Saturday, September 27, 2008

Refreshing Biblical Honesty

Just in case you haven't heard of this CNN interview with Voddie Baucham on the Palin pick to run as McCain's VP, I thought I would direct your attention to it. I saw it a couple weeks ago, and I was very thankful for Baucham's biblical honesty. I just watched it again this morning, and again it was so refreshing to see Baucham unapologetically uphold the truth of Scripture. I thank the Lord for his clear Word and for men who are willing to proclaim it, even on CNN.

You can watch the video clip on Baucham's blog here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Biblical Thinking on Finances

The Family Research Council's Washington Watch Weekly had an excellent discussion of the financial issues facing us and our nation right now. Pat Toomey had some good wisdom for the government, and Ron Blue gave excellent advice for personal finances. Truly, if we trust in the Lord and follow his Word, we will have the wisdom we need for whatever situations we find ourselves in. I would encourage you to listen to it, and I would especially encourage you to follow the four principles that Mr. Blue gives for personal finances.

1. Budget my money. Live within my means.
2. Pay off my debt.
3. Build emergency funds.
4. Set some long-term financial goals to prioritize the use of my money.

Listen to it here.

It Is Finished!

As Jesus was dying on the cross, he cried out, "It is finished!" Everything the Father sent him to accomplish, he accomplished. There is no better news in the world today for the sinner than this, for the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. There is nothing more profoundly joyful for the believer than this, for by his obedience Jesus made the many righteous. Beginning this Lord's Day, we are going to meditate on what Jesus finished, and I hope that you will be filled with a holy awe and a humble joy as we look at the amazing work of Christ. This is the stuff of legend, but it is all true!

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (#23)
Praise the Savior (#17)
Not All the Blood of Beasts (#136)
It Is Finished (#138)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)

Scripture Reading
The Day of Atonement - Leviticus 16

It Is Finished (Part 1): The Sacrifice to Take Away Guilt

Wonder of wonders! On the cross He dies!
Man of ages, David's mighty Son,
The Eternal Word who spake and it was done,
What time, of old, He formed the earth and skies.

Abashed be all the wisdom of the wise!
Let the wide earth through all her kingdoms know
The promise of the Lamb of God, whose blood should flow -
For human guilt the grand sole sacrifice.

No more need altar smoke, nor victim bleed:
'Tis finished! the great mystery of love.
Ye sin comdemned, by this blood, 'tis decreed.
Ye stand absolved; behold the curse removed!
O Christ! Thy deadly wounds, Thy mortal strife
Crush death and hell and give immortal life.

'Tis finished all: the veil is rent,
The welcome sure, the access free:
Now then we leave our banishment,
O Father, to return to Thee!

Horatius Bonar

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Seventh Commandment (Part 2)

The Command to Love Marriage (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:18; Ephesians 5:22-33

In the beginning God created a wonderful garden. In that garden he placed a man named Adam. This man was a unique creature. God formed him from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being. He was personal in every sense of the word. He had conscience, and a God-consciousness. God gave him the task of taking care of the garden. In fact, God wanted him to exercise dominion over the entire earth. But something was not yet right. It was not good for him to be alone. So God did a wonderful thing. He put Adam to sleep and from his side God created a perfect counterpart to him – a female human being.

God created another garden that day. He designed a garden of human relationships with fertile soil which could produce abundant fruit. But one thing was absolutely necessary for that garden. It had to be pure in order to be productive. In order to accomplish the purposes for which God designed it, it had to remain pure.

The seventh commandment is designed to guard the sanctity, the purity, of the marriage relationship. In order to fully understand why God gives such a strong prohibition against adultery, and by extension any form of sexual impurity, we must understand the nature and purpose of marriage.

I hope that in doing this you will be able to see the beauty and glory and goodness of what God has given us in the institution of marriage. So many people, not knowing God’s plan for marriage, have experienced pain, heartbreak, and disillusionment. Many observers of our society today regard this as a factor in the growing trend of co-habitation. So many young adults have watched their parents fight, bicker, and eventually divorce, and they have a deep suspicion of marriage. Many have grown up in one parent homes, so they don’t have a clue about marriage. These young adults also believe that there is nothing wrong with physical relationships outside of marriage (less than half of Americans consider this to be sinful, according to recent polling data). Sadly, they are hugely mistaken, and we are seeing the results in our society. Because the purity of marriage has been forsaken, people are living in a social desert with sandstorms of bitterness and without the water of companionship. Instead of that, I want you to see today that marriage is an incredibly beautiful garden, and when it is cultivated according to God’s instructions, it will produce an abundant harvest of delightful fruits, colorful flowers, fragrant meadows, and laughing streams of water.

What is marriage?

Genesis 2:18-23 tells us how God made mankind as male and female. But if we stopped at v. 23, we would not know how the male and the female are supposed to relate to each other. Do we just experiment to find out how males and females are supposed to relate to each other? No. The Bible gives us in vv. 24-25 a theological commentary on the story so that we will know exactly what God wants us to learn. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his morther and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Right away we learn that a man is supposed to form a committed and exclusive attachment to one woman. We call that marriage. Later on in Scripture, we see this relationship called a ‘covenant’ relationship (Prov 2:17; Mal 2:14). A covenant is a solemn commitment guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both parties, sealed with an oath.[1] It is because marriage is a covenant relationship that it is a 100% deal for both spouses. It is not 50/50. When we choose to get married, we obligate ourselves to that relationship in a way that is not dependent on how well the other spouse does his job. In fact, in a biblical view, God himself holds the parties to the marriage covenant responsible to fulfill the obligations of marriage. Marriage is designed to be an exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman for life.

I think you can already see why God gave the seventh commandment. If marriage is designed by God in its nature to be a lifelong committed relationship, then adultery strikes at the very core or essence of marriage. Adultery is like sowing salt in the garden of marriage. It is like spraying the whole garden with Roundup®. It is an attack on everything good that God designed marriage for.
So what did God design marriage for?

What is the purpose of marriage?

I believe we can see in Scripture four interrelated aspects of the purpose of marriage.
1. To rule earth together for God (Gen 1:26-27). God made Adam and gave him a job to do. But Adam couldn’t do it alone. He needed a helper who was suitable for him. God provided precisely that in Eve. Male and female were needed. The husband and wife are a team who work together to accomplish God’s good purposes. On this team of two, each partner has covenant responsibilities.
The husband is responsible to be the leader. Now, that means that he is ultimately responsible for the marriage. That’s what leadership means. It means taking responsibility for the good of our wives. So how does the Bible describe this leadership responsibility? Tyrant? Dictator? No. Love. Love means caring for someone enough to do what is best for them. As he loves his wife, the husband will serve her in order to equip her to be her best in their common mission of serving God together. Therefore, the husband is the provider and the protector. He is the direction setter, especially in the spiritual realm.
The wife is the “right-hand woman.” She is to be the complement to her husband – emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually, parentally, domestically, and in ministry. That’s why the Bible instructs wives to be submissive to their husbands and to reverence them and to love them.
When a husband/wife team operates this way, they can harmoniously accomplish God’s good plan for humanity.

2. To reproduce God’s image-bearers (Gen 1:28). In order for mankind to rule the earth for God, it is necessary to reproduce. Marriage provides the divinely approved context for having children. But the goal is not just to have children, it is to train them to follow God (Mal 2:15). God expects our marriages to produce godly offspring. That is why he designed marriage.

3. To rejoice in one another as God’s good gift (Gen 2:22-23; Song of Solomon). God not only made marriage functional, he made it beautiful. In marriage, companionship replaces isolation as a man and woman mutually complete one another. This is the opposite of self-centered individualism.

4. To reflect the relationship of God and his people. Several times in the OT, God uses adultery as a metaphor for the way Israel had treated him. Marriage is a human analogy of the divine-human relationship. In our day, this particularly relates to Jesus and his followers, his bride, the church (Eph 5:22-33). This is the ultimate goal of marriage. In fact, I do not believe it is too much to say that the church is the end-times extension of the family.[2] When we truly have this perspective, I believe we will honor marriage as a means of honoring God. We will protect its sanctity and its purity, because it is pointing us to the union of ultimate fulfillment in God.

When we think about the seventh commandment, many in the modern world think of it only as a restriction on their freedom. However, it is really a guide to true freedom. It is a guide to a productive, happy, satisfied life.

But more than that, it is an opportunity for us to experience first hand what it means to love God and to know him. Here at our church, we say that we want to glorify and enjoy God by knowing him and making him known. God calls us to himself like children and gives us a living example of what that means when he gives us marriage. He says, “Come here, my children, and I will give you an idea of what it is like to live in my garden, in a relationship with me. Come to my garden. The sun is shining and the dew is on the grass. The flowers are blooming. You can work here with me, tending my garden, and I will be your all-in-all.”

Furthermore, in marriage God is giving us an opportunity to express to others the truth of Christ and his church. Husbands, as you are loving leaders, and wives, as you are submissive helpers, God can use you as a great testimony for others who are wandering in the desert of sin. They can see in your faithful and pure marriage the freshness and bounty that Christ gives to his people. And they will be drawn to that beauty.

One day, marriage itself will be done away with. It will have served its purpose. But what it points to is the true story of living happily ever after. That’s why it is so important to remember, "You shall not commit adultery."

[1] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, NSBT (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 43.
[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, “Marriage and Family in the New Testament,” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. Ken M. Campbell (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 277.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Want to Understand Fundamentalism?

International Baptist College has helpfully posted online a lecture series delivered by Dr. Kevin Bauder explaining Biblical Separation. Download them, and listen to them thoughtfully. You will be the wiser for it.

Wall Street Woes and Self-Examination

The news about the financial "crisis" we are currently experiencing is inescapable, so I thought I would like to point to a little more edifying take on the whole situation. Merely complaining about the situation will not help. We as Christians need to take serious stock of the situation, especially as it relates to our lives - and it does relate to our lives. R. R. Reno points this out well here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Word on Polls and Public Opinion

Here's just a bit of wisdom for Christians to keep in mind -
In every election cycle, at least in living memory, we are besieged with polling data all packaged up to look very scientific about "public opinion." Apparently we need research firms and the media to tell us what we really think. But don't let "public opinion" beat you into submission. Think according to God's Word and learn from godly men, and you will be free from the tyranny of the polls.

If you want to explore this further, here's the article that spurred me to post this: "Rethinking Public Opinion" by Thomas Fitzgerald in The New Atlantis. One book published over a generation ago saw this problem clearly: The Image by Daniel Boorstin.

The One Man's Obedience

What is Christianity?
We began our exploration by tracing our salvation back to its source, its spring – the love and grace of God. But how does grace, that river of life, actually get to us? Here we are asking, “How does God accomplish salvation for us?” The ever-flowing spring of God’s grace issues in a mighty torrent of life-giving water, and this Lord's Day we will trace the contours of that channel. We hope you will join us.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
Chosen of God (#290)
Jesus, Thou Art Heaven's Dayspring (#116)
Hark! the Glad Sound (#126)
O Sacred Head Now Wounded ( #139)
'Tis the Christ (#150)
Not What These Hands Have Done (#347)

Scripture Reading
Isaiah 52:13-53:12

The One Man's Obedience - Romans 5:19

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Seventh Commandment

The Command to Love Marriage
Deuteronomy 5:18

Last week we concluded our study of the sixth commandment by discussing just war. Just war is really just a part or portion of a much larger war going on over who will be the King of the universe. It is a battle for the hearts and souls of men. And one of the front lines in this war runs, not through the cities of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, not through the halls of power in Washington or Beijing or Moscow or London, but through each and every home, right through the bedroom. You would have to be a hermit not to know that human sexuality is close to the eye of the storm in the “culture wars” going on in the world right now.

There is a deep reason for this. God created us as male and female, and the way we use our ‘maleness’ and our ‘femaleness’ is an expression of our deepest religious commitments. Peter Kreeft has said that “sex is the effective religion of our culture.” That is on the right track, but I would argue that it goes deeper than that. Sex, as our culture expresses it, is actually an expression of our paganism. The reason that there has been a volcanic eruption of degraded sexuality in the past couple generations in our country is because we have effectively embraced paganism as our socially controlling religion. When I say paganism, I mean any religion which takes a part of this universe as what is ultimate (e.g. Darwinian evolution). There have been quite a variety of pagan religions over the course of human history, but for our purposes today I simply want to draw attention to the fact that pagan religions always involve a distortion of human sexuality. Biblical religion stands in stark contrast to this, denying all sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage, while at the same time showing the goodness of the one flesh relationship in marriage.

The Bible was written in a world setting that was very aware of pagan sexuality. The Israelites who heard Moses preach this command were about to enter Canaan. The Canaanites at this time were horribly debased. Their worship even included ritual prostitution. In NT times, Corinth, for example, was famous for its immorality. What we see in our society today is not something new. It is actually the same old paganism. So what we are seeing is an attack on God and his rightful rule over his universe. Satan is viciously attacking the sanctity of the marriage relationship in order to attack God. The fifth commandment protected God’s authority structure, the sixth commandment protected God’s image, and the seventh commandment protects the very seedbed of God’s plan for humanity.

So as I post this today, I truly desire that we would get a vision for the glory of God reflected in the way he has ordained the holy estate of matrimony. We desperately need to see this in these days. I post this message for the young man and young woman who want to be pure and holy and without regret as they gaze down the isle at one another on their wedding day. I post this message for the children who need to grow up understanding what it means to be a man and a woman and what a wonderful thing that is in the context of a godly marriage. I post this for the woman or man who has been caught in adultery, who has taken fire into his own bosom and has been horribly burned. I post this for the man or woman who has been affected by adultery and has felt the sting of the whip of infidelity lacerating his heart. I post this message so that Christians will show the world the beauty of holiness in the happiness of married love. Ultimately, I post this message to point all of us to the ultimate husband, our Savior Jesus Christ, so that we would know him and be a part of the bride that he is purifying for himself. Marriage, the way God designed it, is a wonderful way to bring honor to God and to accomplish his purposes in the world.

I’m going to approach this commandment very simply. I want to show what it prohibits, what it commands (pointing us to the true nature of marriage), and how it points us to Christ.

What Is Prohibited

Adultery. Specifically, adultery in Scripture is having a relationship with another person’s spouse. It applies equally to either a husband or a wife. Jay Adams helpful defines adultery as having a physical relationship with anyone other than the one with whom you ought to have a relationship. You see, marriage is an exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman. There are specific rights and responsibilities that define the relationship. No one else may trespass on the marriage property and steal what rightly belongs only to the one man and the one woman who are married.

It is important that we understand here that this prohibition extends beyond just the physical act itself, all the way back to the thoughts that precede the act. Jesus condemned the kind of thinking that leads to adultery in Matthew 5:27-28. We must remain pure in our thinking about those who are not our spouse. Thus, I believe the seventh commandment radically eliminates all the things our society justifies as “not actually adultery” but which lead us to think toward adultery. Pornography is a huge problem today. In fact, we live in a society which has so given itself up to sensuality (Eph 4:19) that much of the portrayal of sensuality is not even called pornography. But as Christians, whatever arouses lustful thoughts in our minds must be put away! Flee immorality (like Joseph, unlike David)! Renew your minds. Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and attack sin at its root. While you cannot eliminate all encounters with seductive or immoral material, you must be very careful to set a guard over your heart and never allow any door to your mind to be open to the devil’s enticements.

Watch out for the entertainment industry in this way, including books, movies, music, and games. They love to throw out teasers which say seductively to your mind, “Come this way.” But make no mistake – these are the smooth words of the adulteress whose steps follow the path to Sheol. Watch out for the music of our day. If you took away “sexiness” from the pop music industry, you wouldn’t have much left. “…Parents [of the 1950’s] made no mistake in identifying the subversive sexual charge in the music. Although it was criticized, softened, and censored in the service of the status quo, rock ’n’ roll was pivotal in a reassessment of sexual attitudes and behavior that only seemed to spring out of nowhere in the 1960s” (Glenn C. Altschuler, All Shook Up [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], 68). “In all its many phases and styles, modern pop music’s enduring message, conveyed by the aphrodisiac of a pulsing bass beat, was as simple as it was subversive: surrender to the pleasures of the body” (Brink Lindsey, The Age of Abundance [New York: HarperCollins, 2007], 188). The same applies to much of “country-western” music. There isn’t much country or western about it these days. The music didn’t come from the West, and the performers don’t sing about fixing fence, cattle drives, and the hardships of drought. Now, this is not a message on all the ins and outs of music, but I’m saying that if we want to flee immorality, we have got to cut it out of our thinking.

Impurity. What I have written so far helps us to understand that the 7th commandment is ultimately concerned about purity. It is not merely about not taking what rightfully belongs to another (which is dealt with by the 8th commandment). It is intended to guard the purity of the home and the marriage relationship. We will cover this more later, but remember Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Marriage is to be an honorable, pure institution.
When we understand that the 7th commandment is prohibiting impurity, we can see why Christians have historically understood that it has implications for more than just adultery per se. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) says this: Question 108: What does the seventh commandment teach us? Answer: That all uncleanness is accursed of God: and that therefore we must with all our hearts detest the same, and live chastely and temperately, whether in holy wedlock, or in single life. Question 109. Does God forbid in this commandment, only adultery, and such like gross sins? Answer: Since both our body and soul are temples of the holy Ghost, he commands us to preserve them pure and holy: therefore he forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever can entice men thereto.
When God gave the law to Moses, he specifically dealt with all these unchaste actions. We need not go into detail here. You can read it in your Bibles. But let me just state that God is excruciatingly clear that all forms of sexual activity outside the bounds of heterosexual marriage are sinful. Having lustful thoughts toward anyone who is not your spouse is wrong. Arousing lustful thoughts toward yourself, through dress, talk, touching, and so on, in anyone who is not your spouse is wrong. That’s the Bible standard – no sexual thoughts, desires, and actions outside of marriage.

This flies in the face of what is publicly accepted in our day. The contemporary dating scene is many times fornication looking for a place to happen. Governing authorities are extending marriage benefits to “domestic partnerships” and the homosexual agenda grows stronger. Over 1/3 of the children born in the US today are born out of wedlock. We are a nation that is completely in the gutter when it comes to the seventh commandment.

What should we do? In a society so obsessed with impurity, how can a Christian live purely? What should Christian living look like? We will deal with that next time – the positive implications of this commandment.

But right now, we need to deal squarely with sin. What about your thought-life? What about the way you interact with people of the opposite sex? I’m not saying that we have a huge problem with this in our church. But I am warning you about this because the world is throwing it in your face at every possible opportunity, and you must not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your minds. The world makes it look glamorous, daring, exciting, or even normal. The world often treats a lifelong commitment to marriage as bondage or as boring. However, the world doesn’t like to dwell on the lives wrecked through marriage break-ups, the pain of betrayal, the depression, the rise in crime where marriage has crumbled as a social institution, and so on. Most of all, the world doesn’t want to admit that whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

Friday, September 12, 2008

God's Gift

As we continue with our meditation on God's great plan of salvation, we are going to expound on God's gift this Lord's day. God communicates himself to us in Christ by the power of the Spirit, and all of this is done as a gift, sovereign, gracious, and free. May we all know that gift today!

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
Great God of Wonders (#26)
Grace Greater than Our Sin (#248)
Amazing Grace (#247)
Hark! the Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)
Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy (#301)

Scripture Reading
Ephesians 2:1-22

God's Gift - Ephesians 2:8

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Just War and the Sixth Commandment

(For an introduction to just war theory, see A Primer on Just War and the resources listed there.)

The Command to Love Human Life (Part 4):
A War of Love, Not a Love of War
Deuteronomy 5:17, et al.

The sixth commandment forbids taking innocent human life. Does this then outlaw all war? I have no doubt that if the sixth commandment particularly and all of the Ten Commandments generally were followed, then we would not have wars. But we live in a sinful world in which men do not love human life and do not submit themselves to God’s directives. In such a setting, the sixth commandment actually serves to reinforce a biblical view of participating in a just war, for it shows us the value of human life. Human life must be defended and protected. If it becomes necessary for legitimate authority to take up arms to defend human life, then Christians ought to do so.
But on a very personal level, war can force on us some deep spiritual challenges. As Christian soldiers participate in war, the pressure, stress, sweat, blood, and gritty reality of death can squeeze questions out of you that you might never have thought of otherwise. It will bring on emotional responses that you didn’t know you had in you. Civil War Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson is reported to have said, “If to be a soldier I must lose my humanity, I do not want to be a soldier anymore.”
Today I want to discuss two things about the Christian soldier – the Christian’s motivation for war, and the Christian’s response to war.

The Christian Soldier’s Motivation for War – Love for God and for others
Jesus Christ taught us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. This must guide our motivation for war. There are many wrong or inadequate motivations for war. Wrong motives include anger, hatred, revenge, rebellion, greed, power-lust, and desire for glory. Inadequate motivations are not necessarily wrong, but they are unable to provide moral direction and moral protection in war. One particular motivation for war has often been twisted and corrupted into serving wars of aggression. That motivation is patriotism. Patriotism is not wrong. We can and should be very grateful for our nation. But we are foolish if we think that we cannot fall into the trap of being drawn into an unjust war simply because we fight for our nation. Many Germans in WWII did not fight for Nazism, per se. They fought for their fatherland, but in so doing they participated in and enabled an unjust war of aggression. Another completely inadequate motivation for a Christian soldier is the “I’m just doing my job” attitude. This is an attitude that tries to deal with the reality of war by pretending not to get morally involved. But we are all morally responsible before God, and we cannot pass it off by

Yet there are godly motivations for war. This might sound strange to some people, but it is biblically true. But you might think it even more strange when I tell you what that motivation is. In one word, it is love. This love has both a horizontal and a vertical dimension. It is, first of all, love for others. The Christian soldier should be motivated to engage in war when it is necessary to defend his people – their persons and their property. When this is the motivation, there is no degradation of human life through war. Human life does not become cheap. On the contrary, its value is lifted high for all to see because of the soldiers who are willing to risk their own lives for the sake of others.

The love for others must flow from supreme love for God. Christian soldiers want to see God’s righteousness and justice upheld. We want God to be glorified, and God is glorified when human governments use the authority that he has delegated to them to prosecute just wars. We are proud to stand up for what is right and true, because ultimately we stand up for God (not for a nation).

Love is the most powerful of all motivations because it is totally selfless. Love conquers fear. Love gives a courage that a terrorist knows nothing of. And because love is concerned for what is best for others as God (not man) defines what is best, it does not lose its moral bearings in the midst of the passions of war.

Now what happens when a man really approaches war this way? Every combat veteran I have ever talked to says that war changes you. This is true. But the question before you as a Christian soldier is, How does it change you? Does it change you for the better or for the worse? I believe that when a man approaches war truly and fully from a perspective of love for God and love for others, then he has no bitterness, no guilt, no grudge, no anger. He may well have some sadness. He may well suffer some of the physical trauma of war. But he can come through war with something incredible – joy in God, and a heart overflowing with thanksgiving. In order to see this, I want to use an example from the writings of the consummate warrior in the Bible, David, and what he wrote in Psalm 18. Here we see

The Christian Soldier’s Response to War – Joy in God’s Goodness
The Christian soldier can respond to war by praising the Lord (18:1-3). The Lord is your strength and your salvation. Meditating on this led David to call upon the Lord because he is worthy to be praised. Hope and joy and love pulsed through David’s heart because he looked at the Lord, not his circumstances.

The Christian soldier has seen the Lord’s deliverance (18:4-19). We see the Lord’s power poetically described, and that incomparable power produced personal deliverance. He delighted in me! Have you experienced the Lord’s personal delight in you like David describes? Perhaps it is because you have not been looking for it. Have you been calling on the Lord? I don’t mean foxhole prayers. All kinds of people, ungodly people, pray that kind of a prayer. I mean a sincere, ongoing effort at looking to the Lord for deliverance. That is what we see next in the psalm.
The Christian soldier pursues righteousness because the Lord empowers the righteous (18:20-29). Notice in vv. 20-24 how earnestly David sought the Lord and kept his ways. Soldier, does that characterize you? Is your number one concern to just make it through the war, or is it to please God supremely no matter what happens? Why should you want to do this? Because of the character of God (vv. 25-26)! When we are seeking the Lord with all our heart, then we can be confident of his empowerment (vv. 27-29).

The Christian soldier can experience the Lord’s goodness (vv. 30-45). God’s way is perfect. It may not be what we expect, but we know that he will accomplish all that he has promised us. David experienced God’s goodness through God giving him military victory. In fact, at this point I want to contrast sharply some things you might have been told as a soldier with what David saw. Certain counselors for soldiers say, “The soul takes a full broadside when the mind is triggered and the impulse surfaces to kill another human.” This is true. But they go on to say, “It cuts across the grain of everything we have been taught and know about goodness” (Down Range to Iraq and Back, 24). This is not true. David rejoiced in the death of his enemies as an expression of God’s goodness to him. David was not a psychopath who loved killing people. Read the Psalms and see what a tender heart he had. But he also knew that there was no sin involved in putting the wicked enemies of God to death. He was not delighting in the death of people per se; he was delighting in the triumph of God accomplished through him. In order to know that, the Christian soldier needs to be confident that he is fighting a just war in a just way. And when he has that confidence, he knows that God is using him as an instrument to make God’s righteousness and justice prevail on the earth. And that is cause for joy. Do you see David’s attitude? There is no snear on his face. There is no macho bragging going on. There is no hatred and no revenge. He is saying, “I killed my enemies because God was using me to execute perfect justice.” God gave him total victory, because God is good! That’s what David learned from this. God is so good. The Christian soldier can experience this first hand.

The Christian soldier concludes that the Lord is alive and loving. God is good (18:46-50). Picture this – a soldier returning from Iraq, shouting for joy, not just because he is back home with family, or because he can sleep in his own bed again, or because he is with people he understands now, or because he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore. No, he is shouting for joy because through his war experience he has experienced first hand that the Lord lives! The overriding song of his heart is, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” I don’t know of any other human experience that could teach us this the way war can teach us this. War humbles us. War makes us depend on the unfailing strength of the Lord. And as we do that, we see his goodness and his greatness. And when we see God for who he is, we will say, “I love you Lord!” (What a testimony this could be!)

I would like to conclude with just one more observation. When we think about war as Christians, we realize that we are dealing with a temporal thing. Yet we also know that this is part of a much larger and eternal warfare. The ultimate warrior is God, and he has declared war against sin, Satan, and death because he loves his people. And the good news is that the victory is already secure. God became a man so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). And when Jesus rose from the dead, he won the battle. “He led a host of captives and gave gifts to men” (Eph 4:8). He “was declared to be the Son of God in power … by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). And we now live in the time in which we are awaiting his return to fully claim all that is rightly his as the victor. And then there will be a kingdom of peace. There will be no more war. If you have been through combat, doesn’t that thrill your heart? There will be perfect peace. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” Isaiah prophesied, “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).
When we as Christians think about war, we do not love war. But we are willing to engage in a war motivated by love, because we know that in the end the supreme power of the love of God will be victorious. That is cause for great joy!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

I believe this is the 501st post on this blog, so to begin the next 500 posts, I would like to point you to a resource that will last a whole lot longer than this blog. I hope you will obtain and listen to over and over again. The Listener's Bible is offering Max McLean's narration of Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" free.

This is the most famous sermon ever preached in American history. But that is not the reason I urge you to listen to it. I want you to listen to it because it is filled with powerful biblical truth. It is filled with powerful biblical truth deeply felt and believed by Edwards. It if filled with powerful biblical truth deeply felt and passionately described and delivered. The spiritual intensity of this sermon is amazing, and I believe you will never think of hell the same way again if you receive Edwards' words.

You can get it here.

Update: Greg Allen pointed out to me that you can listen to another narration of the sermon for free on SermonAudio here.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Christ Died For Our Sins

There are five words which mean everything to us. Five words make the difference between heaven and hell, everlasting joy and eternal damnation. Those five words are "Christ died for our sins...." I want to give you a personal invitation to join us at High Country Baptist Church as we consider and respond to those biblical words this Sunday.

Don't forget that our new schedule begins this Sunday, with the morning worship at 9:30 followed by our fellowship meal. After this will be our prayer time, and then we will hold our adult Bible seminars and our children's Bible classes. Please plan to participate as much as you can, and in that way it will be a blessing to all.

Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee (#27)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)
How Sad Our State (#333)
Far Above All (#157)
Glory Be to God the Father (#72)

Scripture Reading
Behold the Lamb of God - John 1:19-34

Christ Died for Our Sins - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Abortion and the Sixth Commandment

The Command to Love Human Life (Part 3):
Defending Human Life from Conception
Deuteronomy 5:17, et al.

The sixth commandment is the commandment against taking innocent human life. Positively stated, it is a command to love and to cherish human life. We love human life because each and every human being is like God and represents God. Even though we are sinful, we are still in God’s image. And amazingly, the second Person of the Trinity became a man so that he might redeem men and enable us to be everything humanity was designed in God’s plan to be.
Today we are going to deal with a very difficult application of the sixth commandment - abortion. It is not difficult because the biblical teaching on it is unclear. In fact, the moral reasoning that leads to loving human life from conception is stunningly clear. But it is emotionally difficult. It is difficult because of the moral revulsion involved. It is difficult because of the lingering damage done to women who have had an abortion. It is difficult, I believe, because it exposes as almost nothing else the corruption of the human heart. It is very difficult for us to face the naked wickedness of the human heart. Human beings are always doing what Adam and Eve did in the garden so long ago – hiding. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. But in their hearts they knew that this was not enough, so when God came to speak with them they ran and hid. And still to this day we hide. We come up with rationalizations and excuses. We will do almost anything rather than admit the hideous state of our sinful souls.

But as we have seen already, God’s commandments rip away the fig leaves with which we try to hide ourselves. Today we will be shredding some leaves. But I want you to remember that the Spirit does his painful work in order to strip away all self-righteousness so that we might be clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Those who flee to him in faith will always find him a willing Savior and the true solution to the murder of the unborn.

The Biblical Argument Against Abortion
The biblical argument against abortion is really very simple and straightforward. It goes something like this:
A: God forbids taking the life of innocent human beings.
B: All unborn babies from the moment of conception are innocent human beings.
C: Therefore, God forbids taking the life of all unborn babies from the moment of conception.

The logic is undeniable. But many people do deny this conclusion. In order to do that, they have to prove that one of the premises is wrong. Rarely will they try to argue that the first premise is wrong. Most of the time, the attack centers on the second premise. For example, it was reported not long ago that Dr. Jorge Carpizo McGregor, former attorney general of Mexico and president of Mexico’s human rights commission, stated that unborn children are really no different than chimpanzees. He claimed that since the cerebral cortex is not formed until the 25th week of gestation, babies in their mothers’ wombs prior to the 25th week of gestation could not be differentiated from chimpanzees. Therefore, he concluded, when that baby is killed by abortion, no human life has been taken [, Feb 29, 2008].

But what does the Bible say? Is there biblical evidence that an unborn child is considered human? There are three important lines of evidence which demonstrate that Scripture does consider unborn babies to be fully human.
1. The Bible speaks of unborn children as persons from conception onward. In Psalm 51:5, David was identified as himself, a real human being, from the moment of conception. He wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David here states that he (and not someone or something else) was sinful when he was conceived. In Job 3:3 we read that a man is conceived. Job’s conception was not the conception of some non-human entity. This is the consistent testimony of Scripture from the very beginning of the propagation of the human race. Gen 4:1 says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’” Notice that what was born was the same thing that was conceived, i.e. Cain. Cain’s personal history extends back to his conception. That’s the way God created humanity to work (cf. Gen 4:17; 5:1-3). When a man and his wife are united as one flesh in marriage, they don’t conceive cows, pigs, or oak trees. They conceive and give birth to more image bearers of God, or human beings.

2. The Bible speaks of the unborn in the same way that it speaks of children after birth. Luke 1:41 and 44 call John the Baptist a “baby” (brephos) before he was born. Then, in Luke 2:12 and 16, we see the same term used of Jesus after he was born. There is no essential difference between a baby in the womb and a baby out of the womb as far as the Bible is concerned. It is not just a “fetus” while it is in the womb and then a “baby” when it gets out. It is a human baby all the way along.

3. The Bible tells us that God can establish a personal relationship with someone from conception. In Judges 13:3, 6-7, an angel from God announced to the wife of Manoah that she would conceive and bear a son. This son, whom we know as Samson, was to be a Nazirite from the womb. This means that he could not drink wine or eat unclean foods. Significantly, the angel told the woman that because her baby was to be a Nazirite, she herself could not partake of wine or unclean foods. Daniel Block points out that this reflects “the biblical conviction that a child is a special creation of God from the moment of conception,” therefore, “the same standards that will govern his postnatal life will apply to his prenatal condition as well” (Judges, Ruth, NAC, 402). Samson’s special relationship to God as a Nazirite began prior to his birth.
Consider also Psalm 139:13-16. In this text we see God’s careful, loving involvement with a person in the earliest stages of existence. In addition, read Isaiah 49:1 and Jeremiah 1:5, which show a personal relationship between God and a person prior to birth. (These evidences are spelled out by F. Beckwith, “A Critical Appraisal of Theological Arguments for Abortion Rights,” BSac 148 [July-Sept 1991], 338-9).

Taken all together, I believe the biblical evidence is very clear that from the moment of conception, the baby in the mother’s womb is fully human. Furthermore, biology supports this idea. When a human egg and sperm unite, the result is a new, distinct, complete biological entity. It is not part of the mother. It is not part of the father. The embryo has its own DNA which actively directs its own development. The only biologically logical way to view the embryo is as a new human being.

There is one objection to this that I would like to deal with, since I have heard it advocated by conservative Christians and since it will be important to my application later on. This objection is based on the phenomenon of identical twins. In the case of identical twins, the new embryo splits about 5 days after conception to become two embryos. The argument then is that if personhood begins at conception, how can one person turn into two people? Suppose for sake of illustration that Job had a twin brother. How then could the man Job who was conceived (Job 3:3) turn into two people? Based upon this reasoning, supporters of this argument then suppose that individual personhood, our own personal, human existence, must begin at some point later than conception. What that point might be is not clear, whether it be implantation in the endometrium of the uterus or some later point of development.

But this objection does not hold. Scholars George and Tollefsen point out that the fact of twinning “in no way establishes that the embryo lacks individuality. If A splits into B and C, that provides no evidence at all that prior to that splitting A was not a determinate individual” (“Embryonic Debate,” National Review Online, Feb. 11, 2008). This is quite correct. From what I have read, we do not have the biological knowledge at this point to determine exactly what happens in the process of forming identical twins. Whatever happens, it does not change the biological fact that the original embryo is a determinate biological individual. It seems likely that the original embryo forms a natural clone. If this is true, it only further supports the idea that the embryo is a human individual from the moment of conception.

I have labored this point because I want you to be unshakably convinced that the biblical argument against all forms of abortion is true and correct. You are facing a world which is hell bent on twisting this truth, so you must chisel it deep into your heart.

Ways in which we violate the sixth commandment by taking the life of the unborn
Now we get down to the nitty gritty. I want to start with the most obvious and work back to the most controversial.
1. Partial-birth abortions and early (first-trimester) abortions.

2. IUDs, Norplant, Depo-provera, and the “morning after” pill. Let me cite Randy Alcorn’s succint summation. “Prolifers have long opposed using the IUD, because it does not prevent conception, but keeps the already-conceived child from implanting in his mother’s womb. RU-486, the anti-progestin abortion pill, is a human pesticide causing a mother’s womb to become hostile to her own child, resulting in an induced miscarriage. Depo-Provera is a progestin (medroxyprogesterone) injected every three months. It sometimes suppresses ovulation, but also thins the lining of the uterus, apparently preventing implantation. Norplant is another progestin (levonorgestrel) enclosed in five or six flexible closed capsules or rods, which are surgically implanted beneath the skin. It often suppresses ovulation, but sometimes ovulation occurs, and when it does an irritation to the uterine wall may often prevent implantation. The Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP) also known as the “Morning-After Pill,” can suppress ovulation, but its main function is to keep any fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. All of these birth control methods either sometimes or often alter the mother’s womb in a way that causes it to reject the human life that God designed it to nourish and sustain. Christians properly reject these methods because they know that human life begins at conception, six days before implantation begins. Therefore, anything that interferes with implantation kills a person created in the image of God. These birth control methods are often referred to as “contraceptives,” but they are not exclusively contraceptives. That is, they do not always prevent conception. Either sometimes or often they result in the death of already-conceived human beings” (Appendix 1 in Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?).
These forms of abortion are not nearly as physically gruesome as later abortions, but morally they are just as reprehensible.

3. All technologies which destroy human embryos destroy human life. These would include embryonic stem cell research, cloning experiments, and IVF as commonly practiced.

4. And now for the most controversial. I realize that Christians disagree on this matter, but as a pastor I must state my convictions on the matter. I believe that a very strong argument can be made that birth control pills, both the combination estrogen-progestin pills and the “mini-pills” or progestin only pills, can cause abortions. They primarily work by preventing ovulation, but they are not completely successful at doing this. In order to work, they also interfere with the implantation of the embryo in the uterus. As we have seen, this embryo is a genuine human being from the time of conception. By denying this tiny human access to its only hope of living, the oxygen and nutrition that it receives from attaching to the uterus, we effectively kill it.
I realize that Christians who take birth control pills (BCP) have no intention of killing a tiny baby, but I am saying that killing the baby is a real possibility. Thus, taking BCP while engaging in marital relations falls under the prohibitions of the sixth commandment. Remember the examples from Scripture about the ox which gores and about building a parapet around the roof? Taking innocent human life sometimes occurs through carelessness and negligence. I would argue that this is exactly the case with BCP. When we as Christians take BCP while engaging in a marital relationship, we are being careless with the life of any of our own children who might be conceived. We are guilty of negligence which can actually result in killing our own children. Does this actually happen? While it is difficult to get hard data, there is good reason to think that it does. When we take what we do know about breakthrough ovulation rates and put that into plausible scenarios, there is reason to believe that in the average marriage where the wife takes BCP continuously except during the times when she wants to become pregnant, possibly 5 abortions will occur (Alcorn, 94-99). Let me be clear here. She may not have any abortions. She may have 2 or 3. She may have a dozen. We do not know. But it is a real possibility.

We might compare the morality of this to that of the drunk driver which we spoke of in the first message on the sixth commandment. The drunk driver violates the sixth commandment by carelessly and recklessly endangering human life. Now, a man could possibly drink and drive his entire life without ever killing anyone. Does that mean that his actions are therefore moral? No. Similarly, the married couple who uses BCP may never have any abortions. Nonetheless, this does not render their action morally good.

I also realize that sometimes BCP are used for other medical conditions because of the effects of the hormones they contain. This is certainly not wrong. But I would argue, based on the biblical principles of taking care of human life, that no one should engage in marital relationships while taking BCP.

You may not agree with me on this. You may have talked to Christian doctors who have told you otherwise. I would urge you to study the matter further in openness and honesty. But the reason I am willing to broach the subject here and declare my beliefs is that human life is sacred. We must love human life. We must defend human life. What a tragedy it would be if Christians adopt an attitude that says “I am entitled to my pleasure even if someone has to die because of it. I’m willing to risk the life of my own children in order to have my pleasure.” I really believe if most Christians thought about this and were taught about this, they would not want to go that route. There really are good alternatives to BCP, which allow us as Christians to be wise stewards while not adopting the attitudes of the culture of death that we live in. Yet this is a sobering thought for many Christians - those who so adamantly oppose abortion may have had at least one themselves.
So what do we do?

In Acts 2:36, Peter preached into the face of the crowd that they were murderers. They had blood on their hands. They had crucified Jesus. And what he said to those Jews almost 2000 years ago is true of each one of us. Our sin put Jesus on the cross. We have blood on our hands. We were the reason for his murder. But the answer for us is the same answer Peter gave to the Jews in v. 38ff: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins….” The answer for us is the same answer for the abortion provider who has sucked little babies’ brains out and discarded their lifeless bodies. The answer for us is the same answer for the woman crushed by the guilt of having killed her own baby. The answer for us is the same answer for all those millions of unknown babies who never lived to see the light of the sun or breathe the fresh air.

Jesus is calling to you today. He says, “I know you are a murderer. I know you have blood on your hands. But I have loved you with an everlasting love, a love that triumphs over your sin. That’s why I died. My blood takes your stain and washes it white as snow.” If you have had an abortion, I want you to know that Jesus loves you and forgives you and receives you if you turn in repentance and faith to him. If you have used the methods popularly known as “contraception,” then know that Jesus loves you and forgives you and receives you if your turn in repentance and faith to him.

You see, that is the point of the law. The law points to Christ. The law strips away the fig leaves of our self-righteousness, but in so doing it drives us to the only place where we will find clothing for our nakedness - Jesus Christ. Only his righteousness will clothe us. Only his love will forgive us. Only his power will change us so that we love human life.