Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Feeling After God

In The Glory of Christ by John Owen he makes a statement about "feeling after God," and thinking about it crystallized for me some things I have been observing in the church. As we in the West have moved from the modern era to the post-modern era we have moved from a time of rationalism to a time of experientialism and emotionalism. This has been reflected in the church as we have seen an emphasis on experience as the primary means of "connecting" with God.

The prevailing thought seems to be that the way to find God is by experience, that the only way to truly know God is experientially and to know God more deeply requires more frequent or more intense experiences This is manifested in the "worship experience" in many churches. Pastors dress up as different bible characters or secular characters so the audience will feel more connected to the sermon or can more readily identify with the character. We see more stage production in the music portion of the service with brighter lights, louder music, more graphics, cutting edge technology, drama and dance, all designed to create and enhance the "worship experience." So for many churches the experience of the worship service has become primary and the message of the worship service has become secondary, or less. Even in the way the message is presented experience or feeling is emphasized over content.

Church members and attenders have become addicted to the experience much like the cocaine addict who keeps seeking the next high. Even those who sense or know something is wrong, or are abhorred by the theatrics and disgusted by the lack of content in the sermon can't leave, but keep coming back for the high of the experience, just like the cocaine addict who knows it isn't good for him but keeps chasing the next high.

This is also reflected in religious literature. In the book The Barbarian Way Erwin McManus touts experience and mysticism as the keys to a deeper spiritual life as if you can't have a deeper walk or deeper communion with God without them. It is one of the themes that flow through the books Wild at Heart and Blue Like Jazz.  It is also seen in Dallas Willard's writings.

This emphasis on experience is becoming even more egregious in the Word of Faith arm of the Charismatic movement. Joyce Meyer has made the statement that we are not to teach or speak to the mind, but to the heart.  Graham Cooke takes it even further in this video:

Feeling and experience are touted as the way to know God instead of their rightful place as the result of knowing God. The deeper spiritual life, the deeper communion and fellowship with Christ is not  the result of checking our mind at the door of experience, but the result of our seeking after Him, of knowing Him more fully.  The Christian life is not one that is dry and devoid of feeling or experience, but the experience is the result of knowing Him not vice versa. Paul talks about this in Philippians 3:8-12 and it is spoken to in Hosea 6:3,6. In fact, we should not try and manufacture the experience because that becomes a work of the flesh and is profitable only for the flesh.

So, my friends, are you truly seeking God or are you seeking an experience, or are you seeking God through an experience? Take a step back and look at yourself and your family. Are you addicted to the experience so much that you can't let go even though you know that what you are getting is not good for your soul and the souls of your family? The true experience comes from God by and through His Spirit and His Word, at His discretion, and is profitable for our spirit, and is rich, satisfying, and lasting. Those who truly encounter God must come to Him in Spirit and truth, and for such He is always seeking. 

Proverbs 16:25 tells us that there is a way which seems right to man, but it only leads to death. There is only one narrow well worn way to God and to intimacy with God, His word, which is truth; and it gives us the knowledge of the Son of God, who is truth, and knowing Him is truly the greatest experience any of us can have.

Monday, February 26, 2018

God's Common Grace

 For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, 
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Matthew 5:45

For He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
Luke 6:35  

Yes, God is good and does good, but He does good to all and for all, and all of us, believer and unbeliever, are the beneficiaries of His immeasurable goodness.  This is common grace, unmerited favor, bestowed upon believer and unbeliever alike. Psalm 145:9 says, "The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works."  God's common grace flows out of and is an extension of His goodness.  Oh, that those who are not His, would see and rejoice, and come to faith.  Then they would experience special grace, saving grace, which is the ultimate expression of His goodness.

Thank you, O Lord, for the common grace through which You have blessed all men; and thank you for Your saving grace, which is the greatest blessing of all. May those who do not know You consider Your common grace and in response turn to You for Your special and saving grace. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Spiritual Fruit

One of the most poignant metaphors to describe the life of a true Christian, and therefore describing a true Christian, is bearing fruit.  This metaphor is used by John the Baptist to describe true repentance. This metaphor is also used by Christ throughout his ministry and therefore is used throughout the synoptic gospels.  We also see this metaphor used by Christ with His disciples in John 15, in his final discourse only a few hours before His crucifixion.

In the synoptic gospels, Christ tells us this in regard to false teachers, "You shall know them by their fruit."  In regards to the difference between professors of Christ and possessors of Christ He says, "Good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit."  In the parable of the four soils, He tells us that only the good soil produces fruit, and that the other three don't. Immediately following we have a parable concerning the kingdom of heaven, in which Christ tells us that there will be tares sown among the wheat by the enemy.  What is the difference between a tare and a stalk of wheat?  The wheat produces the fruit of the grain, the tare does not.  Later Jesus curses a fig tree because it should be producing figs and is only looks the part.  He goes on to tell the Jews, "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing the fruit of it." See (Matthew 7:15-20; 13:3-8, 18-23, 24-30; 21:19, 41-43), and there are parallel
passages in Mark and Luke.

In John 15 Jesus tells His disciples that bearing much fruit proves that they are His disciples and brings glory to God; and that the Father prunes the true believer so that He will bear much fruit.  In this chapter He also tells us that it is only those that abide in Him who can bear fruit, and that those who truly abide in Him will bear much fruit.

Of those who do not bear fruit, here is what is said about them:  They shall be cut down. They shall be taken away. They shall be gathered together and burned. They are cursed. They are workers of lawlessness (bad fruit, sin). He has never known them. They shall not be part of the kingdom of God.

Wow, pretty telling isn't it?  Christ isn't waffling here when He uses this metaphor.  There is no salvation shuffle going on, just plain and to the point, in language that paints a picture that we can understand.  Why?  Because salvation is at stake!  So there should not be any waffling or shuffling going on when eternal destiny is on the line.  Just as Christ does throughout the gospels, He draws a distinct line in the sand so that we can see which side we are standing on.  And as blunt as it seems, and is, it is the grace of God to be this direct and this black and white.  As I have said many times, "A proper presentation of the gospel should always leave people with the understanding of which side of the fence they are on."

The questions, though, that would be logical here are: Okay, what is spiritual fruit? What does it look like? How would I know it if I saw it, and how do I know if I am producing it?

Fortunately, as is always the case with spiritual questions, the answers are in the Scriptures.  Let's take a look at what the Bible tells us about spiritual fruit.
  • It is the result of the gospel, and is the obedience of faith.
Colossians 1:5-6 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.

The key here is that the gospel is constantly, consistently, bearing fruit and increasing.  And this is taking place in the life of the believer.  Remember the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13.  The seeds represented the word of God (the gospel) and when the seeds fell in the good soil they produced fruit...some thirty, some sixty, some one hundred fold. The word of God is the seed from which spiritual fruit is born.

Romans 1:5-6, 13 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles for His name's sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ...I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.

What is this fruit that Paul is wanting to obtain among the church at Rome.  It is the obedience of faith.  The basket in which all spiritual fruit is gathered is the obedience of faith.  All spiritual fruit is a result of obedience.  So when we as believers grieve or quench the Spirit, we are not producing spiritual fruit.  Being obedient to the faith is being obedient to the revealed word of God, and out of this obedience comes spiritual fruit. See also (Isaiah 55:10-11; James 1:18,21; Mark 4:26-29)
  • It is the fruit of the indwelling Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...

Notice how each aspect, each facet, of the fruit of the Spirit is an inner quality, a settled disposition of the soul.  Each of these facets will manifest themselves in a myriad of ways as we go about our daily lives (See Luke 6:43-45).  They stand in sharp contrast to the claims of those who are clamoring to get into heaven in Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who say to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (remember the obedience of faith). Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord,' did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.' "  It is easy to get caught up in what people "do" for the Lord,  their religious activities, versus being mindful of the fruit they actually manifest. It is the manifestation and working out of what is dwelling within in which we see true spiritual fruit.
  • It is the opposite of deeds of the flesh.
We can get a more complete picture of spiritual fruit by knowing what it is not, and obviously what is listed here would be considered bad fruit.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:  immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these...(so this is not a complete list).  But Paul adds to that list in Ephesians 4.  They are: greediness, lusts of deceit, falsehood, stealing, unwholesome words, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice.

And these verses still do not contain an entire list, but are enough to give us a picture of what bad fruit looks like.  And who produces bad fruit? Not the good tree!
  • It is born out of the dynamic qualities of faith.
II Peter 2:5-8 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing , they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So if these qualities are ours and we are growing in them, maturing in them, then we will be fruitful in our Christian life.  We will be bearing mature fruit, rich fruit, and more fruit; just as a mature tree produces more abundant and richer fruit than a young tree.
  • It is good works
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Hebrews 13:20-21 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip (katartizo--to render fit, to fully train, to furnish completely) in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Colossians 1:9-10 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Remember, in John 15 we learn that our producing much fruit proves we are Christ's disciples, but is also brings glory to God the Father.  So following the logic in the verses above....
  1. God has prepared beforehand good works for us to do.
  2. He equips us to do these good things that please Him.
  3. In these good works, good things, fruit is born...manifested.
  4. In the producing of spiritual fruit God is thus glorified.
Follow the trail of good deeds in Titus 1:16, 2:7, 2:14, 3:1 3:5 verse 3:14 where we learn "Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful."  Good deeds, deeds that bear spiritual fruit, are important to God, and they should be important to us.  The good deeds talked about in this short epistle to Titus result in the confirmation and adornment of the gospel.  They give validity to the gospel, and in many instances pave the way for the gospel.
  • It is the fruit of the Light
Ephesians 5:8-9 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth).

Goodness, righteousness, and truth all go together, they walk hand in hand.  So when our light is shining before men, our walk (manner of life/way of life) will be characterized by all three.  The goodness here is not a passive or meek goodness, but an active goodness, a desire for goodness that compels one to action.  It is also the zeal behind righteous indignation.  This is the zeal behind Christ driving out the moneychangers, in order to protect the righteousness of His Father's house.  It is goodness in action, and it is a prevailing goodness.  It is an infectious goodness that influences others around it. This kind of lifestyle is one that brings glory to God, for it is obvious that God is the power, and it will point men to Him.
  • It is righteousness
Philippians 1:11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (See also James 3:18, Hebrews 12:11)

In I John 2:1 our Lord is called Jesus Christ, the Righteous.  So the fruit we bear will be righteous as He is righteous.  In fact, it is His righteousness that we are producing, not our own.  It is the righteousness whose foundation is faith in Christ.  Faith in all that He is and all He has done to secure our salvation.  In fact, we are most righteous when we are living as Christ would live (Again, referring back to the obedience of faith).
  • It is Godly wisdom
James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

Godly wisdom is the mind of Christ (which all true Christian's have) applied to the situations and circumstances of life in the world, and life in the church.  It comes from a knowledge of the Scriptures, it comes from prayer, it is the result of knowing Christ, and comes out of a desire to be like Him in all of life.
  • It is caring for the brethren
Romans 15:26, 28 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem....Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.

We also see this in the letter to the Philippians as Paul commends them for their support for him over the years (approximately 11 years); in II Corinthians as well, as Paul talks about fully supplying the needs of the saints.

The Scriptures tell us to do good and be ready to share, and we are to be particularly sensitive to the needs of those within the family of God, our brethren in Christ.  This sensitivity to, and desire to provide for the needs of the saints is a particular fruit of the Spirit, and gives testimony to the world of God's love and care for His own.
  • It is the outworking of the three core components of the Christian life
I Corinthians 13:13 But faith, hope, and love, abide these three....

We should see these three distinctives manifested in not only the lives of the individuals, but also in the life of each church.  If you look at the letters to the churches in Revelation, they are commended for their manifestation of these distinctives or rebuked for their lack of them.  Also, the church at Thessalonica was commended for their work of faith, their labor of love, and the steadfastness of their hope; and for the church at Colossae; the object of their faith was Jesus Christ, their love was directed towards all the saints, and their hope was laid up in heaven.

Again, as the people go, so goes the church. So each church will manifest fruit in relation to the fruit produced by its people; and to the extent that faith, hope, and love are manifested in the lives of its members, they will be manifested in the life in that church.  This is what makes the churches at Thessalonica and Colossae stand out.  So the question for all of us is how much of faith, hope, and love do we bring to our church?
  • It is the result of our conduct
Hebrews 13:7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you, and considering the result of their conduct (the outcome of their way of life), imitate their faith.

Remember, Jesus said we shall know them by their fruit, or, in other words, you personally will be known by your fruit.  You know, you really do live what you believe.  Therefore your life will bear out what is actually on the inside.  God has constructed life in such a way that our fruit is made known/evident through what life brings about.  We see this fruit, not only in the behavior itself, but also in its consequences.  This is true for all of us whether a believer or a non-believer, but is particularly crucial for leaders in the church.  We should be able to see spiritual fruit in the lives those who are spiritual leaders.  Again, it is not about talking a good game, but it is about the totality of our life.
  • It is the life of Christ lived out in us
Romans 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.
Galatians 4:19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you--
Philippians 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

Since Christ is the vine from which the branches draw their life and sustenance, it is His life that will be reproduced in and through the branch.  It is Christ who is our life, and therefore His life is being lived out through us.  The essence of Christianity is not becoming a better person, but becoming more and more like Christ.  He lived the life that we were supposed to live, but could not; and now lives that life out through each and every one who is truly a Christian.

So when we bear fruit, that fruit is a manifestation of Christ, His character and His attributes.  This gives a richer meaning to the term Christlike.  As we mature, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, we will become more like Him; and in becoming more like Him we will not only produce more fruit, but the fruit we produce will be richer and sweeter and more luxurious.  It will be pleasing to the eye, flavorful to the taste, and give off an aromatic smell.  It will be a delight and appealing to the spiritual senses of those who are true Christians, but will be the odor of death, and therefore offensive, to those who are not.

Our bearing fruit, and much of it, will prove that we are true disciples; and in the proving to be true disciples, God will be glorified.  So, let us focus on becoming more like Christ, for in doing so we will bear much rich fruit, our Father and God will be glorified, and we will have truly done something on this earth that is not only worthwhile, but will count for eternity.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Being Holy

I Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

Holiness is indispensable for all who are truly Christian. Even the term Christian, which means little Christ, evokes the notion of holy behavior in following after the behavior of Christ. In his first epistle Peter goes on to say that we are a holy priesthood and a holy nation offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, and proclaiming His excellencies. We can not do these apart from being all our behavior.

As Christians:

1. Do we rise up each day prepared to do battle against indwelling sin putting to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13), and putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness (James 1:20)? Have we grown comfortable or desensitized to our own sins and therefore indulge the desires of the flesh and the mind? Is personal holiness, practical holiness, growth in sanctification important to us, and is our own Christ likeness important to us? Are we presenting a clean vessel to the Lord for Him to work through (II Timothy 2:21)? Are we identifying, acknowledging, confessing to the Lord, and repenting of our sins? Have we determined to do battle with besetting sins, putting them to death, so we may have spiritual victory in our lives? The issue is not the temptations, nor the struggle with sin, but are we having victory over sin. Can we say we are an example to those around us in this area of our Christian life?

As Pastors:

2. Do you exhort your people to holy living themselves? Do you stress its importance, for now and for eternity? Do you remind them of their calling as a holy people of God, those who bear His name and represent Him before men and angels? Do you lay before them the truth that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and that their sin affects the body of Christ? Do you explain to them that the consequence of not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of their mind is key to growing in holiness, Godliness, Christ likeness? Have you taught them to pray,"Lead me not into temptation (lead me away from temptation), and deliver me from evil (do not let evil have its way with me)," because their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak? Have you stressed to them that a true Christian cannot have an habitually sinful lifestyle (I John 2:9-10)? Have you told them that the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and prayer to God are their weapons in the battle against sin? Have you reminded them that true Christians have been freed from slavery to sin to be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18)?

Sin is the greatest weapon of the enemy of all Christians, Satan, as it is what he tempts us to do. Sin itself is our enemy as it seeks to master us (Genesis 4:7, Romans 6:14). Sin interferes and interrupts the work of God. Through my sin and your sin we wound other Christians. Sin quenches and grieves the Spirit, it puts us at odds with God and brings His displeasure and discipline. Sin hinders us and makes us less useful and less effective in kingdom work, even to the point of our being put on the shelf (disqualified/I Corinthians 9:27). Sin destroys trust and relationships, and brings about death (James 1:15).

Fellow Christians, let us take holiness seriously. Let us strive together to be found as Christ was found, holy, blameless, and above reproach. Let us attack sin and be ever vigilant against it. Let us be holy as He Himself is holy, and live in the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Father, forgive us our sins, cleanse us from all unrighteousness and defilement, make us conscious and sensitive to the sins we tend to ignore, help us to repent and draw close to you. Thank you that we can come boldly to Your throne, the throne of grace, beside which stands our great High Priest and Advocate, Your Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and receive forgiveness, mercy, grace to help in our times of need, and power for holy living. Thank you for the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and keep us filled with Him so that we will not give in to the desires of our flesh and mind. Bless your Holy Name this day and forever more. Amen

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Children, Youth Ministry, and Spiritual Leadership

It is not the youth ministry, nor fun,
nor their relationship with the church,
or their relationship with their friends
that will keep your children faithful,
it is their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

After living in our town for 35 years it is not uncommon for me to run across someone whom I have not seen in a number of years.  In our conversations we usually talk about our children and where we are going to church.  Almost invariably the reason given for where they are attending church is that is where their children had friends, and the friends were the reason the children wanted to go to that particular church, or that particular church's youth ministry had more activities for their kids.

Now before you start howling and throwing rocks, let me say that I believe youth ministry is important, very important. However, think through this with me, and lets look at what is really going on here. If you asked every one of the parents I talked with, they would tell you that they are the spiritual leaders in their home. But are they, really? When you make the decision, to go to a certain church because that's where your children's friends are, or because that's where they can make friends, or because if you don't go there your children will be upset, have you really made the decision. No, your children have made the decision for you, and you have acquiesced. In doing this you have abdicated your position as spiritual leader of the home, and your children have become the de facto spiritual leaders. What is disturbing is that this mindset is not the exception, it is the rule, and has been the prevailing mindset over the last 20-30 years.

One of the alarming statistics that has come out concerning the church is that over 70% of children raised in church don't set foot in the door of the church after they leave home. You might be tempted to say that this proves the importance of having your children attend church where they enjoy it, and where their friends are so that they will continue to come. The problem with that line of thought is that this statistic has come after the 20-30 years when one of the prevailing reasons why people attend certain churches are the reasons I mentioned above. So, obviously, letting your children go to church where they want to so that they won't have a bad taste in their mouths about church has not worked.

In choosing a church based on friendships or fun, what have you communicated to your children about the real importance of church...worship of God, learning the Scriptures, learning sound doctrine, becoming more Christlike, ministering to others in the body, and service to God? You haven't.

Parents, we are called to be the spiritual leaders in our homes, for our families. Spiritual leadership is not choosing a church because your children want to go there because it's fun or because their friends go there; in fact, in exercising your leadership, your children might be disappointed, even upset, because you aren't going where they want to go, but are going where they need to go. It is much like feeding your children. Do you let them eat just what they want to eat, or do you require them to eat what is good for them until they develop a taste for it (even though they throw a fit or pout), and that becomes what they desire and what they will continue to eat after they leave your home. The same principle applies to spiritual things.  Making or keeping your children happy or being worried about having to endure their displeasure is not spiritual leadership.  

It is not the youth ministry, nor fun, nor their relationship with the church, or their relationship with their friends that will keep your children faithful, it is their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Exercise your spiritual leadership in choosing a church that is sound in the faith, teaches the Scriptures to all ages, presents the gospel, and is concerned about your children's spiritual growth and faith in Christ. Make sure that these are emphasized in their program, not fun and friends.

Hey, it's lonely at the top, and a little rough at times, too. But that is why God made parents, that is the position and role God has assigned to us. Don't let your children down, for now and for eternity; but be the spiritual leaders, be strong, be spiritually courageous, and your children will one day rise up and call you blessed.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Encouraging Mystery of the Gospel

And He was saying, "The kingdom of God
is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;
and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, 
 and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself 
does not know. The soil produces crops by itself;
 first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain 
in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately 
puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
Mark 4:26-29

As providence would have it, this section of Scripture comes on the heels of the parable of the four soils in Mark 4:1-20; and I believe it is placed here to be an encouragement for those who are sowing the seed of the gospel.  As you might know, the parable of the four soils deals with the sowing of the gospel, with the seeds that are sown being the word of God.  It is in only one type of soil that the work of God, the gospel, takes a firm root and bears fruit.  The questions that are not answered in this parable are when and how does the gospel actually take root and bear fruit.  Is it immediately?  Are there certain steps or procedures to be followed?  What kind of process is it?  How long does it take?

God answers those questions in verses 26-29, and His answer is...just as the process of the seed sprouting is unseen and unknown to the sower, so is the gospel that takes root and sprouts in the heart of man. The Scriptures don't tell us how and when the Gospel works, they just tell us that it does.  When we share the gospel we don't know what kind of heart soil our gospel seed is falling into, nor can we see or understand how it works; but work it does.

There is a parallel here with Jesus explanation to Nicodemus about being born again.  We see it in John 3:7-8 when Jesus tells him, "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of God."  The work of God's Spirit and His word is unseen and mysterious, but real and tangible, just like the plant sprouting from the seed and the blowing of the wind; and is completely out of our hands.

What the Lord is showing us is He is providing the seed for sowing and He is taking care of its results.  We can trust that in His good way and proper time the intended results will happen.  Just as God causes the physical seed of the grass to sprout in Psalm 104:7, He causes the spiritual seed to sprout as well.  He is author and giver of all life.

When reading this section in Mark I thought back to a time in Dallas several years ago.  My friend Don Conry and I were going to see people who had visited our church.  That evening we spent over an hour with one couple sharing the gospel and answering questions. Almost two years later, after a church service, I had a man call my name and run up to me with his wife.  It was that couple we had shared the gospel with.  He remembered my and Don's name and told me how after their initial visit they did not attend church for quite some time, but all during that time they kept thinking about what we had shared with them and explained to them, and finally they surrendered to its truth.  He then thanked me, shook my hand, and told me that he and his wife were being baptized that evening.

For those who share the gospel, be encouraged that when you sow the seed of the gospel that God is at work. In ways unseen and mysterious God germinates the seed of His word in the heart of man so that it takes root and bears fruit.  The Lord always honors His word and it does not return to Him empty or without accomplishing its purpose.

For those who have heard the gospel, follow the admonition, the call of James 1:21 and receive the word which has been sown in you which is able to save your soul.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thank You R C Sproul

Election, how I hated that word.  I first heard it when a friend's brother (whose name I cannot remember as this was the only time I met with him) came over one night about a year after I began to teach Sunday School at our church in Dallas. He tried in vain to convince me that God elects those who will be saved, and not only that but that they were elect before the foundation of the world. What a horrible picture to paint of God!  How could the Lord be so unfair!

That began an almost weekly discussion each Wednesday after teacher's meeting with my teaching mentor and the teacher of teachers at my church.  I couldn't believe he took the side of my friend's brother.  He always used more Scripture than I did, but I always chalked that up to the fact that he knew the Bible way better than I did and was graduating from Seminary. He and I never settled our friendly disagreement as the following year we moved to Midland, Texas.

Fast forward to 1990, and I had been leading the teachers in a Sunday School Department and also leading a Precept Bible Study for the five years we had been in Midland, and I was still struggling with election. As I was studying one night I came across Psalm 103:19 The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all. The power of the verse overwhelmed me and the thought came to me quickly and forcefully, "If His sovereignty rules over all then it rules over salvation as well." This verse was the rock that when grasped unleashed an avalanche of Scripture, Scripture that I had been wrestling with, Scripture from beginning to end in the Bible that showed God's sovereignty in calling men and women to Himself, Scripture that showed His sovereign Divine providence in guiding and orchestrating the path and affairs of their life, and how His sovereign purposes were carried out in spite of their sin and weakness. This went on for a couple of hours as Scripture after Scripture came to me and I bowed my knee to their overwhelming weight. Verses that had been troublesome for me suddenly took on a clarity and forcefulness and I saw the grace of our Lord like I had never seen it.  The Bible became more alive and had a depth that I had never seen before.  At that moment I knew election was true and right and real.

This is where R C Sproul comes in.  As providence would have it, about this time I ran across a Tabletalk magazine and after reading it I subscribed to it.  R C's articles were always lucid and meaty and usually caused me to think more deeply about the topic he was addressing.  Along with my own study, it was a rich time for me spiritually and I came to an understanding of the doctrines of grace, although I did not know that is what they were called.  In the spring of 1992 Tabletalk had an ad for a Ligonier conference in San Diego, and in addition to R C being there, another pastor whom I admired would be speaking as well, so I was off to the conference.  It was at this conference that I found my spiritual home, as I listened to the speakers...James Boice, Ed Clowney, John Gerstner, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, and R C I realized that I was among people who thought and believed like I did, although with much more depth and wisdom.  It was here that I realized that I was reformed, not in the classic or Presbyterian sense (as a Southern Baptist I hold to believer's baptism, local church autonomy, along with some other doctrinal differences), but as regards the doctrines of grace, the inerrancy of Scripture, and the Five Solas. 

In the intervening years I have attended several Ligonier conferences, read books by R C, listened to his teaching and the teaching of others whom he has introduced me too.  All of this has aided my understanding and appreciation of the wonderful Word of God.  He has been one of the greater influences on my spiritual life and its growth, and there is so much that I have appreciated about him.  In each age God has raised up pillars in the church, and R C was truly one for our age.

Now he has gone on to be present with the Lord, and will take his place with others who are waiting to receive their glorified bodies at the resurrection to become complete in the completeness of Christ. There has been such an outpouring of tributes and approbations for R C from so many of the well known and those who knew him well, dealing with so much that I have not mentioned here.  I just want to say, as an unknown and unknown to R C, thank you R C Sproul, thank you for all you have meant to me in my spiritual life and journey in growing in the grace and knowledge of my beloved Savior.