Sermon Question

canstockphoto5414832I got this question after the sermon “God’s Rescue Plan” on the history of the city of Jericho.  In Joshua 6, the city was cursed because of sin, but the story actually shows not just judgment but a recurring picture of God’s plan for salvation and rescue through Jesus.

 

 

Q:  When talking about how Elijah’s ultimate successor was Jesus, you referenced the end of Malachi and how Elijah would return preparing the way for Jesus, and how Elijah returned in the form of John the Baptist.  I’d never heard this before. Could you explain for me where this comes from, or at least where to go so I can learn more about this connection?

A:  The Elijah prophecy is from the last verses of the Old Testament — Malachi 4:5-6, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

This prophecy finds its fulfillment in the coming of John the Baptist according to Matthew 17:11-13, “Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.  But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.  In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.”

You can also see Luke 1:17, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Blessings,

Jim

Giving An Account

canstockphoto5414832I received an email recently with a question I am asked a lot.  A summary of the question is:

The Bible says we are seen in God’s righteousness (Phil. 3) but I don’t know how to make sense of that idea with verses about how we will one day give an account for our actions (Heb. 4:13, Matt. 12:36, Rom. 14:12). It sounds like God sees us as clean and separates our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) but then remembers it all again in the end which doesn’t sound like he actually sees us as clean, or perhaps we’re allowed to wear God’s righteousness, but only until judgment.

Here was my response:

On judgment day, we will have to give an account – for the good things that we have done.  As for the sins, they will show up as simply blanks.  Anything bad is removed, but there won’t be any corresponding good.  For example, if a person spends 10 years of her life living in adultery but confesses her sin to God, on judgment day that adultery will not show up.  But those 10 years will be essentially blank of good deeds and therefore there won’t be any reward.  That time will appear wasted.  In that sense, she will be held accountable for not having done good during that time, but her sins won’t be revisited.  He truly has forgotten them and removed them from us.

Jim

Exercise in Gratitude

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On Sunday, we discovered the way to avoid selling our inheritance for a bowl of soup is to “be thankful” (Hebrews 12:28).

I gave you several questions to help guide us towards thanksgiving.  We went through them fairly quickly so I am posting them on the blog so you can take time to reflect again.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I did the list exactly the same in every service so it may look slightly different from your notes.

Questions to help us appreciate God:

  1. How did God come find you?  How did he pursue and rescue you?
  2. Where would you be if God hadn’t rescued you?  What would your life look like without the Spirit?
  3. What are the things since you became a Christian that God has forgiven you for?
  4. What are the current blessings in your life?
  5. Who are other people in your life that you have seen God rescue and transform?
  6. How has God been with you, especially in suffering?
  7. How has God healed you – physically, spiritually and/or emotionally?
  8. How have your experienced the discipline of God?
  9. What are the ways that God has blessed you through your involvement at Calvary or other churches?
  10. What are specific prayers that God has answered?
  11. What are the things you are most looking forward to in God’s kingdom?

Thankfulness and gratitude help us keep our eyes on Jesus, which is the theme of the song A Mighty Fortress, that we sang at the beginning of the service.  Here it is again to encourage you on your journey of gratitude this week.

Blessings,

Jim

Hebrews 5:11-6:12

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Today’s sermon raised a number of questions. I am glad because it allows us to continue to wrestle with what God is saying in Hebrews 5:11-6:12. It also helps me to think through ways I can be more clear when I preach.

Let me begin by stating that I believe in eternal security. Once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. I affirmed that doctrine in the sermon when talking about the “in/out” language of being born again, adopted, forgiven, justified, redeemed and united with Christ. Once someone has been born again, they cannot be un-born again. Once they have been adopted into God’s family, they will never be un-adopted. That’s the doctrine of eternal security.

But that was not the focus of this week’s sermon because it is not the focus of Hebrews 5:11-6:12.

There is another related doctrine that people sometimes confuse with eternal security and that is the doctrine of assurance of salvation.

  • Eternal security holds that if you are a Christian (from God’s point of view), you cannot lose your salvation.
  • Assurance of salvation is concerned with whether you or I can know that we are Christians (from our point of view).

Being a Christian and knowing that you are a Christian are two different things, although they are usually connected.

The doctrine of assurance of salvation fits better with the journey, sports, agricultural and maturity metaphors. It is viewing salvation not from God’s point of view but from ours.

From our point of view, someone who does not continue to end of their journey with Jesus will not make it to the final destination of heaven: not because they lost their salvation but because they never truly had it in the first place. 1 John 2:19 makes this point. John Calvin formulated it this way: how do you know if someone is a Christian? If they persevere to the end.

If you abandon Jesus and the journey of faith you are demonstrating that you are not genuinely born again.

Don’t genuine believers sometimes wander away from Jesus for a season? Absolutely. But, you know that a person is a genuine believer if he or she comes back. If a person doesn’t come back, you cannot know whether they are a genuine Christian.

In the sermon I said if you have loved ones that have walked away from God, I do not want to give you false hope.  I do not want to simply tell you that if your loved ones made a profession of faith when they were younger then those individuals will be fine. But what I do believe is that “God is not unjust.” He will do the right thing. If they are genuinely believers by faith, they will end up in heaven, even though they walked away. If they were never believers, they won’t.

But if someone is not currently journeying with Jesus, then neither you nor I can know whether that person is a Christian or not. And so our job is not to give false assurance but to warn them – if they do not keep going with Jesus they will not get to their destination (not because they lost their salvation, but because they are giving evidence that they are not actually saved).

But here’s the additional point to be made from Hebrews. If you go and read Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:12-14, 10:26-31, 12:25 and 5:11-6:12 you will not find any discussion about eternal security. You will not even find a discussion like what is found in 1 John 2:19 about how people who turn away from Jesus were not believers in the first place. What you will find are warnings not to walk away from Jesus. These verses are meant to frighten people who call themselves Christians (also see Matt 7:21-23; John 15; Romans 11:17-22; 1 Cor 9:27-10:12; James 2:14-26). If we preach these passages in such a way that they don’t frighten us, then we have not preached them correctly.

The author of Hebrews believes in eternal security. But he understands that people who are constantly fed a diet of “once-saved/always saved” can draw from it an incorrect inference, namely if I pray to receive Christ it doesn’t matter what I do from that point on. I realize that it is a difficult tension, but we have to let the Word of God speak in all its complexities without using one passage to silence another.

Scripture both affirms that “even if we are faithless, he is still faithful because he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13) and “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

I know that we want to hear just the eternity security passages, especially if we have a loved one who once professed faith but now no longer does so. But we should not silence the truth of Hebrews. While I have seen God use 2 Timothy 2:13 to bring comfort to believers, I have also watched him – just this morning in fact – use the real, bona fide warnings of Hebrews to bring people who were wandering from the faith back to him.

Blessings,
Jim

Girls Night Thank You

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Thank you for everyone that came to the Girls Night.  It was really encouraging to see so many friends.

Even though I was not able to answer all the questions that were submitted, I felt God allowed us to talk about the things that he had for us that night.

Several of you have asked for more information — especially related to two of the questions.

Question One

In response to a question about how Jim and I maintain our marriage, I said one topic I believe is vital to the discussion of cultivating good marriages is the importance of a healthy intimate relationship.  The church often does a great job of speaking about the boundaries of sexual intimacy before marriage but sometimes fails to provide support and encouragement to couples after marriage.

Sex is not the most important aspect of a marriage relationship but it is a central part of what it means to be married.  While God designed the gift of sex to be the “super glue” of relationships (see Jim’s sermon, “Sex in Marriage” from the 2009 series Like Christ:  Think. Love. Live.), it is a gift that takes work, sacrifice and time.  It is a gift that changes over the course of a marriage, and because sex reflects the core of who we are as women it often involves working through issues of how we view ourselves.

IssueOne good resource is Intimate Issues: 21 Questions Christian Women Ask About Sex by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus.

These women candidly discuss the emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of sex from a strong biblical basis.

Even though this book is helpful, don’t face this issue alone.   Pray for a friend or mentor that you can openly, but appropriately, discuss these issues so that Satan doesn’t end up manipulating God’s good gift for great harm.

 

Question Two

Sensible-Shoes-IVP-coverIf you are only able to read one book this year (although I would like to add the caveat to please, please read more than one book this year!!), my recommendation was Sensible Shoes:  A Story about the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown.

The book is a fictional account of four women, Hannah, Meg, Mara and Charissa, who do not know each other before God brings them to the shore of Lake Michigan to take them on a spiritual journey over the course of several Saturdays.

When we talk about spiritual disciplines, it can sometimes be confusing and overwhelming to know where to start.  Brown does a beautiful job of weaving together the successes, failures and heartbreaks of these four characters in a way that also provides a look at how the spiritual disciplines can allow God to transform us.

Brown also provides tools to help the reader learn along with the characters practices such as lectio divina, prayer of examen, wilderness prayer, praying with imagination and rule of life.   If these sound overwhelming or non-traditional, the book is a gentle guide to help you.

Sensible Shoes would also be worth reading and working through with a group of friends.

You can find out more about the book at sensibleshoesclub.com.

Thanks again for a fun evening together.

All is well,

Lisa

Made in God’s Image

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I received this question recently in regard to John 4:24, which tells us that “God is spirit.”

The question was, “We are struggling with the idea that ‘we are made in his own image.’ How can we reconcile this?”

My response — When we say we are made in God’s image we are most likely not referring to our physical appearance.  Rather we are referring to the fact that humans have personality, the ability to think and create, the ability to love and be loved, the ability to praise, the ability to remember, etc.

In other words it is the more “spiritual” aspects of our being that we think come from being made in God’s image.  That is why when humans create a robot that looks human it is not made in the image of God even when it physically looks like a human.

If there is some aspect of our physical appearance that is made in God’s image, then it would have to be after the pattern of Jesus’ incarnational body.  Jesus’ body would have been planned by God for him to have before the beginning of time, since God the Father doesn’t have a physical body for humans to be patterned after.

Blessings,

Jim

Is God Male?

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During the sermon on Mother’s Day, I made the point that God is neither male nor female. Therefore, it is appropriate to think about the things we receive from the Lord that we often associate with mothers – things like tender loving care, compassion, understanding and sacrificial love.

While most people agreed with this point, the comment that God is neither male nor female raised a few questions. Let me try to answer a few of them.

The Bible describes God in masculine terms, using the designation “Father” and “He” to refer to God. However, “masculine” and “male” are two different things. A woman may have masculine tendencies but that does not make her a male. Likewise, God is described using masculine language, but that does not make him a male.

Because God is not human, he is neither male nor female. Male and female are categories that apply to humans and animals, not to God. They are distinctions based primarily on differences in our physical bodies and God does not have a physical body. This is why Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God’s image is equally reflected in males and females because he is neither male nor female.

So while we say that God is described using masculine language, we do not think that He is a male.

But what about Jesus? Here the answer changes. When the Bible refers to God, it is usually referring to God the Father. So when I say that God is not male nor female, I mean that God the Father is not male or female. Jesus, however, in his human nature is very truly a male. And because his human nature and his divine nature are one, it is fair to say that God the Son is a male. However, this does not make God the Father or God the Spirit males anymore than Jesus being a human makes them human.

But how did Jesus become a male if God is not male? When the Holy Spirit came on Mary, he did not impregnate her in the way that men impregnate women. He formed Jesus within her womb, using her DNA as part of the process. But it is not as if Mary contributed the X chromosome and the Holy Spirit contributed the Y chromosome as if somehow the Holy Spirit was the male in the process. Rather, Jesus was created male just like Adam was created male. In order for Jesus to become human he must be either male or female and God the Father chose for Jesus to be incarnated as a male and so the Holy Spirit caused that to happen – just as happened when Adam was created as a male person apart from God contributing any DNA to the process.

I hope this helps clarify some of the questions raised by my statement that God is neither male nor female.

Blessings,
Jim

Prayer Suggestions

Sunday was an important reminder about the power of prayer from the life of Hannah in 1 Samuel.

Some people have asked me how they could get started on improving their prayer life. Here are some steps that I would recommend:

1.  Ask God to teach you to pray!  This may seem strange, but the one thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray.  And Jesus took it upon himself to answer that prayer and to teach them.  We are able to do the same thing today. If you ask God to teach you to pray, he will.

2. Type out your prayers.  This may not work for everyone, but I have found that writing out my prayers takes too long, but simply trying to think my prayers goes too fast (and my brain is all over the place).  Typing out my prayers is a happy medium.  It slows my brain down and allows me to engage more fully in prayer.

3.  Pray in paragraphs.  One of the most influential things on prayer I read was a sermon by Charles Spurgeon called “Order and Argument in Prayer.”  In his sermon, Spurgeon made the point that if you are going into the throne room to ask God for something – come prepared.  Lay out a good argument and present it in an orderly manner, just like you would if you were asking your boss for raise.  This has helped bring structure to my prayer life.  When it is time to pray for my children, I think through what I want to ask God for each child as well as why I am asking for that request.  After all, Hannah has thought long and hard about the vow she made to God – give me a son and I will give him back to you. She is giving God her best argument as to why God should answer her prayer.

4.  Pray a psalm.  Open your Bible to the Psalms and start reading until you find one that seems to be addressed to you and your situation. Or, pray through one each day.  Type the lines from the psalm as headers in your prayers and then react to each line.  Tell the Lord how you feel.  Ask him questions about things you don’t understand.  Thank him for the things in the psalm that reveal something to you about God and his grace to us.

There are other things that I could suggest, but these seem like a good first few steps to getting started. What questions might you have about being more serious about prayer that I could answer here?

Blessings,

Jim

Blog Question

Blog Question

The following question was asked online:

Is it possible that the person who committed the murders in Colorado acted without demonic influence? When human beings exhibit total disdain for life isn’t that an obvious sign of demonic influence?  Is there a book that could be written by someone like this shooter called, “Satan Told Me”?

On Sunday we talked about five categories of sin that demonstrate the presence of Satan and open us up to his control. One of those categories was sins of the will, by which I meant defiant disobedience, rebellion and anger.  We talked about suicide in this category. We could have included “total disdain for life” as you have indicated.

In Genesis 4:6-7, as Cain is contemplating the first murder, God says to him: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

God was warning Cain that his anger was creating a doorway for Satan to come in and master him. I have no doubt that for many mass killings like the one in Colorado, anger is the doorway that Satan uses to control a person and this Satanic control is seen in the resulting total disdain for life.

Another place where this can be seen is with regard to abortion. Because abortion is the asserting of a woman’s “right” to choose over and against God’s right to give life, it is a sin of the will.  Abortion opens a person up to the influence of the Evil One and shows signs of his presence. It is no accident that Pharaoh and Herod both try to kill all children two years old and younger. These are men who are under the power and control of the Evil One.

Blessings,

Jim

Marriage Accountability Question

 

Blog Question

Although we won’t be able to answer every question or reply to every comment, we do hope this blog is a place where we can tackle some questions that arise from sermons or blog posts.

Scott asked, “…one thing that occurred to me after your message to wives yesterday was this:  the notion of husband as “head” also seems to imply “accountable steward.”  If so, this means that not only is each accountable for his/her own actions (husband to sacrifice, love and give; wife to respect and submit as you described); but also husband is ultimately accountable for whether the marriage functions as an effective picture of Christ and the church.  Is this right?” [Full question can be found in the reply section of the April 29 blog post.]

My thought is that you are absolutely right.  In my opinion, the husband bears 75 percent of the responsibility for the marriage relationship.  If the husband loves his wife the way that Christ loved the church, a majority of marriage problems would go away.

However, the reason I say 75 percent (and not 100 percent) is because even in the case of Christ — who loved perfectly and completely — there are still many who resist his love and wander away into sin.  So, too, a husband who loves perfectly may still have a wife who refuses to submit or is unfaithful to him.

Here are some reasons why I believe the husband bears a majority of the responsibility:

  1. If you simply count verses in Ephesians 5:22-33 you end up with 10 verses on Christ/husband and only four verses on church/wives. This is a notable contrast with the following two passages where the “leader” receives less attention then the “follower.”  In Ephesians 6:1-9, children have three verses and fathers have only one verse; slaves are addressed in three verses and masters are addressed in only one verse.  (Although in 1 Peter 3:1-7 there are six verses addressing wives and only one verse addressing husbands, Peter is talking about a specific situation in which a wife is suffering because her husband is not a believer.)
  2. There is a Bible passage instructing wives on what they should do if their husbands refuse to love them sacrificially (1 Peter 3), but not a comparable passage telling husbands what to do if their wives refuse to submit.  This implies that if a husband will sacrificially love his wife the marriage will usually be in good shape.
  3. The most powerful force in all of existence is sacrificial love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13) and when God sacrificially loved us it set in motion the entire salvation process. This most powerful force of sacrificial love is assigned to husbands in their leadership role.

For these reasons, when I counsel husbands, I tell them that when the cycle of mutual self-sacrifice in marriage breaks down, as it inevitably will, it is the husband’s job to restart that cycle by sacrificing for his wife.

Additionally, when we talk about the husband being the leader in the marriage relationship, it brings to mind the analogous passage of Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”  This is not speaking of marriage, but it gives the indication that leaders will have to give an account to God.  I would be hard-pressed to think that God would ask leaders in a church to give an account, but not the leaders in marriages.  Likewise James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  Here again is the principle: “to those whom much has been given, much is expected.”

Blessings,

Jim