The Caylor Family

Promotion or Prevention

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My reading list this morning included a post that mentioned the idea that some people think of goals and decisions in terms of an opportunity, and some people see them as threats. The idea in the post was that if your perception is “promotion focused” you will pursue the goal as an opportunity to advance and have a higher chance of success. If you are “prevention focused” you will be less willing to take risks and will spend your energy avoiding failure rather than pursuing success.

This reminded me of a class I took many years ago about commodities trading, a fairly dry topic for most of us but stick with me for the moment. In that class we talked a good bit about combining trades so that together they cancelled out the risk, without limiting the potential for profit. Done properly, the down side is gone almost entirely, and there is only up side.

It occurred to me that the “promotion” vs “prevention” idea applies to the way that we approach sanctification. Many of us seek to be holy primarily by avoiding things. We are trying to pursue righteousness by keeping from sin. This approach has some biblical support. Paul in particular tells us to flee from sin. As a primary focus of our Christian lives, however, I think this is misplaced.

In the Christian walk a “promotion focus” is, I think, more advantageous as a primary focus. In fact, Christ has removed the downside for us. All of His promises are true. All of the debt has been removed. Christ became sin for us and we have been assigned Christ’s righteousness. There is no downside apart from sitting still. All too often our approach to following Christ reveals that we do not believe that Christ has accomplished all that is necessary for our salvation, or can not finish the work he has started in us.  We’re avoiding a down side that is no longer there.

The upside, on the other hand, is glorious! He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. He has guaranteed our righteous standing before the throne of God. He has given us His Spirit and made us into His temple and body. He has prepared work in advance for us to walk in, and invited us in to participate in His own work and will. He has promised, in fact, that we will do greater works even than Christ did during his Earthly ministry. That is possible because we have His righteousness, His Spirit, His power, all given to us to do His will.

Sure, there are momentary trials, persecution, and hardship. But He has promised to reward us for these, to make all things right. Difficulty in this life is for our growth, and for His glory. There is no downside any more for those who are in Christ!

The warning in the commodities class was that it is possible to get the trades wrong. If you do that, it is possible to eliminate all potential profit and create the opportunity for unlimited losses. This is the situation for those who do not belong to Christ. For them, there is no upside, only loss.

But if you are in Christ, stop living like your goal in life is avoiding risks. Christ has paid the debt already. All of his promises are guaranteed. Eternity is guaranteed. All of His blessings are guaranteed. Live like you believe Him.

Written by David

March 22, 2013 at 10:42 am

Does God speak?

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There were a couple of posts on Reformation21.org about whether God speaks to people today. I think that these two posts are great examples of a key failure of modern reformed thinking.

Does God exist? Is he an actual person? Could he speak to people if he chose to? Has he ever spoken to anybody (maybe Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Paul, or John)? If so, those possible examples are at least hundreds of years apart. What accent did he use then?

The title of this post notwithstanding, I am not going to argue here that God does or does not speak to anybody in modern times. Whether he does or not, the approach taken by the two posts I linked to above are inappropriate. They argue that God doesn’t speak, or didn’t in some examples, for the following reasons:

  • By implication, that God can’t speak because he might use an accent.
  • That saying that God spoke to a particular person is unwise because people might think they can hear the voice of God.
  • That saying that God spoke to someone is unanswerable and inherently subjective.
  • That it sets a dangerous precedent for future decisions.

The problem is that none of these objections have anything to do with whether or not God actually spoke in the anecdotes that they use as examples. And that is the real question. God is real. He can speak if he wants to. Does he? Did he in these situations?

If so, the fact that somebody thinks its funny to think about God’s accent, or thinks it is unfair because he didn’t want to break up with his girlfriend, or thinks it is dangerous are all entirely beside the point. If God spoke in these situations, than it is God speaking. Whether you like it or not isn’t important.

If God did not speak in these situations, than these people are sadly and dangerously mistaken. Claiming that some message is from God when it is not is serious. In that case, too, the objections raised by these two writers are completely beside the point.

When someone says that they received a message from God, the entire question is whether or not they did, not whether we think it is a good idea or a bad one. This is true of Jason Meyer. It is true of Carl Trueman’s old girlfriend. If God has spoken, it is not manipulative to act on what he has said, and God is not obligate to also speak to anyone else. If God did not speak, we are on very dangerous ground to claim that he has. Claiming that God has spoken where he has not is not in the category of “no harm is really done.” On the other side of that coin, if God really spoke to someone, claiming that it is manipulative to follow God’s leading is beyond offensive (see Matthew 12).

If you have a theological point to make, make it from Scripture. God is real. He has given us measures by which to weigh claims that he is speaking. He speaks for himself. Everything that he has said or will ever say is consistent, because God speaks truly. Everything that he will say is consistent with his portrayal of himself. Everything that he does is consistent with the way he has said that he will act.

A significant problem with reformed thinking is that too often it speaks and acts like God isn’t a real part of the equation, like he is a philosophical or religious abstract. If there is Scriptural reason to believe that God does not currently speak to his children other than through Scripture, point that out and by all means stick to that belief. If anyone says they have heard personally from God, weigh that by the standards God has given and shown in the Word. Don’t tell us whether you think it is a good idea or not. God is not obligated to do what you think is wise.

Most of all, please don’t dishonor God by acting like he’s an abstraction. God is alive. The Father and Holy Spirit and Jesus are real Persons. God is sovereign, and will speak and act as he pleases. Please speak of him as if he is alive and what he says matters, because he is alive, and what he says is all that matters.

Written by David

February 4, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Posted in The Christian Life

Yes, we’re broken. God makes it straight

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Recently I read a book that said that the modern church is broken, and we need to get back to how the first Century church did things. Our weekly meetings should be how they did it then. Our sacraments and worship should be like theirs. Our leadership should be like their leadership.

The problem with that, of course, is that we know next to nothing about how the first Century church did things. We don’t have any descriptions of their regular meetings. The sermons we have related to us were all unusual circumstances, not the weekly practices. We have no recipes for their rites or worship beyond a few corrective statements to the Corinthians about how not to do it. No guides for how they lead their community, beyond a few qualifications delivered to Timothy and Titus. The picture we have is spotty at best, and in some areas where we’d particularly like to know the specifics the picture is missing entirely. So, lacking a good picture, we fill in the gaps with our imaginations and then push for the church to return to that Golden Age when the church got it.

The problem with wanting to go back to the Golden Age, as a recent article by Marc Cortez points out, is that There Was No Golden Age. The history of the church is full of people with failings just like ours. The dynamics of groups of people getting together have not changed. People are people, and they have been for all of human history.

This was highlighted further by the recent discussion on the web about Propaganda’s recent song “Precious Puritans.” If you listen to the track (and it is worth listening to) you will miss the point entirely unless you listen to the end. The puritans participated in the barbarity that was American slavery. It is hard to reconcile the writings of the men of that time that show so much spiritual Biblical insight in many places, with participation in such evil practices as slavery. The answer, of course, is where Propaganda’s lyrics take us: “God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines.”

Every period of church history is full of Christians who are still living here on this Earth, in this Age, struggling with the painful reality of the flesh to which we are still bound. Or, as Propaganda put it, “There’s not one generation of believers that figured out the marriage between proper doctrine and action.” Or as Paul put it, “Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, then, on one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

Reading the epistles makes it clear that the first century church was not without its struggles. Divisions, sexual sin, bickering and petty disputes, discrimination, drunkenness and gluttony… the individual people and the community of the church in the first century were flawed. All of us are saved by grace through faith, from Pentecost until Jesus returns.

When we gather humans together, we will have all of the issues of humanity gathered. People will try to control who have no business leading. People will try to teach who have no business teaching. Others who have been called to teach and lead will hold back, resisting the call of the Spirit of God. It is the way it is because human nature is what it is, and the church is made of humans.

The solution is not to look at new models, to look for ways to reimagine how it should be, or go back to how it was in the Golden Age. There isn’t anything at all wrong with self examination from time to time. Sometimes habits get in our way, and we should break them. Sometimes as part of our fallen nature we elevate religion and religious practice to the place in our hearts and minds that only God should be. A challenge to look at what we do and why is a healthy thing. We’re always better off when our idols are toppled and our high places cleared.

But the answer isn’t in how we order our services, or how we gather, or the style of singing (or lack of singing), or the method of teaching. The answer is in Christ Jesus himself. Not in some abstract fuzzy sense, but in His person. We come to know him and we pursue relationship with Him through what He has revealed in His Word, and illuminated in our hearts by His Spirit, and through our belief that is lived out in active trust and submission to Him as our Lord.

Then we step forward into His work, which He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in with Him. Whether the group you are in is large or small, casual or liturgical, modern or traditional doesn’t really matter. What matter’s for the church is Him, His Gospel, His work in our lives and His calling and purpose for us. The churches that are failing (not necessarily in numbers and popularity, but failing in their mission) are failing because they are missing Christ and the Gospel.

You are not perfect. I am not perfect. God uses crooked sticks. Whenever I look in the mirror I’m amazed that He would want a relationship with me at all, much less want to work through me, much less die for me. I’m as crooked a stick as any, awed by Christ and astounded His grace.

Let’s stop straightening up the edges and dive into the substance. God is still calling crooked sticks. If you are on the sidelines spotting the flaws in how other people are responding to God’s calling on their lives, get out of your seat and into the race. It is the only one worth running, because He is the only God worth serving.

Written by David

October 10, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Posted in The Christian Life

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Dancing upon grace

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I wandered through the room this afternoon where my kids were watching the Narnia movie. It was on the scene where Aslan makes the deal with the witch. When Aslan and the witch come out of the tent and announce that the witch has renounced her claim on Edmund, there is celebration in the camp. No one but Aslan and the witch know what deal was struck. Only Lucy notices Aslan’s demeanor as the witch leaves.

The celebration in that scene is a picture, it seems to me, of us when we dance upon grace like it is a free ticket for whatever we want to do. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” Romans 6 asks. “May it never be!”

If we can dance upon grace in this way, we either do not understand the price that is paid for grace, or we do not much love the One who paid it on our behalf.

Written by David

July 31, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Posted in The Christian Life

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Give me a sign?

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I have had a number of points in my life when I prayed for a clear sign from God about which fork in the road I should take. I want to follow God’s will for my life. I want to be on the road he wants me to follow. I know from experience that being on the path God calls you to makes all the difference. At those times, you read the Word, spend time in prayer, and discuss it with Godly people who will pray with you.

Many times I’ve longed for a burning bush kind of experience. “Go to Egypt!” “Don’t go to Asia!” “Come to Macedonia!” Maybe a visit from an angel, or fire from heaven, or writing on the wall, or a vision. Those would make the matter clear. Then I could get up and walk knowing with confidence that I had the message right. Because that’s my fear: that I will get my pride or prejudices in the way and end up claiming that God has said what I wanted him to say. Wouldn’t it be easier to just get a clear message and know which path to take?

Maybe, but I wonder…

I’ve been working through the Gospels lately, especially John. If there was ever a time when I would think that people had clear signs that would lead them to believe in Jesus, it was during his life on Earth. I’d like to think that if I had been there, I’d have been following him, proclaiming him to be the Messiah and the Savior. Somehow, though, I wonder if I would have missed even Christ standing and teaching right in front of me.

One of the interesting things about the Gospel of John is watching the various responses to Jesus. John makes the point very strongly. Right out of the starting blocks, in John 1:11, he tells us “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” Nicodemas says “We know you are Teacher sent from God,” but he can’t see the Kingdom right in front of him. The thousands of people who are miraculously fed from a handful of food follow him not for eternal life, but for more bread. In John 5 when Jesus heals the crippled man next to the pool, the newly healed man seems to go out of his way to turn Jesus in to the Jewish leaders. Even the disciples follow Jesus around for three years and have no idea what he’s talking about much of the time. He told them where he was going and what would happen, and they were still surprised when it actually happened.

Out of the three years of Jesus ministry, the most striking response to Jesus that cuts through the non-belief and confusion was the Samaritans of Sychar. They don’t receive any signs, other than the words of Jesus. No miracles are recorded there. “Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.'” (John 4:41-42) Jesus is called the “Savior of the world” only twice in Scripture, here and in 1 John 4:14: “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” Somehow, the Jews were given sign upon sign of who Christ was, and they had all the words of the prophets to match against his miraculous ministry and to predict his coming and purpose, and yet they missed him. These Samaritans only had his words, and yet they believed.

I’m reminded of the story from John 16 of the rich man who died and found himself in the torment of Hades. He begged to be able to go back to warn his brothers about what was waiting for them on the other side of the grave. The answer comes in verse 31: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

There are lots of examples of people in the Bible who had clear signs, and either missed them or didn’t believe. The clearest examples of faith are those who had the Word, and nothing more. I think it would be nice to have a miraculously clear sign, but it isn’t really necessary to know what God wants from us. He tells us what he wants, and he does give us his guidance and calling on our lives, exactly how loudly it needs to be. It is up to me to believe.

Written by David

July 23, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Posted in The Christian Life

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In Jesus Name

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Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:12-14

Recently the news has been full of stories of government employees that acted like they were entitled to the resources and prerogatives of the positions they held. They forgot that the authority and resources of the government are not theirs, but that they belong to the government, and they are available to the employees as long as the employees are doing the work of, and properly representing the agencies for which they work. When a government official properly comes in their role, they come with the full authority and backing of the government for the purpose for which they are sent. If they are discovered to have misappropriated those resources and authority they lose their authority and lose access to the resources. The resources weren’t theirs, but were available for the work they were appointed to do.

“In the name of Jesus” is not a magical incantation, it is an appointment, a calling. Jesus is saying (in the greater context of this passage) something like “I came from the Father, and all that I have done I did at the Fathers bidding, in the Father’s authority, with the Father living in me doing His work. Now I appoint you likewise. Do my work, in my name, as I have done the work of the Father in His name.”

We are His servants, His children, and when we come doing His work we come representing Him. We do not represent our own interests or agenda, but the interests and agenda of our Master. All of His resources are available for His work. His resources do not become our resources. They are still His resources for His work. When we are fully committed and aligned with His work and His will then all of His resources are available and provided generously for that end. A key part of that is His Spirit, living in us in all power and as His holy dwelling place.

What does this mean as a practical matter, in our day to day lives? For one thing, it means we need to understand who we are. We are His children, His servants, His representatives. It means we are not to have our own agenda, but His. And it means that when we do that, we don’t stand on our own resources and ability, but His. He has promised to provide all we need to do His work.

We fail in this when we view it as our work, when we start to see His resources as ours. This is idolatry. We also fail when we try to do His work with “our” resources, when we forget that all of the resources and power of God are engaged in His work. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price beyond our imagining. How will He who paid such a price for us, in fact did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also graciously provide us with all things?

If we belong to God, then all that we have is his. Our home, our car, our family, our career, our bank account, our selves. They are not ours any more. They belong to Him, for Him to use for His purpose and according to His will. When we understand that, and live that, then all of His resources come into play for His work.

Are we His? Are we called according to His purpose, to His work? Then go in His name, with all the authority and power and backing of the Creator and King. None of His promises ever fail, His work never fails, and His resources are never exhausted.

But do not forget for a moment that all that you have, including your own self, belong to Him.

Written by David

April 27, 2012 at 8:31 am

Posted in The Christian Life

God is Good!

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. He predestined us to adoption according to the kind intention of his will. He freely bestows grace, and even lavishes it on us. He reveals himself to us, so that we can know him and the hope of his calling and marvel at his glory and power. He works all things according to his will. He is faithful to keep all his promises, and strong enough to do all that he wills. He is rich in love and mercy with surpassing riches of grace and kindness toward us. And then, after he has adopted us (who were before so far away in our slavery to sin and death) as his children, he draws us in and makes us a part of the work he is doing by carefully crafting us and arranging for the works he has prepared in advance for us to do. To top all that off, he then rewards us for doing the things he prepared for us.

I took a walk today and was thinking about these things, and about God’s kindness and generosity. It occurred to me that his generosity falls in two categories. One, is his generosity in giving gifts. His grace and mercy are key examples, pouring out what I can not possibly do anything to deserve. I can’t grasp the extent and depth of these gifts, partly because I can’t understand the span from the depths of my sin to his holiness. But they are clearly gifts, and clearly unearned, and it is easy to remember it is his kindness and grace and be grateful.

The second type of God’s kindness is in his rewards. God rewards his children and servants in vast disproportion to what we deserve. He pours rewards out for us from the endless well of his kindness, instead of according to the limits of our abilities or our response. That is clearly so from what he says and the witness of our testimony. But even still, because we do something to earn reward, it is easy to think somehow the unbounded generosity is earned.

I wish there were more obedience in my life, but in the places I have been obedient he has poured unmerited blessings in response. It is in response–God’s response to our doing what he has called us to do–but that doesn’t make it earned. His generosity is his, and the rewards are measured by his kindness rather than by what is due. So it is surprising that we can so easily forget to be grateful, and can so easily fall into pride. We’re like the workers who think they are entitled to more than our due because the master has been so kind before. His generosity points to his unending kindness, not to anything I can bring.

God is good, and I am so grateful to be his child!

Written by David

February 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Posted in The Christian Life