Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gratitude and New Respect for Firefighters

As you know, we have been in the midst of perhaps the most devastating series of fires in Southern California history. As a resident of the Pass area for almost 24 years I have become accustomed to the annual battle of the blazes that take such a toll on our beautiful landscape, numerous homes and other structures, the lives of victims and, sadly all too often, those whose job it is to protect us from the danger. So, I am a huge fan of firefighters. Their devotion to duty and willingness to put themselves between us and the fire is infinitely admirable and deeply appreciated.

During the fierce Santa Ana winds that were blowing last week though, we were not beset by fires in Beaumont, our problem was of a different kind—blowing dirt and dust. Since our church is in the process of building a new building we had the task of wetting down the dirt on the construction project to keep it from blowing on our neighbors. Thus, my new respect for firefighters.

I have never been known for my musculature. My abs have absconded; my pecs are pathetic; and my guns have no ammunition. So, when I found myself holding the nozzle of a 1.5 inch fire hose last week, thinking, “This will be easy and fun,” I was rather rudely awakened. I since have learned that the fire service designates the 1.5 inch as a one person line, i.e., there is no one else to help pull the line and manage it. Fortunately, I had help in the form of a strong young associate pastor. After only a few minutes my arms were beginning to feel like jelly. What saved me was the nozzle was adjustable and I could control the strength of the flow.

I mention that to say, when I see these firefighters, men and women alike, pointing their hoses at the fires now, I know from experience that what they make look so effortless is anything but that. God bless you firefighters! Thanks for your faithfulness! And thank you, God, for giving them the strength, physically and emotionally, to do their job.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Free Will—A Common Misconception

While reading Anthony Hoekema’s immensely helpful work on soteriology, Saved By Grace, his articulation of the paradoxical tension between “God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility; both God’s sovereign grace and our active participation in the process of salvation” reminded me of the importance of terminology. The tension is between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, not between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

Why is it important to couch the discussion in terms of man’s responsibility instead of free will? First, because these are two coexistent truths that must be allowed to stand in a biblical understanding of truth, with the concurrent reality that we accept them by faith not by logic. Second (the reason for this reflection), juxtaposing God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is fraught with danger simply because of what most mean by the term free will. For most who use this term the clear intent is that free will means I can do whatever I wish. The confusion/error is in the equating of the freedom to choose to do what I want with the ability to do whatever I wish. Freedom does not constitute ability.

Example 1: I may choose to be President of the United States but reality is that I seriously lack the ability to do that. Example 2: I may choose to be a better golfer than Tiger Woods but those who have seen me play know the dearth of my abilities and the dearth of my potential abilities in that arena. The problem is not simply a lack of practice. The short-coming has to do with innate ability.

Prior to knowing Christ my condition of being dead in my trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) rendered me helpless in the matter of salvation. I may choose or wish to be saved but the desire and the ability are not qualities I inherently possess. Both must come from God (Philippians 2:12-13). My responsibility is to respond rightly to God through the power He gives—not to somehow manufacture salvation on my own. When it comes to salvation, I am told to “work it out” not to “work it up.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Devil Worship

Are we no better than demons?

Recently, I was reading in the Gospel of Mark and something caught my attention. As I began to look at other Scriptures I was deeply challenged by what I saw concerning the actions of various demons in relation to Jesus.
First of all, let’s remember who the demons are. They are fallen angels. Originally created by God to worship and serve Him in glorious proximity to the very throne of heaven, they sinned and joined Satan in his rebellion and pride and fell from that wonderful position for which they were intended. The Scripture in James 2:19 tells us that, even in their fallen state, the demons still believe in God and tremble before Him. Though their belief does not lead to salvation, they still know, beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly Who God is and recognize His power, majesty and authority over them.
This led to what caught my attention in Mark. In chapter 1, verse 34, Mark says of Jesus: “And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.” Notice, they knew Who He was and He prevented them from speaking.
Now consider two other instances in Mark of the Lord’s encounter with demons. The first occurs earlier in that first chapter. Jesus is in Capernaum teaching in the synagogue, when a man with an unclean spirit enters. This man immediately cried out, before Jesus said a word to him: “What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-- the Holy One of God!” It is very obvious from the wording that this is the unclean spirit speaking through the man.
Jesus responds, “Be quiet, and come out of him.” Again, Jesus requires silence from the demon.
The second incident, in Mark 5:1 – 20, is the story of the man called “Legion” because he had so many demons living in him. When Jesus commands the demons to come out of the man he cries out: “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” [7] On this occasion Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs, about 2,000 of them and they “rushed down the steep bank into the sea…and they were drowned….” [13]
Now what was it about these verses that captured my thinking? It was the simple fact that on each occasion the demons couldn’t help themselves. They simply had to proclaim Who Jesus was. I must admit that I used a bit of trickery to get your attention with the title of this article. Calling it Devil Worship is actually a misnomer for I do not believe these demons were actually worshipping the Lord Jesus.
Here’s the challenge to my heart. If demons, the recognized enemies of our Lord, can’t help but proclaim Who He is, why do I, a beneficiary of his grace keep quiet so often? When I have been loved by Him with an everlasting love [Jer 31:3], when I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb [1 Pet 1:18-19], when He has borne my sins in His own body on the cross [1 Pet 2:24], when He has given me His free gift of eternal life [Rom 6:23], why, oh why, is my tongue so silent?
Worship. The demons believe and tremble. Do we believe and worship? They fell from heaven because of a failure to worship. Do we, the citizens of heaven [Ph 3:20] do what all good citizens of heaven do? Do we worship God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Oh, Father, help us to be bolder than demons for “greater is He that is in us, than he who is in the world [1 John 4:4].”