Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Struggle to Believe 

From a reader:

I've been experiencing some spiritual problems and questions. These are basically along the line of questioning my beliefs. Am I a christian? Do I actually believe in Christ? Those sort of questions.
I WANT to believe--but DO I actually believe? I always hope and pray that I do, but there's always the question.

I guess the foundation of the problem, is a mixture of different things. First, good works. I've heard you preach and read in the bible that a true christian bears good fruit--whereas the unbeliever bears evil fruits. I honestly believe this--and that is a problem! I mean, when I look at my life, and the choices I make in it, doubts arise like: If I were TRULY a Christian, I wouldn't have made that choice or that one. Or, I've done, as far as I can see, nothing that we would call "good". How can I be a true child of God if I don't bear good fruits?

Along with this is a remembrance of when I was a young child--I remember how everything was set in stone. I believe this--how could I not. To question that belief was silly and juvenile. It's crazy, but in many ways, I think I was more mature back then! There was never doubt. I remember it was such a comfort and assurance, because I was a Christian and there was no turmoil.

One major concern of mine, Is the Lord's Supper. What get's me fearful and upset is the warning given to those who aren't truly repentant of their sins. I've been struggling, as all believers do, with my sins. I commit the sin, and then repent. Yet just a week afterwords I commit the same sin--this isn't a true repentance, and I know that--which brings me back to the Lord's Supper. "Eat and drink judgement to themselves" Those words really haunt me, and I don't know what to do about that.

I can tell you, I have gone through precisely what you’re going through. Every serious Christian I know has.

If you believe, then you will bear fruit. But that doesn’t mean it necessarily follows the other way round- that if you have no fruit, you don’t believe. The living tree will bear fruit, but looking at the tree at any given moment to see fruit doesn’t prove its life or non-life.

Don’t ask yourself whether your lifestyle or heart seem like the lifestyle or heart of a Christian. They never will. I look at the corruption of my heart and say, how can I possibly claim what I claim? Our life and heart are never worthy of the faith we claim. Remember the Pharisee and the publican in the temple, Luke 18? The one says, I thank God I’m not like other men. The other says, God be merciful to me a sinner. Guess which one was justified?

The only thing that needs to be sufficient is the righteousness of Christ.

If your works are not what you think they ought to be, and they never are, the answer is to focus on your faith. We can’t tie fruit onto a dead tree and pretend it’s alive. Faith is what produces the works, so focus on your faith, your beliefs. The mistake we often make is to focus on how bad we feel about our sins to try and whip ourselves into better obedience, but this is the absolute wrong approach. That’s the approach of the flesh, the law, and that produces nothing but bondage and death. The right approach is outlined clearly for us by Paul in Romans. Read chapter 7, talking about his inability to obey, his wretchedness in his sin, but his knowledge that sin is now a foreign intruder in him, not the core of who he is. The core of who he is, who every Christian is, is the new creature in Christ. Focus on that. And the new creature has no condemnation, no guilt. So put away guilt and condemnation, every time you sin, and focus on your forgiveness. Rejoice over what you’ve been forgiven for. After Paul’s expression of his deep awareness of his sin, his very next statement in Romans 8 is “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Do you hear that? No condemnation.

The Lord’s Supper is not about feeling bad for our sin. The Lord’s Supper is about rejoicing over what Christ has done for us, uniting with Him by faith and therefore uniting with each other. There is no condemnation for the Christian. There is repentance, and we have to be honest with ourselves regarding whether we truly desire to be free of sin or not. Repentance is a lifelong habit, not something you do one or two times. And of course you’re going to fall into the same sin again. How many sins do you think there are to commit? Not that many, really. If we believe that we’re going to be sinners until we die, then we know that we’re going to fall back into the same mistakes over and over again. So repent, over and over again. Repentance doesn’t mean never doing it again. Repentance means heartfelt sorrow over sin, and a heartfelt constant struggle and desire to turn away from it. The literal meaning is to “rethink”. Change your thinking, rethink your approach. That doesn’t mean you’re ever going to turn away from it completely, this side of heaven.

There is the sorrow of this world that produces death. This is the sorrow Judas felt, the sorrow Cain felt. It is the sorrow of condemnation, and it results in driving us away from God. Guilt only works death.

The sorrow of the child of God is different. This is the sorrow Peter felt, and David felt. It is the sorrow that drives us to God, and it is not condemnation. It is the same sorrow that Jesus felt when he wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He knew full well that He would shortly raise Lazarus, but He wept because death is wrong. We weep over our sin because of our sorrow over what we are. We were not supposed to be sinful. We were supposed to be perfect. We know we will be raised again perfect, that all our sins are forgiven, but we still weep, because what we are now is wrong. But this is Godly sorrow, for it drives us to Him.

It is good to feel sorrow over sin. That will drive you to the cross. But it is not good to feel condemnation over your sin. That is to doubt the efficacy of the cross. Put away your guilt. Put away your condemnation. Cling to the cross, hate your sin, and know that God has forgiven you completely. Don’t sweat the rest of it. It will come in God’s time.

I go on as long as I have because this is precisely the struggle that every Christian goes through. I felt this when I was just beginning my Christian walk, and I feel it today. Don’t worry. What would worry me is if you thought your morality was somehow up to snuff. And again- we cannot will the fruit into existence. We must simply believe, have faith, which is itself the gift of God, and the works will come as the Spirit works them. As Paul says in Galatians 3, having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?

Remember this, above all else- there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus. Read Romans 8-9. Read Galatians 3-4, Ephesians 2, Psalm 103. These will give you comfort.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New Sermons 

I have posted two new sermons from Acts 26 and 27. The first is on the subject of God's irresistible grace, and the second is on God's absolute knowledge, power and providence.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


One of the marks of a totalitarian mindset is that they will permit no dissent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Respecting Other Religions 

This is my 500th post. So to celebrate, I've decided to post something that might just get my head sawed off.

Not that there are too many radical Muslims in Limon, CO, or even in all of Colorado. And I'm not sure of their willingness to drive this far to get me. But they rode horses all the way into central Europe a few times before, so who knows?

But I, as well as many other folks, have been thinking about this whole Muslim cartoon thing, and the West's response. I am not at all surprised that many Western leaders have denounced the publication of the cartoons at the same time as they have denounced the rioting. I am not at all surprised that the crazies in the Middle East and Europe are using it to further their political agenda. But how ought we, as Christians, to think about this?

With this on my mind, I read, in a different context, Isaiah 46. In this passage, as in others in Isaiah, he mocks the false gods of the Babylonians. Judah is hoping that Babylon will save them from the Assyrians. But God says, Bel and Nebo, the gods of the Babylonians, have to be carried around in a cart. What kind of god is that? What kind of god is it (Isaiah 44) that is made from part of a piece of wood that was also used to cook his evening meal? Isaiah, with heavy sarcasm and irony, is pointing out the ridiculousness of such religions.

Now the Babylonians didn't see it that way, of course. They would say that their idols merely symbolize, point them to the spiritual gods who lived up in the sky and certainly didn't need to be carried around. But Isaiah cuts through all the baloney and gloss, and points out the reality- they were worshipping sticks of wood, worshipping gods that needed to be carried around.

Compare this to the God of Scripture- He carried the Israelites around. He bore them as a burden, taking them out of Egypt and taking them to the Promised Land. The gods of men have eyes but don't see. God has no eyes, but He sees. He has no hands, but He saves.

Islam is a ridiculous religion. The fact that a billion people follow this religion makes it no less ridiculous. Islam is a religion which promises carnal blessings for carnal obedience. Its holy book is misery to read. It offers fake solutions to fake problems, comforting the hurt of people a little, but utterly failing to even address the real questions. How can I please a perfect and holy God with my paltry works? How can I possibly make up for all of my failings? How can a just God allow all the suffering in the world? How can a just God also show mercy? Islam offers us a god who can change his mind, who can lie, who we can only hope will reward us if we try really hard to be good. This is a religion which attaches righteousness to such trivial things as the style of clothing you wear and which way you face when you pray. This religion is foolishness, and deserves to be mocked, just as Isaiah mocked the foolish religions of Babylon.

This is not to say the people who believe this relgion should be mocked. And this I think is where we as conservatives in America are apt to go wrong. The people who believe in Islam do not deserve to be separated out into a separate category of people, and mocked and treated as uniquely evil or subhuman. They are not. They are causing some particular political problems for us right now, and I don't mean to minimize those. But a Muslim ought to be treated exactly like any other non-Christian, as someone who is created in the image of God, who is no worse than we ourselves are without Christ, who is no more deserving of eternal punishment than we ourselves are. They need to hear the gospel, they need to turn away from their wickedness and their ridiculous religion, just as all of us do. So for a so-called Christian to talk about all Muslims or all Arabs as if they were some different class of people is contradictory to the Christian religion. In fact, as Jesus pointed out to us, to talk about any human being as being less deserving of life than ourselves (that is, to call them "fool" or "vain fellow"), is to be guilty of murder in your heart, since in your heart you have detracted from the image of God in which that person was created.

But likewise, for any confessing Christian to talk about the religion of Islam as a "noble religion", a "religion of peace" or anything like that, is likewise to contradict the Christian faith. It is a religion of enslaving lies, just as all the religions which man invents are. Their faith deserves no respect. Their prophet was a liar, an idolater, and has the blood of millions and the souls of billions on his hands. The sooner Islam is eradicated from the earth, the better. There is no way to heaven but by Jesus Christ, and they deny Him. They place their lying idolater above Him, while claiming to respect Him. They deny that He rose again while claiming that He was a prophet. 2 John 1:9 tells us that whoever does not abide in the doctrine of the Son does not have the Father. If you don't know Jesus, you don't know God. Islam knows nothing of the true God. I hope and pray that all Muslims turn from their lies and their idols and embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, so that they may know God as well.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fancy Answers 

I spent my evening with a couple who were worried about a number of things. There were the financial concerns that many of us have. There were the worries about their kids- were they doing the right thing? There were medical worries.

They didn't come to me. I went to them. I like to get around and see the people in my congregation from time to time; go to their homes and talk, just to get to know them better. It's one of the perks of being a pastor- I'm one of the few people who get to invite myself over to your house without being thought rude.

These are the sorts of concerns a pastor hears regularly. But they're the concerns we all hear regularly, whether we're pastors or not. If you have friends and family that you talk to, you've probably heard these same kinds of conversations in the not too distant past. People have concerns.

The Bible has a lot to say about all these things. But even so, I didn't really have any answers. I'm not a financial planner. I'm not a doctor. And I have the same worries about my own kids. If someone comes to me wanting to know what the Bible says about divorcing your wife or whether the righteousness of Christ is infused or imputed in us by His death, I've got answers. Pull up a chair- it might take a while. But the kinds of problems this couple was having are not so much about tricky decisions to make or doctrines to understand as they are about just coping. Just keeping putting one foot in front of the other despite the difficulty. And on that ground, a pastor doesn't really know anything that any other of God's children doesn't know too.

And I open my mouth to say something anyway, despite having little of great profundity to say, and then I remember- they didn't come to me, I came to them. They didn't ask me for answers, and since I don't have them, I might as well keep my mouth shut and keep drinking my coffee. The only thing I really have to say sounds inane to me anyway.

But it isn't inane. Far from it, and the couple I'm visiting apparently knows that better than me. After listing some specifics of their worry, they say, “You just have to trust God.”

It was the only thing I could really think of to say, and I didn't need to say it anyway. I find myself telling people that a lot, so much so sometimes that I get sick of saying it. I want to have a profound answer. I want to solve their problems. I want to say the thing that they'll remember for the rest of their lives, telling their grandchildren about the thing their pastor said that changed their life.

I want them to trust me. And that's a shame.

It's a nice reminder. I'm the teacher, and often I learn as much from those I'm supposed to be teaching. They're the ones doing it, putting one foot in front of the other, despite the difficulty. And it's their trust in God that gives them the strength. They know Jesus gave His life for them, and He sent His Spirit to them, to teach them about Himself and give them the wisdom and strength to serve Him. They know Jesus will always be with them and will never disappoint.

God gave us pastors to help us, to point us to Scripture, to remind us of the truth. We pastors can spend the extra time to study the difficult passages, to read the books, sort out the different beliefs and ideas. Pastors serve a valuable function.

But pastors come and go. This couple had their concerns before I ever got to Limon, and they'll still have them when I'm gone.

And what they'll also have is the Holy Spirit, teaching them to trust Jesus, and giving them the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Many of the most important problems don't have simple answers. We don't know the reasons for a lot of the things that happen. The Bible was not written to a satisfy our curiosity and many questions simply go unanswered. But this is not to say God has no response when we come to Him with these kinds of concerns. On the contrary.

Matthew 6:
25... I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”...31...Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32...For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Jesus doesn't tell us how we're always going to get what we need. Instead, He tells us not to chase after these things, not to worry about them. God has all the resources in the world at His disposal. He can make all the problems go away anytime He wants, and if He hasn't, He has a good reason.

God will give us what we need. Just trust Him. He takes care of all of His children. Our concern ought only be to enter into the kingdom of heaven, which we gain by faith. And faith just means belief, trust that God's promises are true. In other words, trust God. He'll take care of you. It might not be a fancy answer, but it's the truth.

Friday, February 10, 2006

I Believe 

I believe that John Williams was strongly influenced by Gustav Mahler's sixth symphony in the Star Wars soundtrack.

Monday, February 06, 2006

One Sign You May be Letting Your Preschooler Play Too Many Video Games 

Katie said to me today, "OK daddy, click on which toy you want to play with."

Saturday, February 04, 2006

How to Avoid the Word of God 

People have a lot of different ways of avoiding the force of Scripture. The Da Vinci Code method is one; that's where we invent a lot of clever conspiracies to prove that it was all made up later. If there's some doubt cast on its legitimacy, then we don't have to listen to it. There's the higher criticism method, which is related; in that approach, we claim that there are different versions and many changes made to Scripture, so we can never completely know what the Bible says. There's the evolution of religions approach, by which we point to similarities in other religions of the period to demonstrate that the Jewish (and therefore the Christian) religion is just a natural development of earlier themes. There's one more, one used a lot by Christians themselves today, that I want to talk about.

This is the method where, when someone is presented with very strong Biblical support for some position, they say, "People make the Bible say whatever they want." I find myself faced with this often when presenting the Biblical doctrine of predestination. The other party starts the argument off by saying, "The Bible doesn't say that", and presenting me with some proof-texts (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9 usually, and for some reason the parable of the sower). After I show that the free-will prooftexts actually support my own position, and present my own arguments (Isaiah 46:9-10; Ezekiel 36; John 8; John 10; Romans 8; Ephesians 2:1-10, etc), the next response is typically the same. "People can make the Bible say whatever they want it to say," they say.

And then they say, I'm not a Biblical scholar like you, but I know what I've experienced. I know the God that I know, and He's not like what you're saying. He'd never do that.

And thus the word of God is dismissed, and the person relies on his own experience as judge rather than Scripture.

In fact, you cannot make the Bible say whatever you want it to say. It says what it says. Its testimony is sure; its guidance true. That statement is saying that God's word is somehow inadequately clear, a murky and unsure guide. What blasphemy against God! What arrogance!

God gave us the Bible to be a guide to us. "Thy word is a lamp to my feet; a guide to my path always," the Psalmist says. Did He fail? Did He not give us something adequate to the task?

When the devil quoted Scripture to Jesus, Jesus did not respond by saying, "Well, you can make the Bible say whatever you want." No, he used other Scripture quotes to correct the wrong use of the Bible.

We are certainly taught by our experiences. But we can only understand that guidance through the lens of the Scriptures. It is the Scriptures which teach us how to understand those experiences. And how can those experiences ever be an authority between individuals to judge the truth or falsity of doctrines? Everyone has different experiences, but we all have the same Scripture.

The devil's battle since the very beginning has been to take the word of God out of the hands of men. He started by casting doubt on that word, "Has God really said?" He's resorted to violence, killing people who would translate, copy and distribute the Word, or even read it for themselves.

But I'm afraid his most effective tool has been the lies about that word that he's spread. And this is one of the most pernicious of all, since it affects God's own people so greatly.

The Bible says what it says. Don't be afraid to trust it; to follow it all the way; to believe everything it says, even the things you're scared to believe. It's a scary book. But it's a good book, and only by that word can we be pointed to the eternal Word who saves our souls.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Here's a good note about the whole fuss with the cartoons of Mohammed. What does it say about the difference between the two religions, that nobody ever gets assasinated for showing disrespect to Christianity? If we did, we'd have to kill half the western world. But make fun of Islam a little bit, and there's rioting in the streets.

It's a childish stupid religion that cannot tolerate any dissent, that gets violent whenever anyone else fails to toe the line. And it's only encouraging more of the same for anyone on our side of the fence to say we should give in and avoid offending them. Just being alive and not Muslim is an offence to them.

Religion of peace my foot. It's the religion of illiterate babies. I know it hasn't always been so. But it sure is now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Two sermons have been uploaded. Both are from Acts 24. One is "Integrity in Adversity", and is a comparison of the way the Jewish priests, Felix the governor and the Apostle Paul all behave when confronted with challenges and opportunities. The other is "The Resurrection from the Dead", and is a demonstration of the hope that we have in eternity, the hope that motivated Paul to live the way he did. Link's on the sidebar.

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