Sunday, August 28, 2011

Q&A Sunday

Today I spent my sermon time fielding questions from the church family. This is always a rich time as we tackle different personal and doctrinal issues and attempt to bring God's Word to bear on them.

The audio has now been uploaded to our podcast. (Click here to listen).

Here are the questions and at what point they are addressed:

0:00     Introduction & Prayer
7:00     Is my wayward child a Christian?
13:35   Can Christians be demon-possessed?
16:30   How do I treat my atheist brothers who are ridiculing me? 
25:30   My brother is obsessed with conspiracy theories.
            What should I do?
33:20   How do we reconcile God's sovereignty with
            human responsibility?
41:00   Why don't we have revival meetings today?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can Christians be demon-possessed?

A Christian counselor once wrote,

“Just this morning a young man I have never met called and poured out his story. He is a college graduate, articulate, and displaying a large vocabulary. He is a professing Christian, yet he is in such emotional anguish and bondage that he cannot hold down a job. He has spent large sums of money on psychiatry without apparent help. His waking hours are torment, and his sleeping hours result in hideous, bizarre behavior and a trancelike condition. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ he cried out. ‘Am I possessed with demons?’ ” (Mark Bubeck, The Adversary, p. 17)

Torment. Anguish. Bizarre behavior. Trances. Demon Possession. Is this possible for a Christian? Can a believer really be handled by a demon like a remote control?

Charles Ryrie defines demon possession as “a demon residing in a person, exerting direct control and influence over that person, with certain derangement of mind and/or body. Demon possession is to be distinguished from demon influence or demon activity in relation to a person. The work of the demon in the latter is from the outside; in demon possession it is from within."

This state is impossible for a true Christian. Though demons are very real, very dangerous, and we probably brush shoulders with them every day, we can have absolute confidence that Christians cannot be demon-possessed. Why? Here are six reasons:
  1. We have been rescued from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13). God has transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son. It would be impossible for a citizen of heaven, one who has been rescued from Satan's domain, to return under the bondage of that domain.
  2. The Holy Spirit dwells inside of us (Rom. 8:15-17; Eph. 1:14). We would never think of sharing our homes with a venomous snake or ferocious beast prowling around. Neither would the Spirit ever permit a demon to inhabit His home.
  3. We are safe in God's arms (Jn. 10:27-30). Just as Christ our Good Shepherd would never let a sheep be snatched out of His hands, so He would never let a wolf bite and devour one of His sheep while He is holding us tight.
  4. We have union with Christ (Jn. 14:19-20; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:6, 7, 10, 13). This New Testament doctrine teaches that a new believer is immediately united and permanently joined together with Jesus Christ. There is a transformation that takes place. There is new bond, a vital link between Christ and us. Surely Christ would not allow Himself nor His people to be indwelt and controlled by Satan or any demon. 
  5. God's power is greater than any demon (1 Jn. 4:4). Are demons powerful? Absolutely. Can we overpower a demon in our own strength? Not a chance. If the Lord were not on our side, we'd be knocked down in an instant like the seven sons of Sceva (Ac. 19:16). But God's power is infinitely greater than any demon's power. And He would never let His protection be thwarted.
  6. It is impossible to serve two masters (Mt. 6:24; 2 Cor. 6:14-16). We can serve God, or we can serve Satan and his minions, but we cannot serve both. It is impossible, just as light and darkness, or oil and water, cannot mingle. With Christ as our Master, we never need to fear that Satan will shove Him out of the way and coerce us to obey him instead.
There is no need to fear! God has built a fence or a “force-field” around the believer. It is impossible to be possessed or controlled by demonic powers. We are certainly targets of demon activity. The enemy is clever and ruthless. But God is our refuge, and never leaves us without the necessary supplies to overcome temptation.

What would I do if that articulate, yet unstable man stepped foot into my office? I would probably first assure him that a true Christian cannot be possessed by demons. This immediately gives hope that there can be victory over whatever he is facing. Then, I'd want to probe deeper into his understanding of the gospel. What does he mean by 'Christian'? When was he saved? How does he know he's going to heaven?

If he has a faulty few of the gospel, then demon possession is a possibility. But even then, we must bring the gospel to the person and not focus on spells or incantations or rebuking demons in the name of Jesus. Our responsibility is to inject the antibiotic of the gospel into our counselee, which alone is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17).

From there, it would be wise to learn more about his medical history, how long he's been suffering these symptoms; where he attends church; who are his friends; what is he reading or watching on TV; and if he's taking any legal or illegal drugs. There could be any number of causes for these dreadful symptoms. But if he is a child of God, demon-possession is not one of them. There is always hope and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Take a look in the mirror

Mirrors are an everyday part of life. We have them in our bedrooms, bathrooms, purses, and cars. They're in homes, offices, schools, and restaurants. Some are to help us with grooming and appearance. Others are for safety, or to add light, or to give the illusion that a room is bigger than it actually is.

It doesn't hurt to do a quick check in the mirror from time to time and make sure everything's OK (no broccoli in the teeth, please!). But whenever we prepare to worship God, and particularly when we prepare for the Lord’s Table, it's essential to look in a mirror. Not just a physical mirror out of concern for what others might think of our outward appearance. But a spiritual mirror out of a concern for what God will see at our inward appearance.

This is precisely what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 11:28. "So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup." This speaks of a critical examination, a careful inspection, or putting to the test. The Puritan Thomas Watson describes it this way:
It is the setting up a court of conscience and keeping a register there that by a strict scrutiny a man may see how matters stand between God and his soul. It is a spiritual inquisition, a heart-anatomy, whereby a man takes his heart in pieces, as a watch, and sees what is defective therein. It is a dialogue with one's self.

A couple weeks ago, in my sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, I gave three suggestions of how you might go about self-examination. Why not use one of these methods in preparation for Sunday, or before the next time you take the Lord's Supper?

1. A five-point inspection. Mark 12:30–31 says "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these." Do an inspection in each of these areas of your life:
  • Heart (my inner life, choices, emotions, words)
  • Soul (my spiritual disciplines, walk with God)
  • Mind (my thought life, dreams, hopes, goals)
  • Strength (my body, including stewardship of my time, talents, treasure)
  • Neighbor (family, church, coworkers, friends, enemies)
2. A Bible passage. Pick a passage of Scripture and do a thorough inventory of your life. Do you meet up to God's standard of holiness? Where are you falling short?

  • Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
  • A Description of the Godly (Psalm 15)
  • Qualifications of a Church Leader (1 Timothy 3)
  • Criteria for a Widow Indeed (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
  • An Excellent Wife (Proverbs 31)
  • Wisdom from Above (James 3:13-18)
  • Characteristics of Love (1 Corinthians 13)
  • The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)

3. A personal list. Use a list from a man or woman of God who has walked with God in times past. For a fresh approach to self-examination, meditate on Jonathan Edwards' 70 Resolutions, or use these questions, found in George Whitfield's diary. He would ask them of himself at the close of each day.

Have I...
  • been fervent in private prayer?
  • used set hours of prayer? (1 hour in morning, 1 hour at noon, and 1 hour in the evening)?
  • used spontaneous outburst of prayer in supplication, intercession, praise and thanksgiving every hour?
  • after or before every deliberate conversation or action, considered how it might lead to God’s glory?
  • after enjoying any pleasure, immediately given thanks?
  • planned my day so as to not waste time?
  • been responsible and thoughtful in everything?
  • been zealous in my work and active in doing what good I could?
  • been meek, cheerful, gracious in everything I said or did?
  • been proud, vain, impure, or jealous of others?
  • thoughtful in eating and drinking? thankful? self-controlled
  • taken time for giving thanks (according to Law’s rules)?
  • been diligent in studies?
  • thought or spoken unkindly to anyone?
  • confessed all sins?
While I do check my heart regularly and seek to heed the Spirit's conviction in my life, I must confess I've never looked in the mirror with this kind of systematic approach before. But I look forward to using these methods more in the future.

What method do you use for self-examination? Feel free to leave a note below.
Photo credit: Rairen

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back home from the hospital

Thanks for your continued prayers for Natalie. I brought her home from the hospital on Saturday, and since then she has been showing slow but steady progress.

The doctor did a blood transfusion and a second surgery on Thursday afternoon, using the same incisions to drain the fluid, remove clotting, and stop internal bleeding. But interestingly, once inside, they never found a source of the bleeding. The surgeon carefully looked all around, even using an ultrasound down into the ovaries to see if there was a cyst. But there was no sign of an open wound anywhere. It seems the Lord healed this up on His own, without the doctor’s help!

They did insert a small drain tube to collect any new fluid, but this is not showing any signs of fresh blood either. So, we are very thankful to God for His protection and healing mercy.

Natalie’s pain became much more tolerable on Friday. She was able to take deeper breaths. Her blood pressure and oxygen looked better, and hemoglobin began to climb back up. She had a slight fever the first night, but is doing better and is slowly getting her strength back. We are hopeful that she’s on the road to full recovery.

We're especially thankful to everyone at church who helped in the past week with food, babysitting, and through your prayers. God has truly been good.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Update on Natalie

Please continue to pray for Natalie as she recovers from yesterday’s gallbladder surgery. Her blood pressure has remained pretty stable, but her hemoglobin has gone down a tad, and she’s in an inordinate amount of pain.

The doctor has ordered another sonogram to see what’s going on. They’ve also withdrawn food and liquids just in case she needs another surgery. I wonder if there might be some internal bleeding going on?

I stayed at home with the kids overnight, but will head back out to the hospital this morning as soon as Liz Tyree gets here to babysit the kids. Thank you for all your prayers. We serve a great and mighty God. He is a Loving Father, and He hears our prayers.

Here’s a quote I read from Paul Enns’ book Heaven Revealed yesterday. What comfort for the soul:
“On this sinful, fallen earth, life will remain difficult, fraught with suffering and sadness. But we are looking forward to heaven – and heaven is always better in every realm than the earth. We should never question, doubt, or worry whether we will ‘enjoy’ heaven. We will enjoy heaven to the utmost; every moment in heaven will be better than the best moments we ever have on this fallen earth. The suffering on this earth will be a thing of the past – forever … Isaiah says believers will ‘come with joyful shouting to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away’ (Isa. 51:11).”

Hoping in Christ,

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Please pray for Natalie

Natalie was admitted to the hospital last night with gallstones. The sonogram showed a 7mm gallstone in the bile duct, plus many other stones, so Lord willing, this is what has been causing her chest pain the past couple days.

This fits all the symptoms, though it’s been on her left side, while usually gallbladder symptoms are on the right side. But at this point, all heart tests have come back negative and her pain seems to be settling under her sternum area -- not as high in her chest as it was yesterday.

The surgeon will have final say in whether she should have surgery today or not, so please pray for the doctors to consider her case carefully and to have wisdom. Please also pray for our family to have peace and that we will all entrust Natalie’s life and health to our faithful Creator.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book review: Flip Flop Fly Ball

flipflopflyballWhether you’re a baseball fanatic or a rookie to the game, you’re sure to enjoy Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure by Craig Robinson.

The book begins with a personal tale - the quirky romance of a British young adult with the game of baseball. “There was something about the leisurely pace, the ebb and flow, the drama inherent in a sport where the ball is in play for such a small percentage of the total time, the unique proportions of the ballpark, the shape of the field, the uniforms. The fizzing joy in my head after seeing a swiftly turned double play, the one-on-one battles at the heart of a team sport…it all felt right.”

Robinson’s pilgrimage into the game is interwoven with art, photos, and infographics all about baseball. The author has an insatiable curiosity that results in all kinds of random and at times even educational charts. Some of the infographics are just plain fun. Others cater to the trivia buff. A few are absolutely brilliant. The opening graphic “Professional Baseball History in the United States” captures the entire history of baseball since 1855 and is alone worth the price of the book.

The only downside is a little crass language and several references to beer in his travelogue sections, but nothing you wouldn't likely encounter at an actual baseball game. Like anything else, we need to read with discernment and be able to recognize when an author does not have Christ in his life. The book could spur some good discussion on the shortness of baseball fame, even by the greatest players of the game. Also in how we should glorify God in whatever we do - whether we eat, drink, or play baseball. Both the players and the spectators make choices that can either honor or dishonor God. God wants us as Christians to enjoy the game of baseball and use our talents and love for the game as a way to give Him glory.

Crack open this oversized coffee-table book and you’ll see baseball in a whole new light. But be careful. You might just fall in love with the game like Craig Robinson has.

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...