Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Was Calvin Just Calvinism?

John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology. Ed. Burk Parsons. Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008.

Unfortunately, many people who have heard the name John Calvin have only one thought attached to this giant historical figure: Calvinism. Adding to that misfortune is the thread of negative reaction that exists in some circles toward calvinism and a common misperception that all calvinists are rigid, uncaring, and not evangelistic.

Was Calvin just Calvinism? Certainly he illuminated what has come to be known as the doctrines of grace by lifting those doctrines from Scripture and giving them clear description, but John Calvin was much more than the theological 5-point system that carries his name.

He was, more than anything, a pastor and a committed expositor of Scripture. His pastoral ministry was dominated by the daily teaching of Scripture in the pulpit, in the letter, and in the home. He clarified truth, proclaimed it, counseled with it, and confronted error with it. He gave himself to the church by foremost giving himself to the Word.

Most people do not know his energetic, consistent commitment to God's Word was extremely costly for him. Calvin faced much opposition within and without the church. His pastoral ministry was often more painful than joyful. Yet he persevered, teaching and calling people to the Word while suffering great physical anguish as well.

When you begin to put all the pieces of his life together, it is truly remarkable that he persevered, that he remained faithful to Scripture, and that he was able to be so productive in his lifetime. It is indeed a testament to grace. A fitting illustration of the name of the very doctrines he scripturally defended and for which he is most known. An even more fitting illustration of another little known fact about Calvin that he taught and believed so much in prayer.

Was Calvin just Calvinism? Well he certainly was the voice for clarifying the doctrines that would later be termed calvinism, but he was much, much more.

I don't know of any other volume that allows the reader to obtain such a full-orbed view of Calvin than John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology. If you are interested or open to getting to know the man behind the TULIP, then read this one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The "for's" of Scripture for Bible Study and Faith

The “for’s” in the Bible are of utmost importance for our understanding and faith. The “for’s” give the reason, the why, the interpretation, the theology of whatever propositional truth precedes it. For example…

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” Psalm 24:1

This is an absolute, propositional truth statement. It is stated as actual fact. No question. No dispute. No doubt. Objective, reality.

So what gives God the right to lay claim on the earth, every aspect of the earth’s abundant yield, and every individual who inhabits the earth?


for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Psalm 24:2

He created it all - He owns it all. The right of possession belongs to the Creator!

Let’s pay attention to and embrace the “for’s” of Scripture. They tell us what to believe and why to believe the truth claims and promises of God found within His written treasure chest, the Bible.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"For His Name's Sake" - the WHY of the WHAT

“He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” 
Psalm 23:3

For His name’s sake” is the one God-centered descriptive in this entire psalm. The rest of the psalm describes what God does for His children. How He cares for, provides, protects, and blesses His people in such gracious and immeasurable ways. This one little phrase tells us why - “For His name’s sake.” 

Now if you look at that phrase through a man-centered lens, you will totally skew your view of God. You will think things like “I thought it was all about me and how much God loves me and how special I am and my worth and nothing more.” “Does God have an ulterior motive?” “Is He just self-serving?” Misreading the God-centeredness of God has caused many believers to become agitated with God, to neglect many rich doctrines of the Bible, and/or to reinterpret clear, straightforward biblical passages. It also causes many unbelievers to reject God. They reason that they are not interested in a “selfish” or “jealous” God. Tragically, they have misread the God-centeredness of God by reading Scripture through a man-centered lens.

If, however, you read this phrase through a God-centered lens, you see the beauty and joy and comfort that it brings. Namely, if God loves you and cares for you and saves you for His name’s sake that only means He loves you and cares for you and saves you in the highest, most glorious, most joyful ways to be loved and to be saved. There is no higher purpose than the glory of God! If it’s all for His name’s sake, it will not fail!

The God-centeredness of God is to be treasured not rejected. It is the surest certainty we can possible have that God’s promises to us for our joy and our good will not fail. They will be fulfilled beyond our imagination precisely because He does what He does “for His name’s sake.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Psalms 21, 22, 23: The Cross in the Middle

Psalm 21:11 says that the enemies of Christ “will not succeed.” Psalm 23:1 says that those who are in Christ “shall not want.” Unbelievers will not succeed in dethroning Christ. Believers will not want because they have Christ. And in the middle stands Psalm 22, the cross of Christ, where Christ defeated the Enemy and saved His people. Neither the defeat of His enemies (21) nor the salvation of His people (23) would have been complete without the "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (22) to accomplish and secure them.

Christ is THE sufficient Savior!!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wonders to Behold Wonders

When God does something on the level of spiritual, on the level of mystery, He often gives us a visual expression of it for our understanding and for our joy and for our faith. He wonderfully condescends to us by setting before us earthly, visual representations of glorious, invisible, mysterious realities!! He gives us this “helps” to help us grasp the mind boggling spiritual truths they are meant to convey.

(1) How can we ever picture, visualize, the profound attributes of God?Romans 1 says, “Look at His creation” 1:20 - “For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

(2) How are we ever to picture, to visualize, the profound work of Christ on the cross to remove our sin? How is it that His death 2,000 years ago secured my eternal salvation? That’s why God gave us the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “This bread is My body broken for you. This cup is My blood of the new covenant shed for you.” (Matt 26:26-29)

(3) How are we ever to picture, to visualize, being made a totally new creation, new person, in Christ Jesus? How do we visualize the new birth? That’s why God gave us baptism. Just as Christ died and lives again, we who are in Him, die to sin and rise to live with Him forever. (Col 2:12)

(4) How are we ever to picture, to visualize, that marriage means two become one flesh? That’s why God gave us physical intimacy in marriage. Was it for procreation? Yes. Was it for mutual pleasure? Yes. But it was for far more. The marriage bed is so very sacred because it expresses a profound mysterious union that itself is meant to portray a profound mysterious union. - “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:31-32)

God gives us wonders so that we might behold His wonders!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Connected. Really?

Recently I received an ad from my internet provider proudly commending their wide range of services as a way for families to stay connected. The ad featured a family sitting together in what must have been the family or living room. Of course, each member of the family had a huge smile of satisfaction and enjoyment upon their face. And they were connected - but not to each other - they were all “connected” to an entertainment device.

The parents were sitting on the couch being absolutely overjoyed by what must have been the greatest movie of all time. An older son was sitting on the floor beneath them staring into a cell phone - with ear buds in - totally oblivious to mom and dad - but “connected” nonetheless! Two younger children, a brother and a sister, were in the background seemingly enjoying a game on some kind of pad.

Very misleading! Being in the same room does not mean being connected!!!! Rather, this particular ad was actually conveying being distracted - distracted from true connection by the ever-present, ever-beckoning allure of entertainment devices and accessibility.

Now - if the entire family were watching the movie TOGETHER or playing a game TOGETHER - I would buy that as something of “connecting.”

Let us not buy in to the subtle excuse that hanging out together in the same room is somehow connecting!!

So how do we make sure we are connecting as a family in our entertainment dominated and technological driven society?

Make family worship a priority. Connecting around the Word, Christ, and the Gospel is the BEST connection.
Eat as many dinners together as possible!!!!!! Talk and share. No better place to connect than over a meal.
Schedule family times of fun. Doesn’t matter if it’s a movie or camping. Just do things together that involve truly being together.
Give each other space to enjoy things solo - but don’t let solo activities dominate!!
Enjoy doing what other members of your family want to do even if you really don’t enjoy that particular thing! How much togetherness do we sacrifice just because their thing is not our thing. Enjoy it just for the sake of being together.

I’m sure there are other ideas to add to this list. As parents, as spouses, and as believers, we must make sure we are striving to truly be connected to one another. It really is about relationship - not proximity!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What if Your Child Wanders from the Faith?

I have recently posted two articles about spiritual parenting: “Parents-Be Patient with Your Child’s Conversion” and “Parents-Be Patient with Your Child’s Baptism.” The thrust of each article is for us as parents to take our time teaching our children and to wait on the Spirit to move in their hearts. When we see evidences of grace at work in their lives, then we can move forward. Until then, we shouldn’t rush the most important spiritual markers in their lives. After all, it is THEIR conversions and THEIR baptisms we are talking about. Let us have wisdom to patiently wait, observe, and pray. Let us make sure, to the best of our ability, that their professions of faith are genuine, their baptisms meaningful, and that they are embracing and owning both as significant points in their own personal lives. We must guard against “trying to get our kids saved” by rushing them “through the motions,” and we must guard against letting our kids simply go through the motions to please mom and dad, join in with friends, jump through the hoops, take the Lord’s Supper, etc. None of those reasons are saving or lasting!

We won’t be perfect at spiritual parenting, but by God’s grace, we can be better. This all raises very important and stirring questions: What if you do all of these things and your child turns from the Lord in latter years? Was this all for nothing? Was the child’s “sincere” profession and true understanding of baptism a sham? Were we as parents still blindingly overzealous? What do you do when your supposed “believing” child goes astray?

That’s more than a good question - that’s a stop-in-your-tracks and pay attention question!

Before we get into steps to take with a wayward child, let’s back up a moment and look at how we can parent now to hopefully decrease the likelihood or the intensity of a child’s spiritual rebellion.

Before Spiritual Rebellion Occurs:
Don’t accept the status-quo that all teenagers rebel and walk away from the Lord, that boys will be boys, that girls will break your heart. Those are all things we say to make us feel better about horrible choices and sins that our children are embracing. Those are all ways in which we default to the cultural norm instead of raising the biblical standard. YOU WILL NOT FIND TEENAGE YEARS AS EXPECTED REBELLION YEARS IN THE BIBLE! “I know they are going to walk away from the Lord, but they’ll come back one day” is NOT biblical Christianity!! Don’t allow our surrounding culture to impose its “norm” on your household!

When you teach, when you discipline, when you have family devotions, when you have crisis - in biblical language, when you sit and when you rise, don’t just give the “what”, give the “why”! In other words, we must not only tell our kids what they should and should not do and what they should and should not believe. That is mere moral reform, behavioral parenting. That will run out when the teenage years hit. They will want to decide for themselves what to do and what not to do, what to believe and what not to believe. They reach this point of “determined autonomy” mainly because we have not also shared with them the “why”, the meaning, behind the rule. Talk to them about the character of God, the glory of God, the satisfaction of life, the ruthlessness of sin, the joy of faith - get behind the commandments, behind the expectations and show them the benefits of faith, the reasons for faith and the losses of sin.

Use their childhood grace-acts and their childhood sin-acts as pointed examples of what you are teaching them. When they see their actions directly corresponding with what you have been teaching, it becomes real life for them.

As they grow older, increase their responsibilities alongside their freedoms. Let them see how both coincide and depend upon one another.

Involve them in ministry and in the life of the larger church as much as possible. Live out your faith in your local community of faith so that they equate “my church” with “my spiritual family.” Expose them to more than just discipleship such as SS and children’s programs. Expose them to ministry opportunities, prayer gatherings, missions, and most of all - corporate worship. Let them see real faith in real life in as many expressions as possible! I vividly remember a few members from our church gathering around a couple asking God to please grant them children. It wasn’t too long before God answered that prayer! I was so glad my children were right there beside me during that intimate time of “family prayer”! I want as many markers like that in their lives as possible.

Be encouraged - not every child goes astray, wanders in sin for a season, or spends some time sowing his wild oats. Some children, raised in the faith, remain in the faith, and stay true to their childhood profession of faith for their entire lifetime.

If Spiritual Rebellion Occurs:
Pray. Pray. Pray…… Don’t get off of your knees until they come home to Christ! Keep begging God to intervene in grace in their lives. Call on everyone you know to join you in prayer for their souls! Weep for them.

Don’t dismiss it as just a phase they are going through. To embrace a life of sin is a dangerous, eternally dangerous, path of life. It’s not a phase-it’s a path of destruction! Sin means to destroy your child. Take it serious, gravely serious. Don’t ignore their sin because you do not want to face it or believe it. Hit it head on with prayer. Call it what it is. The path of sin is a path to Hell. The Enemy does not plan to toy with your child for a few years and then let him go!!! He means to kill him! FIGHT! Don’t put your head in the sand.

Don’t doubt God. One of the things Satan wants to do in your child’s rebellion is to tear down and destroy your faith. If you give in, then your child concludes that faith is not so real after all. Satan will tell you that all of your teaching and training and praying was in vain! It didn’t matter; it didn’t make a difference. “See,” he will say, “your child still refused God. God doesn’t care. He doesn’t listen to you.” REMEMBER - Satan is a liar, so he will lie a thousand times to you. God is truth - so go to His Word and stand upon truth!

Don’t fear what God may do to your child for his sin; trust Him! God loves him more than you do. God is not out to zap him; He is out to save him! Give him to God. God may discipline. God may break him. Who knows what God may do? But we do know this: whatever God does to ultimately bring your child to Christ will be for His glory and your child’s ultimate good!! Pray to Him, beg Him, and Trust Him!

Cling to the many promises of Scripture - that’s what they are there for!! Find those precious promises regarding prayer - pray for your child - and cling to those promises! Pray the promises of Scripture over your child.

Keep loving your child but with clear, guarded boundaries. Find the right balance to express your love for your child while disapproving of their flight from God. Sin must not be condoned. Faith must not be compromised. It sends the signal to the child that God overlooks, even endorses, their rebellion. It sends the signal that you don’t really believe what you say you believe because you are willing to change it. Oh for sure, they will react with anger and hatred at first. They will believe you to be judgmental and legalistic and unloving. But they will know for sure your devotion to Christ is primary. Loving them does not necessitate loving Christ less - it will necessitate loving Christ more! Don’t underestimate the impact that your loving, faithful witness to Christ will eventually have on them. (And don’t underestimate the impact of appearing to endorse or overlook their sin either!)

Take every opportunity to remind them of the hope of the Gospel, Christ, and the destructive nature of sin. Don’t badger. Look for those open moments in conversation or life events or circumstances. Share praise reports with them. When their guard is down, love on them.

Be there! When all hell breaks loose in their lives - and it will - be there. Be ready to forgive, ready to take in, ready to console, etc., etc., etc.

Exercise your faith. Believe God. Ask God for faith to believe Him. Ask God for hope and trust that He will bring them back to faith.

Patiently wait. It may take 10 days. It may take 10 years. It may take the rest of your life. It may not find fulfillment during your lifetime. Wait. Trust. Pray.

Don’t get bogged down and paralyzed by questions about your child’s “profession of faith” that you can’t answer! Stick to what you know to be true and pray and live accordingly. To know Jesus is to love Jesus. To love Jesus is to walk with Jesus. Keep fighting for their soul until you see them loving Jesus. It’s the present that matters; not the past. Whether their previous profession was genuine and they soon repent or if their future repentance is their true profession does not HAVE to be answered. The only thing that HAS to happen is true genuine faith and repentance. So keep praying for that until you see it!

Spiritual parenting can be exhausting. It can be frustrating. It can be sorrowful. But there is no greater joy than to see your children walking in the faith (3 John 4). Parents - let’s not give up or give in! It will be worth it all when we all reach those heavenly shores - together!!