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The Head & The Heart

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Someone once said the longest bridge the Christian must span is from his head to his heart. Those 18 inches may not seem like much but they make up the longest distance in the world and the most crucial spiritual journey we will ever make. The import of bridging that span is found in the difference between knowing in the mind and believing in the heart.


On one side is the intellect. What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. This is true. Biblical faith is based on the solid truth of God’s promises, what the Hebrew writer connects to our hope, calling it “an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19). This is why faith is described as the “substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) which offers a great word picture. Faith stands under, as a supporting structure, our hope. This is why hope based on faith in God’s promises will never put us to shame (Rom. 10:11). What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. The Creator made us intellectual creatures and so gives us assurance in His word.

 

For instance, we know intellectually certain things to be true. “By faith we understand that the world's were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3). We look around at the ordered, beautiful universe in which we live and God expects us to make that intellectual necessary inference: “I AM.” When confronted with creation the logical thinking mind will be driven to the only plausible explanation. This is precisely Paul’s point in Romans 1 in his indictment of the Gentile world. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes,  His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). He goes onto say that they refused to acknowledge what the evidence proved and received the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:21-32).

 

But faith is not merely intellectual inasmuch as God has also created us as emotional beings. And so, many people struggle with the reverse: what I know in my mind must also make sense in my heart. Emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence are both necessary parts in our turning to the Lord. Some people may have a tendency to amputate the emotion from the intellect and take a purely cerebral approach to faith in Jesus. But the resulting faith is weak because obedience to God springs only from a mind that knows. But obedience must also spring from a heart that loves.

 

So God doesn’t simply confront us with evidence on the front of intellectualism but just as convincing and of equal import in our turning to Him is His assault on our heart’s emotions. One of the most profound statements in Scripture is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is an appeal to our heart. To plumb the depths of God’s love for sinners would take an eternity to comprehend with our minds but our hearts can be dominated by it without fully understanding it. Paul prayed that Christians would be able to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).

 

Knowledge influences affection and vise versa (Phil. 1:9). A person cannot be converted to the Lord with purely intellectual arguments any more than he can with purely emotional appeals. In Scripture the two come together to form a spear of love and logic that penetrates both heart and mind (Heb. 4:12). Until we learn to bridge that gap in our lives our devotion to God will suffer. God wants us to love Him with all our mind and with all our heart (Mt. 22:37).

 

Modesty in the Summer

Sunday, July 31, 2016

It’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? This is good question with a faulty premise. It should be: I belong to Jesus Christ... and it’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? Do you see what happened there? The same question filtered through the lens of the gospel suddenly comes into sober focus. Friends, we must never remove Jesus from His rightful place: the authoritative throne of our decision making called the “heart”.

 

If we allow other considerations to usurp Christ’s authoritative position over our lives then we that Jesus is not really our Lord. Scripture teaches that every aspect of who we are ought to be informed on a fundamental level by the person of Jesus, what He has done, is doing, and promises yet to do for us in the future.

 

How we choose to clothe ourselves broadcasts a message to those around us. Clothing is a visual indicator of an invisible characteristic. How we dress says something about us. If the gospel is the seed that is planted within the invisible heart then modesty is one visual fruit it will produce. What message are we sending with our dress? If Christ is our King then that message must not get in the way with our bodies being a sanctified temple in which the thrice holy God is pleased to dwell.

 

Some say, “Amen! Amen!... except if I go swimming, because then it is socially acceptable to be seen publicly in the waterproof equivalent of underwear.”

 

Obviously this logic will drive us away from the relationship God desires to have with us. We must not allow the shifting societal norms and increasingly immoral standards of the world to crowd out what God has plainly revealed about the proper use of our bodies: “...your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God... You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) Bathing suits are acceptable by today’s societal standards. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is acceptable by God in heaven. Jesus cleansed the temple of our body so that God could take up His residence within us. This means that what we do with our physical bodies matters to God.

 

We understand this principle of modesty reaches far beyond the realm of sexually immoral dress. “Modesty” (Grk. ‘aidous’) means a sense of shame or honour, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect. Modesty is an attitude of heart. It follows, therefore, that the modest woman refuses to dress in a way that draws worldly attention to herself. This does not have to be overtly sexual. It could be any attention that does not befit godliness, a respect for herself or others, or reverence toward God.

 

This is how Paul used the word in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “...women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness-- with good works.”

 

Even though Peter doesn’t use the word “modesty” he speaks in the same way when he instructs wives with unbelieving husbands to show their “respectful and pure conduct” in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Do not let your adorning be external-- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.”

 

So our dress isn’t the thing that ought to cause people to see godliness in us but rather our behavior. In both passages dress is downplayed (what does that say about priestly garments, crosses or other ‘religious’ attire that garners attention?). “Don’t dress to draw attention to yourself but live in such a way that others would see Christ” seems to be the thrust of their message. Even though dress is downplayed, immodest dress would undermine this whole principle.

 

The profession of godliness must be met with dress that reflects that profession or, at the very least,  does no harm to that profession. Anything less is hypocritical. The apostles didn’t write this to make women angry or to demonize fashion. Their primary concern was to point their audience to the cross for their spiritual well being. However, if their audience did feel a sense of shame by their immodest dress choice then, all the better; they were beginning to develop a modest heart. Remember that modesty is a “sense of shame,” the ability to blush. And despite what the world says this is a good thing.

 

It is true that women cannot control the thoughts and desires of the men around them. However, they can influence them by their behavior and choices, not least of which is dress. To dress without regard for your brother or neighbor and to say, “I’m not responsible for stirring up that man’s lustful desires” is as unloving, wicked and foolish an attitude as the man who lustfully looks at another woman and says, “I’m not responsible for the lustful desires her immodest dress stirs within me.”

 

We are charged to help people get to heaven by preaching and living the gospel. If my immodest dress, which not only compromises my own personal holiness, causes another to stumble I will be held accountable for both in the judgment. Those of us who have children must plant the seed of modesty by first being modest ourselves and second teaching them at an early age what constitutes a modest heart.

 

The next time you reach into your wardrobe this summer make sure to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14)

 

Have more than thou showest, Speak less than thou knowest--from Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’

What Does Love Do?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7)

 

In 1 Cor. 13:7 the apostle reflects on four things that love does. The first thing that love does is it “bears all things.” The Greek word for “bear” means to cover up, not in a secretive, lying way but in a protective way. The same verb is used of roofing a structure. Love shelters all that is underneath it like an umbrella keeps you out of the rain.

 

This is precisely how Peter uses the word when he says, “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). Love protects other people from harm. I really hate it when I hear a wife criticize her husband in public; or a husband who allows his wife to be ridiculed right in front of him; or a Christian who permits his brother to be slandered. Love does not allow this.

The second thing that love does is it “believes all things.” Of course, Paul cannot mean that love will believe a lie because love “rejoices with truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). He is teaching us that love is trusting and not suspicious. Love always believes the best about people. To put it another way, love gives people the benefit of the doubt. This is especially hard because we have been jaded by letdowns, disappointments and a host of other negative experiences. As a result we tend to treat others by the principle of “guilty until proven innocent.” But love is “patient” while it waits for the evidence to surface and in the meantime it “believes all things.”

People tend to become what you believe them to be. How you treat people has an effect on their character. For example, if you are too hard on your son he will grow up believing he will never live up to your expectations. The father’s treatment of his son projects itself onto the behavior of the child. A father who loves his son will believe in him and encourage him. Sometimes all Simon needs to hear from his dad when he is struggling with something is, “You can do it. I know you can. Now try it again.” There is power in how we think and treat others. Let us love others by believing the best about them and not the worst.

 

The third thing that love does is it “hopes all things.” To put it plainly, love is optimistic about the future. Biblical hope is not mere unreasoning optimism but rather a confident expectation of what we know is possible. Love that hopes all things never gives up on people even when everyone might have already. Love refuses to take failure as final, either in oneself or in someone else. Jesus is in the business of making success stories out of failures. Look at Peter. Jesus knew he would fail but He loved him and love “hopes all things.” (cf. Lk. 22:31-34, 61-62; Jn. 21:15-17)

 

This attitude of never giving up on one another is key to our relationship with each other in God’s church. Love is a labor of hope. If we love one another we will never give up helping each other get to heaven. We do all this in spite of our shortcomings.

 

The fourth thing that love does is it “endures all things.” To endure means to remain behind or hold your ground. It is a military term that means to hold your position at all costs. Even if the battle is lost the soldier is to keep on fighting to the bitter end. So then, we might say that love never backs down. It holds fast to its object. Even in the face of rejection love will never stop loving.

 

Is this not how God loves us? (Rom. 5:6-10) It is His love for us that motivates us to hold onto Jesus no matter what (Rom. 5:3-5). We see Jesus, surrounded by sinners, the sky black with darkness at midday, lonely, broken, weak and nailed to a cross by the very ones He came to save. And yet He says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). He never stopped loving even though His love was rejected. His love endured all things because it looked beyond the present to the hope of what might be in the future. William Barclay called God’s love for mankind “unconquerable.” Now, as recipients of this kind of love we are charged to love each other the same way.

 

The Amen

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?” (1 Cor. 14:16)

 

The word “amen” (Gr. αμεν) is a fascinating word. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who is unfamiliar with it. But what does “amen” mean? Is it a ritualistic way to end or validate our prayers? Or is it merely a way of signing off and telling God, “That’s it. My prayer is over now”? I suggest to you the meaning behind this word is far richer than we might realize.

 

The word “amen” was transliterated (the conversion of a text from one script to another where the original is copied phonetically as opposed to translation where a new word is provided that best fits the original’s meaning) directly from the Hebrew into the Greek New Testament. “Amen” continued to be transliterated into Latin and straight into English and many other languages. This means that the word “amen,” virtually unmolested through the ages, is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech.

The word is directly related, in fact, almost identical, to the Hebrew word for “believe” (amam), or faithful. Thus, it came to mean "sure" or "truly," an expression of absolute trust and confidence. Therefore, when “amen” is used before a discourse it is testifying to the truthfulness of what is about to be said. For example, when Jesus said, “For truly (amen) I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Mt. 5:18) He was testifying to the absolute truth and trustworthiness of His declaration.

When the word is used at the end of a discourse, after a statement has been made, the “amen” is voiced as an affirmation of what has been said. In this case “amen” means “so it is,” “so be it,” or “may it be fulfilled.” It was a custom in the synagogues to voice the word “amen” after a prayer or reading of Scripture that passed on to Christian assemblies (1 Cor. 14:16). When the “amen” is voiced after a solemn prayer, reading, lesson, or prophecy the offerors made the substance of what was uttered their own. By way of affirmation, they were joining themselves to what was just said.

But “amen” is not a magic mantra that ensures God’s acceptance of a message. Instead, it is a reminder to us who utter the “amen” that the message must be brought into conformity with God’s will, not our own. “Amen” is a direct reference to Jesus who taught us to pray, “Your will be done” (Mt. 6:10). Jesus modeled His life after this concept of submitting to the will of the Father. His prayer in Gethsemane ended with, “yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39). Thus Jesus Himself is the ultimate “Amen” whose life was perfectly in accord with God’s will. Indeed this is how He refers to Himself to the church at Laodicea, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness” (Rev. 3:14; cf. 2 Cor. 1:20).

We are expected to follow the example of “The Amen” in our prayers and in our lives. Those who “boast in their arrogance” were warned to pray instead, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (Jas. 4:15). We should have confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers when “we ask anything according to His will” (1 Jn. 5:14).

So the next time you voice the word “amen” understand that it is not a mere formality to be observed but an affirmation of your agreement and the truthfulness of a statement. The “amen” is a reminder of our Savior, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness,” and how every aspect of our lives must come under His Lordship.

Is Baptism a Work?

Sunday, July 03, 2016

“having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”  

(Col. 2:12)

 

Many people argue that baptism is not necessary for salvation based upon their conviction that baptism is a “work” and we are not justified by works but by faith in Jesus Christ. There are some problems with that reasoning that need explaining.

 

First of all, are we so certain that baptism is a “work” at all? Interestingly, Jesus tells us that faith is a human work (Jn. 6:28-29) but nowhere else in the Bible do we see baptism being described as a human work. In fact, from Colossians 2:11-13 we see that God is the one at work in baptism not man.

Secondly, the argument that baptism is a “work” stems from confusion about Paul’s distinction between faith and works in Romans 3-4. Look at Romans 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Paul makes a lot of contrasting statements like this (Rom. 3:20, 27-28; Gal. 3:11) but in each case it is clear from the context that when he mentions “works” he isn’t talking about “people doing stuff” but instead “works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28). Most of the time when Paul says “works” when he is contrasting it with “faith” he is talking about “works of the [Mosaic] Law.”  

So Paul has no problem with people who preach baptism in the name of Christ  for the remission of sins (Mt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; 20:22; 1 Pet. 3:21; etc.) because he is one of those people! (see Rom. 6:3-4). Paul’s main concern when contrasting faith and works (of the Law) is with Judaizing teachers who were preaching a different gospel; namely, to be in a relationship with God they taught Gentiles had to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. Paul spends a lot of time teaching against this spiritually damaging false doctrine.

 

So if baptism isn’t a “work” by which man earns his salvation nor is it part of the “works of the Law” that some Jews in Paul’s day were vainly attempting to be justified by where do some people get the idea that baptism is a “work” today?

 

Take your mind back 500 years and pretend you’re Martin Luther seeing the corruption of the Catholic Church. You’re disgusted with the sale of indulgences (giving money to the church in order to purchase forgiveness of sins!?). Then you stumble across Paul’s language of justification by faith in Romans 4 and think, “This is the perfect stick to beat the Catholic Church with!”

 

Do you see what has happened? Instead of reading Paul’s inspired writings in their context and applying it to the spiritual battles Paul was fighting against the Judaizing teachers of his day, Luther reads it through the lens of his own cultural context and (mis)applies it to his own spiritual battles with the Catholic Church. Looking for a reason to condemn the Catholic practice of selling indulgences Luther completely misses Paul’s original point. He substitutes Paul’s “works” of the Law for “people doing stuff” to earn their salvation.

 

And today some have taken his ideas and transposed them on baptism to deny that it is necessary for salvation. Friend, the Catholics were wrong to sell “indulgences” and Luther was right to expose that evil practice. But indulgences do not equal “works of the Law” and certainly aren’t the same thing as teaching that baptism is necessary to be saved. Baptism is not a human “work” but rather a work done by God in which man submits to God’s power by faith to receive forgiveness of sins  (1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 3:26-27).

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