The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Some Problems in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America)

By: Thomas F. Booher

NOTE: I posted what's below to Facebook on this day, December 6, 2016. I wanted to post this here for record keeping and so that it can have a more visible and permanent viewership for those concerned or wishing to be more informed about the PCA. 

I would like to explain my love for and grave concerns within the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), the denomination in which I am currently a member and have served as a ruling elder.

The state of the PCA is, in my estimation, not a consistently conservative, orthodox, and confessional one. I believe it is in the midst of much compromise, and I do not think that the average lay person is aware of it. It grieves me to say these things. I wish they were not true. I grew up in the PCA, and until several years ago I was still under the delusion that all was well in this denomination, that it was, by and large, holding fast to the Word of God.

I still believe that there are many churches within the PCA that are faithful to Christ and His Word. I am a member at a very good PCA church that I would recommend to anyone. At the same time, in my own personal experience and in communication with various pastors and from my own personal research, I think that many presbyteries in the PCA are compromised and/or are compromising, and that this becomes quite evident at the GA level where the tide seems to clearly be heading in a dangerous direction.

To reiterate, there are good churches in the PCA. If you are in one, praise God for it and serve faithfully there! But for any men considering the pastoral ministry and believing they may be called to such a great undertaking, I would have a word of caution. There is a great war that needs to be fought, a battle for the soul of the PCA. But it is questionable whether it is possible to even make such a stand, because there are presbyteries, and I have experienced this first hand when I tried to come under care (a couple years ago in a different presbytery than the one I am in now), that are essentially filtering those who they do and do not accept to come under care. The pastoral candidate must fit their own progressive, sub-confessional agenda (of course they don't put it in these words, but views on homosexuality and preaching against particular sins or even the way we understand sin, repentance, and forgiveness indicate as much). In my situation, my approval to come under care was revoked, and then the "offer" was given that I could be "unofficially" taken in by this presbytery and a committee would straighten me out essentially, and then after six months or so I could actually officially come under care, assuming I was now in agreement with their views and agenda on certain issues and points of doctrine. Doing things off the grid like that does not seem to be the best way to handle things.

A simple search of many PCA church websites reveals that some PCA churches border on a "seeker-sensitive" approach to church, where they are doing things to cater to unbelievers rather than structuring the worship service for actual worshipers of God (that is, Christians). The Bible makes clear in Romans 3 and elsewhere that nobody is seeking God, but that God is seeking His sheep, and further, that "church" is the assembly of the brethren, fellow believers, for the express purpose of worshiping God. When PCA churches fail to understand the purpose of church, they are clearly compromised. It is my opinion that some PCA churches (i.e., more than just a few here and there) have compromised in this area greatly.

Now I am saying all this to point out that the battle for the PCA is at best an uphill one, if not an impossible one. The progressives in the denomination, from what I have observed and have been told, by and large have either control of or great sway in a great many of the presbyteries. I don't think at all that my experience in trying to come under care is unique. So I am saying all this to hopefully inform others who love and care for the PCA and its soul just as I do. I do not wish to be ordained in the PCA, I think it is a compromising denomination (again, not every church, but that is the direction the denomination as a whole is sadly heading in my estimation) that is on the brink (in the next five years or so, again, in my opinion) of compromising at a multi-presbytery level on the issue of homosexuality (a previous presbytery I was in has already done so, contemplating accepting practicing, unrepentant homosexuals into membership and not even necessarily under church discipline) and perhaps at a denomination-wide level on the issue of women being ordained to the office of Deacon.

This is not a call for a mass exodus from the PCA by the lay person. It is hopefully a plea and wake up call for some who may have no clue as to some of the things happening in the PCA (as I myself was totally in the dark just several years ago despite growing up my whole life in a PCA church) and encourage them to become more informed, to mourn the situation of the PCA (and our nation as a whole), and then to prayerfully decide what the best course of action is to take, for the good of the individual, the local PCA church, the PCA as a whole, and of course above all, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for Christ and His church.

It does indeed grieve me that the PCA church, which was formed less than 50 years ago to combat doctrinal deviation, has committed some of the same doctrinal drifting and compromise that the PCUSA and other once faithful denominations has long ago caved into. It grieves me that i cannot look to the PCA as a suitable denomination to seek ordination. But the church of God is also bigger than the PCA or any one denomination. My encouragement is to remain faithful in whatever church you are in, and to be thankful for the faithful churches in the PCA.

And for the leadership in those faithful PCA churches, my encouragement is to be beacons of light within the denomination, aggressively and passionately fighting for the soul of the PCA because you are convinced biblically that it is a worthwhile battle. Or, if the leaders have counted the cost of such an endeavor (Luke 14:28-29) and come to the determination that it is not the most beneficial and righteous course of action, and for the sake of the kingdom of God and the flock of Christ, I pray they would have the courage and love for their flock, and indeed for the PCA itself, to find a more faithful denomination to serve in. I think godly men and different churches will come to different conclusions on this matter, and given the particular local presbyteries and even individual churches, it is understandable and righteous that differences on the best course of action could occur, and the church that leaves for the sake of the peace and purity of the church, and the church that stays for the peace and purity of the church could both be said to be acting righteously for Christ and His Kingdom.

But it should be stated loudly and clearly that when an individual in leadership, whole churches, or whole presbyteries fail to affirm key tenets in their own denomination's confession, they have compromised both the purity and the peace of the church. There should not be peaceful acceptance of doctrinal compromise, but when conservatives and those who are confessional in the PCA wish to hold others to the very standards that they have affirmed to adhere to and uphold and are required to affirm and uphold, the accusation is often that the confessionalist is disrupting the peace of the church by simply making the matter an issue at all. But my point is that the peace is disrupted when the purity of a denomination is compromised, because our peace is based upon unity in the truth, and our confession of faith is our agreed upon expression of peaceful, truthful, righteous and loving unity.

Given this, I do not think we can be silent. I am in the PCA. As a member of the PCA and one who has served as a ruling elder, so long as I am in the PCA, I wish to fight for the soul of the PCA. But I think that is exactly what the stakes are. The denomination hangs in the balance, and I fear the scales have irrecoverably been tipped toward the progressives and those who are sub-confessional already. This is why, if the Lord wills for me to be ordained and pastor a church someday, I cannot presently see that occurring in the PCA for myself. I am trying to count the cost, and I do not think it is a fight that can be won, and the effort to do so would result in more frustration and be a distraction from the flock God had entrusted me with.

At the same time, I would be thrilled to see the PCA church turn towards greater faithfulness, and the number of faithful churches in the PCA take a stand and multiply. If that happens, I would be overjoyed to remain in the PCA for the rest of my life, and even to seek ordination in the PCA. But my estimation is that the pulse of the PCA is moving in the opposite direction, and for that I am both saddened and frustrated.

In Christ,

Thomas F. Booher

Friday, June 17, 2016

Should Preachers Preach Softly Against Homosexual Sin?

By: Thomas F. Booher

Christ predicted woe and destruction on cities that did not repent at His preaching, and after He had done many miracles there (Matt. 11:21-24), saying that it would be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom than for them.

This indicates that not only was Christ healing, but He was preaching repentance from sin, which means He was also engaging society by telling them that they in fact were sinners that needed to repent to be saved. Christ healed, and Christ told those whom He healed that they were sinners that needed spiritual healing, not just physical healing. For those that did not repent, Christ now pronounced woe on them (on whole cities!) and warned them of their coming doom.

Now it is interesting to note that the sin of Sodom was sexual sin, and homosexual sin gets a special mention all by itself (Jude 1:7). For Christ to use Sodom as an example of moral perversion and wickedness means that Christ is pointing out that the kinds of sexual sins taking place there were highly offensive to God (including and especially the "unnatural desires"), and therefore they were destroyed.

So in saying all that I am trying to note that homosexual sin is not the same thing as heterosexual sin. It is a further perversion, and a furthering of God giving sinners over to their own sinful desires. Now if God gives them over to these passions, it isn't something they are born with, as many today, even some ministers, seem to be saying.

I think a lot of people don't like what I am saying (because it is somehow unloving or imbalanced or mean-spirited), including some who are probably Reformed. My question is why? If Christ and Paul and Peter and all the apostles' example is to call sin sin, call a spade a spade, then should not pastors and elders and all believers be willing to do the same (both telling the truth and being open to being told the truth about their sin)? Isn't Christ's warning to the unrepentant cities, as stern and dire as it was, actually a gracious and loving thing? Perhaps God would use Christ's words to draw them to their senses (and thus to repentance? Even though Christ does go on to pray to God and thank Him that He has hidden the truth from them, He also says "Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden," because He will give them true rest)

We won't win the gay community over by watering down what Scripture says about homosexuality. It's likewise true that we won't win the gay community, or any community for that matter, if we go around like a bunch of Pharisees decrying the sins we don't struggle with (so much) while pretending the ones we do (more so) aren't a big deal, or that they aren't detestable in the sight of God and  don't make us equally worthy of eternal punishment.

Sin is bad. My sin is bad. Your sin is bad. Adultery is bad. Homosexuality is bad. And we are still sinners even after we are saved, and apart from Christ we are still bad. In Christ, though, we are covered by His blood, clothed in His righteousness, and are being renewed in the inward man day by day. But the sinful flesh remains, and the sin we commit as Christians is still bad, is still wicked, in fact is still worthy of damnation.

That we all have a hard time not sinning (even as Christians) shouldn't mean we conclude that sin isn't an affront to our holy God. It is. The sins we commit even as Christians still offended God, and because they did, Christ died, taking the punishment for our offenses on the cross.

And this is precisely why we tell all sinners, ourselves, heterosexuals, homosexuals, murderers, adulterers, everyone, the truth about sin. And the truth about Christ.

Christ pronouncing woe upon unrepentant cities probably sounded NOTHING like love, particularly to many self professed "loving" and "authentic" churches that heal people's "brokenness" that we have today (even Reformed churches). But it was the only loving thing left He could do. To be abandoned by the God-Man Himself, to essentially be told, "You're doomed because you are unrepentant," should have been the loudest wake-up call to those cities.

So to be "hard" on sin (or I would prefer to call it "calling sin what the Bible calls sin") isn't necessarily unloving. It can be done for unloving motives, and then it is unloving. But not everyone who speaks of the sinfulness of sin is doing so because they hate the sinners they are speaking to (exhibit A would be Christ Himself). They are saying sin is bad because it is, and that the only way to get rid of it is to throw yourself in faith and true, genuine, heartfelt repentance upon Christ, the sin-bearer (this is Christ calling the heavy-laden to Himself after He has just said the cities are so wicked that they are doomed).

Repentance involves a hatred for sin, all sin, and to hate sin you must see sin to be a thing worthy of hating. And you won't see sin as despicable and hate what you are (apart from Christ) because of your sin unless you understand just how black and filthy your sin is (just as I won't hate my sin if I water down how wicked it is).

So can we not admit that to be like Christ and to be faithful to the apostolic message is to call sin sin, to decry the wickedness of our nation, and that doing so can (and should) be done out of an overflow of love in our hearts for sinners and our nation, and that our sincere desire is that as we drive sinners to come to their senses and see their filthiness that we are doing this so that, having seen their filthiness, they might come to the point of true faith and true repentance and desire Christ, the One who cleanses us from all our filth?

If we preach lightly on sin, especially the particular sins of our nation, we will only get a light repentance. But a light repentance is no repentance, it is a repentance that does not save. True repentance is found in the one who beat his chest and couldn't even look up to heaven and cried out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). 

Repentance is never, "I know it's wrong, but I can't help it in this fallen world, so I just need to manage it as best as I can, which isn't totally or perfectly. God understands." Though we know how imperfect our repentance is, and how imperfect our obedience is, this should not lead us to conclude that it's okay, or that God "understands" and just wants us to "manage it" as best we can.

Scripture calls us to kill sin, not to manage it. God calls us to be holy as He is holy, not to be holy as best as we think we can given how strong our temptation is and how fallen this world is. Yet I fear this is often the impression that ministers give to those who struggle with homosexuality (and other sins, but especially this one).

So to bring this to the big issue of today. I would, like Christ, physically aid the wounded who were at Pulse Orlando. I would help them in anyway and every way that I could. And I would also, like Christ, after having done all I could to "heal" them, tell them about sin, and their sin (which isn't just homosexuality), and how filthy their sin is (just as mine is), and why it is filthy (so that they can come to see the reality of the sinfulness/filthiness of sin for themselves) until they either tell me to shove off or the Spirit moves in their heart and convinces them that they are just as filthy as the Bible says they are, so that they can see that they can be just as clean and pure and holy as the spotless, sinless, perfectly righteous Lamb of God, Jesus Christ is, through repentance and faith in Him. And I would also (just like Christ) tell those who refused to repent that if they did not repent, after seeing the kindness of God displayed through His kingdom people in meeting their physical needs, that it will not be tolerable for them on the Day of Judgment. 

These words from 1 Peter 1 are crucial because they help show us that we cannot go soft on sin, in our own lives, or in our presenting the gospel to others:

"13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”[c]

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[d] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,[e] 24 because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man[f] as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”[g]

Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reforming the Reformed's Worship?

By: Thomas F. Booher

Last time I wrote about reforming evangelicalism. I wagered that there was a solid 25-30 million non-Reformed evangelicals that would be willing to listen to Reformed/biblical teaching that could be positively impacted by it. I argued for incrementalism, that any improvement in the non-Reformed is a victory, even if they end up simply incorporating some Calvinistic teaching into their theology. Obviously, we want them to see the reality of their deadness in trespasses and sins and to express that biblically, which would lead to belief in election and predestination, but if they come closer to that, becoming more God-centered and biblical, that's still a victory. Progress, any degree of trending in the right direction, would be a huge improvement over the current state of affairs in Evangelicalism.

Tonight, however, I want to address the issues in the PCA that I have seen. Because it is a confessionally Reformed denomination, I cannot so easily argue for incrementalism. The ministers and elders should know better and have taken vows to affirm the WCF. It's not that I think most of them have rejected Calvinism or the majority of the WCF, but WCF chapter 21, section 5 does say that the reading of Scripture should be done with "godly fear" and that the hearing of the Word should be done in "reverence." I do think most ministers strive to do this in the PCA, however, I also believe our clothing, the pulpit (or lack thereof), pews (or lack thereof), all the external things in the church building, speak about reverence and godly fear. I am not saying you have to “dress up” to preach with godly fear in the heart or read the Word with godly fear in your soul, nor am I saying pews and a fancy pulpit are essential to righteous worship of God. But I am saying that ministers who understand their role will want to show their godly fear consistently, including in the architecture of the worship area, the place where the saints meet each Lord's Day to draw nearer to God, sing praises to Him, and hear from His Word. The very next section of the WCF (XXI.6) says that, 

"God is to be worshipped everywhere,[28] in spirit and truth;[29] as, in private families[30] daily,[31] and in secret, each one by himself;[32] so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calls thereunto." (bold added). 

It is probably legalism to mandate that one cannot preach in jeans and at the same time be "solemn" in the public assembly and "reverent" in the reading and preaching of the Word. I'll grant that. My concern, however, is that there is a theological and ecclesiological motive behind many who preach in casual clothing such as jeans and possibly even T-shirts, and that this motive has the effect of de-solemnizing worship. This is because their motive is to make visitors and members feel more comfortable and less intimidated. But the hallmark of solemnity and reverence is not, or at least should not, be comfort. The stated motive of these PCA ministers is usually to teach the congregation that God accepts them just as they are and presumably that they can come before Him just as they are. But passages like Zechariah 3:3-5 show that external garments, particularly of the priest/pastor, speak to the congregation, and indicate something of the majesty of God and His worthiness. Revelation 3:4 says that the faithful will walk with God "in white" because they are worthy. Revelation 19:8 explains how the church, the bride of Christ, has made herself ready and is dressed in fine linen, clean and bright. Yes, it is the righteous deeds of the saints being referred to, but does this mean that we won't be in fine clothing of some sort? Revelation 19:11-14 further describes the appearance of Christ and his heavenly army, again in beautiful bright clothing. 

I understand this is imagery, but do we think Christ is going to return on a donkey? Do we think Christ, now at the Father's right hand clothed in glory, will come down without a glorious appearance? You cannot be clothed in glory without appearing glorious. We worship the risen, ascended, and exalted Jesus. The lowly Jesus that emptied Himself of His rightful glorious appearance (Phil. 2:5-8) has finished His sacrificial act of love and mercy for humanity (though in His exalted state He continues to be loving and merciful), and is now enthroned once more with the eternal glory that He had always possessed (John 17:4-5), and He is to be worshiped in His full glory (Phil. 2:9-11), not in His emptied, lowly appearance while on this cursed Earth. He is man, but He is exalted God-Man, and He is to be worshiped as such. 

So my question is simply this: Is God the Father or the Son ever depicted as less than glorious in appearance when He is to be worshiped? Did the transfiguration not help reveal Christ to the disciples as the Son of God, and in the transfiguration did not Christ's clothing turn dazzling white (Matt. 17:2)? Would Christ come in glory at the Second Coming in, say, blue jeans? T-Shirt? Better question, could He? To ask the question is to answer it. The verses above indicate that Christ's glory is understood and experienced externally through appearance, not just understood and experienced internally through the Word penetrating the heart (the two work together and for the minister the preached Word must always be present), and so the minister ought to depict the exalted glory of Christ externally consistently, with the beautiful words of the gospel and the beautiful garments befitting the minister representing the glorious Christ to the bride of Christ. The clothing of the minister should ordinarily not be common, everyday clothes, but special clothes, clothes that bring to mind honor, respect, majesty, glory. If one objects that the minister and thus the exalted Christ will then seem unreachable or out of touch with the lowly needs of the congregation, the answer is that the minister is still a man just as Christ, though exalted, is still the Word become flesh who dwelt with man and was seen by the disciples in His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14). The transfiguration revealed His glory (Luke 9:32) and so did His miracles (John 2:11).

What got the disciples excited about Christ wasn't that He probably would have worn (as a man who emptied Himself as part of coming under the curse of us) jeans if He came in the 21st century, but rather that He occasionally pulled back the veil of His common appearance to reveal His exquisite beauty and glory and honor. Jesus doesn’t appear as simply a farm boy in overalls, and He certainly doesn’t personify a designer jeans wearing, Starbucks latte drinking metrosexual. He is God incarnate. He is glorified God-Man. While Scripture calls us to remember His humility and that He can sympathize with our weaknesses as our great high priest (Heb. 4:15), we are to do that in the context of remembering that He has "passed through the heavens" (Heb. 4:14). Jesus who died, is now glorified, and is now enthroned with glory as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.    

Yet, many churches that stress casual dress and worship can give the appearance of presenting a casual God and a casual Christ by their casualness. Christ seems to be emphasized in His lowliness, as He emptied Himself here on Earth, more than as He is now, high and lifted up, clothed with majesty. Such churches call to mind Christ as a member of 21st century culture, living in the city and enjoying the wares of the city, but also teaching sinners in the city to stop sinning. But we are to worship Christ as He is now, not as He was on Earth. If we get upset with the Catholics' crucifix for making us think of Christ as still suffering, we should probably be displeased with the pastor's skinny jeans for making us think of Christ as still humbled and ordinary. 
In researching some PCA churches, the ones that are more "contemporary" or "casual" almost without fail make a point of this, not just with pictures but with words. It's part of the fabric of their worship. They don't leave it to the imagination. They indicate they are trying to make a statement with their fashion, both of the minister (often unsaid) and of the congregation (explicit under the "what to wear" sections of the church websites). One website even said that God accepts us as we are, and spelled out that we can come into His presence just as we are! Though I imagine they fail to realize it, that is antithetical to the gospel. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ; we are sanctified by our own righteous deeds done by the power of the Holy Spirit. But we certainly cannot approach God just as we are. If that were the case, there would be no need for Christ to come and die. Likely what they mean is that through Christ we can come as we are. But that isn't made clear, and often the impression is given that visitors, whether they are believers or not, those who come through Christ or not, should dress how they want, because God accepts them as they are no matter how they appear.  

Yes, it's true, some in the congregation may not understand the theology of dress, and some may honestly be too poor to have nice clothes. But that is beside the point. The point is that with our clothing we acknowledge the majesty of the presence of God, or we do not. That is true for the congregation, but it is especially true of the minister himself, who represents the glorious presence of God and His Word to the congregation. Our faith is still not perfect, we still struggle with sin. We still need the visible reminders of the gospel through sacraments, and we need it through how the minister dresses as well. This would aid greatly in solemnizing the public worship service and giving God the proper reverence due His name in worship. I simply do not see how casual and common attire can inspire reverence and solemnity. At best it's neutral, but given the theology behind the casualness in many of the churches that do this sort of thing, it seems to actually be intended to remove the feel of majesty or holiness or otherness, in order to make everyone comfortable and relaxed. 

I wish to weave one final thread into this post, and I think it's the most important and ties things together. Most of these casual PCA churches also emphasize being "real" and "authentic" and "missional." One wonders if wearing your Sunday best is therefore inauthentic and anti-missional? Whatever missional exactly means (there seems to be much debate), it seems to be rather broad and encompasses the concept of "loving people as Christ loves us." It has to do with engaging culture with Christianity, though saying "Christianity" would probably not be the way missional churches would like to phrase it. They would probably prefer to say missional is engaging the culture/local city in which the church is located in with Christ and living life together by fostering love and community and "authentic" relationships with “real and broken people.” Broken seems to be a more preferable word than the offensive word, sinful. 

Thankfully, most of these churches still at least claim to desire to practice expositional preaching, and I trust many of them do. But then, if that's the case, other than the externals of worship, I don't see much difference between missional and authentic churches vs. non-missional and inauthentic churches (well, except for trading pianos out for guitars and drums). So, isn't it the missional churches that are actually trying to claim that clothing and music really are important and really do make quite a bit of difference? But as I hope I have shown, this exchange of the externals by those who might identify as missional, while it might be culturally appealing and palatable, is not more biblical. I do not believe it represents who God is any better, but worse. I do not believe it inspires thoughts of God as holy yet merciful, but it could inspire thoughts of God as common/casual and easygoing. 

But I believe C.S. Lewis had it right. He put it simply enough for even children who read the Narnian Chronicles to understand. God, like Aslan, is not common, is not safe, but is holy. But, He is also good. He is holy goodness. He is holy grace and mercy. And it is His holiness, in one sense His unapproachableness, that makes Him good, just as much as His mercy and grace and sacrificial love make Him good. To quote R.C. Sproul, 

The clearest sensation that a human being has when he experiences the holy is an overpowering and overwhelming sense of creatureliness. That is, when we are in the presence of God, we are humbled and become most aware of ourselves as creatures. This is the opposite of Satan's original temptation, "You shall be as gods.” (Emphasis added)

In summary, the minister shows that God relates to man because the minister himself is a man, as Christ was a man, but with the minister's fine clothing he reminds the congregation that God is God and exalted over man, and that man is a creature. We need to be reminded of this so that Satan will not deceive us by whispering that we may become equals with God by Christ becoming man. 
To really be missional, I believe we need to engage culture, but we need to do so with the holy love of God. A simpler way to put it is that people need to understand the bad news of our sinfulness in light of God's holiness and majesty before they can rightly receive and respond to the good news of Christ's becoming a lowly man and dying as a payment for sin, for all who repent and believe. To be faithful Christians, we need to be reminded in the pews that there is a solemnity and reverence to what we are doing in worship because God is with us, and the minister is the clearest visible as well as vocal reminder of this, for Christ through the minister and by the power of the Holy Spirit, feeds His sheep. Authoritative words from a holy God are often better understood and more aptly received from the minister who resembles something of the authority and majesty of the risen Savior both in proclamation and physical manifestation. 

May our holy thoughts, words, and conduct be matched with a solemn and reverent appearance when we meet with God in our holy assemblies on the Lord's Day, and may the minister represent the Lord Jesus Christ in all His holy glory as best and as intentionally as he possibly can as an undershepherd of Christ’s sheep.  

Psalm 96:1-9 is just one passage that depicts the reverence with which we must worship God:

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
3 Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

4 For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; 
He is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

7 Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Give to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
9 Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reforming the Evangelicals

By: Thomas F. Booher

In my rough estimations, I would bet there are between 35-45 million non-Reformed Evangelicals that attend church weekly and would be willing to listen to biblical teaching, even Calvinism so long as it was presented carefully. There's probably another 35-45 million Evangelicals that wouldn't care to listen. The side that would be less likely to listen is far more likely to vote for Trump. Given that Obama won the 2012 election by about 5 million votes, it should be apparent that if Evangelicals were voting in accord with Christian and biblical principles, they would have chosen Cruz (or another candidate) in a landslide over Trump. Instead they have propelled Trump to the nomination. Consider that Cruz himself said that half of born again Christians do not vote. I've read that only half who identify as "born again" are registered to vote, and of that half only half of them actually make it to the polls. So it's quite possible that 75 percent of Evangelicals do not even vote! 

I'm not advocating a "get out the vote" ploy; that's being pushed enough as it is. Those who don't wish to vote need to be taught a theology of voting. This goes back to the need for Evangelicals to understand something of their own name. By that I mean, they need to know something of God that goes beyond the surface. When that happens and God is held up as deep and wonderful and holy and merciful, then voting will happen naturally. And it won't be for someone like Trump. 

Let's say that there are 40 million evangelicals that would at least listen to Calvinism for a minute, but then about 10 million of them reject it as crazy and un-Jesus like. So be it. But I would bet there's a good 25-30 million that would at least be molded by biblical/reformed teaching so that they would be much more in align with Scripture than they presently are. I have seen this where I teach. You begin talking about Scripture in a careful and logical way, probing its depths, and the kids begin to reflect and listen. They might not accept Calvinism on the whole, but they will (and have) come to embrace Piper's "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" as well as "God's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever." Now we know that the consistent application of that leads to election, reprobation, total depravity, irresistible grace, all that good stuff. I've told my students as much. They may wrestle with that reality, and wish to embrace glorifying God chiefly without having to affirm election or the total loss of free will. What then? Did I fail? Is that a useless endeavor? Should we dismiss them as rubble or hard-hearted haters of the truth? No. We should realize that such people are becoming more and more like a John or Charles Wesley. And imagine if today's shallow-thinking but faithfully-church-attending Evangelical went from what they are to a John or Charles Wesley? Think how that would influence the music in the church service, and you will begin to see that Calvinism will rear it's beautiful head through their praise, thoughts, and lives. That would still reform the churches to an extent, and praise God for incrementalism! They would also be quicker to support a Ted Cruz type candidate, and wouldn't be supporting he-who-must-not-be-named-again. 

So in short, we need to think of creative ways to reach non-Calvinists with a thoughtful, loving, rich Calvinism. We need to do something like John Piper has been doing, without mixing ourselves to the same degree with some of the people he is doing it with. That just confuses things and diminishes the shine and truth of his message. If Andy Stanley is going to speak right after John Piper at a Passion Conference (I've been to two of them), then it can give the impression that the two really aren't speaking two different messages. But believe me, there's quite a bit of difference. 

So if we must keep a healthy degree of distance and disassociation (perhaps not total) with the Evangelical leaders, how can we reach out to the Evangelicals? Knocking on their door is one way, being more conversant in general with them, at work, at church, at the grocery store, at a rally, at the Christian school, in the homeschooling group, etc., all are beneficial. Yet we need to realize that conversion doesn't usually happen quickly, to salvation in Christ or to the sovereignty of Christ in salvation. Patience saturated with prayer, thoughtfulness joined to theology must win the day. This doesn't mean hiding your theology or diminishing the truth one iota. It may mean that you present Reformed theology through a non-Reformed grid to help them understand it. It may mean you don't always refer to Reformed theology as Reformed theology, but simply as the right interpretation of God's Word. That's what we care about anyways, right? 

Then there's Facebook. I've said it's become a mirror room for me, where I find like-minded Reformed believers everywhere, and that's about it. Usually what we say we already know and it's just a little bit encouraging, or maybe we disagree with some minor point of doctrine and have fun (or frustration) arguing about that. We need that, but more importantly we need to reach out to Evangelicals. I strongly believe that, and I've failed at that. My Tulip Driven Life Facebook page is going to become a place where I seek to draw non-Reformed Evangelicals through book promotions and boosted posts catered just to them. Then they can join the conversation. 

But, I must admit, I've seen what happens to free will folk who comment on my page. They get crucified by the Calvinists, in a mean-spirited and ungracious way, virtually without fail. The Evangelicals are seen as the enemy. Look, some of them might be, some of them might be false teachers, and many might be unconverted. But many are converted, and besides, doesn't Christ say to love our enemies? Shouldn't we love them especially with the truth of God's Word, with the gospel? We need to repent and do better at this. 

I think in our society, and where I am in the Bible belt, reaching Evangelicals needs to occur through things like Reformed bookstores and Reformed Bible Institutes. I hope, Lord willing, to start both of these someday. You probably won't get Bob and Sally to darken the doors of Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church, simply because it uses big words and is "Presbyterian" (which is also a big word, a double evil). I know of a lady who asked me for advice on a good church, and when I recommended a Presbyterian one, she informed me that that wouldn't work precisely because her husband wouldn't go for a church that didn't sound like "Christ Community Church" or the like. And while we need street preachers to proclaim the gospel, those means are not going to be as effective for the evangelical who already thinks he or she knows the gospel and is converted. These Evangelicals will check out a Christian bookstore in a heartbeat (and may leave just as quick when all I offer is Reformed stuff), and that's where we have to hook them. We have to be the owners, or frequenters, of these kinds of stores, and converse with our non-Reformed brothers and sisters in Christ, face-to-face, with love, about the Sovereignty of God. We have to converse with them about how God's Word applies to all areas and facets of life. We have to tell them that expositional preaching is biblical preaching, and that there pastor probably doesn't do that and cherry picks verses out of context to fix a "felt-need" rather than a real need -- which is to see that while we are great sinners, Christ is an even greater Savior. We don't need life enhancement, we need new life. We don't need to get rid of the problems around us, but the sin within us. We need to introduce the concepts of mortification without using that big bad word at first. We need to pray that through these means, God would bring revival.  

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

I'll have more posts on Reforming Evangelicalism, so please follow the blog, the Facebook page for it, and stay tuned. You can also read my first post in this series here


Saturday, May 14, 2016

How Evangelicalism's Ignorance is the Reformed's Fault

By: Thomas F. Booher

I want to begin by saying that I have not written much for The Tulip Driven Life in the last couple of years. Time constraints have been a large factor, but the biggest reason I haven't written much is that I haven't really seen the point in doing so. I left (I think and hope) the cage stage of Calvinism, and after my fiery volleys, I realized I burnt some bridges unnecessarily, and was left with an echo chamber of other fire-wielding Calvinists who loved anything I posted that really "stuck it" to free will, but only kinda sorta liked other Reformedish stuff that I posted. Facebook has become (for me at least) an ineffectual way to reach non-likeminded Christians. All my Christian friends, apart from some in my family, are Reformed. Most on the Tulip Driven Life are Reformed. I like preaching to the choir, but really, there's plenty of websites with more qualified men of God to get your theology fix from. 

But something changed internally with me when Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race. Yes, it took that, of all things, to really press upon me a sense of urgency that I should have already had but had been lacking. I hoped and prayed that Cruz would win the nomination over Trump, or frankly just about any republican candidate would win over Trump. That, apparently, is not going to happen now. Yet it wasn't simply Ted Cruz dropping out that stoked the dying embers of my mind, it was the reason that he had to. Cruz did not get sufficient support from Evangelicals. 

While statistics do indicate that those who attend church weekly are less likely to vote for Trump than those who attend rarely, many weekly attenders still voted for Trump as the Washington Post link shows. In their chart, Trump took in votes from more than 35 percent of evangelicals that attended church weekly (over 50 percent who seldom or never attend, and still near 50 percent for those who "sometimes" attend church), and the next closest was a combination of Cruz/ Ben Carson at about 31 percent. Even if we assumed that every weekly evangelical who voted for someone other than Trump voted for a decent candidate, that still leaves more than 1/3 who voted for the Donald. 

I can only imagine that even more weekly evangelicals will vote for Trump now that he is the presumptive nominee, and that more will vote for him against the democratic nominee. I don't think it's unreasonable to say that 50 percent or more would vote for Trump rather than a 3rd party candidate or nobody (and we know some are advocating for Clinton!). 

The article by the Washington Post revealed more striking data, particularly that only 40 percent of frequent church attenders thought that morals (particularly abortion and the place of morality and religion in society) were important in determining who to vote for as President! I hope that that 40 percent is the same that voted for Trump. 

None of this should be that surprising to me. Just today at a theology conference I heard the speaker throw out these figures: over 70 percent of evangelicals do not believe in absolute truth and believe that mankind is basically good. So do they even care about gay marriage, transgenderism, and abortion? Even if they do, 70 percent of them have ruled out any possibility of arguing for right and wrong on anything, and of the remaining 30 percent, how many could actually articulate why they believe what they believe? 

Evangelicals have an ignorance epidemic of biblical proportions, and this ignorance has been swelling for a long time. It's their fault, but it's also our fault. As Reformed believers, we know that we know more than most Evangelicals. We know that we could wax them in a theology debate. We laugh at their silly doctrines or their "just love Jesus" slogans. But what we do not do enough of is disciple them. That's right, disciple them. And what we might call discipling is often little more than mud-slinging, scoffing, and browbeating. We exude arrogance rather than humility and godliness (and I believe certain strands of presuppositional apologetics and theonomy actually systematizes this highbrow and hubristic approach to discipling). 

I've been guilty of this myself. After first learning and embracing the five points (because I of course assumed that was the sum total of Reformed thought) I turned into a holy terror, on Facebook and this very blog, to my non-Reformed Christian friends from the non-Reformed Christian school that I attended from K-5 through graduation. While some would privately (through an inbox message) tell me they really appreciated what I said, they were too afraid to do so publicly because associating with me was like associating with your best friend's ex-boyfriend who got caught cheating. While I did apologize about a year later, it was too little too late. Most all the non-Reformed folk had blocked me or de-friended me, and only the hardcore Reformed (people I didn't even know personally) added me, probably because I was so forward with my convictions. 

Zeal is good. Light is good. But smoke is not desirable, and I had a lot of smoke coming out of my ears. I think lots of new Calvinists blow smoke and then must, like Luther, do a lot of repenting and backtracking. Some never really do, sadly, and begin to embrace the iron bars of their Calvinist cage. This gives the biblical truth as expounded in Reformed theology a bad name. This gives God a bad name and prevents others from coming to a knowledge of the truth!

So my new reason for writing is to write for two audiences, and two narrow purposes with each audience. I am writing firstly for Reformed believers, but particularly to give them ideas on how to speak, interact with, and write to non-Reformed believers (Evangelicals) in order to lovingly and gradually (yes, gradually) teach them better theology, aiming to give them a more accurate understanding of Scripture. Secondly, I am writing directly for Evangelicals, and I have to find ways to attract them to this blog and to the Facebook page for the blog. I have already found one way to do that, and that is by running ads targeting Evangelicals for my book "If Jesus Died for All, Why Aren't All Saved." That book was my attempt to gradually and lovingly bring Evangelicals on board with a deeper, richer, and more biblical understanding of the atonement, and if you shared the link to it on your non-Reformed friend's wall, I think it could be a great aid to them. I set it up for a free promotion on Amazon, and over 40 people grabbed it, and most of them, given my ad targeting, were likely non-Reformed Evangelicals. So that's a start. 

Maybe that E-Book can be a way I can help teach and disciple and love non-Reformed believers around the globe (so long as they read English). Locally, I'm also teaching at a classical Christian school and serving as Dean of the Upper School. There I get to teach a mix of Presbyterians who don't know their Reformed heritage (as I didn't despite going to a PCA church my whole life), a bunch of non-denominational (with likely little emphasis on theology in general) kids, one southern baptist, and one Roman Catholic who wants to become a nun. And guess who knows their theology the best and could hold their own with Protestant theology? Yep, the Roman Catholic. In fact, I am having her and one of the non-denominational guys debate on the doctrine of justification in my Rhetoric class. They are learning a ton and really loving it, and they have come to see the importance of the doctrine. Neither of them really knew that this was the doctrine that stirred up Luther and divided the church. This is the doctrine that caused the Protestant Reformation and is the dividing line between paper orthodoxy and paper apostasy. 

Do I think either of these two students will become Calvinists? No, not yet at least. But by the grace of God I'm moving the needle. By the grace of God I am getting them to think more deeply. By the grace of God they are stronger in their faith and more equipped to give a biblical and true defense of it. Most all my students seem to recognize that Trump is not the answer as President, and though they cannot vote, I've told them that soon they will (by the next election) and it's up to them to tip the scales back to Christian values and sanity. Whoever controls the young, the next generation, controls the country, and so we need to especially target young evangelicals. But, there's an issue with that as well. We run into it at the school. If you teach Reformed theology to non-Reformed kids too aggressively or dogmatically, sometimes the non-Reformed parents get upset, or worse, bolt. There's a balancing act, and in truth our impact is limited because we are one lone voice in these childrens' lives. They hear from mommy and daddy and Pastor Skinny Jeans that theology isn't that important and Jesus is all you need. But if we could get the parents on board and teach them the importance of training their children theologically and calling them to be sacrificial so that their children can know what Christian sacrifice looks like, well now we've tipped the scales, and the parents will likely leave to find a healthier, more doctrinally sound church, or else begin the process of reforming the one they are in!

The point I'm trying to make is that I have wasted a lot of time and energy developing thoughts on supralapsarianism and super-sabbatarianism that should have been shared with efforts to reach out to the regularly attending, non-Reformed evangelicals. They are the best mission field we have (along with Roman Catholics). They are ripe for the picking. Their minds may be underdeveloped, but we can develop them. They may have resistance to our probing, but by the grace of God and our loving tactics they may come to embrace critical thinking about the things of God!     

This, then, is our task as Reformed believers. We need to break our holy huddles, cut back on our daily Spurgeon and heavy Reformed blog reading, and build bridges to the Evangelicals. And the way we should do this should be the opposite of all the stereotypes of Calvinism, especially those that bring to mind the name Servetus. I was patiently taught the Reformed faith, and now I need to patiently teach it to others outside of it. And so should you. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Is the Use of Contraception Biblical?




Thomas Booher
AP 42 Ethics
March 26, 2016

               The question of whether or not using contraception is biblical is a difficult one because there are many variables at play. Despite the variables, however, principle must determine practice; practice ought not make principle. Therefore, the first question to ask regarding the use of contraception is to ask what the principle for using contraception is. The principle must be taken from Scripture, and while Scripture has little to say about contraception directly, it does have much to say about children, which is directly related to the matter of contraception. In a sinless, unfallen world, contraception wouldn’t even be considered, because covenant children are a blessing from the Lord, without qualification. On this ground, some argue that contraception is necessarily evil because it prevents the blessing of having children, and no one should ever intentionally take measures to limit or prevent God’s blessings to man, no matter what the blessing may be. It is agreed that if one is using contraceptives to limit the wonderful blessing of children, that is sin. The question is not, however, whether there are sinful uses of contraceptives, but whether or not there is any biblical use of contraceptives. In this present, fallen world, there is a use for contraceptives because God has cursed women with pain in childbearing (Gen. 3:16), and contraceptives help to eliminate and manage the pain of childbearing.
               The principle, then, is that pain exists because of the curse of sin, and since it is not wrong to avoid the pain that comes from the curse of sin, it is not wrong to use contraceptives to mitigate the pain of childbearing. Certainly, any contraceptives that causes abortion of a baby is wicked because it snuffs out the image of God in the womb of a mother. That kind of contraceptive is always sinful, but for contraception that does not kill human life, such contraception is permissible. If one argues that children are so great a blessing that they should be sought at all times despite pain in childbearing, then one should argue that man should not cease working, even though the toil produces sweat of the brow and pain because of God’s curse on Adam and his posterity (Gen. 3:17-19). There are times when men can become so weakened and injured with physical labor that they must take extended time off to recuperate; likewise, women should be afforded the same opportunity in regards to having children when necessary. Work itself is still a blessing despite the toil, and children are still a blessing despite the toil, yet both must be avoided at times because the toil is so great.
               This is not to say that men should never work and women, if God wills, should never seek to conceive and have children. In fact, God’s command is that men work and that women be fruitful. This is the only way we can fulfill the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). It is true that, due to laziness and neglect of our divine commission, men often refuse to work and just have sex, and women like to just have sex but avoid pregnancy and rearing children in the home. The solution is not to work ourselves to death in the field or for women to have so many babies so quickly that their bodies are permanently damaged and they are thereby unable to nurture and care for their children (or husbands). The blessing of children is real, and all children are blessings. But all children enter this world through conception, and all conception and childbirth is cursed and painful. To be principled biblically, couples should seek the blessing of children and should also be wise in seeking to avoid the curse of sin so that it does not incapacitate them from enjoying and raising the blessed covenant children.
               The present writer and his wife have had three children in thirty-nine months. After each child, the mother’s legs grew worse and worse due to varicose veins, to the point where if she did not wear compression socks during the entire pregnancy, she would be immobile and on bedrest. These leg issues have a history in her family, and some of her sisters are dealing with leg issues the likes of which few doctors have ever seen in patients so young. The next pregnancy could do permanent damage to the legs where the mother could not walk easily, even while she was not pregnant. The responsible, Christ-like, and loving thing to do as a husband is to use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy, not due to lack of love for children, not because of a faithless fear that God will not provide a way to afford raising them (Matt. 6:25-34), but because husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and to love their wives as their own body, nourishing it just as they nourish their own when they rest and seek refreshment from their physical labors (Eph. 5:25, 28-29).
Nourishing the wife’s body will require discussion and communication between husband and wife. There may be a point where the wife believes she can have no more children at the present time, but the husband believes she can. While motives should be examined, wisdom dictates that the husband should ordinarily defer to the wife since she is the one who is in fact carrying the baby and knows how her body feels. If the husband believes his wife is a sanctified woman (and it is his job to make efforts to ensure that she is), then she should not be lying about her ability to have another child, and the husband should trust her. It may be a more difficult situation when the husband believes the wife is unable to have another child presently, but the wife believes she is, and strongly wants another blessing from the Lord. The husband as head of the household must use wisdom, including the wisdom of doctors, to determine if his wife is fit to carry another child at the present time. The husband may say to his wife that, even though she may well be capable of bearing another child without permanent damage to her body, she could also be mistaken, and it is best to err on the safe side for the time being.
Some have argued that God would never allow a Christian woman to get pregnant with a child that she could not healthfully carry and deliver. In this case, practice does show that this is simply not true, but principle likewise reveals that this is not the case. Pain in childbearing includes pain that leads to death, and therefore the curse on childbearing is a curse that can, and often does, cause death, just as man’s working in the field can cause death. To rest from physical labor or child labor is no more a doubting of the sovereignty of God than is taking medicine or wine for ailments (as Paul commands in 1 Tim. 5:23). Moreover, the fault of pain in conceiving is due, not to the child as such, but to the curse on this world and women due to sin. In a real sense then, it is because of God’s just punishment that contraception is necessary, and it is not a necessary evil but a necessary good because it helps husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church.
There are many couples who wish they could have children and are unable to do so. They would seemingly have children no matter the cost, even if it risked the mother’s life. They may believe that they are being unfaithful to the command of God to be fruitful and multiply, and therefore take all measures, including spending far more money than they have, to do all they can to have a baby. Such couples should be alleviated of their burden to produce offspring. They should plead with the Lord through prayer that He would open the mother’s womb, and they may in fact take measures to help conception, but such a desire does not need to become an all-consuming passion. Adoption is a wonderful alternative, and it parallels the beautiful message that the elect have been adopted by God through the blood of Christ. If doctors indicate that the mother’s life would definitely be in danger if she were to conceive, it may actually be putting God to the test by not using contraceptives. Certainly, doctors have been wrong, and women have conceived and had a healthy and successful delivery of a baby when no one expected the mother to survive. This is a wonderful thing, but there are also times when the mother may not make it, and that is tragic.

There are also times when there are little or no indication that the mother would be in danger by having another child, and yet she does not live through the delivery. This does not mean that the husband has failed to love his wife as Christ loved the church. It is, rather, a reminder of this broken and fallen world, and that King Jesus needs to return to make all things new. Ultimately, couples should not see contraceptives and childbearing as a puzzling and terrifying labyrinth that provides no way to do the right thing. The right thing is simply to seek the blessing of children and the blessing of good health, and to pray to God for guidance and wisdom when the two collide with one another, trusting that the Lord of all will always do what is right.        

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Is The United States God's Chosen Nation?

By: Thomas F. Booher

When reading the OT prophets, I can see the temptation to read Israel as America, because we would like to believe that God has made some special covenant with us as a nation that ensures our protection, at least if we repent. This isn't the case, as God now saves all who put their faith in Him, and His covenant is with believers and their children.

The reason this isn't a step back is that we have something that Israel didn't yet have, namely, the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. We stand before God justified because of the righteousness of Christ credited to our account. Our promises are primarily spiritual and eternal, not physical and temporal this side of heaven (though in glory we will inherit the universe). The truth of the matter is, if this doesn't sound better to you, it calls into question your faith, because Christ promised that we would face trials in this life and be hated, but those who ENDURE to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22).

In my weak understanding, and for those in the know please correct me if I am wrong, it seems that such language like Christ's in regards to persecution and endurance is not echoed in the OT. You don't hear God promising to Israel,

"If you obey me, it may or may not go well with you in the land, in fact, you will be hated and suffer persecution and may even be dislodged from your homeland and have to wander as pilgrims, even if you were to be perfectly faithful, but press on anyways and trust Me."

No, when Israel is disobedient, then they are removed from the Promised Land, where God's presence was with His people in the most holy place in the temple. But we can be relatively "lax" Christians and perhaps live at ease (see the last hundred years in the USA) or hopefully be more faithful and see more persecution and tribulation (perhaps the next one hundred years in the USA, Lord willing).

So what gives? Is this really better promises? Yes, because we have Christ, and through Christ, empowered by His Spirit, we too have already overcome the world, and can count our lives as nothing, as Paul did in Acts 20:24:

"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

I confess, that is not often my cry. I whimper at night fearing for the future of the United States, the future of my wife and children, and other loved ones. I fear terrorism, I fear the leadership of this nation, I fear the so-called "Christians" and many so-called "churches" in this nation, and I fear those who still think this is a Christian nation, or that it was until very recently, because you must be gazing into your own delusion.

But deep within the Spirit sings peace and comfort to my soul. Deep down, when I am not resisting or, as the Spirit often does, when He overthrows my fears, I have peace. I have peace because of Christ. I have peace because I know the decisive battle has already been won, the cross has been accomplished, and because of that, though the war still rages, both inside me and around me, the outcome has already been predetermined.

This place is not my home. I am a citizen of the heavenly kingdom of God, and though I believe that kingdom has come, and is coming down on earth, I know this side of heaven, until Christ returns, wars and rumors of wars will go on. I know that we must eagerly await the redemption of our bodies, and for Christ to bodily return to the Earth for His people, who reside not in any one nation, but who will be found among every kingdom, every tribe, tongue, and nation.

And it is these, the elect, believers in Christ, that comprise the nation of God -- spiritual Israel. As we strive and fight for the spiritual kingdom, God may bless that and bring peace in the physical area where God's faithful people reside. Then again, He may use that faithfulness to stir unbelievers to hate and persecute us. While I think that temporal blessings will come as God's kingdom grows from a mustard seed to a great tree (Matt. 13:31) on earth, I believe that to be true in the big picture, over thousands of years, which means that in my lifetime, it may not be so glorious. Our blood (or at least serious persecution) as Christians may be what paves the way for greater peace and prosperity in this nation and/or world in the years to come. And this is where we should be EXCITED, not AFRAID, because it is here that we get to be the most like Christ, who for the JOY that was set before Him, endured the CROSS:

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

The Holy Spirit in us, above all, produces both an enduring Spirit, and a longing Spirit for the joys of heaven, knowing we have to endure the trials of this life to get the fullness of that joy. But we will get tastes of it here and now, and we should cherish them, and use them as fuel to press on into the kingdom of God, rather than complain when those moments are gone.

All God's children will enjoy endless joy, unmixed with any sorrow or pain, and we are promised tastes and sips of that in this life, and some may get cups or even gallons before they die, but none will get the full measure until Christ returns.

So stay the course, as Ecclesiastes says, enjoy the pleasures God has given you now. Enjoy the relative freedom we still have here, enjoy your spouse and children and fellow believers, labor for righteousness and the kingdom of God, pray that God may give this nation (and the world) grace and mercy and prosperity, but know that the fullness only comes when the King of the kingdom returns. And for that day, yearn, but in the meantime, faithfully fight on.