Friday, December 2, 2011

Bob Costas Lights Up NFL Hotshots

Amen and amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Christ Is All

From The Valley of Vision:

O Lover to the Uttermost,

May I read the meltings of thy heart to me
in the manger of thy birth,
in the garden of thy agony,
in the cross of thy suffering,
in the tomb of thy resurrection,
in the heaven of thy intercession.

Bold in this thought I defy my adversary,
tread down his temptations,
resist his schemings,
renounce the world,
am valiant for truth.

Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationship to thee,
as spiritual Bridegroom,
as Jehovah's Fellow,
as sinners' Friend.

I think of thy glory and my vileness,
thy majesty and my meanness,
thy beauty and my deformity,
thy purity and my filth,
thy righteousness and my iniquity.

Thou hast loved me everlastingly, unchangeably,
may I love thee as I am loved;
Thou has given thyself for me,
may I give myself to thee;
Thou has died for me,
may I live to thee,
in every moment of my time,
in every movement of my mind,
in every pulse of my heart.

May I never dally with the world and its allurements,
but walk by thy side,
listen to thy voice,
be clothed with thy graces,
and adorned with thy righteousness.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You're a Pharisaical Legalist!

Is it just me, or is this epithet becoming all too common in evangelical churches? 

I'm writing this in response to a brilliant article posted by Jared Wilson a few weeks ago. I've always felt a mixture of emotion whenever someone pulls out the Pharisee card. Knowing legalism was a sin, I could never quite put my finger on why it rubbed me the wrong way. Jared hits the nail on the head, and I finally feel like I understand my mixed reaction to the charge of "Pharisee" (or it's cousin, "religious person").

As someone who (loosely) identifies with the New Calvinist movement, I enjoy listening to sermons by Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler and others like them, but something about their message always seemed a little "off". Don't get me wrong - these are great men of the faith who have a heart for the gospel, and in no way am I questioning their salvation or downplaying their ministries. But they are often far too quick to point fingers at "religious people" and blame them for all that is wrong with Christianity today. I rarely hear a Matt Chandler sermon where he doesn't stray completely off topic and go on a 10-minute rant against "Bible-belt Christianity", or a Mark Driscoll sermon where "religious people" aren't demonized as the scourge of Christianity. These men are idolized by a millions of young Christians (both in age and maturity) who are trying to break away from the fundamentalism of the 20th century, but I'm afraid they have swung the pendulum too far.

The tag "Pharisee" or "religious person" has now come to be synonymous with any professing Christian who holds more deeply held convictions than yourself. Recipients of this charge are often older people. I readily agree that the Pharisees were an evil, self-righteous group that hated Christ and his message. But if this is true, then calling someone a Pharisee is a very serious charge. And blaming "religious people" for all the problems in the church is just as serious; and more significantly, it sends a mixed message to the unbelieving world. I have no problem identifying myself as a religious person, if by that term you mean I am a devout person of faith, which is what the world understands a religious person to be. I would argue that the term "religious" has been hijacked by those who view Christian liberty as the pinnacle of piety, and consider any convictions on non-essential doctrines to be legalistic.

Jared Wilson is correct: the "religious person" boogeyman is a bullying tactic meant to intentionally offend. Akin to the oft-used "race card", I think it betrays its user's ignorance all too clearly. If there are members of your church who a struggling with self-righteousness and legalism, why is this elevated to the unforgiveable sin?

I have seen this play out in my own church, and, like Jared, I've discovered that the so-called legalists are not as numerous as you might think. I have, however, overheard conversations among younger members of our music ministry who would deliberately choose more upbeat, "rock" renditions of hymns to "scare the old people".

This is not representative of a gospel-centered Christian, and I would argue that the person throwing the "Pharisee" card is more self-righteous than the person they are condeming. Because I couldn't say it any better myself, I will close by quoting Jared Wilson: "If you've got real legalists in your church -- and you do -- the only way to intentionally offend them is by preaching the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Everything else is just vain posturing and provocation."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Christ The Word

From The Valley of Vision:

My Father,

In a world of created changeable things,
Christ and his Word alone remain unshaken.
O to forsake all creatures,
to rest as a stone on him the foundation,
to abide in him, be borne up by him!

For all my mercies come through Christ,
who has designed, purchased, promised, effected them.
How sweet it is to be near him, the Lamb,
filled with holy affections!

When I sin against thee I cross thy will, love, life,
and have no comforter, no creature, to go to.
My sin is not so much this or that particular evil,
but my continual separation, disunion, distance from thee,
and having a loose spirit towards thee.

But thou hast given me a present, Jesus thy Son,
as Mediator between thyself and my soul,
as middle-man who in a pit holds both him below and him above,
for only he can span the chasm breached by sin,
and satsify divine justice.

May I always lay hold upon this Mediator,
as a realized object of faith,
and alone worthy by his love to bridge the gulf.

Let me know that he is dear to me by his Word;
I am one with him by the Word on his part,
and by faith on mine;
If I oppose the Word I oppose my Lord when he is most near;
If I receive the Word I receive my Lord wherein he is nigh.

O thou who hast the hearts of all men in thine hand,
form my heart according to the Word,
according to the image of thy Son,
So shall Christ the Word, and his Word,
be my strength and comfort.

Friday, September 30, 2011

180 Movie: People Change Their Minds About Abortion in Seconds

I just watched this short documentary put together by Ray Comfort a couple days ago, and was blown away. Comfort uses history to cut to the heart of people and make them think twice about what "sanctity of life" really means.

Check it out here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is Evangelical Minimalistic Christianity a Failure?

Ben Witherington has posted a transcript of the address given by Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary at their September Convocation. I found Dr. Tennent's analysis of the current state of American Evangelicalism to be spot-on. Below is an excerpt:
"Somewhere in America at some church meeting a decision was reached to change the name of the place they worshipped from the word “sanctuary” to “worship center” or “celebration center.”  Furthermore, they decided to build a space which could be used as a gymnasium during the week and a place of worship on Sunday.  Having a dedicated space only for worship seemed liked a shocking waste of money.  Indeed, they had at least 5 good reasons for doing this.  What concerns me is that they probably never stopped to reflect theologically that there just might be 6 reasons to not do it.  Of course, maybe there were only four and the “celebration center” in the gym would have carried the day.  The point is, that reflection never even happened."

You can read the whole thing here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

He Has Told You, O Man, What Is Good

"With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8 

 The prophet here is asking how he can possibly present himself as acceptable in the sight of God, in light of the fact that the Lord has rejected his people and threatened disaster despite their (outward) observance of the law. We can hear them saying, "We are following your law, Lord. What more do you want? More burnt offerings? More oil to anoint our priests? Sacrifice of our firstborn?" This is an example of what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 23:23 - the people of Israel were attempting to follow the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. Verses 6 and 7 show Israel's attempt to placate God through additional good works. As Matthew Henry brilliantly puts it, "They bid high, yet they do not bid right". Still thinking in terms of outward, external observance, they stoop so low as to suggest that the pagan practice of child sacrifice might somehow please God. This practice was expressly forbidden by God (Lev. 18:21) yet they eventually adopted it for themselves (2 Kings 3:27; 16:3; 21:6; 23:10). In verse 8, the Lord finally interjects the model for what he requires of his people; justice, kindness, humility towards God. These parallel the "justice, mercy, and faithfulness" described by Jesus in Matthew 23 as being neglected by the Pharisees. These qualities are not a prerequisite for salvation but rather proof of it. "He has told you, O man, what is good". What God reveals as good is what we should be constantly striving for. And he has not been unclear. These attributes are as applicable to us today as they were to the Israelites. And they were fully exhibited in the character of Christ.

What can we learn from this passage? We learn that God has clearly shown us in Scripture what he requires of us. We learn that he rejects mere outward observance of morality. And we learn that it is important to diligently seek out what God has called good, and make that our standard.

In our pursuit of holiness, let us make sure we are not merely "bidding high", but "bidding right" when it comes to following Christ. We could never bid high enough to make ourselves acceptable in God's sight. If there were something we could do make ourselves presentable, then there would have been no need for Christ to die. It is sheer arrogance to take God's revelation of what is good, twist it into a checklist of do's and dont's that is nothing more than moralism, and then present it to him as some great accomplishment on our part. "What more do you want Lord? More frequent church attendance? More money in the offering plate? Me to become a nicer person?"

He has told you, O man, what is good. It is our responsibility to believe and obey.

The Gift of Gifts

From The Valley of Vision:

O Source of all good,

What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
his self-emptying incomprehensible,
his infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders;
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes lifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him thou hast given me so much
that heaven can give no more.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The United States Budget

This comparison really puts it into perspective...

Monday, September 5, 2011

For The Joy That Was Set Before Him

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin  which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:1-2

Have you ever wondered what this joy was that Christ had to enable him to endure the cross? How could someone possibly find joy in their impending crucifixion? Some would say that it was because he loved the world so much, and we were on his mind as he carried his cross to Calvary. While it is true that he was motivated by love, I believe a stronger influence drove him to the cross. Before I answer the question, let's take a look at what exactly joy is, according to the Scriptures. Proverbs 10:28 says, "The hope of the righteous brings joy." According to Galatians 5:22, joy is a fruit of the Spirit; in other words, joy is the natural by-product of someone who is living their life in accordance with the will of God. In 2 Corinthians 8, we see that the churches of Macedonia were enduring a "severe test of affliction", yet "their abundance of joy and extreme poverty..overflowed in a wealth of generosity". The Macedonian believers were abounding in joy despite their severe trials. Joy is distinct from happiness, in that joy transcends our circumstances. Joy goes deeper, and is felt in spite of our difficulties. Every believer's life should be marked by joy. The source of our joy is not circumstances, feelings, or the pleasures of this world, which are all fleeting and temporary. So what should be the source of our joy?

Towards the end of the Gospel of John, in Jesus' final hours with his disciples, he describes for them why he has come, and gives them instructions for after he has ascended to the Father. In three places, he talks about their joy being made full.
"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." John 15:11
"Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." John 16:24
"These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves." John 17:13
Jesus wants his joy to be fulfilled in them. So we are back to our original question, "What was Jesus' joy?" I believe the answer is found in the context of John 15:11. From the beginning of Chapter 15, Jesus emphasizes several times that his disciples are to abide in him, in order to bear fruit for the kingdom. That is what glorifies the Father, and what proves to the world that they are his disciples (v. 8). The key verses are 10-11: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." Do you see it? Jesus' joy was derived from keeping the Father's commandments and abiding in his love.

Jesus chose to endure the cross because the joy of pleasing his Father and being obedient to his will was more important than the temporary sufferings he was about to experience. Isaiah 53:10 tells us that it was the Father's will to crush him. Jesus willingly submitted to his Father's plan.

When we are faithfully obedient to Christ in spite of our circumstances, as he was to the Father, then the same joy he experienced can be ours also, just as he promised. Obeying Christ is to be the source of our joy, and, fittingly, Christ is the ultimate example of faithful obedience. We now must ask ourselves, If Christ was willing to endure the cross in order to remain obedient to his Father's will, to what lengths are we willing to go to obey him?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Receiving the Bible for the First Time

Every Christian needs to take 10 minutes and watch this video...these amazing people really put things into perspective. I guarantee you will be blessed.

A Famine of the Word of God

"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord God, "when I will send a famine on the land - not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it."
Amos 8:11-12

These must have been sobering words coming from the mouth of the prophet. It is hard to imagine the depths of such a curse - to seek the word of the Lord and not be able to find it. We must remember that God does not pronounce this judgment upon those who truly seek him, but upon those who willingly choose to repeatedly reject his words. In this case God's judgment came as the result of the people's rejection of Amos' prophetic warnings. Amos was a simple shepherd and farmer, of little influence in the sight of the religious elite. When he pronounced judgment on Israel, Amaziah the priest told him, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom". God gave the people of Israel exactly what they wanted: a removal of his word from the land.

 We see in Scripture that when people repeatedly and deliberately reject the words of God, and seek their own path, he eventually turns them over to their own devices. What appears to be man achieving freedom from God's rules is actually God's judgment upon him. We see this in Romans 1, where the phrase "God gave them up" is used three times. He gave them up to the impure lusts of their heart, to dishonorable passions, and to a debased mind. While this passage is often cited as a description of the sinfulness of homosexuality, take a look at vv. 29-31. This passage is actually a description of all of us, left to our own devices, devoid of the restraining influence of the word of God.

As sons who have been adopted into the family of God and who are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17) of the glorious inheritance of the saints (Eph. 1:18), we should thank God each day that his grace has been lavished upon us (Eph. 1:8) through the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). The body of Christ need not fear God's judgment because we are being guarded by God's power through faith (1 Pet. 1:5).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An Article About Bigotry and Bullying

I found this article to be one of the most accurate and well-stated expressions of the concern over the homosexual agenda. It is important to know where we stand and why. Mr. Turek does a great job of logically outlining his rationale, using facts and not propaganda.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Present Salvation

From The Valley of Vision:

Creator and Redeemer God,

Author of all existence, source of all blessedness,
I adore thee for making me capable of knowing thee,
for giving me reason and conscience,
for leading me to desire thee;

I praise thee for the revelation of thyself in the gospel,
for thy heart as a dwelling place of pity,
for thy thoughts of peace towards me,
for thy patience and thy graciousness,
for the vastness of thy mercy.

Thou hast moved my conscience to know how
the guilty can be pardoned,
the unholy sanctified,
the poor enriched.

May I be always amongst those who not only hear but know thee,
who walk with and rejoice in thee,
who take thee at thy word and find life there.

Keep me always longing for a present salvation
in Holy Spirit comforts and rejoicings,
for spiritual graces and blessings,
for help to value my duties as well as my privileges.

May I cherish simplicity and godly sincerity of character.

Help me to be in reality before thee
as in appearance I am before men,
to be religious before I profess religion,
to leave the world before I enter the church,
to set my affections on things above,
to shun forbidden follies and vanities,
to be a dispenser as well as a partaker of grace,
to be prepared to bear evil as well as to do good.

O God, make me worthy of this calling,
that the name of Jesus may be glorified in me
and I in him.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A New Bible Reading Plan

UPDATE 9-25-11: The link at the bottom will direct you to the corrected plan - the original one left out the book of Lamentations. I also reordered the OT books into more of a chronological sequence.

If you read my earlier post about digging deeper into the Bible, you may have noticed I'm not a huge fan of daily checklist Bible reading plans that have you reading multiple chapters per day from different books of the Bible. I feel it destroys the cohesiveness of the Scriptures and doesn't give you the continuity that the original hearers experienced. After all, chapter and verse divisions were not introduced until the 14th and 16th centuries, respectively. These plans also turn Bible reading into a checklist that can cause discouragement if you fall behind. So I decided to create my own Bible reading plan, one that allows you to read the Scriptures as they were meant to be read, a book at a time. I've only discovered one other Bible reading plan that is structured this way, the Discipleship Journal reading plan, which can be found here.

My plan is different, however, in that it does not give you a daily reading to check off the list. It is simply a list of the books of the Bible, alternating between OT and NT books (with a few exceptions). If you decide you still want to read through the entire Bible in one year, the plan does include approximate dates of when to start reading each book, and how many days it should take you to get through each one, but the plan is designed so that you read at your own pace. You can spend as little or as much time as you like each day reading, and you are not limited by a checklist. You can read an entire book in one sitting if you prefer. If you decide to follow the dates and read through the Bible in a year, the plan will take you through the OT once, the NT twice, and Proverbs three times, averaging 4 chapters per day. For the most part, OT books are ordered chronologically, with Psalms and Proverbs interspersed throughout, and NT books are ordered as they are found in the Bible, with smaller books grouped together as a single reading.

The link below will take you to the plan. You can enter any start date, and all the dates will autofill for you.

Book-at-a-Time Bible Reading Plan

I would love to hear your feedback!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

One thing I've noticed from being a father is just how much we can learn about ourselves from babies. Watching the way they react to certain situations can speak volumes about our human nature. Just this evening, I was playing with my 6-month old daughter, Eliana. I was sitting on the couch, with her in my lap. She had several different toys surrounding her: a purple teething ring, a stuffed animal, a musical octopus that plays music when you squeeze its tentacles; you know, exciting stuff to a 6-month old, right? Oh, she enjoyed them for a minute or two, but soon she became distracted by other things. She reached for my Bible that was sitting on the armrest nearby. I moved it out of the way. She quickly noticed the remote control sitting nearby, and began to grasp at it. "That's not a toy", I said. Becoming increasingly frustrated, she began looking around for anything that would pique her interest further. Then her gaze landed on the iPad, sitting on the other side of the couch. Again she began lunging forward to try to grab a hold, even though she was barely strong enough to even move it. Again I moved it out of her sight (it's distracting enough even for an adult). 

As I witnessed this little episode, I began to get a glimpse of what God must feel as he watches over us, his creation. In his mercy and grace, he showers blessings upon us, providing for our every need. We are never lacking for teething rings and stuffed animals. In his wisdom, he measures out our daily bread, just enough for the present need, and cautions us against those things that will cause us harm. Yet, how often do we brush these gifts aside and begin to pursue other things? The world is full of distractions. The newer, bigger, better, faster thing is always being dangled in front of our noses. Human nature, as exhibited by Eliana, is to go after those things, believing that they will somehow satisfy the longing in our souls. In essence, we are saying to God, "Your provision is no longer good enough; I need something better".

I thank God for this gentle yet sobering reminder tonight. Like all of us, my daughter was born into sin, and she needs a Savior to rescue her from the curse of the fall. I pray she comes to that realization when she grows up. Her actions tonight were perfectly consistent with the sinful nature we all possess. It would be nothing but foolishness for me, as an adult and as one who has been redeemed from the curse and who has tasted the heavenly gifts, to ignore this important lesson.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Divine Mercies

From The Valley of Vision:

Thou Eternal God,

Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable goodness,
super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean's 'lip'
as number thy favours towards me;
I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.

I thank thee for personal mercies,
a measure of health, preservation of body,
comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food and clothing,
continuance of mental powers,
my family, their mutual help and support,
the delights of domestic harmony and peace,
the seats now filled that might have been vacant,
my county, church, Bible, faith.

But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness,
the days that add to my guilt,
the scenes that witness my offending tongue;

All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without,
condemn me -
the sun which sees my misdeeds,
the darkness which is light to thee,
the cruel accuser who justly charges me,
the good angels who have been provoked to leave me,
thy countenance which scans my secret sins,
thy righteous law, thy Holy Word,
my sin-soiled conscience, my private and public life,
my neighbours, myself -
all write dark things against me.
I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess,
'Father, I have sinned';

Yet still I live, and fly repenting to thy outstretched arms;
thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
thou wilt not condemn me, for he died in my stead,
thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin,
for he levelled all,
and his beauty covers my deformities.

O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging to his cross,
hiding in his wounds, and sheltering in his side.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bibles, Bibles, Bibles

ESV Pitt Minion (On the Shelf)I've got a thing for Bibles. I currently have around 20 on my bookshelf, not to mention many more I have given away. I enjoy comparing translations and admiring covers, binding, and typeface. I know, I know...weird. Don't get me wrong, I treasure the Word of God for its message, not the aesthetics of the book itself. But there is just something about a Bible that sits perfectly in the hand, with a clear, elegant typeset, making reading a pleasure. Companies like R. L. Allan and Cambridge Bibles produce high-quality Bibles that, on more than one occasion, have forced me to repent of covetousness.

For any of you who may share this interest, I commend to you the Bible Design and Binding Blog. By way of warning, after reading the blog, you may suddenly find your bookshelf several Bibles heavier and your wallet several dollars lighter.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Psalm About God's Apparent Indifference

In Psalm 10, we see the psalmist struggling with God's apparent indifference to the injustices that plague our world. The psalmist wastes no time in getting to his inquiry with verse 1:
"Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"
This same question written by an anonymous psalmist 3,000 years ago is posed by many today. How many times, after tragedy strikes somewhere on the globe, do we see this question being asked by skeptics? How many times has Larry King invited a well-known preacher or evangelist on his show to "explain themselves for what their God allowed"? Society asks, "Where was God when _________ happened? If God is good, why did he allow _________ to happen?" These are important questions that deserve answers, but unfortunately, many of those who are asking them do so not out of a genuine desire to understand God's ways, but with a defiant, unbelieving attitude that is eager to use the tragedy as further excuse for them to reject the Almighty God. In essence, they are declaring, "If God existed, he would not have allowed ________ to happen".

All people throughout history have questioned God's purposes in allowing bad things to happen to "good" people (even though Romans 3 makes it clear that no one is good), and why he allows injustice. Believers and unbelievers alike ask this same question, but as we have seen, the motive behind the question is quite different. Believers, like the psalmist, ask the question out of a desire to see the establishment of God's justice on the earth, in faith that He can and will vindicate the oppressed. Non-believers ask the question out of defiant unbelief, demanding that God prove himself to them in the manner of their choosing. As we see in Psalm 10, the righteous person trusts in God's sovereignty over all situations.

I wrote up a brief outline of the Psalm to get a better idea of the psalmist's thought process:

I. Question posed (v. 1)
II. Observations made (vv. 2-11)
III. Plea for justice (vv. 12-15)
IV. Prediction of God's faithfulness (vv. 16-18)

I encourage you to read this psalm prayerfully, and note the psalmist's heart attitude toward God's actions in the midst of trouble. Take comfort in the closing verses,
"The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Just Follow Your Heart?

In Jeremiah 13, God tells Jeremiah to do something strange. He tells him to go and buy a linen loincloth (underwear), and hide it in a crevice of some rocks. After many days, Jeremiah is told to go and retrieve the loincloth, but by this time it is ruined and useless. God has a lesson to teach Jeremiah from the ruined loincloth:
"Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing."
Not surprisingly, God is pronouncing judgment on the people of Israel for their "great pride", which is a sin in the sight of God (see Proverbs 21:4 and 2 Timothy 3:1-2). Their pride is manifested in the refusal to listen to God's words, the following of their own hearts, and their idolatry. Sounds alot like the period of the Judges, where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes".

Contrary to the world's claims that pride is good thing, and contrary to its mantra "just follow your heart", God is declaring here that such thinking is stubborn and sinful. Later, in chapter 17, he declares,
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds".
Proverbs 21:2 tells us,
"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart".  
Clearly God's Word is trying to tell us something about the dangers of following our own hearts. In the New Testament, a similar theme is used by the apostle Paul in Romans 8. The following of your heart is described in terms of "living according to the flesh":

  • Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh (v. 5)
  • To set the mind on the flesh is death (v. 6)
  • The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God (v. 7)
  • Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (v. 8)
  • If you live according to the flesh, you will die (v. 13)
So we see that following our hearts is foolish, sinful, and dangerous. If we can't trust our own hearts, what are we left with? Paul gives us the answer in the very same chapter,
" You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you".
As part of God's miraculous work of regeneration, he has given us new hearts and new desires, as foretold by the prophet Ezekiel:
"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules".

The solution is to live by the promptings of the Spirit God has given to us each and every day, and to conform our lives to the objective truths laid out in Scripture. Then we will be able to discern between the foolish inclinations of our own hearts, and the holy commands of the Spirit.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Jesus vs. America?

Should Christians be involved in politics?

I do not have an answer to this question. That being said, I do not believe it is sinful for a Christian to use a particular platform or political office to effect change, as long as it is in conformity with God's Word. My concern lies, however, in the apparent "Americolatry" exhibited by many of the so-called "Christian right". Many conservative Christians have been duped into thinking that America is and always has been a Christian nation, and that now the liberals are taking us down the wrong path. Many see America as "the great hope" for the world. Therefore, these "America-worshipers" get all up in arms when Democrats have their way, as if their very lives were at stake. They want to take back the country for Jesus, as if America is God's chosen people. I cringe whenever I see The Patriot's Bible on the shelves in bookstores. Do we worship America or Jesus Christ?? You can't worship both. To try to somehow mix God's Word with out-of-context quotes from our founding fathers, as if they are somehow equally inspired by God, is nothing short of blasphemous. Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence, denied the Deity of Christ by brazenly cutting out all the verses in the Gospels describing supernatural events, including the resurrection of Christ.

A few points:

1) Patriotism is not a sin. In fact, it is a good thing to support our nation and be grateful to God for the blessings we enjoy. But when we let our mood and our demeanor be affected by the state of affairs either in Washington or on Wall Street, we have crossed the line. God is in control, and he can accomplish his purposes with or without America.

2) As believers, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven. Why don't we start focusing more on the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of America? Think about this: Jesus Christ lived under one of the most oppressive, cruel, inhumane empires to ever exist on earth. How many prayer rallies did he lead in the streets of Rome? How many manifestos did he write about the moral decline throughout the empire? How many times did he denounce the sexual deviancy that was so prevalent, or the slave trade that was so common? Answer: NONE. In fact, we see the opposite. Jesus did not want his followers getting caught up in the affairs of the government, if it meant that they would be neglecting the things of God. Peter and Paul both exhorted all Christians to be subject to the Roman empire, which is striking considering the fact that Christians were being regularly murdered by Nero's regime.

3) America does not have a monopoly on Christianity. We should be more concerned with the state of the Church in America than we should about the state of the government or economy. Which will matter more on the day of judgment? As believers, getting caught up in "America" takes our eyes off our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are still being murdered for their faith. Their plight is something we will likely never experience, but this is not because America itself is so great. God is blessing us in spite of America's sins.

God is not an American, and he is not even a Republican. He does not care what political party you support. He cares about your allegiance to Him and Him alone. Politics and patriotism are secondary.

Man's Great End

From The Valley of Vision:

Lord of all being,

There is one thing that deserves my greatest care,
that calls forth my ardent desires,
That is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made -
to glorify thee who hast given me being,
and to do all the good I can for my fellow men;
Verily, life is not worth having
if it be not improved for this noble purpose.

Yet, Lord, how little is this the thought of mankind!
Most men seem to live for themselves,
without much or any regard for thy glory,
or for the good of others;
They earnestly desire and eagerly pursue
the riches, honours, pleasures of this life,
as if they supposed that wealth, greatness, merriment,
could make their immortal souls happy;
But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these!
And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them,
for all our happiness consists in loving thee,
and being holy as thou art holy.

O may I never fall into the tempers and vanities,
the sensuality and folly of the present world!
It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness;
Time is a moment, a vapour,
and all its enjoyments are empty bubbles,
fleeting blasts of wind,
from which nothing satisfactory can be derived;
Give me grace always to keep in covenant with thee,
and to reject as delusion a great name here or hereafter,
together with all sinful pleasures or profits.

Help me to know continually
that there can be no true happiness,
no fulfulling of thy purpose for me,
apart from a life lived in and for
the Son of thy love.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Our Wondrously Angry God

Is God ever angry with Christians? Or is he only love all the time? Kevin DeYoung writes,

"It's sometimes said that once you are justified God can never be angry with you again. This is true if by "anger" you mean "condemnation." But as any parent can testify, deep love for one's children does not eradicate righteous anger for their disobedience. Our anger, actually, can be for their good. The same is true of God and his anger toward us as his justified, adopted children."

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pursuing Christ At All Costs: Matt Chandler on Philippians 3

Our church small group is currently working through Matt Chandler's DVD study of the book of Philippians (which I highly recommend), and last night's session was especially convicting. The text was Philippians 3:1-11. In Chandler's typical style, he took a roundabout way of approaching the text, using several illustrations and ideas to get us there. He labored over the point that the Christian life is not a matter of doing right and avoiding wrong, and he drove the point home by showing from Scripture that this is true. The apostle Paul, prior to conversion, had (outwardly) done all the right things. He was an exemplary Jew. In fact, he claimed to have more to boast about than anyone - he was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless". This man was blameless in his zeal for keeping the law, but he did not have Christ. After God in his mercy saved him, Paul said, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". Notice that the things he once had were "gain"; they were not sinful in themselves. The sobering reality is that the things that most often draw us away from pursuing Christ are not sinful in themselves; in fact, they may be good things. But doing good things without knowing Christ is equivalent to unbelief. Don't believe me? Check out Matthew 7:21-23. Those who pursue good behavior without Christ will hear the most terrifying words in all of Scripture: "I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." At this point, Chandler's emotional plea reached a crescendo with this quote: "Paul is saying that if you get all of these things, if you clean up your life on the outside, and make it look like the Christian community says it's supposed to look, but you don't get Jesus, you've lost! Who cares?!".

Chandler's point was this: the Christian life is a passionate pursuit of Christ, not good works. Pursue Christ, and the good works will follow. What about you? Are you more concerned with how well you "look the part" than how passionately you are pursuing Christ? Do you feel like you are doing pretty good in your spiritual walk? Do you view the Christian life as a checklist of right and wrong? Jesus' words in Matthew 7 shows what will be the fate of those who view Christianity only as a right/wrong checklist.

All throughout Scripture, and most notably in the Psalms, we see people longing, pleading for more of God. Check out Psalms 42 and 143 for examples. Even Romans 8 describes how all of creation is groaning for God's redemptive purposes to be fulfilled. So the question becomes, How much do you long for God? Are you constantly pursuing him in every arena of life? Is he first and foremost in your affections? If not, repent, and "lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely" (Heb. 12:1). Get rid of ANYTHING, good or bad, that disengages your mind from the holy. Get rid of all secondary pursuits and set your eyes fully on Christ. Pursue him at all costs - because even if you are left with nothing but Christ, you still have everything.

I close with a mind-blowing thought from Chandler: "Because Christ is infinite, there is always going to be more of him to be had." Think about that. For all of eternity (in the coming ages, Ephesians 2 says) Christ will reveal to us his immeasurable riches. The riches will never be exhausted. The well of living water will never run dry. The bread of life will never cease. So run to him - throw off your moralism and pursue Christ at all costs; only his righteousness can save you.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Trinity

From The Valley of Vision:

Three in One, One in Three, God of My Salvation,

Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit,
I adore thee as one Being, one Essence,
one God in three distinct Persons,
for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom.

O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;
O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature,
shed thine own blood to wash away my sins,
wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness;
O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart,
implanted there eternal life,
revealed to me the glories of Jesus.

Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee,
for love so unmerited, so unspeakable,
so wondrous, so mighty to save the lost
and raise them to glory.

O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion;
O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me;
O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast
exhibited Jesus as my salvation,
implanted faith within me,
subdued my stubborn heart,
made me one with him for ever.

O Father, thou art enthroned to hear my prayers,
O Jesus, thy hand is outstretched to take my petitions,
O Holy Spirit, thou art willing to help my infirmities,
to show me my need, to supply words,
to pray within me, to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication.

O Triune God, who commandeth the universe,
thou hast commanded me to ask for those things
that concern thy kingdom and my soul.

Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Unpacking 1 Peter 3:7

In Thursday's post, I described the "three-question" approach I use when studying the Bible:

1) What does this passage teach?
2) What does this passage command?
3) How can I put these truths into practice?

My daily reading several weeks ago brought me to 1 Peter 3. In context, Peter is describing for the church how to live as the people of God. Starting in the second chapter, he addresses first the believers collectively (2:11-2:17), then servants (2:18), wives (3:1), husbands (3:7), and once again returning to address all the saints as a group (3:8). I take my responsibility as a husband seriously, so I decided to take a closer look at 3:7:

"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered."

1) What does this passage teach?

  • Women are the weaker vessel - Obviously, this does not mean that women are inferior to men. We know that both men and women are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and both are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Peter is referring here to the fact that women in general are physically weaker than men, and that men in no way are to use physical or verbal force to be domineering over their wives.
  • My wife is an heir with me of the grace of life - It is unlikely that "the grace of life" refers to salvation, but rather the blessings and joys experienced in this life, specifically those offered by the marriage relationship. My wife and I are partners in life; I have the honor of sharing it with her.
  • If I don't live considerately towards my wife and don't honor her, my prayers will be hindered - The sentence structure clearly shows that "living in an understanding way" is what prevents my prayers from being hindered. As I learn to understand my wife, her needs and desires, I will be better equipped to know how to pray for her. 
2) What does this passage command?
  • I am to live with my wife in an understanding way - This means I am to live considerately towards her, placing her own feelings, needs, and desires above my own. 
  • I am to show her honor - This is for two reasons: 1) She is the weaker vessel; therefore I am to serve, support, protect, and lead her; and 2) She and I are heirs together of the grace of life; therefore, I honor her as my "helper" (see Gen. 2:20).
3) How can I put these truths into practice? 
  • I will strive to study and learn my wife's needs and desires, and learn to know her more deeply, so that I can better honor her and so that my prayers will not be hindered..
  • I will show interest in her and be considerate towards her.
  • I will honor her, serve her, protect her, lead her, and above all, PRAY FOR HER (The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working, James 5:16).
  • I will not keep my walk with Christ separate from hers, but will strive to share with her my encouragements, my struggles, and will come alongside her to be her support.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Digging Deeper into God's Word

One of the most popular New Year's Resolutions among evangelical Christians is that of reading through the Bible in a year. There are myriads of reading plans available, designed to take the reading through the Bible in many different ways. I have personally tried several different plans, including the Chronological plan, Robert M'Cheyne's plan, and I also experimented with Professor Horner's plan for a month or so. Many plans are divided up into OT and NT readings each day, so the reader does not get "bogged down" in the OT for an extended period of time. While these reading plans are helpful, and reading the Bible daily is something each Christian should practice, too often these plans turn the study of God's word into a checklist. It can play off of our Americanized "achievement mentality", where we base our success and our view of our self-worth on how much we can accomplish. A sense of failure can set in if we fall behind on the reading schedule, and we hurriedly try to catch up by skimming through the reading. 

This utterly defeats the purpose of the Word of God. The Bible is not meant to be read like a newspaper, skimming through chunks of text until we get to the good stuff (familiar passages), or avoiding the parts we are not interested in, those that we do not feel have any relevance to our lives today (Leviticus anybody?). The Bible is meant to be carefully perused, digested, and meditated upon. "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16), so all Scripture is equally relevant and applicable to our daily lives, if we are willing to be patient enough to let the Spirit illuminate it for us. 

I have recently begun the practice of taking a portion of Scripture and breaking it down over the course of days or weeks, wringing out all the possible meaning that God has put into it (I recommend using at least 3-4 verses, to enable you to get the full context). After reading the passage, I meditate on what I have read, asking the Spirit to open my heart to the truths contained in it. After I have obtained an understanding of the context and the main point of the passage, there are three questions that I ask myself to help clarify it in my mind:

1) What does this passage teach? - In other words, what truths are asserted here, about God, about me, about the world? Many 21st-century American Christians are biblically illiterate and feel that the Bible is utterly irrelevant to their lives. After all, the Bible is OLD. The problem with this view is that these people are searching for themselves in the Scripture instead of searching for God. The Bible is not about you, it is about God, and his plan for redeeming his people through Christ. When reading through difficult OT passages, instead of asking, "How does this passage apply to me?", ask, "What does this passage teach me about God and his character?" This approach will open up the Scriptures in a whole new way and teach you to see things from God's perspective.

2) What does this passage command? - Scripture is full of commandments, both direct and indirect. We must be discerning to identify which commandments apply to us today and which were specific to the original hearers. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance as you discern God's will for your life.

3) How can I apply this passage to my life? - This is where the rubber meets the road. Some texts are easier than others to apply (Sermon on the Mount vs. 1 Chronicles). This step is where meditation on the text comes in. Be patient. Take time to be quiet before God and let the Spirit help you discern how you can apply the text to your circumstances. Remember, the Scriptures are first and foremost about God, so use that as the starting point. 

Reading the Scriptures is one of the most important spiritual disciplines the Christian should develop. The Bible should not be read haphazardly or flippantly. Taking time to dig into the word and be patient before God will reap many rewards.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Divine Will

From The Valley of Vision:

O Lord,

I hang on thee; I see, believe, live,
When thy will, not mine, is done;
I can plead nothing in myself
In regard of any worthiness and grace,
In regard of thy providence and promises,
But only thy good pleasure.
If thy mercy make me poor and vile, blessed be thou!
Prayers arising from my needs are preparations for future mercies;
Help me to honour thee by believing before I feel,
For great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith.