Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taking a Closer Look - John 1:12-13

This is Part 2 of a series where I'm taking a look at biblical passages that have direct bearing on the issues of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility as they relate to salvation.

Several months ago I discussed John 1:12-13. I've expanded on that post here.

First, here is John 1:12-13 in a few different bible versions:

NKJV, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

KJV, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

ESV, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

NASB, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

NIV, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God -- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."

NLT, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan-- this rebirth comes from God."

YLT, "but as many as did receive him to them he gave authority to become sons of God -- to those believing in his name, who -- not of blood nor of a will of flesh, nor of a will of man but -- of God were begotten."

As always, context is important to this passage. John 1:1-18 is the opening prologue to John's account of the gospel. In these 18 verses, we are told many amazing things about the Word - Jesus. I encourage you to read this passage by clicking here.

In the verses immediately preceding 1:12-13, we are told that Jesus' own did not receive Him. This is referring to Jesus' rejection by the vast majority of His Jewish brethren. The wording says that they, "did not receive Him."

In verse 12, we are told something wonderful. Verse 12 tells us that anyone who receives God by believing in His name has the right to become a child of God. What an amazing right this is! To become a child of God is the best adoption any of us could imagine.

Verse 13 tells how this comes about. We are told how it is that a person comes to receive Christ. We read that anyone who receives God has been spiritually born because it was the will of God for this to happen. Take note of the fact that John makes it explicit that this did not happen because of the will of man. It is because of God's will that anyone is born spiritually.

What is going on here? The ordering of what is happening is the key. First, God wills that a person be born spiritually ("born again"). Second, a person who has been spiritually born receives God by believing in his name. Third, that person has the right to become a child of God.

It is clear based on this passage that God initiates salvation (being born spiritually) by His sovereign will. Again, John states that this is according to the will of God, not of man. When a person is born spiritually, he is then able to respond in faith (believing in God). When a person responds to God in faith, he is saved (becoming a child of God).

John 1:12-13 refers to God's election of some people to become His children. This passage indicates that this is based not upon foreseen merit (belief) in His followers, but rather is based upon His will.

This passage, then, is supportive of God's sovereign hand in salvation. It is also important to note that this passage speaks of people "receiving" Christ. This makes it clear that man is involved somehow in this process - it is not robotic. Therefore, faith is important.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Embracing the "Great Commission Resurgence"

There is a growing desire within many in the SBC for a resurgence of Great Commission zeal and practice within our churches. Count me in as one of those.

I am very happy that this effort is picking up steam. In fact, a Great Commission Resurgence website has just recently been launched. This website describes in detail what this effort is all about.

The GCR has put forth a declaration which has many positive statements in it. If embraced by our churches, this statement could have great impact.

A few of the highlights from the declaration include:

"Jesus Christ must be our passion and priority and we should aspire to both know Him and love Him more fully."

"Gospel-centered living will help ensure that the bloody cross of a crucified King is the offense to non-believers rather than our styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes."

"We must be willing to alter our practices to better accord with a robust Baptist identity, including in many churches a more responsible baptismal policy, a recovery a redemptive church discipline, a healthier balance between pastoral leadership and congregational authority, and a commitment to an every-member ministry."

"We must be willing to alter our practices to better accord with a robust Baptist identity, including in many churches a more responsible baptismal policy, a recovery a redemptive church discipline, a healthier balance between pastoral leadership and congregational authority, and a commitment to an every-member ministry."

"We must take steps toward simplifying our denominational structures in an effort to streamline our structure, clarify our institutional identity, and maximize our resources for Great Commission priorities. We should ask hard questions about every aspect of our Convention structure and priorities and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we pursue wise answers to those questions."

"We believe that distinctively Christian families are characterized by a deep love of Jesus Christ above all things and a desire to honor God as a family. We believe that Biblical truth is loved, taught, and lived out in healthy Christian homes. We believe that godly families cast a vision for spiritual greatness and equip every member, including children, to live for God’s glory and pursue great things for His name’s sake."

I strongly agree with these statements. My hope is that this effort will bear fruit within the SBC and beyond. However, it will do nothing if the people in our churches do not rally around it. Let's pray that God will use this effort to stir up the passion of our people to live as Christ lived, to love and serve others, and to proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Georgia Population Density

If you like maps, these two may be interesting to you. They illustrate, respectively, population density in the state of Georgia and in the world. In case you are wondering, Savannah is represented by the small bright area along the upper Georgia coast line. The massive bright blob is Atlanta. To find more maps like this, go here.

2008 Presidential Election Results by County

(Click directly on the map to see a larger image.)

I like maps and charts. They help me understand numerical information better than if I just see a group of numbers on a page.

The above map is interesting because it shows the breakdown of how the voting went in the 2008 presidential election. This map focuses upon how individual counties voted.

The electoral college results suggested a large victory for eventual president Obama. In the end, Obama won 365 to 173 in the electoral college.

The above map, however, indicates that much of the country, at least in land area, is not too keen on the current president.

Several things of interest come to mind based on the above county results:

The majority of the country (land, not population) voted for McCain.

A few states (for example Virginia and Indiana) are largely red, but went to Obama.

This clearly remains a divided country: the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Pacific coast, along with most urban areas, voted Democratic. The South and Great Plains voted Republican.

New England is almost completely Democratic.

It is fascinating to see a country so divided along very different ideological lines. How long can we remain together as a country as this divide seems to widen? I suppose we'll all find out in the years ahead whether we want to or not.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Celebrate God, Not Earth

Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Psalm 19:1-2, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge."

Isaiah 45:7, "I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things."

John 1:1-3, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."

Acts 17:24, "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands."

Romans 1:18-20, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."

Colossians 1:15-16, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him."

1 Peter 4:19, "Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator."

Revelation 4:11, "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created."

Revelation 10:5-6, "The angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised up his hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be delay no longer."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Lake of Fire Helps Us Keep the Right Perspective

It is easy to slip into the trap of thinking we deserve better than our current situation. I fall prey to this sinful temptation much more frequently than I would like to admit. When we begin to think this way, we then complain and gripe about other people, get angry about our circumstances, etc. We may even get upset with God.

I have recently begun to say 3 little words to myself when I begin to think I deserve better: Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is what I deserve. The Lake of Fire is what you deserve. Since we have all rebelled against God by sinning, we all rightfully deserve to be tossed headlong into the lake which never stops burning.

The bible mentions the Lake of Fire in a few different places toward the end of the book of Revelation:

Revelation 19:20, "Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone."

Revelation 20:10, "The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."

Revelation 20:14-15, "Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire."

Regardless of whether or not the "fire" in the Lake of Fire is literal or symbolic, it is clear that this will be a place of unending torment, at least at a spiritual level. This is what we deserve - forever and ever.

However, God in his great grace and mercy has seen to save some of us from the horrors of the Lake of Fire. He saves those whose names have been written in the Book of Life before the world began.

Revelation 13:8, "All who dwell on the earth will worship him (the Anti-Christ), whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

When I remember that I deserve nothing better right now than an express ticket to the Lake of Fire, it helps me keep the right perspective. It helps me to keep from complaining and/or getting angry about my circumstances. It helps me remember my rightful place in God's creation.

Dwell on the Lake of Fire. It is a good reality check.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hanging Shoes and Giving Bibles

I have always been annoyed by what you see in the above photo. I have to say that I dislike seeing shoes hanging from telephone wires. It looks ugly and seems impossible to to do anything about. I recently learned that hanging shoes have (at least in Savannah) a more ominous meaning. I've been told that dangling shoes are a sign that the area is a center of illegal drug activity.

The area around where our church meets has many hanging shoes. In fact, I see more all the time.

No matter how many police cars patrol the streets, the drug activity will remain. No matter how many young men are put in jail, the illegal activity will continue.

What will change this type of activity is the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we know, God designed the gospel to flow from one person to another in conversation. This gospel message is contained in a great book - the bible.

This is why I am excited about what happened today. A few of us from the church walked around the church neighborhood and talked with folks. We gave out bibles and shared the gospel. On the surface, nothing earth-shattering happened. No one accepted Christ through streaming tears. However, many bibles were given out.

The bible itself speaks to the power of God's word. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

The bible has great impact. Our hope is that the bibles we gave out today will, through the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, make a difference in more than a few lives.

It was great to get to know a few more people. It was great to share the gospel and see it comprehended (for the first time for some of the people we talked to). It was great to see bibles placed into spiritually needy hands.

I hope to see fewer shoes hanging around the area - not because of increased police presence, but because of hearts radically changed by Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Complaining, Sin, and the Sovereignty of God

We live in a society that complains about everything. We live in an era that is the most advanced technologically in history, yet we complain. We have machines to do nearly anything for us, but we gripe and gripe and gripe.

I understand why non-Christians complain. Because they do not know God, they are concerned primarily with themselves. When focus is on self, that person will complain.

But why do Christians complain? We have been told very clearly not to complain. In Philippians 4:14, Paul writes, "Do all things without complaining and disputing." This passage follows immediately after the great Christ Hymn of 2:5-11. In light of the context, we ought to be serving rather than complaining.

I believe there are at least two reasons why Christians (including me) complain:

First, we do not really grasp the depth of our sin. If we truly thought biblically about the holiness of God and the utter rebellion that our sin is, we would also see that we deserve absolutely nothing good in this life. John tells us that sin is lawlessness. What we do deserve is an express ticket to the Lake of Fire.

Second, we do not really believe that God is sovereign. I must admit that I give lip-service to God's sovereignty, but I'm not consistent in acting like I believe it is true. If God is sovereign, then this means that He controls all my circumstances. Since that is the case, I have nothing to complain about.

We complain because our focus is inward instead of Godward. We would do much better by focusing on meeting the needs of others instead of thinking about what would make our lives easier.

Who Believes in Global Warming?

The Pew Research Center recently published this data about various religious groups and their overall attitudes toward the issue of global warming. The below graphic clearly shows that white, evangelical protestants are least likely to believe that there is evidence for global warming. I wonder why this is. Do we not believe it because of biblical convictions, because of a distrust in science, because of a distrust of things secular, or some combination of the above? What do you think?

Monday, April 13, 2009

American Christians and Their Mixed-up Beliefs

A recent survey by the Barna Group indicates, more than anything else, that American Christians as a whole have wide-ranging beliefs when it comes to theology. These varieties of belief cover some of the most important doctrines of the faith including Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and sin.

It is amazing to me that self-described Christians can differ so much in beliefs when we have a source to look to: the bible. Keep in mind that I'm not talking about secondary issues such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, or eschatology. This Barna survey deals with core issues of the faith.

To read the interesting survey results, click here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What did Jesus' Followers do on Saturday?

Mark 16:1, "When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him."

Luke 23:56, "Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment."

I'm impressed by the obedience of Jesus' followers. They followed the Sabbath regulations prior to going out to the tomb. Despite their despair, they kept the commandment.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pierced for Our Transgressions

(Click on the diagram for a larger view.)

Isaiah 53:4-6 (NASB):

4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
and our sorrows He carried;
yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
and by His scourging we are healed.

6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
to fall on Him.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thank You, Jesus, for Washing My Feet

John 13:1-17 is the very familiar passage where Jesus washes the disciples' feet. I continue to be amazed that Jesus did this. After all, He is God. He certainly had no duty to do it. By all rights, the disciples should have been washing His feet.

Although I obviously was not at the last supper, I can't help but think that Jesus washed my feet, too. He did it by dying on the cross for me. He also did it by leaving me an example.

His example reminds us that the Christian life is much more than believing the correct facts in our heads. Living for Christ is living like Christ. If He got his hands dirty, then we should do the same. If He served others who were worth far less than He, why shouldn't we serve others (who all have the same value as we do)?

I wonder if I get dirty enough for Christ? No, I don't.

Thank you, Jesus, for washing my feet.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic

The Nicene Creed describes the church as, "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." What does this mean, and how does thinking along these lines affect the church today? These are issues raised and answered by Richard Phillips, Philip Ryken, and Mark Dever.

I appreciate this text because the authors strive to be biblical. Additionally, they write with an eye on the history of the church instead of operating only in "the now." As a bonus, all three authors are genuinely good writers. They keep the discussion interesting and relatively easy to read.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the church. Order it here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Yet Another Good Reason to Read a Book

Dr. Albert Mohler reports on a study that discusses the health benefits of reading. According to Mohler, "Researchers at the University of Sussex have determined that the very best way to relieve stress, both physical and mental, is to read a book." Click here to read more about it.

Total Depravity? It's in the Bible

Sunsets, Sunrises, and Joy

Click here to read an excellent and short post by John Piper on the joy that comes from gazing at a sunrise or sunset. Sadly, atheists miss out on this great joy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Evangelical Protestant" Atheists?

The Pew Forum recently posted the above chart. The above information indicates that 5% of Americans do not believe in God or any universal spirit. Of this 5% of the overall population, the chart shows how they identify themselves.

It is interesting that only 39% identify themselves as atheistic or agnostic. Those folks at least seem to be honest about it.

It appears to me that the 35% who label themselves as "Nothing in Particular" just want the whole issue to go away.

What I really do not understand is those who refer to themselves as "Christian," but who do not believe in God. In particular, what is with the 2% who refer to themselves as "Evangelical Protestant"? If an Evangelical does not believe in God, then what does he believe in?

My only guess about the reason for "Evangelical Protestant" Atheists is that these folks are referring to their heritage as opposed to what they believe. Maybe they were raised in an Evangelical home, but have since rejected the existence of God. They possibly don't want to take the full step of embracing atheism or agnosticism (the only honest thing to do), and instead want to remain in the middle.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Twitter Church?

Yesterday I wrote a silly post over at TBNN entitled, "Twitter Church." The idea behind the post was that a man in California had planted a church that only met on Twitter. They never actually saw each other, but constantly updated each other on Twitter.

That post got me wondering about much that happens in our churches today. When we gather, how much time are we able to actually spend together, getting to really know one another? Are we able to get into meaningful, in-depth conversations with our church family? Do we know the problems, difficulties, and struggles our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing?

As most churches gather, the majority of the time is spent listening to someone preach or teach, singing songs, discussing bible passages, praying, and reading scripture. These are all good things.

However, if this is all we do, then we are not really sharing lives with one another. When we gather, if our conversations are just short, fractured statements about how our week was, then we are not getting to know each other at any kind of deep level. In fact, if this is the case, then we aren't really that different from Twitter.

My hope is that as we gather as local bodies we will actually spend time together. This can certainly happen on Sunday, but it can also happen on any other day of the week. When we sit down for coffee at a shop somewhere, we will probably have a longer, more meaningful conversation than we can possibly have on Sunday.

As Christians we need a balance. We need to spend time in preaching, reading scripture, singing psalms, and praying. We also need to build each other up through real conversation.

Let's not be Twitter churches. Let's do far more than give quick updates of our current status.

(And no Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, or Wordpress churches either.)