Sunday, October 28, 2007

Opening Doors She May Not Enter

A reflection on sorrow from George MacDonald.

…at that moment, some strange melodious bird took up its song, and sang, not an ordinary bird-song, with constant repetitions of the same melody, but what sounded like a continuous strain, in which one thought was expressed, deepening in intensity as it evolved in progress. It sounded like a welcome already overshadowed with the coming farewell. As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy. Cometh white-robed Sorrow, stooping and wan, and flingeth wide the doors she may not enter. Almost we linger with Sorrow for very love.

From his “fairy tale,” Phantastes

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Humility to Accept Your Own Testimony

I was talking with a friend recently who is struggling with his faith and I shared something that has helped me at times when I've struggled. I actually think that struggles in our faith can be sign of our lack of humility. I think this because it takes humility to listen to and believe the testimonies of others who have faith in Christ and who have seen God's power in their lives, confirming that the promises in Scripture are real. But it takes even less humility to believe our own testimony. It might be sad that many are not strengthened in their faith by the testimonies of others but I think it is a fact for many of those who struggle to believe what the Bible tells us about our God. But even if we can't accept the testimonies of others, are we so arrogant not even to accept our own testimony from a time when we were convinced that God was with us and that we were saved by what Christ did on the cross for us? You see, I have been friends with this man for a while and there was a time when I was greatly strengthened by the strength of his faith. So I reminded him of that time and exhorted him to accept his own testimony. I have actually written down a testimony for myself during a time that I was 100% certain that Christ was God and that He really had saved me from my sins. I wrote it down so that I could read it at a future time if I was struggling. This practice has actually helped me. I know that it is a sign of a lack of humility that I am not as strongly helped by the testimonies of others but I think most of us would admit that we usually trust our own perceptions over the perceptions of others. So when I struggle I have to ask myself, "would you really tell yourself from six months ago or a year ago that 'you are wrong in your certainty about Christ.'?" This practice only works for the person who, even in their struggle, desires to believe what the Word tells us about Christ. Without the desire to believe, this practice will make no difference.

In other news, living in Southern California has been interesting this week. Over the last couple of days I watched a large forest fire work its way down a mountain north of here. Other than that, visibility has been low and I always think I should see someone barbecuing somewhere. Pray for the firefighters and for those who have lost their homes. Pray also for the arsonists who started the fires, that they would realize that their sins make them deserving of a fire that will never be quenched and that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to escape that fate.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Piper!

Lately I've been surprised to find myself becoming a fan of John Piper. I never really thought this would happen. Not that I had anything against Piper but he is the hero of many a Calvinist and I'm not one of them. But after having received a burned CD of Piper sermons from one of my colleagues here at the med school I've spent a number of nights listening to Piper preach as I lie in bed before I fall asleep. Piper is certainly one of the best preachers I've ever heard. He is eloquent and passionate in his preaching and his messages are always intelligently presented. So far what I've listened to are biographies of certain Christians and missionaries like Adoniram Judson, John Owen and Martin Luther. One of the things I like best about Piper is that he is very uncompromising. He knows that holding Scripture as the highest authority for the Christian is fundamental to us being the Church. I realize that he would strongly disagree with some of my theological positions but I have a greater respect for someone like Piper than for some relativist who is afraid of stepping on anyone's toes. I look forward to listening to more of Piper's preaching and maybe checking out some of his books.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Strengthen, O Lord, your servant...

Well, today was a blessed and exciting day. Today was my confirmation into the expression of Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic Church called the Anglican Communion. I was blessed to be confirmed by the laying on of hands of the Bishop Evans Kisekka of Uganda at Christ's Church (Anglican) in Highland, California, formerly known as Inland Anglican Fellowship. Our priest, Brian Schulz, was also just ordained this weekend in a service at St. James Church in Newport Beach. Bishop Kisekka preached a powerful message on being Soldiers for Christ, which in a later post I plan on writing about. It took time and discernment to make this decision to be confirmed as an Anglican. I actually went through a confirmation class at St. Patrick's Church in Lexington, Ky., a few years ago but I wasn't ready to make the commitment yet. With all of the problems in the Anglican Communion, some might question the wisdom of being confirmed at this time. But the way I see it, I was confirmed into the Church of Uganda, where the Authority of Scripture is still held high and where the Power of the Holy Spirit is invited into the life of the Church. I am excited to become very involved in this congregation which I have already grown to love and I believe that because of our openness to the Holy Spirit and our commitment to the orthodox faith, God will use us here for His glory. Amen.
Pictured Above: Six of the seven confirmands, Fr. Brian Schulz, Bishop Evans Kisekka and his wife and Fr. Menees of St. James - Newport Beach.

Friday, October 5, 2007

If that's true, then Christianity is False, or A Popular Lie in the Lukewarm Church

As I've read debates on certain blogs and as I've talked with many professing Christians, I've come to see that one of the chief lies promoted by many in the church today is that because no one is perfect, there can be no expectation of freedom from sin in this life and that there should be no standard of holy living when it comes to selection of church leadership.

I actually debated once with a liberal pastor whom I worked under and she used this argument to justify acceptance of practicing homosexuals in church leadership. She said that since she was divorced and remarried, she was technically living in adultery according to Christ's words, so how could she judge a homosexual? I was, of course, unimpressed by her argument but I didn't have the courage right there to say, "well maybe you shouldn't be a pastor." Ultimately her argument was that because certain things described as sin have become acceptable to many in the church, that we had no right to choose other sins which would bar one from positions of leadership in the church.

If freedom from sin does not come with conversion to Christ than I say that Christianity is proved to be a false religion. Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(Matt. 5:48)" Is Jesus calling us to something that is not possible? And what does Jesus mean by perfection? In the context of this call to perfection we see the Sermon on the Mount, we see teaching on anger and reconciliation with brothers, sexual morality, marriage, oaths, retribution and love for enemies. We also see in Matthew where a fundamental part of Jesus' message is repentance. We read, "From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.(Matt. 4:17)'" So it is obvious that Jesus was calling his followers to leave sin behind and follow him. If all of this talk of repentance and leaving sin behind and holiness is not reflected at all in actual followers of Christ then I say the whole thing is a sham. And yet it seems that many believe and teach that there is no real change in the life of a Christian other than maybe a new hope or some warm feelings. In fact, maybe the only life change encouraged by the liberal is abstinence from ever making a judgment call that something is actually sinful or contrary to God's will. Even in evangelical circles you can see the theology of praying the "sinner's prayer" and then everything is a-okay. This theology doesn't match the New Testament, or the Old Testament for that matter, though. If you take a verse in isolation here or there you can argue for that theology. If you only read John 3:16 then maybe you could believe that no repentance is required but if you read it in the context of the entire gospel of John you see calls to repentance in both 5:14 and 8:11. The Gospel of John also contains some of the most sublime writing on the promise of the Holy Spirit. In connection with this promise we read Jesus' words, "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment...(John 16:8)" It is claimed in the New Testament and in the testimonies of multitudes of believers that the Holy Spirit really has come into the lives of many. So if this testimony is true and if Christ's words are true, then what is the point of the Holy Spirit convicting of sin if there is no change in the life of a Christian?

So is Christianity a big lie? Well, I don't think so. It follows that I believe that there is a real life-change in Christians that is supernaturally enabled by the work of the Holy Spirit. There is real sanctification and freedom from sin in this life. God in His grace has freed me of things that many don't even think a person can be freed of. Am I entirely sanctified? No. But God is working on me and I have a blessed hope for entire sanctification and Christian perfection in this life. And for any who scoff at terms like "entire sanctification" and "Christian perfection," I say, how dare you limit God! How dare you answer Jesus "no thanks, I don't think it's possible," when He says to you in His Word "Be ye Perfect." This freedom from sin will come differently to different people but it always requires patience, perseverance and a willingness to lose one's life for the sake of following Christ.

And for those who perpetuate the lie of the "carnal Christian," Jesus warns, "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.(Matt. 18:6)" The lie that there is no supernatural life-change when a person in converted to Christ keeps many today in sin. If revival is ever to take place we must break free of this lie.

Amen

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Calvin on Holiness

I love this quote from Calvin's Institutes.

Now what is to be learned from the law can be readily understood: that God, as he is our Creator, has toward us by right the place of Father and Lord; for this reason we owe him glory, reverence, love, and fear; verily, that we have no right to follow the mind’s caprice wherever it impels us, but, dependent upon his will, ought to stand firm in that alone which is pleasing to him; then, that righteousness and uprightness are pleasing to him, but he abominates wickedness; and that, for this reason, unless we turn away from our Creator in impious ingratitude, we must cherish righteousness all our life. For if only when we prefer his will to our own do we render to him the reverence that is his due, it follows that the only lawful worship of him is the observance of righteousness, holiness, and purity.

John Calvin, Institutes 2.8.2

Monday, October 1, 2007

An Exciting Sunday

Well, this weekend was very enjoyable as I went on a retreat with most of my classmates into the mountains and got to enjoy a great sermon poreached by a South African brother from the Reformed Episcopal Church at Inland Anglican Fellowship. The retreat was relaxing and was a great time of fellowship with my classmates. We had an intense game of ultimate frisbee, did some hiking, had a couple of worship services and got to see a very entertaining talent show. The highlight of the talent show for me was getting to hear the wife of one of our professors expertly play a Chinese instrument called the zither.

Church was great also. Our guest pastor preached on the story of the rich man and Lazarus. He went so far as to say that by not caring for the poor we are earning ourselves a place in hell. It might sound harsh but I think it is a message that Christians in a rich country need to hear over and over again. I know that I need to hear it... and act on it. To me what made the sermon so exciting though was that he shared about the Common Cause Partnership and the strong possibility that a united orthodox Anglican presence will arise in North America. He also warned that as this comes to together, fulfilling the hopes and dreams of many Anglicans, that we must guard against becoming prideful about it. I think any newfound unity between Christians can only come from the Holy Spirit as it seems that human effort only leads to more divisions or to the sickly kind of ecumenism we have seen in the past century that seems only to lead away from Christianity and toward liberalism.