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Coffee Talk

 

Did you know that I love questions? And since questions go well with coffee I decided to drink a very nice Guatemalan coffee (that I roasted a couple of days ago), as I write.  I hope this also helps those of you (maybe tea drinkers?) who didn’t feel free to ask some of the questions you may have had after last Sunday’s sermon. 
 
Mostly, I image that we wrestle with the idea of God telling Isaiah (or anyone) to go and preach SO THAT people won’t understand and turn to Him?  Doesn’t God want everyone to come to Him?  Why would God do this?  

These are really good questions, so grab a hot beverage of your choice, and let me share some of the answers that have helped me to better understand this.  

You may be familiar with the phrase, “But for the grace of God go I.”  People who say this, probably don’t appreciate just how true this is for them on a regular basis.  And if we do, this will help us to better understand how God hardens people.

 
It’s clear from Isaiah 6, and John’s use of it in the 12th chapter of his gospel, that God sometimes works to harden people – making their hearts dull, ears heavy, and eyes blind so that they do not understand and turn to Him for healing (Isa. 6:10).  But why?  Doesn’t He want everyone to repent and turn to Him?  So why would He intentionally work to bring about the opposite?
 
First of all, it’s good for us to acknowledge that this really is what’s being said – that God clearly communicates this in Isaiah 6, and that John specifically uses this to explain the unbelief of so many Jews who rejected Jesus and had Him crucified.  It’s important that we’re honest readers, and that we don’t make efforts to explain away the clear revelation of Scripture.  But… admitting to it doesn’t mean that we don’t also wonder, “Why would God do this?”
 
Because this answer will be brief, I imagine it may only end up creating more questions, but do not fear because… I really do love questions, and even you tea drinkers are free to write me.
 
My quick answer is that we wrongly assume that God’s purpose is simply to save people, and so when we read something like Isaiah 6, this just doesn’t fit with our preconceived ideas.  We need to recognize that God is not man-centered.  No, God is actually God-centered.  That being said, God desires to save, and He is loving and gracious, merciful and kind… and the salvation of people brings Him glory.  Over and over in Ephesians 1 we see that we (people) are blessed by God.  He has chosen to save us and love us and forgive us and bless us.  But over and over this passage tells us that the reason God does this… is not merely for us, but His greater purpose in saving us (vv. 6, 12, 14) is “to the praise of His glory.” 
 
It is not only man’s chief end to glorify God… it’s also God’s.  Why did He create the heavens?  For us to have a place to exist and enjoy?  Well, yes, but even more so, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1).  Why the exodus?  Psalm 106:7 tells us it was for “His name’s sake, that He might make known His mighty power.”  Why were the Gentiles brought into salvation?  Romans 15 says “[to] glorify God for his mercy.”
 
So if God’s purpose includes our salvation, but is PRIMARILY about bringing Himself glory, then we need to recognize that God is not only glorified in showing mercy to undeserving sinners, but He’s also glorified in condemning guilty sinners.  This is the conclusion of Paul, in Romans 9.  With all of the anticipated questions of fairness, Paul quotes Exodus 33, where God tells Moses,
 
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 
 
In other words, God is not unjust to give mercy to some and judgment to others.  God is God, and this is His choice, and He achieves His purpose of glorifying Himself with either.  God hardened Pharaoh, and in Romans 9 Paul says that His purpose in doing so was,
 
“that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
 
And if we doubt that God is glorified in both mercy and judgment… or if we think He’s more glorified through mercy, then once again Romans 9 is a good place to go for our answers.
 
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to (here’s the purpose) make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy…”
 
It’s all about God’s glory!  And God wants us to rightly see His glory and give Him praise.  So, if we are to rightly give Him praise for His mercy, then we need to understand what mercy is.  And let’s face it, if every single person received God’s forgiving grace, would we have any concept of what we truly deserve?  Could mercy even be mercy if God were obligated to give it?  But what Romans 9 tells us is that there are vessels (people) made for the purpose of destruction, and this serves to communicate not only God’s glory in His just wrath, but it also enables us to see and understand that we deserve the same.  It enables us to understand mercy and grace, and this prompts us to give Him praise.  It’s about God, not us.  And yet, that we are able to see the perfection of God in both justice and grace, is a part of God’s love.  For He alone (because of His perfection) is able to satisfy us forever, and if He were to hide this from us then He would not fully love us.
 
So getting back to Isaiah… why would God harden people?  He does so in order to glorify Himself in the display of His just condemnation.  But then, I assume you may wonder, “Is God unjust in hardening people?”  If He is the one who hardens them, then how is it right for Him to also condemn them for the very thing He made them do?
 
HOW IS GOD JUST IN HARDENING PEOPLE?
 
Another assumption people have is in the definition of “hardening.”  They assume that all people are morally neutral and that left to themselves they either choose God or choose to rebel.  This assumption denies the result of Adam’s sin, and that God’s Word tells us that (left to ourselves) no one understands… no one seeks God (Rom. 3:11).  So with the right understanding that no one is morally neutral, but all are (or were, prior to salvation) in rebellion to God, we can better understand what it means for God to harden people. 
 
The saying, “But for the grace of God go I,” is more true than people realize.  The reality is that if God were to give people over to do what they want to do, everyone would be worse than Hitler.  God giving people over to what they want is not the blessing of “free will,” it is the curse of Romans 1.  As God restrained king Abimelech from sinning against Abraham’s wife Sarah (Gen. 20), so He restrains all people from being as evil as they would otherwise be.  God’s common grace extends to people in this way, and He knows what’s in their hearts.  So, when God decides to harden someone’s heart, He does not need to (and would never) give someone the desire to sin, but He knows that if He removes His restraining hand, they will sin.  And in bringing about their sin in this way, He is just to punish them for acting upon their own evil desires.
 
I like the illustration of a racehorse in the starting gate, raring to bolt and run.  How do we “cause” the horse to run?  By giving it something it lacks?  No, by removing the restraint of the gate.  This is an example of negative causation.  The restraint is positively causing the horse to stay in the gates, and the opposite (negative) “cause” is accomplished by opening the gates.
 
When God hardens people toward Him, He is not giving them something they don’t already have (original sin).  We may not perceive the extent of our natural desires (because of God’s restraint), but if He removes that restraint, our hearts grow hard toward Him, and He is just to punish us as we freely rebel against Him.
 
God has His purposes in both the display of His just wrath, and in the display of His mercy.  We don’t deserve the mercy (grace), but we certainly deserve His just wrath.  It’s all to the praise of His glory. 
 
I hope this helps, and I hope you’ll keep the questions coming.
 
-Pastor Brian
 


A Little Family Time

What emotions come to mind if you had the thought of spending a few days, in the same house, with people in the church that you barely know?  I hope I’m not revealing too much about myself (being alone in my shame), and that you’re not offended in me saying that I would have a sense of awkward and nervous dread.

Don’t get me wrong, I love people – working with them and visiting during the day – but I also look forward to a little me-time, or family-time in the evening, where I can relax and… be myself.  And it’s not that we’re not ourselves around others, but we tend to be more of “us” around… us.

With this in mind, do you see the church as family?  God does.  In 1 Timothy 3, one of the qualifications given for elders and deacons, is that each should be able to manage his own household.  And the thought is, “If someone does not know how to manage his own household (family), how will he care for God’s church?” (3:5).  Then in verse 15, Paul uses this same word to describe the church – “…how one ought to behave in the household (family) of God…”.

Think of it!  We are brothers and sisters not simply at the end of the day, but for all eternity.  And yet… no offense, but this doesn’t sound very appealing.  And the reason it doesn’t, is sin. 

But the good news is that in eternity we won’t be burdened with sin, and we’ll perfectly love one another, and truly enjoy being together all the time.  Until then, there’s a lot of opportunity for practice, and God intends this time to be for the sake of His glory, and our joy.

Jesus tells us that people will know we belong to Him by the way we love one another (John 13:35).  The way we love as family-members (or, the household of God), is a strong witness to the world.  And this doesn’t mean there are never problems in the church, but it does mean that we deal with them in ways that stand out as unusually loving.

The world knows what family battles and divisions look like, and when they see this kind of family stuff going on in the church, they expect similar reactions and results.  But, when they see forgiveness, and people patiently bearing with one another… when they see love and encouragement, and overlooking an offense… when they see people assuming the best instead of the worst in each other, they will say, “Wow, now that’s how a family should be!  Look at how they love one another.  There’s something special going on in there.”

But this doesn’t just happen without some intentional effort and reliance upon God.  Unless we are being changed (Rom. 12:2) from worldly attitudes and responses, into brothers and sisters who think and act like Jesus… it’ll never happen.  So, the closer our relationship is to God, the closer we’ll become to one another.

I love how A. W. Tozer describes it:

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

So don’t just work at Christian unity and love, but instead work at being conformed into the image of Jesus, and you’ll grow in Christian unity and love.  And as we do, maybe we’ll look forward to some family time each Sunday… and throughout the week, as we see one another in God’s kingdom. – Pastor Brian
 


Unshakable Faith: In light of recent failures by Ravi and Max

The recent failures of Christian leaders/authors is disappointing, and maybe even causing some people’s faith to be shaken… but don’t let the failures of sinful man shake your confidence in our sinless Savior; and don’t doubt the truthfulness of His gospel coming through deceitful lips.  God is sovereign.  He has spoken through a donkey (Num 22), and He prophesied truth through Caiaphas (John 11), who plotted to kill Jesus.  So God has a way of using not only weak and sinful vessels (such as us), but He also uses those who are not even His own beloved children.

There have been several examples over the past years, but two recent ones stand out.  One, Ravi Zacharias, who was a hero to many, and used mightily of God in the area of evangelism and apologetics (defense of the Christian faith)… was so evil in his serial sexual assaults, as well as his denial and slandering of his victims… his clear lack of repentance until the day of his death, that if we have any doubt, it’s not over the truths he communicated, but over his eternal soul. 

That God would choose to use what appears to be a wolf, is a mystery, but that He can, is not.  What I take from this is that God is just; His patience is not eternal, and our sins will find us out.  So, repent while there’s still time.  God is not mocked. 

Also, God has a history of using the evil intents of man for His good purposes (Gen. 50:20).  He is gracious to all who repent and turn to Jesus in faith, but there is a heavy burden on those who teach (James 3:1; Heb. 13:17), and they will be held responsible for those they lead astray.  And oh the damage done by Ravi to the faith of many!

Another recent disappointment has to do with a popular pastor/author who ironically titled one of his many books, “The Applause of Heaven.”  Max Lucado recently spoke out of both sides of his mouth for the sake of earthly applause, as he apologized and asked the LGBTQ community for forgiveness concerning a 17-year old article he wrote, which rightly denounced homosexuality (and gay marriage) as sexual sin.  As he apologized for God’s truth, he then hedged it by inserting a quick comment to appease his Christian audience, saying that he personally holds to a traditional biblical view of marriage.  If so… why apologize for God’s truth? 

I don’t mean to put Max in the category of Ravi.  I don’t doubt his salvation, but I do doubt his priorities as his recent apology seems to come under the pressures of men, and ultimately wanting their applause over God’s.  I have no idea what kind of pressure he bears, and I’m reminded to pray for such people in the limelight, but we cannot compromise biblical truth for the sake of our sinful society’s applause.

So, thank God for the people in your life.  For the ways He uses them to minister and speak His truth.  But test all things according to His unchanging Word, pray for those in positions of responsibility, and look ultimately to our sinless Savior who enables us to receive Heaven’s applause. – Pastor Brian