Chosen by God

I was reading a friend’s blog who was discussing the National Football League draft at http://offthebench-ellis.blogspot.com/, (Thanks, Ellis, for prodding my brain matter) and my thoughts turned to our election by God, the Father. In the NFL draft, players are chosen according to height, weight, strength, speed, quickness, athleticism, playmaking ability, and, once in a “blue moon,” character comes into play. These young men are chosen according to qualities that the scouts and the other powers-that-be see in them.

 

However, our choice by God is not according to any qualities found within us; otherwise, no one would ever be chosen. The Bible says much about our state before we are called by God’s Spirit: We are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2), we are blinded to the truth of the Gospel (2 Cor. 4), we are unable to “receive the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2), we do not seek after God (Rom. 3), and, God goes so far as to say in Isaiah 64 that “all our righteous deeds” are, at best, “like a filthy garment.”

 

Why, then, did God choose us to be His covenant people? We get a hint in His comment to His people under the Old Covenant:

 

6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)

 

They were chosen, not because they were great, but because the Lord was great. In the same way, the Lord of the Universe did not choose us because we were smart enough to believe in Him, or because we were moral enough to believe in Him, but because God “will have mercy on whom [He will have] mercy, and [He] will have compassion on whom [He will have] compassion.” (Romans 9:15) The reason for our choice is not to be found in us, but in Him. We have no ground for boasting because our justification is based totally upon the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, and His sacrificial death on the cross. As Paul says so well in Ephesians 2:

 

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-  3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved-  6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

 

May we learn to say with Paul, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

Living Between “The Already” and “The Not Yet”

It is a marvelous thing living in the midst of what theologians call “The Already.” Christ has come, kept God’s perfect Law, and died on the cross as the sacrifice for His elect people. Therefore, we have been chosen, called, and justified by God’s grace through His son, Jesus Christ. Not only have we been declared righteous with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but we are also in the process of being sanctified by God’s Word and Spirit, and according to the Shorter Catechism, are being renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” It is so comforting to know that Christ has borne the penalty for our sin, and that we need never fear the wrath of God again.

 

However, it is wise to remind ourselves that we have not entered the realm of “The Not Yet.” Christ has not yet returned to judge the living and the dead, and thus, we still have to face our own remaining sin, Satan’s constant temptation, hurricanes, economic recessions, aging bodies, and should the Lord tarry, physical death. Nevertheless, through Christ, the new heavens and the new earth await us; and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

 

So enjoy the blessings of Christ that you are experiencing right now, and look forward in faith to those that will be yours at the day of Jesus Christ, “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

The Grace of God

The most encouraging word anyone ever said to me while leaving a worship service was, “I have heard more about God’s grace here than anywhere else I have ever been. It’s always grace, grace, grace, grace.” (Of course, the most discouraging thing anyone ever said to me while leaving on Sunday was, “I enjoyed your ‘little talk.’” I thought, “What we have here is a failure to communicate!”)

 

While we should never ignore the imperatives that we find in Scripture, we should always be sure that our focus is on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our gracious Lord “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

 

Our “religion” goes much deeper than a list of dos and don’ts (although they are not unimportant); it rests solely on what God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus were “spot on” in the first question and answer of their Heidelberg Catechism:

 

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

 

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.

The Visible Church

Chapter XXV of the Westminster Confession of Faith has an interesting statement describing the visible Church of Christ on earth:

 

The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will. (XXV.v.)

 

First of all, we are all humbled by the fact that even the “purest Churches” have a mixture of error in their doctrine because we all still “see through a glass darkly.” Of course, our biggest problem is that we are not sure what those errors are. If we knew, we could repent, make them right, and all would be well. We struggle because we are still living between the “already” and the “not yet,” and will not have perfect knowledge until the new heavens and the new earth come into being at Christ’s return. Then, of course, we will all be Presbyterians. (Just kidding about that last sentence!)

 

Secondly, we are warned by the fact that some “churches” have gone so far in their errors that they can not even be called Churches of Christ. Any church that has forsaken the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has added anything to justification by faith alone, should be abandoned by a true Christian. Our justification is by “grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” and as Paul has written, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9)

 

Last of all, we are encouraged by the fact that “there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.” Although churches will not be perfect, true Christians will always be an integral part of the visible Church somewhere. As I alluded to in my last post, there are no “Lone Ranger Christians.” “Going home” is never the solution for church troubles because you “are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)

“Me and Jesus”

The year was 1972, and Tom T. (the Storyteller) Hall recorded his classic (I can’t believe I used the word classic to describe this song), Me and Jesus:

 

Me and Jesus, got our own thing goin’.

Me and Jesus, got it all worked out.

Me and Jesus, got our own thing goin’.

We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.

 

This bit of verse is unquestionably not on the level of “To be or not to be, that is the question…” but it could be the theme song for much of what passes as evangelicalism today. We live in a hyper-individualistic Christian culture which seems to sport the attitude, “All I need is my Bible (and I really don’t need much of it) and Jesus, and I’ll be just fine, thank you.” Sadly, we have lost sight of the importance of the Body of Christ in the life of the believer. Paul, understood the importance of the church when he addressed his first letter to the Corinthians:

 

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,  2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…(1 Corinthians 1:1-2)

 

Notice that he said Christians were “called to be saints together with all those who…call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, there is no “Me and Jesus” individualism in the Bible. On the contrary, it speaks often of the fact that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom. 12:5)

 

Moreover, the Bible also has something to say about the line that opines, “We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about”:

 

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14)

 

I am so grateful that the Lord has given unto us the “catholic [universal] and visible Church,” and that Christ has given unto it “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.” (WCF XXV.iii) By the way: Thanks, Mark, for preaching a great message yesterday on Ephesians 4!

You Know You are PCA When…

Ashley, caring OBGYN nurse, blogger at http://ashleybowling.blogspot.com/, and loving wife to Ryan, posted the following on Facebook a week or two ago. I have to confess that I was in stitches the entire time I was reading it. My blog has been a little intense lately so I thought it might be good to “lighten up” for a day. If you are not a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, you may not “get it,” but that’s okay, we all could use a laugh.

 

You know you are PCA when…

 

…your church name has “Redeemer” or “Westminster” or “Covenant” in it.

… you can take exact attendance by looking around to see which rows are empty ….

… in eleventh grade, when you read The Scarlet Letter, everyone thought you were crazy for liking puritan theology ….

… your favorite flower is the TULIP …

… you’re sick of explaining “No, we’re not THOSE Presbyterians, we’re the other ones …

…church Growth Strategy is Infant Baptism

… you’re favorite Knox is not the fort in the USA …

… you’re kinda uncomfortable with the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” …

… you’re definitely uncomfortable with the hymn “I have decided to follow Jesus” …

…you attempt to prove that your Baptist friends are actually Calvinist who don’t/won’t admit it.

…you have to explain your system of beliefs to every (and I do mean EVERY) person even other denominational brothers and sisters in Christ.

…You look in a church freezer, see the ice cube tray labeled with your church’s name, and realize that it’s a great visual for “Frozen Chosen”!

…you prefer shiraz or merlot for your communion, over Welch’s grape juice.

… you always have to explain why Catholic is different than Christian.

…Joel Olsteen is probably at the top of your hit list.

…You have to explain that TULIP is a doctrine straight from the Bible and that it is not something Calvin came up with but rather it is just something associated with his teaching.

…you know that before Calvin there was St. Augustine, and before him was Paul who wrote about 2/3 of the New Testament.

…you can find elect, chosen, and predestined in the Bible- something that non-reformed/Calvinists never knew appeared in the Bible.

… you hear more than 3 verses of Scripture read in service during Lord’s Day worship

…If a song repeats the same line more than 2 or 3 times you begin to tune out.

… a pastor begins to give you 7 steps toward (fill in the blank) and you think about walking out.

…Most people in your church would probably starve rather than go out to eat on Sunday

…You understand why we say that Abraham is our father

…your services seem to take longer on luncheon days and it doesn’t help that the kitchen is incredibly close to your sanctuary.

…you have ever thrown punches about Federal Vision.

…you changed “I have decided to follow Jesus” to “I never wanted to follow Jesus” (and this has been done).

…You believe buying books should be the third sacrament.

…You get dirty looks from your teachers when you tell them that the text book does not correctly represent the history of the Christian Church.

… You celebrate Reformation Day instead of Halloween.

…You meet Rick Warren, tell him that he’s a modern day Charles Finney. He takes it as a compliment… you meant it as an insult.

…when people ask you who writes the best worship music, you are likely to reply with the names of Watts, Newton or Cowper

…you have named, or have thought about naming, your child after a theologian or hymnwriter, e.g.: Calvin, Knox, Martin. (If anyone names their child after Augustus Toplady, you get extra points.)

…you know that Indelible Grace is not just a theological term.

…When your hear a free will baptist say “we love spurgeon, but not Calvin” it becomes incredibly difficult to hold a straight face.

…you can predict the reactions of people when you tell them your theological background.

…when you hear the doctrines of the PCUSA something short circuits because you can’t comprehend the existence of a liberal presbyterian.

…Calvin and Hobbes has been your favorite comic book ever since you learned that was the title.

…you think that the Pope might possibly fit the characteristics of the anti-christ while at the same time believe the anti-christ is all around you in every form of heresy

…your friends almost never win a theological “debate” with you

…you have to end a debate because the opposition is A) starting to cry B) beginning to fall into anger or C) both a and b

…you attend the installation of a new TE or the particularization of a new church, and seeing all those guys up there in black robes makes you think of the Jedi Council.

…you know exactly what a TE is, as opposed to an RE.

…Sometimes you feel like Christ’s last name is “Alone”

…you know the difference between the catholic church and the Catholic Church.

….you never knew you were raised as an Armenian until you became a Calvinist.

…You think A Mighty Fortress is Our God should be sung at baseball games instead of the national anthem.

…You have 4-8 children.

…You own at least one set of the Lord of the Rings.

…You think that things are getting better, even after the last presidential election, and that the Kingdom will beat back the gates of hell no matter what the UN and Obama decide…

…You look around church and count the children in other people’s families, and are unhappy to discover: you DON’T have the biggest family in church!…

…After noting yours isn’t the biggest family in church, you go home to do “further research” to rectify the situation….

…You actually covet the 15 passenger vans at the airport, and wonder when you can get one…

…you have to explain to your Baptist friends that “Elder” doesn’t necessarilly mean “Preacher”…

-Taken from a discussion in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) group.

A One Time Only Political Comment

It’s Tax Day in America. It is also the day when Tea Parties will be taking place all over our nation protesting the massive spending bills which Congress has passed and our President has signed over the last few months. Granted, our former President and Congress left our nation’s economic house afire when they left Washington, but the present regime has chosen to pour gasoline, instead of water on the fire.

 

It is not my goal to turn this blog into a political mouthpiece, because I am convinced the answer for our world’s ills, is not political, but spiritual (specifically, trust in Christ alone). However, on this day my thoughts turned to one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a brilliant man; at least intellectually. He daily read his Bible in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and died a member of the Anglican Church, but the fact that he did not believe that Jesus Christ was fully God, and fully man would disqualify him from ever being called a Christian in the Biblical sense. However, he wrote something that I believe should give us cause to pause and reflect on this April 15th, and I will quote him without comment:

 

            A government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have….

Thinking about Life and Death

 

Harry Kalas died yesterday in Washington, D. C. as he was preparing to broadcast the baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. He, at the age of 73, even though he had battled health issues over the last few years, was still the radio voice of the Phillies. In the late 1960s I would lie in my bed and listen to Kalas, Gene Elston, and Loel Passe broadcast the Houston Astros games over my transistor radio (the Astros  were bad then, too), and from time to time had to use my earphone if the game went into extra innings, because I was supposed to be asleep.

 

Maybe it’s because I am in my fifties now, but reading such obituaries is a reminder to me that my life is “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James  4:14) I realize how quickly the time has flown and if the Lord chooses to allow me to live as long as my Dad, I have approximately thirty years left on this “terrestrial ball.” However, my hope is not to be found in length of years but in the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

 

I remind Dixie from time to time what song I want sung at my funeral (so if any of you are still around, be sure that she carries out my wishes). I want everyone present to sing it, and I don’t want any verses skipped (Baptists beware), for it speaks of our only hope in life and death:

 

Our God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home.

 

Under the shadow of thy throne

Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is thine arm alone,

And our defense is sure.

 

Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting thou art God,

To endless years the same.

 

A thousand ages in thy sight

Are like an evening gone;

Short as the watch that ends the night

Before the rising sun.

 

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,

With all their lives and cares,

Are carried downward by thy flood,

And lost in following years.

 

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

 

Our God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Be thou our guard while troubles last,

And our eternal home

 

 

 

“Holy-days”

We live in a culture that has come to look upon this time of year as one of the “holiest” of the year. It is considered so holy that some people find time to attend corporate worship that seldom grace the door of a house of worship during other seasons of the year. Now, I am not necessarily one of those who desire to melt down all the chocolate bunnies, burn the Easter bonnets, and pour all the egg dye down the drain (although, to be honest, there is a side of me that would take some pleasure in that), but, at the risk of being considered a curmudgeon, I would like to propose that this week is not the “holiest” of the year. Yes, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the turning point of all history, but that is something that Christians are conscious of throughout the year.

 

God has commanded for us to “remember” or “observe” 52 of these “holy-days” every year:

 

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
(Exodus 20:8-11)

 

The 21st chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith also enlightens us about the importance of this day:

 

As it is of the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath. (VII)

 

Our Puritan forbears stayed as far away from the “pomp and circumstance” of religious festivals as possible, preferring instead to focus on the simple weekly corporate worship of the Triune God “in reverence and awe.” May we receive a double portion of their spirit.

 

Though the Righteous Fall Seven Times

As I was reading my Bible this morning a verse from Proverbs 24 caused me to pause and reflect. The verse was in the midst of a long list of proverbs giving direction in living, and was a warning to the wicked not to seek to harm one who trusted in the Lord. It was not that particular warning that caught my eye as much as it was the reason given to refrain from such a heinous act: “for the righteous falls seven times and rises again.”

 

Too often our view of the Christian life is one of continual victory over evil, growing love for Christ, and a heart full of the joy of the Lord. Granted, this is something that we all desire (and experience in part) but reality does not all always measure up to such an elevated standard. Because of the remaining sin in our life, we find ourselves battling fear, despair, anger, lust, selfishness, and other sins of the flesh and sometimes coming out on the losing end of the conflict. That is why it was so comforting for me to read that although the righteous (those who have been declared righteous by God through faith in Christ alone) may “fall seven times (or more)” they will “rise again” because of the sanctifying work of God’s Word and Spirit.

 

Samuel Davies, an 18th century Presbyterian pastor, penned a hymn that expresses my joy in knowing that our hope is not to rest on our actions, but on the pardoning grace of our Great God of Wonders:

 

Great God of wonders, all Thy ways

Are righteous, matchless and divine;

But the blest triumphs of Thy grace

Most marvelous, unrivalled, shine;

Who is a pardoning God like Thee?

Or who has grace so rich and free?

 

Crimes of such horror to forgive,

Such guilty, daring worms to spare;

This is Thy grand prerogative,

And none can in that honour share;

Pardon, O God, is only Thine;

Mercy and grace are all divine.

 

In wonder lost, with trembling joy,

We hail the pardon of our God,

Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,

A pardon traced in Jesus’ blood.

To pardon thus is Thine alone;

Mercy and grace are both Thine own.

 

Soon shall this strange, this wondrous grace,

This perfect miracle of love,

Fill the wide earth, while sweeter praise

Sounds its own note in heaven above:

Who is a pardoning God like Thee?

Or who has grace so rich, so free?

 

 

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