Monday, November 15, 2010

MAGYC Part I: GOD is Not a Barbie Doll! (Understanding Attributes)

This is the second post for the series of MAGYC (Meditations on the Attributes of GOD for Young Christians). Last time we talked about the importance of knowing GOD. Now we will start to talk about God's attributes as the primary concepts to know GOD.

This photo was taken from this url.
"For Me, In my opinion, I think..."

We, the youth, love these expressions. We love to share what we think of certain things. We love giving our opinions, sometimes to the point that we already think there's no such thing as right or wrong or true or false, that it's just a matter of opinion! But that idea is foolish. It's even self-contradicting. If you said that there is no such thing as correct, then, you must believe that even what you said is not correct. If you believe that all our statements are right and my statement says "Your statement is wrong.", is my statement still right? C'mon!

We must believe that absolute truths (that is, unalterable and permanent facts) exist. Triangles always have three sides, 1 + 1 is always equal to 2, etc.

This is also true with GOD. There are ideas about GOD which are either true or not, no matter what your opinion is. GOD is not a barbie doll which we can dress the way we want, act the way we want and look like the way we want. There are things about GOD that will remain true, even if we don't like it. 

And one of the primary (true) things about GOD that we need to know are His attributes.

An online dictionary defined the word 'attribute' as "a quality or characteristic inherent in or ascribed to someone or something." Attribute could be synonymous to properties or characteristics. Just think of any object. Say a basketball. The color, size, shape, hardness are some of its attributes. And without these attributes, no one can know what a basketball is.

Same with GOD. GOD is more than a name! He also has attributes, which He revealed in His word. He has attributes which if you distorted, it's no longer Him. 
"The foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of His perfections [or, attributes] as revealed in Holy Scripture." (A.W. Pink, The Attribute of God)
In this tolerant generation, you can hear lots of people say "Muslims, Hindus, Christians and other religions are just the same because they all believe in GOD." But who is that GOD whom they believe? What's His proper name? What are His attributes/characteristics? How does He act? What does He say? Ask these groups of people and they'll have different answers! That simply means they don't have the same GOD. As Christians, we believe that only the GOD of the Bible is the true GOD (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:8; 45:5,6). And, like it or not, whatever He is in the Bible, that He is. You can imagine or invent who GOD is as so many false religions do but that will remain unreal. Simply put: you can't manipulate GOD. He is not a barbie doll or an action figure.
“Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and bring Him nearer to our own image.” (A. W. Tozer)
It is interesting to note that the very meaning of God's name YHWH or Jehovah is "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:13-15). You can't change Him (unchangeability/immutability is already one of His attributes!). But you can (and must) know and worship Him. In fact, the effect of truly seeing His attributes is worshiping Him:

"The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty,visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation." And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped." (Exodus 34:6-8, ESV)

In the passage above, some of GOD's attributes are already mentioned: grace, patience, love and justice. Next time we will have a closer look at these attributes categorically and individually. Stay updated!

Monday, November 8, 2010

MAGYC (Introduction): Meditations on the Attributes of God for Young Christians

I. Hu U, Young 1?
"I am unique."
"I am not perfect but I get stronger through my mistakes."
"I am not a boyfriend/girlfriend material but my love is satisfying."
"I am a person who never gives up on life."
"I am blah blah blah..."
The list goes on and on...

So often the youth of today wants self-expression. We simply want to be heard. We want to show who we are and what we can do. We want to be identified from others. We pride ourselves with uniqueness, liberty, beauty and strength. We are filled with I-am's and I-like's! This is obvious in the fact that the majority of people in social networking and blogosphere are the youth. Even Christian youths have this tendency of focusing on themselves too much.

But I think our biggest mistake is not that we try to express ourselves too much. I believe our biggest mistake is that we think we know ourselves truly and deeply. We think we know ourselves too much. Wondering? Let me elaborate.

II. Everybody Needs a Mirror
In order to see ourselves physically, we need an object of reflection, a mirror. This is also the same when it comes to knowing ourselves. And we know we have different mirrors. I may think of you this way and you may think of yourself that way. So whose mirror of perspective is right? Or is there any?

Oh, I think I'm hearing someone murmuring: "I know myself better than anybody else!" But that's a deceitful lie. There is Someone who knows us more than how we know ourselves. We should see ourselves with His mirror. We gotta get His perspective of us.

III. We are Creatures
This will be clearer if we go back to Genesis 1:27 (NIV),

"So God created mankind in his own image, 
   in the image of God he created them; 
   male and female he created them".

To be "created" means that we didn't exist on our own. Someone has molded us, designed us and determined our nature and functions. The best way to know the features and functions of a new hi-tech gadget is to consult the inventor, or to read his manual. Likewise, to truly know ourselves, we gotta consult God. We gotta read His manual (the Bible). 

But more than being "created", the verse says that we are created "in the image of God." Evangelical Protestant camps vary with how they define that. Some see it as purely natural (intellect, affection, will), some see it purely spiritual/moral (knowledge, righteousness, holiness), and some both[1]. But all of them agree that this means that the created essence (image) of man is seen only in God. That implies that if we want to know ourselves deeper--who we are and what we're made for--we gotta see God! We gotta know God.

John Calvin explained it this way:
"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves."
" is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself." (Institutes of Christian Religion, emphasis added) [2]

IV. Hu U, GOD?
So instead of listing much of our I-am's, won't we list down our knowledge of GOD-is's?
"GOD is love..." ( John 4:8 )
"GOD is light ".. ( _____ )
"GOD is ____".. ( _____ )
Can you continue the list?

Maybe it's hard to accept but if we know the GOD of the Bible too little (we can't recite at least five verses, mention the books of the Bible in order, etc.) then, we truly know ourselves too little. And we, the youth, are just seeing a very dim and distorted image of ourselves. Deceitful mirrors!

I hope that these series of Meditations on the Attributes of God for Young Christians (MAGYC) will help us deepen our understanding of GOD and, consequently, of ourselves too. We shall see what we mean by "attribute" next time, and I shall try to present each of God's attributes in the context of the youth.

"So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity... Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God." (John Calvin, emphasis added) 
[1] For the variety of views, click here
[2] Although Calvin said that "it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other", he ended it with "But though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, due arrangement requires that we treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Get From God Whatever You Ask

Wish-Granting Privilege
Shenron of Dragonball Z, Belldandy of Ah My Goddess!, and the Genie of Aladdin—all of them can grant anybody’s wish! Wow! 

The problem is that all of them are unreal.

But in the scriptures, in the book of John, we seem to find the same wish-granting privilege from Jehovah God: 
“And whatever you ask in my name that I will do…” (14:13)
“If you ask anything in my name I will do it.” (14:14)
“…you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (15:7b)
“…whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (15:16b)
“Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (16:23b)
“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (16:24)

In these passages, it is explicitly stated that there is a way to get from God whatever we ask. But how does that happen? How do we get from God whatever we ask?

Before answering that, let me give you a warning.

Warning against Positive Confession
There are already lots of religious groups who abuse these verses and the like. Their view is often called Positive Confession, Name-and-Claim-it Theology and Word of Faith Movement. Some adherents of it esteemed here in the Philippines are Joel Osteen, Kenneth Hagin and Benny Hinn. These people will usually use the verses we quoted above to say that if we just claim or confess anything and believe it by faith, we can have it from God automatically. The chief error of this teaching is that it makes faith sovereign rather than God and it makes God a slave of our confession. That is totally contrary to what the scriptures teach. God alone is sovereign and he does nothing outside his will, even when you confessed it positively a thousand times:

“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35)
“…him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Eph. 1:11)
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 Jn. 5:14)
(For further discussion, go here.)

The Bible never teaches nor gives us an example of “claiming” anything from God. What we always find is “asking” God through prayer. Now, how can we make sure that God will answer our prayers? I mean, how do we make sure He will supplicate our requests?

Keys for Answered Prayers
John Piper, focusing on 1 John 3:22-23, explained it this way:
“God answers prayers for people who keep his commandments. His commandments are summed up in these two: 1) believe in the name of Jesus, and 2) love each other.” 
“He means that prayer has a specific design, and if you misuse it, it malfunctions. What is the design of prayer? Prayer is designed by God to be the effect of faith and the cause of love. Therefore if we try to pray when we really do not believe in the name of his Son, prayer malfunctions. And if we try to pray when our aim is not to love prayer malfunctions.”

So, according to Piper, God answers our prayers when we seek to magnify Christ through our faith and love.
(See the whole article here)

How do I know I magnify Christ through faith and love so that I can have my prayers answered?
I shall try to elaborate it using the context of John 14-16. We should note that Jesus said these just few hours before he died. That means, by this time, the disciples have already abandoned everything for Christ. Yet Jesus had to leave them so he comforted them with these words and repetitively mentioned their privilege of having whatever they ask. And we cannot isolate the promises from the commandments, warnings and declaratives mentioned. That’s why we need to first answer these questions if we are to claim the privilege.

1. Am I seeking to imitate the works of Christ and be used by Him so I am requesting?
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name…” (14:12-13a)
2.  Am I seeking to glorify God through my request? 
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (14:13) 
3. Am I valuing Christ’s commandments over my request?
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (14:14,15)
4. Am I constantly being dependent on Christ and His words?
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (15:7)
5. Am I bearing lasting fruit for Christ?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (15:16)
6. Is my joy centered on Christ rather than my request?
 “…I [Jesus] will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (16:22-24)

Unless we have Christlike and Christ-enabled works, a Christ-glorifying heart, an obedient will, a Christ-dependent attitude, Christ-appointed fruits, and a Christ-centered joy, we cannot have whatever we ask from God because those are the things we needed to magnify Christ. 
“If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Charles Spurgeon)

One More Clarifying Truth
Neither Jesus nor the disciples prioritize this privilege. Jesus’ priority is doing the will of the Father. The disciples’ priority is following Jesus. This means that to get from God whatever you ask is to not prioritize getting from God whatever you ask.

Let me just give three reasons why he who gets this privilege doesn’t prioritize it:
1. He understands that on his own his desires are impure, corrupt and pitiable. He therefore seeks God—the One who can make his heart pure by changing his desires into His desires. 
2. He understands that his finite mind’s judgment is fallible while God’s is good, perfect and well-pleasing. He therefore seeks God’s will to be done first, and submits His will to His.
3. He understands that the greatest gift he can have from God is not anything he may still ask. The greatest gift from God is the One whom He already has—God Himself. He therefore seeks to get more of this God than to get more from this God.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Birthday Meditations

The following were my birthday meditations. Hope they could somehow edify you.
Meditation #1: Don’t Waste Your Funeral! 
August 29it was my birthday! About 5 in the morning I was already awakened by some loud chats of people inside our living room. That was strange. My birthday is too trivial for such an unusually noisy morning. Something bigger must have happened.  After a while, I found out that my Uncle Ben has just died. And for some reasons, the 6-day funeral must be done at our house. I sighed. Though I wasn’t expecting a joyful celebration on my birthday, I also wasn’t expecting such a mournful incident on my birthday!
Death and funeral, therefore, filled my mind. I remembered that the last time there was a funeral at our home was 6 years ago. I don’t like what happened back then! There were many noisy diverse persons who were only gambling and filling their bellies with food and alcohol inside and around our house for nights!  So I thought of what it means to have a God-glorifying funeral.
The following is how I want my funeral to be (though I hope not too soon):
a.    If I can’t have my funeral, that’s fine. Let the people know it’s not necessary. My soul will be with the Lord, and my future incorruptible body is assured.
b.    But if I’ll have my funeral, let it not be mainly about mourning. Granted, emotional pain is unavoidable. But let not the mourning be too long. That will only make the people think that my hope of life is gone. Let them know I have the hope of resurrection. Let it last for at most three days.
c.    Don’t spend much money. Don’t buy much foods and drinks. Let my funeral, burial and grave be simple. Spend more money for the living than for the dead.
d.    Don’t even let anyone smoke or drink liquor. Let them know I hate those things. Let them know those are not for Christians. Let not people babble, gamble and get drunk. These things will only make the people embrace procrastination and worldliness.
e.    If my life is Christ-centered and my death is Christ-centered, my funeral (if there will be) must also be Christ-centered! Therefore, let them not talk about me too much. Let them talk about Christ! Let there be preaching, Bible studies and fellowship. Let there be singing of hymns and spiritual songs. Let them think about the reality of death and eternal life.
Hope my family – present and future – would be able to read these. I hope they won’t waste my funeral. I hope they’ll make it God-glorifying.

Meditation #2: I Can’t Buy Socks? 
Since the funeral service will be at the living room, we needed to temporarily remove some appliances and bring them upstairs. I and my sister helped each other. After doing so, my sister told me that she and my mentor (her bestfriend) have a gift for me. “Wow, I got a new book!”, I thought. But what my hands received were pairs of new socks. Then my sister smilingly commented, “Nard [my mentor] said to me, ‘let’s buy what he can’t buy’.” What?! That statement struck me.  I can’t buy socks??? I know and they know that, technically, I can. I guess they said that because I find buying such things waste of money. I spend my money sometimes on foods, sometimes on techie stuffs, and most of the time on Christian books. But seldom do I buy stuffs for my body. “A jeans worth P600.00 is three books already!” is what I often say. I just know that if I have to treasure heavenly things, spending my money on Christian booksearthly things containing heavenly messagesis the right thing to do. And, maybe, that was also because I experienced many provisions from the Lord whenever I need such things. Polo-shirts from my mentor, pants from my brother and toothbrushes from my sister, just to name a few.
By that day, I wore my new socks instead of the worn-out ones. My feet felt comfortable. I never thought of that before (LOL). Furthermore, my soul was glad. And that wasn’t only because I had the new socks I “cannot” buy but also because those socks somehow affirm that I don’t have a worldly lifestyle. That gift of pairs of socks somehow says that I’m being sanctified by God. And sanctification is a more precious gift. Thank God!

Meditation #3: The Lord’s Day Above My Birthday 
I received some greetings through text messages and through facebook. But, except the no-more-to-be-paid-hundred-peso I borrowed from my other sister (and some promises from friendsI hope they won’t forget! ^_^), the pairs of socks were the only gift I received on that birthday. But I was absolutely fine. My birthday was Sunday. Actually, what I was thinking of early in the morning was our New Testament Survey. I was too tired the night before that so I failed to finish preparing our John-12 lesson. That’s why as soon as the house preparation was done, I hurriedly left the house, went straight to a vacant room of our church’s school, and finished the lesson there. Yes, people meeting me greeted me “Happy Birthday” yet I still felt like the rest of the day was too ordinary. I just did what I used to do. And I still am sleep-deprived (Guess I got insomnia).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to God for another year in my life. But I don’t value my birthday more than the Lord’s Day. I knew I’ll be more pissed off if I messed up as I taught God’s word than if I got no birthday greetings. That’s why I often don’t understand people spending their Sundays outside the church.
The Lord’s Day must be more important than my birthday because God is more important than anyone else. Worshiping Him is our end. My reply to the greetings I received from some fellow-Christians on that Sunday was: “Let’s continue turning the world upside down, okay? My birthday is far less valuable than that. Soli Deo Gloria!”

Meditation #4: DebutWho Cares?! 
I think I didn’t mention something. That was my 21st birthday. For many people, that really mattered because from that day onwards, the society would expect males to sober up and act maturely as an adult. The problem is that I don’t buy that myth of adolescence. I am seriously enjoying doing hard things ever since I became a Christian, be it for career, family, or ministry. I was (and still am) always mindful of preparing for and fulfilling my future (big) dreams. And thanks to the Harris twins, this truth became clearer: Debut really didn’t matter. What matters is a mature mindset that radically and relentlessly aims to maximize your God-given potential in this world that needs you, even if it doesn’t acknowledge that. Getting older and maturing are different things. The former is inevitable while the latter is on our hands! If you’re a teen, don’t waste your teenage years having fun and leisure, thinking that you’ll eventually mature someday. What you do today will largely shape your future! Waste your time now and you’ll most probably end up wasting it again tomorrow. Do hard things NOW and you’ll have an incomparably enjoyable and enviably fruitful future. Step out of your comfort zones. Do hard things.
What I did a day after my birthday may be an example (though this maybe is just a small thing to some). Early Monday morning (August 30) I woke up seeing my Auntie Gloria, wife of Uncle Ben, sitting in front of her husband's coffin. I felt that God was calling me to share the gospel to her. So after saying a prayer, I decided to share 1 Corinthians 15. I was nervous and hesitant because we don’t usually talk. But, in spite of my fear, I still went down and asked her if she would like to hear me share something from the Bible. She responded positively and after saying only few words I saw tears bursting out. I admit that evangelism wasn’t easy by that time. She constantly wept and spoke more about her dead husband. But at least I can say that I faithfully mentioned the gospel essentials and I managed to show genuine sympathyall by the grace of God.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Young Methodist's Evaluation of UMC

Last January, I attended a Methodist Lay Seminar (I am, by the way, a 20-year-old Methodist). A lecturer gave us this assignment one day: 
Write an article that shows the areas in United Methodist Church where you see "unbelief", and note what you can do to change them.  
The following was what I submitted (sorry, it's a bit long).
Before all else, let me first clarify that I will broadly define “unbelief” here. I took it to mean “not believing what is openly taught by the Scriptures”, whether they know it already or not yet (for even Christians do call those who have not yet heard the gospel as “unbelievers”). Ignorance of biblical teaching is, in a sense, “unbelief” because just as the general revelation of God in His creation is open so is the Scriptures very accessible to our church today.
Doubtless the primary source of unbelief is the pulpit, the supposed place where all forms of unbelief are exposed. The pulpit is as open as the pews. Anyonepoliticians, businessmen, unlearned laymen, heretics, etc.who desires to preach is accepted, ignoring the warning of James not to make everyone a teacher (how much more with preachers!) and of John to test every spirit. Some people might find that statement exaggerated but I’ve already heard so much ugly statements from the pulpit–-statements which distort the trinity (e.g., “Jesus is the Father”), which teaches salvation by works (e.g., “give for the church building so that your name may be written in heaven”), which promotes universalism, which teaches easy-believism, which affirms positive confession (e.g., “if you proclaim it, it will happen”), and many other intolerable false teachings, which are not only offensive to United Methodism but also to Evangelicalism. And the saddest part is that the pastor most of the time calls it “beautiful” and that the congregation applauds them. And it’s not only in the pulpit. I know one Sunday school teacher who is a fanatic of Apollo Quiboloy, founder of that Oneness cult. For me, our church is ignorantly embracing a reckless faith.

I believe that the deeper reason for that, which I’ll classify as the second area, lies in Christian Education (or should I call it, Christian Mis-education?). Hermeneutics has become an alien word to the postmodern church. You can rarely hear good expositions in the pulpit and in teaching ministries. And its importance is never emphasized.  Figurative and subjective interpretations are tolerated. Morality is far more valued than doctrines as if false doctrines are not deadly. Traditional celebrations are desired more than educational ones (like completely reading a book in the Bible, finishing a Sunday school set of lessons, etc.) And we know in Acts 2 that this is not the pattern. The first step is growing in the apostles’ doctrine. You missed that, you’ll miss the rest. Not to miss that means being grounded in hermeneutics. In fact, eisegesis is the common denominator of all Christian cults. For me, despite our sound creeds and confessions, our church is ignorantly embracing a cultic foundation.
The third area, which springs from the first two aforementioned ones, is the church’s testimony. Because the church has become careless in doctrines, it has also become careless in discipline. With a distorted view of grace, the church tolerates many sins of its members. One obvious sin is in attendance. The author of Hebrews commands us to meet often. And this I believe is a sickness stuck in almost all Methodist churches. How many Methodist churches are truly concerned with true membership? There’s a part in our liturgies where birthdays of members are written and I usually read there names of people whom I do not know, whom I know but no longer attends for a very long time, who attends other denomination already, and sometimes who are already deceased. The church failed to distinguish those who are in the inside from those who are in the outside. This is largely the pastor’s mistake. It’s his duty to make sure as much as he could that the visible church he administers and feeds is a part of the universal church. That is, he should make sure as much as he could that the members are true believers. This he can do by exercising church discipline, making sure that all his members bear fruit, since they all profess to be believers. And obviously who can bear fruit if he is not there? Long, unexplained nonattendance must imply self-excommunication already. In fact, joy in the company of the saints is an inevitable fruit of a true Christian. Church discipline does not mean forsaking the person. This is showing the person who he truly is so that the church may know its proper loving action toward him, whether evangelism (for unbelievers) or edification/restoration (for true believers). And the Bible teaches this in Matthew 18 and many other passages. The church forsook discipline because of unbiblical definition of love so the church’s testimony degraded. Consequently, evangelism is watered down. That is reasonable. We cannot convince the world to enter the church if they don’t see the church having any difference with the world other than religious rituals. No matter how diligent we are in our efforts to save people whom we call ‘unbelievers’ if we live just like them, we will only appear hypocrites to them.
For my five years of Christian life, I am both glad and sorrowful to know these. I’m glad because God showed me these errors. I’m sorrowful because these are grave errors of the church I belong and love. I long for a reformation and I know I have some things to do to achieve it. First is to make sure I’ll have a renewed mind and a Spirit-filled life. I must have a sound belief and practice, and still be zealous for the glory of God. Second, as a youth, I should make sure that my generation would also have the same character I desire for myself. This I will do through leadership, teaching, and being an example. Third, I should do my best to strengthen the laymen in all churches as much as possible by promoting holiness just as Wesley did. Lastly, if the Lord will call me, I will enter the seminary and become a devoted professor and scholar or a Scripture-saturated pastor.


Some may doubt my credibility but they should first evaluate this young man's theology ere abandoning his opinion. I pray that UMC would someday be blessed with renewal, reformation and revival.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The TULIP of Calvin that Even Non-Calvinists Must Find Sweet-smelling

There are two issues being brought out why John Calvin (1509 - 1564) is being hated by many Non-Calvinists. One is his “horrible” doctrine of predestination. The other is the “murder” of Servetus. But both are often misrepresented, taken to their extremes and addressed out of their contexts.

His theology (specifically, his soteriology) is more popularly stated in the acronym TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). And, of course, Arminians don’t like it (Arminianism being the counterpart of Calvinism). They detest its smell. Sadly, some detest it too much to the point of hating Calvin himself, counting him and all professing Calvinists as hellish heretics.

My aim in this long post is not to defend Calvinism but to show a sketch of Calvin’s biography and a summary of his character so that perhaps those who slander him may be ashamed (will they be?), and those who don’t know him may see the grace of God that worked upon the life and theology of this man. Sure Calvin had flaws, but he had this different TULIP that even Non-Calvinists must find fragrant:

1. Total Submission to Authorities
 “If I were able to choose, I would do anything but obey you. But since I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart to the Lord as a sacrifice.”
“I would prefer nothing more than peaceful, scholarly work, if only he under whose command I stand would give me the freedom for it.” (John Calvin)

a. He was born on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, France. He obeyed his father and pursued theology at Paris at age 14.
b. 5 years later (1528), his father changed his mind and wanted Calvin to pursue law instead of theology. He submissively studied and finished law at Orleans but left it after his father died.
c. After leaving France, he submitted to William Farel who threatened him of God’s curse. He set aside his dream to be a scholar in Strasbourg and decided to spend his whole life being a pastor in Genevaa city with not-so-few political, ecclesiastical and moral conflicts.
d. He did his best to mold Geneva into a Christian community but was banished with Farel for political reasons. Farel went to Neuchatel. Calvin settled happily in Strasbourg, having his dream fulfilled. However, 3 years later, the Genevans requested their return. Farel stayed. Martin Bucer threatened Calvin of God’s judgment. And, again, Calvin submitted (1541) and spent the rest of his life overseeing Geneva.

2. Unparalleled Knowledge and Memory
 “Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself [a Dutch divine, 1551–1608]; for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison (incomparabilem esse) in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy (spiritum aliquem prophetiae eximium). His Institutes ought to be studied after the [Heidelberg] Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination (cum delectu), like the writings of all men.” (Jacobus Arminius, Founder of Arminianism. 1560 - 1609)

a. Besides being a master of Latin and French, he had excellent knowledge on Hebrew and Greek.
b. He had familiarity with patristic commentators like Augustine, Chrysostom, Jerome, etc.
c. He had great knowledge on classical writers like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Virgil, etc.
d. He had written one of the first exhaustive books on theology in Christendom – the Institutes of Christian Religion. It has undergone 5 rewritings and expansions from 1536 to 1559 but the substance never changes.
e. Except Revelation, he had unique, clear and thorough Commentaries on all the books of the New Testament (not to mention his series of expository sermons).

3. Laborious Actions for the Lord
"I have been a witness of Calvin’s life for sixteen years, and I think I am fully entitled to say that in this man there was exhibited to all a most beautiful example of the life and death of the Christian (longe pulcherrimum vere christianae tum vita tum mortis exemplum), which it will be as easy to calumniate as it will be difficult to emulate." (Theodore Beza. 1519 - 1605)

a. He woke up 4 o’clock in the morning and slept late.
b. Starting in 1549, he preached twice every Sunday and every other week preached no less than daily, which amounted to some 4,000 sermons.
c. He lectured on biblical exegesis three times a week.
d. He was at the Consistory, the disciplinary council of Geneva, on the appointed day.
e. Every Friday he was an active participant of Congrégations, a Bible study both for pastors and laymen.
f. He constantly visited the sick and the imprisoned.
g. He greatly cared for the persecuted believers in France by teaching, counseling and exhorting them through letters and by interceding for them.
h. He consistently wrote commentaries, correspondence and other writings which, within 31 years, would form 2 to 3 volumes octavo annually.
i. He only took 2 meals a day because he found out, by experiment, that it was the way to control his stomachache and migraine headaches. 
j. And he did all of these while he suffered the death of his three infant children and his beloved wife.

4. Indifference to Money and Earthly Comfort
"The strength of that heretic consisted in this,—that money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such servants, my dominions would extend from sea to sea.” (Pope Pius IV)

a. He had a promising career either in the Roman Catholic Church or in law but he preferred the reformed pastor’s life. And he always refused increase in salary and other presents except for the poor and the refugees.
b. He never owned a square inch of property in Geneva. When, in disguise, Cardinal Sadolet passed through Geneva (about 1547), he was surprised to find that Calvin lived in a plain house instead of an episcopal palace with a retinue of servants. Even his furniture, dining table and bed don’t belong to him.
c. He first arrived at Geneva on 1536 but has only received Genevan citizenship on Christmas day of 1559 as a gift.
d. He never cared so much of his health. And, because of his incessant labors, he often suffered indigestion, headaches, gallstones, hemorrhoids, gout, fever and chronic asthma.
e. He had a boring love life! He had needed Bucer to get the idea of marrying and find some good candidates. He rejected three and, by 1540, married a widow named Idellete de Buré.
f. He only left 200 gold crowns which he gave to his relatives, the school and the refugees. On May 27, 1564, he died and the next day he was buried in a common wooden casket in the cemetery of Plein Palais. In conformity to his wish, he didn’t even have a gravestone. 

5. Plentiful Influences
“Calvin’s system of doctrine and polity has shaped more minds and entered into more nations than that of any other Reformer. In every land it made men strong against the attempted interference of the secular power with the rights of Christians. It gave courage to the Huguenots; it shaped the theology of the Palatinate; it prepared the Dutch for the heroic defence of their national rights; it has controlled Scotland to the present hour; it formed the Puritanism of England; it has been the basis of the New England character; and everywhere it has led the way in practical reforms. His theology assumed different types in the various countries into which it penetrated, while retaining its fundamental traits." (Dr. Henry B. Smith, Professor of Theology in Union Theological Seminary, New York. 1815 - 1877)

a. Calvin had connections to the most influential persons of his age. He was admired by the great Martin Luther who was 25 years older than him. He was a friend of Farel, Viret, Beza, Bucer, Grynaeus, Bullinger, Knox, Melanchthon, Queen Marguerite, and the Duchess Renée.
b. In Geneva, there were English, Italian and Spanish Communities. Each of them had its own congregation and worship services. People even migrated from countries as far away as Crete, Tunisia and Malta.
c. At Calvin’s Academy, there were students from such territories as Catalonia, the Netherlands, Scotland, Calabria and Venice.
d. Many pastors educated from the Academy were spread out from Geneva. In 1555 to 1562, 1 pastor was sent to London, 1 to Antwerp, 1 to Turin, 2 to Brazil, 10 to Piedmont and 56 to France.
e. His Institutes, Catechism, and calendar with important biblical and church-historical facts are published and transported to France and other areas. His Psalter (which went through 19 Genevan editions, 7 from Paris and 3 from Lyon) was his bestseller, having 27,400 printed copies by 1562 in Geneva alone.
f. He had indirect influences on some well-known writings of Protestantism. Olevianus, one of the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism, was a pupil of Calvin. Francis Junius, who revised The Belgic Confession of 1551, was also a student of Calvin. Most pastors of the Waldenses were educated at Geneva and Lausanne so the Waldensian Confession of 1655 is Calvinistic too.
g. Most respected theologians and preachers are Calvinists: Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, Martin Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, John Piper, John MacArthur, etc.
h. The Arminian John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was greatly aided by his bestfriend George Whitefield, a Calvinist.

May this TULIP satisfy our spiritual olfaction and cause us to  seek and taste the sweetness of the majesty of God that this man had tasted.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Profile of the Religious Hypocrites

If we are to read the whole chapter of John 5, we can see how the equality of Christ and the Father was emphasized (vv. 17-30). This chapter is probably one of the greatest bulwarks in the New Testament for the Deity of Christ.

But this chapter also shows the unbelief of “the Jews”religious people “who were entrusted the oracles of God.” (Rom. 3:2) The Jews should have confirmed that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah of Israel. But these people were religious hypocrites as Jesus exposed in verse 44:  “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”

I have tried to get a picture of what it means to be a religious hypocrite so that we may avoid them or being like them. For ease, I make an acronym. To be a religious hypocrite is to be F-A-K-E.

1.  Fervent for religious rites but blind to their essence.

In verses 1 to 16, there was a man who was 38 years suffering from infirmity, expecting to be healed through a miraculous, first-come-first-serve pool. Christ healed him, saying “Get up, take up your bed and walk.” (v.8) That day was Sabbath where people ought to rest and not work. (v.9 cf. Exo. 20:8-10) Therefore, the Jews persecuted Christ because he worked on the Sabbath (v.16) and even commanded the man to work by taking up his bed and walk (v.10). Jesus’ defense was not a denial of working but an affirmation with elevation. He was not working as a man under the Sabbath but as the Son of God who, like His Father, sustains all things even on Sabbath. (v.17)

In those verses, we can see the emphases of the Jews and the healed man to be different. While the former focuses on the rite of not doing a work (vv. 10, 12, 16), the latter focuses on the rest given through the work of a Miraculous Person (vv. 11, 14-15).

The Jews missed the meaning of the Sabbath. It was a mere shadow portraying the true rest we’ll have in Christ. (see Col. 2:16, 17; Mt. 11:28; Heb.  4) The healed man already spent many Sabbaths yet found no rest from his illness (which seems to have been rooted from sin, see v.14) until Christ gave him rest. And the religious hypocrites didn’t see that.

But, like them, we tend to focus on the doings but not their essence. We can be diligent reading our Bibles, praying for others, going to church, leading our small groups and performing other religious deeds but still miss the point. We can miss deepening our relationship with God and with His people for the glory of God. We can miss the essence we ought to pursue.

2. Against the Son because of ignorance of the Son.

After Christ implied that His work equaled Him with the Father (vv.17-18), the Jews “were all the more seeking to kill Him”. What followed were greater claims of Christ: he is equal not only in nature and works but also in power and honor (vv. 19-23), possessing the power to give life and judgment (vv. 24-30). Christ was correcting because the Jews were ignoring. They lack knowledge of who the Son is.

Perhaps we are not like the Jews who don’t understand the Person and works of Christ. But we still have the tendency to be ignorant of the preciousness of Christ. Christianity is all about “looking to Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), “beholding the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18), knowing, gaining and loving Christ! (Phil. 3:8-12) Whenever Christ becomes less beautiful to us, whenever we become less mindful of Him and His glory, or whenever we lose the focus, we succumb to sin. And all sins offend Christ. All sins are against the all-satisfying Treasure found in the Person of the God-Man Jesus. Just like the Jews, we are against Christ whenever we trade Him with our sins that spring from ignoring His beauty.

3. Kind to human ministers but cruel to the Divine Person.

After Jesus stated His astounding claims, he enumerated his unrivaled witnesses (vv.31-47), starting with John the Baptist (vv.31-35). Jesus said that the Jews “were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (v.5) The Jews somehow enjoyed the ministry of John the Baptist. But John the Baptist testifies of Jesus so the Jews should believe Jesus if they believe John the Baptist. They
even should’ve rejoiced more in the Sun if they rejoiced in the lamp.

Like the Jews, we tend to enjoy human ministers but not the Divine Person. We can appreciate the ministries of our pastors and leaders and godly parents, and still become cruel to the Divine Person. We can value the company of the church without valuing Jesus, the Bride of the Church. And when we become like that, we become religious hypocrites.

4. Eager in searching the Scriptures yet not for Christ (or love for God and glory of God) but for their honor.

Another witness for Christ mentioned is the Scriptures (39-44). Jesus made it clear that if they search the Scriptures rightly, they should’ve recognized Him because they testify of Christ. The scriptures point to Christ. (Lk. 24:44) But the Jews didn’t recognize Him because their motive was wrong. It was not actually to magnify Christ or love God or glorify God that they seek the scriptures. It was for their honor. They study the scriptures and keep them so that others might praise them.

And, again, like them, we have the tendency to diligently study our Bibles but not to please God by gazing at Christ. We have the tendency to search the scriptures so that others might say we’re good and we’re great and we know what’s right and true about God. We can master the book from cover to cover and still not glorify God and honor Christ if what we seek primarily is the vindication and exaltation of our self-image rather than God being pleased by us. And that’s religious hypocrisy.

Now, how do we avoid being religious hypocrites? How do we avoid being F-A-K-E? The answer is not to avoid searching the scriptures or stop appreciating human ministers or not do religious actions. These are not evil in themselves. But they should be means to know Christ more. The key to cease from religious hypocrisy is pursuing Christ in all our religious pursuits because Christianity is all about Christ.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sin of Romance-centeredness

If we are to consider the statistics, we can notice the high rate on teen sex, teen pregnancy, and early marriage. This is true in the Western world and, sadly, here in the Philippines. But is this just the problem of the government? Or of the moralists? Has this nothing to do with the church, theology and spirituality? I dare say no. If God must be the center of our lives, this increasing romance-centeredness among mankind must be of the Devil. And it must have been diminishing the glory of God! Therefore, Christians ought to be careful about their views and practices when it comes to eros love.

I write this short post to note some theological truths behind this sin of romance-centeredness (which we often don't recognize):

1. Idolatry is valuing anything else (including romance) more than the Lord.
How often do we think of our crushes, partners, or future partners? Is it more often than God? Than the church? Than our ministry? Every time our heads meditate more and our hearts delight more in romance than in God, we are idolizing romance. We are worshiping romance. Consequently, we diminish the glory of Christ, who is far more beautiful than anyone or anything.

2. Satan still works in the world-system and that includes unbiblical romance.
How often do we meditate on the truth that Satan is still "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), "the prince of this world" (Jn. 14:0; 16:11)? How often do we evaluate ourselves if we are already loving the world (1 Jn. 2:15) or being "conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2)? Or, to be more practical: are we indifferent to what the TV portrays about love in some romantic shows? Or, are we even delighting in it? Are we imitating them?

3. Marriage itself must not put romance as priority.
We know that the most intimate stage of romance is marriage (the only legitimate place for sex). But although there are biblical passages pertaining to marital relationship and marital sex (Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; Heb. 13:4), they were mentioned in the context of spirituality and worship (see Eph.5:1-2; Col. 3:17; Heb. 13:15). Moreover, couples mentioned in the bible are not commended chiefly because of their sweet romance but because of their passion for the cause of Christ. Prisca and Aquila, for example, are commended for risking "their necks" for the apostle Paul and their influence to the churches (Rom. 16:3-5).

Young ones, do you prioritize courtship over ministry? Married ones, do you value your relationship over missions? Without diminishing the beauty of gender design and of marriage, we must not put romance as the priority. Let it be God's glory.

4. Marriage is not an inevitable part of life.
Though the Bible says that "it is not good than a man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18), in another passage it also says that "to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them to remain single" (1 Cor. 7:8). What to prefer between marriage and singleness depends on our gift and calling (1 Cor. 7:7,17). And in fact, the single life has many advantages (see 1 Cor. 7:26-40). And, though the gift of marriage is bestowed more often than the gift of celibacy, it is still not an inevitable part of life. We must remove the thinking that our lives will be miserable if we wouldn't marry. That idea is foreign to Christianity.

5. Romance is temporal.
Finally, we should remember Christ rebuking the Sadducees. 
(Mt. 22:30) Marriage, the lifelong romantic commitment, is not eternal. The only eternal "romance" is not for man and woman but for Christ and His people. (see Rev.19) It follows then that if we are romance-centered, we are valuing temporal pleasure than the infinite bliss in the glory of Christ.

I pray that the youth (as well as adults) will kill this sin of romance-centeredness by focusing on the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Brothers, How Should We Convince the World that We're Truly One in Christ Despite Our Differences?

In my desire to formalize an evangelical organization to empower evangelism in our campus, I anticipated that there is a need to educate the members how to explain the evangelical faith to the world.

To define what evangelicalism is or where evangelicals unite, I think, is relatively easier:
the scriptural gospel! (for further explanation: click here and here). To explain our differences is harder (think of all the denominations
plus unions and splits!). But to justify our differences is the hardest! How can we, Evangelicals, claim to be 'united' and still disagree on many things? And how shall we convince the world that we're truly Christians despite our differences and disagreements?

The following (largely based on John Piper's book: 'Contending For Our All') is my attempt to do so:

I. Verbal Explanation

1. Why We Are United
True Christian unity is not primarily doctrinal but spiritual. It is not chiefly because of the true gospel but because of the Person (Christ) of the true gospel that made them "one in Spirit". (Eph.4:3) Evangelical unity is grounded upon the belief that all evangelicals embrace this true gospel which sufficiently reveals Christ unto salvation. Evangelicals unite in what's essential for someone to be a Christian. (here's a good example) Brothers, though having differences, are still brothers and belong to one family.

2. Why We Are Divided (Yet Still United!)
But why should Christians who are one in Spirit still have different beliefs? And why can't everybody just cease from disagreeing and vote for one teaching for the sake of full unity?

My answer to the first question is this: though the church is being guided by the Spirit in "all truth" vital for our salvation (Jn. 16:13) [there's our unity], the universal church is not an infallible, all-knowing institution; therefore, visible churches have differences and disagreements [there's our disunity].

For the second question, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), founder of L'Abri Fellowship, explained it this way:
"The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God's holiness and God's love. The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite-personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God's character of holiness and love. Not His holiness without his love: this is only harshness. Not His love without His holiness: that is only compromise. Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fail to show the simultaneous balance of the holiness of God an the love of God presents to a watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of the God who exists."

This teaches us that: 
(a) Evangelicals are divided because Christians are finite men who strive to know an infinite and holy God. We have such a holy God so we disagree when we think his holiness is at stake. We dare not try electing Popes of Protestantism because we believe that will diminish the glory of our holy God, who alone is infallible. We dare not disregard doctrines because we believe that doctrine is essential for holy living (2 Tim.3:16) and that a true Christian will "watch [his] life and doctrine closely". (1 Tim. 4:16)
(b) Evangelicals are still united because Christians are redeemed men who express unifying love for the redeemed community, the universal church. We have such a loving God so we still embrace each other. We dare not say, "You will go to hell" to those who disagree with us but still embrace the gospel because we do not think that is sufficient ground to make someone "accursed". (Gal. 1:8,9; 1 Cor. 16:22)
(c) This balance of purity and love is necessary in order to truly demonstrate "to a watching world" the biblical God in such an imperfect yet understandable way.

3. What We Really Want
Evangelicals often say that, in matters not essential for salvation, we agree to disagree. We, however, should clarify that we do want unity (Psa. 133:1) and peace (1 Pet. 3:11; Rom. 14:19) in all things, and be "of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind". (Phil. 2:2). But we believe that unity is achieved only through the truth (Jn. 17:17; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3,5,12). And peace is a by-product of commitment to what's true and right (Heb. 12:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Hence, we publicly express our beliefs (in books, sermons, debates, etc.), trying to convince each other so that, by God's grace, we may all be fully one in truth.

As John Piper explained:
"Faithful Christians do not love controversy; they love peace. They love their brothers and sisters who disagree with them. They long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But they are bound by their conscience and by the Word of God, for this very reason, [they] try to persuade the church concerning the fullness of the truth and beauty of God's word."

That is how I would explain verbally why we have doctrinal differences. (Here's also another one

II. Non-verbal Explanation

However, it should be acknowledged that:
"You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, especially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts.
We cannot expect the world to understand that on the basis of the holiness of God we are having a different kind of difference, because we are dealing with God's absolutes."
"Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians' differences and other people's differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences from the world's differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level." (Schaeffer, emphasis mine)

It echoes back what Jesus said to his disciples: 
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Though the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) is important for us to make known to others that we're Christians, Love that is rooted in the gospel is still the greatest mark of a Christian and of a true church. May Evangelicals, in their disputes and disagreement (in pursuit of unity in the truth) in front of "a watching world", still never forget to demonstrate Christian, catholic love. Let us show the world that our differences are different from them through brotherly love! O may God forgive us for always failing to do so.

Let us never forget this old saying: