Romans 9, the Awful and Terrible God, and Communion

When we first began attending Hope Baptist Church, we noted and appreciated that they observed the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. Six months later, I have come to the realization that my ability to under appreciate a sacrament knows no bounds.

For the past three weeks, the elders have been leading the church through Romans 9, and let me tell you, these are not verses that are easy to hear:

Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

It is a terrifying thing to read these passages and to know that this is our God; it is a fearful thing to see Jehovah so clearly, and to know the awe that fills our heart and minds at His description. It is an entirely different thing to hear such a sermon and then to partake in communion.

Imagine for a moment that you are the child of the Hebrew king David. Your father, the king, is a man of war. In certain seasons, he takes his sword in hand and leads his armies to war. He has killed men, has with his own hands shed their blood, and he has given orders that would bring death to women and children. On days of judgement, he sits as a magistrate, and hands down rulings. He has sentenced men and women to death for crimes against the law. It is not his hand that kills them, but it is at his word and at his judgement nonetheless. But consider this: this man, the king, the man of war, the judge, the grim faced man who presides over life and death, this man is also your father. And he is not one man when he is at war and a second man when he sits at court and a third man when he sits with you and calls you by your name. He is the same man.

And this is what communion reminds me of. This is not to say that I should not tremble when I think of God. This is not to say that I am to forget that he is both awful and terrible (look up these words if you do not get my meaning – we have watered them down and forgotten what they mean). But it means that I am to place alongside this image of awe, this image of terror, an image of Abba Father, and I am to commune with him.

What I am striking out against here is the wicked idea that God must be watered down so that we can be comfortable with Him. Let me give another example, this time from C. S. Lewis’s novel, The Silver Chair. Here one of the main characters, Jill Pole, has been brought to Aslan’s country and through her own foolishness has found herself alone, lost, and looking for something to drink. Finally she comes to a pool of water, and guarding it, is a lion:

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”

[…] For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” […] [she] realised that it was the lion speaking. […] [T]he voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

This is how communion felt after the sermons on Romans 9. Here I am, says God, I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms, and I will do so again if it pleases me. Know me. Look upon me. See me as I am… and come and drink.

Turning Our Nation Around II: The War at Home

If a man would change the world, let him begin with something that is right before his eyes, let him lead his home.

My church hosted a father/son retreat this weekend, and I was fortunate enough to attend several of the sessions. I came away with a deeper appreciation for the incredible relationship that fathers and sons have and for the primal nature of that relationship. Some of the highlights that were particularly relevant to the discussion at hand are as follows:

The story of the Bible and of this world is essentially the story of a Father working through His Son, of Jehovah God, accomplishing all things through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Children, when you obey your father, you are testifying to the fact that there is a God in heaven who must be obeyed.  Father’s when you care for and discipline your children, you are testifying that there is a God who loves and chastens those who are His own.

Children, when you disobey your father, when you roll your eyes and mock his authority, you are committing high treason against heaven. Fathers, when you take too lightly your children’s rebellion, when you wink at it and let it exist unchecked, you are tolerating witchcraft in your homes.

We also spent a lot of time in Deuteronomy 6, reading the Shema Yisrael, and asking ourselves what a family would look like if it built itself around the Hebrew concept of learning, around the idea of a father walking and talking with his sons, taking them with him everywhere that he can, letting them see the world through the lens of his knowledge and experience. And not a perfect father, mind you, or perfect sons. Through all of this, we were reminded that every son is challenged by being forced to submit to and learn from an imperfect father and that every father is similarly challenged by having to lead and discipline imperfect sons.

To my mind, this is the first step in turning our nation around, that of turning our homes back to God, putting away our childishness and our love of sin and the easy life.

What do you say?

God for a Day

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine for a moment that you are given the infinite power of God to do with as you please. For all intents and purposes, you are God.

What would you do?

Think about it for a moment, and throw away your little answers, like “I’d bring about world peace”, or “I would end world hunger and eradicate disease”. That’s kid’s stuff. You’re God, remember, so what would you do? And don’t go and copy your predecessor either. You have to think of something completely original. In fact, throw out all the concepts that you have now and come up with all new ones. You’re God, and there is no idea of war unless you say so, nor is there the notion of peace, but that you make it to be so.

What would you do?

Seriously, think about it for a second.

If you’re like me, you’ll hit a wall very quickly. I have no idea, was my honest answer to this question. I lack the necessary traction to even process the question. Everything I know, every concept, every idea or ability to process an idea is framed by the One True God, Jehovah. I can only imagine within the framework that He has created. And that is exactly as it should be.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Hebrews 11:3)

As always, feedback is appreciated.

The Love of God Blesses All Men

Go read this post about the love of God. While there may not be anything groundbreaking there, it is good to think through these things.

Here’s a snippet:

God demonstrates intended goodness on the reprobate. God’s ultimate purpose is to display His glory and the men are objects of means wherewith God will draw all men to Himself. To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards the very fact that the rejection of this kindness heaps more judgment on the non-elect proves that it is actual kindness, else it would be of no consequence to the reprobate. The fact that wicked men abuse these good gifts and heap more wrath on themselves does not negate the intent of the gift. John Calvin states, “Proofs of the love of God towards the whole human race exist innumerable, all which demonstrate the ingratitude of those who perish or come to perdition.”

Making Jehovah into a Lovesick Girl

It’s Friday and the Almighty is spending the evening at home. He’s met someone you see, someone named Chad, and, well, He likes him oh so much. So, sprawled across his infinite pink bedspread, He is waiting by the phone, His elbows resting on His enormous fuchsia pillow, His cell phone in front of him: He is praying that Chad will call. Next to Him on the bed is a pad of paper where He has written, “Jehovah and Chad 4eternity (4real)” and “Jehovah loves Chad! AWESOME!!”. Suddenly the phone rings and the sound of Nichole Nordeman’s Legacy fills the air. In His excitement, the Alpha and Omega fumbles with the phone before answering. Breathless, He lifts it to His ear, only to be disappointed.”Hey J, has he called yet?” asks the Holy Spirit.”No, but I’m sure he will,” says the Self Existent One, I’ve made it so clear how I feel about him.”

“I don’t know,” says HS, “earlier today I was talking to an angel and he said he was talking to another angel and that angel told him that he saw Chad in the library and Chad was totally talking to Buddha.”

“Are you serious? This totally can’t be happening to me. I’m like God Almighty and stuff, y’know, and he’s my Chad. It would just be so dreamy if we were together!”

“I know,”  says HS, “I know. Sooner or later, he’ll come around.”

“I just hope you’re right.”

Jehovah ends the call and then buries His face in His pillow.”Oh Chad,” He sobs, “how I love you so.”

I hope the above scenario seems ridiculous to you. I hope that if you thought I was being serious, you would think me guilty of blasphemy. Let me assure you, I am not being serious. But can I submit to you, that this is exactly what we do when we preach an Arminian gospel?

If God is who He says He is, then it is He who does the choosing. If He is who He claims to be it is He who has ordained all things. I have written previously about the co-existence of free-will and predestination and won’t go back into it in any depth here, but I do want to declare to you that Jehovah is the Sovereign God, the I AM. Though He loves us, it is not with a fretful, trembling love. He is no tender-hearted girl hoping and praying that some will come to repentance, that some will come to know Him.

What do you say?

Treating the Scripture as a Person

Imagine the following scenario:

Your husband or wife calls you and tells you that they need to talk to you about something important when you get home. When you arrive, they usher you into the living room. “I’ve been thinking,” they say, “about how uncertain words are and how difficult it is to truly understand someone. I know that you try to talk to me, and that you expect me to understand what you’re saying, and I appreciate that, I really, really do, but I’ve made a decision. From now on, I’m just going to interpret what you say the way I want to, based on what makes the most sense for me. I think that will make things simpler.”

When they finish speaking, you sit, slightly bewildered, collecting your thoughts. Finally, you ask, “Why? I know we have misunderstandings from time to time, I know that sometimes I confuse you, but fundamentally I thought we’ve understood each other.”

Their response leaves you breathless, “Exactly,” they say, “This seems like the right thing to do. It means so much to me that you understand. I think we’ll get along so much better now. I hope you know how much I love you, and how much you mean to me.”

How would you react to such a conversation? Shock? Confusion? Bewilderment? You might begin to wonder if your loved one has some sort of dissociative disorder. You might even wonder if it’s you who have the disorder. You might wonder a thousand different things, but no one would think that this is normal.

But what if instead of you, the person being addressed was God Almighty? And what if instead of a loved one, it was you who had sat God down for the talking to?

How often do we treat the Word of God as less than a person? How often do we forget that when we open up the Word to read, it is not a dead man, but the living God Himself who is speaking to us? How often do we let the fact that we must interpret the Word, pervert itself into the idea that we can interpret it, anyway we want?

How often do we forget that the exact message that God wants us to know cannot be rendered unknowable? I don’t know about you, but I forget it all the time.

Christians and Science

There is a lot of talk today about the difference between science and religion, about the gulf between the Christian and the scientist, the chasm that separates faith from fact. There is a tone to the rhetoric that suggests that these two areas are not only incompatible, but that the Christian’s ability to view the world is inherently limited, and is therefore operating at a distinct disadvantage.

The heart of the idea that is being sold is that the scientist deals with the real world, with atoms and energy, with metals and chemicals, with universal laws and cold hard facts, while the Christian is left in the fanciful world of magic and fairies, of gods and miracles, of spiritual and invisible things that are only knowable through that slippery thing called faith. This idea supposes that the theologian who is studying the nature of grace is doing something fundamentally different than the astronomer who is studying the nature of the heavens.

The problem with this is that it is a lie.

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Is There Truth Outside of Christianity?

Jamie Kiley is wrestling with a worthwhile question, namely, “What does Paul mean when he says that ‘everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God’?” Her question was prompted by the book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (someone who I do not respect at all as an expositor of the Word of God.)

Bell uses this verse as part of his justification for the following statement:

As a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God’s and everything in it.

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Soulwinning, Methodology, and Going in unto Hagar

Abraham had a problem. God had made a promise to him, and to the best of Abraham’s understanding, God had not delivered. Plus, the way things looked, God was not planning on delivering any time soon. And it was starting to bother Abraham. It was also worrying his wife. It worried her enough that she finally approached Abraham and said to him:

Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.

Sarai makes it clear to Abraham that she knows it is God who has kept her from having children. She recognizes that God is the one who opens and closes the womb, but at the same time, she also doesn’t believe it or at least is not satisfied with it, because she tells Abraham to go into Hagar and see if God will bless that union and give him the promised heir by her (as if God does not control the womb of Hagar as well).

What happens next? We all know the story. Hagar brings forth Ishmael, and fourteen years later, Sarah née Sarai, brings forth Isaac, a son of her own. A few years later, Ishmael is sent away, and he grows up away from his father and his step-mother and brother. The next time we see Ishmael in Scripture, he is meeting Isaac to bury their father Abrhaham. Go a few verses further and we are reading Ishmael’s obituary as it were.

And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
(Genesis 25:13-17)

We know a little more about Isaac. We know that he married Rebekah and that he had two sons, Jacob and Esau. We know that he became wealthy. We know his story in greater detail without having to look it up. But, here is my question:

If we accept the premise that the spiritual counterpart to bringing forth children is seeing souls born into the family of God, then what is the spiritual counterpart to going in unto Hagar?

I believe that as Christians (both individually and collectively as the Church), we often find ourselves in situations that bring us to say, the LORD has restrained us from bearing. The LORD has not given us souls. We know and testify that salvation is of God, that it is by the working of His spirit and by His hand alone that sinners come to repentance, but at the same time we do not believe it, because we go in unto Hagar. We go in to the world and we say, perhaps by these methods that we once thought were wrong, we might raise up souls unto God. What it terrifying is this. More often than not, by these methods, we see fruit.

What we have forgotten is this, Ishmael had twelve sons, each of them a prince with castles and land, and Issac had only two, one of them a shepherd living in semi-exile. If someone looked at the fruit of Abraham’s life, at his child with Hagar and his child with Sarah, which one would they conclude was more “successful”. Would they conclude that going into Hagar was such a bad thing after all? Could they even conclude that it was a good thing? Based on Ishmael’s life, would the modern church have told Abraham: Go down into Egypt and purchase from the slave blocks one hundred Hagars and get them all with child and raise up an army of Ishmaels? Sometimes, I wonder.

What I am saying is this: the ultimate fruit of Ishmael was not determined in his or in Abraham’s lifetime. In many ways it has still not been completely determined and will only be known in full, in eternity. But It is no different with our methods of winning souls today. It is not immediate results that tell us whether we are doing the work of God or not. There was no lack of people to dance around the golden calf that Aaron made, yet Noah preached 100 years and only reached his household.

What do you think? Does this hold up to the light of God’s Word? Have we gone in unto Hagar? If so, how do we make things right?

A World Without Hypothetical Situations

I don’t have time to give this the treatment it deserves, but for those of us who hold to the Reformed position, this deserves some serious thought.

Perhaps you’ve heard the old bon mot, imagine a world without hypothetical situations. But let me suggest something: if you believe that the world from beginning to end has been ordained by the Words of God, and that nothing happens or exists outside of this ordination, then that is exactly the type of world that you live in.

When I talk to and debate theological issues with Arminians, and we discuss the nuts and bolts of salvation and God’s goodness and the history of the world, invariably someone will propose that we examine the world through the simplified lens of a hypothetical situation. And this is where things start to break down.
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