Bowmanites, here’s my latest contribution to newsletter …

About a month ago, as I write this, the Lord brewed a fairly powerful storm in the eastern Pacific. An atmospheric river had taken dead aim at northern California. After a fairly xeric winter, the four inches we received were seen as a God-send and prolonged our spring. Where we live, not only did the grass receive a second wind, but I noticed some mushroom sprouting around the place. I was surprised to see them this late in the year, but didn’t give them a second thought.

This last Saturday, Hannah dropped by to talk AWANA stuff with Debbie. The final club meeting needed to be discussed so that the dear children might end the year with a bang. After the AWANA conversation, we walked Hannah out to her car that morning as she left to return to her home. Violet, our mutt dog, bored with our conversation sorted through dry leaves looking for whatever she could find. It seems that she found an old mushroom carcass. I think we yelled at her to drop it, and didn’t think much more about it. 

Violet has always had a voracious appetite. She was a foodie. Eating was most important. She was also my dog. We had a connection. More than this, she was always was exuberant when family and friends would drop by. I have one of those Radio Collars. You know, the kind where you dial in the circumference of a circle, and if the dog crosses the line, the dog gets a low voltage jolt sending the critter back to the house. This kept her in the yard. When we moved here from Willow Creek, I bought collar for our then dog, Baxter. I had nightmares of having to tell our children that their beloved dog got whacked on Bowman. With her collar, Violet never could get to the mailman. When we’d go on walks, I’d swap collars so she wouldn’t get the jolt. She loved that particular collar and going on walks. 

Today, I put her favorite collar on her. Not because we were going on a walk, but because yesterday after Debbie and I returned from an outing we found Violet listless. She had eaten her morning rations but wasn’t interested in the evening’s dole. This was unheard of with Vi. I called the vet at 7:30 this morning. The earliest appointment I could get was 2:10. At our appointment, the Vet looked her over and recommended that we do blood work. After more than an hour the Vet returned saying that Violet was very ill. Long story short, by the time the evening was done, we brought Violet home one last time, this time in a box. It seems that the mushroom Violet had sampled a few days before was deadly (there are three deadly mushrooms in northern California).

I know there are FAR, FAR worse things than losing a stinky mutt. But still, I really liked our mutt. I know that because God works everything according to the counsel of his will, Violet’s death wasn’t merely an accident. I need to do more thinking about the issue, but right now in this very raw moment, two thoughts console me. First, the storm that dumped all the rain and ultimately sprung a mushroom from the newly watered earth was from God’s hand. We can rest in the truth that EVERYTHING, is from his loving hand. The Lord gives and takes away.

Second, the Lord was gracious in Violet’s passing. She was on my lap as the Doc administered the toxic cocktail that caused life to drain out of her. As painful as it was, the promises of God sustained. Knowing the heart of my Heavenly Father, I knew my pain would ultimately work for my good. Ps 56:8-9 says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle …This I know, that God is for me.” This is the best of all truth; God knows our pain, and he is for us. I’ve been reminded of the wonderful gifts that God gives us in this broken life, even if they are temporary (and they all are). For the believer, everything is about love. Love moves us to love him, and want to draw close. I don’t want anyone to be sad or feel sorry for me; everyone I know can tell the same story in one form or another. I want us to see that we have a loving heavenly Father who gives just what we need, good and bad, so that we’ll thrive spiritually. Again, it doesn’t get any better than this. It really doesn’t.

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Second Class Love

April 28, 2018

Bowmanites, here’s my contribution to the current newsletter …

Our hope of salvation stems from the truth that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Believers have heard the “not guilty” verdict of Judgment Day. This is precious truth to us. We cling to this promise. It gives us hope in spite of our ongoing propensity to sin.

As important as the truth of justification by grace through faith is, it isn’t the essence of the Christian life. Justification opens the door to relationship with God. The separation between God and believers has been removed. The Christian life is about relationship with God.

We might be tempted to think that this relationship with God is primarily about obeying the law of God. And, obviously, a Christian will be passionate about obedience. Yet, obedience isn’t the essence of the Christian life. We obey because we realize that disobedience is like carrying fire next to one’s chest (Pr 6:27). It is antithetical to life. Believers realize that there is never an upside to sin. 

If we see that the Christian life is primarily about obedience, we are missing the warp and woof, the very essence, of the Christian life. The Christian life is relationship with God. We know God. Paul writes in Gal. 4:8-9, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God …” At one time believers did not know God. No one is born in relationship with God. We come to know him as we hear the gospel and God raises us from the dead, (1Pe. 1:23, Ja. 1:18) so that now we know God.

What does relationship with God look like? What does relationship with your dear spouse, your children, and your friends look like? Love. You would literally and/or figuratively give your life so that these dear ones might thrive. What does relationship with God look like? Love. Mk. 12:29-30 says, “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ ‘ ” Here Jesus is quoting from the book of Deuteronomy. This to say that the idea of loving God is an oft repeated command in Scripture. And, it is most important.

So, while believers emphasize justification by faith, this is simply the door that gets us into the throne room of God. Once in the door the real fun begins. We have loving relationship with the most beautiful, glorious, wise, powerful, holy, pure, loving being there is. Some of you might be thinking “amen” as you read this, but there is a hesitation in your spirit. It is because you know yourself, and what lurks in your spirit isn’t unrestrained, exuberant love for God. Rather, you track with the Laodiceans in that you detect lukewarmness in the deep recesses of your soul.

I believe there are only two places in scripture where people in essence say, “I love you, Lord” (Ps. 18:1; 116:1). I know of one high-end Hebrew scholar who believes that these lines are mistranslated. Even if he were wrong, very few people in the Bible have the guts to say, “I love you, Lord.” You probably remember the dialogue Jesus had with Peter in John 21 after his denials. Jesus asked Peter if he loved (agapao) him. Jesus used the Greek word agapao, a word used to describe divine love. Peter knowing his “lukewarmness” said that he did phileo Jesus. Phileo speaks more of a family love, not a divine love. Peter peered into his cold soul, and knew he couldn’t use the word agapao. Jesus used the word agapao two times, and both times Peter responded with the word phileo. Finally, the third time Jesus used the word phileo too. Again Peter said he did phileo Jesus. Then Jesus told Peter about his death. I think this knowledge about his death would have been an encouragement to Peter. He knew he would follow Jesus to the end of his life, and die a martyr’s death thus affirming his salvation. Agapao was the goal but Phileo was enough.

The essence of the Christian life is a loving relationship with God. Yet, we don’t do this well. Knowing the deadliness of lukewarmness, we beg God for more love for him. Even this lukewarmness is forgiven. Blessedly, we’re not saved by our love for God, but rather by his love for us. This unrequited love for us moves us to love him more deeply. We love because he first loved us.

Accepting Christ

April 18, 2018

I ran across this quote from Tozer. It somewhat relates to my previous posts.

The formula “Accept Christ” has become a panacea of universal application, and I believe it has been fatal to many ….

The trouble is that the whole “Accept Christ” attitude is likely to be wrong. It shows Christ [appealing] to us rather than us to Him. It makes Him stand hat-in-hand awaiting our verdict on Him, instead of our kneeling with troubled hearts awaiting His verdict on us. It may even permit us to accept Christ by an impulse of mind or emotions, painlessly, at no loss to our ego and no inconvenience to our usual way of life.

For this ineffectual manner of dealing with a vital matter we might imagine some parallels; as if, for instance, Israel in Egypt had “accepted” the blood of the Passover but continued to live in bondage, or the prodigal son had “accepted” his father’s forgiveness and stayed on among the swine in a far country. Is it not plain that if accepting Christ is to mean anything there must be moral action that accords with it?

We’re saved as we know the truth, as we assent to the truth, and as we trust Jesus for salvation. This trust will radically change the trajectory of our lives.

Altar Calls, Pt. 2

April 17, 2018

This isn’t about altar calls per se. As I’ve said, I believe altar calls can do more harm than good. I say this because one might be tempted to think that because one raised a hand or walked an aisle, one has salvation. Similarly, I don’t even like a model prayer at the end of an evangelistic tract. The issue is trust. Is one actually trusting God for salvation? We can know the truth concerning Jesus’ cross work and not have salvation. One can even believe that Jesus did die and rise from the dead and not be saved. Knowledge isn’t enough; believing that something is true isn’t enough. The issue, again, is trust. Am I relying on the work of Christ, and not my own works for salvation? Of course, saving trust changes a life. If we trust Jesus for salvation then we will turn from the sin that eternally damns our souls and take up our cross and follow Jesus.

I’ve flown with good friend, Scott, and son-in-law, Jake. Even though both of them have piloted many times, they both worked through a card of preflight checks. I assume that this is mandated protocol. Being a ride along, I appreciate this procedure. No one wants to discover a problem several thousand feet in the air. As important as physical safety is, spiritual safety is more important. The reason is obvious. Eternity is a long time. My point is clear: we need to be exceedingly careful in affirming the salvation of another.

Again, salvation is indicated by life changing trust. Several years ago Debbie and I bought a home. Given that we believed a move down the street would be advantageous, we packed up our stuff and moved into a different house. If we believe that Jesus brings life, then our lives will be radically different. We’ll take up our cross and follow Jesus for the rest of our lives. The sign that we savingly trust Jesus for salvation isn’t that we respond to an altar call or pray the “Sinners Prayer,” rather, it is that we move in a different direction and follow Jesus.

Now in Jesus’ wounds reposing,

I my tired eyes am closing.

For His love and pardoning grace

Are my only resting place.

Through the day His mercy holds me,

And by night His arm enfolds me.

Of Thy strong protection sure,

Jesus, I shall rest secure.

 

Tr. H. Brueckner, 1916

Altar Calls

April 13, 2018

The elders of Bowman have discussed altar calls in the past. We’ve had some interesting conversations. My view is that they do more harm than good. It is relatively easy to raise a hand, walk down an aisle or look up at the pastor than it is to repent and believe. The sign that we’re believers is that we’re baptized and we persevere. Here Mark Dever briefly weighs in on the issue.

 

The following is a thought first found in Ambrose and then later in Calvin. It is something I’ve never put together before.

You, no doubt, are familiar with the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing in Genesis 27. The blessing of the firstborn became Jacob’s because he duped his dad into believing that he was Esau. He was able to do this because he wore Esau’s garments. Genesis 27:27 says, “So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!‘” Similarly, we receive the blessings of the elder (he was a Son first) brother as we wear his righteous clothes. The Father smells the Son on us and gives us the blessing he deserves.

As Jacob in no way deserved Esau’s blessings, so we in no way deserve the blessings of Christ. But, those blessings are ours!