In Celebration of Reformation Day: My Response to 3 Questions

It’s Reformation Day (Oct. 31, 1517). So to remember that day when Martin Luther posted his 95 reasons for rejecting the Roman Church’s teaching on justification by works and penance, I share with you my response to an email from a dear sister in Christ that I once was her pastor years ago. She raised three common questions that I attempted to answer. Below is what I said. May you be edified if my responses are helpful for you as well.
(these questions were asked in the context of a learning curve on the Sovereignty of God in his Plan of Salvation and Reformed teaching)
1. “Why do some who say they are saved, never really seem to be on fire [for the Lord] or to get into the Word?”
Your first question is a normal observation of church life. Sanctification is a mysterious paradox: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you both to will [that’s the want and desire] and to do [that the acting out the desire and will] for his good pleasure.” Phil. 2:12, 13.
Pastorally, it is frustrating to see some professing Christians produce nothing more than what a nice, moral, lost person could produce, being made in the image of God. So, I keep challenging them to “make their calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10), to “not be deceived”(James 1:16), and to make sure they “have not believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2). In other words, all I can do is challenge them to grow up. And if you are not growing up in your salvation, then maybe, maybe the best explanation is for this kind of profession that never seems to make any headway after years and years, is that you are not saved. I preach and teach the “P” of Tulip: Perseverance of the Saints. True saints persevere in faith and holiness, not perfectly, but through trial and testing our faith is refined and purified. Dozens of verses teach this. Many of these kinds of Christians may be saved and God is sovereignly holding them in their infancy for some time – so we wait for growth. Or, they may not be saved at all and don’t know it. That’s why it is important to base Assurance of Salvation not upon your salvation experience that happened twenty years ago, when you say you got saved, but on what your salvation is producing today. When I teach on The Basis of Assurance of Salvation, Scripture leans heavily upon active sanctification for assurance. Many Christians would be helped if they read Don Whitney’s short book, “How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian?”
2.”What about Adam and Eve’s choice” [to sin]?” ).
There are several truths that you have to hold in order to think your way through the garden event. First, “the lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19-20). That means that Adam and Eve’s choice was their’s to make but it was also part of God’s plan to put forth the need to crucify his own Son. Secondly, God has two wills, one is moral and the other is sovereign. It was against God’s moral will to murder Jesus (Thou Shall Not Murder), yet it was his Sovereign Will that he be murdered. And yet only Pilate, Herod, the Jews and Gentiles were responsible for murdering Jesus (Acts 2:22-23, 4:27-28). Consider Job: his children were murdered and Satan had his hand in it and yet Job said, “The Lord takes away.” The writer wants to make it clear that Job did not see this as a conflict: “In all this he did not charge God with wrong/evil.”
There are literally hundreds of examples that fall into this mystery where God is Sovereignly ruling the evil affairs of men, where men are violating God’s moral will but ironically fulfilling his sovereign will at the same time. This does not make our choices, non-choices. They are . . and they are real choices because in the end, we made them because we wanted to. We felt no mighty hand upon our conscience forcing us to rebel – we rebelled because we wanted to. For Adam and Eve’s sin, God was orchestrating the greatest display of Holiness and Mercy at the same time. They would suffer for what they did and yet God would suffer the loss of his Son (God killed an animal in the garden and clothed them = the covering of the righteousness of Christ) upon the cross  and crush the devil’s head (The promise of Gen. 3:15).
Thirdly,  we must remember that the garden was good, not perfect. Augustine put it this way:
a. Able to Sin (adam and eve in the garden before they sinned)
b. Not Able to Not Sin (after they sinned, adam and eve now unable to stop sinning)
c. Able to Not Sin (anyone who is a new creation in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit to live a godly life, yet not perfectly)
d. Not Able to Sin (one day for every believer in Christ in a glorified body)
The Triune God planned before they created to put in motion a world where Christ would get all the glory for redeeming men out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev. 5:9-11) so that God would be all in all and everything, including our sin would give him glory as he conquers our sin in the death of Christ (Rom. 11:33-36). The new heavens and new earth will have something that not even Adam and Eve had before they sinned: The knowledge of a gracious and merciful God with no ability to ever sin again.
Now this raises an old objection: How dare God include sin, Satan, eternal damnation, and my rebellion into a plan to magnify his Mercy and Grace through Christ? But just as old is the answer: “Who are you to answer back to God – he is the potter and you are the clay.” Which means, either we humble ourselves before the Cross of Christ or we charge God with the most serious accusation, that if this was his plan all along and in this way, then he had no right to create at all. Now that is a serious charge to level against the one who knows all things and who did not keep himself tucked away from the mess that he sovereignly willed. I think we would do well to duct-tape our mouth shut until we can rejoice with glad boasting in the Wisdom of God.
3. “How do you know that you are [of the] elect?”
Instead of citing scores of verses on this, answer this question: Do you still hear the voice of Jesus Christ calling you to follow him, to know him, to love him, to trust him, to obey him, to delight in him, to see him as your most valuable treasure in all the earth? And what does your heart tell you? Only the elect will be able to answer, albeit through a veil of tears and laments sometimes, “Yes Lord – I still Love you after all these years. My heart longs to see you face to face – it will be worth it all.”
Keep plowing away at this and you’ll find that your heart will open up to the incredible Wisdom of God to magnify his name through his Son, by redeeming sinners who did not have a chance, left to themselves – and that’s the point!
In Christ,

If Jesus is not the Risen Lord and Christ, I’m going back to bed.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

Since Jesus is Risen, I will go to the house of the Lord and put my hope in his Rule and Reign over my life. If you want to fight disillusionment, excessive boredom, and cynicism, you have to set your heart and mind on something bigger than the mess, and more fascinating than the latest gadget from Apple. Let’s worship him who has made a way for everlasting life – see you at 9:30 am.

O How I Love Frost!


O How I love frost, let me count the ways:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to die . . . a time to pluck up what is planted . . . a time to kill . . . a time to break down . . . a time to laugh . . . a time to dance . . . a time to lose . . . a time to cast away . . . a time to tear . . . He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecc. 3:1-11).

When frost comes, my wife cries but I rejoice. Frost is proof that God wants all gardeners to take a break. It’s proof that he really does love the non-gardener, too. Frost is God’s way of saying, “Man shall not live by gardening alone, but by watching College Football, The World Series, and eating venison.”

Enjoy God’s gifts to you this weekend, but enjoy him above his gifts – worship Him who made all things, including frost, for his own glory and our delight (especially mine).

“Scientist Says Atomic Bomb of Future May Destroy 400 Square Miles at Blow”


What if that were this mornings headline in the newspaper? It was in February, 1949, when the post-war muscle-flexing was reaching new proportions between the U.S. and Russia. These are my great-grandpa Sears sermon notes with newspaper clippings warning of what could happen if a Nuclear War breaks out between America and Communist Russia.


That’s what was troubling then. What troubles you today in your life?

Do you believe that the same ascended King Jesus who was ruling and reigning then, is doing the same today? Hear again his words of what to do with your anxiety for today and for all your tomorrows:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:25-34).

I doubt that grandpa Sears is anxious about atomic bombs today; reading through his sermon notes and knowing the witness of his grandchildren, how can you be fretful standing by the One who held all your days in his hand? One day, whatever troubles you today and tomorrow will be used to show-off just how powerful the Risen Lord is – he can even old atoms in his hand (Heb. 1:1-3).

Why Does Chicago Exist?

I really do enjoy living about an hour away from one of the mega-cities on the planet. The food and entertainment, the traffic, the sports, and the outrageous parking fees makes for a wonderful evening. The windy city has much to offer – especially to the big spender (which is not me). But why does it exist? I’ve picked my words carefully. I know how it came to be, and how transportation on water sparked a migration frenzy to this part of the great lakes, and how it survived a fire, and how its massive train and cattle yards are part of its history. But why?

Because sometimes God sends missionaries to people groups across the world to proclaim the gospel and sometimes God brings people groups across the world to hear the gospel proclaimed. Paul said it this way,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.                   (Acts 17:26-27)

Chicago Exists because God determined that multiple ethnic groups would exist there in a certain time in history and with a certain boundary and location in that city. Also, one cannot speak of a perimeter of existence without implying the total number of that people. God determined that a massive amount of Jewish, Polish, Russian, ect., kinds of people would migrate here but with a limit so that the boundary of their existence would be established. And the reason God did it this way is so that they might hear the truth and seek him and come to know him, him who made them for his own glory.

Six thoughts about your heart and the big city:

1. Don’t despise the big cities of the earth. Yes – they promote massive materialism, self-centeredness, and more corruption than one can stomach. But this is God’s plan to get people near the gospel.

2. Remember that big cities are filled with lost souls, not just millionaires and pan-handlers. The millionaire and the beggar both need the gospel. Both are empty and both matter to God.

3. Give a dollar to a beggar once in a while and thank God that you were able to contribute to God’s common grace. “But he’ll just use it to buy whiskey or drugs or cigarettes.” Yes he just might. So? Have you always used the good gifts and graces of life that have come your way to the “Glory of God”? Jesus once healed nine lepers, easing their pain temporarily, giving them healthy bodies for who knows what they did that evening with their new-found freedom. But he did it anyway. It is good to give to those who have reached their zenith of joy, for when they die, it is an eternity of unfathomable misery. Have some pity! This is as good as its going to get for them.

4. Pray for the churches in the big cities that they will live and proclaim the gospel. “Lord, we ask that you would continue to equip Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Erwin Lutzer at Moody Church with a vision, determination, and a passion to reach the lost of New York City and Chicago (respectively). Raise up men and women in these churches with various language skills to move into new areas of the city where the gospel is not proclaimed in the native language of a particular people group.”

5. Visit a big city and stop and think about what you are seeing. Then let God’s Spirit move over you with compassion as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Turn to scripture in your mind and then pray for the people of the city. Ask God to be merciful as Abraham pleaded for the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

6. Finally, don’t besmirch the migration of people groups whether they move into your city or your back yard. God is moving people around so that they will come under the sound of the gospel. Be ready to speak and love. Be watchful for broken and lonely and homeless people. Be thankful that God put you in the path of people on the move. This is what God did with Philip in Acts 8. The sovereign Lord of immigration put an Ethiopian in his path. Philip explained the gospel of Jesus Christ from Isaiah 53, the black man repented and turned to Christ, was baptized, and went back to Africa a new man.

Remember: Immigration might be an American problem, but it is not a Church problem, or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Happy Birthday to “the wife of my youth”!


Proverbs 5:18ff commends enjoyment with the girl you married when you were young. Yesterday, I enjoyed spending the day with her. I’m not in the dark about how this was made possible – much grace in many ways made the day. Contributors to our life together: loving family, skilled doctors and nurses, good eating and exercise habits, world-class hospitals, and an exceptional godly church family, all put together make one’s life a display of grace. For it is pure undiluted grace that explains the richness of life.

Now I’m not tell’n how old she is, I’m just say’n that . . .


. . . she’s thrifty, enjoying some German cuisine at Prost with a $15 coupon that she found on the internet. I had pork belly and she had veal.


. . . she’s nifty, which means she’s an enjoyable person to spend time with. She loves good tasting tea.


. . . she’s frisky, as long as she gets her chocolates at The Fudge Pot!


. . . she’s shifty, because no matter how hard I try to steer clear of things that grow in gardens, she suckers me in to stopping at these spots.


. . . and she’s pithy. (that’s a synonym for “short” as clearly seen above standing beside a security guard). Visiting Hershey’s in Chicago is always a must. BTY, I just love how cinnanyms give us other options so we don’t use the same word twice – especially on sweet rolls – don’t you!?

Happy Birthday Cheryl. It was a great day in Chicago with you.

On the other hand, Death is God’s Response to our Demand to be God

Not only did it cost us our physical and spiritual lives to seek God-like status instead of enjoying our God who made us (see previous post), but God killed an animal and clothed Adam and Eve with a covering not of their effort, work, insight, will-power, self-determination, or wits (Gen. 3:21). Why did he do this? Because they, and all of us along with them, wanted to be God. Since we all wanted to Live apart from the Giver of Life, God chose to put to death a substitute so that death would lose its full sting: Death is going to hurt but it will not totally destroy us (1 Cor. 15:56-57). Why not? Enter a lamb. Enter Jesus – he was crucified on a cross in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. But why is death both the judgment upon man and the means of his salvation at the same time?

This is the mystery revealed at the cross. This is what God had planned before the world began: Christ upon the Cross would both absorb my judgment as my substitute and also become the means to eternal life (Acts 2:23, 4:28; Rev. 13:8). The one and only God-Man would suffer my death and then grant an eternal pardon by faith.

When I attend funerals, or think about people that have died in days gone by, I think about what it cost an innocent man to set me free. I’m also mystified beyond words that the Triune God would put into action this duel truth displayed in death before the world began: Judgement and Mercy at the same time, at the same junction of time upon a cross. Behold Our God and Worship!

Death is God’s Response to Our Demand to be God

I once was a monitor-tech, reading and interpreting heart arrhythmias in a cardiac unit. To prepare for the tests to get certified, one of the text-books raised the question: “What is life?” This was the question after a long chapter on how the electricity is conducted through the heart, explaining that the beginning place is a self-conducting sinus atrial node (SA Node) in the top part of the right atrium; this is where the electricity begins. “And what sends electricity to the SA Node?” This was the next question in a standard text-book on cardiology. The answer to this two-part question: “Only God knows.” There was no text-book explanation for what starts the electrical stimulus in the heart to beat. The electricity is just there. “That’s Life” as one doctor put it.

Now, to look upon a dead person and observe such lifeless existence rattles the brain. And it should. Intuitively, we know that death is not right. Something is wrong. We accept it – we have to, but at the same time our insides scream: STOP – This is not the way it’s supposed to be!!

This raises a query: Why do we want death to stop if it is a normal part of human existence? Did you catch the operative word in that last question? Though evolutionary theory wants us to believe that death is a “normal” part of the upward path to higher living, we just can’t bring ourselves to accept it no matter how many elementary teachers and high school teachers and college teachers told us otherwise. I hate death and you can’t make me feel good about death no matter how many sympathy cards you send me. Death will never feel normal!

This brings us to what I believe is the hardest confession known to man to pay homage to: Man refuses to acknowledge that he can’t be God and be Man at the same time. It was a delicious offer, but it was a lie then and it still is now.

The devil ghoulishly proposed to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). Though the woman had some fortitude to speak up and tell the truth, that God said we will die if we disobey, Adam was too passive to make the truth stick and protect their lives. They rebelled. They ate. They tried to live without God. They died. Now we all die. The tantalizing offer to be like God was a sham.

When God warned with death that if you commit mutiny against all of his joy, his love, his gifts, his eternal life, his protection for your life – when you throw all this away and attempt to live forever on your own strength and self-preservation, you will surely die.

I think about these things every time I attend a funeral:

1. Death is an appropriate opposite experience compared to what we could have had. For God to show us what we lost it took more than a time out, or an “off to your room with no supper” discipline. How else is God to demonstrate the level of exquisite Life with God that we could have had if he does not respond with the most painful and mind-numbing experience that man could know? God uses death to show us what we lost with him. Death is a universal megaphone that shouts in agony, “What have we done???”

2. Death is an appropriate response to our mutiny against God. What we did in the garden and what Man still does with unregenerated heart is treason against God. Our refusal to turn to Jesus Christ who rose from the dead to give life to all who will come to him, is STILL, an all-out assault upon the God who created the heavens and the earth. In his and her rebellion to turn to the Giver of Life, men and women believe the old putrid lie that Man can live as God on his own terms. I believe if God sent his Son Jesus to earth today, with unmistakable glorious identity and presence, and offered mankind eternal life with joy and peace and no death, IF – he would love Jesus with all his heart, Man would attempt to kill him again by his own hands, if he could. (Rev. 17:14).

3. Death is unquestionable proof that I am not God. And that’s the point, for now. One day even Death itself will be put to death (Rev. 20:14). In the presence of Christ in the new heavens and new earth, nothing contrary to the person of the Triune God will ever again insult his Majesty. Never again will there be a just response from a Holy God that will demonstrate how horrible it is to “go it alone” without God. Man cannot live without God. There is no self-generating Life in Man. One day, the selfishness will stop.

Death is all around us. It’s even in our bones. But if you are reading this it means you’re alive – God is being merciful to you! Today is a good day to be alive – it’s a day to say no to the lie and believe the truth, that only in Christ there is hope for Eternal Life (John 3:16). You cannot be God. But you can live with him forever. Won’t you join me?