Monthly Archives: June 2015

On Phil Robertson, Utah Polygamists, and Robert E. Lee | Morgan Trotter

This is a blog post I wrote about 18 months ago.  I feel it speaks surprisingly well to the events of the last couple weeks.  I commend it to you again.  (To read the article, click the link below.)

On Phil Robertson, Utah Polygamists, and Robert E. Lee | Morgan Trotter.

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A Conservative Christian Response to the Supreme Court Rulings on Gay Marriage

This is a post I wrote back in July 2013 when the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. Everything I said back then still applies today, and even more so. My thinking on this topic has not changed even though the SCOTUS has now required all states to recognize marriages between people of the same sex.

Morgan Trotter

Well, the US Supreme Court (a.k.a. the SCOTUS) has ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act and on California Proposition 8, and both rulings went in favor of those who support gay marriage.  Among Christians there is no monolithic response.  Some more liberal-leaning Christians are falling in step with the prevailing view in the culture, saying it’s time we “modernize” and allow gays to marry.  Supporters of this view both inside and outside the church treat it as a civil rights issue, claiming it’s discriminatory to prevent homosexuals from having the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals when it comes to marriage.

We need to recognize, though, that there are real problems with this view, especially for Christians who believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God and have committed themselves to following what the Scriptures teach.  We who are Bible-believing Christians trust that in the Bible God has…

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“The Naked Gospel” by Andrew Farley – Summary and Response

Farley, Andrew.  The Naked Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Farley, Andrew. The Naked Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m taking a training class for lay counselors through my church. As part of the class we were required to read three books and submit book reports on each one.  (You can read the first book report here.) The second book we read had the intriguing title The Naked Gospel, by a pastor named Andrew Farley.  It’s a present-day explanation of what is often called “The Exchanged Life” view of the Christian life. I had not heard of Farley before, so I was interested to see what he had to say. Here is my summary and response to the book.

Farley begins by telling his own story, saying he started out his Christian life by, one might say, “busting his tail for Jesus.” He says he burned out trying to do this and eventually realized he simply couldn’t live the Christian life by his own strength. He talks about how he had to unlearn a lot of his misconceptions about Christianity in order to learn what the Bible really teaches.

Farley then explains carefully and systematically how Christians are no longer under the Old Testament law or good works as a means to secure God’s favor. He points out what both the apostles Paul and James taught, that if you try to keep the Law, you’re responsible for keeping the whole thing, and if you fail to keep even one part of it, you’ve broken the Law (see Galatians 3:10 and 5:3 and James 2:10). Since no one can keep the Law perfectly then we are incapable of keeping it at all, which is why God provided salvation by a different means—by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Farley says this is also the means by which we are to live the daily Christian life as well – by grace through faith in Christ.

Farley even extends this to the Ten Commandments. He points out that Paul says “the letter kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6, meaning the letter of the law) and calls the law a “ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7). Farley says this is no less true for the Ten Commandments; even trying to live by the Ten Commandments will bring death to us rather than life, because the Law incites sin (see Paul’s discussion of how the Law evokes sin in Romans 7:5-13 and also Romans 3:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:56). Grace is the only means to be free from sin.

Farley goes on to demonstrate in various ways how the New Covenant (Testament) sets us free from the Law. He gives the example discussed in Hebrews 5-7 that the priesthood of Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek, while the Law prescribes a priesthood descended from Levi and Aaron. Moreover, Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, so His priesthood does not conform to the Law.

Farley offers more examples of how the Law has been superseded in the New Testament. He sees both the tithe and the Sabbath as Old Testament concepts no longer in force under the New Covenant. The author shows that the Old Testament Sabbath was a picture or precursor of the true Sabbath rest of God spoken about in Hebrews 3-4, in which we are able to rest from our striving for good works because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

Farley talks about how in the New Covenant, instead of trying to keep the Law, we rely on the Holy Spirit, who produces fruit in us that leads to a way of life that satisfies the requirements of the Old Testament law. He shows that through faith in Christ, believers are made truly and actually righteous before God, not just positionally righteous. He talks about how we were born in Adam, but through salvation we are taken out of Adam and placed in Christ. Farley makes much of our identification with Christ. This is the key by which we actually live the Christian life – by Christ living through us.

Farley spends a good bit of time trying to show that the forgiveness we have through Christ is once-for-all, that when we are saved, all our sins–past, present, and future—are forgiven for all time. Therefore we don’t have to ask for forgiveness every time we sin because we already have forgiveness once and for all. He even goes to pains to show that 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins God is faithful…to forgive us…” is for unbelievers, not believers.

This was the part of the book I found least convincing. To begin with I question his exegesis of 1 John 1, though he did help me to see certain aspects of it in a different light. But also there are other passages of Scripture which imply that walking in blatant unrepentant sin hinders our relationship with God, or at least our experience of that relationship. (1 Corinthians 5 comes to mind as an example, in which Paul deals with a case of gross sexual immorality in the Corinthian church.) Even for the Christian, ongoing repentance seems vital for walking in an intimate experience of relationship with God.

Farley claims people are suspicious of grace because they fear an emphasis on grace will give people a license to sin. Therefore Farley emphasizes over and over again that grace does not lead us to sin more, but is actually the only true means to overcome sin. We think the Law will deter us from sinning, but actually Scripture says the Law provokes us to sin (see Romans 7:5-13 as mentioned above). It’s grace then, not law, that helps us master sin. This overcoming of sin is entirely dependent on Christ living in us and through us.

There is much more I could say about The Naked Gospel. While there are some parts of it I question, overall I found it to be a very helpful and very Scriptural explanation of the life that is lived by grace through faith in the indwelling Christ.

Overcoming Fear

These are some thoughts I recently shared with a friend.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:16-18

From the time I was very young I had a fear of death and dying, and genuinely believed (feared) that I was going to die somehow at a young age – before I was 30, or definitely by the time I was 40.  So here I am at 51 and alive and kicking!  I wouldn’t have believed it as a child.  But God is our protector, and He’s been so faithful in watching over me and protecting me, even from myself, since I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

I’ve been through numerous situations in my life in which I feared I was going to die.  Most of them were irrational, but they seemed real enough at the time, and so they were still very real fears I had to overcome, even if only in my mind and heart.  I think God used each of those situations to bring me to a point of surrender and trust, to the place in which I learn not to love my life in this world so much, but to love God more, and to trust him.  God used those times to bring me closer to the point where I’m able to say with Paul “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21) and with Job “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Psalm 34:4 says

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

I’ve taken that to mean not just that God delivered me from the things I was afraid of, but he even delivered me from the fears themselves.  This is true of my life; over the years God has delivered me from so many fears.  I still have fears that need to be overcome, but I’m confident that God is still at work delivering me from those as well.

A passage I’ve come back to over and over again when dealing with fears in my life is 1 John 4:16-18

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (emphasis added)

I can’t say I’ve fully come to understand or appropriate these verses, but I keep coming back to them when I fear.  John says the root of all our fears is a fear that God is going to punish us.  Deep down we know we deserve to be punished because of our sins.  But elsewhere John reminds us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [one]. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins….” (1 John 2:1-2).  That word “propitiation” means that Jesus took all the punishment and wrath we deserved for our sins upon Himself.  So the punishment for our wrongdoing has already been completely taken care of.

That means we don’t ever have to be afraid of being punished by God anymore!  “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  So 1 John 4:18 invites us to become more deeply rooted and grounded in the love of God.  He says this is the way we overcome fear.  *:) happy

Psalm 91 is also a good scripture passage to meditate on when dealing with fears of death or harm coming to us.  It’s all about how God invites us to dwell in “the secret place” with him, and that as we do so we enter into a place of protection with Him.  The psalm is filled with all kinds of promises of protection for the believer.

These things are true for anyone who is a follower of Christ.  Have you ever asked Christ into your heart?  If not, you can today, and then you can begin to know and experience these truths for yourself as well. 🙂

Book Summary of “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee

Normal Christian Life

Nee, Watchman. The Normal Christian Life. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1978.

I’m taking a training class for lay counselors through my church, and as part of the class we were required to read The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee and then produce a summary of the book.  Its concepts are very dense so the book bears repeated readings.  This was my second time through it and I got a lot more out of it this go-round.

(For those who don’t know, Watchman Nee was a leader in the Chinese church during the first half of the 20th century.  When the communists took over in China Nee was imprisoned for his faith, where he remained for the next two decades until his death in 1972.)

Here, then, is my summary:

1. The blood of Christ is God’s remedy for man’s sins – plural. – chapter 1

2. The cross of Christ is God’s remedy for man’s sin – singular. Every person is born “in Adam” and as such has sin working within us as a principle that causes us to sin. We are not sinners merely because we sin, but instead we sin because we are born sinners. But when we are baptized into Christ’s death (born again) we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son. The old man died with Christ and the new man rises to new life in Christ. Therefore now those who are in Christ are no longer “sinners” but “saints.” – chapter 2

3. We can know that we have died with Christ and that the sin principle within us has been overcome and rendered powerless through our identification with Christ’s death – chapter 3

4. Therefore likewise we are to “reckon” ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. It is an accomplished fact, which we appropriate by reckoning–that is, making a conscious choice to consider–ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. – chapter 4

5. We are no longer “in Adam” but we have passed from death to life and are now “in Christ.” These are totally different realities, and never the twain shall meet. Baptism is the clear line of demarcation that we are no longer in Adam but instead in Christ. What was true of us “in Adam” is no longer true of us “in Christ.” We are new creatures in Christ. – chapter 5

6. Now that we know we’ve died and risen with Christ and therefore reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, the proper response is for us to present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness, for His service. Nee refers to presenting ourselves to God in this way as “consecration.” – chapter 6

7. God’s purpose in all this goes beyond mere redemption. Man’s sin and redemption was actually a detour in God’s eternal plan for man and the world. God’s eternal purpose is to have many sons who are conformed to the image of Christ, and to bring these many sons to glory. – chapter 7

8. We fulfill the righteous requirements of the law not by trying to keep the law, but through walking by the Spirit. Acts 2 shows us that the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the people of God as a result of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God. Therefore, just as we can know we have died and risen with Christ, we can also know that if we have trusted in Christ then we have received the gift of His Spirit. It is not a matter of feelings but of trust in the finished work of Christ and belief in the promise and Word of God. – chapter 8

9. Not only have we been delivered from sin through the death of Christ, but we have also been delivered from the Law. We are now dead to the Law and alive to God. – chapter 9

10. The Law is not fulfilled in us by trying to keep the law, but by walking in the Spirit. Not only are we in Christ, but Christ is also in us through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. Walking in the Spirit does not equate to effort on our part, but simply to recognizing that our flesh has been crucified and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in and through us. – chapter 10

11. Another part of Christ’s eternal purpose is that He would have a Body to express his life (p. 210). This purpose of God shows us that redemption was not God’s original intent for man, because sin was not part of God’s original intent for man. Instead, redemption was a restorative measure to bring humanity back in line with God’s original purpose, which was to have a glorious church, a body, through which to express His life. – chapter 11

12. Because Adam chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life, man developed an independent self-life which caused the human soul to become more developed than God ever intended. God never meant for man to live independent of Him. Therefore sinful man has the capacity to live life on his own and to depend on the power of the soul rather than on the power of God. Even a Christian has to guard against relying on the over-developed power of his soul to serve God rather than relying on the power of the Spirit. A Christian’s task is to walk by the Spirit, not live and work in the power of his soul. Therefore the believer has to choose to take up his cross daily, which consists of making a conscious decision in every situation to live and move in the power of the Spirit rather than relying on his soul power. Instead he must allow the soul to be crucified by resisting the temptation to rely on his soul and instead relying on the Spirit. – chapters 12 and 13

13. We may be tempted to think that time and energy spent ministering to God is a “waste.” We may think we should not “waste” precious time and energy in “idle” tasks like prayer, worship, and Bible reading. But ministering to God is more important than ministering to people. It is not a waste for us to pour out ourselves at the feet of God. Martha’s busy service is contrasted with Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet. The author invites us to “waste” ourselves in ministry to God. – chapter 14

The Normal Christian Life is not an easy read, but it’s a very worthwhile one. I recommend you take the time to read and digest this significant work from one of the great saints and church leaders of the 20th century.

Some Things to Look For in a Church

A friend sent me an email with an article entitled “7 Things To Look For in a Good Church” and then asked what my list of things to seek in a church would look like if I made one.  After thinking about it, I came up with the following points:

1) A church that fosters loving community and is genuinely welcoming toward newcomers.
2) One in which the worship is genuine and heartfelt, and not just following the latest trends.  It is contemporary in style but also includes traditional elements from time to time, such as hymns or liturgy.  Worship is participatory by the entire congregation as much as possible, and not just those on the platform up front.  (See 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
3) A church in which Scripture is read, taught, explained, and lived in preaching and teaching that speaks to the spirit and not just the mind.  The goal is that faith would be “caught,” not just taught, and to teach people how to live as Christians, not just to give people more head knowledge.  The Bible is seen as infallible and the final authority for all of life.
4) A congregation in which the church and its leadership follows the Holy Spirit’s leading, even if that takes things out of the usual order or sequence of events.  The people are allowed and encouraged to move freely in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit leads, though order is to be maintained (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40).
5) A church that is led by a group of elders who are all qualified to preach and teach and who share in these responsibilities together.  This board of elders and the church may be led by one or more elders who are pastors. (See Acts 20: 17-18, 28-32 and 1 Peter 5:1-4)
6) A congregation in which the leadership of the church recognizes that God can and often does speak not only to the leaders but to anyone in the church, and structures church life in such a way as to allow people to share with the leaders and the body what God has been saying to them.  (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
7) A church in which when necessary the leadership administers loving discipline to those who stray (see Matthew 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1-5, and James 5:19-20; see also 1 Corinthians 5)
8) A church in which the leadership and the pastor are not lone rangers but are accountable to some higher body outside the church, whether it be a denomination or association of churches.
I’m sure there are other qualities that are important to consider when seeking a church.  What would your list look like?  What would you change about my list or add to it?