Monday, November 30, 2009
Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God, edited by Michael D. McMullen, page 314.
Even though this was written many years ago it is for such a time as this. Edwards says that "The awe of Divine Majesty that appears present or approaching" should cause us to act with "extraordinary meekness" - which is power under control, teachableness - "and mutual forbearance" - which is having patience with in regard to the errors or weaknesses of anyone. James tells us, "Don't grumble against each other brothers or you will be judged. The judge is standing at the door!" (5:13). Lord help us to search our own hearts and take heed to our own behavior.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The best part of this book is Fitzpatrick and Johnson's repeated insistence that the problems we face emotionally or relationally are most often rooted in sin and the solution is the Gospel of Jesus. While so many evangelicals believe that the Gospel is something that has to do with "getting saved" but not much to do with the Christian life, the authors come back again and again to show their readers that we are sinful and flawed and yet loved and welcomed. This grace that God continues to show us serves to draw our hearts toward him and provides the power for change.
This power for change comes from our deepening love for Jesus--as we see and savor his humiliation on the cross and live in the light of his exaltation in resurrection and ascension--our hearts are engaged in affection, delight, and joy in Christ. And as we live out of our personal, vital union and communion with Jesus, our hearts move toward the world in obedience to the Savior "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).
Friday, November 27, 2009
Augustine knew from his Platonic background that love of goods other than God could distract one from the love of God. After his conversion he realised, "The incarnation was necessary to empower the Christian to return."23
Augustine presents Jesus as the figure of Wisdom. He is both the goal of our journey and the means of reaching our destination: "She herself is our home, she has also made herself for us into the way home."24
In a bold theological move Augustine conceives both the experience of sin and salvation as a journey. Since we could not find our way home, Wisdom made a journey to us. The reason for the journey of the incarnation was to heal blindness. The map of frui-uti shows that people are blind internally; preferring the means of creation to the end of God. Augustine reasons that this explains why it was necessary for Wisdom to present herself to our external eyes in a physical human incarnation: "She is present everywhere, indeed, to inner eyes that are healthy and pure; but to those whose inner eyes are weak and unclean, she was prepared to be seen by their eyes of flesh as well."25
The external incarnation is necessary because inner eyes are blind—the possibility of external sight appears as a concession or accommodation to the lost. This raises the question of how one's internal eyes benefit from an externally seen incarnation. A clue to Augustine's answer is found in his focus on love of God and neighbour as the fruit of good interpretation;26 the external incarnation heals the internal sight as it teaches us to reorder our loves. We learn from Wisdom how to frui and uti the right objects in the right proportion. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we see the journey that we could not make for ourselves. Wisdom made the journey on our behalf and invites us to follow and learn how to love God afresh.
A merely intellectual grasp of this journey is however not enough to acquire the Augustinian mindset. It is not sufficient merely to understand the Christian story of sin and salvation. Augustine takes considerable pains in De Doctrina Christiana I to foster a sense of the beauty of Wisdom's healing journey: "Just as when doctors bind up wounds, they do not do it untidily, but neatly, so that the bandage, as well as being useful, can also to some extent have its proper beauty, in the same sort of way Wisdom adapted her healing art to our wounds by taking on a human being."27
Augustine invites us to explore the nature of Wisdom's beauty. He focuses on two aspects of what to him constituted beauty: likeness and dissimilarity. He sees a beauty in the likenesses and continuities of Wisdom's healing: as humans were led astray by a woman, so they are healed by one born of a woman and the dead are healed by a death. In the area of dissimilarity, Augustine includes the issue of Wisdom appearing foolish and our bad use of immortality contrasted with Christ's good use of mortality.28 Augustine meditated on the shape of Biblical salvation and his reflections amounted to far more than merely intellectual observations; the beauty of the shape of Wisdom's gracious journey stirred up excitement, passion, and joy in God. Thus the work of theology becomes a re-embracing of our first love. In order to read Scripture fruitfully, we need the mindset of conscious existential appreciation of the beauty of God's gracious journey to us in Jesus. To lose sight of Wisdom's journey (and our journey as it is caught up in Wisdom's) is to lose the hope of participating in worthwhile theology. Augustine hopes that those who read on to his hermeneutical principles will have the mindset to observe many more praiseworthy and useful aspects of God's journey: "Those who are not held back by the necessity of completing a work just begun, from reflecting on many other instances of the sort, will appreciate how well furnished the Christian medicine cupboard is with both contrary and homeopathic remedies."29 This approach to beauty is consistent with Augustine's earlier exploration of the topic of beauty in De Musica, in which he portrayed a universe where "Every creature has a specific rhythm and seeks to ever more occupy itself as it truly is. Music is part of our temporal striving towards ever greater exactitude."30 Augustine saw a beauty in music as it formed part of our striving and journeying. The beauty of music is surpassed by the journey of Wisdom to give us sight and bring lost people home. Augustine's vision of Wisdom's healing journey as a beautiful, well composed medicine cabinet forms his invitation to modern theologians. The question is, Will we approach the medicine cabinet with the appropriate mindset?
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. My entire family gathers at my mom's house and have a wonderful day of food, ping-pong, laughs, and the Lions losing a football game.Its also a time to get an updated picture of my children. From left to right is Jeremy, Jason, Jeffrey and Jessica, from oldest to the youngest.
Hudson Community Chapel is a suburban church in the Midwest that averages a little over three thousand people each weekend. We were ranked as one of the top one hundred fastest-growing churches in 2007. I think we have done some things well, and I don't think our growth was the result of preaching a prosperity gospel or appealing to the felt needs of people. But in the last year there have been some notable changes—and most of them have been in me.
During a mission trip to India in 2006, I was having extended time with God. I had an epiphany. Ido not think many original thoughts, so this got my attention. The epiphany was that the incarnation was not hard for Jesus. I am sure that I had preached differently in the past about the great kenosis when Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."But I suddenly realized that since Jesus still had an unbroken relationship with the Father, it was not all that difficult for him. The man who has God and nothing else has no less than the man who has God and everything. Jesus still had God, so it wasn't hard.
But there was a second part to the epiphany. As Jesus approached the appointed hour, each passing moment became progressively more difficult because he knew he was going to lose God at the cross. When Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"the shock of separation was unimaginably intense. Jesus experienced absolute agony because God had been torn away from him. He experienced infinite pain because he was devoid of God, deprived of God, and truly had nothing at all. Seeing this, I held my breath, wondering if I had ever really understood the depth of the love of Jesus for me or the extent of his sacrifice. The reality of his suffering had never struck me quite like it did that morning. It was the beginning of a rediscovery of the Gospel.
At the end of the mission trip one of the team members gave me a CD of a sermon called "What is the Gospel?"by Tim Keller. I put it on my desk and thought to myself, "If I don't know what the Gospel is by now, I am in sad shape."Indeed.
A couple weeks later, I met with a man who had been attending our church for four years. He said he needed to ask me a theological question before he could join our church. I never like those kinds of conversations since the question is usually about a distinctive rather than about something central. We met for breakfast, and his question was the best theological question I had ever been asked. He simply asked me how people grow. He said that he knew people were saved by grace, but he wanted to know if I thought people were sanctified through their own sweat equity. I thought for a moment and then told him that the only thing that ever really changed me was love. Ever since the mission trip, I had been feeling that it was more important for me to understand how much Jesus loved me than it was for me to figure out how to love Him. I watched in amazement as relief spread across my friend's face. He said he had tried for twenty years to be sanctified through his own effort; it had ground him to powder, and he would not go back.
A couple of months went by and I finally picked up the Keller CD and listened to it as I drove. Before long, I found myself sitting alone in my car, fighting back the tears. Keller was connecting the dots: Christ's relationship with his Father was shattered so that mine might be made whole. I suddenly realized that I had undervalued the Gospel by treating it as merely the starting point of the Christian life, instead of as the all-encompassing source of truth and grace that empowers all of the Christian life.
The Bible came alive over the months that followed. When I read in the Old Testament about the wrath of God, the frustration of God at the Israelites in the desert, or the mercy seat in the Tabernacle—it would all take me to the cross. Everything everywhere was about cross-centered redemption: the Bible, relationships, even creation itself. The over-arching story of salvation became more clear to me than ever—beginning with creation, moving to the fall, and then redemption, and finally restoration. What I learned, I preached. Almost overnight it became the Gospel every week displayed in a different passage.
It has been a year of great growth inside my soul. And it has been a year of intense battle as Idiscovered the unplumbed depths of my depravity. My sins are not isolated incidences of weakness. There is an infection of idolatry in the core of my being where will-power is impotent and the only thing in the entire universe powerful enough to cure me is the blood of Christ.
To be specific, I have found it to be incredibly challenging to give up the belief system that has sustained me so long, one built on an initial forgiveness and then fed through a powerful combination of pride and fear. This pride stemmed from the performance of spiritual disciplines, pointed to the obvious signs of success (we were, after all, named in the fastest-growing one hundred churches!), and most of all was fueled by the approval of others. But fear may have been an even greater motivator: fear of being exposed as less than what people expect; fear of not being as smart, spiritual, or competent as I should be; fear of not measuring up; and fear of Luke 12:48, "to whom much was given . . . much will be required."
The belief system of a pastor is bound to come out in his preaching at least in subtle ways. My emphasis was always on grace, but it was also laced with the discipline of effort and inner strength to be what God called us to be. The result was either pride or defeat. My preaching has changed as a result of the Gospel going deeper inside of me.
The truth is I have existed as a pastor with gods in my closet. There were times when these gods sustained me. Giving them up has caused more death this year than I would like to admit. The closet is still not empty, but the death of these gods has made me ravenous. Without the Gospel as my source of security and significance, I would die. So as one who has vacillated between self-sufficiency and depression, Gospel-driven transformation is both liberating and terrifying.
There are some in our church who have not yet rediscovered the Gospel this way. There are others who hear the terrifying part but not the liberating part, and they sit on pins and needles. Many of them will leave soon, I think. But there are many others who have felt the shackles start to fall off, and, like me, they are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
Rediscovering the Gospel is an ongoing process. Our church is a big ship to turn. I would never attempt to turn it if the approval of others was as vital to me now as it was a year ago and if I hadn't been changed by love, by Good News. In the midst of news this good, there is no better place to be—even if Iam rejected by some and even if attendance falls. As a sinner-pastor, I stand in dependence on grace to plant and water Gospel seeds, recognizing that God himself gives the growth. In 2008, I will endeavor to preach an ever-clearer message that is faithful to the Scriptures—and woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel. Indeed.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
A haunting question is this: How do atheists observe Thanksgiving? I can easily understand that an atheist or agnostic would think of fellow human beings and feel led to express thankfulness and gratitude to all those who, both directly and indirectly, have contributed to their lives. But what about the blessings that cannot be ascribed to human agency? Those are both more numerous and more significant, ranging from the universe we experience to the gift of life itself.
Can one really be thankful without being thankful to someone? It makes no sense to express thankfulness to a purely naturalistic system. Daniel Dennett, one of the foremost figures among the “New Atheists,” describes human life as “an ultimately transient twig on the copiously arborescent tree of life.” Dennett is a clear-headed evolutionist who takes the theory of evolution to its ultimate conclusion — human life is merely an accident, though a very happy accident for us. Within that worldview, how does thankfulness work?
The Apostle Paul points to a central insight about thankfulness when he instructs the Christians in Rome about the reality and consequences of unbelief. After making clear that God has revealed himself to all humanity through the created order, Paul asserts that we are all without excuse when it comes to our responsibility to know and worship the Creator.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . . [Romans 1:20-22].This remarkable passage has at its center an indictment of thanklessness. They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Paul wants us to understand that the refusal to honor God and give thanks is a raw form of the primal sin. Theologians have long debated the foundational sin — and answers have ranged from lust to pride. Nevertheless, it would seem thank being unthankful, refusing to recognize God as the source of all good things, is very close to the essence of the primal sin. What explains the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden? A lack of proper thankfulness was at the core of their sin. God has given them unspeakable riches and abundance, but forbade them the fruit of one tree. A proper thankfulness would have led our first parents to avoid that fruit at all costs, and to obey the Lord’s command. Taken further, this first sin was also a lack of thankfulness in that the decision to eat the forbidden fruit indicated a lack of thankfulness that took the form of an assertion that we creatures — not the Creator — know what is best for us and intend the best for us.
They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Clearly, honoring God as God leads us naturally into thankfulness. To honor Him as God is to honor His limitless love, His benevolence and care, His provision and uncountable gifts. To fail in thankfulness is to fail to honor God — and this is the biblical description of fallen and sinful humanity. We are a thankless lot.
Sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God know a thankfulness that exceeds any merely human thankfulness. How do we express thankfulness for the provision the Father has made for us in Christ, the riches that are made ours in Him, the unspeakable gift of the surpassing grace of God? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” [2 Corinthians 9:15].
So, observe a wonderful Thanksgiving — but realize that a proper Christian Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act that requires an active mind as well as a thankful heart. We need to think deeply, widely, carefully, and faithfully about the countless reasons for our thankfulness to God.
It is humbling to see that Paul so explicitly links a lack of thankfulness to sin, foolishness, and idolatry. A lack of proper thankfulness to God is a clear sign of a basic godlessness. Millions of Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving with little consciousness of this truth. Their impulse to express gratitude is a sign of their spiritual need that can be met only in Christ.
So have a very Happy Thanksgiving — and remember that giving thanks is one of the most explicitly theological acts any human can contemplate. O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting [1 Chronicles 16:34]. Give thanks.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
We are defending Christianity; not ‘my religion’….The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them to realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact—not gas about ideals and points of view.(2)It all depends on whether we start with what we have decided to be our greatest need or with the God in whose presence we discover needs we never knew we had.
If we begin with ourselves and our felt needs, we may have room for a spirituality that assists us in our self-realization and success in life, but the chief question will be how we can justify God in a world so obviously out of whack. If we begin with God—his holiness, justice, and righteousness as well as his love, mercy, and grace—then there will be a very different question: How can I , a sinner, be justified before this God? Describing his own process of conversion, Lewis explains, “I was the object rather than the subject in this affair. I was decided upon. I was glad afterwards at the way it came out, but at the moment what I heard was God saying, ‘Put down your gun and we’ll talk’…I chose, yet it really did not seem possible to do the opposite.”(3)
The New Gospel generally has four parts to it.
It usually starts with an apology: “I’m sorry for my fellow Christians. I understand why you hate Christianity. It’s like that thing Ghandi said, ‘why can’t the Christians be more like their Christ?’ Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous. I know we screwed up with the Crusades, slavery, and the Witch Trials. All I can say is: I apologize. We’ve not give you a reason to believe.”
Then there is an appeal to God as love: “I know you’ve seen the preachers with the sandwich boards and bullhorns saying ‘Repent or Die.’ But I’m here to tell you God is love. Look at Jesus. He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He loved unconditionally. There is so much brokenness in the world, but the good news of the Bible is that God came to live right in the middle of our brokenness. He’s a messy God and his mission is love. ‘I did not come into the world to condemn the world,’ that’s what Jesus said (John 3:17). He loved everyone, no matter who you were or what you had done. That’s what got him killed.”
The third part of the New Gospel is an invitation to join God on his mission in the world: “It’s a shame that Christians haven’t shown the world this God. But that’s what we are called to do. God’s kingdom is being established on earth. On earth! Not in some distant heaven after we die, but right here, right now. Even though we all mess up, we are God’s agents to show his love and bring this kingdom. And we don’t do that by scaring people with religious language or by forcing them into some religious mold. We do it by love. That’s the way of Jesus. That’s what it means to follow him. We love our neighbor and work for peace and justice. God wants us to become the good news for a troubled planet.”
And finally, there is a studied ambivalence about eternity: “Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in life after death. But our focus should be on what kind of life we can live right now. Will some people go to hell when they die? Who am I to say? Does God really require the right prayer or the right statement of faith to get into heaven? I don’t know, but I guess I can leave that in his hands. My job is not to judge people, but to bless. In the end, God’s amazing grace may surprise us all. That’s certainly what I hope for.”
Why So Hot?
This way of telling the good news of Christianity is very chic. It’s popular for several reasons.
1. It is partially true. God is love. The kingdom has come. Christians can be stupid. The particulars of the New Gospel are often justifiable.
2. It deals with strawmen. The bad guys are apocalyptic street preachers, Crusaders, and caricatures of an evangelical view of salvation.
3. The New Gospel leads people to believe wrong things without explicitly stating those wrong things. That is, Christians who espouse the New Gospel feel safe from criticism because they never actually said belief is unimportant, or there is no hell, or that Jesus isn’t the only way, or that God has no wrath, or that there is no need for repentance. These distortions are not explicitly stated, but the New Gospel is presented in such a way that non-believers could, and by design should, come to these conclusions. In other words, the New Gospel allows the non-Christian to hear what he wants, while still providing an out against criticism from other Christians. The preacher of the New Gospel can always say when challenged, “But I never said I don’t believe those things.”
4. It is manageable. The New Gospel meets people where they are and leaves them there. It appeals to love and helping our neighbors. And it makes the appeal in a way that repudiates any hint of judgmentalism, intolerance, or religiosity. This is bound to be popular. It tells us what we want to hear and gives us something we can do.
5. The New Gospel is inspirational. This is what makes the message so appealing to young people in particular. They get the thrill and purpose of being part of a big cause, without all the baggage of the Church’s history, doctrine, and hard edges. Who wouldn’t want to join a revolution of love?
6. The New Gospel has no offense to it. This is why the message is so attractive. The bad guys are all “out there.” This can be a problem for any of us. We are all prone to soft-pedaling the gospel, only presenting the attractive parts and failing to mention where Christ does not just comfort but also confronts. And it must confront more than the sins of others. It is far too easy to use the New Gospel as a way to differentiate yourself from all the bad Christians. This makes you look good and confirms to the non-Christians that the obstacle to their commitment lies with the hypocrisy and failure of others. There is no talk of repentance or judgment. There is no hint that Jesus was killed, not so much for his inclusive love as his outrageous Godlike claims (Matt. 26:63-66; 27:39-43). The New Gospel only talks of salvation in strictly cosmic terms. In fact, the door is left wide open to imagine that hell, if it even exists, is probably not a big threat for most people.
- By being a counter–culture. We want to be a church that not only gives support to individual Christians in their personal walks with God, but one that also shapes them into the alternative human society God creates by his Word and Spirit. (See below, point 5c.)
- For the common good. It is not enough that the church should counter the values of the dominant culture. We must be a counter–culture for the common good. We want to be radically distinct from the culture around us and yet, out of that distinct identity, we should sacrificially serve neighbors and even enemies, working for the flourishing of people, both here and now, and in eternity. We therefore do not see our corporate worship services as the primary connecting point with those outside. Rather, we expect to meet our neighbors as we work for their peace, security, and well–being, loving them in word and deed. If we do this we will be “salt” and “light” in the world (sustaining and improving living conditions, showing the world the glory of God by our patterns of living; Matt 5:13–16). As the Jewish exiles were called to love and work for the shalom of Babylon (Jer 29:7), Christians too are God’s people “in exile” (1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1). The citizens of God’s city should be the best possible citizens of their earthly city (Jer 29:4–7). We are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about our cultural influence, for we know that, as we walk in the steps of the One who laid down his life for his opponents, we will receive persecution even while having social impact (1 Peter 2:12).
- How this relationship to culture shapes us.
- We believe that every expression of Christianity is necessarily and rightly contextualized, to some degree, to particular human culture; there is no such thing as a universal a–historical expression of Christianity. But we never want to be so affected by our culture that we compromise gospel truths. How then do we keep our balance?
- The answer is that we cannot “contextualize” the gospel in the abstract, as a thought experiment. If a church seeks to be a counter–culture for people’s temporal and eternal good, it will guard itself against both the legalism that can accompany undue cultural withdrawal and the compromise that comes with over–adaptation. If we seek service rather than power, we may have significant cultural impact. But if we seek direct power and social control, we will, ironically, be assimilated into the very idolatries of wealth, status, and power we seek to change.
- The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization. If we over–contextualize, it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture. This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel. If we under–contextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub–culture too much. This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
10. Greets guests with, "What do you want?"
9. When Dr. Phil's name comes up, Oprah mutters, "Quack"
8. Instead of "woo hoo," can only muster a "woo"
7. Dumped Stedman for that "Jon and Kate" dude
6. Yesterday's show was Oprah watching an episode of "Tyra"
5. Hosts program in sweatpants and Tweety Bird T-shirt
4. Friday show now entirely devoted to her college and pro football picks
3. "Oprah's Book Club" now "Oprah's Bookie Club"
2. Today's topic: "Oprah Takes A Nap"
1. Last three guests were Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, and Jose Cuervo
What is “the true grace of God”? Not survival, physical or social, but the privilege of sharing in Christ’s sufferings that we may also rejoice when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13). Whatever life thrusts upon us, the true grace of God is to stand firm in that hard place and embrace identification with Jesus.
- Reading “along” the whole Bible. To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot–line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation. As we confess in CS–(1), [God] providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.
- Reading “across” the whole Bible. To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth–claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily (e.g., Luke 24:46–47). In this perspective, the gospel appears as God, sin, Christ, faith. It brings out the means of salvation, namely the substitutionary work of Christ and our responsibility to embrace it by faith. As we confess in CS–(7), Jesus Christ acted as our representative and substitute, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
- How this reading of the Bible shapes us
- Many today (but not all) who major in the first of these two ways of reading the Bible—that is, reading along the whole Bible—dwell on the more corporate aspects of sin and salvation. The cross is seen mainly as an example of sacrificial service and a defeat of worldly powers rather than substitution and propitiation for our sins. Ironically, this approach can be very legalistic. Instead of calling people to individual conversion through a message of grace, people are called to join the Christian community and kingdom program of what God is doing to liberate the world. The emphasis is on Christianity as a way of life to the loss of a blood–bought status in Christ received through personal faith. In this imbalance there is little emphasis on vigorous evangelism and apologetics, on expository preaching, and on the marks and importance of conversion/the new birth.
- On the other hand, the older evangelicalism (though not all of it) tended to read across the Bible. As a result it was more individualistic, centering almost completely on personal conversion and safe passage to heaven. Also, its preaching, though expository, was sometimes moralistic and did not emphasize how all biblical themes climax in Christ and his work. In this imbalance there is little or no emphasis on the importance of the work of justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed, and on cultural production that glorifies God in the arts, business, etc.
- We do not believe that in best practice these two ways of reading the Bible are at all contradictory, even though today, many pit them against each other. We believe that on the contrary the two, at their best, are integral for grasping the meaning of the biblical gospel. The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for his glory.
The Gospel Coalition
Monday, November 23, 2009
How serious is worldliness? Consider James’ rebuke: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4)? The Scriptures could not be more clear. Either you love the world and the things of this world or you love God, for “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24, ESV).
The Bible presents God as a loving, faithful God who takes a rejected and despised woman, beautifies her, showers her with fine clothing and jewelry and makes a vow (covenant) to be her husband (Ezekiel 16). Within this covenant marriage, God warns that His bride is to have no other Gods, make no idols and not bow down to any other gods, “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).
In other words, God is a jealous husband who demands faithfulness. He promises to be all-satisfying, so when his bride seeks satisfaction in something or someone other than Him, He is provoked to jealousy, for His bride commits spiritual adultery. This covenant marriage relationship between God and His people is the basis for James’ calling the people in his congregation an adulterous people, for by their desire to find satisfaction in this world and the things of this world, they have turned away from God, their faithful husband.
This warning is necessary for the western church today. Worldliness is so rampant, so pervasive, that is has become the expected norm and has spawned the market-driven culture in which we now live. Beware of worldliness! I preach to myself and my family, and I appeal to you and your family: beware of worldliness!
How can we know if we are worldly? Here is a two part test — it is not a perfect test, but at least it is a beginning.
Part 1: Take some time out this week to write out your weekly schedule. Write down every activity, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you. Where are you investing your time?
Part 2: On another sheet of paper, write out your budget. Now, look at your check register, credit card and bank statements, cash flow. Where are you investing your money?
I think that this two part test will expose, at least in part, where our hearts are, for where you spend your time and money reveals what you treasure, and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Beware of worldliness!
The Gospel Coalition
I. How should we respond to the cultural crisis of truth? (The epistemological issue)
For several hundred years, since the dawning of the Enlightenment, it was widely agreed that truth—expressed in words that substantially correspond to reality—does indeed exist and can be known. Unaided human reason, it was thought, is able to know truth objectively. More recently, postmodernism has critiqued this set of assumptions, contending that we are not in fact objective in our pursuit of knowledge, but rather interpret information through our personal experiences, self–interests, emotions, cultural prejudices, language limitations, and relational communities. The claim to objectivity is arrogant, postmodernism tells us, and inevitably leads to conflicts between communities with differing opinions as to where the truth lies. Such arrogance, they say explains, in part, many of the injustices and wars of the modern era. Yet postmodernism’s response is dangerous in another way: its most strident voices insist that claims to objective truth be replaced by a more humbly “tolerant” and inclusively diverse subjective pluralism—a pluralism often mired in a swamp that cannot allow any firm ground for “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Such a stance has no place for truth that corresponds to reality, but merely an array of subjectively shaped truths. How shall we respond to this cultural crisis of truth?
- We affirm that truth is correspondence to reality. We believe the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of the apostles and prophets also indwells us so that we who have been made in the image of God can receive and understand the words of Scripture revealed by God, and grasp that Scripture’s truths correspond to reality. The statements of Scripture are true, precisely because they are God’s statements, and they correspond to reality even though our knowledge of those truths (and even our ability to verify them to others) is always necessarily incomplete. The Enlightenment belief in thoroughly objective knowledge made an idol out of unaided human reason. But to deny the possibility of purely objective knowledge does not mean the loss of truth that corresponds to objective reality, even if we can never know such truth without an element of subjectivity. See CS–(2).
- We affirm that truth is conveyed by Scripture. We believe that Scripture is pervasively propositional and that all statements of Scripture are completely true and authoritative. But the truth of Scripture cannot be exhausted in a series of propositions. It exists in the genres of narrative, metaphor, and poetry which are not exhaustively distillable into doctrinal propositions, yet they convey God’s will and mind to us so as to change us into his likeness.
- We affirm that truth is correspondence of life to God. Truth is not only a theoretical correspondence but also a covenantal relationship. The biblical revelation is not just to be known, but to be lived (Deut 29:29). The purpose of the Bible is to produce wisdom in us—a life wholly submitted to God’s reality. Truth, then, is correspondence between our entire lives and God’s heart, words and actions, through the mediation of the Word and Spirit. To eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God. The Gospel Coalition
Sunday, November 22, 2009
An all-Michigander final! Chin up Yoopers and Trolls. We are not only surrounded by the largest concentration of fresh water in the world. We also rock at Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Tim Conrad and the “Elite 47″ Dominant at the Dance, Yanis repeats as Street RPS Champion!How often have you played your best friend in RPS? A thousand throws. Ten thousand throws? For every last piece of pizza and shotgun seat? Now how often have you played your best friend for a World Championship in front of a record crowd with $7,000 on the line? That was the unlikely finish to an amazing 2009 Yahoo! Rock Paper Scissors World Championships as Tim Conrad took the championship in an head-to-head showdown with his teammate and lifelong best friend Tom Butkin. Decked out in a patriotic muscle suit, Conrad waded through the sold out crowd of 512 competitors in Toronto to end up having to face his teammate and fellow Michigander in one last duel. It was a dominant performance by Conrad who combined a scissors-exclusionary strategy with a lethal Avalanche – Bureaucrat combination to win a decisive victory in straight sets. However the clear victors were “The Elite 47″ who claim the first all-American final, the first all-team final, and the highest overall team finish ever.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I noticed, some time ago, that a learned prelate said that he could not find any commandment against gambling. Where were his eyes? Is it not plainly written, "Thou shalt not covet"? What is gambling but covetousness in action? Most manifestly, the gambler desires his neighbour's goods, and this desire gives zest to the vice, which the law of God quite plainly condemns.
Depend upon it, there is nothing wrong but the law condemns it, and there is nothing right but the law approves it. The Decalogue is an absolutely perfect law.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. (The Weight of Glory, 14-15)Yet, most of us don’t think this way. The gods bore us and we return to our video games. Very few people are interested in others. If you really find their story interesting, and care about them, they may open up to you and want to hear your story—Christ’s story.
Friday, November 20, 2009
1. In many situations facts don't speak for themselves: That's where presuppositions and assumptions—worldviews, in short—enter in. Colleges should teach students to analyze situations and learn that ideas always have consequences.
2. Christians should not talk so much about "morality," a word derived from mores, the beliefs of a particular tribe. Ethics, however, are based on ideas that are true at all times and in all cultures. The ethical problem of abortion can only be solved by consulting wisdom that comes from God.
3. Chapter 3 of Proverbs has it right: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding." Those are deadly words to those who assert that they have no need of God. Those are words of life to those who have learned differently.
4. "If God is dead, everything is permitted."
Read the rest here
When Robert went to Edinburgh University, he left this childhood faith and never returned. He formed a club that had as one of its mottos, “Ignore everything that our parents taught us.” His father found this written on a piece of paper and was informed by Robert that he no longer believed in the Christian faith.
The father, in an overstatement that carries the weight of sorrow, not the precision of truth, said, “You have rendered my whole life a failure.”
Robert wrote to an unbelieving friend, “It was really pathetic to hear my father praying pointedly for me today at family worship, and to think the poor man’s supplications were addressed to nothing better able to hear and answer than the chandelier.”
The path would not be altered, nor the father’s sorrow. In the end, Robert pursued a married woman. She divorced her husband to marry him. Depression was not cured by alcohol. They sailed to the Samoan Islands in the South Seas, where Robert died suddenly at age 44 of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1894.
He wrote that “the sods cover us, and the worm that never dies, the conscience sleeps well at last, [and life is a] pilgrimage from nothing to nowhere.”
A son is not a father’s only life-investment, but there is none like it, and when it fails, there is no sorrow like this sorrow.
His mother Florence had died of cancer when Lewis was 9. His father did not remarry. There were ample defects on both sides—father and son. But the wounding of the son was more conscious and almost brutal.
By the time Lewis was 20 in 1919, he was, to his father’s dismay, an avowed atheist. That Summer, in fact, he was probably in a sexual affair with a woman old enough to be his mother and living off his father’s money at Oxford University, and lying to him about it all.
Albert wrote in his journal about the breakdown in his relationship with his younger son, and one explosive encounter in particular when he discovered that the young man had lied to him about his bank account:
He said he had no respect for me—nor confidence in me.... That all my love and devotion and self-sacrifice should have come to this—that he doesn’t respect me. That he doesn’t trust me.... I have during the past four weeks passed through one of the most miserable periods of my life—in many respects the most miserable.... The loss of Jack’s affection, if it be permanent, is irreparable and leaves me very miserable and heart sore.Albert dared mention this pain a few months later in a letter to his son, and received back a remorseless response in which the son explained how his previous bluntness was beneficial:
As regards the other matter of which you spoke in your letters...I am sure you will agree with me that the confidence and affection which we both desire are more likely to be restored by honest effort on both sides and toleration—such as is always necessary between imperfect human creatures—than by any answer of mine which was not perfectly sincere.Some truth there, but no contrition.
Amazingly, both Stevenson’s and Lewis’s fathers kept on sending stipends to their sons through the years of rejection. In spite of words like, “I am simply incapable of cohabiting any house with my father” (Stevenson); and, “I really can’t face him” (Lewis), the fathers kept supporting their sons.
Six years after his father’s death, Lewis wrote to a friend to catch him up on the last decade: “My father is dead.... I have deep regrets about all my relations with my father (but thank God they were best at the end). I am going bald. I am a Christian.”
Perhaps sending money through the broken years was the right thing to do. Perhaps not. What it shows is not approval, nor that the sorrow had disappeared. Rather, it reveals a kind of bond between fathers and sons that is the foundation of pain, not its removal.
[My biographical sources are Iain Murray, The Undercover Revolution: How Fiction Changed Britain (2009); and Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis
“Don’t go to church. Be the church.”
Now, despite the element of truth (God’s people are the church), there are all kinds of things wrong with this statement. But behind the words is obviously someone’s disappointment (and possibly disillusionment) with organized Christianity. And although I’d guess that many Christians would reject this false choice, their attitude to Sunday gatherings of the church may reveal a similar apathy.
To fight such apathy, we all need a biblical perspective on what is taking place on Sunday—a perspective that can transform our attitude toward “going to church.” And it’s this perspective that the writer of Hebrews gives us when he describes the ongoing worship service we join when we gather to worship each Sunday.
Mount Sinai and Mount Zion
In Hebrews the writer presents a striking contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, between the experience of the people of God under the old covenant and their experience under the new covenant.
In verses 18–21 the writer recounts the gathering at Mount Sinai (as recorded in Exodus 19). After their deliverance from Egypt, God gathered his people and made a covenant with them. He constituted them as a nation, his very own people.
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”Now look at the gathering at Mount Zion described in verses 22–24:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.What a contrast.
At Mount Sinai everything served to emphasize the chasm between God and these people. At Mount Zion everything encourages us to come boldly into God’s presence. There, at Mount Sinai, the scene itself is frightening—fire, darkness, gloom. Here, at Mount Zion, is a gleaming city, the New Jerusalem, the place where God dwells with his covenant people.
At Mount Sinai the sounds are frightening—whirlwind, trumpet blast, unutterable words. At Mount Zion is the sound of exuberant and celebratory praise.
At Mount Sinai was a solemn gathering filled with fear. Here at Mount Zion is a joyful assembly of those whose names are forever written in the Lamb’s book of life.
There at Mount Sinai was a picture of the unapproachability of God’s holy presence. But here at Mount Zion is a picture of full access into the presence of God through the mediator Jesus Christ.
Now think about your church. Think about the people with whom you serve, live, and worship. Have you fully grasped just what your local church is and what it’s doing on a Sunday morning? Your local church is one authentic, visible manifestation of the entire people of God for all time. It is a part of the heavenly throng that even now is worshiping before the throne of God. And we get to be part of that!
Think about this gathering, which includes—
Angels. We are worshiping with creatures before whom we would be tempted to fall down in terror and worship, if we could see them.
The spirits of the righteous-made-perfect. Here are the heroes from Hebrews 11—Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and David—mighty men of God, mighty prophets who trusted God, so endued with power that they stopped lion’s mouths and put foreign armies to flight. We are worshiping with them.
Faithful saints. These men and women endured torture and refused deliverance if it meant compromise. They chose a stoning pit or a chopping block before they would deny Jesus. And if they survived, they joyfully embraced poverty, deprivation, and persecution. They feared God and they feared sinning more than they feared man—all so that they might receive something better. And when we worship, we join them before the throne of God, who remains “a consuming fire” (v. 29).
We come to Jesus. He is there, our mediator, whose sprinkled blood cleanses us from sin. His blood “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (v. 24). Abel’s blood cried out for judgment, but Jesus’s blood cries out for mercy.
So back to your home church this upcoming Sunday. When you enter and the music begins, what are you more aware of? Is it the song set? the musicians? the mix? Does the worship band wow you? Does the routine bore you?
Or do you perceive something beyond all this?
Your church is one authentic manifestation of the entire people of God that right now is worshiping before the throne of God. That is the reality of new covenant worship. And when we begin to wrap our minds around that, there springs to mind a thousand reasons to rejoice, to praise, and to sing; and to renounce flippancy, self-display, selfishness, superficiality, sloppiness, and thoughtlessness.
Before the God who is a consuming fire, we don’t shuffle in casually. We don’t demand our artistic preferences. We don’t merely gather with our friends. We don’t merely sing together. As the people of God, we enter into the very presence of God. Encountering God in this way is the very nature of the church. By definition, to be the church is to gather in God’s presence and to worship God together. And when we begin singing, we join the glorious worship that takes place unceasingly before the throne of God.
This is true regardless of how we feel, who leads worship, what songs we sing, or how we think worship went. There is something incredible happening on Sunday morning!
Be the church and go to church. Something eternal is going on in there. Don’t miss it.
by Jeff Purswell
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Here is a striking sentence about Lewis’s lifelong pursuit: “Lewis’s perpetual task both as a defender of Christianity and as an advocate of medieval literature is to call people to delight” (p. 190).
One of his paths to this “perpetual task” was his analysis of the devil’s use of pleasure. Screwtape (speaking for the devil—“Our Father”—in The Screwtape Letters) says to one of his under-devils:
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which he has forbidden.... An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.... To get a man's soul and give him nothing in return—that's what really gladdens Our Father's heart. (quoted in The Narnian, 189)This is an astonishing view of pleasure. Hell has never been able to produce one! It can only misuse the ones that God created—in “times,” “ways,” and “degrees” that God forbids.
This means that all the debased enjoyments of the world are echoes of the joys of heaven. The analysis of this is worth a lifetime. And one effect of such an analysis would be to take the notion of “seeker-sensitive” ten miles deeper into Truth. How to penetrate the soul whose every desire is for Heaven while hating Heaven—that is the task.
By John Piper
Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe you must draw him with a long neck. If in your bold creative way you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. (Orthodoxy, 71)When I read this I remembered the thoughts I had in writing the advent poem called The Innkeeper.
So quickly do we pass over the Christmas words, “Herod...slew all the male children…two years old and under.” But the poet lingers, weeping, raging, looking at the dark spot, in hope that any prick of light might become a portal for the sun. And what he sees he strains with words to show—pressing us against the perforation in the wall of pain.I pray that this advent season every part of the Great Story will have a fresh luster because it is a Granite Fact.
Why this struggle? Why does the poet bind his heart with such a severe discipline of form? Why strain to give shape to suffering? Because Reality has contours. God is who he is, not what we wish or try to make him be. His Son, Jesus Christ, is the great granite Fact. His hard sacrifice makes it evident that our spontaneity needs Calvary-like discipline.
Perhaps the innkeeper paid dearly for housing the Son of God. Should it not be costly to penetrate and portray this pain? The Innkeeper seeks to reveal the Light that shines behind this brutal moment in history and our own path of suffering. Come and see! (3)
By John Piper - Desiring God
How should we pray in these situations? Would you ask God to provide a new job? Would you petition him for a spouse? Would you quietly ask for six more inches for your son? How would you pray?
Here’s Jeremiah Burroughs’ (1599-1646) answer:
Therefore for my part, if I should have a friend or brother or one who was as dear to me as my own soul, whom I saw discontented for the want of such a comfort, I would rather pray, “Lord, keep this thing from them, till you shall be pleased to humble their hearts for their discontent; let not them have the mercy till they come to be humbled for their discontent over the want of it, for if they have it before that time they will have it without any blessing” (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 159).In other words, if people think they can’t live without some thing, they’ll still be miserable even when they get the thing they wanted so badly. Burroughs goes on to suggest:
There are many things which you desire as your lives, and think that you would be happy if you had them, yet when they come you do not find such happiness in then, but they prove to be the greatest crosses and afflictions that you ever had, and on this ground, because your hearts were immoderately set upon them before you had them.So be careful how you pray. As Tim Keller (or was it that spirit of Jeremiah Burroughs?) has written, “We never imagine that getting our heart’s deepest desires might be the worst thin that can ever happen to us” (Counterfeit Gods, 1).
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
● President Obama was in China yesterday. To foster a spirit of goodwill, he wore the traditional clothes made by the children of China: L.L. Bean, J Crew, Banana Republic, Nike, Reebok . . .
● That’s the No. 1 movie at the box office this week. The end-of-the-world action film, “2012.” In the movie, California is crumbling, America is in shambles, and people are forced to abandon their homes. 2012? It should have been called “2009.”
Late Show Top Ten
Top Ten Signs Your NFL Team Owner Is Nuts
10. Married to a tackling dummy
9. Team plays in North Carolina, builds new stadium in North Dakota
8. Only reason he hired head coach was because he had his own whistle
7. Encourages vendors to sell beer to players during game
6. Asked owner of Detroit Lions for tips on building a winner
5. He just tested positive for steroids
4. Pregame pep talk — asks team to lose by more than seven-and-a-half
3. Thinks "Things More Fun Than Reading The Sarah Palin Memoir" isn't funny
2. His motto: "If we want to win as a team, we shower as a team"
1. Gives players the weekend off