Tuesday, March 24, 2009

To Give You Pause...

I just saw a front-page Yahoo news headline that made me chuckle: "Red Meat Raises Death Risk". The link to the article makes the scary new finding even more specific: "Lots of Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk".

Did you catch that? Eat lots of juicy filet mignons (like the portabello-and-roquefort topped one I enjoyed back in February) and someday, you run the risk of dying.

Huh. And here I was thinking that death was a done deal. You're born; being born implies a 100% fatality rate - even for the staunchest of vegans. Or did I miss something here?

I don't mean to sound flip as I write about a subject as serious as death (and good quality steaks). I just don't have a problem with my own mortality. As my Canadian-born pastor once said, "You're born; you grow up; you play hockey; you die." The question is not whether we will die, or even when, or from what (presumably eating too much roast beef is a major cause of death, albeit a pleasant one).

It's what you do to glorify God in the meantime that is the question.

Where we spend eternity should be settled. For those of us who have been born again, the prospect of physical death should hold no dread, but we should often consider how ready we are to face our Lord. Regeneration may be a present reality, but what are we doing with Christ's lordship in the day-to-day? What areas is He calling us to surrender that we're still holding onto? As a college Bible study leader of mine once asked, "Are you putting feet on your faith?" This is the whole message of the book of James - don't be just a hearer of the Word; be a doer of the Word.

The one thing I want to hear when I step into eternity is "Well done, good and faithful servant." This week, I have been having a great time with God - He has been bringing steady, gentle conviction (def.: constructive criticism from the sovereign hand of God). Does it surprise you that conviction feels great? It shouldn't. To me, the Holy Spirit's promptings have always been clear-cut proof that God cares. He's willing to step in and encourage, correct, and rebuke my ingrained habits when necessary. I've been thinking about my own walk lately, and how (much to my chagrin) God doesn't have me on the mission fields of Burma or Belarus. How, beyond teaching Bible studies and writing books, can anything I do possibly count for Him? As I wonder rhetorically whether I'd have the fortitude to die a martyr's death, I completely miss what it means to live for Christ.

One of my fellow bloggers posted a quote from a Puritan writer, to the effect that the fires of hell burn hotter for those who talk doctrine but don't do it. Frank Turk over at Pyromaniacs posted an entry that dealt with the fastidious way in which we theo-geeks will defend biblical interpretation and may be razor-sharp in our soteriology, but what is the Father looking at?

Do I really need to answer that question for you?

Currently, I am nearly finished with John Macarthur's book "Forgiveness", by far the best and most exhaustive book I have ever read on the subject. Macarthur deals head-on with some of the toughest questions about unilateral forgiveness ever posed, even devoting an entire chapter to the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (you don't need to know Greek to get the point). Despite (or perhaps because) forgiveness is my spiritual Achilles' heel, I tend to get caught up in the mental gymnastics of monergism vs. synergism he introduces in chapter one. Sometimes, my mind can be a concordance, but my heart is not a sanctuary.

God is changing that, and it is exciting. So freeing, and exhilerating to taste what grace can look like when you pour it out to others.

I am the type who would rather write a dissertation on the Doctrines of Grace than forgive an unbeliever who has reviled me. However, the longer I linger at the foot of the Cross, the more absurd that tendency seems. After expounding on the enormity of what Christ has done for us, Macarthur writes, "Christians should be obsessed with forgiveness; not vengeance." To allow my mind to go in it's natural direction (towards holding grudges) is to be totally unappreciative of my Savior's mercvy and love. It's unthinkable! Why prefer a pop theology quiz as entry to heaven when all He asks of us is to show grace in keeping with our Father's character?

I mention my battle with my own unforgiving nature as a prime example of what He wants me doing - right now. Do you have something in your life? Put aside the cliche question, "If you were to die tonight, how certain are you that you would go to heaven?" That question was settled upon your conversion - but don't get cocky. Let's think of a replacement question: "If you were to die tonight, how could you have better acted in faith, and what acts of righteousness will you have neglected that could have counted for eternity?" Or more simply, "How ready are you to meet Jesus?"

Not that we'll ever be perfectly ready, but Jesus has laid out His commands and expectations pretty clearly in His Word. (Recommended supplementary reading: John Piper's "What Jesus Demands from the World").

If you're continually walking by the Spirit, you don't have to worry about red meat doing you in.


4simpsons said...

I hope you blog more on the forgivness book!

Barbara said...

Sometimes, my mind can be a concordance, but my heart is not a sanctuary. God is changing that, and it is exciting.

It shows, my sister. It shows. :)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

A good book on the issue of forgiveness that you might want to look at is Jay Adams' "From Forgiven to Forgiving." I haven't seen MacArthur's book, but Adams' is quite provocative reading.

Marie said...

Oh, I read "From Forgiven to Forgiving" last month! (Remember, my pastor's wife is a NANCer - she loaned me both books and we are discussing them). I refuse to call it 'counseling'. That's my pride talking. :)

So, about Adams' book. Made many good points. Buuuuuttttt....the issue that PW and I (and John Macarthur, as I discovered this week) noticed is that he makes forgiveness very formulaic, and denies that forgiveness can be unconditional (or that, strictly speaking, an unbeliever can be forgiven). Reading it, of course it was what my itching ears wanted to hear - "Hey! I'm off da hook! Jay Adams says I don't always have to extend forgiveness!" - but, having done all the NANC worksheets and looking at the whole of Scripture, something in his exegesis of certain passages seemed a little bit "off". Let me quote what Macarthur says about Adams' book, since I agree with his assessment:

"Some take the position that this [Eph. 4:32 & Col. 3:13] teaches forgiveness should always be conditional. Their rationale goes like this: God forgives only those who repent. Therefore, if we are going to forgive in the same manner as we have been forgiven, we should withhold forgiveness from all who are unrepentant. Some fine teachers hold this view. For example, Jay Adams writes:

'It should go without saying that since our forgiveness is modeled after God's (Eph. 4:32), it must be conditional. Forgiveness by God rests on clear, unmistakable conditions. The apostles did not merely announce that God had forgiven men...Paul and the apostles turned away from those who refused to meet the conditions, just as John and Jesus did earlier when the scribes and Pharisees would not repent.' (page 34)

"There is some merit in Adam's position. There are times when forgiveness must be conditional, and we shall discuss that issue before the close of this chapter." (Macarthur cites cases where a serious offense is against someone other than you; when ignoring an offense might hurt the offender; when sin is scandalous and might damage the body; or the offense results in a broken relationship. The vast majority of times, however, he maintains we should just "cover the offense", ie, to forgive in the spirit of Christ.)

"I have great respect for Adams and have recommended his book on forgiveness as a helpful study on the subject. On this issue, however, I must disagree with the position he takes. To make conditionality the gist of Christlike forgiveness seems to miss the whole point of Scripture. When Scripture instructs us to forgive in the manner we have been forgiven, what is in view is not the idea of withholding forgiveness until the offender expresses repentance."

And on he goes in that vein. Honestly, I like Adams' take on human forgiveness, (in the sense it appeals to my human sense of justice), but I think that Macarthur's appeal to a higher standard is actually more in line with Gods heart. From a nouthetic counseling perspective, this book would be a great addition to your library. I'm sure you don't struggle with unforgiveness, but it's so edifying looking at the depths of love that would cause God to want to redeem us. Piper's writing on the subject is also good. Anyway, I hope to review the whole book by next week.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I agree with Adams' stance, especially in view of the Luke passage where Jesus say "IF" your brother repents then you are to forgive him. I don't think we are precluded from forgiven an unrepentant person, but I also don't think we are required to forgive someone who is not remorseful. For example, everyone says to forgive the 9/11 terrorists, but they wouldn't even seek forgiveness had they lived.

I had a lady write me for information about Beth Moore and read the critique I did of "Breaking Free" where I questioned whether God would insist we forgive an unrepentant person; she said that was incorrect, and when I stated it was the stand Jay Adams took (a teacher she highly respected), that didn't matter to her and she decided that I was a false teacher and not to be listened to, and therefore she would not use my material on Beth Moore to counter Moore's influence in her church.

My only point is that, since God doesn't forgive the unrepentant but sends him to Hell instead, we are able to use the same criteria for with-holding forgiveness. I also agree we CAN forgive without repentance, just that we aren't required to.