Bible Study comments 1: Knowing that faith is a gift of God moves us (among other lesser things) to Glory in Christ.

The Bible Study I attend in St. John’s is continuing to look into the Word of God, guided by a John Piper book, “When I Don’t Desire God” (available online by clicking on he link). Last week, they went through Chapter 4 of the book, Joy in God is a Gift of God: Doing Ourselves What Must Be Done For Us. There are many things in the chapter to comment on, but besides sharing the point of the chapter, I’ll leave you all to read it yourselves.

The Chapter is about, simply, the fact that the Bible seems to say that it is commanded that we have joy in the Lord, but similarly, that joy in the Lord is a gift given by the Lord. It’s the problem of dead sinners (sinners here meaning people who ARE sinners, rather than simply people who sin, we are not just people who do bad stuff, we are the kind of people that do bad stuff). We are in a very bad position vis a vis God, not simply because we’re doers of bad stuff, but because we desire the wrong things and thus do the bad stuff. The problem is not simply our actions, but the desperately wicked heart that drives the actions (See Jeremiah 17:9-10 for the relation of God’s judgment on deeds and the relation to the heart).

It is that rebellious heart that must come to rejoice in the Lord, which is the Lord’s work.

Now, I hear that there were two very good questions asked at the study. I want to give a stab at an answer for both, one today, and one whenever I next get time. The first is “Why does it matter that believing God’s revealed word about Himself is a gift that He has given?” and the second is “Should we be concerned with those who have not received repentance, and can we blame them for not repenting?”.

Why Does It Matter?

I think there are many reasons why it matters that God’s gift of faith in Him is a gift He Himself is given. I’ll give three of my anwers here.

1) Such knowledge keeps us from thinking of ourselves too highly. Humans have a habit of turning good things that we have into a means of boasting. That is the point of 1 Corinthians 1:23-31. I know in my own mind that I sometimes think of those who reject Jesus as stupid or ignorant, when in fact only God’s grace keeps me in faith. I have no right to boast over others, but rather have a need to boast in the Lord that saves me….from me.

2) Knowing that it is only by the gift of God empowers us to speak openly of Jesus to those who do not believe. Faith in God comes from God, and as such it keeps us from two opinions that might cause us to be silent about His grace around others. In the first place, we could be silent because we believe people are too far beyond the pale.

Indeed they are. Everybody we speak to is as dead in sin as we were, but God saved us, loving us while we were still sinners (1 John 4:10), and calling us to salvation and righteousnes while we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:17).

Do you think that your unsaved family member is too far gone to be reached by your words? Darn skippy! Sin has them enslaved, and sin is a powerful master. They are enthralled by the desires of the world, AS WE WERE. God can save them as He saved us, because we were not saved by our superior intellect or spiritual ability, or a “God gene” but by the sovereign grace of God!

Similarly, we can believe that we should not witness to our friends and family because we do not have powerful convincing words to move them. Instead we should just live holy lives and hope they see it in our lives. This is half true, we should lead Holy lives, like a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16), but we should also openly rejoice in God, and tell others. Indeed, not with hugely practiced words and powerful arguments, as that will only stoke the desire to be self righteous (and prove you to be self righteous at the same time), but with the words in your heart.

God may have saved you through an argument, or through reading or through the Godly life of another, but it was God who saved you, not you. In essence, in evangelism, you are not asked to be effective beyond your means, you are only asked to be faithful.

This does not mean you don’t learn arguments for Christ if you can, but do not worry if that is not your forte, God is going to use your faithfulness to save people, and it will be God’s work, so you don’t get to boast in it, you get to be part of what God does.

3) It’s important because it moves us to glory in Christ, our redeemer. Knowing that it is God in Christ who gives us the gift of faith, to understand His word, and to come to Him rejoicing in Him makes the joy in Him far greater. All things, whether it be the truth in Scripture, or a heart that seeks after God, or a Godly spouse and family, or Godly friends, or even our repentance itself, become conduits to praising God alone, feeling Him sweet, and valuable above all else. Honestly, I wanna sing now.

I will glory in my Redeemer
Whose priceless blood has ransomed me
Mine was the sin that drove the bitter nails
And hung Him on that judgment tree
I will glory in my Redeemer
Who crushed the power of sin and death
My only Savior before the Holy Judge
The Lamb Who is my righteousness
The Lamb Who is my righteousness

I will glory in my Redeemer
My life He bought, my love He owns
I have no longings for another
I’m satisfied in Him alone
I will glory in my Redeemer
His faithfulness my standing place
Though foes are mighty and rush upon me
My feet are firm, held by His grace
My feet are firm, held by His grace

I will glory in my Redeemer
Who carries me on eagle’s wings
He crowns my life with lovingkindness
His triumph song I’ll ever sing
I will glory in my Redeemer
Who waits for me at gates of gold
And when He calls me it will be paradise
His face forever to behold
His face forever to behold
His face forever to behold

Words and Music by Steve and Vicki Cook
© 2001 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP).

Better off knowing God.

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Every once in a while, often without warning, I can be struck with the beauty of things around me. One of those experiences struck me today, and caused me to think immediately of a book I heard reviewed recently. It was called “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existance“. I’ve never read the book (and doubt I ever will), but apparently the book’s thesis is that it is better to have never been born, and that it would be best for humanity to extinguish itself.

That thesis runs in complete opposition to my own experience. Now, to say that hauling freight from a coastal boat to my brother’s warehouse complex is a positive experience would simply be a lie. Myself, I was warm, stressed, and my muscles ached, yet for a moment I looked off into the lush green of the forest surrounding Nain, and just thought, “How beautiful”, and for a moment I worshipped God there in the truck. It was a moment that someone like Tony Campolo would say was a moment where I was “truly alive”.

Now I think there’s a clear lesson there, one that several Christian thinkers have mentioned. Life for humans is most fulfilled, not by love or acceptance, but primarilly by worship. As Ravi Zacharias said in a recently broadcasted podcast (info about the podcast can be found here), meaning is ultimately found in the act of worship. This is seemingly an echo of what we see in the Psalms (just give this passage a think, It’s Psalm 100, ESV)

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!

Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

The thing I notice most clearly about this passage is that it only has an implied audience, but that it focuses entirely on God. There is no sense in which it affirms the worshipper, or even says anything about the worshipper (save to further expand on God’s greatness), it focuses on God. The basis for the joy here is not personal affirmation or self esteem, but an overarching God-esteem, and a focus on God.

John Piper once pointed out that to ask a man in heaven if he is humble would come across as simple nonsense to the man, because he would be so enamoured of God, talking of himself would seem strange.

Each of these things points to something I believe our society has forgotten. In our elimination of God from the equation, we have raised ourselves to the level of existential foundation; the reason we exist is for ourselves. The result is that life becomes meaningless, because human life was never meant to be the basis of meaning (despite anything Ayn Rand would’ve said). And the children of such thought patterns are left believing they are better to have never been. The tragedy of it is that they believe it because they have never truly lived.

Salvation cannot be centrally about affirming who we are in God’s kingdom. That is a derivative, but necessary step to the real goal, and where we will truly find life. Salvation is ultimately about affirming who God is, because it is God that is truly valuable.

Jesus tells us to come to him that we may live and have life more abundantly. He wasn’t kidding. Our shortfall is that we’ve never quite believed Him on that one. Oh I pray that we might be convinced for more than a moment! I hope you will join me in that prayer.

Saviour

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I think people seriously misunderstand what salvation is.

I was talking about this before, where God saves us from high interest rates, and the necessity of going to the doctor for the ingrown toenail rather than saving us from sin. But then, that’s only part of the situation.

The central problem we humans have is that we seriously misunderstand the nature of the universe. Any of us with half a brain and the ability to look at the universe realize pretty quickly that the universe is not about us. That’s a correct understanding. Many of us leave it at that because, well, we can’t get over ourselves. Like that guy in “About a Boy”, we see our lives as TV shows about us. When faced with the realization that self centered life is hollow, we find ourselves focussing on “society” or on “stuff” or anything to hopefully keep us believing that there is some meaning. It’s what Kierkegaard calls “despair”. Smart guy, Kierkegaard.

This stuff can only keep us so far, though, as when we look into the cosmos, and the vast expanses of interstellar pace, and the shortness of our own period of life here on this tiny ball, we learn that our short life spans are insignificant in the grand scheme of both time and space, and that there was a time with no life, and given the freakish improbability of life, there will probably be none when the sun finally gives out and we cease to be even as a race.

Most people give up here. They either invest all their time in convincing themselves that humanity matters, contrary to all the evidence, or simply give up and become those horribly depressing people who dress in black at coffee shops.

Indeed, those are the rational choices, based on the evidence I’ve given so far.

But then, there’s Jesus.

Contrary to some movies by the more loopy skeptic set, Jesus was a person who actually existed. Who actually taught during a historical period that is identifiable, and was falsifiable. A man who was crucified on a cross, and then, if the story is true, rose from the dead on the third day.

Many here say “but that’s impossible”, and I agree, if the premise is that the universe is as we’ve believed it to be. But then, that is probably a point of the resurrection. It’s impossible, unless we’re wrong.

And see, we’re wrong.

Jesus came into a place and time that told a story. That story is that the universe is indeed not about us, as the evidence suggests; that things have a point, as the evidence of our own hearts suggests, and our very desire to see a “point” in things suggests. Yet the point is not us. The point is a loving, powerful and just God. One great enough to create a universe, and good enough to create love. This God actually fits the evidence.

And the resurrection creates the dissonance to show that we are wrong, and the God that is the point is really there. A God who resurrected Jesus to validate what Jesus told us about a grander purpose; one where we are created….. created to love God….. and separated from God by a desire to BE God, to BE the point in the universe.

When we decided to BE the point, we live a lie, and we all know it’s a lie. We need a saviour, not from worthlessness, not from despair or immorality (those all those come from it), we need a savior from our sinful desire to be God, to make something that isn’t God into god.

We need a savior from us.

And into that story, that context, that grand sweep told through thousands of years of history in a single people in the middle east steps Jesus.

The Saviour.

He said “come unto me, all that labour (even labour to avoid despair) and are heavy laden (even with the realization that they are not central to the universe), and I will refresh you”.

He also said that those who see him, see the father, the real point of the universe.

He offers the real salvation, not a mediocre call to get rich and have 2.2 kids, but communion with a real God, that is infinitely worthy, who is the point, and who offers us the ability to enjoy him forever.

There is a saviour, He is Jesus.

So call on Him to save you.

Love, Sin and Prophetic Witness (From Rue St. Denis, Montreal)

Again, let me restate my liking for Montreal. This is an awesome city, and the people seem quite interesting (even if the cute girl behind the counter didn’t seem to know much about Newfoundland).

Anyway, today was a quite full day. As you know, I was on my way to Church here when I last wrote. I went to the People’s Church of Montreal, a moderate sized independant evangelical Church (English congregation). I really enjoyed the welcome we got, and I enjoyed greatly the ability to sing some great old hymns of the faith to the top of my lungs. I was also pleased to note their wall of supported missionaries in the basement. Unfortunately, some of my companions had a more negative experience of the Church. Admittedly, there was some warrant, as the pastor clearly seemed unable to come to a point in his sermon. I guess this was a side effect of what he called exegetical preaching, but among a group of people with differing faith perspectives, coming to a point, even as you exegete scripture, would be beneficial.

That said, as I left I noted that a young man was asking about being baptized. In many of the Churches represented at the conference, that would be rare, though apparently this church has a class for baptism running every couple of months.

I also got a chance to discuss emergent with some girl at the conference who’s presently reading “Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell. Erik, if you’re reading, I can’t thank you enough for sending me that one (even if I disagree) it meant I could at least hear some of what she said.

The afternoon was nice, we went to a cabane a sucre. Nice and all, but I think I shall be on a sugar high for a week.

The evening session was the first keynote by Dr. Jenney Plane Te Paa. She’s a bigwig theologian in the Anglican communion, from New Zealand. Needless to say, since she’s a speaker at a largely ecumenical conference, her position is slightly different from my own. The talk left me a little disturbed (I will repond to it directly after I have heard all she has to say).

Afterwards, I was mad, and not in the kind of righteous anger that stays away from sin. God knows what he’s doing, however, and in his providence sent a brother in Christ. There is a couple here from Regent College (who seem to know Russell and Cara, BTW). Now, I’m not sure how well they like talking to me (as I get bombastic when I’m nervous), but the husband, was a credit to his college and his Lord as he simply listened to my concerns about the talk, and gently turned away my judgement and bitterness, while still building up what he saw as appropriate. Christian community preceeds me, as it’s based on Christ, not on my own ability. It also makes me feel bad that I didn’t choose to attend Regent if it produces pastoral people like that.

Through the experience I’m learning the way in which my heart, still sinful in many ways, can often turn a good understanding of something, and use it to place bitterness in my heart. It reasserts to me, how much I am still in need of Jesus, to be my righteousness, and to sanctify me into a better person than I could be by myself. When the Bible says that we should speak the truth in love (Eph 4:16, Phil 1:14-16), I think it’s noting that some of us (me) can use the truth as a method if getting judgemental, bitter and self-righteous. While that doesn’t change the truth, the resulting heart it produces in the truth teller is deadly. So as we speak prophetically (which we must do, silence of the truth and justice is not an option), we must be careful that we do not sin, and so do it in love for the person you speak to, and about.

Perhaps the best wording of it comes from Dr. Te Paa herself, in her talk of this evening: “Live on earth as you would in heaven”. As I imagine heaven to be a place of love, where we speak the truth of God’s greatness to one another, I can only say “Amen”.

A Coffeeshop on St.-Denis

Hey Everybody,

Another in a long list of “travellog” blog posts. This Sunday I’m sitting in a 24 hour coffee shop down the street from the Hostel we’re staying in for the conference.

A few words on the conference. I enjoyed last evening, where a couple of us, after the sessions were done sat down to talk about the difficulties in the Angican Church (Me, a guy from Emmanuel-St. Chad, and a delegate from Vancouver School of Theology). I gotta say, all the trouble getting here and the possibility I’m going to have to sit through some pretty objectionable Theology, and the strange dismissive looks some people give to conservatives (not to mention strange arguments concerning the sinfulness of the marriage of hermaphrodites), if I get a bunch of conversations like that one. There’s something to be said for the fellowship that comes from honestly and openly talking to each other, and possibly disagreeing.

Montreal is an amazing city too, by the way. It’s beautiful here, but I keep thinking they need more churches. Maybe this would be a great place to plant one someday. I’d just have to get back to speaking French better. One of the other delegates (who’s actually from Ville de Quebec, but spends a lot of time here) was wearing a kuffiah and a bullet belt last evening (political quite a liberal guy), but had a lot of questions about the Bible and what conservative Christians believe. It was an awesome conversation, but it broke my heart a little more for a city this great with (seemingly) very little Christian witness. I’ll have a better idea by tonight’s entry, as I’m going to a nearby evangelical Church tonight.

Anyway, those of you who are into praying, could you pray a little for Montreal, and that Jesus Christ find this city in a big way?