you remove all the vegetation, presently you have not atmosphere, no water.’
‘But what was the purpose?’
‘Hygiene. Why should they have their world all crawling with organisms? And specially, they would banish one organism. Her surface is not all you see. There are still surface-dwellers—savages. One great dirty patch on the far side of her where there is still water and air and forests—yes, and germs and death. They are slowly spreading their hygiene over their whole globe. Disinfecting her…This Institute—Dio meo, it is for something better than housing and vaccinations and faster trains and curing people of cancer. It is for the conquest of death: or for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are the same thing…Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by, now we kick her away.’”

This love of death drives the world around us to the fruitless madness of sodomy. It causes them to devour their young through abortion. And, even in the evangelical church, it leads us to poison the ground where our own children might have grown. It is why their entertainment traffics in wanton destruction, and why those children who do survive their tour of duty in the womb gun down their enemies, either in their X-box, or in their school hallway. It is why they mar and disfigure their own bodies, their ever present reminder of the life they hate. It is why they embrace their soma of choice. Ecstasy’s just another word for a temporary snooze.

To be counter-cultural, once again, doesn’t mean wearing the death shroud so that we can fit in. Such merely hides our life under a bushel. Rather let us be a bunch of dirty Christians, a people who are so connected with Him who is the life, that our life shines before men. Let us be a people who have not only succumbed to fecundity, but embraced it, in our homes, in our gardens, at our tables. Let us eat the fat of the land. Let the aroma of our feast drown out the smell of death that surrounds them. Let us cultivate a culture of dirt, of life. This is how we fight our war, by digging our trenches, and there in faith planting the seed. We fight death with life, knowing with joy that death will indeed be swallowed up in victory.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It Was Nice While It Lasted

It is a sure sign that sin messes things up that we keep watching the same boxing match over and over again, between truth and unity. Both sides, of course, insist that they have a deep and abiding love for the other. They shake hands in the center of the ring, go back to their corners, wait for the bell and come out ready to destroy the one they love. In the stands we stand, screaming ourselves hoarse in defense of our favorite.

Until recently unity has been on a hot streak. Charismatics, dispensationalists, YRR, and old school Reformed folk, post-mills and a-mils have managed to work together for the gospel. Blogs and conferences, magazines and books have born much fruit from cross-pollinating. We discovered that our brothers on the other side of this aisle or that do not actually have horns. We remembered that the beauty of what unites us is not only more important, but more potent than the nuances that divide us.

But we should never count out truth, or at least our own version of it. Though it was on the ropes, like Rocky in the last few rounds, truth has shown a rare ability to take a punch, and come back strong. It has moved well past highlighting what separates charismatics from dispensationalists and this Reformed group from that, and has now got each camp engaged in its own civil war. Cessationism versus continuationism, neckties versus t-shirts, beer versus teetotalism have sparked fires that rage inside our own worlds.

So what do we do? Can we get truth and unity to kiss and make up? Only if Christians learn to grow up. We need to not only learn to distinguish between primary and secondary doctrines/practices, we need to learn to value them accurately. Can we both agree that being wrong on baptism is not a damnable heresy, and also affirm that it is an issue that matters? Can I seek to correct my Baptist brothers in a way that speaks to them as brothers who are wrong on an important issue? And can I in turn hear with grace my Baptist brothers as they lovingly seek to correct my error on the issue? Can I be concerned that my charismatic brother is leaving open the door for false prophecy and at the same time understand that he is concerned that I am boxing in the Holy Spirit?

I have an opinion on virtually every issue that is being argued on the internet. I think some positions being espoused are good, sound, biblical. I think others are fallacious, dangerous, and unbiblical. I know that whatever the Bible teaches, that is what’s right and true. And I know the Bible teaches that I am often wrong. It is not Rodney King that asks if we can all get along. It is Jesus asking, in His high priestly prayer (John 17). He is the Truth, and He calls us to unity. That comes in reflecting His character. He, even when He corrects us, is for us. He, even when we are wrong, loves us perfectly. He is lowly in spirit and will not break a bruised reed.

We will not change until we choose our heroes not by how cogently or fiercely they defend our position on this issue or that, but by how much they reflect the grace of Christ whatever their position.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ask RC What is the best way to take criticism?

I wish I could claim ignorance on the question, resulting from having never received any. Failing that, I wish I could say I have mastered how to handle it. The hard truth is that I receive plenty of criticism. Some of it I deserve. Some of it I don’t. All of it is hard to deal with. What follows then isn’t necessarily what I do, but is instead what I think we all ought to do.

First, fight the temptation to assume the criticism is undeserved. If “people” are bad enough to make all manner of false accusations, and they are, and you are a “people, don’t you think “people” including you might also be bad enough to be blind to their own faults? I have faults, plenty of them. Though I may try to conceal them, I fail at that too. So it may just well may be that the ones I am being accused of are the ones I am guilty of.

Second, forget about how the criticism was delivered, and by whom. Because we are sinners we seek to excuse ourselves, justify ourselves, on the basis of the sins of others. I’ve never met anyone who confessed to being rightly fired from a job. I have met plenty who complained, “I’m not upset that they fired me. It’s the way they did it that bothers me.” Properly translated what they really mean is “I’m upset that they fired me.” Remember that God delivered some fairly compelling criticism through an ass once, and unlike flooding the world, He did not promise never to do it again.

Third, even if the motive behind the criticism is the devil trying to discourage you, he is unlikely to do so by making an accusation that has no resemblance to the truth. The devil would never accuse me of having too high a view of my height. The accusation is laughable. He might, however, accuse me of having too high a view of myself. That one sticks.

Fourth, therefore seek to learn from the criticism. Take the time, in a calm and peaceful manner, to explore that truth the criticism might touch on that is a weakness. Don’t diminish, rationalize or deflect. Do seek to learn the most gentle means of correcting others. Do learn your own blind spots.

Fifth, repent and believe the gospel. Know that your heavenly Father knows things about you that are far worse than whatever you are being criticized for. Know that He knows things about you that even you don’t know. He understands the fullness of how far short we all fall. And He calls us to repent. Repent to Him. Repent to your critics. Repent to those you have disappointed. Do it freely and fully, because in believing the gospel we know that the Father who knows us fully loves us fully. Not because we are better than our critics think. Not because we are better than we think. Not because we are better than He thinks. But because Jesus is better, and we are in Him. Our believing of this good news ought not to be so swift that we forget to repent. Our repentance, however, should never overshadow the certainty of His love. Instead it pushes us to the certainty of His forgiveness. It’s hard to stay down in the dumps when you remember how much He loves you.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Now Play Nice

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Every Thought Captive, Vol 6, Issue 4

Now Play Nice

It is bad enough that we are such suckers for the bait and switch. The devil has been playing this gag on us for millennia. We should have learned by now. When the angel comes along and says, “You know, God is love. And what He wants you to do is to love one another,” the devil doesn’t show up on the other shoulder and say, “Love, ah, that’s for fools. What you really need to do is some good hating.” He’s not that dumb. Instead he shows up on our shoulder and says, “Of course, I want nothing more than for you to love everyone. Love is my favorite thing as well. Why, just the other day I was composing a haiku about love. Let’s see here, how did that go? Love one another; If your lover is not there, love the one you’re with.” He fills God’s words with his meanings, and, because we miss the switch, we end up tied in knots.

What is worse, however, is that he sometimes comes along and actually gets us to substitute a whole different word for the good one. He switches not just the meaning, but the word itself. Nice, though Franklin Sanders rightly calls it the cardinal evangelical virtue, is not, I’m afraid, a command from the Bible. God never said, “Whatever else you do, be nice.” Instead it is a command from the culture. (It was Kurt Vonnegut who put into God’s mouth these words, “But da#$^it, you’ve got to be kind.” And like love, it is a command we have allowed the devil to define.

There is only one thing required to be nice, and only one sin against niceness in the culture. You certainly never have to go out of your way and be a neighbor to anyone. You never have to make personal sacrifices of any sort. All you have to do is repeat the mantra of the age, “If that’s the way you see it, that’s fine.” See how non-threatening that is? It allows both of us to keep our pride, to keep our convictions, to keep our sins. And it costs so little. In short, to be nice is always and only to embrace relativism. Once you’ve swallowed this one, nothing else will ever get caught in your throat.

Actually though, you’re only half the way home. You have to study the other half of the nice rulebook, the side they only talk about when they have to. You see, there is one thing that still must stick in your craw. That, of course, is when some blamed fool refuses to play nice, to abide by the rules. When someone says, “It doesn’t matter how I see it, or how you see it, or how a billion Chinese see it. What matters is how God sees it, because He is the one who determines reality. Our job is to get our own perceptions in line with His, which are of necessity true. And all perceptions which do not match His are of necessity false”, you are not nice if you respond with a polite, “If that’s the way you see it, that’s fine.” Here, according to the devil, and he ought to know, the correct, and only nice response is, “Crucify him.”

If you can call all those who don’t abide by the nice rules of relativism mullahs, and terrorists and Nazis and threats to our way of life and fanatics who must be hunted down like rabid dogs, then you earn that most coveted of sobriquets, “Nice.” It’s not enough to be relatively relativist. You must be absolutely relativist. It’s not enough to have some humility about your or my convictions. You must arrogantly assume that all convictions, by their very nature, must be false. As a nice relativist you must be absolutely certain that any and all absolutists must be stopped, no matter what the cost. Otherwise you may as well be a fellow-traveler with those who just aren’t nice.

It’s important for us to remember this the next time we feel the sting of the accusation that we somehow aren’t nice. The answer isn’t to protest, to get out our relativist credentials, and show how up to date they are. Our response the next time some syndicated columnist tries to connect the dots between us and Osama is to say, “If the objection is that both of us affirm objective truth, objective right and wrong, we’re flat guilty.” If the reason Islam is hated is not because it is false, but because it simply claims to be true, we ought to be in a panic that we as Christians aren’t the most hated group on the planet. If the powers that be insist on hanging all those who reject relativism, then our calling is to charge the gallows, not to tear them down, but to place our own necks in the noose of the not nice.

We can’t play nice with those who define niceness this way. We cannot keep both their rules, and the rules of Him whom we say we serve. When Jesus said, “If you confess me before men…” He didn’t mean standing up at some flag pole and saying, “This is what Jesus means to me…” When Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake”, He didn’t mean that we should do everything we can do to change their word, nice, into one that we can affirm, and act upon. He didn’t mean that we should tone down His exclusive claims so that we can wear our nice pins to the nice meetings. He meant we will be blessed when they throw us out.

If we will serve Him our goal ought never to be that when we are gone they say of us, “You know, that so and so sure was nice.” The epitaph we should seek for our grave marker should be Faithful. Instead what needs to be buried is the virtue they call nice, that the name of Christ might live on in the west.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ask RC: In tough economic times, what ought Christians to do?

There is certainly a biblical injunction that we discern the times. God calls us to do this, however, not so we will know the right move to make at the right time, but so that we will remember what the right move always was. Circumstances don’t change our calling, though they can wake us up to our calling. Such is the case here.

Christians should do what Christians are always called to do. First, we should be looking to our own sin. Why is that that Christians are up in arms politically during a time of shocking deficits, high unemployment and a moribund real estate market, but have been comparatively content over almost forty years of abortion on demand? What does that say about us and our priorities?

The obvious answer is this- money is an idol to us. We think because money seems to be even more important to Gordon Gekko, or Donald Trump, that we are therefore free from seeing it as an idol. We think that having less than somebody else is proof we’re not greedy. But when what we have, whether large or small, is threatened by hard times we find out what a priority wealth is to us.

Money becomes an idol less when we simply want more, and more when we look to it as God. To the Gordon Gekkos of the world, money is their reason for being, and in that way is a god. To us, however, it is our security, and therefore is a god.

It is a good and wise thing to consume less than you produce, to save and invest. And it hurts when our savings take a hit from inflation, and our investments suddenly drop in value. But in good times and bad we are to remember that Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” When James warns us against thinking we can simply plan our future profits- "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow (James 4: 13-14) he is not only talking about travel plans. A perfectly fitting application in our day might be, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will invest in our 401k, buy and sell, and make a profit.’” Sufficient unto the day is the bread thereunto. And He is our provider, not Morgan Stanley.

What we need to do then is to ask God to provide for us, and to trust that He will. His provision may not match our daydreams. It may not match what we think of as normal. But He will provide. What we need to do is to not spend more than we make. What we need to do is pay, joyfully, our tithes, if only as a confession that we do indeed trust Him to provide our daily bread. What we need to do is to love our neighbor, not ask the state to tax him to finance our plans. What we need to do is go to bed confident that we are living a godly life, while praying for the peace of Babylon. What we need to do is what we have always needed to do.

God is, as always, sending judgment to a nation that thinks it can forget Him, that thinks it can borrow its way to prosperity. That judgment will touch and is touching our lives. But we are safe in the palm of the scarred hand of Jesus. His wrath is not aimed at us for that was spent 2000 years ago. Whatever is coming it will not undo His promises to us. Invest in the gold streets of the New Heavens and the New Earth, where neither rust, nor moth nor thieves, not politicians can enter. Not only is it the safest investment you can make, but it will also have the greatest return.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Encouraging One Another

I write, but I also read. The two actually go hand in hand. To read only is to be a wisdom vortex, to take in but never breathe out. To write only is to embrace the folly that wisdom ends with you. Without drinking deeply of the wisdom of others we will soon become clouds without rain. As a writer I am well acquainted with the temptations that come to writers. We are easily discouraged. We think we are speaking into the wind, that no one is hearing us. As a reader, however, I have the great privilege of hearing. I get to see God at work in the lives of others as they receive wisdom from the Spirit, and then pass it along to the rest of us. For what it’s worth, my internet reading tends to begin with the wisdom of David and Tim Bayly at Baylyblog. It includes the insights of my friend Lane Keister and his friends at Green Baggins. I also benefit from reading the insights from the sundry contributors at Pyromaniacs. Tim Challies and Doug Phillips are likewise among my favorites.

Were one to construct a theological continuum one would see a fairly clear distinction between the Bayly Brothers and the Pyromaniacs. Though there is of course overlap and continuity, one would see a rather yawning gap between Doug Phillips and Lane Keister. What one would find in common among all these men is a commitment to be in submission to the Word of God. This, I pray, is where I aspire to intersect with all this diversity.

What history has shown us is that we cannot rightly measure commitment to the plain teaching of God’s Word on the basis of one’s conclusions. One can both reach the right conclusions for the wrong reasons, and, though this might be slightly more difficult, the wrong conclusions for the right reasons. That is, some may have a deep passion for God’s Word, but still end up parroting the wisdom of their heroes. There is no body of conclusions that come equipped with some kind of organic seal of approval- All conclusions reached here can be traced clearly to the perspicuous Word of God. Sin always gets in our way.

The hard reality is that the more we grasp the sinfulness of man the more we must watch for the sinfulness of those we hope will teach us wisdom. We are indeed all sinners, which explains why even the most pious among us take wrong turns theologically. But even those who take wrong turns know and teach that the Bible is the map. And what that map always shows us, not surprisingly, is our own sin.

Which means that the ones we ought to be listening to are those who are least likely to tell us what to think, who are most likely to tell us where to look. Those who speak, who write about their own sin, those are the ones who have been given wisdom. Those, on the other hand, who are most quick to point out the sins of others, that is where we need a godly skepticism. Sinners speak of their own sin and God’s grace and pronounce peace. The proud, on the other hand, speak of the sins of others and pronounce judgment. In short, where the gospel shows its impact is where we see ourselves. Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Welcome To the Machine

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Every Thought Captive, Volume 5, Issue 1

It may be a sign that we are in a technological age that we tend to equate technology with machines, but technology is not just about machines. Technology includes in its range of meaning the entire idea of techniques. Human technology need not refer to mechanical pacemakers, but instead can refer to the systems by which we bring about changes in humans. Both a ten-ton bottle-capping machine and an insightful question are tools. One keeps a bottle of soda from spilling and going flat on the way to market; the other, one hopes, provides insights toward spiritual growth. The difficulty is when we begin to see our friends, families and our churches as an assembly line of bottles, in need of the right cap.

Much of the wise criticism that has been made against the church over the last ten to twenty years falls into one of two jeremiads. Sometimes we chasten the church for succumbing to that spirit of the age that we call the therapeutic revolution. Other times we chasten the church for bedding down a different spirit of the age that we call the managerial revolution. In the former the church exists to soothe the tender spirits of the congregants, to keep the pop from losing its fizz, with a dose of pop-psychology. In the latter the spiritual CEO organizes the troops and motivates them until they become an efficient ministry, what else? Machine. These two models for the church share two things in common. First, they are utterly unbiblical. Second, they are both technologically minded. They see the church, and its members, as products to be manipulated to bring about a desired end.

The Bible never describes the church in these technological terms. Never is the church called that which guides the soul toward health, nor that which provides the greatest efficiency for the building of the kingdom. The Bible has all sort of analogies for the church, none of them technological. Instead each of them is organic. The church is not a set of gears and levers, a clockwork orange. Rather it is a set of limbs and appendages, or as Paul describes it in I Corinthians, a body. Of course that might not steer us completely clear of our problem. We’re so technological that we have come even to think of God’s great gift of our own bodies as yet another machine to be tweaked to maximize efficiency. We see our parts as parts, and miss the holiness of the whole.

Paul has another image for us, however, that is hard to reduce to something made down at the machine shop. Paul says that we are, the church as a whole, bride of Christ. Brides are not given to technology. I’m not saying that tools are a man thing, and ladies should stand clear. Rather I’m saying that when we think bride, we necessarily think in organic and not in machine terms. No one says as the bride walks the aisle, “Mercy, look at the torque she’s able to handle with her medial collateral ligaments.” No one says to the bride, “You know, that veil of yours is not ergonomically designed for the giving of a kiss. Why not leave it off?” No one brings a stopwatch to measure the bride’s time in getting up the aisle. A bride is not meant to be efficient, but to be beautiful.

We will not, however, ever read a church bulletin that reads, “First Community Church By the Freeway’s purpose is to look really, really nice for Jesus.” Or, “Our first priority here at Our Lady of the Perpetual Committee Non-Denominational International Family Center is to clean ourselves up good for the wedding day.” That, however, is the health and the business of the church. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be proclaiming the good news, or that we must cease and desist from visiting the sick. I’m not saying we can never have a church picnic for the sake of fellowship, or never deliver turkeys to the poor. Instead we do these things, all that we do, in order to make us more beautiful as a bride. We are not a machine that needs to be honed, but a bride that needs to be beautified. That’s what the Groom has not only called us to do, but what He is doing in us.

That’s not all though. Brides do far more, though never less, than look their best. We are indeed a trophy to our Lord, but we are more. Brides have other callings as well, the first of which is to love and to honor the Groom. The problem with machines is that they lack heart, something the church must cultivate. We are to grow in our love of Christ, to love Him more daily not with our gears and our levers, but with our hearts and souls, minds and strengths. That’s why we study Him and His Word, why we meet Him at His table. That is why our preachers preach His glory, to fill our hearts with sincere affections.

That we are a bride is a given. We were made for such. And so when we take a technological approach to our calling, we turn our Groom into a machine. He is not a machine. He is not a tool by which, if we punch in the right code, we can have happy, successful, well-ordered lives. He is not a means, which is all tools are to some other end. Instead our Groom is the end. He is our delight and our joy, not because of what He has done, what He now does, or because of what He will do, but because of what He is.

He will succeed. He will, because our Groom is altogether sovereign in authority and in power, get us to see what He has already told us, that we are His spotless bride. And when we see it, maybe then we will be spotless, besmirched with neither grease, nor sin.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Careful Indifference

I understand why tans are considered attractive, a sign of health. They communicate, at least to the subconscious mind, that the tanned person has been outside a great deal, perhaps working, perhaps exercising, but in some way active. But is it a lie to seek to communicate that message by a. lying down at the beach or worse b. lying in a tanning bed or worst c. smearing on a liquid tan? In like manner I understand that there are people out there that are too blasé to be bothered with fixing their hair. But what does it say about a person who spends time and money carefully trying to make his hair look careless? Just the right cut, just the right shampoo, just the right gel rightly applied, all to say, “Too cool to care.”

Underneath many of these purposefully shaggy heads we find faded and torn blue jeans. Which might bring us back to the tan. That is, don’t torn jeans suggest that the wearer has been out on the farm working hard to earn bread from the land, that the wearer isn’t so much too cool to care, but is too earnest to care? Don’t ripped jeans say, “Been out plowing the back forty. That’s the kind of guy I am.”? Not if the type of guy you are is the one who gets his tears pre-fabbed in his jeans that he buys at the mall.

Put these things together and we get the authentic look, which can be yours with a simple swipe of the credit card down at the Galleria. The bizarre thing is that this is no secret. We all know where to get a tan. We all know how to muss up our hair. We all know where to buy torn jeans. No one is buying it, despite everyone buying it.

Of course the same is true for those of an older generation. Clean cut hair, well preserved clothes, pasty white skin also communicate a message- I’m mature, responsible and well behaved.” But maturity, responsibility and good behavior don’t actually come from khakis and button down collars any more than sincerity, authenticity and “edginess” come from torn jeans and Jesus tats. The irony, however, is that the uniform of the company man is actually more care-free than the rebel. No man needs to apply mousse to part his hair on the side. No man needs to tear a hole in the knees of his khakis.

The reality is that we are what we are, not what we wear. We can lie with our clothes both about our indifference, and our character. Clothes do carry a message. We ought to want them to speak honestly, rather than to earn us a reputation we don’t deserve. That we fail, however, is why the clothing that matters most is the clothing we can’t see. Liars like us would be doomed, were it not for the righteousness of Christ that covers us. We are neither authentic nor respectable. We are instead phonies, who are saved by grace.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ask RC: Are There Carnal Christians?

"Are there carnal Christians- ones who profess to believe and go
immediately back to their old life, who never show evidence
regeneration having taken place?"

Yes, there are “carnal” Christians, but no, there are no Christians who never show evidence of regeneration having taken place. The notion that a person could truly embrace the saving work of Christ while not embracing His Lordship is a pernicious error made most popular by Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ. The “scholarly” support for this distorted perspective has come from Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges both of whom taught at the dispensational mecca of Dallas Theological Seminary.

This idea has any number of problems. First and foremost is that it divides Christ. It is all well and good to distinguish between the three-fold office of Christ, affirming that He is prophet, priest and king. It is another thing altogether to suggest that one can truly embrace one part of that formula, while passing over another. To embrace the Christ who saves as savior but to reject the Christ who reigns as Lord is to divide Christ.

This notion, secondly, deeply misunderstands how it is that we even come to embrace the saving work of Christ. Because we are, by nature, children of wrath, we are unable, in ourselves, to embrace anything of the work of Christ. Before we can come to Him He must change us first. God the Holy Spirit must change our heart before we can come to faith. This is regeneration, which does not flow from our faith but is the source of our faith. If we have been given a new heart, if our inclination is no longer only toward sin, if we are not only changed by but indwelt by the Spirit, how could we help from growing in grace? He has not only forgiven us, but is cleansing us from all sin (I John 1:9).

Third, this notion cuts off the legs of our assurance. While understanding and affirming the biblical doctrine of God’s saving grace is a critical part of our assurance, it is not enough. The demons, after all, know that Jesus lived a perfect life for us, that He died as a substitute for us, receiving the wrath of the Father due to us for our sins. Our assurance is grounded in our embracing the true gospel, and our changed lives. What sets believers apart from demons and false professors of the true faith is that we are indeed changed. We are not without sin, but we are changed.

Which brings us back to the reality of carnal Christians. The term itself comes from Paul’s admonition to the church at Corinth that the believers there are “carnal.” Do carnal Christians exist? Of course they do. We’re all carnal. That is, we still struggle against our sin nature. We still sin. In that sense all believers are carnal. We are changed by the work of the Spirit, but we are not complete. We are not without sin. Our standard then is not “Am I perfect?” for then no one would qualify as a believer. Instead it is “Am I getting better?” I still struggle against sin. Did I not struggle, were I comfortable with my sin, I would be a carnal “Christian.” That I struggle demonstrates that I am a “carnal” Christian. It is a subtle difference from one perspective. From another it is the difference between eternal life and death.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What Hath God Wrought?

FROM THE ARCHIVES: ETC Volume 5, Number 1

It is still dark out this morning, but I’ve already begun a productive day. The fire is burning in the next room, the light bulb burns above me giving me light. I have cut one columnist down to size, at least the articles he’s written for the next two issues of Tabletalk. Having done so I have set my Macintosh computer to work in sending the finished articles down to my comrades in Orlando, while on my PC, I write the last article for the next issue of Every Thought Captive. (By the way, lest you think I’ve gone corporate, I also just finished a breakfast of toast made from Denise’s home ground, home made bread.) I’m feeling good, feeling strong, everything is just whipping along. Oh, “I’ve got mail.” Isn’t technology grand?

Technology this morning gives me a feeling of power. I am master of all I survey. I send this here and it goes. I retrieve that from there, and it comes. I push buttons and behold my thoughts appear on the screen. I’ve got it all under control, unless something goes wrong. That feeling of mastery can dissipate faster than the early morning darkness. All it takes is for the cursor to stop blinking, or for one of those weird messages to pop up on my screen- Warning- Assymtotic cobol error number 4- and I’m suddenly Superman drowning in a pool of kryptonite. Technological hubris is not the exclusive domain of genetic scientists and nuclear physicists. It happens to all of us when we pridefully assume that we have it all under control. And it happens perhaps most frequently where technology intersects with our families.

There is probably no greater life-changing event than the arrival of a child. Jobs change often. That big mortgage we signed, it is on a house that will one day be rubble. But children last forever. Not a one of us would hesitate to burn our homes down or take a job cleaning sewers if it would keep our children alive. And nothing makes us more flummoxed, makes us feel more helpless than the birth of a helpless newborn. This week Shannon and Delaney have been sick, and sick in the most disgusting ways. I want to make them well, but instead all I can do is hold them with one hand, and hold a pot in front of them with the other. I am helpless against the invisible bug that assaults them. Even the doctors tell us, “Just wait, and they’ll get over it.”

This helplessness too often does not cure us of our pride. God humbles us, but we are not humbled. If we can’t manage them when they come, at least, we reason, we can manage when, or if, they come. The geniuses down at Dow Chemical have put in our hands the power over life and death. Or so we think. Sometimes, by the grace of God, our technology of death fails us, and God gifts us with a helpless baby. Sometimes, in the judgment of God, our technology of life fails us, and we learn the hard way that we never had it under control. Sometimes He rewards our assumption that we are in charge, that we have the power of life in us, by giving us charge, and letting us fail.

What would our forefathers have thought had they known that the blessings of their blessings would one day schedule the arrival of blessings as if they were bottles of milk left on the stoop? “We figure that we’ll spend a few years after the wedding getting to know each other, just the two of us [the Christian equivalent of shacking up] and working so we can save money for a house. Then we’ll have our first child, and when he turns four, then we’ll start working on the next. If at that point we have one of each we’ll probably just quit, and then, five years after that I can go back to work. If they’re the same, we’ll wait three years and try again.” God will not be mocked. He who opens and closes the womb will not take orders from yuppie brides.

One thing we miss in our technological age is this wisdom, that life is a profound mystery. Almost daily I find myself staring at one of my children, and wondering, “How did this happen? Once this person, the object of my love, was not. And now there will never again be a time when he will not be.” There was a point in time when my children began, but there will be no time when they end. It did not happen because of chemical reactions, though God may have used them. It did not happen because of the marital act, though God may have used that. It happened because God made it happen. No pill, no barrier, not even abstinence can make it stop, if God has willed it. And no charts, no petri dishes, no thermometers can open a womb, if God has not willed it.

Children are the most tangible, tactile evidence of the work of God that we will ever see on this green earth. They are a constant reminder of our own weakness, our own dependence, because we are His children. And they are a constant reminder of His great strength, His power, His authority, and His grace. We are not due the blessings He sends. But we are called to worship and thank Him for sending them, to acknowledge the Giver, and neither try to refuse His gifts, nor try to wrench them from His hand. We are His children, and not the masters of all we survey. Rather we are servants of the Master, who made and controls all that He surveys, whether it is a smoothly running computer, or a cranky Macintosh, whether it is a closed or a fruitful womb. Let us honor Him by staying out of His way, by acknowledging His absolute authority, and trusting Him to do that which honors Him, and sanctifies us.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Says Who?

Main steam media tags the Norwegian killer as a Christian, and Christians, naturally object. What, I wonder, do our objections say about us? First, is it really inconceivable that this man is a Christian? It may be unlikely. And I may not like it. But I fear our objections run flat into our confession. We are sinners. We are capable of all manner of sin. Are we not betraying a Pelagian sensibility if we protest, “Well, we’re sinners. But not like THAT!!” I know a man who was a believer. He was well respected, and served God’s people in a position of visible leadership. He wrote some of the most beloved songs that are still sung among God’s people. While he was a believer he started an adulterous relationship. To keep himself from being caught he murdered the woman’s husband. Could such a man be a Christian? Well, God says he, David, was God’s own friend.

Do Christians commit murder? Of course they do. Is there some magic number, somewhere between one and a hundred where we can draw a line? I think not. Christians do not, however, murder freely, continuously, without repentance. They do not give themselves over to their sins. If they do, they no longer commit such sins, but practice them, showing their profession to be less than credible. Remember that, quite apart from the reality that we are all guilty of unjustified anger against our brothers, it is likely that your church has a number of saints who have murdered- some aborting their babies, others encouraging their wives, daughters, girlfriends to abort their babies.

Which brings us to the second point. What happens when we define a Christian as broadly as “One who professes to be a Christian?” Who are we to say this man is not a Christian? The better, the more historic question is, “Who is he to say that he is?” The credibility of a person’s profession of faith did not used to and should not ever rest in the one making the profession. Rather it belongs with those who hold the keys, with the elders of the local church. Where are the elders that are ready to stand up and say, “This man is a Christian, as far as we can tell”? There are no such elders, because he is under no such authority.

Those who object to the accuracy of the man’s profession then had better embrace a more robust ecclesiology than we are used to in our day. Without a body of elders who know you, who are in authority over you, how is your profession any better than this man’s? The loosey-goosey I-have-a-love-for-Jesus-in-my-heart, why should I need to join a church is a-historical, unbiblical and rebellious. If you cannot name the elders who will have to give answer for your soul- see Hebrews 13:17 and I Peter 5:7) then why would anyone feel compelled to accept your profession? Is a “Christian” who will accept no authority, in principle, any worse than a “Christian” who commits mass murder?

Would we not be more faithful Christians were we to confess that we too are capable of murder? Would we not profess more accurately, were we to confess that there but for the grace of God go we? Would we not confess the Lord, were we to profess that He redeems killers just like us? Would we not more confess the blood of Christ if we acknowledged His body, the church?