My Unique New Year’s Resolution

As we conclude another Christmas season, people will be gearing themselves for the New Year. Many people will set for themselves resolutions for the upcoming year. While I most certainly will, like most Americans, seek to get in more exercise and limit those unnecessary, excess calories, I have set for myself a resolution that I would encourage you to set, as well. This resolution is not like most others that will be made. It is not a resolution that necessarily will earn a person more money. Likewise, it isn’t a resolution that will be provide great career success…although it may benefit both the aforementioned areas. The resolution I am making is quite simple: I am making the resolution to listen more. But why listening?

We live in a busy, busy world. It is a world of sound bites. No one takes the time to carefully reason through the information given to them. If something sounds clever, it is automatically taken to be astute. If something is derogatory, it is celebrated. In the process, gossip has been elevated to Gospel and tall-tales into truth. While all this noise has inundated us, we have since lost the ability to truly listen. The more I think about this resolution, the greater importance it begins to carry. Listening is important for several reasons.

  1. Listening keeps a person from misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.

No one likes to be misunderstood or misrepresented. Yet, so often, individuals jump to conclusions when another person holds a differing viewpoint. Much of this misunderstanding could be avoided if people would relearn the art of listening. For instance: recently I was on social media discussing a particular issue occurring within my own denomination. A few individuals verbally attacked me, claiming that I would have been against a popular civil rights leader and was an ultra-right-wing nut job. While I am exaggerating some, I am not by much. People so desire to prove their points that they fail to take into account what another person from a differing viewpoint may really be trying to say. I have been guilty of doing the same. By failing to listen, I misunderstood what others have said. In fact, I have found that some opposing views were closer akin to my own when I finally stopped to thoroughly listen. The art of listening helps us avoid misapplying and/or misrepresenting another person’s views.

  1. Listening helps a person see bias.

Everyone holds a bias—everyone. While we do not want to misrepresent another person’s perspective, the art of listening allows a person to see the argument as it is, while observing the bias held by the person offering the argument. The wise communicator will see through the foggy façade and into the heart of the issue at hand. By doing this, the person will be able to have a better grip on why the opposing person holds the view that they do, which, in turn, will help the communicator engage the true, underlying problem—something especially important for apologists.

  1. Listening guards a person in truth.

Listening and observing will help the communicator better find the truth. For instance, I read an article concerning the educational systems in the 48 continental states. The state where I reside held a far lower ranking than other states in the nation. While this was depressing at first, I stopped to truly read and listen to all the data presented. I found the states that held the highest scores only tallied 15% of the state’s system, whereas the schools that were lower-ranked tallied 100% of the schools in those states. Not only did this show a bias in the report, the art of listening and observing truly revealed the truth; the truth that the educational system in my state was not as bad as the report indicated. The same is true in all communication. Simply listening to the information presented helps a person discern the truth from fiction.

  1. Listening drives a conversation.

Listening is vital to communication. Dialogue requires two or more people conversing. If one person does all the speaking, then the form of communication represented is not a dialogue, but rather a monologue—that is, a lecture or sermon. While lectures and sermons hold their place (being a pastor, I would certainly argue that they would), communication requires two people willing to listen to the other. Person A speaks while person B listens. Then, person B speaks while person A listens.

Often in our communication classes, we promote the importance of styles of speech and manners of persuasion. However, an equally important factor is the ability to listen and observe. If society loses its ability to listen, all we have, then, is a group of talking heads with no one to listen to any.

  1. Listening educates a person.

Listening educates. When a person takes a class, he or she will listen and learn the information given to them. Listening trains a person in what is healthy and good from what is unhealthy and bad. If people simply seek to speak, they will fail to truly learn. Jesus’ disciples had to first listen and learn from him before they were ready to preach and teach. In order for one to teach, one must first learn to listen. Before one is ready to lead, one must first learn to follow.

Conclusion

            As a father, I have sought to teach my son the importance of listening. My son is a wonderful boy. He is extremely gregarious, extroverted, personable, and highly intelligent. For me, I am a typical INTJ (introverted, intuitive, a thinker, and judger–a planner, not spontaneous). Some have called my personality one of a reserved strategist or tactician. Perhaps. My son would fit the category of an ESTJ (extroverted, sensory, thinker, and judger), quite a leader’s personality. Being an extrovert, my son finds it more difficult to stop and listen. Thus, I have been focused upon teaching him the value of listening. Yet, if I am to be successful at this endeavor, I must set a good example for him by being a good listener myself. I cannot expect him to be a good listener if I fail at being a good listener. I hope to find added benefits to strengthening my listening skills along the way. While I will certainly set other resolutions for this 2017, becoming a better listener will hold a high spot on that list. Let it be said, the Christian apologist would do well to strengthen his/her listening skills. The benefits noted in this article especially relates to the apologetic enterprise.

© 12/26/2016. Brian Chilton.

Twas the Night Before Elections

 “Twas the night before elections,

And all through the blackness;

Not a Christian was stirring,

Not even a Baptist.”

Well, that may not hold the luster of the classic story “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but it does illustrate the great anxiety that many Christians hold as we enter into this year’s Presidential election. As many have noted, there is a lot riding on this year’s election as the balance of the Supreme Court weighs in the balance. Many have postulated that America could look quite different depending on who is in office. Perhaps that is true. Throughout this year, pundits on both sides of the aisle have argued that their candidate is best. Vitriolic argumentations have been given to the point that political discussions become aggressive, if not violent, if one does not support the other person’s candidate. But for the Christian, certain truths should be remembered that will help one cope no matter how the elections turn out.

God is sovereign and can use any circumstance for His glory.

God is not a Republican nor a Democrat. A person makes a mistake by claiming otherwise. God is far higher than any political party. Certainly, this year’s election cycle has demonstrated that both parties hold major flaws. Some political pundits claim that both the Democratic and GOP parties may be on the verge of collapse. Perhaps. Nevertheless, God is sovereign. This means that God knows all, sees all, and can do all according to His divine character. God cannot do evil because He has a holy nature. Nevertheless, God can use any circumstance for His glory. But, since God is holy, why would He allow evil to take place? It seems that God would allow evil to take place if it leads to a greater good.

I have had times in my life where I wanted something to happen. I thought things would be so nice if things would go according to my way. However, I later come to find that God allowed me to go through certain difficulties to save me from greater harm. Had I been given my way, things would have become much more disastrous for me in the end. God allowed His Son to die on a cross to permit the salvation of all who would receive Christ’s atoning work. In even the most evil moment of history, God used the circumstance to bring glory. He will do the same regardless of how the election ends.

God is bringing an ultimate end that extends past the election.

There’s a lot of talk these days of people giving money to allow for certain causes. Undoubtedly, evil is abundant in our time. But since the dawning of mankind and his fall, evil has plagued the human race. For those living during the days of the American Civil War, I am certain that many thought that there was no way that humanity could survive. In the sixties, shows, such as the Twilight Zone, imagined nuclear disaster and devastation across the world. Such notions are still plausible today. Despite what has, what is, and what will occur; despite who elected and how; God is bringing an ultimate end that extends past this election. In John’s Apocalypse, the angel said to John, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and holy still be holy” (Revelation 22:11).[1] The angel is not promoting evil. Rather, he is saying that in the end, God will bring all things to an ultimate end. After the text, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:12-13). God’s work extends past the coming election.

We must trust God even if He does not answer the way we expect.

In the book of Daniel, we are introduced to three Hebrew men known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were told to bow down before a large idol by King Nebuchadnezzar. They refused. The king, then, warned them that they would be thrown into the furnace if they did not bow to worship his idol. Their response was incredible. They said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O kin. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Can we say the same? It may be that God answers your prayers concerning this election. But what it God doesn’t? Will you still love Him? Will you still serve Him? God’s ways are not our ways. His insight is far greater than ours. Thus, we must decide to follow God no matter who is elected.

Conclusion

While many may worry about the 2016 election and while there has been much written about this particular election, the Christian need not worry. God is greater than the 2016 election. God is greater than any of the candidates and the gospel transcends any of the political platforms. God will not be bribed. God cannot be bought. No matter what happens, God is in control. So don’t put your trust in the elephant or the donkey, rather place your trust in the Lamb of God who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. So our poem should read,

“Twas the night before elections,

and despite the political cesspit,

the Christian found in Christ,

a sovereign and glorious respite.”

© November 7, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

Jesus’ Cure to the Racial Divide

On July 18, 2016, I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Pellew on the Bellator Christi Podcast.1 We addressed the racial divide that has plagued our nation. During our conversation, I was reminded of the lesson I shared with the kids at a local church. The children were diverse in their ethnicities ranging from white, black, to Latino. I shared with them the story found in John chapter 4 where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

In that encounter, Jesus broke several barriers. One, Jesus broke a racial barrier that existed between Samaritans and Jews. Two, Jesus broke a gender barrier as Jewish rabbis normally did not speak to women. Three, Jesus broke the barriers of tradition. Fourth and most importantly, Jesus broke the sin barrier as He forgave the woman of her sins. But as we look at the issues of our time, we also see that Jesus’ encounter offers a cure to the divisions that ail us. Jesus’ approach serves as an excellent model to provide healing and reconciliation.

jacobs well.jpg
Actual Jacob’s well in Samaria.

Listen to the concerns of the person.

Jesus practiced good listening skills. While He was God and knew fully the situation at hand, Jesus still allowed the woman to speak. He heard her concerns and did not dismiss her. Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He listened as she timidly asked, “How is it that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4:9).2 Jesus also listened to the woman as she exclaimed “Our fathers worship on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:20). Listening is an activity that has greatly been lost. To provide healing, we must first listen to the problems that are on the table. Those issues may be sensitive. Those issues may make us uncomfortable. Nevertheless, when we listen to another person, even if we vehemently disagree with that person, we demonstrate respect to that person.

Create a relationship with the person.

Christianity is relationship-based. Melissa and I discussed on the podcast that people often segregate and divide because of the lack of knowledge of those who may differ from them. Melissa noted that a person should not simply befriend someone to proudly say, “I have a black friend” or “I have a white friend.” Rather, a person should desire to befriend others for the sake of the person, not for selfish pride. Jesus demonstrated such behavior with the Samaritan woman. The woman was shocked that Jesus spoke to her (John 4:9). The disciples were equally surprised that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan (John 4:27). Jesus did not think to Himself, “This person is a Samaritan. I will befriend her so that I can tell the folks back home that I have a Samaritan friend.” No! Rather, Jesus saw her for who she really was. She was a person who needed salvation, a person who had been excluded from her community. She was a woman who had a horrid past and a displeasurable present condition.

Forgive the failures of the past and present.

The Samaritan woman had a past. She was a woman who had been married five times and was currently living with a man (John 4:16-19). Coming to the well when she did demonstrates that she was an outcast as “women were more likely to come in groups to fetch water.”3 Jesus could have easily condemned her, saying, “You have a past, so I don’t want you in my kingdom.” Rather, Jesus forgave her past and transformed her present.

As a Caucasian Christian, I do not know the struggles that black Christians have faced. When I drove a school bus, I remember the friendship I had with a black Christian man. We spoke about different issues. I remember him telling me about his return from war in Vietnam only to be disallowed entrance to a restaurant in the South because of his skin color. From what he and other black Christians have told me, the struggle is real. It also must be noted that racism comes in all forms and fashions. Thus, discrimination against all whites because of what a few white people have done is just as racist as discrimination against a black person, Latino, or otherwise for what a few in the particular group has done. The same logic applies to police officers. A few bad cops do not mean that all cops are bad. By the way, such accusations are not only morally wrong, they also represent a logical fallacy–the fallacy of composition/division, i.e., judging the whole by the part.

While I have never been in the situations that my black Christian friends have faced, I do know what it is like to be hurt. I know what it is like to feel demeaned and unwanted. I know what it is like to feel like an outcast. From those experiences, I know firsthand the choice all of us face: forgiveness or bitterness. Forgiveness is extremely difficult, but for the Christian it is commanded. Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). In the end, a person can find healing in Christ’s forgiveness or can continue down the path of hate-driven bitterness. This is true for a person regardless of the amount of pigment one’s skin carries.

Acknowledge the present problems.

Jesus did not cower and did not waver. Jesus acknowledged the problems that the woman faced and the differences in the traditions that Samaritans and Jews held. For many, it is easier to pretend that the current problems are not real. While I did not agree with the caller on our latest show on all points that he made, I would concede that we cannot pretend that there are no current race-related problems. Like Jesus, we must not cower and waver. We must stand firm, choosing to love our neighbors as ourselves (a pretty important commandment in Matthew 22:39). As Melissa stated on our podcast, “It is time for the church to take the lead on racial matters and provide reconciliation.”4

Provide biblical answers.

Lastly, Jesus did not avoid the problems. Instead, Jesus confronted the issues that the Samaritan woman presented and provided biblical answers to those problems. As Christians we have the answers to the problems our nation faces. We know that God is sovereign and will provide justice in due time. God created all of us in His image, thus illustrating that the life of every human being matters regardless of race. The biblical worldview also incorporates the understanding that heaven will consist of all nationalities and ethnicities. John writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb'” (Revelation 7:9-10)!

Conclusion

For the Christian, there is no reason for us to commit to violence. Christianity’s sole message is about love and peace. We must remember that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Satan is the one who seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Therefore, the primary message of this article is found in Paul’s great word of encouragement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Let us pray for peace, love, and understanding.

© July 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Revelation 79 [widescreen]

Sources Cited

1 Melissa Pellew, interviewed by Brian Chilton, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew),” The Bellator Christi Podcast (July 18, 2016), http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/07/18/healing-the-racial-divide-with-melissa-pellew.

2 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 217.

4 Pellew, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew), Bellator Christi Podcast.

5 Christian Responses to a Changing Culture

Throughout the history of the Christian church, believers have responded various ways to their culture. Some responses have been good, whereas other responses have been less than favorable. What are the five responses? This article will examine the five forms of responses that have been made throughout history by five given caricatures. In many respects, these five responses greatly resemble the five Christian models for approaching culture given in H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book Christ and Culture.[1] The models are given in descending order from the more extreme forms of thought—opposing culture, to those that fully embrace culture.

The Monk.

The first response is that of the monk. This caricature is in no means meant to demean the great work of Christian monks throughout the centuries. However, it is meant to demonstrate the response that many in the monastery have taken over the years. When culture goes amiss, many will withdraw from the culture, completely separating themselves from the culture. This approach resembles Niebuhr’s “Christ Against Culture” approach.

As Christians face a global culture that is becoming more antagonistic towards the Christian faith (something that is anticipated by a futurist understanding of Revelation—which I hold), it is easy for many to withdraw from the cultural arena completely. Some will take the defeated attitude in saying, “I won’t make much of a difference anyhow.” For others, the ideas of a governmental hidden agenda and conspiracy-theory-powered-paranoia will cause the desire to abandon everything in culture. St. Anthony and the desert fathers are exemplary of this model. Also, Tertullian, Tolstoy, Menno Simmons, the Amish, and traditional Anabaptists have taken to this model. But it must be asked: Is this the best model?

The Mobster.

The second caricature may sound odd at first. How could a Christian hold a mobster mentality to the culture? Well, mobsters generally operate by the mantra, “I am above the law.” Their livelihood is based on a system that contradicts the law at hand. The mobster mentality holds that Christians and any given culture will always hold a degree of paradox. The Christian, while living in the world, can never necessarily appreciate the things of the world since the Christian essentially lives in two kingdoms. The Christian will always experience tensions in trying to fulfill the demands of both kingdoms.

Martin Luther is an advocate of this view. The mobster view is comparable to Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture in Paradox” model. While this viewpoint holds many great points of truth and value, one must ask: Is this the right model to hold?

The Reformer.

Reformers seek to transform. Unbeknownst to many, Luther and the early reformers did not seek to divide the church. Rather, they sought to bring the church back to a point where they felt the church was more biblically accurate. The cultural reformer seeks to transform the given culture with the gospel of Christ. The reformer will seek to convert the values and goals of the culture to the values and goals of the kingdom of God, realizing that such will not take place unless people come to know Christ as Savior.

Many heavyweights of the faith hold this view, which is comparable to Niebuhr’s “Christ the Transformer of Culture” model. Augustine, Calvin, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and Francis Schaeffer all hold to the Reformer Model. Is this the correct view? We will see.

The Ruler.

The ruler seeks to dominate a particular area. In a sense, the ruler will always battle to keep his/her power and control. When the Roman Empire dominated much of the known world during the height of their power, the Empire had to patrol areas with their soldiers to forcefully keep the peace (somewhat of an oxymoron).

The ruler mentality of Christians pertaining to the culture holds that change can only take place when the church is given authority over a particular area. The answers to life’s problems are found in the specific revelation of God (i.e., the Bible), thus the only way to bring culture and faith together is to assert dominance over the culture. This model is comparable to the “Christ Above Culture” model presented by Niebuhr. It is said that Thomas Aquinas is the greatest advocate of this model. Is this the best model to hold?

The Politician.

The last viewpoint is the exact opposite of the Monk Model. Politicians have the reputation of avoiding specific answers when presented certain questions. Many successful politicians are wishy-washy as they seek approval from both sides of the aisle. In like manner, the Politician Model is one that seeks to assimilate the culture into one’s faith. Being comparable to Niebuhr’s “Christ of Culture” model, it is no surprise that liberal Christians often adopt this mindset.

Feminist theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, anti-hell theologian Rob Bell, Matthew Vines, “cultural Christians,” and process theologians would fit within the Politician Model. Quite frankly, it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly what the beliefs of many cultural Christians are. In many respects, one would imagine that the culture has shaped their biblical hermeneutics rather than biblical hermeneutics shaping their cultural stance. But in their defense, many of these individuals hold that if Christianity does not adapt to the culture, they fear that Christianity will become irrelevant at best, or will die at the worst. Is this true? Is this the best model?

Conclusion: The Preferred Model

Nearly all of these models hold some value and truth. The monk is correct in thinking that the Christian needs to step away from cultural trends. Christians may find solace in stepping away from the grid from time to time. The mobster is correct in thinking that a paradox will always exist between the Christian life and the cultural life. As the old adage goes, “Christians are in the world, but not of the world.” The reformer is correct in thinking that change must happen through the gospel message. That requires engagement. The ruler is correct in thinking that the Bible holds the right answers to the problems of life. For all the problems of the politician model, it is agreed that Christianity must at least listen to the concerns of the modern culture.

In my estimation, the politician model (if you could not tell already) does not hold the answer for the modern Christian. If the gospel message is lost, there is no Christianity to keep alive. Without the gospel and the truth of God’s word, Christianity has already become irrelevant. However, if the Bible is God’s word (which I believe it is), then its truths transcend culture. Thus, the politician model is the weakest of the four.

The monk model is not preferred either. Christ calls for us to be “my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).[2] It is difficult to tell people about Christ throughout the ends of the earth while Christians are disengaged with society. In fact, many have argued that it is because of this mentality that the universities were lost to secularism in the late 1800s. Princeton, Yale, and other ivy-league institutions used to be front and center for orthodox Christian values. In like manner, it could be argued that the reason our culture has become so secularized is due to the withdrawal of Christians from active service in society.

The ruler model does not seem to be preferred either. The Christian cannot force a person into the kingdom. In like manner, Christian dictatorship leads to a “cultural Christianity” which is not necessarily a genuine Christianity.

The mobster mentality is correct in its assessment. However, it seems that such a view could lend itself to the Monk Model if taken to extremes. Thus, the mobster mentality holds great value, but does not seem to be the best outlook.

In my estimation, I feel that the Reformer Model is best. The only hope that people have is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ can and will transform the culture ultimately in the end. The reformer does not allow his theology to be altered by the culture. Nor does the reformer allow his fears to cause him to hide away from the culture either. He is engaged with the culture and realizes that the only hope for humanity is found in the gospel. Nothing will change unless there is a transformation. A transformation cannot happen without the gospel of Christ. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ will bring change to a troubled culture.

© July 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] See the following link for a chart describing the five approaches given in Niebuhr’s book: http://christianculturecenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/christ-and-culture.png.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

The Power of a Positive Legacy

Normally towards the first of the week, we examine an apologetic issue of importance. However, today I am still left with the overwhelming importance of a person’s legacy. This past weekend, I helped officiate my grandfather’s funeral service. I learned much more about my grandfather’s early life during his funeral than I had known while he was with us. Grandpa’s brother, Paul Sisk, said that Grandpa had led him to the Lord as well as many in their family. I also heard, from many of his parishioners, how great a pastoral leader my Grandpa had been. One word keeps coming to mind: legacy.

Legacy is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “something handed down by a predecessor.”[1] My Grandpa handed down a legacy of Christian conviction and influence. Grandpa was by no means perfect. However, he did strive to live the best Christian life that he could and used the resources he had available to him to make a difference for the kingdom of God. The issue of legacy makes me wonder what type of legacy I will leave behind. Some may inquire, “Why is it important to leave a lasting legacy when people may not remember us past a generation or two?” Such is a fair question. I feel that we must leave behind a positive legacy for many reasons.

  1. A positive legacy will inspire future generations.

The term inspire is defined as to “fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something.”[2] Inspiration is generally associated with a positive urge or ability implanted in someone. Throughout the Scriptures, we find records of individuals who have inspired future generations to do great things. Abraham is one such example. Abraham inspired the faithfulness of future generations. Abraham is revered not only in the Christian worldview, but also in the Judaist and Islamic worldviews. Others have served to inspire future generations, as well.

Jesus inspired the salvation of future generation. Jesus’ obedience even leading to the cross has inspired countless individuals to face and overcome amazing odds. Jesus noted that those who believe in him “will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).[3] If we look for a perfect example for how one should inspire others, look to the perfect example found in Christ Jesus. For it was Grandpa, who pointed me to Jesus and tried to emulate Christ as much as he could. While we all need heroes of the faith and need to be heroes of the faith for others, we should inspire individuals to always look towards the perfect example found in Jesus.

  1. A positive legacy will influence future decisions.

The legacy of an individual will influence the decision-making of future generations. If a person holds a negative influence over others, the person may propagate bad decisions in his or her children. People who constantly surround their children with drugs and addictive behaviors could influence their children to do the same. But, the opposite is also true.

We often hear about the exodus of youth from church. While we may concentrate on those things that don’t work, I have been seeking information on what does work. Michael Haverluck, writing for One News Now, notes one particular influence that keeps children in church. Haverluck writes,

“Nielson argues that firm and loving leadership at home is essential to keep kids rooted in their faith into adulthood. ‘The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church,’ Nielson continued. ‘They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious. They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough, but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another.’”[4]

I feel that the Nielsen studies are accurate. If a parent does not take church seriously, what makes a person think that their children will? Wishy-washy, buddy-buddy, boundary-less parenting does not lend itself towards good results. God told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:15). It was Moses’ and the peoples’ responsibility to influence future generations. Modern Christians hold the same responsibility.

  1. A positive legacy will initiate future changes.

One person can make a distinct difference which will initiate a future chain of events. People often like to think that the person is their own person and does not influence anything or anyone else. But this is simply not true. Instead of living isolated lives, people are interconnected through a human network so to speak. The choice of one person may directly or indirectly initiate a future change of some sort.

Take Joseph for instance. What if Joseph had succumbed to temptation? What if Joseph refused to listen to God and interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh? Well, life would be much different than it is now. Because of Joseph’s faithfulness, a chain of events took place eventually leading to the Exodus, leading towards the nation of Israel, ultimately leading to the first advent of Christ. Actions today lead towards decisions tomorrow.

Take again my grandpa. Grandpa became a Christian in part due to the ardent prayer life of my grandmother. What if Grandma had not prayed as she did? What then? I would suppose that we would not have had the Christian upbringing that we enjoy and countless others would have never heard the gospel message through Grandpa. Grandma was influenced to accept Christ due to the moving of the Holy Spirit working through the lives of those close to her. What if those people had rejected the calling of God to share the gospel? What then? We initiate future decisions by our actions and attitudes. A person must ask himself or herself, “Am I purporting positive potential future changes?”

  1. A positive legacy will insulate the furtherance of truth.

A person’s legacy is either that of one who insulates, or protects, the truth, or one who rejects and distorts the truth. The importance and value of the Scriptures were emphasized to me very early in life. My grandpa told me, “Son, if you keep your messages between the covers of Genesis and Revelation, you are okay. However, if you leave the text found between these two covers, you are on your own.” Grandpa’s sage wisdom in the area of biblical exegesis is one that I have tried to keep and maintain in my ministry. It was actually due to this advice that I left the ministry when I had times of doubts. If the text could not be trusted, then I did not need to preach at all. Once God demonstrated the veracity of Scriptures, I could then preach and teach with a newfound fervor.

I am struck by the dichotomy found in the Third Letter of John. John, on the one hand, praises one named Demetrius. Why did John praise Demetrius? Demetrius had “received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself” (3 John 12). The legacy of Demetrius was one devoted to truth. Yet, the same was not true for Diotrephes.

Diotrephes had a legacy that was one not devoted to truth. Rather, Diotrephes was one “who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9). Furthermore, Diotrephes was involved in “talking wicked nonsense about us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3 John 10). While scholars do not know much about Diotrephes, his legacy has been tainted in the pages of God’s Word. Can one imagine the horror of having one’s legacy recorded for all eternity as one who stood in the way of God’s church? Such is the case for all who allow themselves to be the conduits of falsehood.

Conclusion

Every person will leave behind a legacy of some sort. Theologians, pastors, apologists, and regular congregants alike leave something for the next generation. One must ask oneself, “What will be my legacy? What will others remember about me?” It behooves each person to evaluate themselves and begin building a legacy that will bring about good results. God has been too good for one to lackadaisically and half-heartedly settle for mediocrity. Let us all strive to leave behind legacies that will positively shape the generation to come.

 

© May 23, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Michael F. Haverluck, “3 Factors Keeping Youth in Church Through Adulthood,” OneNewsNow.com (May 4, 2015), retrieved May 23, 2016, http://www.onenewsnow.com/church/2015/05/04/3-factors-keeping-youth-in-church-through-adulthood.

A Tribute to an Unknown Spiritual Giant: Remembering Rev. Odell Sisk

Chances are highly likely that you have never heard the name Odell Sisk. He never wrote a book. He was never the pastor of a mega-church. He had no connections with influential leaders. He held no degrees. Yet, the influence of this individual is felt by every person who reads this post. If the spiritual legacy of Odell Sisk did not exist, then chances are likely that this website would not exist. How so? Let me explain his story.

Odell Sisk was born on Sauratown Mountain in Stokes County, North Carolina. He was one of 14 children (12 boys and 2 girls). On one fateful day, Odell met a woman named Mildred Beck. Mildred loved Odell. It was love at first sight. But there was a catch: Mildred was a devout Christian; Odell was not. Against the advice of some, as they were unequally yoked,[1] they married. Mildred’s father, Henry Beck, warned her, “You made your bed. You’ll have to sleep in it.” But Mildred loved Odell. Mildred did something that neither her father nor Odell expected. She prayed. And she prayed hard! She prayed consistently that God would save Odell, her newfound husband. God heard her prayers and began working on young Odell’s heart. Although he ran, he eventually accepted the loving grace of God into his life by receiving Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. God, however, was not done with Odell just yet.

Mildred kept praying. She prayed, “God, use him for your glory.” God again heard the prayers of this godly woman. God began working on Odell in a different way. God called Odell to preach. Odell did not have a high school diploma, something that personally troubled him, so he wondered if he could truly accomplish what God was requesting of him–much like Moses who felt like he was ill-equipped to speak for God. One day while plowing one of his fields being the farmer that he was, Odell surrendered to the call while driving his tractor.

Grandpa with kids
Odell and Mildred with their great-grandchildren.

When Odell finally accepted the call, God used him mightily. His first church was a little church by the name of Hills Grove Baptist Church in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. He was used of God to lead this congregation for many years. Eventually, he accepted the call to pastor Albion Missionary Baptist Church in Westfield, North Carolina. Odell retired after a lengthy tenure at Albion. However, that retirement was short lived. Another church named Little Richmond Baptist Church in Elkin, North Carolina called him to be their pastor. Odell left his so-called retirement to pastor again. After serving at Little Richmond for several years, Odell retired again. But Odell’s retirement was again premature, Albion Baptist called Odell for a second tenure to be their pastor. It is unique that a church calls a minister to a second-term after a period apart. Altogether, Odell served Albion as pastor for over 27 years, a rarity in modern times. Due to health reasons, Odell had to again retire, this time for good due to COPD and other medical issues. On May 19, 2016 at 8:25am, Odell was called home to meet his Lord leaving behind a long legacy of ministry.

Albion Baptist Church
Albion Missionary Baptist Church, Westfield, NC

While not a largely popular person outside of a tri-county area in the foothills of North Carolina, Odell’s legacy is one that has influenced countless individuals. In fact: if it were not for the spiritual influence of Odell Sisk, the online ministry of Bellator Christi.com and my personal ministry might have never existed. Why? Odell and Mildred Sisk are my grandparents. I have personally witnessed countless occasions where Grandpa locked himself up in his office to have personal time with the Lord. I have seen Grandma on her knees in prayer. Grandpa consistently checked to ensure that his family knew about Christ Jesus. He was even known during his last few weeks to have evangelized the doctors who were treating him—against the advice of some.

Grandparents with me at Moms house
Grandparents with my sister and I.

Grandpa is the one who told me about Jesus. Grandpa is the one who led me to the Lord. In September of 1983, Grandpa led me in a prayer to receive Christ as my Savior while sitting in his living room. It was Grandpa who baptized me in the Dan River in the summer of 1984. When I told him about my calling to preach, it was Grandpa who said, “Run. If you can do anything else, you are not called. But if you cannot, then you are called.” When my calling was verified, it was Grandpa who said, “As long as you keep your messages between the two covers of the Bible, you are okay. But if you go outside these covers, you are on your own.” This advice is one that I take seriously even to this day.

Throughout history, we hear of many spiritual giants, such as the Apostle Paul, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and Billy Graham. But it is often the otherwise unknown spiritual giants that lead the way for the Pauls, the Augustines, the Spurgeons, and Grahams. Quite frankly, I feel that God uses those who are largely unknown to bring about great ends. There will be more of these unknown spiritual giants in heaven, like my simple rural grandparents. The unknown spiritual giants make an impact of the like that will not be fully known until the final pages of history are turned, and we all stand before God in eternity.

Grandpa Sisk_revised
Grandpa in his living room where I received Christ.

The apostle Paul notes that we shall all stand before the bema seat of Christ (i.e., the Judgment Seat of Christ) “so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).[2] At that time, the work of each Christian individual will be tested. Paul notes that “if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). For those whose work stands the testing, they will be given rewards. For those whose work does not stand, they will suffer loss although they will still enter into God’s heaven.

Grandpa was not perfect, but he had a perfect Savior. Grandpa undoubtedly earned many rewards as his influence is carried on to future generations. The challenge is now with us. What will we do with the legacy that God left through those like Grandpa? This challenge is not only true for my family, but for all who have their own unknown spiritual giants.

My family will celebrate the life of my Grandpa this weekend. But I must say, that God challenges me through the legacy of my grandfather to go forth and make my own legacy as well. The legacy is not really mine to give, just as it wasn’t Grandpa’s. The legacy is that of Jesus Christ. The challenge is still the same. Will we receive rewards in heaven like those who preceded us? Or will we stand before God with nothing to offer Him?

Grandparents with me at graduation
My grandparents with my family and I at my graduation from Gardner-Webb.

Grandpa left a Christian legacy. Go make your Christian legacy…even if you are largely unknown in society. For with God, there are no unknown spiritual giants–just spiritual giants.

© May 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

[1] Meaning that one was a Christian and the other was not.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman, 1995).

Lessons Learned from Graduation

    This weekend, I had the honor to be counted among the 19,432 graduates for the 43rd commencement ceremonies at Liberty University. I cannot even begin to express the excitement and love that I felt at the university. The journey to graduation was tough. The drive to Lynchburg even proved difficult as we will soon discuss. However, my education did not end at graduation. In fact, during graduation weekend, I learned four valuable lessons that I hope to take with me for the duration of my days on planet earth. These lessons play off of the adopted biblical verse for Liberty University which is “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).[1] The context of the verse implies that God removes the veil from our eyes so that we can “see and reflect the glory of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).[2] Thus, what does God’s liberty mean to us?

Lesson #1:      With God’s liberty, there is power to do the impossible.

Ronald Hawkins noted that the first graduating class of 1974 had 46 graduates. This year’s graduating class had 19,432 graduates. With God, there is power to do what may seem to be impossible. Our commencement speaker was Rashad Jennings who is the running back for the New York Giants. Jennings noted that he should not be playing football by normal standards. Jennings said that he was told that he was too short, in high school had a 0.6 GPA, weighed 275 pounds and had asthma. However, as Jennings noted, “With God, you can dream crazy big.”[3]

With God all things are possible. No mountain is too high and no valley is too wide for God. God can help you do the impossible. This is the very thing that the angel told Mary before she became the mother of our Lord. Mary had learned that her relative Elizabeth would be with child. Elizabeth was too old by most people’s standards. However, the angel told Mary that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Lesson #2:      With God’s liberty, there is love to reach the impoverished.

            My wife and I have been dealing with great strains as of late. Due to personal reasons, I cannot relay the reasons behind these problems. Both of us have been stressed for so long that it was a radiant breath of fresh air to experience numerous people who congratulated us and wished us the very best. My wife was stunned at how loving and kind the professors were. She said, “I always thought that professors were somewhat distant from the students. But, the professors here really care about their students!” At the School of Divinity, the professors laid their hands upon the graduating class praying over them. Again, our minds were blown!

My wife and I have been impoverished here lately due to the stress and strains of life. To experience the overwhelming love and kindness that we received this week from the students, families, and staff at Liberty University was refreshing. We met a man who was good friends with the late Dr. Jerry Falwell. He told us about their friendship and about the passion that Dr. Falwell had for the Lord and the compassion that he had for people. The gentleman invited us to attend his church (Thomas Road Baptist Church) some weekend when I wasn’t preaching. He gave all of us hugs and said, “I won’t say goodbye. I’ll just say, ‘I’ll see you later.’”

I learned this weekend that the love of God radiating through His children is a refreshing drink to the dehydrated soul. It is a nourishing meal to the malnourished heart. Perhaps this is why Jesus commanded us that the mark of true discipleship is love. Jesus noted that the believer is commanded to “love one another, even as I have loved you…By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Ed Hindson noted in the School of Divinity graduation that knowledge is important. However, some people will not care how smart a person is. The Spirit of God must open their hearts before they can receive the truth of Christ. The believer is to show grace and mercy to all people. Hindson’s statements really resonated with me. I have failed to show love the way I should from time to time. Perhaps some of this has stemmed from personal attacks that I have received in my ministry. Yet Christ was attacked and prayed for the forgiveness of His offenders. Love is a cherished gift from God. May we all make it a priority to focus on loving others the way Christ commanded us.

Lesson #3:      With God’s liberty, there is humility to counter one’s importance.

Going back to Dr. Hindson’s powerful message, I was reminded that despite our achievements, we must always remain humble. As noted previously, Hindson reminded us that some people will not care about how smart we are until they experience the grace of God within us. Hindson is absolutely right. Knowledge and wisdom are important. In fact, they are critical. Yet, if knowledge and wisdom are shrouded with a haughty spirit, then they are for nothing. Peter reminds us that we are to “humble [ourselves] under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NLT).

Lesson #4:      With God’s liberty, there is strength to endure the interruptions.

“Interruptions” is probably a bad word to use for this lesson, but I wanted to stay true to the “I” theme. While my family and I were driving up to Lynchburg, we received a call that my grandpa was not doing well. My mother and father needed to go back home. We were all riding together. My wonderful wife took it upon herself to drop my son and I off at the hotel and drive my parents back home. Altogether, my wife drove for 6 hours the Friday before graduation. She told me afterwards, “You know, God gave me strength to make the journey.” God will give us strength to endure many of the obstacles of life. My grandpa improved, although he still has many health issues plaguing him.

Many have noted that when they have faced troubles and trials, God always shows up to provide them strength to endure. God also provides us means of rest if we will take it. It is up to us to make sure we give ourselves the rest that God provides. Jesus invites to “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NLT).

Conclusion

            Some will undoubtedly read this and say, “Well, you are just pumping up your alma mater.” That is not the purpose of this article. Rather, I have sought to show the importance that comes taking God seriously in both word and deed. When we devote ourselves to the Lord, we can find power, love, humility, and strength. Will you devote yourself to Christ? My challenge for all the graduates of 2016, not only at Liberty but everywhere, is to devote yourselves unto Christ Jesus. Receive His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control. Then, go spread those attributes to each person you meet. With God, we can have an impact upon the world!

© May 16, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

[3] Rashad Jennings, Commencement 2016, Liberty University (May 14, 2016).

Qualities of God’s Mercy (Numbers 14:18-19)

Nearly all of us have heard the song Great is Thy Faithfulness. The hymn states, “Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning to morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great Is thy Faithfulness Lord unto me.” Unlike some other hymns, this hymn is not the result of some tragic event in Thomas Chisholm’s life but a powerful witness to his daily walk with Jesus as he experienced “morning by morning” new mercies from His Everlasting Father. Pastor Chisholm always trusted his Everlasting Father to take care of him, sustain him, and provide for his daily needs. Just before his death in 1960 he wrote this power, personal witness: “My income has never been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. But I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”[1] Chisholm’s hymn demonstrates not only the great faithfulness of God, but also the great mercy of God. Chisholm’s health would have failed him much earlier if it were not for the mercy of God. Chisholm realized that he was being sustained by the mercy of God.

We have spoken about the grace of God. Grace was defined as “giving someone something that they do not deserve.” Mercy is quite the opposite. Wayne Grudem defines mercy as “God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress.”[2] In other words, mercy is not giving someone something that they deserve. Some have asked whether mercy is an attribute or an activity. Norman Geisler has stated that “Regardless of whether mercy is itself an attribute or an activity of God, it is deeply rooted in His unchangeable nature. As such, it reveals something extremely important about God’s character.”[3]

1. The mercy of God has the quality of PATIENCE (14:18a).

 Moses acknowledges in his prayer the patience of God as he says “the LORD is slow to anger.”[4] Moses had witnessed God’s great mercy in demonstrating patience in times past. Moses was asking for the same as the people had rebelled against the Lord. People were exclaiming, “We would have been better off in Egypt!”

It’s interesting to note the difference between the lack of patience from the people and the overwhelming patience of God. Remember, mercy means NOT giving someone something that they deserve. Did the people deserve a divine pop in the nose? Yes! However, God demonstrated mercy by his patience. What if God acted to us the way the people acted to God? Would they have been afforded the opportunity to enter the Promised Land? No!

2. The mercy of God has the quality of KINDNESS (14:18b).

Moses continues with his prayer noting that God has “abundant lovingkindness.” This phrase comes from two Hebrew words “rab” and “chesed.” The word rab means “mighty, “strong, or even “numerous.” Chesed means “lovingkindess” that has its root in one’s mercy. Thus, one could say that kindness is rooted in mercy. Moses was pleading for the kindness of God.

Let’s think this over. God had great mercy on the Hebrews keeping them from the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians. God had mercy on the Hebrews allowing them to cross through the Red Sea on dry ground. God had mercy on them by giving them manna from heaven. God had mercy on them leading them into the Promised Land. God had shown nothing but mercy to the Hebrews. Yet, still the Hebrews rebelled against God. Perhaps the problem was not so much with God’s mercy, but with the gratitude of God’s people.

3. The mercy of God has the quality of JUSTNESS (14:18d).

Moses was praying for God’s mercy. But, Moses also realized that there would be some who would not repent no matter how much grace was extended to them.  As we learn earlier in the chapter, many were saying, “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt” (14:3)? What was the real sin? The writers of the New Bible Commentary note that “The Lord’s word begins with an accurate analysis of Israel’s sin—it is unbelief.”[5]

Three things can be said about the justness of mercy. 1) Isn’t it amazing that the people, who could not save themselves, thought that they knew better than the One who delivered them? Some people claim that God is unjust for sending people to hell, while at the same time accusing God for allowing evil to go unpunished. The same people will accuse God for not revealing himself to the world, while at the same time accuse God of foolishness for revealing himself on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. God’s mercy is extended, but his mercy does not force the obstinate and those who refuse to repent.

2) It was G. K. Chesterton who said, “Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape.”[6]

3) God is not unjust for sending unrepentant people to hell. God is merciful to allow anyone to go to heaven. It would be unjust of God to allow unrepentant people to enter into heaven.

4. The mercy of God has the quality of FORGIVENESS (14: 18c, 19).

Moses pleads with God to forgive the repentant. Moses played the part of a lawyer. Moses argued: “If the Lord wiped out the nation, it would reflect more on His character than on the character of rebellious Israel. His inability to fulfill His promise to bring this people into the promised land would negatively impact His reputation if He carried out His plan to destroy the nation. Moses, however, knew that the Lord could not let this rebellion go unpunished.”[7] Of course, God knew this all along. Thus, Moses pleaded for God to show mercy through his forgiving nature.

 Mercy is at the heart of forgiveness. People really only hold two options when they are offended: they can hold grudges and seek revenge, or they can forgive giving the people over to God. But really, if we consider all for which God has forgiven us, it should be no big issue to forgive others. Jesus says quite bluntly, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:15). When we hold on to bitterness, we really in the end only hurt ourselves anyhow.  

A medieval story captures the manner in which bitterness holds us a prisoner. Long ago, two monks were traveling and approached an unusually rough river. Standing alone on the bank was a woman who approached the monks and asked if they could help her across so she could return home to her family. Knowing it was forbidden to touch a woman, one monk quickly looked the other way, ignoring her request for help. The other monk, feeling compassion for the desperate lady, decided to bend the rules. Breaking tradition, he lifted her into his arms and carried her safely across the rushing water. Exceedingly grateful, the lady thanked the helpful monk and left for home. The two monks continued on their journey. After miles of silence, the first monk finally said with disgust, “I can’t believe you picked up that woman! You know we’re never supposed to touch the opposite sex.” The compassionate monk replied, “I put her down miles ago, yet you still carry her in your heart.” God grants us mercy by his forgiveness. By God’s mercy, we are afforded the opportunity to forgive others as well.

Conclusion: A little boy named Johnny and his sister Sally stayed at their grandparents’ house for a week during the summer. Johnny had just received a brand new slingshot. However, Johnny wasn’t a good shot. His grandma called him in for supper. Frustrated, Johnny took a shot at his grandma’s pet duck. However, this time he hit the duck in the head and killed it dead. Johnny panicked. He took the duck’s corpse and hid it under a bush. His sister Sally had watched the whole thing. She said to him, “You’d better do what I say or I’ll tell Grandma.” So, the next day after lunch, Grandma said, “Sally, I need you to help with the dishes.” Sally said, “Johnny wants to do it.” Sally looked at Johnny and whispered, “Remember the duck.” Grandpa said to the children, “Let’s go fishing at the pond.” Grandma said, “I need Sally to help with supper.” Sally said, “Johnny wants to help.” She looked at Johnny and whispered, “Remember the duck.” After a few days of being Sally’s slave, doing chores, and obeying her every whim, he confessed to Grandma. Grandma said, “Honey, I was standing at the window when you accidently shot the duck. I forgave you then and there. I was just wondering how long you were going to be Sally’s slave.[8] The grace of God gives us heaven. But it is by the mercy of God that we are forgiven, transformed, and changed. If God has had mercy on you, remember you are a changed individual. Don’t be enslaved by the Devil’s reminders of your past. In life fashion, if you have received the mercy of God, demonstrate that same mercy unto others.

 

© April 29, 2016. Brian Chilton. Published May 5, 2016.

Notes

[1] Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), 366

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 200.

[3] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany, 2011), 595.

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] D. A. Carson, et. al., The New Bible Commentary (Liecester, UK: Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, 1994), Logos Bible Softward.

[6] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: SnowBall Classics Publishing, 2015), 57

[7] Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds, The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2014), 234.

[8] Adapted from the story given by Ellen Klinke, “The Duck and the Devil,” SermonIllustrationLibrary.org (May 3, 2006), retrieved April 29, 2016, http://www.sermonillustrationlibrary.org/illustration56.

God’s Big Plan Found in the Hymn of Christ (Philippians 2:6-11)

I have, among many other issues, a medical problem. I have what is called “myopia.” Myopia is the technical term for “near-sightedness.” I can see close up, but I cannot see far off. I grew up in foothills of North Carolina, close to the Virginia border. It’s an area where the mountains are nearly always in view. When I was about seven or eight years old, I began to notice that the mountains began to look fuzzy. At some times, it appeared that there were two sets of mountains when in reality only one existed. The ophthalmologist helped my problem by prescribing glasses for me. To this day, I have to wear either glasses or my contact lenses to see properly. Otherwise, I cannot see except for things nearest to me.

Often, we suffer from spiritual myopia. We see things that are closest to us and those things taking place in the world. Such a focus may leave us feeling overwhelmed. When we feel such emotions, we know it is time to put on our spiritual lenses. This Easter, we need a special reminder of God’s really big plan found in and through the life of Christ. Today, Paul provides to us an ancient hymn. The majority of scholars believe that this hymn predates the writing of the New Testament. The hymn, popularly called “The Hymn of Christ,” dates back to the earliest church. Along with other early confessions (Romans 10:9) and creeds (1 Corinthians 15:3-7), Paul likely received the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 in AD 35 when he met with the apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18), particularly Simon Peter and James the brother of Jesus, to confirm the gospel message that he was preaching.[1] What do we find of God’s big plan found in Christ? We find a five-point plan.

 1. Christ’s PREEXISTENCE is evidence of God’s ETERNAL plan (2:6).

Paul first notes that Christ was in the form of God. Though Christ “was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (2:6).[2] In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus was divine. Jesus existed before he was born. This is a tough concept to imagine. However, Paul further shows that Christ did not use his divinity as a means of praise or adulation. Rather, Christ humbly left the throne of heaven to fulfill the Father’s plan. Due to God’s omniscience, God realized that if he made individuals with free will that eventually humanity would choose wrong. Why allow humanity to choose? It was to allow for perfect love to be exemplified. The sheer logic of it all dictates a salvific plan. God chose from the foundation of the world to save you! Writing of God’s salvific plan, Paul notes that “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:11-12).

 2. Christ’s HUMANITY is evidence of God’s HUMBLE plan (2:7).

The hymn goes on to say that Christ did not use his divinity to escape any of the human attributes he possessed. While Jesus was 100% God, he was also 100% human. Christ left the portals of heaven to be born in a manger with stinky animals. Jesus could have chosen to have been born to a ritzy, flashy family. Rather, he was born into a family of faith: Joseph and his precious mother Mary. Jesus could have used his divinity to override his humanity. The Gospels note that there were times where Jesus could not perform miracles due to the lack of faith by the people (Mark 6:5). Jesus could have overridden their faith, could have chosen to not be tempted by Satan, and could have called down legions of angels for protection from the cross (Matthew 26:53); however, Jesus never did so because he chose to humbly fulfill the Father’s plan. Some commentators have noted that there is a distinct difference between Adam and Christ. Adam was the first created human being who desired to be God for his own glory. In stark contrast, Christ is God who became human in order to save humanity for the Father’s glory.

 3. Christ’s SACRIFICE is evidence of God’s SALFIVIC plan (2:8).

The hymn goes even further with God’s plan. God’s Messiah would leave the portals of heaven, would humbly take on flesh, and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). Richard Melick writes, “The impact of crucifixion on the Philippians would be great. No Roman could be subjected to such a death, and the Jews took it as a sign that the victim was cursed (Gal 3:13).[3] Christ chose to die on the cross out of his great love for you and out of his great obedience unto God the Father. He could have chosen any other means of death, yet Christ chose to die one of the most excruciating deaths possible to demonstrate his great love towards you. But why did Jesus choose the cross? Fleming Rutledge, I think accurately, states that “The horrible death envisioned for the Suffering Servant and the horrific death suffered by Jesus Christ respond to the gravity of sin.”[4] But I think Christ’s sacrifice also demonstrates another reality: that good people must sometimes suffer. Without the cross, there is not a crown.

 4. Christ’s RESURRECTION is evidence of God’s EXALTING plan (2:9).

In verse 9, the hymn alludes to Christ’s resurrection by the phrase “highly exalted” (2:9). By the resurrection, Christ was given a name that is above all others. G. Walter Hansen notes four ways we can understand Christ’s exaltation.

First, the hymn does not view the reward as the motive for Christ’s obedience. Thus, Christ’s obedience does not exemplify obeying in order to deserve a reward. Second, the hymn does not present the reward as redemption from sin…The reward given to Christ was vindication by God: God vindicated Christ’s death on a cross by exalting him to the highest place. Third, the hymn views the reward as a gracious gift. God gave the name above every name not as compensation for Christ’s work, but as proof of divine approval of his work. Fourth, the hymn views the reward as divine confirmation of Christ’s true identity, not as an acquisition of a new position. The true identity of the one existing in the form of God and equal to God was hidden by the humiliation of death on a cross, but was revealed by God’s act of exalting him and giving him the name of Lord. As long as these four qualifications of the concept of reward are kept in mind, God’s exaltation of Christ may be properly understood as God’s way of graciously rewarding Christ by vindicating him after his death on a cross and by revealing his divine nature after his humiliation.”[5]

 In other words, the resurrection reveals to the world Christ’s divine nature and his plan. Without the resurrection of Christ, people would have thought that Christ’s death was merely a tragedy. The resurrection of Christ reveals that our sins had been atoned and that death had been defeated. The resurrection shows the object through which salvation has been given.

 5. Christ’s ASCENSION is evidence of God’s VICTORIOUS plan (2:10-11).

In verses 10 and 11 of “The Hymn of Christ,” the hymn notes that eventually “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:10-11). This passage of Scripture indicates that at some point in time every person will acknowledge the identity of Jesus Christ. In ancient times, divine names were given to the Roman Caesars as it was believed that they ruled over all the land. However, this hymn notes that the true ruler of all is Christ Jesus the Lord. Isaiah writes speaking for God, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee will bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:23). Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father after appearing to the disciples multiple times over a 40 day period…once even appearing to more than 500 people at one time (more likely 1,500 to 2000). As Christ has gone, Christ will return. While things may seem chaotic, understand that Christ rules supremely.

 A few weeks ago, my wife went on a business trip to Orlando, Florida. The week was awful while she was gone. I came down with the flu. My son had to stay out of school one day of the week. I had to take him to the doctor. We were so glad when Mommy came back home. We kept anticipating her arrival. We missed her motherly instinct. Most of all, we missed her! We tracked her flight as she was heading home. As she flew overhead, my son and I went outside to wave at her as her jet passed by our home. My son jumped up and down saying, “Mommy’s home!” Mommy’s home!” As the world gets crazier and crazier, I think it is like tracking the flight plan of King Jesus. We know that these signs tell us that soon we will be shouting, “Jesus is taking us home! Jesus is taking us home!” It’s all part of God’s big plan!

 

So here are a few principles we can take home.

  1. God’s plan is much bigger than our perceptions. Many people mistook what the Messiah would do. God’s plan was far bigger than what anyone expected. You may not understand what God is doing today, but understand his plan is far better for your ultimate and eternal future.
  2. God’s plan included the utmost humility. Live humble lives. Christ took on the humblest role than anyone could. Can we think that we can live any differently? In a world of self-entitlement, self-gratification, and self-promotion, the Christian should step back and remember that Christ did not choose to be born in Herod’s palace, but rather a manger to faithful people living in poverty.
  3. God’s plan included suffering for the Messiah. Our lives may include suffering for the glory of God. As mentioned earlier, we live in a self-entitlement generation. However, we should understand that there is often a cross before a crown. If the perfect Son of God had to suffer in this life, what makes us think that we are any different?
  4. God’s plan includes an end result that is far greater than anything that occurs here on earth. Christ’s resurrection and ascension assures us that his promises are true and steadfast. There is a life far greater than anyone can ever imagine awaiting those who are in Christ Jesus. The pains of this body will be replaced by the ultimate glorified body in the resurrection. It is a body that “is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, NIV).[6]

 

Keep working for Christ! God’s plan is far greater than the problems of this life.

 

© March 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] If one accepts the later dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 3, 33AD) and resurrection (April 5, 33AD), Paul would have received this information a mere 3 years after the actual crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (that is if one accepts that the term “year” used of Paul in Gal. 1:18 refers to parts of years). Even if one accepts the earlier dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 5, 30AD) and resurrection (April 7, 30AD), we are still only speaking of 5 years after the events of Christ took place. The information found in these early creeds, confessions, and hymns make up the bedrock of the earliest church’s belief system.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 105.

[4] Fleming Rutledge, interviewed by Mark Galli, “Why Did Jesus Choose the Cross? The reason he died a bloody, horrible death.” ChristianityToday.com (March 25, 2016), accessed March 25, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march/why-did-jesus-choose-cross.html.

[5] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 161.

[6] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

The Resurrection of Christ Will Change Everything for You

As many of you know, I left the ministry for seven years. While I had questions about the Bible’s relation to science, my true doubts came from history. Could we know that the resurrection actually happened? If the resurrection was true, then Christianity was verified. If not, I was not going to waste my time telling other people that they should believe in the event. What a deceptive thing! Yet in the summer of 2005, I came across a three books that led me on a quest to see the truth. The three books were The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell as well as The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. I found that the resurrection was a verifiably certain event of history. This changed everything for me.

Many people are satisfied with thinking that the resurrection is a fantasy, even a fairy tale on the level of unicorns, fairies, and leprechauns. However, if the resurrection of Christ is a historical reality, then everything changes. Then one is forced to recognize how the resurrection can change a person. Today, we will see four ways that the resurrection has changed people both in Bible times and in modern times, as well.

  1. The Resurrection of Christ Changes HORROR into HAPPINESS (20:11-18).

In John 20:11-18, we read of the experience that Mary had with the risen Jesus. Mary, along with many of the other women and John, did not leave Jesus’ side during his crucifixion. She witnessed the gore. Ancient historians tell us that floggings were so severe that often the inner organs were exposed. Jesus was beaten, flogged, and nailed through his wrists and feet. She watched this loving, compassionate teacher die the most horrific death imaginable. Yet, here she was on Sunday. She saw Jesus…alive! His scars were gone. Blood was not pouring from him. Now, the glory of God shone through, with only the nail-prints in his hands and feet to serve as evidence of his death. Mary’s horror had now turned into great happiness!!!

2. The Resurrection of Christ Changes DOUBT into DEVOTION (20:24-29).

Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. We do not know why. Perhaps Thomas was looking to go back to his previous job? One can only speculate. When Thomas speaks with the disciples who had seen Jesus, he tells them that he would need overwhelming evidence to believe that Jesus actually raised to life. Jesus was more than happy to oblige. For Jesus appeared to Thomas and changed Thomas’ doubt into devotion.

 As I noted earlier, I had doubts pertaining to the historicity of the Bible and the resurrection. What I found is that there is great evidence for the resurrection of Christ! We have evidence from multiple and early eyewitness testimonies, enemy attestation, evidence for the reliability of the biblical manuscripts, the psychological evidence, the failure of other hypotheses, the transformation of 2 individuals who were once enemies of the faith to turn to devoted believers (Paul and James), the inclusion of belief by some of those in the Sanhedrin (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea), the later transformation of Roman soldiers (Cornelius), the absolute nature of Jesus’ death, and most of all—the problem of an empty tomb! This just scratches the surface! I came to the point that it took more faith not to believe than to believe! My doubts led me to intense devotion to the Lord and a passion for apologetics.

3. The Resurrection of Christ Changes MISTAKES into MINISTRIES (21:9-19).

In John 21:9-19, we find Jesus reinstating Peter into the ministry. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Surely Peter thought that he would not be able to ever minister again. However, Jesus asks Peter if he loved him three times. Jesus turned Peter’s mistakes into a great ministry.

 I imagine that Peter dreaded speaking to Jesus after the resurrection. Sure, Peter was happy! However, he may have been like a young child who knows that they are guilty of a particular thing and realizes that they will have to speak to their parents. Yet Peter did not find condemnation. Peter experienced grace and forgiveness. Peter also was able to be used of God in a mighty way. The first half of Acts describes the amazing work that Peter accomplished for Christ. History also tells us that in AD 64 that Peter would be executed in Rome by crucifixion. He was crucified upside-down because he did not deem himself worthy of being crucified in the same fashion as Christ.

4. The Resurrection of Christ Changes SIN into SALVATION (20:30-31).

John gives the thesis to his entire manuscript in chapter 20:30-31. John shows that Jesus performed far more signs than what John could even write. John notes that all the things in his Gospel are “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

 If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then no Gospels would have been written because there would be nothing about which to write. Jesus’ resurrection ensures that sin has been forgiven and that salvation has been offered. As Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). The resurrection validated salvation. Jesus was vindicated. Jesus defeated death, hell, and sin.

So what does this mean for you? It means the following five things:

  1. The resurrection of Christ ensures our salvation! With Christ’s resurrection as a historical fact, then our salvation is ensured. How is one saved? One is saved by accepting the atoning sacrifice that Christ paid for you on the cross. You must enter into a walk with Christ having him as the center of your life.
  1. The resurrection of Christ ensures that there is life beyond the grave. One of the greatest blessings of the resurrection is that we can know that life exists beyond the grave. Death is not the end for the believer. Rather, it is the fascinating beginning to a new state of existence. To be absent from this body is to be present with God (2 Corinthians 5:8). Yet that is not the end of the story. Christ’s resurrection ensures us that we too will experience a resurrection. We will be raised from the dead. Even if our bodies are nothing more than a few molecules at the time of Christ’s appearance, we will be transformed with bodies much that the risen Christ held.
  1. The resurrection of Christ is evidentiarily solid. The resurrection of Christ is as certain an event of history as it was that Alexander the Great was a Macedonian conqueror, that General George Washington became the first President of the United States, or that Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation.
  1. The resurrection is our basis of hope! While life can often seem hopeless, the historicity of the resurrection tells us that all is not lost. Christ has overcome! We have victory in him, hope for tomorrow.
  1. The resurrection is evidence of God’s love! Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is evidence of God’s great love towards us. All of this was done to save us from sin and to ensure us that we have eternal life through God’s Son Jesus. What could be better than that? This morbid life with all its perils and horror will not have the final say. God gives us life everlasting…as promised and evidenced through the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

 

Happy Easter everyone!!!

 

© March 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

 

How Does God’s Immutability Affect Me?

I have told many before that I am a walking Murphy’s Law. If something is going to happen, it will likely happen to me. A few days ago, I was sick. To make matters worse, my wife was about to leave on a business trip to Orlando. I was so sick that I feared that I might land in the emergency room. I feared that my digestive system was again disturbed. I went to the doctor and they confirmed that I had the flu. I was actually happy that it was the flu rather than my digestive system. My mother-in-law kept my son for me that afternoon and evening. However, my night was about to become bizarre. I took my nausea medicine which makes me woozy. The medicine had just entered my system when our neighbor called and told me that the brake lights were left on. How was that possible? So, I went out in the dark, while woozy, trying to figure out why the lights were on. So, I eventually had to move the truck towards the garage light, take off the battery cables, while becoming increasingly drowsy. Needless to say, my night had changed from strained to downright bizarre. Things often change at dramatic pace. Often, faster than what any of us would like. However, we can find comfort in the attribute of God known as immutability.

 Immutability means that God does not change. Wayne Grudem defines the immutability of God as that “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”[1] Norman Geisler adds “That God is unchangeable in His nature has solid support in biblical, historical, and philosophical theology. Despite many anthropomorphic expressions, the Bible has clear and repeated references to God’s immutability.”[2]

 In Numbers 23:19, we find Balaam presenting his second of four oracles to Balak. These oracles come after Balaam had the bizarre incident where God spoke through a donkey. The miracle is not so much that God spoke through a donkey, but rather that Balaam spoke back to the donkey! Personally, I have never found a donkey to which I particularly cared to speak. Nevertheless, God used this means to set Balaam straight. Balak wanted Balaam to condemn God’s people. Yet in his second oracle, Balaam responds to Balak’s critique by noting the immutability of God. God does not change. If God chose to bless his people, who was Balaam to say otherwise? So what do we find in Scripture pertaining to the immutability of God? We find four ways that God does not change.

 1. God’s immutable ATTRIBUTES do not change (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 102:26-27).

Beginning with our passage, we read Balaam stating that “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and he will not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)?[3] Also, the psalmist states that “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). Both Balaam and the psalmist acknowledge that God’s attributes do not change. Meaning that the attributes that we have discussed and will discuss are unchangeable. God is not one day omnipotent and the next day limited in his power. God remains the same forever.

2. God’s immutable CHARACTER does not change (Hebrews 6:17-18; Hebrews 13:8).

The writer of Hebrews notes that “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18). The writer also notes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The writer of Hebrews shows us that we can find hope and encouragement in the steadfast character of God.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a woman who told me, “Brian, do you know the thing I appreciate most about you?” Anytime a preacher receives a compliment, the preacher’s ears perk up. I inquired, “No, what?” She said, “I appreciate that you are the same every time I see you. Whether in church or out of church, you are the same.” While I appreciate the kind woman’s compliment, we find that it is truly God who completely remains unchanged in his character. Such is the mark of integrity. God most certainly has integrity.

3. God’s immutable PURPOSES do not change (Ephesians 3:8-13; 1 Peter 1:20).

Paul writes in Ephesians that he was to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9-10). Peter also writes that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20). Paul and Peter teach us that God’s purposes do not change. The plans of God are set before time began. God doesn’t change his purpose one day to the next. God’s plans are set from eternity past.

4. God’s immutable PROMISES do not change (Titus 1:2; James 1:17).

Paul writes to Titus that “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). James also notes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Paul and James both teach their readers that since God’s character and attributes do not change, therefore God’s promises do not change. Thus, if God promises you something, it is as good as done.

I read a story about a pastor who met with an elderly man at the point of death. Due to his medication, the older gentleman said, “Pastor, I am ready to go. But I wish I could have peace.” The pastor said, “Sir, why do you not have peace?” The gentleman said, “I would have peace if I could simply remember the promises of God.” The wise pastor replied, “Do you think God has forgotten? It doesn’t matter if you remember them. As long as God remembers his promises, he will fulfill them.” The gentleman lying in the hospital bed found peace that night because he realized that God will always fulfill his promises seeing that God is unchanging.

So, how does God’s immutability affect you? Here are five ways.

  1. God will always be faithful, despite the unfaithfulness we experience with others. Nearly all of us have experienced unfaithfulness from time to time. Your experience of unfaithfulness could come from a spouse who discontinued their promised love for you. Your experience of unfaithfulness could have come from a friend who promised to have your back, only to stab you in the very back they proposed to protect. Your unfaithfulness experience could have come from an employer who fired you days before you were set to retire. While we experience unfaithfulness in life, due to his character, God will always be faithful to us.

 

  1. God will always fulfill his promises, in spite of our experiences of worldly lies and manipulations. While some people seek to manipulate you for profit or gain (others just enjoy getting one “over on you”), God will fulfill his promises due to his unchangeable character. Jesus promised that he would never leave you nor forsake you. That is a promise you can take to the bank.

 

  1. God will never change truth, despite society’s promotion of skepticism and doubt. Since God is unchangeable, his truth is unchangeable. Societies have come and societies have gone. But God’s truth still remains. It is said that Voltaire claimed that a hundred years after his death that the Bible would be no more. Ironically, it is said that Voltaire’s home was turned into a Bible translation facility around a hundred years after his death. From his home, a particular Bible society distributed the very Word that Voltaire claimed would be doomed. God’s immutability means that his truth remains forever.

 

  1. God will always be with you, despite the seeming chaos you experience. God’s steadfastness provides order in the midst of our chaos. God will provide order when no one or nothing else can.

 

  1. God will be your rock in an ocean of turbulence, an ever present help in times of trouble. Due to his steadfastness and unchangeable nature, God is an anchor and rock in the midst of the turbulent times in which we live.

Lighthouses_csg007_Kereon,Brittany,France

Turn to God—our unchangeable hope!!!

 

© March 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

 Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 163.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 444.

[3] All quoted Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

My Top 5 Recommended Study Bibles

As a pastor and a student of the Word, people often ask me which study Bible is best. For those who may not know, a study Bible is a Bible that contains scholarly and/or popular notes at the bottom of the page. These notes serve as a commentary for the biblical text. Some of these notes may provide historical information that provides insight for the passage at hand. Other notes may give a cross-reference to other passages of Scripture. Even other notes may try to explain more difficult passages of Scripture.

But many people will ask, “Pastor, in your experience, which is the best study Bible?” Such a question is good and completely understandable due to the massive number of study Bibles on the market today. Therefore, I would like to present you with my personal top 5 list of recommended study Bibles. I may revise this list in a future article as more study Bibles are published. I gauge these study Bibles according to the quality of notes and articles provided along with the usefulness of the study Bible in question.

life application study bible

  1. Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale. 2004. Avg. price $39.99.[1] 2448 pages.

The Life Application Study Bible comes in a wide array of translations. For those who love the NIV or the KJV, you will find this study Bible for your preferred translation. The Life Application Study Bible (LASB) offers a chart harmonizing the Gospels along with over 10,000 notes. The downside to this study Bible is that the LASB offers more of an application of the text rather than scholarly notes. Thus, if you are desiring a study Bible that serves as a devotional Bible, then the LASB will be for you. In contrast, if you are looking for a more scholarly treatment of the text, then you will want to consider some of the other study Bibles given in this article.

hcsb study bible

  1. HCSB Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2100 pages.

The HCSB Study Bible is the recipient of the 2011 Christian Book Award Winner. And for good reason. The study Bible offers around 15,000 study notes, 315 word studies, 141 color photographs, 62 timelines, 59 maps, 24 articles, 16 illustrations, 15 charts, and even a one-year Bible reading plan. The notes are scholarly and well-written. The only problem is that this study Bible is written from a particular perspective within evangelicalism. It is a perspective that with which I am in great agreement. However, I do not feel that it offers a fair treatment on some issues, particularly issues pertaining to the age old debate surrounding divine sovereignty and human freedom. Also, I have a love-hate relationship with the HCSB text. The HCSB is very easy to read. The HCSB is a conservative translation as well. However (and it may be where I am too traditional), it is difficult for me to get accustomed to the number of times the HCSB uses the personal name Yahweh in the Old Testament. Most translations keep the tradition in translating the personal name of God to “LORD.” Regardless, if you can get past some of the nuances with the translation, the HCSB Study Bible may be for you.

apologetics study bible

  1. HCSB Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2012. Avg. Price:$39.99. 2048 pages.

The HCSB Apologetics Study Bible is a must have for anyone interested in apologetics. The Apologetics Study Bible offers 5 full-color maps, 11 charts, and a timeline of Christian apologists and their works. The downside to this study Bible is that it does not have many in-text notes. If you are looking for historical information pertaining to particular passages of Scripture, then you will need to look at other study Bibles in this list. However, this study Bible excels in its articles. The Apologetics Study Bible features 132 articles written by individuals such as the late Chuck Colson, Norman Geisler, Hank Hanegraaff, Josh McDowell, Albert Mohler, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, and 90 more contributors. The Apologetics Study Bible is one that the serious student, pastor, and layman alike will want on their shelves.

niv zondervan study bible

  1. NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2015. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2912 pages.

The newest study Bible on our list was released in August of 2015. This Bible is chock-full of information from some of the most notable scholars in our day. Drs. D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University), Richard Hess (PhD, Hebrew Union College), Douglas J. Moo (PhD, University of St. Andrews), and Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) are among the top contributors to this work. The study Bible offers approximately 20,000 comprehensive verse-by-verse study notes; hundreds of color photographs, maps and charts; over 35,000 verse concordance; section introductions, over 60 scholarly contributors; dozens of full length articles; and to top it off—free digital access online for those who purchase the Bible. The only downside is that the NIV 2011 updated text has come under scrutiny since the update was released (something that I feel has been both unjustified and unfair).[2] However, the fact that conservative leaders such as Joni Eareckson Tada, Tim Keller, and R. Albert Mohler have added their endorsements to this study Bible should relieve any hesitations that one may possess. The study Bible is MASSIVE which indicates the voluminous contributions that the study Bible will hold for your personal study of the Scriptures. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a hot-contender for the number one spot.

esv study bible

  1. ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2752 pages.

To say that the ESV Study Bible is the king of the mountain when it comes to study Bibles is an understatement. I have many friends in graduate school and teachers alike. I often hear praises from them concerning the value of the ESV Study Bible. It is also telling that one version of this study Bible was out of stock and waiting to be refilled on Amazon.com at the time this article was published. The ESV Study Bible provides 25,000 verse-by-verse notes, over 200 full-color maps, over 80,000 cross-references, over 200 charts, section summaries, book introductions, and a massive collection of articles in the back of the Bible. The study Bible was created by a diverse team of 95 leading scholars from 9 countries, 20 denominations, and 50 institutions of higher learning. The study Bible also holds the English Standard Version (ESV) text which has been praised for its accuracy and readability. Dr. Daniel Wallace (Greek expert and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) even praised the ESV at a recent conference for its translational accuracy from the original biblical languages. For any serious student of the Bible, the ESV Study Bible is a must-have. I recommend it as the best study Bible up to the point that this article has been published.

 

© March 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] All prices given are for the hardcover editions. The list prices are also given. Bibles may vary from the price listed. Leather bound study Bibles will hold a higher cost, whereas softcover editions may be somewhat cheaper.

[2] The controversy stems over the NIV’s use of gender inclusive language where masculine pronouns are intended for both men and women. However, other translations such as the ESV, NLT, and HCSB all do the same. Contrary to the hype, the NIV does not change the divine pronouns. While the NIV does make some changes that I do not like (holding that John 3:16-21 is a teaching of John rather than a quote of Jesus, and italicizing the script of the two controversial passages in Mark 16:9ff and John 7:53-8:11), the NIV is a good translation. It may not be as literal as the ESV and NASB, but many find it to read easier than others listed.

How Does God’s Omnipresence Affect You?

My mother and I have always been especially close. After I graduated Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, I was called to pastor a church near Southport named the First Baptist Church of Sunset Harbor…in fact, the only Baptist church in Sunset Harbor. I found great support while at the church. However, the most difficult thing about living at the beach was the absence of my family. My mother had tears rolling down her cheeks as they traveled back to their home. I shed a few tears myself. Then I truly knew the depths of our locational limitations.

In contrast to our locational limitations, God is said to be omnipresent. Again the term “omni” means all. So when we speak of God’s omnipresence, we are saying that God can be in all places at all times. In Acts 17:22-34, we hear the message that Paul delivered before the Athenians. Paul is a great example of one who never changed the message, but employed differing methodologies to reach various people groups. When confronting the paganism of this supreme intellectual city (home to many top-notch philosophers), Paul discussed the omnipresence of God. This passage of Scripture shows the depth of Paul’s philosophical prowess. He uses four types of philosophical tactics to present the gospel: 1) exordium v. 22-23 (introduction of a discourse); 2) proposito v. 23b (a statement or assertion that expresses a judgment or an opinion); 3) probatio v. 24-29 (the test of a certain statement); and 4) peroration v. 30-31 (conclusion intended to inspire enthusiasm). In his message, we find three aspects of and reasons for God’s omnipresence.

God is all-surpassing in his presence due to his ESSENCE (17:24b; John 4:24).

Paul notes that God “does not live in temples made by man” (17:24b).[1] That is, God is not a physical being. Yes it is true that Christ, the incarnate God, came to earth. But, God as he has been from eternity is non-spatial, a spirit. Jesus tells the woman at the well that God is “spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Wayne Grudem defines God’s omnipresence as the following: “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.[2] (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 173). Thus, God is not limited by physical location as we are.

God is all-surpassing in his presence due to his TRANSCENDENCE (17:24-25; Is. 66:1).

Paul notes that God “who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (John 17:24-25). That is to say, God is beyond the scope of physical creation. God is not limited by physics, physics are limited by God. When we study the physical nature of the universe, we understand the normal operation. But, God transcends such boundaries as he also transcends space-time.

God is all-surpassing in his presence due to his IMMANENCE (17:26-27; Psa. 139:7-8; Jer. 23:24).

Lastly, Paul notes that God is all-surpassing due to his immanence. This means that God is not a “dead beat dad.” He is a God who is actively involved in creation. Paul notes that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (17:26-27). I especially like the last part of Paul’s teaching. Often one may feel that God is distant from them. Feeling perhaps that God has long forgotten them. But, God’s omnipresent nature promises that God is always around us. Closer than we would ever think. So what does this mean to you?

  1. God is with you when no one else can be. You are never alone. Norman Geisler describes omnipresence as “God is everywhere at once…Negatively stated, there is nowhere that God is absent.”[3] God promises that he will be with you now and for all eternity (Matthew 28:20; Gen. 28:15). You are never alone.
  1. God is with your loved ones when you cannot. God is able to protect your loved ones from afar (Gen. 48:21). Even when you are not there, God is. Thus, while we can contact one who is ever-present to look after our loved ones when we cannot…and even when we can.
  2. God is with your loved ones who have already passed. Jesus quoted to the Sadducees who did not believe in the afterlife Exodus 3:6 where God stated that he is “the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Jesus uses this argument to defend the reality of the afterlife. God is with our loved ones in eternity. Our loved ones continue to exist. Those who are in Christ are safely in his arms.
  1. God is working in creation even when you cannot see it. God is beyond the scope of creation, but is always working in creation (Ps. 147:4; Jer. 31:35). Thus while things seem chaotic, God is always at work being present where we cannot.
  1. God’s presence is with the believer in a personal fashion. While God is everywhere, God is personally with those who receive Christ (John 5:38; 8:31; 15:4-9). God’s Holy Spirit (personal presence) is with those who trust in Christ. Therefore, the believer definitely has a companion that is closer than anyone else could.

 

© February 23, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

 Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 173.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 493.

Wrestling for Jesus: The Truth about the Christian and Suffering

My family and I joined countless others in a new phenomenon changing the entertainment business: we subscribed to Netflix. Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Wrestling for Jesus: The Story of T-Money. The movie was based on the life of a wrestler/wrestling promoter who goes by the name T-Money. T-Money had organized a wrestling company that shared the gospel message during the events. The wrestling company was named, as the title suggests, WFJ “Wrestling for Jesus.”

The documentary takes a fascinating twist towards the end of the movie. T-Money and his wife seemed to have the perfect marriage. They were in church bragging about their relationship. T-Money seemed to have everything together bound together in his relationship with God. However, T-Money continuously struggled with the loss of his father who had died by suicide. This was an issue that resonated with me since I also had a grandfather who committed suicide. I understood fully the struggles and questions that he possessed. This agony along with other issues led T-Money and his wife to divorce.

Now with a broken marriage and a broken heart along with his best friend and fellow wrestler suffering a severe injury, T-Money began questioning everything he had ever believed and everything that he had ever heard. With his life in chaos, T-Money decided to fold the company.

The documentary demonstrates the problems associated with the so-called “health and wellness Gospel.” That is, the belief that Christianity promises an existence full of financial blessings and the absence of suffering. T-Money even said, “I’ve heard about God not giving you more than you can bear and about how he will see you through. It seems like none of that is working.”

I suspect that T-Money had bought into the idea that many American churches are promoting; the idea that Christianity means the absence of suffering. It may surprise T-Money and you the reader to know that the Bible NEVER says such a thing. In fact, it may be that the Christian is called to suffer. So, what does the Bible say about God’s support in a time of suffering?

God may call the Christian to suffer (Matt. 10:38).

Being a Christian may mean that one is called to suffer. What??? Yes! Jesus brought a message that falls on deaf ears in many of an American congregation. Jesus said, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).[1] Understand, the cross that Jesus is referencing is not a gold-laced cross found on a piece of jewelry worn around the neck. It was an instrument of torture and death.

This certainly does not mean that the Christian should seek suffering and martyrdom. However, it does not mean that one is surprised when it happens either. The reference may not necessarily point towards even physical brutality. It may also point towards the hardships that are endured by the Christian. Many feel that God will remove any and all suffering when in fact the opposite is often true.

God will provide strength during times of suffering (Hebrews 2:18).

Many misuse the phrase “God will not put more on you than you can bear.” This does not mean that you will not be sometimes called to endure great times of stress. Folks who believe that are often perplexed when they are met with an array of troubles. The phrase would be better understood as God will provide you strength to bear many things. The writer of Hebrews notes that “because he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18, NLT).[2] I am also reminded of the words of Jesus when he says, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NLT).

God uses suffering to strengthen our character (Romans 5:3-5).

God has a purpose behind the Christian’s suffering. Paul writes that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Suffering has a purpose. It is through suffering that one is strengthened and is given character which leads to a fervent hope found in God.

God uses suffering to share the message of hope (Philippians 1:12-14).

God may use the Christian’s suffering to bring others to salvation. Paul, writing to the church of Philippi, notes that his suffering had a purpose. As he was enduring imprisonment, he was able to reach individuals with the gospel message that he otherwise would have been able to reach. Paul notes that “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it is known through the whole imperial guard” (Philippians 1:12-13). Through your commitment to Christ during times of suffering, you may have a greater impact on others than one who is healthy and vibrant.

God will reward us for the sufferings that we endure (Matthew 5:12).

Jesus indicates that the suffering Christian who endures in their faith will be given a reward in heaven. Jesus says that “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). So, the eternal rewards in heaven will far exceed any suffering endured on earth.

Conclusion

Where in these passages do we find the teaching that the Christian is excused from suffering? Where in these passages do we find a “get rich quick with as little work possible” mentality? Where in these passages do we find the theology that holds that faith will eliminate any and all ailments? Keep looking, because you won’t find such teachings. T-Money had the expectation, at least as it was presented in the documentary, that Christianity excused a person from suffering and hardships. This is certainly not the case. All people are people. The difference between the Christian and the unbeliever is that God turns the Christian’s suffering into integrity and will use their suffering for good, ultimately resulting in an eternal reward. Remember, our Savior died a brutal death on a Roman cross.

Suffering is not something from which the Christian is excused. Suffering, from the beginning, has been ingrained in the Christian experience…but only momentarily. For “What 9).no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Heaven will be worth it all.

timothy-portrait          Note: If T-Money were to read this post, I would want him to understand that the promises that God has made (in that he will never leave you nor forsake  still stand. We must seek his guidance. We must seek his strength. We cannot handle these situations alone. Brother, God is not through with you yet. Blessings.

© February 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Scriptures marked NLT come from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).