Friday, December 19, 2014

BORN TO DIE



by John MacArthur
That first Christmas, earth was oblivious to the significance of a simple birth in a quiet town. But heaven wasn’t. The holy angels waited in anticipation to break forth in praise and worship and adoration at the birth of the newborn Christ. This Child’s birth meant deliverance for mankind. The angel told Joseph: “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Unlike Isaac, who ascended the mountain unaware he was to be the sacrifice, Jesus descended from heaven in full awareness of what the Father had in store for Him. Scripture records for us what may have been a farewell message Jesus gave just prior to His incarnation.
When He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.” Then I said, “Behold, I have come . . . to do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
That passage of Scripture gives us a remarkable look at the heart of the Savior before His birth. He knew He was entering the world to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. His body had been divinely prepared by God specifically for that purpose. Jesus was going to die for the sins of the world, and He knew it. Moreover, He was doing it willingly. That was the whole point of the incarnation.
The important issue of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us from our sins. There was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only Jesus could do it.
Jesus came to earth, of course, to reveal God to mankind. He came to teach truth. He came to fulfill the Law. He came to offer His kingdom. He came to show us how to live. He came to reveal God’s love. He came to bring peace. He came to heal the sick. He came to minister to the needy.
But all those reasons are incidental to His ultimate purpose. He could have done them all without being born as a human. He could have simply appeared—like the angel of the Lord often did in the Old Testament—and accomplished everything in the list above, without actually becoming a man. But He had one more reason for coming: He came to die.
Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day stagger up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear.
Jesus was born to die.
Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it—for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.
The author of Hebrews illustrates how the full story of His birth includes His sacrificial death:
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. . . . Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-15)
It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.

(Adapted from The Miracle of Christmas.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

CHRISTMAS: THE WORD TABERNACLES

by Mike Riccardi
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…
John 1:14 -
If we’re reading through this verse in our daily Bible reading, we’re likely to zip right by it with little fanfare. We read, simply, that Jesus “dwelt” among us. And when we think of the idea of “dwelling” we just think of “hanging out.” But there’s much more going on in what John is saying than it sounds to us English-speakers. He uses a peculiar word here. There are more common Greek words for “to dwell,” but he chooses skēnoō. Now, the word skēnē in Greek means “tent,” and skēnoō is the verb form. So we could render it, “to pitch a tent.” John tells us that this Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

That’s a weird way to talk, isn’t it? Especially since we don’t have any Scripture that tells us that Jesus actually pitched any literal tent during his time on Earth. Why say it this way? He’s got at least two other words that he could use here. But John uses this particular word because he wants his readers—who would be familiar with the history of Israel—to recall the tabernacle, the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21), where God met with the Israelites in the Old Testament.
The Tabernacle
From the ESV Study Bible
The tabernacle itself was covered over by a tent, which is why the early form of it is called the “tent of meeting.” It was 15 feet wide, 15 feet high, and 45 feet long. The entrance was covered by a curtain or a veil made with fine linen and costly dyes. When a priest entered the tabernacle they were first in the holy place. This was a 30 x 15 x 15 foot room that contained the table that held the Bread of the Presence (Ex 25:23-30), the lampstand (Ex 25:31-40), and the altar of incense (Ex 30:1-5; 37:25-29), all covered in pure gold. Beyond that room was the holy of holies—a 15-foot cube containing nothing but the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:10-25; 37:1-9).

Exodus 29
So that’s the physical tabernacle. But in Exodus 29 we learn something of its significance. There, God is speaking about what the tabernacle will be to the sons of Israel:
  • Exodus 29:42 – A place of meeting
  • Exodus 29:42 – A place of revelation
  • Exodus 29:43 – A place of consecration and sanctification
  • Exodus 29:44 – A place of propitiation
  • And Exodus 29:45-46 gives the significance of God dwelling among His people. He says that the very reason He brought them out of Egypt was so that He would dwell with them. This tabernacle is a big deal.
Exodus 33
In chapter 33, we learn a bit more. Verse 7 says that everyone who sought Yahweh came here. This was the place where Israel could have fellowship and communion with their God. And verse 8 says that when Moses would go into the tent, everyone would gaze after him. They would just drop everything. “Hey! Moses is going into the tent of meeting!” They were in awe.
And rightfully so! Verse 9 says that whenever he went in, a pillar of cloud would descend. (What a sight this had to be!) So again we see that this was a place of condescension. Further, the text tells us Yahweh would speak with Moses. That’s revelation again, God speaking to His people. Verse 10 tells us that all the people would worship when they saw the glory of Yahweh revealed in the cloud. So again we see that this was a place of worship. And finally, we’re told that Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. And so this is a place of intimate fellowship.
Exodus 40
Finally, in Exodus 40, we have the climax of this story. Everything that Israel has heard up until now has been what the tabernacle would be when it was completed. In chapter 40, construction is finished, and with all Israel watching, God’s glory fills the tabernacle:
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:34-35).

Now Yahweh descends upon His dwelling place, upon His tabernacle. The glory descends in such a way that not even Moses—who had gone into the cloud before, who had seen Yahweh’s glory—could enter into the tent! What an amazing scene! This is God declaring: “I am with My people! I now dwell among them!”
And “throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of Yahweh was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel” (Ex 40:36-38).
Christmas: The Word Pitches His Tent Among Us
And so when the Apostle John uses that peculiar word, when he tells his readers the incarnate Word dwelt among them, he is calling our attention here. John is telling us that the way Yahweh descended and dwelt among His people in the Tabernacle,—and spoke with them in communion and revealed Himself for worship—that very same thing is happening in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the glory of Yahweh is descending and is pitching His tent to dwell among His people!
As we approach the Christmas season, and as you prepare your hearts to praise God for the gift of the incarnation, let this cause you to worship. Be moved to awe and adoration by the fact that the Word—the Eternal God Himself, the agent of the creation of all things, the life and the Light of the world—this Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.

IS THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH IN AFRICA REALLY GLORIFYING GOD?

By Conrad Mbewe, original post here



As 2014 draws to an end, my heart aches. I am deeply burdened about what has become the dominant characteristic of evangelical Christianity in Africa. I have tried to wrap my mind around this by simply asking an honest question “Is this Christianity that has become pervasive across the African continent really glorifying God?”

1. Are we glorifying God when we claim that we are experiencing miracles that are actually not happening? When miracles were happening in the Bible, the blind were receiving their sight, the lame were walking, those with leprosy were being cured, the deaf were beginning to hear, and the dead were being raised to life (see Luke 7:22). Today, the land is littered with posters of miracle crusades but we all know that none of this is happening. Are we glorifying God by cheating people this way?

2. Are we glorifying God when we speak in “tongues” that cannot be interpreted? In the Bible, tongues were unknown languages that could be interpreted (1 Cor. 14:27). Today it is nothing more than a few syllables that are repeated at machinegun speed: “Kakaka filolololo wandarakawandara, etc.” It is not surprising that whereas churches are full of tongue speakers, there is not a single interpreter. Can anyone interpret this? Yet, I am asking a more fundamental question: Are we glorifying God by behaving so senselessly?

3. Are we glorifying God when we reduce the benefits of salvation to more wealth and better health? In the Bible, the main message of salvation was the forgiveness of sins and moral transformation (Luke 24:47). Today, the main message coming from Africa’s “evangelical” church is the ending of personal poverty and the healing of all kinds of bodily ailments (as can be seen from the above banner). Salvation is under “any other business”. Again, I am asking, are we truly glorifying God by this deathly substitute?

4. Are we glorifying God when we abandon the preaching of repentance for motivational speaking? John the Baptist and Jesus and his apostles preached repentance (see Matt. 3:2, 4:7 and Acts 2:38, 26:20). The growing view today is not that men and women are fallen and responsible for their sin and thus must repent of it. Rather, it is that they are victims of wrong thinking and evil powers, and so they need deliverance. Hence, the sermons are nothing more than motivational talks followed by hours of deliverance sessions. I am asking: Are these messages and methods producing God-glorifying lives?

5. Are we glorifying God when we hide the rot of spiritual wolves preying on vulnerable souls? In the Bible, Jesus warned about wolves in sheepskins (Matt. 7:15). I recently received a text message from a lady in Lusaka who was taken into the bush and asked to take off her clothes by a pastor/prophet claiming he would cure her of the “disease” that was causing her husband to be unfaithful to her. Only witchdoctors did this once upon a time but it has now become common fare among “evangelical” pastors/prophets. The tragedy is our grave-like silence about this rot. Is this silence the way to glorify God?

6. Are we glorifying God when we reduce truth to a minimum for the sake of Christian unity? When I read my Bible it is adamant on the necessity of teaching and knowing the truths of the gospel if men and women are to be saved. From there, the gospel rays shine throughout the Scriptures, demanding holy living from God’s people. Today, we want to hold hands in the dark. We want fellowship with anyone claiming to be a Christian without asking questions about what they believe. Holy water and oil, Jewish prayer cloths, etc., are being sold and bought among evangelicals. And anyone who raises questions about this is shouted down. Is this new stance really glorifying to God?

7. Are we glorifying God when we reduce worship to senseless dancing to sensual music? Look at the psalms of the Bible and the worship songs that we have inherited from a previous generation and see how rich they are in expressing the faith of God’s people. Each sentence is pregnant with Scriptural truths. Today in Africa, intelligent professionals leave their brains outside the church door as they gyrate to songs that repeat one sentence over and over again. What matters is the music, the sensual music, as the worship leader shouts, “Glory to God!” Are we sure this is glorifying to God?

8. Are we glorifying God when commanding, declaring and decreeing replace humble petitions in prayer? I read the prayers of godly people in the Bible and they are full of humble pleas to the sovereign God of the universe. I then listen to the prayers of today’s men and women of God and they are full of declarations, decrees and commands “in Jesus’ name!” Is it not the height of arrogance that a person should command God to do his bidding? Can these prayers be glorifying to God by any stretch of our imagination?

9. Are we glorifying God when we fill our church membership rolls with goats and kick out church discipline? My Bible teaches that church leaders must be careful about who they allow to enter and stay in the church’s membership. It must only be those who have repented of their sin and trusted in Christ, and who show this by the way they live. If they don’t, they must be excommunicated (1 Cor. 5:9-13). Sadly, our churches today are full of members and leaders who are drunkards, fighting, living sexually immoral lives, stealing money, etc., and no one is dealing with this. Is this glorifying to God?

10. Are we glorifying God when we have women preachers while men sit in pews and listen to them? The Bible teaches male headship in both the home and the church…all the way from Eden. The Bible teaches that the work of preaching must be carried out by mature and tested males (1 Tim. 2:11-14). Sadly, the number of women going around as pastors in Africa (while their husbands call themselves bishops or prophets or apostles) has reached epidemic levels. Are we sure God is being glorified by this kick in the face?

I doubt it. Yet, these ten traits have become very dominant characteristics of African Christianity. I honestly wish this was a description of some extreme cult that can easily be separated from evangelicals, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but sadly this has become the most common “evangelical” Christianity in Africa. It is the one representing us on television and radio. It is the one on the billboards and posters in the streets. It is the one that fills up the rolls in our evangelical associations and pastors’ fraternals.

I wish that all the noise I am hearing and the dust being raised across Africa were God-glorifying. But it is not. It is man-centred and not God-centred. We want the numbers at any cost and we are getting them. Hardly anyone is asking the question, “Is not this thing in my hand a lie?” (Isaiah 44:20). It seems to me we are glorifying a false God—and not the God of the Bible. We have set up our own twenty-first century idol and are bowing down to it. This is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven. No, it is not!

Hence, I end the year 2014 with a very burdened heart because of all this.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Five Most Disturbing Things About a Benny Hinn Miracle Service

  Corrie Mitchell Written by l

There are a lot of things you should try at least once in your life — skydiving, eating some exotic delicacy, traveling alone. Let me give you one thing not to add to that list: attending a Benny Hinn Holy Spirit Miracle Service.
I recently went to one in New York. Before going, I knew little about Hinn — a man who’s worth some $42 million — other than that he’s a big-deal televangelist among countless charismatic Christians. As someone who’s fairly unfamiliar with that sphere of Christianity, I was mostly just wary of being in a crowd of people speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit.
But that turned out to be the least uncomfortable thing about the service. What did happen was so much more upsetting, difficult, and unnerving. If you ever go, here are five unsettling things you’ll experience:

1. You’ll second-guess your Bible knowledge.

When you hear Benny Hinn make statements like, “The prophets all prospered. They had no debt . . . ” it stops you in your tracks. Wait — what? No they weren’t. Were they? You might grab your Bible to check, or you might just realize, Of course that’s not right. What about Elijah, who lived in a cave and had ravens bring him bread to eat? Or John the Baptist, who wore clothing made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and honey?
Or, what about Jesus, who was born in a stable, buried in a borrowed tomb, and had no place to lay his head? When the earthly life of Jesus is a counter-argument to your “Christian” theology, there’s something wrong.
(Another related, absurd Hinn statement: “Where did Noah get the money to build that ark? Think about where he got that moolah.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t need to hit up the local Home Depot.)

2. You’ll realize he’s in control of everything in his world.

From the musician to his audience to the very God he claims to represent, Hinn exerts control over it all. He orders his pianist to play a certain way, and tells him to stop and switch it up when he wants a different mood. He tells his audience how to worship and how much money to give him. And he knows his audience so well — he mentions their material needs, then says things like, “I want you to sow $1,200, because I believe 120 is the number of liberty in the Bible.” Then he confidently promises they’ll be debt free in one year, as if he’s in control of that, too.
Question for Mr. Hinn: If 120 is the biblical number of liberty — which…what? – then why not just have people give $120? (He did also tell them $120 would be okay, but the added zero is a big deal.)
All in all, Hinn tries to take control of God and suggests you can do the same. He tells people to “claim reality with your mouth” and “declare it in writing” — as if you have the power of God to speak things into existence. As if you have the ability to make God do things for you. As if saying or doing something requires God to oblige you.

3. You’ll wrestle with your negative thoughts.

My first instinct was to write off everything that happened under the leadership of Benny Hinn as blasphemous — an offense to the very gospel he claims to preach. But, as you look around the room and see men and women worshipping God with abandon, you realize something. Maybe these people, who trust and believe Hinn, are actually having authentic experiences with Jesus, despite the man guiding them. Maybe these people are actually finding genuine faith in a place that is otherwise tinged by deceit.
And then, for a Christian like me, the thought creeps in: Could it be that God is using Benny Hinn for the salvation of souls? In a small, but significant and confusing and flustering way, this question complicates the otherwise strong desire in me for Hinn’s ministry to be shut down for good.

4. You’ll discover that he owns up to the prosperity gospel.

Unlike the Joel Osteens of the world, Hinn embraces the prosperity gospel by name. He even calls out “anti-prosperity pastors” and says they just don’t get it. At a Holy Spirit Miracle Sevice, Hinn will say “sow your seed” and “prosperity is for real” more times than you can count. And more:
You can’t expect millions from the Lord if you give him some small amount.
In Jesus’ name, we’ll have surplus. Financial surplus is mine . . . is ours.
You’re coming out of debt in the next 12 months if you really believe this.
Hinn even sends you mail a week later, complete with return envelope and offering card, reminding you to sow your “seed-gift” in order to change your circumstances.
Benny Hinn’s ministry can be summed up in his own words: “God’s goal for your life is prosperity.” By that, he doesn’t mean spiritual prosperity, life everlasting in the presence of God. No, he means material wealth, physical health, and general prosperity — which looks quite unlike Jesus’ call to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.

5. You may end up walking out.

For two reasons. One, these things last upwards of five hours. But the main reason you won’t last the five hours is that you’ll get to a point of such total outrage at what he’s saying that you won’t be able to stomach hearing it any longer. I was (barely) able to endure two and a half hours of “God is about to place a ton of seed in your hands” and “I sense an anointing for this. It’s going to last four-and-a-half minutes” before I had to get out.
(Disclosure: apparently, by leaving halfway through, I missed the faith healings, the slaying in the Spirit, and his message. Lucky me, I was there for the over two-hour warm-up of “give me your money and you’ll be debt free.”)
When the service first started, I found Hinn somewhat humorous. Then I realized the thousand-plus people there were taking every word he said as truth, and I felt really sad for those people.
But it didn’t take long for that feeling to be replaced by anger. Hinn is taking advantage of hurting people — and using Jesus to do so, no less. That’s why you walk out.
Image courtesy of House of Praise.
T

Monday, December 1, 2014

SEVEN REVELATIONS OF FERGUSON

by Dan Phillips

I was just as happy to have my plans to write on this yesterday curtailed by Frank's post, as I usually am. It gave me a day more to ponder. That done — the ponderation having been ponderously pondered — I'll offer some thoughts, which in intent will be very like those I offered about "the Florida revival." That is, they will be Biblical principles whose application is I think fairly obvious.

Frank's focus was on the undeniable human tragedy. I won't reinvent that wheel, but will focus on other aspects. I hope the posts will be complementary. Don't blame his post for not being mine, nor mine for not being his. Fair enough?

To the seven revelations of Ferguson:

First: men outside of Christ are still hateful and still hate each other (Titus 3:3). Anger simmers not far below the surface. Evolution, real or imagined, biological or social, has changed none of that. No Federal program will fix it, no state or local legislation will fix it. It is a problem of the human heart, which lurks beneath every epidermal hue. Someone needs to propose a solution that transforms hearts. Anyone know of one?

Second: it still is better to gather the facts and hear an array of perspectives before coming to a conclusion (Proverbs 18:17). Some spoke awfully quickly when this situation first made the news. There seemed to be some feeling that immediate conclusions and statements should be made and issued.

One of the problems with this is that, once a public statement has been made, one is reluctant to walk it back publicly. Human nature and human pride make it very hard to retract a dogmatic stance, once publicly adopted. Better to wait longer and say less, than to jump the gun (pun unintended) and say too much.

Third: people ought to stick to what they know (cf. Proverbs 25:14). Being an expert in one area has nothing to do with expertise in others. For instance, one Christian brother who is a bookish conference speaker/author offered this:

To that, an equally-Christian brother with twenty years of actual experience in law enforcement responded:
Neither brother, probably, could do what the other does. It might have been well for the former to punt on this question, and stick with Scripture. "A man's got to know his limitations" may not be in Scripture verbatim, but it's sage advice.

As I'm trying to do. I'm a Christian, and I'm a minister of the word of God. If I have expertise, it's there. So I'll endeavor to speak as such.

Fourth: the very best thing parents of all ethnicities can do for their children is (1) repent and believe savingly in Christ (1 John 3:16), (2) advance in His Word as genuine disciples (John 8:31-32), (3) involve themselves in a faithful Gospel-proclaiming, Bible-teaching church (Hebrews 10:24-25), (4) marry before having children and honor the marital bond (Matthew 19:3-9) — and, in that overall context, (5) raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4, among many others). In that context, they will teach their children many indispensable life-lessons. For instance, they will teach their children that
  • The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10)
  • Therefore they should seek and cultivate and embrace the fear of God from their earliest days (Proverbs 2:1ff.)
  • Gangs will appeal to their most vulnerable points, but they must consider their violent end and heed the inscripturated voice of God's wisdom instead (Proverbs 1:10-32)
  • Immoral people will sweet-talk them, but by Dad's instruction and God's word they should see right through it (Proverbs 2:16ff; 7:1ff.)
  • They should pick godly friends who walk in the fear of God, or else they will come to harm (Proverbs 13:20; 22:24-25)
  • They should avoid drunkards (and, therefore, druggiesProverbs 23:20-21)
  • They should study hard in school and learn a profitable skill while children (Proverbs 22:29)
  • They should know that what will matter and will reveal their character is not how they see or feel about themselves, but what they actually produce (Proverbs 20:11)
  • They should take full responsibility for their own choices and actions, and never blame others for what they choose and do (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 14:10, 12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:5, 7-8, etc.).
  • They should never steal, but instead should be productive and generous (cf. Ephesians 4:28)
  • They should respect officers of the law as God's servants, knowing that disrespect for the office is disrespect for God which invites His judgment (Romans 13, especially vv. 1-5)
  • If they defy the lawful authority, they should expect God's judgment to fall on them (Romans 13:4-5a).
  • If in any of these things they choose to defy God and rebel against Him and His word, they must expect both of their parents to stand with God, and not to make excuses for, coddle, enable, or otherwise try to deodorize their sin (cf. Deuteronomy 21:18ff.)
Fifth: faithful pastors must prescribe and teach these things without prejudice (2 Timothy 2:14; Titus 3:1-2).  What I'm saying won't make the beautiful people love you. They won't. They won't praise you (as a Tweep did John Piper) for being "nuanced." You'll be told you're insensitive, you're ignoring the real problems, you're impractical. But as a minister of the Gospel, you know better. Sin is the problem. Sin is always the problem at some level; and there's only one solution for sin. The Son's blood buys your freedom (Ephesians 1:7), and the Son's word shows you how to live in it (John 8:31-32). 
That's what you have to give. You're not a social engineering genius. You're a servant of God who has His word. Don't set it aside. It applies here.
Sixth: if the issue of racism is ever to be resolved, people will have to stop thinking of bitterness and suspicion and resentment and prejudice as ills that other people really have to get over (cf. Romans 2:21-23; 1 Corinthians 10:12). Now, hear me: If you can read that sentence and think, "Well, he mainly means whites" or "blacks," you know something I don't. I mean people. I mean you, I mean me. I mean every color on the palette.

I've seen this in marriage. Every pastor has. The sure prescription for deadlock, for stalemate, is two people who are willing to change just as soon as the other person changes. You think that doesn't apply here? Mercy.
Seventh: the only real solution for racism is the one God instituted: the cross of Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28-29; Ephesians 2:14-22; Colossians 3:11). Astute readers will say, "Some of those verses are about Jews and Gentiles, so they don't apply." To that, first: maybe some of those verses are, but not all; and second, they don't? You think the Cross addresses Jew-Gentile hatred and suspicion and contempt, but not black-white hatred and suspicion and contempt?

There isn't a Federal program that will fix this, or a local one. If one person says, "Let's make it harder for cops to kill people," another will say "Let's make it harder for people to menace cops." And each person will sound like he's enabling some form of sin — either a hypothetical thug's sin against a decent cop, or a hypothetical trigger-happy cop's sin against an innocent teen. You see where this goes? It's all beside the point.

The point is that only God has the answer, and it's the one we find only in His word.
Dan Phillips's signature

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The God of Weights and Measures

Originally posted on hipandthigh:

Being the geek that I am, I followed with much enthusiasm the European Space Agency’s successful attempt landing the Philae probe on a comet. [Remember when the USA and NASA used to do that kind of cool stuff? Good times]. The entire process took nearly a decade when the Rosetta orbiter…

Monday, November 10, 2014

MEDITATION THAT HONORS GOD

by John MacArthur The period of European history known as the Dark Ages were just that—dark. Mortality rates were exceptionally high. Medical advances could not keep up with the spread of disease. Poverty and illiteracy were pervasive. And on top of all that, the light of God’s Word was monopolized and distorted by the Roman […]

SHOULD I INTERPRET THE BIBLE LITERALLY?

by John MacArthur Cynics love to mock Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. They note supposed absurdities like, the Bible is a sword (Hebrews 4:12); Jesus is a door (John 10:7); and God is a bird (Psalm 61:4). Of course, such caricatures of the process are obvious misrepresentations of proper biblical […]

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

BRIDGING THE GAPS BETWEEN BIBLE AND BRAIN

by John MacArthur The Bible has been around for thousands of years. That is a huge gulf of history for the modern reader to cross. How are we to understand what the Bible writers were saying, as well as the various circumstances in which they lived? One popular answer from modern pulpits to those questions […]

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

THE ELEPHANT IN THE STRANGE FIRE

by Cameron Buettel It’s been just over a year since the highly publicized and controversial Strange Fire conference. As a Grace to You employee with a charismatic background, I watched the buildup to the conference with a considerable amount of interest. I am certainly no stranger to the grievous damage caused by reckless false prophecies […]

Friday, October 31, 2014

WHY I AM A CALVINIST

By Brandon Lucas 

Introduction
Almost a decade ago I was involved in a titanic spiritual battle between two opposing theological views. I could feel the once rock solid doctrines of free will slipping through my fingers like fine sand. I begged and beseeched the Lord to deliver me from the relentless reasonings and scriptural bombshells ripping the house I had built on the shifting dunes of man-centered doctrines. My pride and self-respect were on the line.
See, for the first decade of my born-again life I embraced a form of Arminianism that many call Semi-Pelagianism. Simply put, I believed that man's free will is the deciding factor in salvation. Calvinism, which is the belief that God is sovereign over all things, including man's salvation, had recently started making sense to me and I was drawn to it. (While at the same time being repulsed by it).
Calvinism was a dirty word in my old church. I considered it to be on equal footing with cultic beliefs.
I used to say such things as:
"Calvinism is a doctrine of demons!"
Or worse yet:
"If God is like how the Calvinists describe him, I would never serve such a cruel, heartless dictator who arbitrarily chooses who will and will not be saved!"
In my blindness I scoffed at the idea of a completely sovereign Lord who had the power over his clay to mold vessels of honor and of dishonor. From my limited exposure to Reformed soteriology I instead envisioned God towering over a huge golden lottery bin, filled with the names of every living person. I could see the holy angels rotating the bin by hand, mixing up the names so all participants in the game of life get at least a million-to-one chance to win the ultimate prize: everlasting life. I imagined the Lord reaching his hand inside, looking the other way (as to not show preference) and drawing out the lucky names at random. In my vision He then decrees these souls saved for all eternity. The angels rejoice and the Holy Spirit hurries down to earth to let those lucky few know they had hit the jackpot.
Yes, I was sarcastic and unrelenting in my disdain against the slandering, blasphemous Calvinist view of the loving and kind God that I knew - or at least the God I thought I knew...
The truth is, I only recall meeting one person in those first years who called herself a Calvinist. Unfortunately, I wasn't very gracious toward her. In my college days, a girl sat next to me in speech class. We got to know each other a bit and I discovered she proclaimed faith in Christ. We got along great - for a time. One day after class we were walking together and out of the blue she blurted:
"I'm a Calvinist, you know."
I was aghast. I did not know real people actually bought into that nonsense. I looked at her incredulously, shook my head and said something like:
"Why on earth would you believe that garbage!"
I could tell I had offended her. She offered the vague but often used 'trump card' defense of 'It's what the bible teaches.' I replied:
"Then why does the bible say that God wills for none to perish? If it's in His complete power to save all, then why does he only choose a few in the end when it's his will for all to be saved?"
Disappointingly, she offered no rebuttal, choosing instead to walk away quietly. Not surprisingly, she never spoke to me again. In retrospect, if she had vigorously defended her position with scriptures I may have come down this road much sooner than I did. Oh well. It wasn't time, right? God is sovereign and he revealed this truth to me in his own time, in his own way. I'm not complaining!
I have related the story of how my journey to the Reformed faith began here and here so I will not tread old ground. All I want to get across in this series is the why I crossed over to the dark side.
God revealed the Doctrines of Grace to me and it has been a mighty humbling experience. I tremble at my presumption for saying I never would serve a God that was completely sovereign over his creation. I now truly understand his Lordship and I am eternally grateful that He has chosen me, not arbitrarily, but also not according to anything I have done. He chose me for his good pleasure and purpose. I am grateful beyond words that He has provided me with an advocate, Jesus Christ, who cleanses me of all sin; even blasphemy spoke in ignorance. Only by his grace and mercy am I now a new creation in Christ, called to do His good works which he has prepared for me in advance to accomplish. I cherish his sovereignty over me and am thankful that all things are done for His glory alone.
Reason #1
Surprisingly, my conversion from free-will theology to Calvinism came rather swiftly. It's shocking really, if only you could understand the depths of hatred I once held toward those doctrines.
I resisted initially, desperately hopeful that some sensible compromise existed between these diametrically opposed belief systems. I figured the Semi-Pelagian flavor of Arminianism fell into one ditch while Calvinism veered clear over to the other side of the road. I searched in vain for the imaginary highway that ran through the middle of both views, but I never found any signs to point the way. After wrangling with Calvinism for about 4 months, I finally beheld its beauty with a clarity only the Holy Spirit could grant.
The ditch I had plowed into, turns out, is really an off-ramp exiting the pothole plagued 'Free Will' service road. It flows into a smoothly paved four-lane interstate winding a clear path to the Celestial City. The road first runs through the firmly established townships of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura and finally Soli Deo Gloria, which lies at the very gates of the streets of gold.
You may have already deduced the obvious. My diligent search through the scriptures utterly convinced me of the truth of the Doctrines of Grace.
So, the first and foremost reason I became a Calvinist is the overwhelming evidence contained in the scriptures declaring God's unquestionable sovereignty over every person, place and event in all of history.
The scriptures seen through the lens of God's sovereignty and man's helplessness made clear to me salvation can only be a gift freely bestowed upon those the Father has loved.
A Calvinistic world view allowed me to engage scripture passages that in the past I had tended to avoid, because they made me uncomfortable. In retrospect, it is clearly obvious why I avoided them. They shook the very foundations of my belief systems. I passed over difficult passages (such as those found in Romans Ch 8-9) expounding the doctrines of election and reprobation. If ever confronted with them in study or conversation I would quickly throw out carefully articulated defenses I had memorized from teachers opposed to the Reformed Faith without giving the text much thought.
I won't go into detail about how the scriptures convinced me of Calvinism, but will briefly explain how free will theology failed to answer one very nagging question satisfactorily and how the Doctrines of Grace did answer it.
The question formed in my mind partly due to the church growth principles embraced so fiercely by my former church. We changed our altar call by adopting a sinner's prayer approach to salvation, which included a pulpit guarantee of eternal life for all who spoke the prayer aloud and 'meant it in their heart.' I questioned the validity of such a presumptuous statement. In these prayers sin was never confronted . The pastor never clearly defined it as a power of wickedness that dominates human nature. He didn't strip people naked (figuratively, of course) and lay them bare before the holiness of God with the righteousness of the law. He didn't send them to their knees, pleading for mercy; a poor sinner in desperate need of grace through the righteousness of Christ.
The question causing so much unrest in my soul was this:
Is salvation really as easy as reciting a canned prayer, and sincerely confessing belief in a certain set of biblical truths?
I didn't remember it being that easy for me! More importantly, where did the Holy Spirit fit into this approach? I had always believed that the ministry of the Holy Spirit actively participated in the conversion of a soul, even if I did not really understand why. I mean, as a former 'free-willie' type, I strongly believed that every person had to make a choice unconstrained by outward influence to follow Christ. To be honest, I am obligated to believe this or my doctrine of free will would be crushed. Yet, at the same time I also believed the Holy Spirit initiated this process, too. I never took the time to examine the obvious dichotomy between these ideas - at least until I began to examine the theology of salvation.
My search began with man's nature. I quickly discovered man by nature did not seek after God, understand or receive the things of God, nor does he do good. Great enmity exists between man and God. This, in turn, has created a gulf that no man can bridge. The fact of the matter is, no man has any desire to cross that gulf and be reconciled to his Creator - at least not naturally. God took it upon himself to bridge the gap with the cross of Christ. He has reconciled to himself people from every tribe, tongue and nation for His glory alone. The only way God gets all the glory is if salvation is His to bestow on whom He wishes. God's glory shines most brilliantly when we see that our salvation is from His sovereign hand from first to last. The doctrine of man's total depravity utterly convinced me that salvation through rote recitation of a canned prayer is about as effective in converting souls as was the Spanish Inquisition. You might get a lot of converts, but their motivations are often centered solely on the immediate temporal benefits of doing so.
The Holy Spirit is not only a necessary helper in man's conversion but acts as the lone agent in the regeneration of our souls. This is called the doctrine of Monergism. The Holy Spirit sends us to our knees with deep-hearted conviction. We then crawl to the altar of repentance, sapped of even the strength to lift up our heads toward heaven. With profound regret we beat our breasts and cry out "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner." The Holy Spirit grants us a measure of faith, bestowed as a gift flowing from the cross of Christ. Man cannot come to Jesus in his own power. God, willing to show his great kindness and mercy, plucks many poor condemned souls from the jaws of hell and clothes them in the white robes of righteousness. They shall shine like the sun for all eternity.
At that point I had allowed the truth of God's word to transform my highly overrated opinion of human nature. I realized God must renew the heart in order for any soul to be rescued from eternal damnation. If all this be true then God must choose who lives and who dies. The bible is clear in showing that only few ever find the narrow gate that leads to life. I then had to redefine the doctrines of election, predestination and foreknowledge. In light of my new understanding of man's inherit corruptness, I could no longer believe that election and predestination referred to only God'splan of salvation through Jesus Christ. A closer study revealed these verses taught the actualsalvation of particular people through Jesus Christ. I had been taught Arminian doctrine as a toddler Christian. I held tenaciously to it without ever studying the passages thoroughly. If God indeed foreordained only the plan, He must believe in man's natural ability to come to Him of his own free will. But this runs contradictory to the well established truth of man's total depravity. Based on that fact alone, my errant election theology got tossed in the dumpster alongside my 'man is not all bad' belief.
The domino effect of theological truths beginning with man's Total depravity unfolded very clearly the remaing ULIP in short order. Yes, it all makes sense logically, but that alone is not enough to believe it. The scriptures from Genesis to Revelation reveal these truths to be self-evident. I will go deeper in future articles concerning the exegesis of these holy doctrines. For now, know this: The only way I could fiercely embrace these doctrines, that are unquestionably repugnant to the carnal mind, is by the grace of God and submission to the authority of His eternal, inerrant word.
Reason #2
A great mystery once surrounded the circumstances of my salvation experience that for a decade confounded all my attempts to unveil its secrets.
Let me start at the beginning. In the summer of 1993 I found a job at the recycling center of a local non-profit agency. They provided a training environment for people with developmental disabilities. The job humbled me, but I did enjoy working with the people. My supervisor lived his Christian faith openly, and stood boldly for his convictions. To make a long story short, he preached the gospel to me for a solid year-and-a-half, slowly chipping away at my granite hard heart. One day he quoted a scripture that flew like a steel-tipped arrow, breaching my great wall of enmity.
Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world's rulers, of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:11-12)
I remember getting into my car at the end of the day with that verse blazing through my mind. I paused in the parking lot as illumination fell on me from above. I realized at that moment good and evil were struggling for my very soul. I could not remain neutral in this war. I had to take sides. I either had to stand with God against all the powers of darkness or cast my lot with the devil and his angels. Another, more sobering thought then dawned on me. I had already spent my entire life aiding and abetting the commander-in-chief of the armies of darkness.
I stewed over those thoughts for several months. One day in late January, 1995 as I prepared to leave for the day, my boss stopped me. He launched into one of his passionate discourses on the goodness and faithfulness of God in his life. At one point he started pounding his desk speaking of the zeal he had for God, quoting from scripture. At that very moment the Spirit of God came upon me with a such a mighty rush that I could sense it in a tangible manner. A great tingling warmth spread from the top of my head to the heels of my feet. I gasped audibly, not quite understanding what had just happened. My boss did not notice my reaction, so I politely acknowledged my appreciation for his word of encouragement and drove home.
However, an entirely different man arrived home that evening than the one who had woke up that morning. My thoughts were consumed with Jesus Christ and his goodness. I hungered and thirsted for righteousness like a man rescued from a long spell in the desert craves water and bread. I hurried to the nearest bible so I could immediately discover more about this Jesus of Nazareth. I wanted toknow Him. Not just about Him, but to know him in a personal, relational way. I desired to follow Him no matter the cost. I devoured the gospels in a few short weeks. My hunger for the scriptures grew insatiable. I bombarded my boss with hundreds of questions. I amazed him with my new found zeal for Christ and for holiness.
Simultaneous with my office experience, the Holy Spirit pressed upon me the weight of my sin and guilt before a holy and just God. I repented and put all my trust in Jesus Christ, my Savior. I grew in knowledge and wisdom for the next several years in a Pentecostal, Arminian-leaning church. As I came to embrace 'free-will' theology as the only truth the scriptures taught, I came face-to-face with an apparent contradiction between theology and experience. My mind constantly raised this objection:
If repenting and putting my faith in Christ comes before I am born-again, how is it that the Holy Spirit changed me before I did any of those things?
My experience at work didn't seem to completely match up with the doctrine of free will. I openly admit I didn't spend too much time pondering the inconsistency. I simply shrugged it off. I believed salvation came, at least in part, by my intellect finally grasping the doctrine of salvation (with the help of a slight nudge from the Holy Spirit). I believed I had somehow woke myself from the slumber of ignorance, turned on my own light, took the blinders off my own eyes, unstopped my own ears and grasped with my own hands the salvation that lay before me. From time to time I would think back and wonder about the strange order of events, but I would fall back on the comfortable conclusions my mind and theology had conjured.
See, my understanding of the salvation process from my education in a 'free-will' church taught that man and God cooperate together in conversion of the soul. The Father initiated the salvation process by giving his Son as an atoning sacrifice, propitiating His wrath, opening the door for all men to become adopted sons of God. Then, in response to the gospel offer, we must do the following:
  • Admit our condition as a lost sinner in need of salvation from the wrath of God.
    • Note: This is no longer a pre-requisite for conversion in most churches
  • Believe the gospel message of salvation
  • Repent of all our sins.
  • Note: This also is no longer essential for conversion in many churches
  • Put all our faith in God, trusting Him to deliver our souls from eternal death
As a result of man meeting all these conditions by making responsible free-will choices, God will then:
  • Justify us as free from the guilt of sin
  • Impute the righteousness of Christ to us
  • Give us a new heart that we may hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Give the Holy Spirit who will empower us to live holy and pure before God
In summary, man becomes born-again, but only after he has met the four conditions listed above. At the time, this order sounded logical and appeared biblical. However, in recent years as I came to understand the true state of natural man through Calvinism, I questioned the soundness of it. It seems odd that God would require all these things of man, but waits until he fulfills them of his own power before He regenerates him and empowers him.
In my studies over man's total depravity, I came across a stunning internet article that yielded vital clues to the mystery of my salvation. The article was titled something like 'Does Faith Precede Regeneration?' I initially responded with a sardonic 'Duh!! Faith always precedes the new birth.' I shook my head, wondering why anyone in their right mind would waste precious time writing an article pondering such a silly question.
However, I decided to have a good chuckle at the author's expense. My laughter quickly turned to gasps of astonishment. Illumination dawned over my fog-shrouded heart. The article taught that man cannot fulfill the conditions of salvation on his own merit, lest his salvation be attributed to his own works, which contradicts the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone. If a man of his own abilities can come to Christ then he either has more wisdom, greater intellect, better circumstances, a superior environment or a more tender heart than a man who hears and rejects the gospel. The author raised the question, "What makes a man who receives the gospel to differ from one who rejects it?" The answer lies not in man's innate abilities or environmental circumstances, but simply upon the mercy and compassion of a sovereign God.
The article emphatically nailed home the truth that regeneration must precede repentance and faith. These abilities do not reside in us naturally, they are a gift of God through the cross of Christ. Unless you are born-again you cannot even see the kingdom of God much less partake of it.
It all made perfect sense to me. That day in my boss's office God chose to give me a new heart by his sovereign choice alone. My rock-hard heart split asunder, revealing beneath a new heart of flesh.
Prior to that moment I did not seek God, I did not feel the weight of my sin, I did not sorrow over my offenses against the holy and righteous Judge of all the earth. I did not desire to read the bible. My natural mind did not accept the things of the Spirit of God. I did not want to give up my life of sinful pleasure. I did not want to obey the commandments. I did not desire to follow Christ. I did not want to believe I was lost and headed for hell. I had no inclination to humble myself and submit to the righteousness of God in Christ.
But in a twinkling of an eye that all changed, forever. When the Spirit of God came upon me, every belief and desire I had built my life upon dissolved like a sand castle beneath the ocean's tide. Repentance and faith clearly came after regeneration in my experience. I didn't even clearly understand what repent meant until the Spirit worked in me.
In fact I didn't fall to my knees in repentance until nearly two full weeks after my office encounter with the Holy Spirit. I confess that I put it off so I could make a spectacle of the whole affair. I believed that making a ceremony of it in a special childhood haunt would please the Lord. However, the Spirit of God so overcame me one Saturday at work, that I marched out of my office into a snowstorm and fell to my knees in the middle of a sticker patch, repented of my sins and put all my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My mouth finally uttered those things God had already worked in my spirit.
The stages of salvation I once embraced had it all backwards. It's not as simple as ABC. Salvation doesn't depend on human exertion or desire, but on God who has mercy. Here is the Ordo Salutis of true biblical salvation, exemplified by my experience.
  • For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom 8:29)
    God the Father, from the dateless past, before the foundations of the earth were laid, chose for himself a people out of the world. He set his elect apart for his own purposes, by His compassion and grace alone. My heavenly Father elected me, Brandon, to inherit eternal salvation through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, who died in my place, bearing in his body all of my iniquities.
  • And those whom he predestined he also called, (Rom 8:30A) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (Joh 6:44A) The Ephesians 6 scripture pricked my heart and the first rays of gospel light shone on my spirit. The Lord opened my eyes that I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt where I stood spiritually. My heavenly Father issued his outward call through His word. The Holy Spirit, on an intellectual level at this point, convicted me of my sinfulness and alliance with the devil and his work.
  • And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Eze 36:26-27) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."(Joh 3:6-8) The Holy Spirit poured over me in that little office twelve years ago. He granted me a new heart of flesh and renewed my mind by the sovereign decree of the Father. My heart of hate and malice toward god morphed into one of love and gratefulness.
  • So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17) For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, (2Co 7:10A) God made his call effectual, granting me the gifts of repentance and faith. He brought me to a position of absolute humility through the constant preaching of my boss. I sorrowed over my sinfulness and threw myself upon his mercy and grace. I repented of my sins and put all my faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
  • And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:30) I have been justified freely by the grace of God. I come nearer to glorification with each passing day. My spirit will eventually be released from this body of death and be present with the Lord. At the resurrection of the righteous I will receive my glorified body and my full sanctification. I will stand boldly before the throne of grace, an adopted member of the Lord's family.
In conclusion, the second reason I embraced Calvinism is because it teaches regeneration precedes faith. I know this not only from the scriptures and by logic, but also from personal experience.
My coming to Christ the way I did aligns perfectly with this teaching. God took a man who loved himself above all and performed a miracle in his heart; reviving a soul utterly dead in trespasses and sins with a spiritual rebirth, turning his desire away from the passing pleasures of the world to now seeking to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Reason #3
Precisely nine years ago I embraced the doctrines of Grace (also called 5-point Calvinism). It was a chaotic time, where both the tearing down of my old theology and the construction of this new theology were taking place simultaneously in my mind and spirit. To complicate matters, an old friend, who had faithfully attended my weekly bible study for college students, came to my office one day and begged me to start up a new study group. She had come to a difficult point in her life and had a deep hunger for someone to bring her the Word. I had sympathy for her, but didn't feel I was in any position to teach.
First, I could no longer teach much of what I had in the past. Many of those doctrines, like a house built on shifting sand, laid in a collapsed heap. I was in the process of bulldozing those aberrant beliefs right off my intellectual property. Second, I still did not know enough about Calvinism to be confident enough to teach it. Third, I still had not resolved all the points of Calvinism in my heart and mind yet. I readily accepted the T, the U, and the I but I wasn't so sure about the L and the P. Odd, I know, if the U then the P should follow, right? I've never said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer!
Anyway, against my better judgment, I plunged ahead with the study and presented my understanding of sovereign salvation to that small audience. It all worked out for the good, though. The class constantly presented challenges that helped to sharpen me. In the end though, only one person from the group came to believe in the doctrines of Grace. She came to visit me in my office one afternoon last year and I asked her pointedly, "have you become convinced that Calvinism is true?" My friend gave me an unforgettable reply. In a humble and almost broken-hearted tone, she said, "Yes it has to be true, because I know my own heart."
What did my friend mean by this? She is talking about the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity. The prophet Jeremiah sums it up succinctly with his observation that, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9) Moses recorded that "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5) Paul wrote, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." Rom 8:7) Jesus taught, "No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." (Jn 6:44)
In other words, the T in the TULIP is readily apparent, derived not only from the scriptures but by observation and experience. I witness its fruit everyday with the perplexing thought processes of my mind and the inner workings of my heart. Darkened thoughts rise up and vain imaginings spring into existence and if not cast down, evil deeds will follow. And this from a man who has been given a new heart! I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind daily, but this process of becoming holy is a slow one, progressing only by the Grace of God that strengthens me in my weakness. If my heart contains iniquity even now, in a state of grace and renewal, how wicked a heart did I have before conversion?
Allow me to demonstrate just how corrupt a heart I had.
I had a knowledge of God, but never gave him the glory and honor he is due. I could list all 10 commandments, but never cared to obey any of them. I understood the way of salvation, but only offered him lip service in exchange for a fire-free future. I did not seek Him, yet claimed to possess him. I understood his character and nature in an intellectual sense, yet I molded him into my image. I had heard of his great love, but spurned it. I was warned of His coming wrath, but convinced myself  it wasn't aimed at me. I understood that he loved righteousness, yet I despised it. I knew he hated the wicked, but I was basically a good person. God demanded that I turn from sin, but I kept my course steady. God said that I have become worthless, yet I esteemed myself highly. The Lord proclaimed that without him I can do nothing, yet I set my heart to do all things without his help. He declared that without faith it is impossible to please him, but I thought my good deeds would make Him smile. God created me to sing his praises, but I uttered curses instead. I believed Jesus to be the Prince of Peace, yet I did not know the way of peace. The Scriptures demand that I fear God, but for 23 years I had no fear of him before my eyes. God commands for all to repent and believe the Gospel, but I was not willing to do the former nor able to obey the latter.
I followed the lusts of my own heart without any sense of guilt for my first 17 years. One day during m Jr. year in high school, as I browsed through the merchandise at my local Wal-Mart I came across a Chick tract. This one, in fact. It literally scared the hell right out of me. I sought refuge in the nearest church I could find. I started going to Sunday school and service for the first time in my life. I soon made a profession of faith in front of the congregation and got baptized. After securing my fire-insurance card, I proceeded to antagonize my Sunday school teacher and talk with my buddy about our weekend exploits on the back pew instead of listening to any of the messages.
Nothing had changed. My heart was still stone hard and unyielding to the call of God to true repentance and a living faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I was a baptized pig who had gone back to his wallowing in the mud. My initial reaction to the gospel message in that tract was one of pure abject fear. Not a fear of God in the sense of reverence and awe, but only a dread of eternally burning in the unquenchable flames of hell. I couldn't bear the thought of such a horrible fate and carried out all the necessary outward rituals to avoid it. Unfortunately, though I performed the outward circumcision, so-to-speak, God had not performed the inner circumcision of heart required for true conversion.
The problem lay in the fact that I still hated God just as much as I did before my 'conversion'. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your strength. I did not love him. I, in fact, despised him for his harsh, unfair and (in my mind) irrational judgment on man. I believed man to be basically decent at heart, but because he fell short of perfection, was forced to pay for it by suffering eternally. I remember feeling sorry for all my friends who were not Christians. They would not listen to my pathetic attempts at evangelism. As a result, I knew they were doomed.
Eventually, I rejected the doctrine of judgment and hell. As a natural consequence, I eventually denied the authority of the bible as God's revealed word. In my wickedness I adopted a much more pleasant-natured God who accepted everyone on the basis of their own uniqueness. This new age God placed no demands upon my life, but encouraged me to live guilt-free according to whatever my heart desired. The process of conviction, to faith, to doubt, and then to complete unbelief occurred all within 6 months. I had faith, but not a faith that could save. I put my faith into my ability to be pleasing to God by doing what I thought he demanded. After that, I could do as I pleased. These aberrant thought processes are all the result of the depravity of my heart. I did whatever I had to do to achieve the most rewarding benefit to my person. I did not seek God because I wanted to love him, I did not claim to cling to Christ because I wanted to 'know him and the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his sufferings'. (Phil 3:10) No, I went through the motions of salvation just so I wouldn't fry in the furnace of fire.
I am a totally depraved man apart from union with Christ. The holy nature of God given to Adam, which suffered corruption at his disobedience has infiltrated every corner of my entire being because I am his offspring. My heart is full of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, evil, slander, pride and foolishness. My thoughts are only evil all the time. My carnal mind is at enmity with God. Out of the abundance of my heart my mouth speaks. My body obeys all my lascivious desires. Every single component of my humanity is touched by wickedness. My spirit, my mind, my emotions, my thoughts, my will and my entire heart is in bondage to the power of sin. This does not mean that I am the worst sinner that I can be in my natural state, but the potential for evil greater than history's most corrupt tyrants dwells within my darkened heart.
The world around me that I read about everyday in the media convinces me that total depravity is alive and well on planet Earth. Terrorists blow themselves up, taking as many victims with them as they can, expecting an eternal reward of beautiful virgins - and you would dare say to me that man is not depraved? A gunmen walks the hallways of a university, public school or shopping mall and opens fire on people he does not know to exact revenge on a society that has supposedly shunned him - and I'm to believe man is basically good at heart? A father takes a gun and murders his two-year-old twin daughters and his three-year-old son and then kills himself - and you want to convince me that we have the ability to love God with all of our hearts? One young boy tells his parents that 'I will kill you' every time he is punished for calling them 'idiots' and 'freaks' - and I should accept that any man would be willing to come to Christ of his own free will? Another older boy, when punished for screaming and throwing things at his parents, then goes into a rage destroying everything in his path - and you want to boast of man's natural ability to repent and believe the Gospel?
Sorry, I'm not buying it. We have corrupted ourselves in our zest for absolute autonomy and driven ourselves to madness with our lust to indulge every forbidden pleasure. God's common grace is manifested through our conscience and in the civil governments of law and justice. These forces restrain our madness. Should God remove these restraints, society would dissolve and complete lawlessness would reign until man utterly destroys himself. This is the reality of the doctrine of Total Depravity.
But...
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25A)
God's grace has saved me from the great trinity of evil - Me, Myself and I. While I was dead in trespasses and sins Christ has made me alive.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. (1Co 15:10A)
The combination of the doctrines of God's absolute sovereignty over all creation and the radical corruption of man form the forge on which Calvinism is shaped and sharpened to a razor edge. I stand in absolute awe of the immeasurable magnitude of God's magnificent grace in light of these biblical truths. Despite man's intent to do evil all of his days, God has unconditionally and lovingly elected a people to call his very own out of every tribe, tongue and nation. He has purchased them out of the bondage of the devil and sin and purified them by the blood of Jesus Christ. He has drawn them irresistibly to himself by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and has set them upon a rock that shall never be moved. God protects and preserves his precious elect, causing them to persevere through every trial and tribulation. These doctrines are precious to me because they demonstrate God's mercy and compassion to a company of people who deserve nothing but His fierce wrath.
In summary, the doctrine of Total Depravity, as taught by God's word, is easily demonstrated by looking both inwardly to the thoughts and desires of one's own heart and by observing the outwardly manifestations of those thoughts and desires in the world around us.
Reason #4
During my years as a Pentecostal/Arminian Christian I focused my theological studies on an array of supposedly sound biblical topics. I studied Dispensational Theology (though at the time I had no idea what it was called), learning the different epochs of time Earth's history had been neatly packaged into. I dabbled with spiritual warfare, waging battle against all principalities and powers of darkness. I learned how to defend my family against the wiles of the devil. I read many kooky books that inspired me to take up the armor of God and stand firmly against the devil's fiery darts in ways that now make me cringe with chagrin. I danced as King David did (except fully clothed) and anointed everything with olive oil (or Crisco if the former was not conveniently available). I claimed enough territories for Christ during those years that I could have established a whole other country. I scoured the scriptures, scrapping together verses in an effort to discern the times, and determine the signs of Christ's Second Coming.  I agreed with both Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt and the secret rapture of the church would whisk us away while the world would suffer beneath the iron heel of the Antichrist's reign of terror.  I spent hours pleading and wrestling with God at the altar, in the desperate hope that he would grant me an authentic, earth-shattering spiritual experience akin to the ones enjoyed by my brethren, who appeared to get a 'dose of the Ghost' on a weekly basis.
I worked hard to perfect my faith. I constantly exercised my spiritual muscles, speaking words of great faith, staving off sickness and disease, boasting in the power of my personal belief that God wanted me healthy and wealthy all the time. I voraciously rebuked the devil when a case of the sniffles assailed my sinuses. I cursed his name whenever I stubbed my toe, convinced that he was hard at work trying to bring me harm and weaken my faith - in my faith. I would walk around, point my finger at a piece of merchandise that I wanted and claimed it by faith. I then would daily thank God for granting everything that I asked for.  I would patiently await for my stuff to miraculously arrive at the front door. Which, by the way, NEVER happened.  I followed Scripture's advice to lay hands on the sick and they would recover. I performed this ritual many times - on my broken down Nissan - and marveled at its miraculous resurrection from the dead.  I believed in living a sinless life, by faith in my willpower to resist temptation.  It became an obsession with me. I would often berate myself for failure to conform perfectly to God's will. I cursed my lack of faith and promised to do better. After all, I had the Holy Spirit! I had no excuse for spots and blemishes any longer. This failure to be perfect eventually led to an unhealthy focus on backsliding and committing apostasy. I would often wonder if I had committed the 'unpardonable sin' by grieving the Holy Spirit with my mistakes. The combination of these toxic doctrines and my utter failure to measure up to God's standards of righteousness caused great mental and emotional distress. It all came to a head in late 2005 when I cried out to the Lord in the dead of night, "Show me the truth!"
I had lived by faith, but in retrospect I now realize I'd grossly misplaced and misapplied my faith.  Many Word-Faith heresies became my foundational doctrine, and at the time I had no inkling that I was in error. However, God revealed himself shortly after my desperate plea. The truth of God's sovereignty shone like a heavenly beacon as I delved deep into the doctrines recovered by the Protestant Reformation. I quickly learned God the Father ordains all that comes to pass and always works according to his good pleasure. For the first time in my Christian life I marveled at the greatness of Christ. He lived a life of perfect obedience, thus fulfilling the righteousness of God. He willingly took up his cross and died, that my sins would be forgiven and his righteousness would clothe me. I stood amazed at the work of the Holy Spirit, who could take a heart, dead in wickedness, and infuse eternal life into it without even a prior hint of godly desire for that life on my part. I slowly came to realize what my Christianity was lacking - Christ himself!
My religion had been dominated by a plethora of secondary topics. I divulged in countless hours of end times prognostication. I exercised a self-centric philosophy of faith and obedience.  I had an unhealthy obsession with spiritual performance and supernatural signs and wonders.  All these distractions worked to remove my focus from the only thing that matters - the cross of Christ.  I came from a church that viewed salvation by Christ's blood on the cross as only the first step into a victorious and adventurous life of prosperity and personal fulfillment.  They assumed the Gospel most of the time.  As the leadership thought, so did I.  In my personal reformation God re-prioritized my mindset.  I began to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  I fixed my gaze upon the King of Kings and his glorious kingdom.  I realized that the cross is not a first rung on a spiritual ladder to success, but instead the luminescent sun, burning brightly in the center of my renewed heart.  All my doctrine, theology and devotion revolved around it, compelled by the irresistible gravity of Christ's ultimate sacrifice.
I can honestly attest that for the first 10 years of my Christian life I never truly grasped the glory of Christ in the cross.  I pause to wonder if I really was a Christian.  I pursued signs and wonders, but failed to see the greatest sign and wonder of all.  I turned up every stone, looking for clues to his second coming, while not beholding the majestic beauty of his first coming.  I sought a spiritual buzz from the 'Holy Ghost bartender' and refused the cool refreshment of the the living waters of Jesus himself.  I worried constantly about falling from grace instead of simply accepting Christ's free grace.  I worked to attain a state of sinless perfection, instead of clothing myself with the righteousness of Christ.  Calvinism forced me to gulp down the milk of the elementary principles of Christ.  By God's grace he quickly moved me on to the strong meat of the word.  Contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean that we ever move on from the cross of Christ.  I will forever remain anchored to its profound truths, and I never will be able to distance myself from it.  How I survived my early Christian life majoring in the minors I'll never understand apart from God's mercy.
When I became exposed to the doctrines of Grace - Calvinism - Reformed Theology - pick the moniker of your choice, a life of vibrant, lucid faith sharply came into focus for me.  The simple revelation that Christianity is all about Christ profoundly changed me.  I dare say that it's almost as if I had been born-again - again!  An overwhelming sense of awe floods my soul as God reveals to me that he is absolutely sovereign over all people, places and things for all time.  I feel horror and revulsion as I begin to peel away the religious facade of feigned innate goodness in man as the scriptures speak to me of our great and awful depravity of mind and spirit. I marvel at the Father's graciousness and mercy in the calling of a people as his very own.  His reasons lie within himself and not according to our actions or desires.  My heart exults when I attempt to fully comprehend the breadth and depth of God's love for us, as demonstrated in the cross of Christ. I tremble at God's power that 'by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified' (Heb 10:14).  I'm forever grateful for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to overcome our obstinate, rebellious natures.  I'm thankful that he effectually works the life of God in us so we would revile our sin, love God and flee to Christ.  Finally, I'm at rest knowing God loves me so much that although he will not spare me from the trials and tribulations of life, he will preserve me through them, causing me to persevere in the faith.
So the final reason I am a Calvinist is because in essence it is all about the Lord God, His Christ and the everlasting gospel.
Summary
, I first came to accept Reformed Theology due in no small part to the overwhelming support of scripture.  Not just a verse here and a verse there, but the entire fabric of Calvinism is woven together so intricately into every book of the bible that to pick apart the threads of these profound truths is to unravel the whole tapestry of the holy scriptures.  I am not overstating this in the least.  Personal pride took a mortal blow when I confronted the awful, yet glorious truth of God's marvelous grace fully bestowed upon me despite the cold, hard lifeless heart that contributed not one iota to my coming to Christ.
Which leads me to the second reason I converted to the doctrines of Grace. Since I was dead in my trespasses and sins, Christ had to make me alive, and so he did.  God granted me a new heart. In response I turned away from my great sin and turned toward Christ in repentance and faith.  I was born again by the spirit of God - before I repented and believed, not because I repented and believed. I am convinced from the scriptures and by personal testimony that regeneration precedes faith. Faith can only flow from a renewed heart. A renewed heart is a gift of God through Christ.  'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.' (1Pe 1:3).
The third reason I embraced the Reformed faith is that I, by the grace granted unto me by the Father, have become keenly aware of the sinful inward workings of my heart, that never ceases to tempt me into once again living a life of debauchery and self indulgence.  God's grace constrains me, yet I shrink back in loathing at the unlawful desires that still stalk me day and night.  The depravity of my fallen human nature leaves me in awe.  How did I not destroy myself completely in the days of my youth?  God's hand was undoubtedly upon me even before his call came.   Calvinism, which teach me about the total and complete depravity of my entire being, has been irrefutably confirmed by observing the inner workings of my own heart and the manifestation of those inner workings in the world around me.
Lastly, as I outlined above, I discovered that the teachings of Reformed Theology are God glorifying and Christ-centered.  The scriptures all point to the person and work of Christ and the glory of God demonstrated by him and his deeds, which will remain for all eternity.  We, the people of God, will stand also as an eternal reminder to the mercy and goodness of the entire Godhead.  God the Father elected a people for himself in eternity past, before the foundations of the earth were laid, to glory in his majesty and enjoy his goodness forever. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on the likeness of sinful flesh to procure unto himself the elect God had sovereignly chosen, to fulfill his holy justice and righteous wrath against their sin. His crucifixion and shed blood forever sealed these believers as God's own adopted children.  The secret unseen work of the Holy Spirit regenerates stone cold hearts and calls men out of the world by a deep conviction of their trespasses.  This leads to a loathing of sin and all its destructive power. In turn, the new heart of flesh cries out in faith to Christ, the only source of salvation. We plead for mercy instead of justice, repenting of all uncleanness of the flesh and mind.  The renewed heart aches for communion with Christ everyday through fervent prayer, the reading of the scriptures, doctrinally sound preaching and teaching, the joyful singing of hymns and spiritual songs and the reverent administration of the sacraments. For all this I thank you O Lord our Lord.  How majestic is your name in all the earth! You have done more for me than I could possibly repay in a thousand lifetimes.  I'm grateful not only for doing all these things on my behalf, but also for revealing to my heart the scope and the breadth of your mighty deeds, that my gratitude and thankfulness may pour out to you for as long as we both remain.
Soli Deo Gloria.

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