Thursday, June 04, 2009

"Finally Alive" - Part 3

Spiritually dead men come to the Bible for any one of dozens of reasons. They come to find error according to their own misconceptions; they come to prove any one of a number of silly factoids that they have picked up in their excursions, and sometimes they even come to disprove truth. In and of themselves men do not come to the Bible to find life. Men do not come to the Bible to find out how to be born again because there is no easy formula there to do that. Even when Nicodemus came to Jesus he was not seeking a way to eternal life. As far as he was concerned he already had it made. But then Jesus stopped him “mid-compliment” and told him the one thing above all else in this world that he needed and supremely so was the “new birth”. Nicodemus to say the least was shocked at what for him as a supreme “knower” of Scripture was absolute nonsense. And it is apparent from the conversation that followed, that this teacher of teachers was hearing something that made no sense at all.

Somehow I feel certain that many who will read John Piper’s book will quickly relegate it to just another one of those foolish hyper-Calvinists who really doesn’t have it all together. Sadly they are wrong. For what John teaches here as he did in the wonderful series of messages he brought to his own fellowship of believers, is truth for it is based on the infallible Word of God. And those who will not hear it do so on the basis of the fallacious teaching that men have a free will to accept what God has done for us through the cross of Christ or reject it as having no relevance whatsoever in their own lives. There are literally thousands of evangelical church web pages that hold this statement or something very closely akin to it with respect to salvation, to wit, “God the Holy Spirit regenerates the believing sinner”. In short, they have placed the order of salvation in a reverse position, viz, “belief, regeneration, justification”. The question then becomes: “How does one who is dead in trespasses and sins and totally incapable of doing one infinitesimal good thing, do that which is the greatest good for a human being, that is – believe in Christ for salvation?’ The fact is, he or she cannot do this apart from the grace of God.

John gives to us several excellent points to ponder in this book and I would love to give many of them here, but that is not practical. However, on page sixty one he lays out five things that happen to us when God regenerates an unbeliever. Note them carefully:

1. “When God causes us to be born again, saving faith is awakened, and we are united to Christ.

2. “When the new birth awakens faith, and unites us to Christ, we are justified – that is, counted righteous – through that faith.

3. “When new birth awakens faith and unites us in Christ, all the legal obstacles to our acceptance with God are removed through justification. So God adopts us into his family and conforms us to the image of his Son.

4. “When the new birth awakens faith and we are united to Christ and all condemnation is replaced with justification and the Spirit of adoption moves into our lives, he produces the fruit of love.

5. “Finally, when the new birth awakens faith and unites us to Christ, who is our righteousness, and releases the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, we are on the narrow way that leads to heaven.”

In short, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” – it is not self induced; it is not self made or propagated: it is all of grace, it is all of God. Period. Listen as John explains this mighty and Sovereign act of God.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Finally Alive" - Part 2

I believe that it is quite accurate to state from the Bible that there are but two kinds of people walking around on this planet right now: those who are spiritually alive, and those who are spiritually dead. That is, those who have received from Almighty God the free gift of spiritual life and are now living not just a “life” here on earth, but who have now that same life that Jesus Christ had when He came forth from the grave on Resurrection Sunday; and those who do not have that life right now. As brother Piper speaks to these life and death issues he makes it very clear as he discusses Jesus’ night time dialogue with the Jewish teacher, Nicodemus that one might have all the religion in the world and yet not have this life. One might be the very best, upstanding, outstanding member of his or her church; and has been and is the most active in every conceivable ministry that a local assembly does perform and yet not be born again. For it is not nor has it every been one’s religiosity that saves a man or a woman, it is the life giving, indeed the life begetting that the Holy Spirit of God effects through the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ that makes any one of us saved people.

Over two years ago I began this blog under the title Maxaira, the sword which is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34 for therein Jesus spoke to the very issue that is here under our consideration. For when men receive the truth of Jesus Christ and the Word which God has given to us, and by His grace they are saved, born again, regenerated then at that moment in time a sword falls between the individual thus saved and all humanity around that remains dead in trespasses and sins. And as Jesus so succinctly pointed out every truly born again child of God knows that sword well as it has come between them and even those who are closest to them. Oh, to be sure every day human relations will remain pretty well as they had been, but in the essential areas of life wherein choices have to be made between one’s obedience to God in Christ and walking the way of the world, the sword cuts deep and even the closest of family relations and the warmest of friendships find themselves on divergent paths. This is what happens when the new birth does take place not merely in word, but in truth and in fact. Listen carefully to this clip and learn what takes place at the single most important point in any new believer’s life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Finally Alive" - John Piper

Some time ago at a church that we attended for a number of years I was asked to bring a lesson to an adult Bible class on one of the major doctrines of the Word that the class was studying at that time. Being informed that I could choose one of the doctrines on a list that had not yet been considered, I looked over the possibilities before me and being the lazy kind of guy that I can be from time to time I chose the doctrine of regeneration. My rationale was simple: we all know about this “new birth” doctrine so there shouldn’t be much study and research necessary as for the most part I could speak out of my own experience and knowledge of this “simple” teaching. As I look back at that moment in time now I am shocked at my own arrogance. For while the gospel is simple, an individual study of the wondrous doctrines that make up the Word are anything but. To the average mind perusing these magnificent teachings from a surface only point of view there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot there. Of course this was my mistake. For when one gets into the “meat of the Word” and begins to consider the many facets that our Heavenly Father has there embedded we cannot help but be thrilled by the depth of truth and the riches that He has for us there. For me and subsequently my wife, this study began over five years ago and it continues to this day.

Earlier this year a very dear and well known servant of our Lord, John Piper, published a book entitled simply “Finally Alive” which is from my vantage point one of the clearest, simplest and most powerful works that I have ever come across on the doctrine of regeneration. I have read over the years literally dozens of articles, books and pamphlets on this and yet I now hold in my hand, and I encourage all who read this to obtain a copy for themselves, a truly outstanding work. It is in our day absolutely essential for Christians to understand what the new birth is all about. For the plain fact of the matter is, tens of thousands of professing believers who use the exhortation all the time, viz, “You must be born again”, really have no idea what it means and that is a tragedy of monumental proportions. John addresses this very real problem in the opening pages of his book and the facts cannot be denied unless of course you’re doing the “ostrich” thing.

As I write these words my plan is to bring to you something of a review of this excellent volume as well as I can for I have never really reviewed a book in this way before. I am buoyed up by the fact that since John has already done a series of messages on this before writing the book, I shall be leaning rather heavily on at least three YouTube clips in which he spells out quite clearly the fuller implications of what it means for a man or woman or young person to be “born again”.

Every preacher worth his salt has at one time or another done a series of messages on the elusive prophet Jonah. Pretty well all Sunday School children can tell you about this man and his bout with the “big fish”. Adult Christians know his story well and usually can re-tell it for the enjoyment of all who will listen. Unfortunately the delightful events of this account (though it’s doubtful that Jonah thought they were) usually do not include some of the deeper truths that this brief book tells. One of these truths in particular rarely get mentioned either by lay Christians or preachers of the Word, and that is – “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

Now, yes of course we would all agree that since Jonah at the time of making this glorious statement he was soaking up the rather rancid interior of a large underwater mammal. And for a man of God as he was there was no other source for his on-going survival than the Lord his God. Where else could salvation come from? But salvation in the physical sense is certainly not the only salvation that men might know. There is that salvation of which the Bible speaks in much detail in the New Testament and that is the salvation of the souls of men from the grasp of Satan and the pit of Hell. For when this life comes to that point in time when the body ceases to perform all of its normal functions and breath is no more, what then is the outcome? There are only two destinations available: life eternal or death everlasting. If one is to know the first then salvation through faith by the life giving power of the Spirit of God in what is known simply as the new birth must be a reality in a man or woman’s life. That’s what “Finally Alive” is all about. Listen carefully as John brings this truth to the fore as he essentially does but reiterate Jonah’s marvelous words, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” Please note as John specifies – this is an unsettling truth.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"I only read the articles!"

Over the years I have seen what we might best term from a Christian perspective quite a few “secular” movies. Many of them I have enjoyed quite a bit; many of them have been bad from a number of different viewpoints. In just about all of them one cannot help but see something of that which we refer to as the evidence of man’s fall. Because of the Fall, that is his fall from a position of perfection in the eyes of God to one of sin or lawlessness which we find described so well in the book of Genesis man has what we have come to recognize as a fallen nature, i.e., from birth he has but one propensity and that is to do everything which is contrary to the will and purpose of God his Creator. Now that is not to say that man no longer has any interest in ‘God’ or religion, for above all living creatures on the face of this planet man is most religious; he has a multitude of gods that daily he bows down to and all with but one goal in mind: to make life in this world as comfortable for himself as he can make it. Period.

The interesting thing is that so very often men in their purported religiosity find themselves involved with or under the influence of some very religious institutions or bodies of religious adherents. Sometimes this happens because they are born into families where religion of one kind or another has been the mainstay of the family heritage. Hence small children grow up “believing” that their particular religious upbringing has been, is and probably always will be the only one worthy of any attention whatsoever. All others are total and complete fallacies and should not be considered as having any basis in truth at all.

Over the past fifty years or so religion has been featured almost to the point of stardom in quite a large number of motion pictures put out not only by Hollywood but a number of foreign countries as well. England too with its very religious heritage has seen fit in these days to incorporate alleged Christian themes or sub-themes into films with the purpose, no doubt, of bringing at least on the surface a sense of the moral which religion is supposed to typify. For many movie watchers the result of this has been quite varied depending on how religion or the church or more specifically, Christianity is depicted. One of the areas that religion is most often called upon is in the matter of someone’s death in the film. Following the death of a major or supposedly well beloved character a scene is inserted which deals with the individuals being interred, buried or whatever. There is a “clergyman” present to make some summary statements about the person being buried and then, almost perfunctorily, this man of the cloth asks God to accept this person into His kingdom based not on the man or woman’s good works, or nice character or loving nature but on the basis of Christ and the “hope of the sure and certain resurrection of the dead” as if after all just about everyone is going to “make it” anyway. Of course Hitler, Stalin and all the mass murderers won’t be there for obvious reasons. But this dear soul while certainly far from perfect in anyone’s eyes could surely not fit this category so for those listening in on this funereal soliloquy this dear departed one is pretty well a shoe in, as they say. And if he/she can make it then the rest of us have it made.

A few months ago I happened to stumble upon a rather interesting little video that initially I found, if nothing else, quite amusing for a number of reasons some of which you may chuckle at as well. It appears to be more or less professionally produced by a Christian group that even in this rather whimsical style carries across a message that in the final analysis has a fair bit of clout to it. The circumstances that portray this message do not have any Scriptural support but then I don’t believe they were meant to. What they do portray however is a message that is exactly contrary to all that the world believes in terms of a person’s entry into either Heaven or Hell. Surveys of course have been taken over the years more times than one can adequately count with the idea in mind, I suppose, to gain an understanding of what “Joe Average” believes or pretends to believe in terms of what is required of any ordinary human being to gain access into the “life hereafter”. Most folk have the idea as do the individuals (save one) in the video that one’s works or good behavior or activities in counteracting their bad deeds with supposed good ones will in the final analysis make them “good enough” to get in. None of them make it. And while one or two of them don’t appear all that surprised others are shocked and cannot possibly understand why it is that all that “good stuff” did not stand them in better stead with the powers that be.

The last man in line does finally come to that place where his “file” is open for inspection. Initially his file is looked down upon as not bearing much weight in the final determination and as he is asked to step up for his assessment the inquirer, I suppose St. Peter, is tapped on the shoulder and given a new file in the old one’s place. Well, I won’t put any more spoiler in at this juncture. Consider carefully how this brief video culminates. Perhaps you could then ask yourself what so many others have been asked, “On what basis should you be allowed in to Heaven … or not??”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Merry Tipton

[N.B.: I first posted this little “Christmas Parable” two years ago. Given the way the celebration of Christ’s birth continues to degenerate into little more than consumer madness instead of a time for remembering why Christ came to this sin laden world, I am posting it again so that we who know the Christ of Christmas might more seriously think on what it is that we are really doing to remember the Savior of Calvary]

Some years back there was a dramatic television series that lasted just a few years, but during its time it gained a good sized following. It was called very simply, “The Millionaire” and its premise was just as simple as its title, as a multimillionaire by the name of John Beresford Tipton would call upon his trusty secretary Michael Anthony to hand deliver a cashiers cheque for one million dollars. Today that is still a fair bit of money, but in the late fifties that was huge.

The recipients were apparently just chosen at random and when the cheques were handed over there was a contract involved which had to be signed that stated that they would not tell anyone (except their spouse) that they had received the gift, nor would they attempt to discover who had made the gift. If they breached these rules, the balance would be forfeit.

It was always extremely interesting to see how people in various walks of life; at differing levels of society would respond to receiving such a gift and what they ultimately did with it. It was great entertainment.

Some time back I came across a Christmas presentation that took this basic story line and applied it rather well to what we have come to recognize as the “Christmas Story”. Perhaps you will recognize the elements of the Biblical account … and then again, perhaps not. I have come to view this as a Modern Parable of Christmas.

“Once, very long ago there lived in a faraway land a very kindly gentleman by the name of John Beresford Tipton. He was a very wealthy man with more money than anyone could imagine. And along with his wealth he had developed a rather interesting practice of giving away to certain individuals a tax free gift of one million dollars. To help him in this endeavor he had employed a refined gentleman by the name of Michael Anthony who not only presented the cheque but served to keep Mr. Beresford Tipton’s identity secret.

In the early years there were but a few recipients of the gift, but as the years passed the numbers grew into the thousands even past Mr. Beresford Tipton’s death since his estate called for the rather strange practice to continue.

Needless to say the lives of those receiving the money were drastically changed. And so as the years, even generations passed by the individuals who had been the recipients of this great gift increased in number until after many centuries it was almost impossible to tell for sure just how many there were. But those receiving these gifts came to know of the others that had also been blessed by this money, and ultimately too they learned the identity of their benefactor. So they decided to “celebrate” on an annual basis and managed to find out, not only his name, but Mr. Beresford Tipton’s birth date. After much discussion it was decided that some time in mid winter they would have a party, and call it “Tipton Day”.

Every one became very enthused about it as they stopped to consider this dear man’s generosity. Some even made up songs to make the day even more jovial. Over the years they added a great many things to the celebration in the name of their great benefactor like sending “Tipton Cards”, and decorating homes and offices with beautiful lights. Oh yes, it was wonderful and everyone had a great time.

Eventually “Tipton Day” became a custom around the world and in remembering the wonderful gift that they had received; they decided to give nice gifts to others in celebration.

But as the celebration of “Tipton Day” became so wide spread, a lot of folks who had received nothing from this man’s hand decided that they would do some party crashing. After all why should only they who had received the gift have all the fun. Yet in the midst of that great and growing throng of “Tiptonites” the party crashers were hardly noticed at all. Of course for the most part too, the “crashers” had no idea what all the celebration was about. For them it was just a matter of having a good time. All they could figure out was that someone with this strange name who was very wealthy had decided to make a whole lot of other people wealthy. Well, that seemed very nice so they picked up a glass of champagne … and joined the celebration.

In time, “Tipton Day” became a national holiday in a great many countries and of course ever mindful of new ways of making the whole thing better, many merchants decided to make, what they called, “Tifton” gifts available. That sounded like a fine idea. And most agreed that giving gifts was right in the “spirit of Tipton”.

So manufacturers and merchants got right to work, and they ran “Tipton Specials”, and everyone crowded around to buy their “Tipton Gifts”. And so it grew and expanded and everyone got involved and a great time was had by all.

One day two gentleman from Mr. Tipton’s homeland came to North America landing right here in Canada, and in fact decided to stay for a visit in the big city of Toronto. Now these men had received Mr. Tipton’s gift of one million dollars and decided that they would just like to meet someone just like themselves. The reason for this of course was the fact that Mr. Tipton had just before his death, decided that everyone receiving his gift, would be adopted into his family. So, they were just looking for other “Tipton’s”; people like themselves with the same family name. They were interested in getting together with just a few others to celebrate the memory of their joint benefactor.

So arriving in the heart of the city they walked down Yonge St. and looked into store windows, but as they did so they began to see things that really shocked them. They began to see signs like, “Only Three Shopping Days Left to Tipton”, and others that said things like, “Tipton Specials – Half Off”. Well as you can imagine these men quickly concluded that the owners of these stores must be Tipton’s, and so the next store that they saw a Tifton sign they went in. They looked around and concluded that this owner had done very well with his gift. And as they continued to look they heard someone call out, “And have a very Merry Tipton”. Then a voice from the opposite direction called back, “And you have a very Merry Tipton, too!”

Before long they heard voices all over saying “Merry Tipton”, and a happy new year as well.

This was very strange, as they looked at each other their only thought was, “What on earth is happening here?”

Mr. Tipton had been very generous here in Canada, but even this was far and beyond what they had expected to find.

Later that evening as they continued looking, they found themselves before a large home very beautifully decorated with what someone had referred to as Tipton decorations. Many people were going inside, and on one occasion when the home owner came to the door and noticed the men standing admiring his home, he invited them to come in and join the celebration. It was getting quite cold outside so they were happy to accept. To their amazement when they finally entered they saw “Tipton Cards” all around the living room. Most of these had pictures of pine trees, and snow and animals on them and the wording said things like “Seasons Greetings” and “Have a Very Merry Tipton” and so on.

But the really big item was a magnificently decorated tree right in the middle of the room that everyone admired and referred to as a “Tipton Tree”. The two men were rather thoughtful over this since these kinds of trees were not known in Mr. Tipton’s homeland. In fact he had never particularly liked trees. Oh, well.

These Canadians seemed like a strange lot, but they did seem to know how to have a good time that is if you consider that most of them were quite drunk!

At last the two visitors found a place in a quiet corner to consider what they had seen during the course of the day. One of the men mentioned the fact that on many of the streets they had walked that day, most of the folk calling our “Merry Tipton” didn’t look at all like millionaires. In fact anything but. His friend agreed, “I cannot for the life of me figure out what is going on here”.

So it was decided that they would ask someone about what they were seeing. They approached a man on the far side of the room and asked very simply: “Tell us, brother, when did you become a millionaire?”

The man just about gagged on his drink and shooting them a very cold stare, replied, “What are you talking about? A millionaire? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Thinking he hadn’t worded it just right, the man re-phrased his question: “Well, when did you actually receive your million from Mr. Tipton?”
The man fairly exploded, “What are you talking about? A million dollars? Ha! I had to borrow over three hundred dollars this year just to buy my Tipton gifts!”

The visitor was somewhat taken aback by the man’s attitude, so as timidly as he could asked, “Then why are you celebrating ‘Tipton Day’??”

The man couldn’t believe his ears. “Why am I celebrating ‘Tipton Day’? What’s wrong with you guys?? EVERYBODY celebrates ‘Tipton Day’; my mother and father celebrate it, in fact they’ve always celebrated it. And for that matter so did my grandparents. I’ve always celebrated it!”

He went on, warming to the topic – “when I was a kid I used to hang up my ‘Tipton stocking’. What’s wrong with you foreigners anyway? I thought everyone knew about ‘Tipton Day’??!!”

The visitors backed off and just about bumped into a man with a half empty glass of liquor in his hand. With more than just a little caution they asked him very softly, “Sir … have you received a million dollars from Mr. Tipton?”

Despite his inebriated condition the man looked as though he were just about to enter cardiac arrest as he blurted out, “A million dollars? Are you crazy? Of course I haven’t!!”

The visitor’s curiosity could no longer be contained as he pursued the topic, “Then why are you celebrating ‘Tipton Day’? What’s this all about, we don’t understand?!”

The man tried to be polite though he eyed them like they were from another planet. Slowly he began, “Well, I think that it all started with this man, somebody from some foreign country I think … his name, well his name was ‘Tipton’ … lot’s of people don’t know for sure. In fact there are lots of folk that aren’t really sure that he ever lived. Anyway there’s lots of legends and myths about the whole thing. One thing everyone seems to be agreed on is that this Tipton used to give these great gifts all the time. You know, things like toys, and pajamas and ties … you know that sort of thing. So we just picked up this custom here in Canada and now we give gifts on this guy’s birthday – at least we think it’s his birthday, and we call it ‘Tipton Day’. Anyway, once you get into the spirit of the whole thing, you’ll get used to it. You’ll love it! Here … have a drink!”

The quieter of the visitors replied, “Yes, we can see just how much all of this means to you. That’s a lovely orange tie you have there.”

The two visitors were really very anxious to find out if anyone there was a recipient of Mr. Tipton’s wonderful gift, and so they decided to pose the question one more time. They located yet another guest, a man who seemed very reserved in appearance and had no glass in his hand. They asked very simply, “What does ‘Tipton Day’ mean?”

The man seemed as refined and as educated as he appeared, but took on a slightly pained look at the question. Still, he attempted to respond in a way that he hoped would be helpful.

“Well,” he said, “Mr. Tipton was a man who lived many years ago, and he was very wealthy. In fact, I think that we have his biography somewhere all nicely bound in leather though not many read it very much. A lot of us have this book in our homes though I’m not quite sure where ours is. Anyway, it tells how he made his fortune and how near the end of his life he began to give it away to certain individuals and then adopt them into his family.”

The man paused before going on with what he thought would be a great finish to his story. “Oh, yes the idea behind it all was that if we follow all of the principles that he set down, then we can ourselves ‘earn’ a million dollars ourselves. That’s how we get the million. At least I think that’s what it’s all about. Don’t quote me”.

The man says no more. The party’s getting more boisterous as the evening wears on. The visitors are just about to leave when just above the laughter and tinkling of glasses there’s heard a knock at the door. No one appears to hear it. There’s a very long pause when the door opens and there in the doorway stands a direct descendent of Michael Anthony. There’s a brief case in his hand and he has taken an envelope out with a million dollar cheque inside for “someone”.

Mr. Anthony speaks up and tries to make his voice heard above the party celebrations, “Excuse me … excuse me …”. His voice fades away.

No one is listening. So he speaks up once more, “Excuse me please … !” But the noise of the laughter and singing and glass tinkling and … it’s all so loud. No one hears.

His smile fades and he turns and leaves. No one has noticed as the party celebrating “Tipton” goes on just as hilariously as it was before he came in.

Now it’s just a parable. Perhaps, not to put too fine a point on it, it is something of a satire. Having been a part of the Christmas “scene” here in North America for many years I would say that there is a rather heavy dose of truth here that we as members of Christ’s body cannot over look.

We who are Christians have received a gift of that which is of infinitely greater worth than a million dollars. We’re the “Tiptons” in this parable and in a sense that is both good and bad. It’s good because that gift which we have from Almighty God is eternal life in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. But we have to stop at this juncture and wonder whether or not we as these Tiptons are not doing an especially bad job of conveying the reality of our “riches” to a world that knows absolutely nothing but “party crashing”.

Oh, to be sure they know that someone named “Jesus” came many years ago to bring “something” to this world that should result in, at the very least, PEACE! And so they, ostensibly, celebrate that coming by having a party on His birthday. But apart from the manger … or the shepherds … or the wise men … the world knows very little if anything but “celebrating”. That’s it!!

So they go out and they celebrate. They celebrate with music, and with wine, and with parties, and with trees and decorations … and with gifts. That’s it!!

So that’s all they do – just like the non-Tiptonites – they celebrate; but they know nothing about what it is that they are celebrating.

They celebrate that which “we” have in Christ. They have none of it.

We’re the “Tiptons” … we have the fabulous gift … the greatest of riches. The question becomes, and it’s a hard one to answer because it knocks on the door of each of our homes – “Are we making this great gift known to those outside the “Tipton Family”??

You see, unlike the Tipton of our parable, we have received with the gift a mandate from the giver Himself to “…go and make disciples of all nations…” Now, do we have a better time to do that then right now as we remember the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ?

But now, “Family of Tiptons” … we can’t stop at the manger … and we can’t pause in Bethlehem. And we can’t because beyond this wondrous time there came yet another time some thirty plus years later when the babe in the manger became the Savior on the Cross.

He did not come just to give this world another holiday at a particularly drab time of year. He came to give men by way of Calvary’s tree a gift of unsurpassing value, the gift of Himself. He came to give the gift of reconciliation with a Holy and Just God; He came to give the gift of peace to men in the midst of a world rampant with war; He came to give the gift of life for time … and for eternity.

Oh, in a couple of weeks the non-Tiptonites will be “o-o-o-ing” and “ah-ah-ahing” over fancy clothing and Nintendos and expensive toys, but in the midst of it all their empty hearts are crying out for something more. They need joy … and they need life… and they need peace in lives that are absolutely peace-less!

They have the party … and they have the celebrating. And that’s all they have.

And we have the nicely bound copies of the truth that they, supposedly, are celebrating. We do have the riches, but the question becomes – what are we doing with it?

At this “gifty” time of year is there a greater gift that we could share than a knowledge of Him who made this time of year the reality that it is?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Dangers of Santa Clause

Well we’re in that time of year again when pretty well everyone’s attention, at least here in North America, is directed to things of Christmas. Of course the problem is, from a Christian perspective, that the biggest majority of those about to enter into this joyous time of year have very little idea of what it is that they are really celebrating. For most of the population it is simply a holiday in which people spend a great deal of money for any one of a variety of purposes such as decorations, food, alcoholic beverages and of course gifts. There may be sundry other reasons for the expenditure of hard earned money, but these are those that most think of. And if you were to ask the average “shopper” a great many would say, that it’s just a time for children though of course adults enter into the festivities every bit as much as the little ones. Then too thinking of the little ones who are supposed to be the key subjects of the fun, we see countless parents not only buying a myriad of gifts intended for their children, they have also included what we might refer to as a “go-between” that has been classically referred to as, in the vernacular, “Old St. Nick” or “Father Christmas” or the ever popular “Santa Clause” which is the common appellation in our culture.

As I was thinking about all of this the other day I was rambling through all of the material that I glean from the net from time to time, and right in the middle of it I came across not so much an article on Christmas as a rather key point in a sermon delivered by John MacArthur back in 1990. The article of course is on the net, but I was so taken with the points that he was making, I decided that it would make a very good reminder to all of the Christian brethren out there, many of whom have all gotten caught up not so much in what Christmas is, but what it has become here in North America in the past two hundred or so years. For in subscribing to the dear old fat man known as “Santa” the attributes that are so often ascribed to him we are in fact making him a very real anti-Christ. I am sure some will read this with much skepticism, but I feel confident as well that despite the “bubble” that it may burst for some little ones, some parents will accept this and perhaps even decide to turn aside from the raw commercialism that has made the wondrous event of Christ’s birth a mere time of personal wants. Please, read it carefully and consider what it says:

“What a false, fake substitute the world puts forth at this time [Christmas 1990] for that true message. Do you remember these words?

‘You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why; Santa Claus is coming to town. He's making a list and he's checking it twice; gonna find out whose naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sakes. You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why; Santa Claus is coming to town.’

“Now does that threaten you? That is a very threatening poem. That is intended to scare children. Now listen, if you look at the letters of Santa, you will see that Satan is hidden in Santa. When we teach a child to sing this song, we are teaching him a false theology. We are teaching him a false set of doctrine. Let me see if I can explain it to you.

“First, that song teaches that Santa is a transcendent being. He lives on a higher plane. He lives on another level. He transcends time and space. He has powers equal to whom? God! Not only that, he knows everything. He's omniscient. ‘He knows when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows when you're naughty. He knows when you're nice.’ He knows everything.

“Not only that, he's everywhere. ‘He sees you when you're sleeping.’ He's not only omniscient, he's omnipresent. And he is watching to see whether you have been good or bad. And not only that, but he bestows favors. Now on what basis does Santa give his favors? What must I do to receive good things from this transcendent being, called Santa. Well it is very simple, I have to be what? Good. I can ‘earn’ Santa's favor. If I am good, Santa will give me gifts. After all, he's making a list and he is checking it twice to make sure that we've been either naughty of nice. And on the basis on how we've been, he'll deal with us.

“And if I'm not nice and good, I won't get any gifts. So I better be good for goodness sake, not to mention for my own sake or anybody else's sake. But do you want to know something about Santa? He may be transcendent, and he may be omniscient, and he may be omnipotent, and he may be omnipresent. He may be dispensing all of the good things, but you know what? You can't trust him. You can't trust him. You say, ‘What do you mean by that?’

“It says, ‘He's checking to see if you are naughty or nice.’ And you better be good for goodness sake, because if you aren't good, you won't what? You won't get anything. You want to know something? That's not true. Plenty of times I haven't been good and I get something anyway. Every year I get something. And you want to know the truth of it? There are a lot of naughty people that get a lot and there are a lot of nice people that don't get anything.

“Do you know what about Santa Claus? You can't trust him. He doesn't even stay true to his own word. He's blustering around and warning everybody to mind your manners and be good all the time; be nice and not naughty and good and not bad. And then you know what? When Christmas comes he caves in, and even when we have been naughty he gives us all that stuff. And sometimes he overlooks people that are nice. He really can't be trusted. His threats are meaningless and so are his promises. But that's good because it takes the sting out of him.

“And there is another good thing about Santa; you only have to worry about him once a year. He only shows up once and you know when it is; it's always on Dec 25th, so you can get your act together just a few days before. You say, ‘Well where is he the rest of the time?’ Oh, he's in the North Pole. Could that be heaven in Satan's little scheme? ‘What's he doing?’ Oh, he has all these elfs around him. ‘What are they doing?’ Whatever he tells them. Mostly, meaningless things like make toys. He is sort of inane isn't he? He threatens but never fulfills his threats. He promises but doesn't always fulfill his promises.

“Is it any wonder that if I believe all that as a child, when I come to be an adult, I might have a hard time believing in a Transcendent God who does know everything, who is everywhere, who does have all power, who does keep his promises and his threats, and who does not save me and give me good gifts on the basis of my works but on the basis of His grace. If Santa has been my understanding of God, then I am in trouble. That's why I say, hidden in the letters of Santa is Satan.

“I am glad for a God who is absolutely dependable. I can trust His promises. I can trust His threats. He is everywhere at all times and He doesn't just show up once a year. He is here all of the time. And He gives His great gift, not on the basis of our works but on the basis of His grace through faith.”

Neither John MacArthur or I enjoy tearing down the so-called “dreams” of small children just so that we can make sure everyone’s theology is just right. But then neither do we take any joy in building into little ones the falseness of humanism that has been so thoroughly ensconced into our cultural mindset that often small children have difficulty distinguishing truth from error in everyday life. The Lord Jesus once spoke to His disciples as He was ministering with children in the crowds, and He stated this very poignant truth, and all we as parents and grandparents who know and love the Savior who came at Christmas need to heed this very well –

“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”

Surely the greatest gift that we can give to our precious little ones is the gift of His love through the Truth of His Word. Have a very joyous Christmas!!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beware of Sheep Imitations!

In our present day when, ostensibly, it is quite a simple matter to become in the vernacular of the evangelical church, “saved” as simply as “A,B,C”, i.e. “Accept”, “Believe”, and “Confess”, I have become very concerned about such formulaic presentations especially in light of our Lord’s words to His contemporaries when He stated quite emphatically,

“"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

There are a lot of wonderful passages in Scripture that many pastors will never touch on, and this is surely one of the more prominent ones of this group. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, but in a time in which the “seeker sensitive” movement has taken over in many quarters there is little point in hearing from the pulpit, if there is actually one in place, that all those wonderfully converted saints may really not be saints after all. Of course that’s not really their fault because they did follow through with the “raised hand, walked aisle, and sinner’s prayer” formula, and shortly thereafter were welcomed into the family of God as if “what they did .. did it!!” The fact of the matter is, however, that from the Scriptural point of view, absolutely nothing of what they or we do in terms of salvation has anything whatever to do with our salvation. That’s why we read that salvation is “…by grace alone”. Most churches that I have looked into do in fact affirm this very essential truth, yet so many of them go on speaking about the new birth as if men were and are very much a part of it coming to pass. Often the wording of church statements of faith include such affirmations, to wit, “…when the unregenerate receives Christ for salvation, then they are born again.” they are In other words, men who are spiritually dead do nonetheless have the capacity to “make a decision” that results in their own regeneration. This would be interesting and downright miraculous if it were true, but it is not. Yet this is precisely the evangelistic message that is proclaimed far and wide every day. Every time a church holds evangelistic services; every time a major crusade is conducted men are told that in the doing of such and such, they will be saved. And what happens usually follows a scenario similar to this – a gospel message is proclaimed; people are invited to come forward to “receive Christ as personal Savior” – nowhere is this to be found in Scripture; the choir sings [often] “Just as I am”; counselors gather and hand out literature and pray with those who’ve walked the aisle. And when all is concluded, the “new convert” is welcomed into the family of God and given further instructions. Are any saved? Yes, I believe that God in His Sovereign mercy does save some. What of the others? That’s hard to say, but once the emotion of the moment has worn off, so does the sense of being saved or of having had some wonderful new experience.

Recently I re-read a tremendous little book that has been in my library for over twenty years. The book is entitled, “Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic” by pastor Walter Chantry. It’s less than one hundred pages in length. In it he tackles the whole matter of preaching the gospel and uses as his base text the account in Mark 10 of the rich young ruler coming to Jesus for the express purpose of “inheriting eternal life”. It’s a classic account of what the church today would look upon as being a “seeker” coming to Christ. Beyond that however, it would appear that the Son of God in His meeting with this “ripe candidate” for salvation, actually blows the whole encounter. From the standpoint of “Salvation 101”, Jesus does everything wrong. Right from the getgo when the man comes to the Master and pays Him a great compliment, Jesus shoots him down. And then instead of getting on with the four spiritual laws, He starts quizzing the man on whether or not he had been successful in keeping the commandments. For the average student of evangelism the whole account must seem like a real exercise in futility. Every modern day rule of evangelism is seriously maligned so that in the final scene in this little drama, the man goes away in great sorrow not saved after all.

For most evangelicals the reason for his not being saved is simple – he didn’t “do” what he was told to do, and hence Jesus couldn’t save him. But is that really the crux of the matter? Was Jesus rendered helpless in light of the man’s will, or lack thereof, in complying with Jesus’ instructions? It does seem that way as we consider all that transpired but surely we must ask and seek an answer to the man’s supposed inability to reach the goal for which he had made this overture in the first place. The Scriptural fact of the matter is – no man, woman, child, young or old person of any tribe or people can be saved unless something rather miraculous takes place within and that is the work alone of God through His Holy Spirit. Unless and until man turns completely from his sin and bows to Jesus Christ alone for his salvation he cannot have eternal life. Jesus here put His finger on one all important fact of this man’s life, the man’s sin. He was still married to his god, his gold. He wouldn’t give it up. Dare we say that though this fellow had stated emphatically that the commandments that Jesus had named and that needed his obedience, there were in fact others there that had received little if any obedience at all? The gold had become for him an idol; to get and keep so much of life’s riches he was ever in a state of covetousness. This was his heart attitude and Jesus knew it. And He called on the man to give it up; to turn completely about face from it. But his heart, his nature would not allow it. With respect to those commandments that he had given lip service to for his whole life, he felt fine. But with his heart attitude toward his real ‘god’ there was no change. He loved it still. He could not give it up – even for eternal life. Unless God by way of His Holy Spirit wrought a new life within the man, there was no way that he could change.

And that is not the “evangelism” of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Do you see what Jesus did here? The Master defined sin and in doing so made it abundantly clear to this young man that in and of himself there was nothing he could do to rid himself of it. To gain eternal life we must obey; our whole lives must be lives of obedience. Our evangelism today is very simple: “Accept God’s free gift; Believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for sinners; Confess your sinfulness”. This is how we end up with sheep imitations. The truth is not in them, because they haven’t had the truth delivered to them. To become a follower of Jesus Christ one must make a complete, total and unequivocal turn from the life that he or she has lived and so dearly loved. From that point on they must walk in a new life of obedience and that will not, though it is frequently claimed otherwise, be easy. That’s why Jesus spoke so strongly of the cost of being His disciple. This life could and frequently does, cost everything. It is not simply a matter of being added to a long roster of “new converts”. It’s a matter of having now, residing within, the life of Jesus Christ and living that life before a watching world that hates Christ. Yes, that’s a cost. This is not simply an outward “confession”, it is an inner reality that God must originate in the hearts of men who hate Him and until that happens all the confessions and tears and prayers of contrition will not amount to the proverbial hill of beans.

Until men come to the realization that they must come to the cross having offended a thrice Holy God and there in total repentance of the lives that they’ve lived, beg for mercy, they will not be saved. Yet countless thousands make the empty profession every year without an inkling of the sin that is theirs, and one day will stand before God proclaiming all their “good” in vain only to hear those words, “…depart from me, I never knew you”. The number of sheep imitations on that day will be staggering. And so many of them will have come from having made their earthly “professions” in situations such as the illustration below. Watch it carefully and learn from it.

At the risk of sounding a mite harsh I will say only this – this is an heretical and soul destroying practice that comes out of a system that in reality thinks very little of God. It is a system that does not preach the law, so men don’t know how or why they have offended God. This is a practice that does not call for repentance. This is a system that waters down the gospel to the mere offering of Christ and salvation “as a gift” and never mentions that we must bow to Christ’s rule and bear a cross. Men might be deeply affected by truth and never be converted. They end up in quite illustrious company for even the devils believe, and they tremble.