Posted on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Mining For Wisdom is a great devotional book that takes the reader through the book of Job. The author, Derek Thomas is a world-class authority on Job. I highly recommend it. You can order the book through my recommended reading list. Go to the "devotional" section and you will find a connection to Mining for Wisdom.

Posted on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” This stunning question was offered up by Job in the aftermath of that dark day when his children, his wealth, and his good name were taken from him. Later, even his health would be shattered and his mind tortured. Job’s question reflects an understanding that God is sovereign in all things including human suffering and the actions of Satan. Sadly, this robust and thoroughly biblical doctrine is often rejected by many evangelicals. Indeed, the thing that disturbs so many of the readers of Job is the realization that what lies behind the suffering of Job is the hand of God. This is the unsettling truth that boils below the surface of the entire book: Job’s suffering is ultimately God’s doing.

Going back to the beginning of the book of Job we observe a mysterious exchange between God and Satan. The ancient serpent comes before the courts of heaven to report on his comings and goings. How it must gall Satan that God requires him to give a report, as it were, on what he has been up to (1:6-7). By the time verse eight rolls around things get really strange. God actually initiates the trials of Job: “Have you considered my servant Job?” says God to Satan. There is something in us that wants to cry out, “God, what are you doing? Job doesn’t deserve this!”

So, back to Job’s question: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10). Job understands that even things that are “evil” and calamitous come ultimately from the hand of God. Take a deep breath. This is the clear testimony of Scripture. In I Samuel 16:14-15 we are told that God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul. Another example of this unsettling truth is when David took a census in order to number the people of Israel. This was a sin against God that Joab warned David not to commit. But David persisted in his plans and took the census. Afterward, “David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly’” (I Sam. 24:10). So far so good, except for the fact that it was God who incited David to take the census. “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (I Sam. 24:1). God used David’s prideful census taking as the occasion to judge Israel. And the inspired text affirms God’s sovereignty over David’s decision while at the same time not excusing David from responsibility.

The most supreme example of this seeming contradiction is the cross of Christ. Jesus’ death upon the cross as our substitute was preordained by God (Acts 2:23a; 4:27-28). Yet this particular moment in history which went exactly according to God’s sovereign design required that certain men commit particular evil acts (Acts 2:23b; 4:10). The texts which proclaim God as ultimately sovereign over all things are unfamiliar to many Christians because pastors won’t touch them with a ten foot pole. But in so doing they rob God’s people of a faith that is strong enough to sustain them in the most troubling times.

We must not ignore the “hard truths” of Scripture. However, we certainly must be careful. We know that God does not do evil. He is not wicked in even the remotest sense of the word. He in no way ever sins. God is pure righteousness and always acts righteously. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). And yet, there is a way in which God can send evil and calamity our way and still be completely free of evil and wrongdoing. It almost makes one’s head spin. But we must surrender some of our logical categories to the revelation of Scripture. And what Scripture reveals is that God is completely sinless and good but is ultimately sovereign even over the evil that comes our way. If we try to fully reconcile this reality we risk falling into error either by calling into question God’s goodness on the one hand or denying His sovereignty on the other. Our inability to fully comprehend the mystery of God’s total sovereignty should not result in our dismissing it. The Westminster Confession of Faith wisely states the truth without trying to figure it out completely:
“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin…”

In his classic work The Providence of God, Dutch theologian G.C. Berkouwer writes:
“In the confession of God’s almighty power, the personal, living God is confessed. Responsibility is not crowded out by His power; neither is the meaning of guilt and punishment. We are deeply conscious of the impossibility of our discerning the relation between the Divine activity and ours, but we are able to see in Scripture that the incomparable enterprise of God is in its Divine character so great and majestic that it can embrace human freedom and responsibility within itself without being thereby assaulted or even limited…
“Even in his most apostate acts man cannot break out of the sovereign concern of God. Divine revelation does not let us penetrate the mystery of this consonance, this harmony. The living God rules here!...The Scriptures show us God’s work. Then, in history, we are shown how unparalleled that work is. It is striking, for example, that Scripture does not speak of God as being at work in leading Judas down the road to the act of betrayal. It says that Satan filled Judas’ heart. He who sees this well will not look on this work of Satan and Judas’ betrayal as one side of a dualism, independent and detached from God’s work, but will bow before the power of God which is present even in the acts of extremist sin, and will stand speechless at the wisdom and mystery of His ways.”

It is his grasp of this very truth that allows Job to worship God in the midst of his loss. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (1:20-21). It simply will not do for Job to say that God passively “allowed” these calamities to befall him. We often resort to this in an effort to get God “off the hook” for human suffering. But God does not want to be let off the hook. Job rightly understands God to be the One who took away from him just as surely as He gave to him in the first place. The writer is careful to point out twice that in attributing his suffering to the hand of God “Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22; 2:10).

What are we to do with a God who gives and takes away? How are we to respond to a God who sends his people both blessing and calamity? What is more, what happens if this God chooses to offer us no answers? In those unsettling and confounding moments may we say with our tutor Job:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Posted on Monday, July 16, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

This is a great messagae on God's sovereignty in suffering ( The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God :: Desiring God ). It was a message delivered by John Piper at the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. The text, audio, and video of the message are available by following the link. Be blessed!

todd

Posted on Saturday, July 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Here is a great resource for information on and writings by some of the great Puritans (Monergism :: Puritans ). Enjoy!

Posted on Thursday, July 12, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

More good stuff from Michael Horton’s article in the most recent issue of Modern Reformation Magazine:

“We work very hard today to make grace normal rather than utterly disorienting. We bend over backward backwards to show how Christianity is ‘practical,’ how it conforms to our common sense and moral intuitions. ‘Practical Christianity’ (deeds, not creeds) is touted, although the actual practice of Christians is, according to the statistics, indistinguishable from that of non-Christians. The ‘righteousness that is by works’ looks for somewhere to go and something to do, while ‘the righteousness of faith’ receives Christ as he comes to us in the gospel (Rom. 10:1-13)…

“Sharing a common heritage in the revivalism of Charles Finney, mainline and evangelical Protestants have trouble being recipients of grace. The church becomes an army of activists – social engineers, moral reformers, event planners, life coaches – rather than a theater of grace where God has the lead role. As a result, the focus is not on how God gets to us (the logic of grace) but on ‘inducements sufficient to convert sinners with,’ as Finney put it, following his basically Pelagian view of the moral ability of fallen people. Finney’s Systematic Theology explicitly denies original sin and insists that the power of regeneration lies in the sinner’s own hands…”

This, by the way is not far from the common conception held by many evangelicals, particularly Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Methodists, and Southern Baptists. Many of us grew up learning from well meaning pastors that being born again (regeneration) comes about as a result of something we do. But this is remarkably different from the teaching of Jesus. In answer to Nicodemas’ inquiry on how to gain eternal life in heaven Jesus said, “You must be born again” (or, “from above”). What a wonderful metaphor for regeneration! Is there anything with which we have less to do than our birth? Jesus is assaulting Nicodemus’ “can-do” approach to salvation; an approach that many evangelicals share. To further drive home the point that the miracle of regeneration is an act entirely of God’s free will, Jesus added, “The wind (a reference to the Holy Spirit) blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Horton goes on:
“American evangelicalism seems at least in its most popular forms today to be a version of spiritual technology – almost magic, with every new movement and best-selling author offering his or her own ‘Ten Steps’ to harnessing God’s power. In this context, grace is less God’s favor shown to sinners on account of Christ than the opportunity God has provided for greater spiritual and moral power if we cooperate properly, using our free will. John Newton the slave trader may indeed have been a ‘wretch,’ but surely not I…

“Grace can only be recognized in the face of Christ, for there the strangeness of God, of ourselves, and God’s method of redemption converge. Counter-intuitive, disruptive, and unsettling, the grace defined by Golgotha requires an entirely new set of presuppositions about God, ourselves, and how the relationship works. Yet the measure of the sheer gratuity of God’s grace is that it even gives us those new presuppositions in the very act of being given. Grace is God’s refusal to allow us to define ourselves or to have the last word. Rather, it is the surprising announcement that salvation is ‘not the result of human decision or effort, but of God who shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:16).”

Amen

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The Strategic Ministry Planning Team at Metro East has spent time during our work talking about what it means to be a Gospel-Centered or Gospel-Driven church. I found this article ( GospelDrivenLife: The Gospel must be everything ) today on Mark Lauterbach's blog that says it quite well. Please take the time to read it.

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Jim over at Old Truth has an interesting article ( Confessions of a 'Numbers' Pastor ) on the modern church's obsession with numeric success. Check it out.

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Michael Horton has written an excellent article in the July/August edition of “Modern Reformation” magazine (http://www.modernreformation.org/). The title of the article is “Grace: How Strange the Sound.” As I read it I was reminded once again how easy it is for Christians to have shallow or otherwise misguided notions of just how radical grace truly is. We sing “Amazing Grace” but we adopt ideas that reduce grace to God’s passive response to our initiative. In a sense we come to see grace as a power that is made effective only inasmuch as we allow it to be effective. While we may say that grace is “amazing” what we are truly amazed by is the power of our own sovereign will that, in the end, even overcomes the very purposes of God. This unfortunate, but common way of thinking is why one prominent theologian speaks of the “pelagian captivity of the church.”

Horton writes:
“We work very hard to make God user-friendly. That’s why the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, terrified by God’s voice, decided to make a golden calf that they could manage more safely. Instead of trembling in God’s presence, they ‘sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play’ (Ex. 32:6). We hear people talk today about their personal relationship with God as if he were a locker room pal or even a romantic interest. However, when people were actually confronted with God’s presence, they always came apart at the seams. Even Moses trembled with fear (Ex. 19-20; Heb. 12:18-29). Isaiah was all set to go on his mission to announce the woes (curses) on everybody else until he received a vision of God in his sanctuary, with seraphim and cherubim calling to each other, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.’ Isaiah could only respond, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ Nevertheless, one of the seraphim brought a glowing coal to the prophet and, touching it to his lips, said, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned for’ (Isa. 6:3-7). Peter, hardly known for a reverent temperament, responded to the amazing catch of fish at Jesus’ command, fell on his knees and said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8).

“To confess that God is holy is to say that he is not only quantitatively but qualitatively different from us. In other words, he isn’t simply better than we are, nicer, friendlier, more knowledgeable, more powerful, more loving. He is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unsearchable. We can only have access to him because he has willed to be our God, revealing himself by speaking ‘baby talk’ – accommodating to our frail capacities. Grace is God’s willingness not only to condescend to our creaturely finitude even to the point of assuming our flesh, but to give his life for us ‘while we were still enemies’ (Rom. 5:10).

“God is intolerant of sin, but just as infinite in his love and long-suffering. God is just and righteous, unable to let bygones be bygones, and yet he is free to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. To have mercy on the wicked, however, God cannot suspend his justice. God’s justice did not require the salvation of anyone, so his grace is totally free. When God is gracious toward sinners, it is not because his justice is sacrificed to his love, but because he has freely found a way to be ‘just and the justifier of the ungodly’ (Rom 3:26). At the cross, not only God’s love but his strangeness – his utter difference from us – is most clearly displayed…”

“[G]race is not an impersonal substance; it’s the personal attitude and action of God in Jesus Christ toward those who deserve the very opposite. Without the phrase ‘who deserve the very opposite,’ grace is nothing more than God’s warm wishes that make us feel better as we suppress the truth about ourselves…Only when we actually encounter God as he truly is do we finally know ourselves as we truly are – and only then can grace be truly grace. Grace is not self-esteem, moral uplift, or therapeutic recovery. It is nothing less than God’s favor on account of Christ: a new Word (justification) that generates a new creation (sanctification and glorification).”

Posted on Monday, July 09, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

George Whitefield knew a thing or two about revival although, I suppose, no man is an expert. Under his preaching untold numbers of men and women were moved to repentance and faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. His ministry had taken him on the long journey to the American colonies more than once. He had established an orphanage in Georgia and preached throughout the New World. He preached with unusual power. Benjamin Franklin, who was quite fond of Whitefield, once estimated that the preacher’s voice could be heard outdoors by 30,000 souls. During his ministry in the colonies, more people had heard George Whitefield speak than any other person. He may well have been the most famous person in the English speaking world.

In 1742 while Whitfield was preaching throughout Scotland his influence was strongly felt in the regions of Cambuslang and Kilsyth. For decades, these parishes had been experiencing a spiritual drought. A pastor from Kilsyth described the spiritual condition of his parish:
"Former strictness as to holiness and tenderness of life was much relaxed…a formal round of professional duties was the religion of the professors…and as to the multitude they were visibly profane…Things were become so bad with us that there were few that we, the ministers of the word, could comfort as believers in Christ…when we found them a-dying."

Then God began to move in ways that had not been witnessed in those regions for generations. Evangelical pastors serving there were fired by the inspiration they received from Whitfield as he preached in Glasgow. The Reverend William McCulloch of Cambuslang, writing nine years after the work of revival began, described it this way:
“This work…embraced all classes, all ages, and all moral conditions. Cursing, swearing and drunkenness were given up by those who had come under its power. It kindled remorse for acts of injustice. It won forgiveness from the vengeful…It bound pastors and people together with a stronger bond of sympathy. It raised an altar in the household…It made men students of the Word of God and brought them in thought and purpose and effort into communion with their Father in heaven.”

This is what revival looks like. It is not about trembling bodies and ecstatic experiences. It is not something we conjure up or create by wearing down people’s inhibitions. It is the sovereign work of God granted to whom He pleases when He pleases. But God uses means. And history testifies that revival is accompanied by 1) a recovery of God’s Word in the pulpits 2) a renewing of the centrality of the Gospel 3) a common commitment to prayer and 4) a renewed reverence for God in worship. In reading about revivals in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, these four traits appear with unwavering regularity. In fact, I have been amazed at how the accounts of genuine revival all seem to read the same. So when we see the church recovering the Scriptures and the Gospel, praying with fresh fervency, and gaining a deeper reverence for God then look up and give thanks, for God is blessing His people.

blessings,

todd

Posted on Friday, July 06, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Okay, the title might be a bit of an exaggeration but stick with me. My experience today was confirmation that Western society as we know it is changing for the worse. Just a few hours ago I took my two sons (ages 9 and 7) to the famous supplier of toys with one goal: to buy two cap guns. I love cap guns. As far as inventions go, they ought to be spoken of in the same breath as the internal combustion engine and the light bulb. Growing up, cap guns helped transform my back yard into an imaginary battle field. At various times they turned me into a Green Beret, a cop, Jesse James, and James Bond. So when my sons asked for cap guns last night I happily complied. This afternoon we piled into the car and made our way to the toy superstore.

And this is the point in the story where everything goes south. It seems that Toys R Us has joined the battle against the scourge of developing masculinity in young boys. I suppose it has been too long since I’ve been to Toys R Us because I immediately tried to find the aisle where they keep all the toy guns. Not finding any, I consulted a collection of three employees. I asked innocently, “Where do you keep the cap guns?” The reply came but it was too unsettling to fully process at first. It was disorienting. It was like finding out that you have just been awakened from a long coma and Bill Clinton is president again. “We don’t carry cap guns.”

We did find a few water guns and other things that shot out nerf balls. None of these fanciful plastic and brightly colored monstrosities could ever be confused with a gun. I can’t believe I am actually going to write this. They were the kind of “guns” that a girl might design.

This has not weakened by resolve however. If I have to get on Ebay I am going to find two cap guns and my boys are going to shoot them at each other. They are going to play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, and war. What is more, I won’t have to teach them to do this because they are, after all, BOYS!

They are going to learn that sometimes the good guys have to use force against bad guys. They are going to learn that Jesus never told a soldier not to serve as a soldier. They are going to learn that the state is at times used by God to put down evil in the world. They may be called upon one day to intervene with force against hostile aggressors. On that day I don’t want them to wonder why their gun does not light up with bright colors and emit an array of bleeps and blips.

Press On

todd