Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Lord Has Blessed Us!

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. (Psalm 127:3)

Thanks be to God! At 9:47 PM on September 8, 2006, Erin and I were blessed by the birth of our son, Caden Joshua Jones - 21 inches long and 8 pounds, 15 ounces.

It was a long labour - about 30 hours, actually. Erin began having contractions at about 4 PM on the 7th, and we went to the hospital at around 10 PM. They continued all night and all the next day until the doctors noticed, around 8 PM, that the baby was coming down the wrong way. That, and a minor fever that Erin had developed, caused them to opt for the caesarian section. I'm so, so proud of my wife, who's been through more than I could ever handle. She didn't really enjoy the whole experience, but there's no complaining about the result!

It was the first operation I had ever been present for (like my new look??) It was scary. I confess that I am a bit of a control freak, and I like having things under my own control. This was one of those times that I could not do anything but trust the Lord - and I think that's something God was teaching me through this. God was good; the doctors were very quick and efficient, and had the baby out in no time! I'm happy to report that Erin is recovering even better than expected, and that little Caden is healthy and strong.

It is such an indescribable joy to be a parent! Caden, to us, is the most beautiful creature God has ever made. Yes, he wakes us up throughout the night, and neither of us sleep much. Two nights ago he fussed from 1:30 to 5 AM, keeping us both awake... He is strong-willed, objecting strenuously whenever we change him or bathe him. But he's so adorable. It's just so cute watching him - he doesn't have full control of his hands yet, and when he wants to suck on a finger, he chases his hand with his mouth instead of pulling it to his lips. His eyes are so big and full of curiosity. And the expressions on his little face - well, just look at this picture!

Again - praise the Lord. He is so good.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Of Slander, Judgment, and Discernment

On Sunday, I led the Bible study at my church. My text was James 4:11-12:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

The passage dealt with the sticky problem of slander and judging one another. The Bible has much to say about the use of human judgment with regard to others and their actions, and so our discussion was interesting. Where is the line between right judgment and slander?

1) First, I began by pointing out what slander is NOT:

Church Discipline - "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. Titus 3:10

Testing Teaching By Scripture - Now these Jews [in Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11

From these passages and many more, we as Christians have a mandate to watch over one another and to correct them when their teaching or behavior crosses the line into sin. James is not forbidding such discernment.

2) We then discussed what slander and evil talk IS:

Lying about one another – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Leviticus 20:16

Gossip – “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish--that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” 2 Corinthians 12:20

Talk Designed To Hurt Others, Not Build Them Up - Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. Romans 15:2

3). We studied another clue to answering the question - the beginning of verse 12: There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. So - why is God the only rightful judge?

1) He is our Creator. He owns us and may do as He pleases with us.
2) He is the only God. There is no other.
3) God is the only one who can see and know the thoughts and character of a man's heart. Thus, He is the only one who can judge accurately.
4) As God, He is the only one who has the power of eternal life or punishment. No one else, even if they did know a man's heart, could enforce their judgment.

So it comes to this. How may we, as Christians, exercise right judgment and discernment, especially in the areas of church discipline and discernment of new teaching, without crossing the line into slander?

I boiled it down to three basic differences between right discernment and sinful judgment. These can be framed as three questions every Christian should ask himself as he exercises judgment on something:

I. What is my motive?

A wrong motive would be selfish:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2)

And / or a wrong motive seeks to hurt another person:

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

On the contrary, a pure and rightful motive seeks to build one another up:

... let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20)

If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15)

II. By what standard am I judging?

Or, put another way, am I submitting to the same standard I would have the other submit to? Failure to do so is hypocrisy, the sin Jesus condemned:

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:2-5)

This hypocrisy results when we arrogantly presume that we are above the law, and that it does not apply to us:

The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (James 4:11b-12a)

Rather, we should humbly submit to an objective and higher authority: God --

Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. (James 4:6-7)

-- as He has revealed in His Word:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

III. Am I judging actions or the heart?

Man has no capacity to peer into one's heart:

For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

And we are prohibited from basing judgment on mere appearance or outward impressions:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

Rather, Jesus tells us that one's actions and behaviour - deeds, NOT appearances or assumptions about motive - are proper evidence for judgment:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

Christians are not prohibited from making any judgments at all. The famous phrase, "Judge not, lest ye be judged," is found in the same chapter - Matthew 7 - as His command to beware of false prophets and to know them by their fruits

Rather, we are commanded,

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday Devotional

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

Every fall, the green grass undergoes a change. It yellows and dries out as winter approaches. The flowers, too, wither and disappear as the air grows cold. Nature reminds us each day that we are prone to change – that what this world does and builds is only fleeting and temporary.

God’s Word, though, isn’t like that. As God’s revelation of His infinite and unchanging self, His Word reflects His nature, being itself forever unchanging. God didn’t have to reveal Himself to us. He owes us nothing. But God chose to stoop to a human level and use the gift of human language – a gift He himself gave to us! – in order to make His purpose and will known to us. We call this gift, His Word written, the Bible. And this written Word, by telling us of God’s purpose and will for us, points to and is fulfilled by the Word made flesh – God in human flesh, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As God’s communication, received by a limited and ever-changing world, the Word may be misunderstood, or twisted, or ignored by sinful human beings. But it remains true – and we remain accountable to God for following it. God has made Himself clear, on our level, through human language and human flesh, and thus we have no excuse for ignoring it. God has protected and preserved His Bible throughout the centuries, by the blood of martyrs and the sweat of scribes. We may be assured that, similarly, His purpose in our salvation will never waver or be defeated. That is our hope.

God bless you all this Lord's Day!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Question Their Deepest Assumptions

The unbeliever tells you, "I just can't believe there is a God. We don't need God to explain our existence. We can explain so much with science now anyway, and what we don't know it will eventually find out."

How do you respond to an objection like this?

Well, let's first examine what's not being said here. Everyone has a worldview - assumptions and presuppositions that we use to filter and interpret information from the world around us. As Christians, the fundamental assumptions of our worldview are that there is and must be a God, and that this God had a purpose in creation, and that He created us as rational beings for the purpose of communicating this purpose to us in such a way that it would be understood. We filter all our knowledge and information through these assumptions.

Our unbeliever does not share these assumptions. Rather, the highest authority in his universe is unaided human reason - that is the standard by which he judges things. In particular, he trusts that expression of human reason called "science" as his hope for explaining all things - including how we got here, where the universe comes from, etc.

Let's take a closer look at those assumptions, though. Are they consistent? Are they coherent with each other? Or is his worldview riddled with contradictions?

Science depends on two things to make it work.

1) Science assumes the fact that the universe is an orderly place, where things follow laws and behave in consistent and predictable ways. If a scientist wants to test a theory, he sets up a controlled set of circumstances and repeats an experiment several times. The assumption behind this method is that the universe is an orderly, consistent place so that if all things are equal, the same result should happen every time.

But - how do I know these laws of nature behave exactly the same way, every single time? I can't possibly drop every ball in the universe, under every possible circumstance, to verify that it will fall to the ground every time. But, if I assume that the universe is fundamentally an orderly place, then it is a safe and reasonable thing to say that the ball will drop every time.

The unbeliever, though, has a problem. Science itself depends on this assumption - that the universe is fundamentally, at its most basic level, an orderly, law-abiding thing. But why should it be? If there is no intelligence or mind behind the universe, if there is no supernatural factor in play, and it's just a bunch of particles and energy bumping into each other, what reason to we have to believe that laws and principles, like, say, the laws of physics, are even possible?

In short, the unbeliever's assumption that there is no God is at odds with his assumption that the universe is (for some random reason?) an orderly, consistent, law-of-physics abiding place. That is an inconsistent worldview - the unbeliever is, in fact, "borrowing" the belief in the universe's orderliness from our worldview, where this belief actually makes sense!

2) Scientific research depends on honesty and accountability for results that can be trusted by society. But our unbelieving friend thinks there is no God. Where, then, does morality come from? If we are only the product of natural selection, and natural selection chooses those individuals who behave in a manner that improves their chances of reproduction, how do such values as honesty and truthfulness, self-examination and objectivity develop?

What if another Galileo appeared and proposed a similar, earth-shaking scientific theory that the scientific establishment didn't like? Galileo could have lost his life for his theories. Wouldn't natural selection have suggested a route against the best interests of science - after all, giving in would have guaranteed his survival!

Our unbeliever's God-free, naturalistic assumptions leave him with no way to explain why scientists should be honest in their scientific research, if it is in their best interest to fudge their data. So how can he trust science in the first place - unless, as above, he's "borrowing" something from another worldview? A religious one, perhaps? But then he'd be inconsistent, wouldn't he?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some Great Books You Should All Read

Those who know me well know that I'm a bit of a bookworm. And so, with the demands of school behind me, I spent a considerable amount of time this summer reading.

Most of the books were edifying and useful. I thought that I should recommend a few in particular, though.

These four are popular-level books that I cannot endorse strongly enough. If you get a chance, get to the bookstore and find these - or, order them:

1) Knowing Scripture, by R.C. Sproul

This short book is an introduction to biblical interpretation. It lays out very basic and extremely useful rules and guidelines for reading and interpreting the Bible. There are many wrong ways to interpret Scripture, and the results are not pretty - every cult got its start with people who did not know how to handle Scripture. It is a Christian responsibility to "rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)," and this book will go a LONG way to helping you. Sproul is an engaging writer and provides plenty of examples. More than any of the other books I'm going to mention here, this is a book every Christian should have on their shelf. It's worth it - BUY THIS ONE. There's no excuse - it's not expensive and I even provided the link from Amazon!

2) Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?

This book by the late Presbyterian pastor James Montgomery Boice is a heart's cry for the evangelical movement to reconver the principles it once stood for. It covers the five "solas" that were the backbone of the Protestant Reformation - that one is saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. All of these principles are being twisted or forgotten in one way or another by modern Christians, and Boice lays out the problem in his book and suggests solutions. While I can't endorse some of the historical figures he cites positively (John Paul II and Brother Lawrence, for instance) it does not detract seriously from the overall message. This will disturb and convict any serious-minded Christian who is concerned about the witness of the Church. Brothers and sisters, all is not well in contemporary Christianity, and this book will explain why.

3. Ready to Restore, by Jay Adams

Every one of us has been there: a Christian brother or sister has come to us with a problem or situation, and needs wise and godly counsel. No small problem, this fellow believer is grappling with a deep and persistent problem that makes you wonder, "How do I handle this?" Jay Adams, the author of this short book, makes a persuasive case that every Christian is called to be a counselor (read Galatians 6:1)- not a professional counselor, necessarily, but a "lay counselor" nonetheless. This book is a beginner's introduction to the biblical principles undergirding counseling. I read this immediately after I finished a seminary-level counseling course, and I wish I had read this first. Its chapters are very short and readable, and it is a very systematic treatment of the topic - perfect for church studies or small groups.

4. The Battle For The Bible, by Howard Lindsell

As far as I know, this book is out of print. And that's too bad. One of the biggest problems facing modern Christianity is the relentless assault on the truthfulness of the Bible from inside and outside the "evangelical" camp. This 1978 volume is still as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Lindsell explains why inerrancy - the doctrine that Scripture is absolutely true in everything it teaches, including where it mentions dates, names, and science - is critical for the church. He then looks at how the doctrine came under attack in the latter half of the 20th century. This book needs to be read again, as both liberal Christianity and the "Emergent" movement cast doubt on the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible in our day.

So how do we read it, if it's out of print? Easy - the whole thing's on the Internet. Click on the book title above. Absolutely no excuse here!