Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Flowery Talking-Without Strict Walking

It's beena while since my last blog post, mostly due to the business of life. But, today, I'd thought I'd share this entry from Arthur Pink.

(Arthur Pink, "Christ our Exemplar")

"Leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps." 1 Peter 2:21

"Whoever claims to live in Him--must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6

If all professors forfeit their claim to a saving interest in Christ, who do not endeavor to sincerely and earnestly imitate Jesus in the holiness of His life--then how small a number of real Christians are there in the world! If flowery talking--without strict walking; if common profession--without holy practice; if Church membership--without denying self and treading the Narrow Way--were sufficient to constitute a Christian--then a large percentage of earth's population would be entitled to that name.

But if Christ owns none but those who follow the example that He has left--then His flock is indeed a little one. The vast majority of those who claim to be Christians have a name to live--but are dead (Rev. 3:1), being such as walk after the flesh, following the course of this world and yielding their members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin (Romans 6:13). The demands of Christ are too rigid for them--they prefer the Broad Road where the majority are found.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Matthew 7:13-14

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Baptism Testimony

Some of you may know, and some not, that I was recently baptized in September 2008. Since I didn't get to share this with you all then, I wanted to share my testimony with you now. So, here it is:

On January 22, 1973, a controversial decision in the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court Case, abortion was deemed a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. Since that time, it’s been estimated that 40 million American children have been killed in the name of women’s rights.

I’m not here to talk about abortion today. But, I am here to talk about God’s grace. Please bear with me as I explain.

I was born on March 8, 1978, a little over five years since the Roe v. Wade decision. For whatever reason, my biological mother decided she wasn’t going to raise me. She could have decided to abort me, but God had a plan for me. I hadn’t done anything that would earn life. That’s grace

In May of 1979, at the age of 14 months, God sent two of the most loving people I’ve ever met to adopt me from the adoption agency I was in the care of. Again, I didn’t choose them, they chose me. Again, God’s grace.

I was raised in an Apostolic church. I didn’t know much about sin, the gospel or even what baptism was, but I knew one thing for sure. I wanted to sing on the choir. The only way I could sing on the choir was to be a member. The only way to become a member was to be baptized. So, that’s what I did. I got baptized with no real understanding of what the call to Christ really meant and how to live after being called. I’m not sure if I even understood that there was a call. I was 12 years old at the time. Was I saved? Looking back on it now, my answer would be a resounding no. But, I was on the choir and that’s what mattered to me.

From the age of 12 to about 19 or 20, I was a faithful member of the church. I was involved in all sorts of activities. But, I started straying away from the church as the sinfulness within me was drawing me away into all sorts of lust and sinful living. I could sit and recount all of my endeavors in the world, but it’s best summed up in Ephesians 2.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (ESV)

I was spiritually dead in my trespasses and sins. That was my normal course of life. Unbeknownst to me, there was a tremendous weight of sin resting upon me. God’s wrath was abiding upon me. He was angry with me because of my willful disobedience. Yes, I had free will, but that free will ONLY sought evil, because it was dominated by a heart that was desperately wicked and deceitful above all things, and it had been that way since my youth. I was His active enemy, living in the passions of my flesh, carrying out the desires of my body and my mind. I wasn’t His child, I was a child destined for wrath because of my sin, just like every other person in the world.

But here’s the part that changed it all:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

“But God” might be two of the most important and most passionate words I have ever read in the Bible. But God! It was His great love that He had for all of us who are believers that caused Him to make us alive in Christ. We, who were dead, now made alive. And He didn’t do it while we were yet righteous men. He didn’t do it when we were being obedient to Him. He did it while we were still DEAD in our trespasses. That’s grace!

The passage goes on to tell us that He did it so that in the coming ages He would be able to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria! Let God alone be glorified!

I was saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone in the early part of 2004. I can’t pinpoint a specific date of conversion, but I know that God had radically changed me. The things that I once loved to do, I began to gradually hate more and more. I no longer desired to go the places I used to go, nor hang around those I used to hang around. I couldn’t tolerate the sight and sound of much that I used to say and do. The things of the world started to become strangely dim in the light of Christ. The things I once hated started to become loved.

My mom could tell you that I never enjoyed reading too much. But, when the Lord saved me, He placed this insatiable hunger for Him inside of me. I couldn’t put the Bible down. I wanted to know Him in such a way that I had never known anyone before. I’m still appreciating the awesome opportunity given to me by grace to know our beautiful, Triune God.

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about myself. Sometimes when we hear testimonies we can tend to pay a lot of attention to the person giving the testimony and not as much to the one who provided the testimony. My testimony is not about Michael Armstrong. My testimony is about work of God in salvation, from beginning to end. Salvation is truly of the Lord.

In conclusion, some may ask, “Michael, why have you waited so long to be baptized? It’s been four years.” It wasn’t until after my conversion that I realized I was just being saved. I had believed for years that I was saved prior and that this time it was just a re-dedicating myself to the Lord. A man much wiser than I once said, “Rededicating one’s life to Christ is like redecorating the Titanic.” I didn’t need redecorating, I needed a resurrection, and God graciously provided that and will provide a future resurrection for me, along with the rest of His body, at the last day.

I know that baptism doesn’t save me. There is no regenerative work going on in the water. But, the baptism is an outward symbol of the regeneration that the Holy Spirit has already accomplished, removing my cold and hard heart of stone and replacing it with a warm and tender heart of flesh that seeks to please Him in everything I do.

Born in sin, then born of God. Adopted in the flesh, and then adopted by God. That’s what I call grace.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

If God Predetermines Everything, Why Pray?

As a Christian who holds to what are appropriately called the doctrines of grace, this is a question often posed. Those who are on the other side of the issue of Calvinism, often wonder why it is we pray, even though God has determined all things before we were even born. I think that's a reasonable question. It's one I had myself before I came to really understand the doctrines of grace.

I could write a whole chapter's worth of information that speaks of the importance of prayer in the life of the believer. In fact, John Calvin, for whom Calvinism is named, wrote about 70 pages in his "Institutes of the Christian Religion" specifically about prayer. Most Arminians would probably find that odd because of their misunderstanding of the Calvinist positions.

Today, I'd like to share a piece of an article by Dr. R.C. Sproul titled "The Prayers of the Righteous Are Never Futile."

He writes:

"If God is sovereign, why pray? When I pray to God I am talking to One who has all knowledge. One who cannot possibly learn anything from me that He doesn't already know. He knows everything there is to know, including what's on my mind. He know what I'm going to say to Him before I say it. He know what He's going to do before He does it. His knowledge is sovereign, as He is sovereign.

People may ask: "Does prayer change God's mind?" To ask such a question is to answer it. What kind of God could be influenced by my prayers? What could my prayers to do induce Him to change His plans? Could I possibly give God any information about anything that He doesn't already have? Or could I persuade Him toward a more excellent way by my superior wisdom? Of course not. I am completely unqualified to be God's mentor or his guidance counselor. So the simple answer is that prayer does not change God's mind.

"Does prayer change things?" now, the answer is an emphatic Yes! The Scriptures tell us that "the effecive fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). What then does prayer change? In the first place, my prayers change me. My time with God is for my edification, not HIs. Prayer also changes things. In practical terms, we say that prayer works. Prayer is one of the means God uses to bring about the ends He ordains."

Wow. I don't think I could possibly say anything to make that any better of an explanation. So, I won't attempt to. Something to really think about when we pray.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Watch and Pray....

"It must never be forgotten that the flesh is weak and naturally inclined to slumber." Charles Haddon Spurgeon

What a great reminder for us today from C.H. Spurgeon. We must never forget that our flesh is weak and is naturally inclined to slumber. We are naturally inclined to stumble and fall headlong into sin. We are naturally inclined to take our sanctification lightly. This quote from spurgeon reminds me of our Lord's instruction to His disciples in Mark 14:32-38.

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."

33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.

34 And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch."

As our Lord went off to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, He gave instruction to Peter, James and John to remain there and watch. What's interesting to me about this is that earlier He gave instruction to the other disciples to just sit there. But, with Peter, James and John, it seems as if He expected more from them. He told them to remain and watch.

Why did He take these three with Him? Surely He did not need them to go with Him. I believe He took them so that they could witness His anguish over the sin He was carrying for us. Christ was wearied with our infirmities. The wrath of God was about to be poured out upon Him for all those who would believe in Him. Also, Christ loved the Father with pefect affection, and the sins which He would carry were an offense to the Father. Imagine having supreme love for your father, yet representing something he hated. Indeed, His soul was sorrowful and troubled. The taste of death was upon Him, as He knew He would have to drink the cup of God's wrath in just a few hours. See His anguish in His prayer to the Father:

35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.

36 And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

This was not a routine time of prayer for Jesus. This prayer was a plea to the Father that perhaps the hour of His passion might pass from Him. Christ knew He must die, even if His own flesh (while truly God, He was also truly man) was troubled because of the pain that would be endured. He had a natural fear of death, that is spoken about in Hebrews 5:7. But, He said, "Yet not what I will, but what you will."

37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?

Here is Christ, suffering and agonizing over the sin imputed to Him, so much so that He admits that His soul is very sorrowful. Yet, His disciples are sleeping, after He gave them specific instruction to remain and watch. How is it that some of us can have the same attitude toward sin? How is it that we can take it lightly when it pressed heavy on His soul? How is it that Christ was in great agony for our sins, yet we are never in agony over them?

Notice that He addresses Peter specifically, who had just told him in the preceding verses that all others may fall away, but he would not. Christ told him that He would deny Him, but he emphatically expressed his belief that he would not. Well, Christ puts him to the test here.

Peter could not even last one hour without neglecting his duty to the Master. Christ had not asked him to watch all night, but only for one hour. How could the disciples hear Christ speak of His soul's anguish, yet fall asleep as He prayed? They seemed little affected by His condition. They were careless in carrying out what the Lord had commanded them.

Clearly, Christ was rebuking them for falling asleep while they were to be watching. However, just as God chastens whom He loves, He also comforts and gives counsel. Though they had failed miserably at keeping in Christ's service, He still teaches them.

38 "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

What great advice this was to them, to watch and pray so that may not enter into temptation. Christ did not deny that Peter was sincere in his willingness to follow Christ, even to death. He knew that Peter was sincere. However, He also knew that while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. When we are not watchful, we are apt to fall into all sorts of temptation. The old saying goes, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."

When we consider the weakness of our flesh, it should cause us to be quick to pray and be watchful when we are entering into temptation. Romans 8 teaches us that it's not by the flesh that we put to death the deeds of the flesh, but by the Spirit. So, why do we often neglect this? The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.

Let us not take the anguish of our Savior lightly, brethren. Let us remember that it was for our sin He died, and that He has not called us to impurity, but to holiness. Let us not return like a dog to his own vomit.

My exhortation to us all today is to "watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation."

Be on guard, brothers and sisters.

In Christ's love....

Friday, January 2, 2009

Just Two Days In...and Already Three Are Gone!

Hey Everyone:

Two days into the new year and the city of Baltimore already has three murders. Two of those happened at about 5am today. The other one was yesterday and the victim, who was shot by his own cousin, was a friend of mine in middle and high school.

Please pray that God would be pleased to use His people to send His gospel into the city where it will penetrate the hearts of sinners and bring about salvation for their souls. And please, when you hear about another murder on the news or read it in the newspaper, please remember to pray for the victims’ families and the soul of the murderer that they perhaps will come to salvation. It's easy to hear of violent murders and shake our heads in disgust and judgment. It's more difficult to remember to sincerely care about human life. These folks have souls that have either entered into eternal rest with Christ, or have been awakened to the realities of hell.

I love the city of Baltimore. I spent a lot of time there in my days before Christ and was saved at a church in Southeast Baltimore where I remained until I came to Hope Bible Church (where I am now a member). It pains me to see “my city” in the condition it is in. I can understand now why Jesus stood at the gates of Jerusalem and wept.

Please join with me in prayer for the city. Thanks everyone. Love to all.