where the divine & human meet

A POST BY JARED:

One of the most famous theologians of all-time is Augustine of Hippo, the man who almost single-handedly defined what was orthodox or what it meant to be a Christian in the first few centuries after the death of Christ. His contributions to the church are broad, in fact it is difficult to speak of any Christian doctrine without inadvertently relying on his thought. He is known as the Doctor of Grace, and his instruction on the nature of grace and the sovereignty of God in salvation were fundamental to medieval theology, the Protestant Reformation, and the formation of the doctrine of grace ever since.

Augustine’s greatest contribution to the church is his definition of the doctrine of original sin, which stated that all men since the fall have been so corrupted by sin that they are incapable of pursuing God. This doctrine was born out of a conflict between Augustine and a charismatic church leader named Pelagius, who taught that humankind does not necessarily sin, but can willingly choose to love God and keep his commandments, prior to any redeeming experience of grace. It is no secret who won the day. The Pelagian doctrine of free will and perfectability was condemned as heresy at the Council of Carthage in 418A.D.

After this council Augustine continued to write, teach, and lead as the Bishop of Hippo until his death on August 28, 430A.D. In his defense of the doctrine of original sin he argued that sin has so corrupted man’s nature that it is only by the grace of God that any are saved. It is in the wake of this argument that the current tension of divine and human freedom meet. The ancient question of freedom & sovereignty can be laid at the feet of Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. It was this very question that brought Augustine, less than 100 years after his death, under intense scrutiny.

On July 3rd, 529 Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, and the subsequent doctrine’s of predestination and effectual grace, were called into question. The church, since Augustine’s death, had grown increasingly hostile to the way in which Augustine articulated and defended God’s sovereignty and man’s corrupted state in the process of salvation. Had it not been for a seemingly unknown theologian by the name of Caesarius of Arles, we may have never have known the full weight of Augustine’s theology of grace. In his defense of Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, and specifically how that impacts the tension between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man, he says this:

“Perhaps you say: ‘God does indeed desire that all would believe in him, but not all are willing. Why? Because they are unable to do so without His grace.’ At this point I ask you whether [you meant that] the human will has the power to contradict the divine will rather than that the power of God is able to convert human wills to itself… If [God] has done whatever He has willed, [then] whatever He has not done He has not willed — by a hidden and profound and yet a just and incomprehensible judgment.”

-Caesarius of Arles, quoted in

The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan

Ultimately, Augustine’s doctrine of grace and original sin were upheld as genuine Christian doctrine. The question remains: what is left when the divine & human meet? Is it such that man’s will has the ability to forsake the will of God? Or is the will of God capable of moving even the most resolute desires of man? 

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the Prize of Liberty & the Burden of (the) Right

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s Supreme Court legalized gay marriage Friday in a unanimous and emphatic decision that makes Iowa the third state — and first in the nation’s heartland — to allow same-sex couples to wed.

Just a few hours ago, Iowa overturned a law that had been passed in the state restricting marriage to one man and one woman, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to exclude homosexuals the right to civil marriage. This decision was made on the basis that the court was charged with upholding ‘equal protection under the law’ for all citizens of the state of Iowa. This brings to the surface an ongoing struggle that has been addressed often and misunderstood even more.

The question that should plague us as Christians is: “how are we as the church supposed to respond to judges and politicians and kings who pass (or overturn) laws that go directly against what God has revealed in His word?” What is the burden of the Christian when the governing entity allows or restricts liberty that is in contradiction to God’s revealed will?

Paul wrestles with this very tension in the first few verses of Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.

The challenge with his logic here is that he seems to be glossing over the fact that governing authorities very often go against the authority of God. He seems to miss that there are times when supreme court justices declare something lawful when God has declared it sin. Paul’s audience would have known that he was not making such an unforgivable gloss; he had been systematically persecuted, beaten, thrown into prison, and was facing certain death from the very institutions that he argues are appointed by God. He knew that governing authorities lose step with the God who has given them their authority. It was no mistake that he was being persecuted; it is no mistake that Iowa has declared gay marriage an inalienable right.

To the church in a pagan city Paul encourages submission for the sake of the gospel. His burden was not to create the city of God on earth by means of the authority and rule of the Caesar. His burden was to see the gospel of Jesus Christ go out to the ends of the earth reforming, regenerating, and enlivening the hearts of those who in their sin suppress the righteousness of God. The implication for the church in the wake of a secularizing government can not be overemphasized!

There will be men who battle over the legality of such a decision, and others who refute the content and the logic of the ruling itself; however, these attempts are doomed to failure if the church is not at work in the world retelling and reliving the beauty of the gospel.

God, would this decision break our hearts all the more for those who are seeking satisfaction outside of the God for whom they were created. Give us a deeper love for your gospel and a deeper passion to see you worshipped throughout our world. Amen.

jared

Thank God for Pleasure and Pain

Consider this verse: 

 

Ephesians 5:2020 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father

in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

 

We are commanded to thank God for everything.  To me sometimes, this just simply doesn’t make sense.  Everything?  Really?  Come on.

 

But what about bad times, bad news, bad situations, bad circumstances?  Surely God doesn’t expect us to give Him thanks for those and in those does He?

 

1 Thessalonians 5:1818 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the

will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

Yes, He does.  He commands us to give Him thanks always, for everything, and in all circumstances.  For the good times and the bad times.  For the ups and downs and highs and lows.  But is this reasonable?  Can anyone be truly expected to obey this command?  Why would I thank God for the bad news, events or circumstances that come unwanted and unwelcome into my life?

 

Because He is good.  Because His steadfast and irrevocable love endures toward us forever!  Listen to the Psalmist.

 

Psalm 106:1 – 1 Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

 

Sixteen times in the Old Testament this phrase is found!  During times when Israel is being blessed, and times when they are cursed by God for their sin.  While celebrating military victories, and when being lead away into captivity.  Regardless of their situation and circumstances, Israel was called to give thanks to the Lord because He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever!

 

So it is with us today.  We are called to thank Him for His innate goodness and the steadfast love that He has placed on us for eternity.  We are called to thank Him always, for everything in all circumstances.  His goodness and loving character and disposition toward us is and unshakable reality no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.  He desires us to know this.  To seek and find comfort and refuge in this.  He means for us to look to Him and praise Him for being Him no matter what circumstance bombards us.  This means we can and should always thank Him for Him and for the way He has chosen to love us. 

 

The peace and comfort this command brings us is immeasurable.  It means that we can love and thank Him in the midst of uncertainty and insecurity, in the depths of unspeakable pain and suffering, when we feel hopeless and helpless…He is good and His steadfast love remains forever.  This reality of His character sustains us through tears, grief and unimaginable brokenness and loss.

 

God wants us to understand that while our situations and circumstances will invariably change, He will not.  He is unchanging. (James 1:17)  He is everlasting.  (Psalm 90:2 & Isaiah 26:2)  He is an impregnable fortress. (Psalm 18:2)

 

We can thank Him for the pain we’ve felt because it pushes us toward Him as the God of all comfort.  We can thank Him for hurt and betrayal we’ve experienced because it leads us to His perfect comfort and love.  We can thank Him for the bad leaders in authority over us that make us long for His perfect leadership that will ultimately reign eternal over the new heavens and the new earth. 

 

He is good.  He can be trusted!

 

It is the bad and bitter tastes of life that help us fully appreciate the sweet and savory food that comes from the hand of a good and perfect God.  It is the reality of eternal, conscience suffering in Hell that enable us to better appreciate the eternal comfort of ruling and reigning with Christ forever.  It is the sick and disgusting nature of our sin that helps us marvel at His grace that would save us from the judgment that we deserve.  The many times per day that I selfishly fail to obey God make me wonder at how Christ fully and selflessly obeyed the Father every day of His earthly life. 

 

So despite the uncertain economy, the uncertainty of your plans, the hurt, pain or betrayal you may now feel, regardless of your present circumstances … thank and praise God!  Always.  For everything.  Scripture commands it. 

 

He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever!

Justice and Mercy in the Flood

A few days ago I was reading the account of the great flood that God sent on the earth during the life of Noah.  I know the story.  It’s quite familiar.  One of those stories that you first hear via flannel graph in the 3 and 4 year old’s class in Sunday school. 

 

But in my reading the other day I stopped in my tracks and was cut quick to the heart by what I read.  The text vividly painted a picture of God’s justice and mercy.  His patience and long-suffering as well as His finality and severity in judgment.  It left me contemplating the wickedness and utter rebellious nature of my sin toward Him and His incredible kindness and compassion toward me. 

 

Read what the text says:

 

Genesis 7:21-2321 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.

 

God had been patient.  He had sent His servant Noah to preach repentance to all people. 

He had watched them mock His servant for 120 years as he obeyed God in building the ark and faithfully preaching repentance.  And when God sent Noah into the ark, He righteously judged those who were in rebellion against Him.

 

That God so severely judged the earth served to display His holiness, righteousness and inability to tolerate continued rebellion against Him.  That He saved Noah and his sons served to display his great love and mercy toward those who would turn to Him in faith and admit their failure to completely obey Him. 

 

God is Holy.  He is not like us.  He knows no sin of His own.  Rather, He sent His son Christ to become sin for us so that the unrighteous (all mankind) could have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.  He asks that we acknowledge our sin and turn to Christ in repentance so that we can receive His great mercy and immeasurable kindness as demonstrated in saving His servant Noah.

 

God will judge the earth again.  He has promised to do so. (see Romans 1 &2 and Revelation 18-20)  He will once again and for all eternity judge the world for its sin and rebellion toward Him.  He will, as in Noah’s day, destroy all flesh blotting out every living thing that does not turn to Him for mercy and grace. 

 

Then, He will set up a new kingdom with a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21 & 22)  He will rule forever in righteousness and peace.  His kingdom and His rule will be established forever and He will never be opposed. 

 

Read the account of the flood in Genesis 6-7.  And read the final four chapters of Revelation.  If you have not yet turned to Christ in repentance, do it now, before it’s too late.  He will judge swiftly, severely and completely.  He has promised to do so and the Lord God always keeps His word. 

 

If you have already turned to Him and found the indescribable love and mercy of a good and perfect Savoir, then long with John in Revelation for Him to return soon.  And be comforted by the promise of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  In speaking of Christ’s rule on the earth he says:

 

Isaiah 9:6-7 –6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

 

Come soon Lord Jesus.  We long for You to judge sin once and for all and begin Your righteous and eternal rule!

 

 

Everybody Sins…but Jesus Saves!

How old do you need to be before you begin to share the gospel? How much of the Bible do you need to know? How well do you need to polish your presentation? Do you even have to be a Christian? I ask these questions because I think my two and a half year old daughter (Natalie) may be an evangelist.

Now I’m sure as of yet, she’s unconverted. Her sin nature still appears to dominate her daily routine. She’s not even potty trained for goodness sake! However, she seems to get the basic message of the gospel and unlike many of us regenerated Christians, she’s not to shy to share it with strangers.

A few nights ago, we had new babysitter over. It was the first time she met our girls and her first visit to our house. The girls were giving the babysitter a tour of the house pointing out the Barbie collection, snack drawer, toy baskets and Crayola supplies when our youngest got really excited and demanded that everyone stop talking so that she could speak.

Beaming with excitement she turned to face our new babysitter and proudly proclaimed the message that appeared to burn in her soul…Everybody sins, but Jesus saves!

That was it. That’s her extensive knowledge of the gospel. TULIP to her is still just a pretty flower. But she’s right. She’s got the basic gist of the gospel message. Everybody sins, but Jesus saves.

The thing that strikes me as I recall the scenario is how unapologetic and energetic she is as she makes the statement. Many Christians are simply scared to tell people about sin. Even those who share the gospel more frequently than others seem to want to minimize or bypass ‘sin’ in a hurry to get to the happy ending about how much Jesus loves us. But the gospel isn’t about you. It isn’t about me. It’s not about humanity and us at it’s center.

It’s about God. The gospel is about God.

It’s about making much of God and His greatness, His mercy, His justice, His sacrifice, His all-consuming glory! He is the one who saves. We are simply those He has saved. In sharing the gospel we must intentionally make much of Him and little of us. We’re the guilty and offending party. He is the rescuing and redeeming King.

Everybody sins…but Jesus saves!

Don’t worry. We’re not going to market her by calling up the blue haired lady on the wacky religious channel. Rather, we are going to work in our home to live out the gospel in our marriage and parenting. We’ll continue to teach her what that statement means and where it’s found in scripture. And maybe God will continue to teach us through her. Maybe He will remind me to unapologetic, energetic and unafraid when He asks me to share that statement with strangers.

Oh, and it doesn’t appear that Natalie is in the same league as Billy Graham or D.L. Moody just yet. The babysitter didn’t make a profession of faith in Christ. She just thought it was cute. Who knows though what God can do through my daughter?

Luke 18:16-17 (ESV) 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Keep Lottery Winnings Out of the Church!

True North Community Church in Port Jefferson, New York had a difficult decision to make this week.  Unfortunately, they chose poorly.  The Long Island place of worship is a young and growing church that found itself cramped in its present facilities.  A few weeks ago the Lead Pastor stated that if anybody in the congregation had a couple of million extra dollars lying around they should make an appointment to see him.  He told them God could work a miracle and provide the money if He wanted to.  Then it happened.  A parishioner presented the church with a winning lottery ticket worth more than three million dollars and the pastors had to respond.   

 

Should they (or we for that matter) accept money from gambling winnings?  Why not, you may ask?  Is gambling a sin?  What about accepting the profits of gambling if in fact you or I did not participate in said gambling?  While there is no verse in the Bible that reads, ‘don’t gamble because it is a sin’, there are multiple verses that tell us to avoid ill-gotten gain, greed, slothfulness and poor stewardship. 

 

Further, consider the evils of the gambling industry for a moment.  Gaming institutions encourage people to come and have fun while they take money from men who should be feeding their families.  They sell themselves as entertainment venues that are fueled by the discretionary income of normal Americans.  However, they are fueled by habitual gamblers that spend wealth until it’s gone and incur debts most simply can never repay.  This leads to the ruin of individuals, the break-ups of marriages, the abandonment of children,  dependence upon drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms and the ultimate destruction of many families just to name a few of the social strains and ramifications. 

 

The gaming industry in this country is evil and the church has no business benefiting from it!  You may argue that the church could take this ill-gotten money and use it for good.  We could be the ‘good stewards’ of this improbable windfall.  But if we do so we fuel the industry and become the ultimate beneficiaries of this great sin. 

 

Playing the lottery and visiting gaming institutions equates to stealing from the poor and enslaving them rather than helping, feeding or serving them as God commands!  I am convinced that Jesus would have us serve those who suffer from bondage to this sin rather than to further take advantage of them. 

 

As a pastor, I feel a responsibility to refuse such an offering of a winning lottery ticket the same way I would refuse money from a recently converted drug lord or the wealth of newly saved former pornographer.  Rather than soil God’s coffers with dirty money gained in the destruction of the lives of countless men and women I would offer counsel better suited to advance the Kingdom of God and redemption of mankind.  My pastoral advice to the lottery winner, drug-runner or sex-industry kingpin would be to use the money gained in sinful allegiance to the god of this world to love, minister to and reclaim the lives that are being ruined from these practices.

 

Non-profit, para-church ministries could be formed with this money to help strippers and prostitutes find a noble and honorable profession that restores their ingrained dignity as image-bearers of God.  It could be used to give drug addicts a place to recover and find deliverance through Jesus Christ.  It could enable credit-ruined gambling addicts to abandon chance in favor of embracing the sovereignty of God.  There are thousands of ways to redeem this wealth while maintaining the purity of the Bride of Christ, His beautiful church.  

 

My prayer is that True North Community Church sees the error of their decision to accept a winning lottery ticket and repents of benefiting from ill-gotten gain. 

 

[Proverbs 1:19 Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it.   Proverbs 10:2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.   Proverbs 28:16 & 1916 A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment, but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life…19 He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.]

 

May you and I pursue the purity of the church at all costs and support her by being good stewards of that which God has entrusted us.  And may many trapped in the sex, drug and gambling industries find deliverance through Jesus Christ and repent and serve others to the praise of His glorious grace!

What’s wrong with your church? (Part 1)

I have a question for you. What’s wrong with your church? Don’t say nothing. Sure it sounds pious and may make you appear spiritually mature…but you’re lying. No one attends a perfect church. So sound off. Let’s hear it. What’s wrong with your church?

Maybe I can help us get started. Is it the pastor? Might as well go for the jugular. Maybe he’s the problem. (if you said that she’s the problem we have a whole ‘nother set of difficulties to deal with first!) Is he too short or too tall? Maybe he’s too long-winded. Maybe he can’t keep your attention for more than ten minutes. Is he too dominant or too passive? Too emotional or not merciful enough? An out in front leader, or reclusive reader? Surely he’s got his problems. But maybe you love and support him anyway.

Ok, what about the music. Too loud? Too repetitive? Too many hymns? To contemporary? Do the drums annoy you or do you find a dark desire buried way down deep to take and axe to that old-fashioned organ? Which is more distracting the gray-haired choir in light blue robes or the twenty something with messy hair and piercings jumping around with the red electric guitar? Don’t tell me you like the worship music at your church too! (You’re awfully close to being a content Christian. Can’t have too many of those!)

How do you feel about the facilities? Are they clean enough? Nice enough? Comfortable enough? Big enough? Does the color scheme appeal to you? Are they kid-friendly or too adult-oriented. Are they located in the right zip code or do you secretly hope to re-locate so you won’t have to drive through ‘that’ neighborhood?

Do the programs work? Are there enough programs? Too many programs? Age-appropriate programs? Are there enough volunteers? Please tell me your church has enough volunteers. If not, they may ask you to volunteer thus revealing their utter incompetence because everyone knows that you are a leader and not a mere servant.

I wonder if I’ve hit on your complaint yet? We could keep going but even Olympic Softball implements a ten run mercy rule. So after the airing of our grievances against our local church let me ask another question.

What are you doing to help?

Sorry, offering ‘constructive criticism’ isn’t really a verifiable spiritual gift. I don’t need to know the name of your church or a list of its strengths and weaknesses to know that they need your help. The Apostle’s Peter & Paul tell me this. (Eph. 4:11-16, 1 Pet. 4:7-11, Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor. 12:4-27) Consider the admonishment of Peter in 1 Pet. 4:10, ‘Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.’

What will you do? Consider what Korah did (Numbers 16) and what Nehemiah did (Nehemiah 1-5) when faced with problems. Pick one of them to emulate. Oh, and be prepared for the consequences.