Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Significance of Birth

         Teach us to number our days,
         That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
         Psalm 90:12

Today is my birthday.  No, I'm not going to get a red sports car or dye my hair blonde.  None of that foolishness.  I am going to reflect on the last 25 years though.  25?  Yeah, 25.  Because, you see, that is the birth that really matters to me.  It was on this day in 1989 that a proud, rebellious young man laid down his arms and bowed his head to his Conqueror.  Yep, on my physical birthday I gave up my life of sin and God in heaven brought forth my spiritual birth.  A birth of far more significance than my puny little physical birth.  A reflection of my own father who I can still hear saying, "just bury me in a pine box, no big deal."  Similarly, this physical life is insignificant to me and the spiritual is far, far greater. Therefore, it is attempted to be lived fully pleasing to God that He might have significance in it.  As this truth guides me.  He must increase but I must decrease. ~ John 3:30

I wasn't a "bad" kid.  I was well loved by many gracious friends, some of whom have stuck around me, despite my sometimes porcupine personality and my Christian faith.  The problem with not being "bad" enough is that I just was never good enough, never could be, never would be. There's is none righteous, no, not one. Romans 3:10  A good many things in my first couple decades are quite shameful.  But God!  He was rich in mercy and loved me before I was born, loved me from eternity past.  He knew a day would come, in fact, He planned it!  A day where I would fumble through a prayer while standing in the hallway of my house as I departed to go see one of my favorite bands, The Alarm.  I felt kinda good that night, going off to see some guys who had at least some kind of Christian faith, in my pea brain mind of what faith was at the time, as opposed to the darkness I submerged myself in so many other nights.

I really had little clue what I was doing I just knew that I knew that I knew that change was necessary and change had to come.  I did not darken doors of churches.  I grew up in a "moral family."  That simply is code for a great bunch of sinners who believe in God, even Jesus, but are whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones, headed for a terrible destruction that will shock them when they arrive.  Two days prior I grudgingly got out of my bed and gave up my football to attend a quaint little church in Sunland, CA.  Life was about to be forever changed!  I wrestled with God those two days as the message rang in my head (David at Ziglag) but even more so the 3 baptismal testimonies that roared from the waters.  Never before, nor since, did I feel like I was the only one of 270 people in a building.  But God!

So after wrestling those two days, I crumbled and God won and oh what a victory!  Graciously in every way I was placed among a people zealous for the Lord and earnest in His truth.  Seminary guys from a somewhat young school called TMS were in my path.  I distinctly recall three of them who were God's chisel on this wreck of a young man.  One is gone now.  Dear Samuel who took me under his wing in every way.  Made me prepare a lesson in 1 Peter, 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Peter 1:3–7

and preach it to my roommates in our living room, drove me to kingdom come and back for 4 months while my father lived his last days on earth, and simply set an example for me to follow. Then there was Wayne and Carlos in my Berean's Sunday school class.  What grace I was given!

Ok, ok, so what's the point of writing this you may ask?  Well, way back then in 1989 I thought about 25 years ahead.  Since I'm the weird numbers guy these are things I think of.  The amazing senior citizens that were my Wednesday night (and Sunday morning) for so many days were my end goal.  I wanted to be a Christian for 25 years and be more like them.  I wanted to possess that level of maturity and love for Christ.  (Still working!)

    Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
          Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
          I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12–14

Now I'm here.  Not what I was and nowhere near what I desire to be. But God! 

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. ~ Philippians 1:6 

To God alone belongs glory and majesty and honor and dominion for He is able to keep His own from stumbling and falling and to present His people blameless before His throne, with great joy. (Jude 24-25)

So I guess today begins the last 25 years, should God ordain as many.  What is life?  Is it about personal happiness? Personal achievements?  Personal fulfillment?  Simply raising "good" kids and living a decent life that others say nice things about you when you're dead?

The point of it all, I suppose, is why are you here?  Why am I here? The Westminster Catechism says it perfectly in question one.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Which takes me to my guiding verse, thanks again to Samuel, that came at the end of King Solomon's life;

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:

    Fear God and keep His commandments,
    For this is man’s all.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:13

My friends who have stuck with me this far, are you truly fearing God and keeping His commandments?  Are you more focused upon His glory than your own?  Are you seeking His wisdom and forsaking your own?  Are you willing to submit to His authority and lay down your own?  Are you confessing Christ as Lord and you as His servant?  Are you living for eternity and not for the present?  

Have you been born again, born from above?!  Or are you still in your sins and prepared to be held responsible for them?  Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life and that He came to give life abundantly.  

Whom are you living for and what will be your legacy?

~ He must increase,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

More Than Animals

Last week was a difficult time. Our beloved cat of 6 years passed. We had just taken Charlie to the veterinarian to determine what was wrong with him. After draining 5 pounds of fluid from his abdomen, a large tumor was discovered on his liver. We were told we may have weeks or possibly a few months. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. I came home from work that night to find my wife crouched by the litter box, crying uncontrollably. I removed the lid to find Charlie face down in litter with little time remaining. His breaths were shallow yet rapid and his eyes showed fear. I placed him on the bed and we held him while softly speaking his name. It was incredibly sad to see death creeping in. There was nothing beautiful about it. I choose to believe Charlie had already clocked out while his body went through the violent motions. After a few minutes, he stopped moving and his eyes were blank. The sweet boy who had slept by my wife’s pillow every night was gone.
Of course, the following days would be difficult. We had to figure out how to break it to the kids the next morning. Needless to say, there were a lot of tears involved.
We held a small ceremony in the backyard where everybody said their last goodbyes. My wife kept saying how she’d never see him again and how the spot next to her pillow would feel so empty. One of my children asked if Charlie would be in heaven. That left me with the unpleasant task of explaining how animals, upon dying, simply cease to exist. There is no heaven or an afterlife. When my wife said Charlie was gone, that was a very accurate statement. It was at that moment that I saw the beauty behind the sorrow. Yes, Charlie was gone but there was so much more going on.
 To many of us, pets are an extension of the family. They’re like our four-legged children. They have different personalities, express love, show loyalty, and clearly perceive the world around them. However, despite all this, they are vastly different from mankind. The beauty that I could now see was in just how special humanity was. Genesis 1 presents us with the narrative of Creation. We see, in verses 24-25, God simply makes the beasts of the earth. They’re made each after their own kind and God saw that it was good. This had been the pattern in each of the previous days as well. However, verse 27 brings a whole new twist. When God created man, he didn’t simply bring us into existence. We see a very personal act taking place. We were made in the image of God. He breathed into us the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word for “breath” is nÄ•shamah which means either breath or spirit. If we look deeper, we see God is breathing HIS breath into man. We see a similar act in John 20:22 when Jesus breathes on the disciples and tells them to, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Indeed, mankind is vastly different from the animal kingdom. Though we may share a great many traits, the very breath of God is what sets us apart. We have a spirit that lives on eternally. We have a spirit that will spend eternity with the Father in heaven through the reconciliation of the Son (2 Corinthians 5:18). Our pets are loved by their owners but we are loved by God Almighty! It’s precisely because we have an eternal destination that we also have a responsibility to proclaim Christ at every turn. It’s only through faith in Christ that one will ever see heaven. The alternative is dark and dismal, filled with terror (Matthew 13:42). The alternative is not only death but eternal death and torment. For as much as we care about our beloved pets, should we not also care deeply for those made in the image of God?
As I stated earlier, though there was nothing beautiful about what took place on our bed that night, I was still able to eventually see the beauty of the gospel in the midst of it. My hope is that, whenever you may be presented with a challenge, you will be able to see it as well. My further prayer is that it will encourage you to act upon it and be a faithful witness for the cause of Christ.

~Travis W. Rogers

Monday, November 3, 2014

Knowledge of God and Of Ourselves

I received this classic gem in the mail Sunday and I could not wait to sink my teeth into it. John Calvin was one of the greatest theologians ever to walk the face of the earth, and it is such a privilege to be able to open up the Institutes of the Christian Religion and see his thoughts available to be engaged. So here I would like to share my thoughts and some of his quotes as I work through this magnum opus of doctrine gleaned from the Holy Scriptures through years of study.

The first chapter has to do with the knowledge of God and of ourselves, which he says consists of two parts, which I mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph. He then poses his thought as to which one comes before the other. As I pondered it, my thoughts were taken to Proverbs 1:7 which tells us that the beginning of all knowledge, both spiritual and natural, is the fear of the Lord. Calvin stated it this way: "No man can truly survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts toward the God in whom he lives and moves," which reminded me of Acts 17:28. It is in God alone that we live, move, and have our being -- Him alone. And according to Colossians 1:17, He holds all things together. Now imagine if God allowed one of your molecules to slip away, or if He allowed the earth to spin a little slower, or tilt a little sharper, where would we be? Think about the composition of our atmosphere, and if he changed one of the elements one-tenth of a percent...where would we be? Where would anything be? As Shai Linne so eloquently stated, "Without Christ, reality would collapse on itself." As Calvin says, "Our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone."

Calvin moves on to speak of God's infinite goodness, and the fact that we cannot truly see it, nor enjoy it, unless we confess our poverty (Matt. 5:3). But it can be difficult to see because we live in a fallen world, and it is necessary for us to realize that His goodness is not just there to provide for us our daily needs; it is there also to teach us humility. None of us is as well off as we may think. Calvin says that, "Our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, remind us that in the Lord, and none but He, well the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, and exuberant goodness." The Bible is deafeningly clear that there is nothing good in us (Rom. 3), therefore any goodness that we may produce is derivative from God's infinite storehouse.

The problem is that we don't think we're impoverished. We act like the Laodiceans and declare our self-sufficiency. But Jesus declared in John 4:10 that if the woman at the well KNEW the gift of God, then she would have given Him a proper response, that is, to ask for the living water. But as Calvin stated in his commentary on that verse: 

"Knowledge of Christ begins with a conviction of our poverty; for, before anyone desires a remedy, he must be previously affected with the view of his distresses...Why would Christ be sent with the fullness of the Spirit, if we were not empty?
When Christ appears, we no longer wander in vain, seeking a remedy where none can be obtained, but we go straight to Him. The only true and profitable knowledge of the grace of God is, when we know that it is exhibited to us in Christ, and that it is held out to us by His hand."

We can't begin to "aspire to Him" until we have developed an utter displeasure with ourselves, and that is the major problem that lies within each of us. Have we truly contemplated God in all of His self-disclosure? We may say that we have, we may even know how to regurgitate what we have learned of Him...and yet, we still parade around our peacock feathers of self-righteousness. Why is that? Calvin declares that it is because we have not been truly convinced "by clear evidence" of how foolish we are to think in such a manner. He says that "The Lord is the only standard by which conviction can be produced." But when we see any inkling of self-righteousness, of self-empowered living, we place God on the back burner and become satisfied as if somehow we have accomplished something. This is folly at its finest. Calvin says that we know how to speak concerning ourselves by using the "most flattering terms," puffing ourselves up to a little "less than demigods." 

But if we ever keep a constant eye upon God, if we ever keep our thoughts constantly on Him, and contemplate His attributes, His character, and His glory, "what formerly delighted us will become polluted with the greatest iniquity." Those respectable sins, as Jerry Bridges calls them, will become the utmost of disrespect to the holy God. Those sins that you sweep under the rug will become an eyesore that must be removed from the house. Those "little" sins that you think are of no consequence will become the ultimate treason before God, and you will fight tooth and nail to eradicate them so that you can see the God who is rich in all things more clearly, and in turn understand yourself more clearly. All knowledge, whether of God or of man, begins by fearing God and then grows by continued devotion of every fiber of your being to build upon that foundation of truth that God has entrusted to your care.