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The Need for Faith-Definitions and Labels 

There is a received dogma within our culture that says using labels to define who you are either politically, religiously, or any other way, is divisive and arrogant. Instead we should just amorphously state our opinions on various subjects instead of using these labels that cause divisions and splits within groups or communities. My generation (and younger) seems to have accepted this as the way things are. You just don't use labels as much as possible. It is impolite at best and instigating hate at the worst.

Unfortunately, that thinking has seeped into the church to large degree to where we just don't use labels to define what we believe anymore. We're all just generally "Christians," without walls, without denominational barriers, all one in Christ. Now there is some truth to that (and hope for unification somewhere down the road), for some of the denominations out there. Yet for other denominations, there have historically been splits from these groups over truth itself, over the Gospel, not just over church floor color and various subjective arrangements.

On MySpace it seems popular to put "Christian - Other," that way others have to decide what you are, but you surely won't be pidgin-holed by a label! You can also see this come out on the site GodTube.com as well. You have a whole range of people from various denominations, some groups of which aren't even considered historic Christians to begin with (you know, those denying the Trinity, the full deity and full humanity of Christ, etc), coming together as one group of people under the label "Christian," all assuming they together adhere to the same faith, when the reality is there couldn't be more of a contrast between different groups. But the waters get muddy when there are no labels or definitions of where people are coming from in their faith.

There is something to be said about unity within the church. We need it, and within the Protestant world in particular, there is far too little unity. This is something I actually commend the Roman Catholic Church for: their unity, despite its falsehood. I desire for the day when Protestants can once again stand in unity on the Gospel and the truths of Scripture. Splits over subjective things is dead wrong. Yet splits over truth and what the Scriptures have asserted as the Gospel should be commended instead of chastised. Unfortunately, within the Protestant realm, there is a ton of poisonous theology being put forward as truth which is so far from the truth of the Scriptures.

Our culture says doctrinal truth claims are not important and we need to come together in the name of unity. In fact, our culture says any truth claims are arrogant and divisive, breaking up our humanity. How is it the church of Jesus Christ seems to think this is okay and should be propagated even? I hear this frequently from people at church as well as your average run-of-the-mill Christian out in the world.

Jesus prayed on our behalf in His High Priestly prayer in John 17:17, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." He also said in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus is very clear and makes straight forward truth-claims. Maybe we should as well, coming from Scripture of course, instead of giving people no understanding of what it is we believe specifically? Paul made clear in several letters that his readers adhere to correct and truthful doctrine and teaching, and that there be no divisions on these things. That is the kind of division he wanted to keep from happening.

So why do I use labels to define what I believe? Well, for one, because within a label (or word, really) consists a definition, an article of belief, a statement about what the truth is from the Scriptures. Secondly, I use labels because they distinguish my beliefs against other beliefs. Don't take this as me saying, "I'm better than those who don't use labels," or that I in any way look down my nose at those who choose not to use a label. Using labels in no way adds to or takes away from any righteousness we have, because in ourselves, we have none to begin with (total depravity?). Rather our righteousness comes from that which was obtained on our behalf by Christ. Regardless, I am making a recommendation that we do start using labels again to define where it is we are coming from.

Using labels refines what it is you are saying to people about what it is you believe. In all reality though, on a Facebook profile, it doesn't matter all that much really to use specific labels for your religious beliefs. I just prefer to so maybe someone might investigate further as to what I mean and hopefully I can share the Gospel. However, I do think how we define ourselves in general can be indicative of underlying assumptions about how we personally perceive labels and belief terms themselves. I do feel it is important to be as specific and accurate as possible with your stated beliefs (in any forum or social environment) instead of leaving people with a fuzzy, amorphous understanding of where you are coming from. But that's just an opinion as it pertains to Myspace or Facebook or any other online social forum.

So why do I use the labels "Christian - Protestant - Evangelical - Reformed" on my Facebook profile? Because each says something about my beliefs against other beliefs. Each says something that further and further distinguishes what I believe concerning "the faith once for all delivered." I'm going to go through and explain each label and give short, personal definitions within each of the terms:

I'm a Christian as opposed to a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist:


To just say I'm a "Christian" (while that is obviously true) is way too broad nowadays in our culture. Many will say, "I follow Christ." Well, a lot of people say that who don't according to the Scriptures. Many people call themselves "Christian" who according to the Scriptures, have rejected Christ as Savior. Not everyone assumes that when you say, "I believe in Jesus," that you actually mean you believe in Him alone, that He died for your sins and rose from the dead on your behalf and that you contributed nothing to your salvation.

You must be specific in our culture about your beliefs. You cannot just assume people know where you are coming from as it pertains to the Gospel and Christianity in general. Over in Iran, it may not be as broad to say I'm a Christian. That is a different culture though. But in the thinking of the West, the term Christian encompasses a whole range of beliefs, some of which are fundamentally contradictory to others even. People who are Mormon consider themselves Christians too, yet their beliefs go against the very ecumenical doctrines established in the early history of the Christian church as those which makeup orthodox Christianity.

Nowadays (though historically this has not always been the case), the label Christian encompasses a couple billion people all around the world, from groups ranging from Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Episcopals, and many other "Christian" groups. All of these groups, sects, and denominations have fundamental disagreements over the very nature of God, man, and salvation, amongst a host other beliefs that are vitally important. So I must go further than just saying I'm a "Christian" (though, as I said, that is absolutely true).

I'm Protestant as opposed to Catholic:


This is another distinction of my beliefs that I must make over against the Roman Catholic Church in particular. I am not a Roman Catholic Christian. I am a Protestant Christian. I reject their mass, their Eucharist, their belief in faith plus works for eternal justification before God, their belief in the infallibility of Rome's authority over the life and faith of the church (even over sacred Scripture), amongst a host of other beliefs, because I believe they directly contradict the passages of Scripture, which I believe to be the only infallible authority for the faith and practice of the church.

Unfortunately though, the term "Protestant" has been hijacked and ruined in many ways by theologically liberal groups who are more open to worldly, cultural interpretations of the characteristics of God, Scripture, Christ, salvation, and man. So I must distinguish even further than this. Yet, I still consider myself a Protestant. I guess more of a Historic Protestant, to be accurate. Protestantism used to be way more theologically conservative than it has become.

I'm Evangelical as opposed to theologically liberal or Pelagian:


I reject that there can be other ways to God besides faith alone in Christ alone, whereas theological liberals will say that Jesus is not the only way, just one of many. The Scriptures are the only infallibly authoritative rule over the life and faith of the church. Salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus is fully God, fully man. Jesus, the Son of God, came from heaven to live as a frail human (like us) and lived a perfect life in the eyes of God, in my place, died the death I should have died, taking the wrath of God in Himself, rose from the grave three days later, that if you believe in Him, you will be saved.

This message, the Gospel, is at the heart of evangelicalism. And it totally differs from the liberals version of what the Gospel is, which is "love like Jesus loved," which is not good news, because He loved perfectly, and I don't. However, it now seems even many within evangelical circles now are folding on some of these core Gospel-truths by saying that, "we personally believe all of these things, but it isn't necessary to believe absolutely all of this to be saved." Still others will say that it isn't important to preach on hell, sin, wrath, justice, predestination, because they might make people upset. Is that not our culture talking? That right there is the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. And once again, unfortunately, I must refine my beliefs even further than just evangelical, though I am that as well.

I'm Reformed as opposed to Arminian, Semi-Pelagian, partial-Calvinist, or Dispensational:


I hold to the Five Solas of the Reformation: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. Usually upon reflection, a lot of evangelicals will affirm the Five Solas without hesitation, with the exception of maybe grace alone (differing of course on election sadly, inconsistently). Yet grace alone is at the heart of the Gospel itself. God saved me, a rebel, when I wanted nothing of Him. The only reason I'm different and saved is God's "grace alone" making me to differ, that He would grant me a living faith, to turn from my sin by His power and trust in Christ. That was His work in me, not my work in raising myself from the dead, like Lazarus.

I'm a five point Calvinist. I hold to all five points without reservation. Why?

Well, being the fact that I was dead in sin prior to my conversion, actively in rebellion against Him, I would never have come to Him. I was hell-bound, fully deserving of wrath and punishment (Total Depravity).

Therefore, in eternity past, God chose me to inherit salvation, out of His pure love and affection, not because of anything within me or anything I would do in the future, but just simply because He sovereignly chose to save me (Unconditional Election).

In due time, He sent His Son to accomplish this plan of the Father's, who willingly lived the life I could never live, die the eternal death that should have been mine, pay for my sins effectively and fully at the cross, justifying me by His blood, confirmed and sealed in His resurrection (Definite/Limited Atonement, He actually bought my redemption at the cross).

He brought me forth into this world by my chosen parents, and on His schedule and plan, despite unbelievable Satanic forces attempting to keep me from salvation, God made sure I was saved and brought to faith (i.e. He did not leave it up to me to decide whether I was in or out because I never would have come to start with). He did this by sending His Holy Spirit to give me new birth, that is to regenerate my dead will enslaved to sin, convict me of my wickedness against Him, give me eyes to see and ears to hear Him, and show me Christ, which inevitably gave rise to my faith in Him (Irresistible Grace).

And I know that because of Jesus' promises and that He never lies, He will never let me go or allow me to turn away from Him because He will preserve me and cause to me to persevere by His power working so mightily within me (Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints).

That is Calvinism in a nutshell. As Spurgeon once said (paraphrase), Calvinism is really just another label for the Gospel and nothing more. God saves sinners. Man can achieve nothing, nor can we coerce God or force His hand to be merciful to us. Yet how merciful He is, full of grace and kindness to bring sinners into His family! We are at His mercy to turn us and miraculously regenerate us that we may believe in Him with a living faith and so be saved.

I hold to covanentalism (minus the statements on covenant children and infant baptism) as opposed to Dispensationalism even though I've grown up within Dispensational churches my whole life, and still attend one. My conviction on this has come from studying many resources on both systems of theology and comparing them with how the Scriptures unfold over the whole plot-line of the Bible.

I have personally found the coventantal understanding more Scripturally grounded, yet I do not claim to have some advantage over Dispensationalists, because I know and love many Dispensationalists who would be classified as Reformed Calvinists and I gladly confess with them in every thing else. I just believe that in terms of the Gospel, God works in covenants, as clearly articulated in Hebrews, doing away with the old and establishing the new in Christ. Covenant theology views the entire Bible as God's progressive, unfolding outworking of the Gospel, where God creates for Himself a people for His own possession, purchased by the blood of His Son.

So I guess when you get down to it, that makes me a Reformed Evangelical Protestant Christian. Or to shorten that, I'm a Reformed Baptist. So really, you could sum up what I believe in the London Baptist Confession of Faith from 1689. An excellent read!
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Windows XP SP3 Released: DO NOT Upgrade Yet 

Apparently, there are a number of people reporting serious problems with this service pack that have rendered some machines totally useless, in need of a total reinstall to get them to work again. You might want to hold out installing this for a little while longer. Here is just a sampling of some of the articles related to this release.

http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,14581 ... ticle.html

http://news.idg.no/cw/art.cfm?id=1659E1 ... 23FDD85185

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Desktops-and-N ... -Continue/
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Assurance of Salvation - Applying Two Tests to Our Lives 

This section is excerpted from the application at the end of a sermon by John Piper. To read the exposition of the Scriptures supporting this, consult the full sermon here: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibr ... Confesses/

Let's close by applying these two tests to our own lives.

1. The test of hearing and confessing the truth of the apostles' testimony that Jesus is the Son of God.
2. And the test of loving each other.

Let me suggest three questions for each test. Ask yourself these questions:

1. The Test of Hearing and Confessing


1.1. Does your heart incline to the testimony of the apostles and prophets? That is, do you have a persevering longing to read the Bible or to hear the Word of God?

The question is not: Do you never have dry times of indifference? The question is: Is the ongoing, customary desire of your heart to join Mary at the feet of Jesus and do the one thing needful, namely, listen (Luke 10:42)? "My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them and they follow me" (John 10:27; cf. 10:16; 18:37). Do you long to listen to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles' teaching about him?

1.2. When your heart grows cool and you begin to drift away from the Word of God, do you feel a godly guilt that humbles you and brings you back broken to the cross for forgiveness and renewal?

1.3. When you hear the testimony of Scripture that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world, does your heart confess this truth? That is, do you gladly affirm the divine greatness of Christ and how worthy he is of trust and admiration and loyalty and obedience? Does your heart exalt Christ as the greatest thing of all? For that is surely what it means to be "Son of God."

2. The Test of Loving Each Other


2.1. When you hear a description of love like 1 Corinthians 13 or when you contemplate the example of Christ's life of love, does your heart fill with longing to be like that, and do you make firm resolves to conquer unloving attitudes and behaviors?

2.2. When you fail in a resolve of love, does it grieve you and bring you broken to the cross pleading for forgiveness and seeking new strength to love again?

2.3. Is the current and pattern of your life to live for the eternal good of other people, or are your thoughts and dreams and daily choices generally aimed at merely making yourself comfortable and your name esteemed?

The Most Important Test


This test is more important than any other you will ever take. In the end your eternal life hangs on whether you pass or fail.

If these questions cause you to doubt that God is abiding in you, then pray with me the following prayer:
Have mercy upon me, O God, for I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. I am prone to forsake you and go after other things. The eyes of my heart have been blind and I have not seen or cherished your truth and glory as I should. I am helpless in myself, O Lord.

Deliver me, I pray, from the terrible deceitfulness of my own heart. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and give me a spirit that is willing to believe in the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ. Fill me with joy and peace through the forgiveness of his cross and through the promise of eternal life. And free me from selfishness and pride so I can love the way he loved.

Into your grace I commit my life, merciful God. From this day on I will never call myself my own. I surrender myself to Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

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"Follow your Heart - the Money Will Come!" 

This was the title of a blog entry from a corporate New Age guru on the internet. I can only say that coming from the world, this statement makes a whole lot of sense and I seek not to critique that perspective in this entry. They say we are to pursue whatever makes us the happiest, the fullest of satisfaction. And it is no wonder that this message is money many times. Or maybe not even in money itself, but the satisfaction of your job that you love to do, money just may come along with it. So for the unbeliever of the Gospel, this is an understandable perspective. Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and money" (Luke 16:13).

However, it is odd to me this is the very statement we hear from many so-called evangelical leaders, not just from the health and wealth prosperity people, but other teachers as well. Many times the message is veiled by phrasing it in a different way, and usually goes something like this, "Follow God - the Money Will Come!" or even more specifically, "Follow Jesus - the Money Will Come!" Other times, the message will be veiled further, and instead of using money, because that's too Biblically idolatrous sounding, to something vague like, "Follow Jesus - the Blessing Will Come." It's just that you get to decide what that blessing is for you. It could be money, relationships, satisfaction in the here and now. Regardless, the focus and center of your faith is, "You, your feelings, desires, felt needs, your satisfaction, your pleasure. You are the center of your own universe! God can just help you get there faster!" Really? God can help you find pleasure in everything else except Himself? Youch. That does not sound right.

I cannot seem to forget Jesus' (and other Scripture passages) clear statements about those who would truly follow Him. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). That's kind of a gruesome image in relation to yourself if you really ponder it. Think about The Passion, the movie. "When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." Also, "Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered" (Psalm 44:22).

These aren't necessarily pretty, metaphorical pictures for the followers of Christ who would honestly take up and pursue Him. This journey of faith in Christ, to be conformed to His image, is rigorous. We are expected to be uncomfortable, fight against sin that would seek to mute the witness of the Spirit in our lives, stand against the world and culture in love, for His glory, in hopes they too would be saved by God's power in Christ. We are to relentlessly pursue the knowledge of Him in the Scriptures, for this is eternal life, just as Jesus said (John 17:3). We are to pursue Him knowing that ahead of us, most certainly, lies a broken road in which our fleshly, prideful selves will be shattered, and our regenerated, new selves will come out of the rubble shining like the stars in the night sky, only because of the work of Christ in us. And we pursue Him not in our own strength (like the rest of the world does in pursuing their idols), but rather in His provdential strength, power and love of the Gospel.

Jesus and the writers of the Scriptures did not say we would be spared trials upon following Him, but that we should expect them. And not only should we expect them, we should rejoice in them! (Romans 5:2-5, James 1:2-4). In rejoicing in the trials, it is not some masochistic, sadistic picture being painted, that we find pleasure in the pain itself, but rather that through the trials, we find ultimate, final, divine pleasure and joy not in the things of this world, but in Christ alone.

We follow Christ knowing very well that He can (and will) permit and bring trials that overwhelm our souls, but that in and through them, we are refined like gold going through the fire to get rid of impurities. In fact, the very granting of the trials by God in our lives is actually His mercy. How? Because He brings us into closer fellowship with Himself through them! What could be better than that out of anything in the world? This is the opposite of how the world speaks about trials. In their eyes they are to be avoided at all costs through some form of risk management (and no, I'm not against insurance, or preparing for disasters financially, it's just we need to be honestly ready and expect trials to come into our lives).

Because of this, it is no wonder Christianity is fading in the West, because our churches are filled with pastors proclaiming that Jesus wants you to have your best life now through finding pleasure in the Disney Land we call America, not enduring trials for His sake (Psalm 44:22). That really saddens my heart. How does that message handle the death of a child? An earthquake where all of your family members are lost, except you? It can't.

The message of the world says, "Find your joy, peace, and final happiness in the here and now!" The Scriptures say, "Find your joy, peace, and final happiness in Christ alone. Anything else is idolatry and will lead to hell." It is sad many sermons being preached today are telling people to commit idolatry by making a hybrid statement out of the two, "Find your joy, peace, and final happiness in the here and now, God's way!" This message is an embarrassment. When witnessing, this is usually one of the first stumbling blocks I have had to debunk apologetically so people can actually hear what you are saying when talking about the Gospel.

It would be nice if maybe the overall church leaders helped its people out by proclaiming the message the world actually needs to hear: the Gospel itself, instead of the prosperity Gospel, even those versions of the properity Gospel that are further veiled in Scriptural terminology to make them appealing to church-goers. I mean if the world is going to reject our message of peace with God through Christ, let them reject it. But don't let them reject the true Gospel that isn't being preached because a false one is preached in its place.

"For the time is coming [and might I add, is here] when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (2 Timothy 4:2-4). We desperately need Gospel-recovery in the church as our first priority of change, otherwise, what in the world do we have to offer the poor, the broken, the abused, the homeless, but a bunch of good works, while their souls are left in danger of the fires and torments of hell? I cannot think of anything more unloving than that. Rather we should couple the two together: works in the service of others with the primary intent of witnessing the whole counsel of God, the Gospel, and the works testifying to our genuine desire to see them saved.
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China's All-Seeing Eye 

Original: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/st ... _eye/print
Archived: http://www.westerfunk.net/archives/secu ... ing%20Eye/

I don't normally read RollingStone Magazine, but I stumbled across a link to an article while on Bruce Schneier's security blog. In short, China is performing a social/spying experiment upon a city called Shenzhen. Every spy toy imaginable is being employed in the service of watching and controlling every movement its citizens make. This is 1984 stuff here. And one of the interesting comments in the article is that U.S. corporations are some of the largest financiers of this endeavor. Also, just like everything in China, it will be exported to a "neighborhood near you," as it says in the article. I don't know if that's necessarily true and maybe a bit alarmist. But it is odd to me the U.S. seems to have such a vested interest in this. Also, at the very least, the technology could be quickly exported to current oppressive governments for the controlling of their people. Here are some quotes from the article:

"As China prepares to showcase its economic advances during the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, Shenzhen is once again serving as a laboratory, a testing ground for the next phase of this vast social experiment. Over the past two years, some 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city. Many are in public spaces, disguised as lampposts. The closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be connected to a single, nationwide network, an all-seeing system that will be capable of tracking and identifying anyone who comes within its range a project driven in part by U.S. technology and investment. Over the next three years, Chinese security executives predict they will install as many as 2 million CCTVs in Shenzhen, which would make it the most watched city in the world. (Security-crazy London boasts only half a million surveillance cameras.)"

"This is how this Golden Shield will work: Chinese citizens will be watched around the clock through networked CCTV cameras and remote monitoring of computers. They will be listened to on their phone calls, monitored by digital voice-recognition technologies. Their Internet access will be aggressively limited through the country's notorious system of online controls known as the 'Great Firewall.' Their movements will be tracked through national ID cards with scannable computer chips and photos that are instantly uploaded to police databases and linked to their holder's personal data. This is the most important element of all: linking all these tools together in a massive, searchable database of names, photos, residency information, work history and biometric data. When Golden Shield is finished, there will be a photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion faces."

"One Shenzhen-based company, China Security & Surveillance Technology, has developed software to enable the cameras to alert police when an unusual number of people begin to gather at any given location."

"Shenzhen is the place where the shield has received its most extensive fortifications the place where all the spy toys are being hooked together and tested to see what they can do. 'The central government eventually wants to have city-by-city surveillance, so they could just sit and monitor one city and its surveillance system as a whole,' Zhang says. 'It's all part of that bigger project. Once the tests are done and it's proven, they will be spreading from the big province to the cities, even to the rural farmland.'

In fact, the rollout of the high-tech shield is already well under way."
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What Convinced You of Reformed Theology? 

I have asked a few people this now, and the overwhelming majority of those I asked said that what did it for them was the section on limited atonement in the position paper entitled What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism written by John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church. I was actually kind of surprised to hear this because for most people, this point is by far the most controversial. But upon thinking about it, I can also see now why it makes sense that this would be the one thing convincing people of Reformed theology's truthfulness.

When you start distinguishing Christ's sacrificial work, not as something that He just lobbed out there for us to grab a hold of by our own supposed moral power, but rather paint the Scriptural picture that Christ's death is what effected even your faith in Him, you begin to see a stark contrast. It is the difference between an atonement that did not go the extra mile to raise you from the dead and get you in its benefits, and an atonement that grabbed a hold of you when you were running headlong into hell, dead in trespasses and sins, regenerating your will that was in bondage to sin, giving you eyes to see when you were blind, ears to hear when you were deaf, and a new heart made anew in the likeness of Jesus' heart, that will inevitably be fully conformed to His one day. It is the difference between an atonement presented where Christ made it available to all and saves no one in particular effectively, and an atonement of power presented in the Scriptures that grabbed a hold of the sinners' soul and will, raising them from the dead, breathing life into them when there was none there to start with.

I don't know about others, but the latter descriptions above, in each instance, is how I was saved. I did not get myself "in" His benefits, but rather He got me "in" at the cross, from beginning to end. He united me to Himself and nothing could stop Him. I take no credit for my love for God, my faith, and my affirmation of the reality and truthfulness of the Gospel. That was God's work, specifically effected in the cross of Christ, His atonement. What child of God in heaven is going to ever take credit for their coming to Christ? Was this itself not the work of God?

John Owen has a rather long quote in The Death of Death that Jon Dansby summarized a while back that I think is really helpful in distinguishing the difference between the common, American, traditional, "churchy" perception of the atonement and the atonement presented in the Scriptures: "If Christ died for all in the same way and faith itself is not a gift of the cross, then those who are in heaven have no more to thank Christ for than those who are in hell." Why? Because they got themselves in. How does that honor God? That's just wrong on so many levels.

The term limited atonement is very misleading because it makes it sound as if we are saying the power of Christ's atonement is limited. But that is not what is intended, which is why I like the terms definite atonement or particular redemption more, but it messes up the TULIP acrostic. But oh well, who needs a silly acrostic anyway? The power of Christ's atonement is infinite, able to save an infinite number of lost souls. I confess with John Calvin that the atonement is "sufficient for the whole world, but efficient for the elect," that is Christ bought for His people more than just the possibility and opportunity of salvation, He actually and really bought their souls at the cross, making sure they would get in, which includes the purchasing and granting of the gifts of faith, repentance, the desire and the very will to come to Christ.

This section of Piper's article apparently seems to be the most convincing argument for many people when it pertains to Reformed theology, because it is riddled with Scripture that shows these truths to be self-evident. But I know many others have been convinced of the truthfulness of them in other ways. Regardless, it may be helpful for some of you who are just not quite sure about the whole thing or those who are opposed to them, to go through this rather short section.

There are many people out there, including the Reformed, who have done a terrible job of presenting these truths in a way that is loving, Biblical frankly, and God-honoring. For that I am sorry. But what camp or movement does not have those within its circles who do a terrible job of presenting their positions, who are also the most vocal, yet also the minority of those confessing the position? To discount Reformed theology because a few loud, vocal wing nuts who were arrogant, emotionally heated, and unloving in their desire to prove these truths to you, does not negate the truthfulness of the teachings themselves. So just give it a chance and check it out.

How about me, you ask? What convinced me? Well, I was simply presented with the five points and Reformed theology in high school, and because of how God had previously worked in my life to save me, they just made sense. Of course God chose me first! I was running away from Him when He invaded my life. Of course He had me in mind when He purchased me with His blood before I came into existence. He set His affection on me in eternity. This just made sense and squared with the picture of God's love in the Scriptures. Basically, by God's grace alone, I needed no convincing, because the Scriptural salvation truths echoed within Calvinism exactly matched up with my salvation experience. God saved me, I did nothing, faith was just the inevitable response of a heart supernaturally changed by grace alone.
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The Importance of Marriage in Society and the Church 

When Courtney and I were engaged on October 12, 2000, she was 19 and I was 21, 20 and 22 when married on June 8, 2001. As the news began spreading about our engagement, we had a lot of people cheering us on, very excited to share with us in the joy-filled experience. However, there were also many nay-sayers (in particular, leaders and pastors) who voiced their thoughts that we were "too young," "not mature enough," or "not financially stable enough". In all statistical reality, the odds were stacked against us. My family was dysfunctional with a mother who had multiple personalities, and Courtney's family was dysfunctional, resulting in her parents divorcing when she was 13.

So I can see where people were concerned. And while I appreciated the concern, knowing it came from a genuine love for us, and knowing the staggering statistics of divorce within the church and the appropriate fear that something similar might befall us being married at such a young age, something never seemed right about their perspective. When I think back upon the arguments that were posited as to why we should wait, I cannot help but think that much of their perception (though not all of it) came not from the Scriptures, but from the worldly culture around us, and what it deems to be correct concerning marriage preparation.

By the cultures' standards, sure, we were too young. I mean, you need to be done with college, be done with your masters degree even, you need to be in a stable job, have some money saved up, you need to live single-life first before you're "tied down" and enjoy some things, right? You need to do this, do that, A, B, C, blah, blah. However, all of the aforementioned points are things the world values more than glorifying God through the work of Christ, which, though I cannot know my own heart for it is deceitful above all things, yet I can honestly say Courtney and I desired and pursued (imperfectly) to found our marriage upon the bedrock which is Christ. We wanted Him to be at the center, though we were and are imperfect in this task.

I can honestly say looking back now that I would totally get married at a young age again. There has not been a thing I have regretted. I have missed out on nothing and have even got to experience everything with my best-friend. Most of the apprehensions people have about missing out on things after getting married is totally unfounded. Maybe they obtained this idea from looking at broken marriages? Our culture values education, money, success, materialism ... on and on the list goes of things that are not God. As God's people, we value His glory and reconciliation to it through the Gospel as more important than anything. Despite the warnings, Courtney and I prayed, consulted the Scriptures, and still felt led to marry, even though I had not finished school and was starting a low-paying job at a bank.

Some of the concerns raised by these leaders were correct concerns though, and they translated into our pre-marital counseling, which greatly affected our thinking concerning marriage. We read the statistics within the church and were shocked. They are sobering, to say the least. On top of that, Courtney and I read the book Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson which so beautifully showed from the Scriptures that marriage is not a contract (which is how it is portrayed in our culture) but is a covenant; a covenant, in fact, that is the clearest picture of the covenant relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. This greatly affected our picture of marriage.

It was made apparent to me during these times, from the conglomeration of sources inputing their thoughts, how serious marriage was. It was not something to play around with or to treat lightly. It is something that requires work, diligence, and careful attention to maintaining our focus upon Christ. It is not just something you can throw around like other trite things in life that come and go. It had weight to it, weight that could fundamentally alter relationships for a life-time, for either good or bad, that would change the course of the rest of your own life and others' as well. We went over the Scriptures concerning marriage and were struck with Jesus' statements as it pertained to divorce in particular. "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 14:16). Whoa.

Evangelicals talk a whole lot about just letting the Scriptures speak on certain things, yet when we come to verses like this (and other really hard verses) we want to gut what it is saying so we can continue to live our lives uninterrupted, living our lives in the way we want without being cut by the harshness of the words. Being molded into conformity with Christ is painful to our fleshly nature, because it has been, you know, crucified with Christ. Yet there is still some reeling of that sinful nature against the holiness of God, because when someone is crucified, they don't die right away. Paul was very specific in using that analogy.

Regardless, in coming upon the verse above in Luke as well as others, Courtney and I realized something together: divorce is not even an option. We were in this thing for the long haul, literally, 'til death do us part. In our culture, we tend to think very much in terms of "choices" and "rights". The thinking goes, "Well, we can choose to back out of this at any moment down the road. Therefore, we need a prenuptial agreement to plan for that event so in the case that we are so emotionally upset at each other, we don't ruin one another financially." There's another term for this: risk management. This thinking leaves open the possibility and maybe even probability (depending on the relationship) for a future divorce and it absolutely distrusts God that He can and even will provide the means to make the marriage last, the means provided through the cross of His own Son, Jesus, clearly spoken to us in His Word.

However, God seems pretty one-way about this whole marriage thing, does not give you a whole lot of options and "rights," that is if you get into it, do not even seek to get out of it. In fact, if you get married, you are going to give up your "rights" in the service of your spouse, just as Christ gave Himself up for us. It's not an option. And if you get out of it while your spouse is still alive, you had better not marry someone else, for the rest of your life, or there will be consequences, even relational consequences with God, i.e. the witness of His Spirit in your life.

To get out of a marriage is to slap God in the face concerning Himself and His plan of redemption even. Marriage is a picture of His salvific work to save His people in His Son. To skew that picture or to alter it is to make a bold proclamation (to Him in particular) that His plan is null and void, that it possesses no power. That is a lie. This is harsh to the sinful human soul to hear, and most people, even in the church, shudder at such an idea, because many are divorced and would not think of their divorce as a slap in the face of God. Yet Jesus said that if you divorce and remarry, you commit adultery. Is not all sin itself a back slap in God's face? Is adultery any different? This just seems like clear language to me. We reap what we sow, though we ourselves may be saved through faith in Christ.

We like to have our "options open" our "right" to leave whenever we dern feel like it isn't working out. Yet that it is not Biblical and totally unsubmissive to God and the opposite response we should have in the church in light of Christ crucified on our behalf. All of this really gave Courtney and I great perspective on marriage. It is a concrete deal once it is done. I saw the importance to take great care and concern in not only preparing for our wedding day, but most importantly preparing for after we were married and cultivating our marriage in a way that honors Christ. Have I failed many times? Yes, I'm a sinner. To say I have not failed would be a lie. Yet I praise God for His unending mercy and grace, because it is in that very grace of the Gospel I have been able to continue the cultivation to this day, albeit imperfectly, stumbling at times. God's grace alone is the only reason our marriage has been so great, I take no credit. If anything has gone right, I owe it to God working in and through both of us.

Many people seem to view marriage as a legal, long-term dating relationship, where you live together, get to share finances, benefit from each other in different ways, etc. But if it just doesn't work out, oh well. Move on to yet another relationship. This is so skewed and twisted from the Scriptural mandate of what marriage is though. Marriage is vital, both to individuals, but also to society. Divorce should not be an option. But if you do divorce, you should under no conditions get remarried as long as the other person is alive. Only by the spouses death are you freed to remarry. (To consult the Scriptures related to this, look at Piper's position paper on Divorce and Remarriage below). These are hard truths, but they highlight the absolute importance God places upon marriage in relation to the Gospel. It is not something to be messed around with and treated lightly. This is especially true within the church, where the divorce rate is just as high and in many cases worse than the cultures' rate. This to me is telling of where "believers'" faith lies, though by no means is that conclusive, just indicative.

Many Christians seem to value putting into their kids lives the foundations for success in the worlds' eyes, all the while neglecting the health of their souls and preparing them for a godly marriage, godly leadership, godly submission, and spiritual success within an idolatrous, blasphemous culture. I'm not negating the importance of a good education, discipline, and an excellent work ethic. If anyone knows me, they know I love these things. These should be pursued and must if we are to maintain a vibrant economy and nation. But what is the church specifically valuing as success? Money or God? Jesus said, "You cannot serve both God and money." I cannot tell you how many parents I see squandering the vast resources they possess that are wrapped up in the service of education and (spiritually) fatal monetary success. The morality in their kids lives is just there for reinforcement so they don't make dumb mistakes and ruin their materialistic, "American Dream" success, the final end of all their goals, not Christ.

We are setting our kids up for spiritual failure if we value their education and worldly success more than their spiritual success and glorifying Christ with their lives. We need to be putting into our children that Christ is more valuable than all the riches of the world, first and foremost, and actually live that out in our marriages, by His strength and power. We need to be showing them both in words and deeds that Christ is the supreme one, who we've rebelled against, who has paved a way for reconciliation to the most valuable one in all the universe, God Himself. Yes education is important, but not at the expense of your child's soul. Christian's nod at this in theory and then in practice it falls to the ground, because still, the end goal is worldly success. This makes me sad.

There's nothing wrong with being a lawyer, a doctor, or a business person. But those are the three professions our culture puts up on a pedestal and defines as successful. And kids pursue them in college with ruthlessness, even if they hate it, because that is taught to them as what will make them happy and successful, just having a bunch of stuff and peaceful home life. Should we not be putting into our children to be successful husbands and wives to the glory of Christ and the spreading of the Gospel? Is this not what makes "successful" communities, even in the midst of economic distress, uncertainty, and persecution? A group of people in love with Christ, centering their families upon Him, desiring to proclaim Him as a family unit, something ordained by God in Genesis?

With the recent rulings on marriage and bioethics in Britain and California, yes, the culture around us is crumbling and the seeds of wickedness are sprouting into weeds and thorns. But before we go out and blame them for what they are doing, maybe we should point the finger inwardly and look at how we are treating and viewing marriage. Could it be the way we treat marriage so poorly in the church is making a statement to the world that "God [and His redemption] is not great," since we don't act on what He has said to us in the Scriptures?

May God have mercy on us and turn our hearts in repentance from how we have treated such a vastly important institution. May He move on me and my marriage as well and by His power alone keep me from falling into the same sins I have mentioned above. My heart wanders back and forth, to and fro, and I know it is only by God's grace that I don't turn away in disobedience. I am utterly reliant upon Him to be saved as well as to grow in Him. May we return to the Scriptures and see the vital importance of marriage in society and especially within the church, for the Gospel and God's glory are at stake.

John Piper's take on Divorce/Remarriage: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibr ... ion_Paper/

Voddie Baucham: A Church's Guide to the Family: http://www.gbc-capecoral.org/files/serm ... 70804a.mp3
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Gay Marriage, Bioethics, Oil, and the Sovereign King 

Women win right to children without fathers (in Britain)
Coming to grips with same-sex marriage ruling (in California)

Much can be said about all this, but only a few things are needed: we are looking at the hardening of people's hearts in the West toward not only a Christian worldview, but even more specifically, the Gospel. With the disintegration of the family as ordained by God in both society and at the official policy-making levels, human relationships are being redefined, reordered, and the social chaos that results will be the continued disintegration of society at large, morally, socially, ethically, emotionally, psychologically, in every facet of human experience. The implications of the decisions made in Britain in recent days affect every realm of society at large, including the church. In America, not just in Britain, we have our own redefinition of human relationships and families in the recent decisions by the California Supreme Court. And do not think this will not happen across the country. California is only the beginning. We are not just headed toward a slippery slope, we are on it I am afraid, and the slope is getting steeper. Where does all of this stop?

From bioethical decisions being made, to relationships being redefined, we are seeing the outpouring of hatred toward a holy, eternal God who rules all things by the power of His word. This saddens my heart, greatly. We are seeing the outright rejection and suppression of His righteousness through acts of unrighteousness, just as Romans 1 is clear to explain in great detail. Here is some great analysis on all of this by Albert Mohler: http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=1154 http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=1153

Oil prices rise (to $132/barrel) after government report of a drop in crude and gasoline inventories
Shortage fears push oil futures near $140

It's odd to me that we have just as much oil right underneath our feet as there is over in the Middle East, according to geologists. Yet we are unable to drill for it because of an absurd, atheistic, religiously environmental worldview that is imposing their "religion" upon all of us through repressive legislation that keeps us from obtaining that oil. And then they complain about our tie to foreign reserves and the high prices? I don't get it. Everyone blames the conservatives and oil execs for high energy prices, demanding they be "burned at the stake" by putting them in these stupid hearings in Washington (that our tax dollars are paying for by the way). But their hands are tied by ridiculous liberal policies that do not allow them to pursue a vast supply of energy right underneath our feet. We can't drill in Anwar, we can't drill on the coastal shores, places where there are literally billions upon billions of barrels of oil. Oddly enough though, now China is drilling on our own shores, 45 miles off the Florida coast, something we can't even do! http://www.americanfreepress.net/html/c ... lling.html What a backward world ... the illogical absurdities are mounting in our society. This is just one example.

While I myself can become very frustrated with all these things (though the oil thing is secondary in nature to the other ethical issues mentioned), I must stake my hope elsewhere, beyond the things of this world because they are fleeting and crumbling. Praise God that though things may be frustrating, backward and just plain offensive to God and His people, we have a sovereign Lord for which nothing happens outside the counsel of His will, according to His good pleasure and choice. That gives me hope, that though things may fall apart around us in all kinds of different ways, Jesus is the King of kings and will see to it that all things are made right in the end. That is something we can bank on: God's immovable justice and love, clearly displayed in all its glory in the cross of Jesus. So if oil runs out, if our society corrupts to the point of massive moral chaos in the streets and in homes (to a dark point we have yet to see), if Christians are increasingly persecuted in the West, we can stake our trust, hope, and lives upon the solid foundation of Christ's death and resurrection for us, knowing we can look forward to the reward of enjoyment in His presence. To sum all of this up, for believers, despite the utter corruption in the world, and the inescapable day when our own lives come to an end, everything will work out, and therefore, we have nothing to fear. If God is for us, who can be against us?
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Jesus - the Powerful and Perfect Savior - Preach It! 

Dr. James White's closing statement in a debate with George Bryson over Calvinism



God is God and I am not. Who am I to answer back to God as to why He does or does not choose to save everyone, or to demand Him to treat everyone alike with the same grace? For this would defy the very meaning of grace itself: receiving something you do not deserve, when you are owed wrath.

The power of the Gospel lies in this: Jesus actually and completely purchased certain undeserving sinners at the cross and they will come to faith in His due time, by His doing. Christ's loving, self-sacrificial work is sufficient for the whole world, but it is particularly saving and efficient for God's people whom He foreloved in eternity past.
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