Sustained to the End

For whatever the reason, I have been contemplating my mortality, the process of growing old. When I think back on my parents, I remember how vibrant and large they seemed to my small perspective as a child. Over the last several years, I have watched both parents face physical difficulties. Their bodies exhibit an ebb and flow: highs and lows, good days and not-so-good days. I came across the following verse in the Old Testament, “…even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save…” (Isaiah 46:4, ESV). This is a very comforting and stabilizing promise of God in scripture.

By way of background, the actual context of Isaiah 46:4 is God’s prophetic word to his covenant people. It is a word of encouragement in the midst of persecution, attack, death, and famine. Isaiah prophecies the destruction of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel. Through the prophet, God explains the great suffering and destruction to come; however, in Isaiah 46:4 and in other portions of this prophecy, God declares his promise to guide and preserve his people to the end. This is my hope for my parents and me. I desire to lean hard on Isaiah 46:4 even in the most difficult times. It is my hope to keep trusting in the God who declares that he will carry me in my old age. May this word bring peace and comfort to all.

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“We see in the text the great truth, which Paul so clearly brings out in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Romans, that Abram was not justified by his works. Many had been the good works of Abram. It was a good work to leave his country and his father’s house at God’s bidding; it was a good work to separate from Lot in so noble a spirit; it was a good work to follow after the robber-kings with undaunted courage; it was a grand work to refuse to take the spoils of Sodom, but to lift up his hand to God that he would not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet; it was a holy work to give to Melchisedek tithes of all that he possessed, and to worship the Most High God; yet none of these are mentioned in the text, nor is there a hint given of any other sacred duties as the ground or cause, or part cause of his justification before God. No, it is said, “He believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Surely, brethren, if Abram, after years of holy living, is not justified by his works, but is accepted before God on account of his faith, much more must this be the case with the ungodly sinner who, having lived in unrighteousness, yet believeth on Jesus and is saved. If there be salvation for the dying thief, and others like him, it cannot be of debt, but of grace, seeing they have no good works. If Abram, when full of good works, is not justified by them, but by his faith, how much more we, being full of imperfections, must come unto the throne of the heavenly grace and ask that we may be justified by faith which is in Christ Jesus, and saved by the free mercy of God!”

(a sermon excerpt from Justification by Faith-Illustrated by Abram’s Righteousness, Dec. 6, 1868)

Charles Spurgeon on Abram’s Justification by Faith

In Motion

Are there ways to lose sight of a goal as one is in motion? I wonder sometimes if that has occurred in my life over the years. In the midst of pursuing a goal, I become so focused on the goal that I actually lose sight of the goal. It’s amazing at times the amount of contradiction that surfaces in my life. I believe and move in one way rather than remaining open to parallel paths toward the same goal.

The image that comes to mind is that of a person banging his head against a wall expecting said wall to move. There are times when the comes down, but it has nothing to do with my banging. The Spirit of God brings it down. Psalm 18:29 reveals a promise in scripture that by our loving and merciful God the Psalmist is able to leap over a wall. Who could fail to embrace such a promise? If I connect the Psalmist’s words with the apostle Paul’s in 2 Cor. 10, I see the manner of overcoming walls along my path.

The apostle Paul reveals in 2 Cor. 10:3-6 that three things construct strongholds or fortresses in our lives. They are arguments, lofty opinions, and thoughts. When bundled up together in one heart, one soul, those form strongholds in a person’s life. It is no longer possible to remain in motion with the Spirit of God. There is another layer to this notion of strongholds. I might be stuck as a result of the stronghold; however, if I face the stronghold by the Spirit of God, then dealing with it is a way of remaining in motion.

Any number of things lead to strongholds in a believer’s life. Those could be past and present hurts, sin patterns, wrong beliefs about God, self-reliance, and many more. Over time, these ways of thinking, believing, and speaking form strongholds, which plop themselves right along our path. The apostle Paul points out that the war we fight is in the Spirt, and it requires spiritual weapons (2 Cor. 10:3-4, ESV).

To remain in motion means to engage in the battle according to the Spirit. It is not about living a life of strict asceticism, which Paul denounces in Colossians 2:20-23. Following Jesus is not learning how to manage my sin, but yielding the sin to him at the cross. It is there that I die to the sin, and then allow Christ’s resurrection power to raise up this area of life that had been in bondage to sin. Jesus did not offer us new life in him only to become managers of our sin. Are you in motion?

Is God’s word inerrant?

When posing such a question, there are an infinite number of responses to it. Some reply no, others yes-but, still others more-or-less, and the most Orthodox express a resounding yes. Throughout church history, attacks have been leveled against the bible’s authority, its sufficiency, its necessity, its inerrancy, and its perspicuity or clarity. Liberal and Orthodox theologians represent two opposite ends on the spectrum regarding the answer to the question posed in today’s blog post.

During the 1960s and 1970s, a debate raged within Western Christianity over the specific doctrine of scripture known as inerrancy. This refers to the bible’s truthfulness in all that it declares. In many ways, this debate was a rehashing of one that took place during the turn of the Twentieth Century. It goes without saying that the attacks against the bible’s inerrancy probably sounded different during the 60s-70s and at the turn of the twentieth century; however, the core issue remained the same: is the bible God’s inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative word?

One of the major achievements that arose out of the debate over the bible’s inerrancy in the 60s-70s is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978 (http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html). Over 300 evangelical scholars from a variety of denominations gathered together to formulate a document stating their commitment to God’s word as inerrant, sufficient, authoritative, necessary, and clear. At the time, the battle had been won, but the war continued to rage. Today’s climate seems to be on verge of attacking those five aspects of scripture.

In the midst of collecting my thoughts for this post, I stumbled across the following Proverb: “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13, ESV). At first glance, the word despise comes off real strong. Most people within the church are not overt in their disdain toward the bible. In fact, such a stance typifies only the most staunch of atheists and agnostics. From my perspective, Christian disdain for the bible comes out in subtle ways.

There are all kinds of controversial examples to use; however, I will put forth one that crops up time and time again. When church leaders, scholars, and theologians waver on God’s word as inerrant, this usually leads to belt loosening across all of scripture. Rather than wrestling over the tough portions of scripture, the scholar, pastor, or leader resorts to outside interpretative helps and sources for cracking the textual, gordian knot. Instead of falling back on the analogy of faith (scripture interprets scripture), these church leaders and theologians end up following every wind of doctrine being tossed about by the wind and the waves (Eph 4:14, ESV).

When church leaders and theologians refuse to embrace the analogy of faith, and refuse to work out doctrinal issues with other committed bible teachers, then the stage is set for developing doctrinal error. Once there is enough error to balance out the sound teaching, the notion of God’s word being inerrant, truthful in all that it declares, will come under attack. Instead of God’s word being a lamp to one’s feet and a light to one’s path, the perception becomes that God’s word contains errors, unsolvable contradictions, and antiquated concepts out of touch with the present day culture. God’s word is no longer seen as giving light and life to the reader.

Finally, the apostle John records an intriguing dialogue between Jesus and the apostle Peter. The Lord questions his apostles about whether or not they desire to remain with him. Peter responds without hesitation, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:68-69, ESV). Peter’s declaration is one that every believer needs to take to heart. Jesus has the words of eternal life. The bible declares this truth about Jesus, which is another way of saying that the written word about Jesus testifies to his spoken word. The bible is God’s written revelation.

Slow to anger

When I peer through the looking-glass of this week, all I see is busy and hectic in a variety of forms.  Now, to be fair, my level of busy is nowhere close to the astronomical levels experienced by those closest to me.  Still, I compose these words in a blog post. Call it selfish or shortsightedness, you name it, any descriptor might be appropriate.  The following verse rings true regardless of my current circumstances: “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29, ESV).  What I’m seeing in the midst of this day is a tendency to be curt with customers.  From my perspective, I see that as a sign of anger rising to the surface.  I guess that means I am without understanding while exalting folly.

In earlier posts, I touched upon the notion that testing comes in circumstances like these to prove my character.  What are those circumstances?  At the end of this week, I move into a new place.  Before that occurs, I must switch over my address, arrange for the utilities to be turned on, schedule furniture deliveries, and complete packing for the move.  Each one requires attention to detail, which is not my strong suit.  Details frustrate me to no end, which leads to my temperature rising, and then the heat comes out of my mouth.  Clearly, this behavior flies in the face of King Solomon’s words in the first part of Proverbs 14:29.  When I express my heat, the understanding vanishes without a trace.

Keep in mind that I am not talking about the good kind of anger.  If someone behaves rudely to a child, an elderly person, or an authority figure, there is an appropriate measure of anger against such behavior.  It is another matter entirely to respond out of frustration without thinking about the impact of those words.  In an earlier post, I expanded on one Proverb about rash words being described like sword thrusts (Prov. 12:18, ESV).  Whether my words are rash or my temper is hasty, the root is the same: no self-control.  How do I acquire self-control?  The apostle Paul lists it as one of the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 5:22-23).  Once again, this requires faith and trust on my part to surrender to the Spirit’s work in my soul.

Rash words are like sword thrusts. A hasty temper exalts folly.  Those two images find their homes in the Proverbs of King Solomon.  By the divinely inspiring work of the Holy Spirit, Solomon has left us an Old Testament book that is chock-full of tough principles for how to respond and speak in the heat of the moment.  In Proverbs 14:29, a hasty temper leads to folly: actions and words that undercut my character and influence.  Did I think about my words or my actions?  When it comes to interacting with people, I think Solomon’s words offer a good baseline for guarding against reacting too quickly.  I want to lead others wisely, which means displaying an understanding character.  This means being slow to anger, which means having an understanding character.  It comes full circle.  Thankfully, the Lord sent us the Holy Spirit to empower us to become wise and understanding according to Proverbs 14:29.  May we trust in him today and this year.

“As leaders today, we must be warned of our common vulnerability to being distracted by the abundance of ‘enhancements’ available to ministry today. We can become mesmerized by the array of church cosmetics for helping our church look better. ‘Makeup’ isn’t evil, but it’s no substitute for leading believers to ‘take up’ the disciple’s cross and be shaped as his true followers. We’re within frightening reach of being able to grow bigger churches while failing to grow bigger people.’
(Jack Hayford, http://www.crossquotes.org).

Jack Hayford on Church Growth

An Interview with Dr. Michael Horton

White Horse Inn is Dr. Michael Horton’s ministry outlet for a variety of topics that touch upon ministry, theology and the layperson. Dr. Horton teaches systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido. This video took place four years ago. It is a concise explanation of the doctrine of justification.