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Friday, December 22, 2017

Pray always and don't lose heart!

1And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.' 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'" 6 And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:1-8)

As we have been focusing on the subject and practice of prayer at Providence for the last several months, it’s possible that some of us have grown in this discipline and joy in ways that we never have before.  I’ve certainly been encouraged to hear your stories of growth and encouragement as you’ve been challenged in your prayer life.

But one great impediment to continuing in prayer is the thought that prayer is not effective.  Most often, the reason we begin to believe that prayer is not effective is that we pray a short season, do not see a quick answer, and then conclude that God has said, “no” or that prayer simply does not work.  In light of that danger, let’s be reminded of the Lord’s teaching regarding persistent prayer in Luke 18:1-8.

I love it when the Bible tells us the point of a passage right up front.  That’s what Luke does for us in 18:1.  “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  It would take a world-class blunder to misinterpret this parable after reading that verse.  The point of the parable is that we should pray persistently, constantly, and not give up.  But we might ask, what in the parable should lead us to that conviction?

The whole thing compares and contrasts a wicked judge to our good God.  This bad judge gave justice out of exasperation because of the persistence of the widow.  If even a bad judge will answer a persistent request, how much more will God do so, who loves us (18:6-7)?  Jesus affirms, “He will give justice to them speedily” (18:8)  We can pray always and without losing heart because we know the character of our God – He is good and desires to hear our prayers and take care of us.

But v8 may be where some of us check out in our prayers.  We see the word “speedily” and conclude that something is wrong with our prayer or something is wrong with God or we just stop praying without thinking deeply about any of it.  But consider that what may be “speedily” to you is not “speedily” to God.  Consider also that God has an impeccable sense of timing (Rom 5:6; Gal 4:4).  He never does things to soon or too late.  He’s always right on time.  And Luke seems to anticipate that our tendency is to think that God is not answering “speedily” enough.  After all, what was the main point?  It was that we should always pray and not lose heart.  “Not lose heart” implies that there will be times when God does not answer as soon as we would like.    Perhaps we should leave Him with the job of interpreting and applying the word “speedily,” and take it as our responsibility – and joy – to take the main point and run with it by always praying and not losing heart.

What great petition have you been bringing before the Lord recently that has yet to be answered?  Are you tempted to give up?  Don’t do it!  Pray always and don’t lose heart.  A delayed answer should not be considered an automatic, “no.”  For those who belong to Christ, a delayed answer can only mean two things, “not yet” or “I have something better” (Rom 8:28-30).  The One who hears us is not deaf or paralyzed.  He’s wise and loving and all-powerful.  He’ll act at the right time and in the best way.  So persist in prayer, family.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How can I be assured of my salvation?

The New Testament is filled with admonitions to exert effort in our pursuit of salvation: run the race (Heb 12:1), fight the fight (1 Tim 6:12), make every effort (2 Pet 1:5).  It also promises rewards for persevering in the faith (1Cor 3:12-14; Heb 10:32-39) and provides warnings against failing to do so (Heb 4:1, 12:15; Rom 11:20).  Many believers struggle with how to understand these things in the context of a by-grace-through-faith salvation for which we are being kept by the power of God (Eph 2:8-9; 1 Pet 1:5).

Common questions regarding perseverance and assurance that we struggle with include:

Do the reward passages of the NT indicate that I earn favor with God?
Do the warning passages of the NT indicate that I can lose my salvation?
Is it possible to possess stalwart assurance of salvation? 
Is there really such a thing as “once saved, always saved”?
What is the best way to understand the relationship between faith and works?

Our Bible conference in 2018 will address the twin issues of perseverance and assurance.  Our guest speaker will be Dr. Thomas Schreiner, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Dr. Schreiner has written extensively on the questions above and is an obvious choice to help us understand these things.  Additionally, he is a pastor, which means that he comes at these questions from the perspective of a shepherd, providing very practical, understandable answers.  (Below is a short video of Dr. Schreiner answering one such question.) 

The conference will be held at Providence Bible Fellowship Saturday and Sunday, February 10-11, 2018.  The Saturday sessions will begin at 3pm.  Please mark your calendars.  Childcare will be provided for PBF members and regular attenders.  Please register here so that we know how many to expect.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Self-Destruction of the "Man is Basically Good" Narrative

What is there to say about the avalanche of daily reports of sexual harassment/assault coming out of the entertainment and political world?  We’re seeing the collapse of the “man is basically good” narrative.

Consider that the general consensus in the non-Christian world is that man in his natural state is benevolent.  Left to himself, untainted by evil influences, he will be committed to the good of others.  It takes outside forces to make a person evil. 

Then consider how different that notion is from the Bible’s statement on man’s natural condition.  Genesis 6:5 tells us that every intention of the thoughts of the heart of man are only evil continually.  In other words, man is not basically good.  He’s basically rotten, eaten up with evil from the inside.  Man is naturally motivated by sinful self-interest.  His heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer 17:9).  Additionally, the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, delightfully following him (1 John 5:19; Eph 2:2).

Prior to a few months ago, in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and press rooms across the country, it was easy to explain away the few sexual predators around as aberrations.  But now, with additional stories coming out every day about another actor or reporter or government official who has crossed sexual lines in varying degrees, that narrative is much harder to maintain.  Perhaps some of them would say we have an epidemic on our hands.  “There are many more people infected than we thought, but it’s still a minority.  That being said, we’ve got to do something serious to deal with this huge problem.” 

But is it just a minority?  Think about the many people within the entertainment industry who have testified to the news media and on social media regarding Harvey Weinstein that “this was common knowledge.”  If you believe what you read and see and hear, no one was shocked by this.  What might that tell us?  There is an entire industry there motivated by sinful self-interest.  Everybody knew that women were being harassed and assaulted but nobody said anything.  Why?  It would hurt their careers. 

The same could be said of some of the cases in the news industry or the political world.  Powerful people were known to be exploiting others, but no one said anything because of the fallout they themselves would receive.  You see, depravity is not only behind the sexual sin but also behind the silence of those who knew about it but did nothing to protect the weak. 

“Man is basically good” is a myth.  Man is an opportunist for self.  When he gains power over another, he will abuse it for his own gain.  When others are victimized, if getting involved will have negative personal consequences, he stands down. 

Those of us who are believers are right to be disturbed by what we’re seeing, but we ought not be surprised.  We know the biblical worldview.  We know that man is deceitfully wicked and that his only hope is faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ, who makes all things new (2 Cor 5:17).  We have seen the evidence of depravity in our own hearts.  We ourselves were dead in our trespasses and sins, living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (Eph 2:1-3).  The only difference between us and those in the news is that by God’s sovereign grace, we heard the gospel and were drawn by His loving hand to believe (Eph 2:8-9).    

At the same time, we should rejoice that evil is being exposed and in some cases justice is being done (Micah 6:8).  We should also rejoice that each of these stories vindicate the Christian worldview.  That shouldn't lead us into any kind of smug victory lap, but out of concern for the lost, we should use it as a tool to share the gospel.  It’s a very natural thing to take a conversation about the latest scandal and turn it toward the sinful condition of man and his need for a Savior. 

Man's self-deception about his own nature cannot hold up in God's world.  When it is exposed, we should see it in biblical terms, thank God for the gospel and its effect in our lives, and begin to share that gospel with anyone willing to talk about it.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Does Satan still ask permission to attack?

Do you think Satan still asks for permission to wage spiritual war on saints? If so, can we know when we're under attack?

This is a question submitted to the Truth & Circumstances podcast, but as it is more of a straightforward theological question, I’ll tackle it here.  It also goes well with what we discussed in our prayer meeting last night.

Does Satan still ask for permission?  This question rightly assumes that at least at some point, the devil had to ask permission to carry out His activities.  There are a couple of biblical references we tend to think about in this regard.  First, there is the opening narrative of Job, where the Lord gives Satan broad latitude to attack his servant (Job 1:9-12; 2:1-6).  It’s clear there that Satan couldn’t go beyond the boundaries given to him by God.  Second, there is the conversation on the night of the Lord’s arrest, when the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” (Luke 22:31).  This indicates two things: (1) Satan is disrespectful; but (2) he can’t just do whatever he wants.

So does Satan still ask permission to wage war against the people of God?  I can find no biblical reason why this would have changed.  God’s character has not changed.  He’s still sovereign over all.  There is no indication in Scripture that the Lord has given a blanket permission to the devil to do anything he wants.  There is also no reason to think that God has taken away the devil’s ability to wage war.  To the contrary, the New Testament is filled with warnings about this enemy and his desire to work us over.

1 Peter 5:8 reads, Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Ephesians 6:10-18 is a long passage dedicated to the reality of our warfare against evil spiritual forces and the resources given to us to wage this war.  In that passage, Paul warns about “the schemes of the devil” and “the flaming darts of the evil one.”   It must be the case that the devil is still under the sovereign control of God, and that God allows him to work when that work will accomplish God's ultimate ends.  At the same time, the devil is a dangerous foe whom we should take seriously. 

Can we know when we’re under attack?  The devil is no moron.  He disguises himself as an angel of light (2Cor 11:14).  Deception is his wheelhouse (Gen 3:1-6; 2 Cor 11:3).  He likely is not going to put out a billboard, making it obvious how he’s going after us.  He will be subtle.  But there are some indications in the NT about how he works and we can regard these things as warning signs:

When you’re your devotion to the Lord is growing cold (2 Cor 11:3). 
When you are being bombarded with temptation (1 Chron 21:1; Matt 4:1-10; Acts 5:3; 1Cor7:5; 1Tim 5:13-16). 
When your gospel work is being hindered (Mark 8:33; 1Th 2:18). 
When you are struggling with ungodly anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness (2 Cor 2:11; Eph 4:26-27). 
When we are experiencing relentless thoughts of accusation (Zec 3:1; Rev 12:10). 
When we entertain blasphemous thoughts (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). 

These would be the more overt signs that he is involved, but again, he is subtle.  We know from the Scriptures that he is something like a field marshal, orchestrating attacks coordinated with our other two enemies, the world and our own flesh (Eph 2:1-3).  It would be hard to imagine the world and the flesh working against us in ways where the evil one is not involved at all. 

We are not called to flee from the evil one, but to resist him (James 4:7; Eph 6:10-11).  As we discussed last night, we have two major offensive weapons in this fight: the sword of the Spirit and prayer (Eph 6:17-20).  We can wield the first as Jesus and David did – memorizing it and using it in times of temptation (Matt 4:1-10; Psa 119:11).  We can wield the second by praying against the enemy and his devices as he attacks the church and tries to prevent the spread of the gospel (Eph 6:18-20).  Or we can combine the two, by praying offensively – praying the imprecatory psalms against the evil one, psalms like 3, 35, and 83. 

Here is some wonderful news: when we resist in the ways prescribed in the NT, by resisting the devil, he flees.  He flees not because he is afraid of us, but because we stand in the power of the risen Christ who defeated him.