Sunday, December 31, 2006
I'm not a materialist; I don't believe that what you see is what you get. I believe that a human spirit separates from the body at death and--to his joy or to his horror--realizes that Christ, indeed, is Lord.
No matter how noted, no matter how rich, no matter how powerful a person becomes in this life, there is only one of two destinies for him: salvation in Christ or damnation with the world. It may not be a popular thought but it's a biblical one. Consider the Apostle John's stark accessment between Christians and non-Christians:
"We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1Jn 5.19 ESV)
In case anyone doesn't know who εν τω πονηρω--"in the wicked evil one" is, John is speaking of Satan.
As Clarke expounds in his Commentary:
"The whole world lieth in wickedness...Lieth in the wicked one - is embraced in the arms of the devil, where it lies fast asleep and carnally secure, deriving its heat and power from its infernal fosterer. What a truly awful state! And do not the actions, tempers, propensities, opinions and maxims of all worldly men prove and illustrate this? 'In this short expression,' says Mr. Wesley, 'the horrible state of the world is painted in the most lively colors; a comment on which we have in the actions, conversations, contracts, quarrels and friendships of worldly men.' Yes, their Actions are opposed to the law of God; their Conversations shallow, simulous, and false; their Contracts forced, interested, and deceitful; their Quarrels puerile, ridiculous, and ferocious; and their Friendships hollow, insincere, capricious, and fickle: - all, all the effect of their lying in the arms of the wicked one; for thus they become instinct with his own spirit: and because they are of their father the devil, therefore his lusts they will do."
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
Wesleyans need to understand that, even with entire sanctification, they will continue to grow, mature, learn, and struggle against temptation until they are with God. Weigh Wesley's words carefully on this matter:
"The highest perfection which man can attain, while the soul dwells in the body, does not exclude ignorance, and error, and a thousand other infirmities. Now, from wrong judgments, wrong words and actions will often necessarily flow: And, in some cases, wrong affections also may spring from the same source. I may judge wrong of you: I may think more or less highly of you than I ought to think; and this mistake in my judgment may not only occasion something wrong in my behaviour, but it may have a still deeper effect; it may occasion something wrong in my affection. From a wrong apprehension, I may love and esteem you either more or less than I ought. Nor can I be freed from a likableness to such a mistake while I remain in a corruptible body. A thousand infirmities, in consequence of this, will attend my spirit, till it returns to God who gave it. And, in numberless instances, it comes short of doing the will of God, as Adam did in paradise. Hence the best of men may say from the heart,
'Every moment, Lord, I need
The merit of thy death,
for innumerable violations of the Adamic as well as the angelic law.' It is well, therefore, for us, that we are not now under these, but under the law of love. 'Love is' now 'the fulfilling of the law,' which is given to fallen man. This is now, with respect to us, 'the perfect law.' But even against this, through the present weakness of our understanding, we are continually liable to transgress. Therefore every man living needs the blood of atonement, or he could not stand before God." (Sermons, #76, "On Perfection")
Please understand that Wesley wasn't saying a Christian couldn't help sinning. He defined sinning as willfully and consciously transgressing what a person knows to be right. Wesley did realize, however, that we will continue to make mistakes--thoughtless blunders based on imperfection--in this life.
Let me put it to you this way; if you are looking for a work of grace to take care of all of your problems then you are looking in vain. You have to just keep climing the mountain as all Christians do.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
A problem occurs, though, when the retaining wall itself is shifting.Every Christian has retaining walls in his life: prayer, Bible study, fellowship with the saints at worship services/other church functions and, quite importantly, putting into practice what he already knows to be the will of God.
In today's Church world it's easy to know much about Christianity but participate in it little. Disobedience to the will of God (found in the word of God) is disastrous.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, warns us:
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing."
(Jam 1.22-25 ESV)
In his Explanatory Notes John Wesley comments on verse 23:
"Beholding his face in a glass - How exactly does the scripture glass show a man the face of his soul!"
And verse 25:
"But he that looketh diligently - Not with a transient glance, but bending down, fixing his eyes, and searching all to the bottom. Into the perfect law - Of love as established by faith. St. James here guards us against misunderstanding what St. Paul says concerning the 'yoke and bondage of the law.' He who keeps the law of love is free, Joh 8:31, &c. He that does not, is not free, but a slave to sin, and a criminal before God, Jam 2:10. And continueth therein - Not like him who forgot it, and went away. This man - There is a peculiar force in the repetition of the word. Shall be happy - Not barely in hearing, but doing the will of God."
Don't let your spiritual hills slip to destruction; keep your retaining walls intact.
Monday, December 18, 2006
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom 8.14-17 ESV)
This small passage of Scripture is loaded with theological insight. For this sermon I used the history of John Wesley and early Methodism as my chain of thought. Allow me to give you the quick tour of my message:
1. To be "led by the Spirit" is to embrace experiential Christianity. This was one problem that vexed John. He was raised in the Anglican Church, attended Oxford, and was, himself, ordained a priest. However, he lacked a sense of God's pardoning grace. No matter how earnest, devoted to good works and "methodical" he was in his accountability to religion, he couldn't find peace for his soul.
2. Wesley needed to leave a life of slavery to religious law and become a son of God (or, at least, to know that he was), through "the Spirit of adoption". Two things helped bring him to an experiential religion: his relationship with Moravians generally and Peter Bohler specifically (whom I have blogged about in part 1 and part 2) and a book written by Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man.
3. Wesley embraced the importance of the witness of the Holy Spirit; a "Foundational Wesleyanism" that I wrote of here at What is a Wesleyan? Part 3.
4. These things enables us to know that we have an ineritance of/in God with Christ. This is when Christianity seems real. This is experiential Christianity.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
"It is my own belief (and here I shall not feel bad if no one follows me) that every good and beautiful thing which man has produced in the world has been the result of his faulty and sin-blocked response to the creative Voice [of God] sounding over the earth. The moral philosophers who dreamed their high dreams of virtue, the religious thinkers who speculated about God and immortality, the poets and artists who created out of common stuff pure and lasting beauty: how can we explain them? It is not enough to say simply, 'It was genius.' What then is genius? Could it be that a genius is a man haunted by the speaking Voice, laboring and striving like one possessed to achieve ends which he only vaguely understands?"
This reminds me of the following passage from the Bible:
"'Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to him.'" (John 12.28-29 ESV)
Strange how people heard the same thing but came away with different interpretations as to what it was, isn't it?
But they heard it.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Water under the bridge.
The Lord taught us to keep our minds on the present:
"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
(Mat 6.34 ESV)
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof - Αρκετον τη ημερα η κακια αυτης, Sufficient for each day is its own calamity. Each day has its peculiar trials: we should meet them with confidence in God. As we should live but a day at a time, so we should take care to suffer no more evils in one day than are necessarily attached to it. He who neglects the present for the future is acting opposite to the order of God, his own interest, and to every dictate of sound wisdom. Let us live for eternity, and we shall secure all that is valuable in time." (Clarke, Commentary)
I must confess that not only can I be anxious for the future but I can be haunted by the past. Feeling the pain of wrong choices is trying enough; however, living with the consequences of inaction may be worst hurt of all.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Notice four things that Paul tells the Christians at Rome:
1. They live according to the Spirit if they have the Holy Spirit within. (8.9a)
This is especially important to our understanding of Paul; the concept of the willfully sinning Christian, the black sheep in the family of God, was without Paul's sanction. He simply had no category in his mind to describe saints who lived like sinners. It's a given for him that saints act like Christians.
2. If they don't have the Spirit, they aren't Christians to begin with. (8.9b)
Another milestone in his thought involves the Holy Spirit. All Christians have him reigning within them. To be a Christian means that one has the Spirit. ["the Spirit of Christ" is another phrase for the Holy Spirit. (Acts 16.7; Phil 1.19)]
3. They still have to suffer some of the after-effects of Adam's fall from grace but are not without the Spirit's ministry. (8.10,11)
Unless Christ returns on the Day of Resurrection and Judgment while we still are living, we all will die, and without exception. Even though we are not in Adam anymore but are the new creation in Christ, nevertheless, we still have some hang-over effects of Adam's sin. One is physical death.
However, the Spirit will enable us to live before we are given new resurrection bodies; he is our Spiritual strength now. We are not without his power to live in holiness during our days before the Day.
4. They still must be warned to remain in the Holy Spirit lest they apostatize. (8.12,13)
Notice the warning from Paul. The two categories "in the flesh"/"in the Spirit" are not forever fixed. We rejoice that sinners can become saints! However, the converse is true: saints can become sinners. We are to remain in Christ as productive Christians lest spiritual destruction come upon us.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." (John 15.1-6 ESV)
Given the alternative I'd rather be in the Spirit.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Several weeks ago I stopped by the side of the road and took some photos.
Here's a picture of the actual kitchen.
This was the place where Union forces were fed before they and Confederates blasted away at each other. The Civil War wasn't pretty. (We Mountaineers were still part of Virginia at the time of the battle. President Lincoln accepted our secession into the Union in 1863. And, no, I'm not a Virginian, I'm a West Virginian!)
The war between those of the flesh and those of the Holy Spirit isn't pretty, either. It's not a civil war because we are of two different kingdoms: the Domain of Darkness and the Kingdom of God's Beloved Son.
Of course, I'm not speaking of actual, physical war but, rather, a clashing of two ideologies, of two different values and priorities. We're not on the same page. As politically incorrect as it is to say, look at the last verse in our passage under consideration:
"Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8.8 ESV)
That's right, no sinner pleases the Trinity. Not a single one. Ever. As Clarke states in his Commentary:
"Cannot please God - Because of the rebellious workings of this principle of rebellion and hatred. And, if they cannot please God, they must be displeasing to him; and consequently in the broad road to final perdition."
Sinners don't please God. They're going to hell. They need to be saved and become those according to the Holy Spirit. They need to secede and become a citizen in the Kingdom of God's Beloved Son.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Verses like 8.1 can cause me to do some explaining.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (ESV)
I preach from the English Standard Version but the pew Bible isn't. Rather, it uses the Greek Textus Receptus as its NT text and keeps the longer phrase such as found in the King James:
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
(Rom 8:1 KJV)
These verses can frustrate me a bit; the delicate balance is teaching a congregation to realize there are textual variants in the NT without causing them to despair of having a corrupted Bible—hence, unreliable and unauthoritative. Clarke, himself, does some textual criticism in his Commentary:
"This last clause is wanting in the principal MSS., versions, and fathers. Griesbach has excluded it from the text; and Dr. White says, Certissime delenda; it should most undoubtedly be expunged. Without it, the passage reads thus: There is, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; for the law of the Spirit of life, etc. It is a fairly assumed point, that those who are in Christ Jesus, who believe in his name, have redemption in his blood; are made partakers of his Spirit, and have the mind in them that was in him; will not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit: therefore the thing itself is included in the being in Christ, whether it be expressed or not: and it was probably to make the thing more obvious, that this explanatory clause was added by some copyist, for it does not appear to have made an original part of the text; and it is most likely that it was inserted here from the fourth verse."
Realize, then, that making educated choices of textual variants isn't "liberal"; our beloved (and very conservative) Wesleyan linguist was making such choices throughout his New Testament Commentary.
Back to our passage; Paul is beginning a great part of his letter, explaining how there is a difference between those who are saved and those who are lost.
There are only two kinds of people in the world:
1. Those who live κατα σαρκα —"according to the flesh"
2. Those who live κατα πνευμα —"according to the [Holy] Spirit"
This great contrast will drive Paul's thought as he explains that there is only one group that has God's favor.
Let's define "flesh" as mainly used in this chapter. The flesh in this sense isn't speaking of a physical body; is the life of the unregenerate sinner. It stands for the world, it is the world. The sinner is dominated by sin; indeed, it is the nature of a person who is depraved. It is the natural man, the person lost in his sins and one who stands condemned before God. It is the person who hates God and the things of God.
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (1Joh 2.15-17 ESV)
"We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1Joh 5.19 ESV)
The one in the Holy Spirit, however, is a Christian who shows the fruits of his repentance. He is in the world physically but doesn't live as a member of the sinful world:
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (Joh 15.18-19 ESV)
Paul will use this contrast throughout. To bring this longer post to a close, let me sum up the passage quickly: God had a plan for bringing the world out of a person. He sent his Son who, at the incarnation, became a man who looked like any regular sinful guy (but Jesus was without sin) and, through the sacrifice of his Son, killed off the rebellious streak in a person who came to salvation. Therefore, there is now a contrast between those who are saints through the power of the Holy Spirit (κατα πνευμα) and those who are still sinners through the power of the flesh (κατα σαρκα). Let's watch this great contrast, detailed by Paul, together.
Friday, December 8, 2006
John Wesley was no feeble man; we went to great lengths to preach the gospel—including in Winter. Let me recount two stories from Wesley's Journal. The first is an entry for April 1, 1743:
"I had a great desire to visit a little village called Placey, about ten measured miles north of Newcastle. It is inhabited by colliers only, and such as had been always in the first rank for savage ignorance and wickedness of every kind. Their grand assembly used to be on the Lord’s day; on which men, women, and children met together to dance, fight, curse and swear, and play at chuck ball, spanfarthing, or whatever came next to hand. I felt great compassion for these poor creatures from the time I heard of them first; and the more, because all men seemed to despair of them.
"Between seven and eight I set out with John Healy, my guide. The north wind, being unusually high, drove the sleet in our face, which froze as it fell and cased us over presently. When we came to Placey, we could very hardly stand. As soon as we were a little recovered I went into the square and declared Him who 'was wounded for our transgressions' and 'bruised for our iniquities.' The poor sinners were quickly gathered together and gave earnest heed to the things which were spoken. And so they did in the afternoon again, in spite of the wind and snow, when I besought them to receive Him for their King; to 'repent and believe the gospel.'"
Can you imagine standing in wind and snow to preach outside? It says much to the desire of the Anglican evangelist—and his eager hearers.
The second story comes almost four years later. For February 17-18, 1747, we have the following:
"We set out as soon as it was well light; but it was really hard work to get forward; for the frost would not well bear or break; and the untracked snow covering all the roads, we had much ado to keep our horses on their feet. Meantime the wind rose higher and higher till it was ready to overturn both man and beast. However, after a short bait at Bugden, we pushed on and were met in the middle of an open field with so violent a storm of rain and hail as we had not had before. It drove through our coats, great and small, boots, and everything, and yet froze as it fell, even upon our eye-brows; so that we had scarcely either strength or motion left when we came into our inn at Stilton.
"We now gave up our hopes of reaching Grantham, the snow falling faster and faster. However, we took the advantage of a fair blast to set out and made the best of our way to Stamford Heath. But here a new difficulty arose, from the snow lying in large drifts. Sometimes horse and man were well-nigh swallowed up. Yet in less than an hour we were brought safe to Stamford. Being willing to get as far as we could, we made but a short stop here; and about sunset came, cold and weary, yet well, to a little town called Brig-casterton.
"Wednesday, 18.—Our servant came up and said, 'Sir, there is no traveling today. Such a quantity of snow has fallen in the night that the roads are quite filled up.' I told him, 'At least we can walk twenty miles a day, with our horses in our hands.' So in the name of God we set out. The northeast wind was piercing as a sword and had driven the snow into such uneven heaps that the main road was impassable. However, we kept on, afoot or on horseback, till we came to the White Lion at Grantham."
Thursday, December 7, 2006
As Clarke notes in his Commentary:
The parched ground "The glowing sand"...sharab; this word is Arabic, as well as Hebrew, expressing in both languages the same thing, the glowing sandy plain, which in the hot countries at a distance has the appearance of water.
"And the mirage hath become a pond" (Isa 35.7a YLT)What a cruel deception for a dying traveler to race toward desert pool, only to find that his dream of water dashed by the realization that the pool is a mirage!
I can think of something even more cruel: for a spiritual sojourner, crazed with burning thirst, to race toward spiritual water, only to find nothingness for his soul.
All of the religions of the world offer nothing more but mirages of soul satisfaction; none deliver on the promises but Christianity.
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14.5-6 ESV)Thirsty soul, run toward Jesus Christ; he is no mirage but, rather, a cool drink of water.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Read some of his Journal entries:
"I advised one who had been troubled many years with a stubborn paralytic disorder to try a new remedy. Accordingly, she was electrified and found immediate help. By the same means I have known two persons cured of an inveterate pain in the stomach; and another of a pain in his side which he had had ever since he was a child. Nevertheless, who can wonder that many gentlemen of the faculty, as well as their good friends, the apothecaries, decry a medicine so shockingly cheap and easy, as much as they do quick-silver and tar-water?" (January 20, 1753)
"Having procured an apparatus on purpose, I ordered several persons to be electrified who were ill of various disorders; some of whom found an immediate, some a gradual, cure. From this time I appointed, first some hours in every week and afterward an hour in every day, wherein any that desired it might try the virture of this surprising medicine. Two or three years after, our patients were so numerous that we were obliged to divide them: so part were electrified in Southwark, part at the Foundry, others near St. Paul’s, and the rest near the Seven Dials. The same method we have taken ever since; and to this day, while hundreds, perhaps thousands, have received unspeakable good, I have not known one man, woman, or child, who has received any hurt thereby: so that when I hear any talk of the danger of being electrified (especially if they are medical men who talk so), I cannot but impute it to great want either of sense or honesty." (November 9, 1756)
[Warning: Couldn't someone go to prison today for practicing medicine without a license?]
"At my leisure hours this week, I read Dr. Priestley's ingenious book on electricity. He seems to have accurately collected and well digested all that is known on that curious subject. But how little is that all! Indeed the use of it we know; at least, in some good degree. We know it is a thousand medicines in one: in particular, that it is the most efficacious medicine in nervous disorders of every kind which has ever yet been discovered. But if we aim at theory, we know nothing. We are soon
Lost and bewilder'd in the fruitless search." (January 4, 1768)
"I thought myself able to speak to the congregation, which I did for half an hour; but afterwards I found a pain in my left side and in my shoulder by turns, exactly as I did at Canterbury twenty years before. In the morning I could scarcely lift my hand to my head; but after being electrified I was much better, so that I preached with tolerable ease in the evening; and the next evening read the letters, though my voice was weak. From this time I slowly recovered my voice and my strength, and on Sunday preached without any trouble."
(September 19, 1773)
Wesley was a learned man interested in different fields of inquiry (such as the brilliant American preacher, Johnathan Edwards) but I think this is one area where John Wesley should have left well enough alone.
[Warning: Don't try this at home or anywhere else! Passing electrical current through your body could hurt or kill you!!]
The moral of the story: even brilliant Christians can do crazy or dangerous things!
Sunday, December 3, 2006
"He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," (Heb 1.3 ESV)
"The brightness of his glory - Απαυγασμα της δοξης The resplendent outbeaming of the essential glory of God"