Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Difference in Wants

About That Cover....

I absolutely love the cover of Elizabeth Scalia's book  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life

The cover, as you can see to the left,  has a stained glass window- with a difference. Instead of images of saints and biblical characters, there are individual tiny images from our culture's most common diversions, distractions and attractions, including Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. I wonder if it is only a coincidence that we call the little images on our smart phones and tablets "icons."? Are we trying to worship these things, to use them as are sources of meaning and joy? Food for thought, and discussed in the book.

In the Catholic/Orthodox traditions, an icon (from Greek εἰκών eikōn "image") is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting designed to symbolize spiritual realities. In the afterword of the book Scalia makes these points about the differences between religious Icons and our little icons, our idols of the heart, as symbolized on the cover:,
  • An Icon looks out from Intrinsic light and points to its source; there are no shadows in which to hide.
  • An idol looks out from man-created light and points to itself; invites us into the shadows.
  • An Icon teaches us how to focus, how to quiet down, collect ourselves, and hear the small, still voice.
  • An idol throws noise, images, and issues at us, non=stop, scatters our thinking, and deafens s to any voice but its own.
  • An Icon whispers wisdom.
  • An idol shouts soundbites and mindless trendspeak.
  • An Icon inspires us to chant to the Most High.
  • An idol inspires us to chant to it, and to ourselves.
  • An Icon looks us straight in the eyes and dares us to pursue truth.
  • An idol wears shades and tells us what we want to hear.
I hope that you have enjoyed the posted excerpts from this book that I have been posting over the past few weeks. For many of my readers, reading a book from a Catholic and non-evangelical tradition may be a stretch, and a journey outside of your comfort zone. If so, I think it is a journey worth the effort. I hope that you will consider getting and reading this book.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Power of Big Chunks

From an article by Jim Gilmore at Out of Ur: "Bigger Chunks of Bread" 
...It has dawned on me: we claim to be a people “of the Word.” But we read the Bible in chunks that are too little. We read slices of our daily bread, when we ought to digest whole loaves.
Forget George Barna’s “revolution.” Let me tell you what would be truly revolutionary: if every professing, church-going Christian would read the entire book of Galatians in one sitting, each and every day—until we knew (really knew) Galatians! (It only takes about fifteen minutes to read through Paul’s letter.) Greater still: if every preaching and teaching pastor would but read the entire book of Galatians in one sitting, each and every day!
I fear the Church today suffers from preaching and teaching that is based on chunks of scripture that are too small. Many of our pastors don't seem to really know their Bibles. Might the fact that contemporary Christianity is swimming in a sea of topical sermons be the result of pastors being ill-prepared to provide sound expository, exegetical preaching? And that this may be because they are too consumed in reading various books (including my own) other than the Bible, instead of repeatedly reading of the one book of the Bible they are preaching on and through, desiring for their congregants to richly know and understand the text?
I have a suggestion. Let’s stop buying and reading books written by pastors that are not a commentaries on a particular book of Bible. Let’s encourage our pastors to encourage us to know our Bible—like Barnhouse knew Romans. After all, it’s when our shepherds depart from knowing and preaching the very word of God that they most run the risk of presenting the flock with “irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’.” (1Timothy 6:20, ESV.)
My prayer is that both pastor and layman will cherish bigger chunks of our bread.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Look to Jesus

N. T. Wright - On Reading the Gospels.

 HT The Work of the People

Completion Guaranteed

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Philippians 1:6 develops the theme of God's preserving grace—which ensures the perseverance of His own—in three points.
First, Paul reminds us that since God has begun our salvation, we can rely on Him to complete it: "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion." God always finishes what He starts, especially the salvation of His people.
It is in this way that God's preserving grace fits with the other doctrines of grace. God the Father chose us in eternity past, and the Bible says that God's purpose in election must prevail (Rom. 9:11). God the Son offered an atoning sacrifice for these same elect people. Should they fall into condemnation, then His blood would have been shed for them in vain. But He insists that not one of them shall perish and none shall be plucked from His hand (John 10:28). Likewise, the Holy Spirit brought these same elect sheep to eternal life by the irresistible working of His grace. Should eternal life be lost, the Spirit's work would prove ineffective. Therefore, as faith is the gift of God's grace, the Christian's perseverance is the work of God's continuing grace.
Second, Paul says that God, having begun His work in our lives, "will bring it" to completion. This indicates that God not only guarantees the completion of our salvation, but is actively involved in the believer's life to bring this to pass. God works in our lives in the way a craftsman works to finish a product he has created. He smooths out the lines, sands the rough places, and puts its pieces together in proper proportion. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:
God's work is manifested in His will playing out in our lives. This is what Paul says a bit later in Philippians: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:1–213). Being a Christian is not easy. Persevering in faith requires warfare with sin, labor in prayer, plowing in God's Word, and performing His will in the world. We are God's workmanship, Paul says, and this means we are called to "good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). God will see to it that His work for each of us is carried to completion. By His preserving grace, He will carry us to our destination in heaven. We are called to work this out, but, Paul insists, God is all the while working it in us (Phil. 2:13).
Third, we can see in Philippians 1:6 our certainty of successful "completion" if God's saving work truly has begun in us. Far from dreading the future, as we must if we look for signs of hope within ourselves, every believer possesses a hope that is certain for the most joyful, glorious, and holy destiny through faith in Jesus.
One of the reasons I love Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is the portrait he paints of the eternity God has secured for every believer. Speaking of the believer's entry into heaven, he writes:
This may be a fanciful rendering from the Bible's promises, but still it is our future history and not fantasy. For as Paul insists, God brings us to completion. One of the meanings of the Greek word translated as "bring to completion" is "bring to perfection." That is what God has promised to do for every sheep who hears Christ's voice and who shows the reality of his or her faith by following after Him through life. Whatever hardships, disappointments, or failures await us in this world, a Christian can anticipate the certain fulfillment of David's exultant words in Psalm 16:11: "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Terribly flawed though we all are now, God will bring our journey to completion and us to perfection, so that arrayed in perfect holiness we will live forever in His love.
Adapted from What's So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard Phillips.Download the digital edition free through July 31, 2013.

Out Loud

Are there benefits to hearing the Word of God read out loud, over and above silent reading of the text? Check this out - "How to Hear a Word from God" by  Adam Gabriel Cavalier, guest posting at Trevin Wax's Blog:
The Letter to the Hebrews begins off reminding us of a stunning and remarkable fact - God spoke. And not only has God spoken, but he has done so "at many times, and in many ways." And in these last days, he has spoken by a new and infinitely greater way of speaking. He has spoken by His Son.
Have you heard this Word from God? Now, you might have read this Word, but how often - if at all - have you heard it?
Ever since I was a new believer, the printed Bible has rightly been emphasized as God's Word.  The immeasurable value of reading a physical, paper copy will always be there - as it rightly should. There are obvious benefits to a physical copy (such as, the fact that you can read as fast or as slow as you want), but have we devalued the intake of Scripture via auditory means?
I think it goes without saying, the majority of believers interact with their Bibles through the reading of a physical, paper copy. However, my question is this - how many Christians even own an audio Bible? Imagine if the equation was flipped. What if the church primarily listened to the reading of Scripture? Would the church's spiritual vitality be any less diminished?
I believe we should value the reading of God's Word, but we should also value the listening of Scripture being read aloud. I think this is a highly neglected and yet an equally valid means of valuing God's Word in your life.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Archbishop Speaks.....In Tongues

From an interview in the UK Telegraph with Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and thus, the symbolic leader of the world-wide Anglican community.
Since he is an evangelical, I ask him whether he can speak “in tongues” – the “charismatic” spiritual gift recorded in the New Testament. Oh yes, he says, almost as if he had been asked if he plays tennis, “It’s just a routine part of spiritual discipline – you choose to speak and you speak a language that you don’t know. It just comes.

HT To Be Continued...

Radical Ordinariness

Are you a "radical" Christian, an "ordinary" Christian, or perhaps both? From "A Few Thoughts About Being Ordinary Christians" by Tim Brister
In case you did not know, there’s an ongoing debate regarding “radical” Christianity and “ordinary” (mundane/normal) Christianity.
Really. [Pardon the intensifier]
Best-selling books and viral blogposts have littered the evangelical landscape the last few years, and I’ve tried to keep up with the latest installments in this ongoing debate. I respect and appreciate the men on both sides of the debate, and while I may not be offering anything necessarily new, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
1. Definition of Ordinary
So much of the debate begins with the premise of being radical. What does radical Christianity look like? How can it be defined? Is the challenge confined to middle-class white suburbia in North America? But what about ordinary Christianity? How much agreement exists in defining normal Christianity?
As it has been stated, much of the recent literature calling for “radical Christianity” is a discontentment with what many consider to be a sub-standard nominal Christianity (i.e. “Christendom”) that in many ways has neutered the evangelical testimony of biblical truth and dulled our motivation as followers of Jesus to “observe all that he has commanded us”.
Though this may sound redundant, I do think the pushback to radical Christianity is to be ordinarily ordinary. I have a real problem with this perspective, because we still have not come to terms with what Jesus identifies as ordinary or normative for run-of-the-mill Christians. So we are not spectacular or world-changing or facing death as a martyr – what then?
2. An Old Kind of Ordinary
The message of John the BaptistJesusHis sent disciples, and the early churchwas the same, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, the ordinary way of living is unacceptable under the reign of King Jesus. When His kingdom comes, everything changes. Everything.
Take, for example, eating and drinking. This is about as ordinary or mundane as it gets. Jesus’ earthly ministry was characterized by eating and drinking, but it was how and with whom he ate and drank that set Him apart from others. You see, eating and drinking comes with a philosophy and ordinary approach to life. When I’m living under self-rule, it is “eat, drink and be merry.” But when I’m living under the rule of Christ, it is eating and drinking (and everything else) to the glory of God. That’s radical. The most basic things we almost unconsciously do on a daily basis are to be singed with motivations and aspirations that God might be glorified. Is this what we are talking about when we are speaking of ordinary or normal Christian living?
What about the Great Commission? Jesus commands us to go and make disciples. That should be normative for every follower of Jesus. That means our lives should have an orientation and intentionality that pursues this missional objective. How does that work? Where do we find time to do that? In what ways and venues of everyday life are we making disciples of Jesus? Is that what we are talking about when we speak of ordinary Christianity? If so, then where are the ordinary Christians?
What about the teachings of Jesus? He told us if our right eye causes us to sin to pluck it out. Do ordinary people treat sin so seriously? He told us to count the costto be His disciple and take up our cross. Do ordinary people prefer to die to self? Jesus told us to love our enemies, that the greatest will be the servant of all, that those who humble themselves will be exalted, and that those who put their hands to the plow looking back are not fit for the kingdom of God. Is this the ordinary teaching of normative Christianity?
Then there are phrases like doing all things for the sake of the gospel. Paul (and those he discipled) lived in certain ways to reach certain people because he sought to commend the gospel in word and deed and “save some.” Some people box like those beating the air. Paul disciplined His body. Some walked dependent on their senses. Paul said we Christians walk by faith. Some were civilians living a civilian lifestyle, “entangled with the affairs of everyday life.” Paul and his disciplessuffered hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ because they wanted to please their commanding officer. Is that what we mean when we talk about ordinary Christianity?
Yes, this is the same Paul who exhorted Christians in Thessalonica to “aspire to live quietly and mind your own affairs.” I don’t think they are at odds at all. Paul was someone who redeemed ordinary life for kingdom purposes. I think that is why he constantly spoke of how he himself worked with his own hands for the purpose of helping the weak and remembering the poor. In the same context, Paul would say things like “I do not consider my life of any value to me or precious to myself“. The two realities are not opposite visions of the Christian life, are they?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

One Word

"Our Understanding of the Gospel Can Hinge on One Word" - From Michael Kelley at Forward Progress:
It’s only 3 letters. A throw away word. The kind of word that appears countless times in an article. One that we simply write or say or read without thinking much about it because at its best it simply links what comes after it to what comes before it. It’s a word that shows up in a passage of Scripture that beautifully summarizes the gospel message:
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In these three verses, the word appear three times in this particular translation, but it’s the appearance in verse 10 that I’d like to call your attention to. We are newly created in Christ for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to walk in.
You find in this passage a holistic treatment of the gospel. That is we were saved by grace, through faith, for good works. Take any of those three components away and you have an incomplete message. We are brought near to God not on the basis of our own merit, but by grace. Unmerited favor. Undeserved blessing. Completely apart from ourselves, this grace finds its root in God alone and His great love and mercy. It is by grace we have been saved.
And that grace is given to us by faith. Faith is the track upon which the train of grace rides. It is the avenue by which we are made right with God. It is through faith alone that anyone at any time is ever made right with God. As Charles Spurgeon beautifully put it, “Faith is the silver thread upon which the pearls of grace are to be hung. Break that, and the pearls lie scattered on the ground.” Faith is the mechanism by which the gospel ceases to be mere historical fact and actually comes to rest on a person. It’s the moment when a person ceases to merely know and begins to actually believe.
And then there is the last part. This grace, which comes by faith, is for good works. It’s a cause and effect kind of thing. Those who experience this grace are irreversibly changed. They bear the fruit of righteousness and now love God with their deepest desires. Their souls have been awakened to true beauty and, like someone who has eaten the richest fare once, no longer find a cheeseburger from McDonald’s all that satisfying any more.
By grace. Through faith. For good works.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Full of Yes

"G. K. Chesterton delighted in paradox, and so it was not surprising that he delighted in God.....

....Loving both freedom and paradox, Chesterton argued for the beauty of the Ten Commandments, seeing in them not a world full of no, but of yes. He wrote that 'the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but... of its liberality and humility and humanity {because] most things are permitted. 

We are so conditioned to think of religion as being a bunch of rules - of the commandments as being a sometimes sensible, sometime irrelevant, sometimes annoying list of restrictions - that Chesterton's words seem almost absurd. But Chesterton was correct. There is nothing wider than God's mercy or deeper than his love, if we consent to bend to him, rather than toward our own inclinations.  From where we stand, however, we may easily miss the insight. it seems too simple, and we super-bright twenty-first-century beings are living in a very complicated place."

 - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 118

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jamming the Love

A "Sermon Jam" by Matt Chandler on the Love of God:

The Ultimate Disenthrallment

"The key to the Christian life begins with confronting and amending the self, rather than indulging it. This can only be done through grace, which enters upon our yes and moves and grows on the intentional breeze of willingness. Because those are the only things that count - our intentions and willingness- worthiness does not enter in.

But willingness only comes with humility. It comes when we can say, 'Thy will be done,' and then actually surrender, instead of preparing a treaty, complete with expiration date.

Such surrender is the ultimate disenthrallment and the banisher of all idols, even the super idols."

 - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 116

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whatever It Takes, Lord!

Seven Ways to Pray for Your Heart -from Joe Bloom at Desiring God
Over the years, as I’ve prayed for my own heart, I’ve accumulated seven “D’s” that I have found helpful. Maybe you’ll find them helpful as well
With seven you can use them a number of ways. You might choose one “D” per day. Or you could choose one “D” as a theme for a week and pray through these every seven weeks. You’ll also note that I have a verse for each prayer. But over time as you pray more verses will come to mind and you might find it helpful to collect them so they are right at hand as the Spirit leads.
I begin each prayer with the phrase “whatever it takes, Lord” because the Bible teaches us to be bold and wholehearted in our praying, not reticent. I also use the phrase because it tests my heart. How much do I want God and all he promises to be for me in Jesus? Do I really want true joy enough to ask for my Father’s loving discipline to wean me from joy-stealing sin? And how much do I trust him? Do I really believe that he will only give me what is good when I ask in faith (Luke 11:11–13)? “Whatever it takes” prayers help me press toward and express childlike trust in the Father.
Delight: Whatever it takes, Lord, give me delight in you as the greatest treasure of my heart.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
 Desires: Whatever it takes, Lord, align the desires of my heart with yours.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9–10)
Dependence: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my awareness of my dependence on you in everything so that I will live continually by faith.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Discernment: Whatever it takes, Lord, teach me to discern good from evil through the rigorous exercise of constant practice.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)

The Test of Hate

"The essayist Annie Lamont has an even easier way to discern whether we have slipped into idolatry, which, you'll recall, is always rooted in our fascination with ourselves: 'You can safely assume you've created God in your own image,' she wrote, 'when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.'"

  - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 112

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

More Rosaria

Following up from this post from July 17 (last Wednesday), Here's another interview with Rosaria Champagne Butterfield: It's over an hour, but well worth investing the time.

A Powerful Idol of Distraction

"Ideas become idols; it is an unstoppable human truth. We make an idol of our sexuality and out sexual appetites. On some level we understand that we cannot control these appetites, they will control us -and what controls us takes us away from God. But that feels to us like some distant sort of truth we can easily wave off. 'If it feels good, do it' has been a powerful idol of distraction. It is one that keeps us from the fullness of his presence in our lives, and thus his astounding, transcendental, and eternal love, because we're too busy chasing a worldly facsimile."

  - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 88

Monday, July 22, 2013

Drunk on Grace

I think I have quoted this before, but it's worth repeating. I need to hear it again and again!  From Robert Capron:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case....
... In Jesus’ death and resurrection, the whole test-passing, brownie-point-earning rigmarole of the human race has been canceled for lack of interest on God’s part. All he needs from us is a simple Yes or No, and off to work he goes. If we say Yes to something wrong or No to something right, he will reconcile it all by himself. Not only can he handle it, he’s already handled it: he has all our messes fixed in Jesus–right now, even before we make them. All we have to do is trust his assurance that losers are his cup of tea. In fact, it’s precisely our attempts to be winners that he warns us about: ‘He who saves his life will lost it; he who loses his life for my sake the Gospel’s will save it.’....
…there is therefore now no condemnation for two reasons: you are dead now; and God, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has been dead all along. The blame game was over before it started. It really was. All Jesus did was announce that truth and tell you it would make you free. It was admittedly a dangerous thing to do. You are a menace. Be he did it; and therefore, menace or not, here you stand: uncondemned, forever, now. What are you going to do with your freedom?

HT: Internet Monk

All Our Longings Fulfilled

"The whole point is this: when we have cleared away the idols we have place before God - imagine using your arm and just sweeping away all those trophies from the mantle so that there is nothing between us and him- we open up a direct line to the God who is all in all. He is all love, all mercy, all light, all power, all compassion, all goodness, and all wealth. God is the God of all our longings fulfilled, in whom no voids remain.And that is all God wants and needs from us- our willingness to keep the direct line open so that he may be with us and be all of those things for us, with nothing standing between our love."

  - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 61

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Shaped by the Doxology

I grew up singing the little chorus know as the Doxology: "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow..." Thanks to Zac Hicks for the reminder that singing such words that are full of Biblical content also shapes us.
One drop of water on a rock has little effect, but a steady dripping will eventually wear a hole into a seemingly impenetrable stone. Singing the Doxology every week is like getting a steady drip of life-giving Trinitarian water over hardened hearts.
James K. A. Smith, in Desiring the Kingdom, reminds us that the very form and rituals of worship have a shaping effect on us.  We don’t just become more godly by learning the theology of the songs and imbibing the propositional content of the sermon.  Our desires and habits, as we move along the path of the liturgy, are shaped to more subconsciously and instinctively move along the direction of that path.   For instance, I have been in a context where I have experienced the same weekly liturgy of Confession, Assurance, and Repentance for over ten years now.  I now find that I have new instincts and desires when I slip into sin.  With nearly Pavlovian certainty, my heart drops to its knees, I acknowledge it before God, I preach the good news to my heart of God’s assurance of my pardon through Christ, and I find greater strength to turn and re-commit myself to God’s service.  Repeated liturgy makes you love it and live it every day of the week.  There are many things that we could point out about the shaping effect of the Doxology.  I will mention three.
First, the Doxology shapes us into whole worshipers.
  • Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
  • Praise Him, all creatures here below;
The first line gives us the “why” of worship (because of what He does).  But next is the “who.”  First, “all creatures” are summoned to God’s praise, and suddenly our minds are blown about the fact that worship is not merely a human activity.  It is an activity of all creation.  Before the fall, somehow all creation was more attuned to the worship of God, and there was a sense of solidarity between human beings and creation in the act of worship.  ”Praise Him, all creatures here below” is a summons toward fall-reversal, saying to the earth, “Return, and worship the One who made you.”
When we realize this, singing this weekly shapes us into a people dissatisfied with a hyper distinction between sacred and secular.  We become a people who grate against our society’s bifurcation of our private, personal religion and our public self.  God’s demand for worship has equal authority in our schools, homes, and workplaces as it does in the sanctuary.  Our worship is whole, because the summons isn’t “Praise Him, all Christians here below.”  We become a people who are passionate about the reclamation and return of all of the earth’s worship to its rightful Owner and Object.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

It's All Jesus

“There is no such ‘thing’ as grace! Grace is not some appendage to Christ’s being. All there is is the Lord Jesus Himself. And so when Jesus speaks about us abiding in Him and He abiding in us – however mysterious it may be, mystical in that sense – it is a personal union.

Christianity is Christ because there isn’t anything else. There is no atonement that somehow can be detached from who the Lord Jesus is. There is no grace that can be attached to you transferred from Him. All there is is Christ and your soul.”

 — Sinclair Ferguson message on John 15 at the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference

Friday, July 19, 2013

Say Yes!

"...People have become so accustomed to the idea of faith- and particularly organized religion - as a thing that shackles and says only "no," they can't wrap their minds around the fact that everything about God is positive, from alpha to omega and back. But the evidence of the positive coming from God resides in the very fact of creation, which grew on the yes of God's own intention....

...if commandments and teachings seem heavy on the 'shall nots,' those words are not actually about
God or Church saying no. Rather, they are warnings about what takes us away form God, what creates distance- the actions (born of ideas) that say no to him, no to others, and yes only to ourselves, which makes our world very small indeed.

To say yes to God is to say yes to the very essence of what is positive, expansive, and cocreative - and for anything creative to happen, there must first be space. A wonderful Anglican hymn begins, 'There is a wideness in God's mercy.' Both wideness and mercy are formed within yes.

What has 'no' ever created besides hell?...."

  - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., pages 43-44

In a World Where Nobody is a Believer...

I'm fascinated to read about the conversion testimony of well-known lieral political commentator Kristen Powers. From Denny Burk:
Last April, Kirsten Powers went on Focus on the Family to talk about her watershed column shaming the media into covering the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. In that interview, she also shares her own story about coming to faith in Christ through the ministry of Tim Keller’s church in New York City. It turns out that Eric Metaxas also had a role in her conversion, and she is surprisingly candid about the whole thing.
I think the entire interview is fascinating, but the part where she shares her testimony begins at 17:20. You can download it here.
Here’s an excerpt:
Really, I mean it was just sort of like God…invading my life. It was very unwelcome. I didn’t like it… I started having a lot of different experiences where I just felt…God doing a lot of things in my life. It’s kind of hard to describe, but I did just have this moment of the scales falling off my eyes, and just saying, ‘this is totally true, I don’t even have any doubt’…
I don’t really feel like I had any courage…when I became a Christian, I just gave in… It wasn’t courageous; I didn’t have any choice. I kept trying to not believe and I… just couldn’t avoid it. If I could have avoided it, I would have. There is nothing convenient about it in my life, in the world I live in. It’s not like living in the South or living somewhere where everybody is a Christian. I live in a world where nobody is a believer.
download (size: 19 MB )

Read more at Gospel Light

Thursday, July 18, 2013

You Are A Theologian

...but are you a good one?
"Every Christian is a theologian. We are always engaged in the activity of learning about the things of God. We are not all theologians in the professional sense, academic sense, but theologians we are, for better or worse. The ‘for worse’ is no small matter. Second Peter warns that heresies are destructive to the people of God and are blasphemies committed against God. They are destructive because theology touches every dimension of our lives. The Bible declares that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he…Those ideas that do grasp us in our innermost parts, are the ideas that shape our lives. We are what we think. When our thoughts are corrupted, our lives follow suit. All know that people can recite the creeds flawlessly and make A’s in theology courses while living godless lives. We can affirm a sound theology and live an unsound life. Sound theology is not enough to live a godly life. But it is still a requisite for godly living. How can we do the truth without first understanding what the truth is? No Christian can avoid theology. Every one has a theology. The issue, then, is not, do we want to have a theology? That’s a given. The real issue is, do we have a sound theology? Do we embrace true or false doctrine?"
R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1992, p. vii

Dash Them Against Christ

"In his Rule, Saint Benedict of Nursia tells his monks that when evil thoughts arise, they are to “dash them against Christ, immediately.” It is a sound and helpful image, and one I have used to great effect. I imagine the crucifix after Christ’s death, when all has been won, and I see my own hand crashing the harmful thought against the wood of the cross. With a shatter, the thought disappears, and I am released from its hold. My angry or enraged or selfish or irrational thought, having encountered in that moment the constant reality of Christ, is instantly gone.

It all takes place in the mind, yes, but my sin was also forming in the mind, so the thing has been destroyed at the source. This is real-time salvation within the eternal dialogue."

     - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 33

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Amazing Story of Total Transformation

Please watch this very interesting, provocative, and, in fact, wonderful, testimony of Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. She was once a feminist, a lesbian, very anti-Christian, and a post-modernist college English professor. Now, she is a Christian wife and mother, married to a Presbyterian pastor. Amazing story! It will take some time to listen and watch, but it will be so worth it.

And in this second video, she takes audience questions.

For more of her story, read her book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith

Hat Tip: Justin Taylor

An Ax to the Root

"It is interesting to ponder for a moment both the order of the Ten Commandments and Jesus' famous sermon.  While it is certainly the case that all the sins warned against in the Decalogue are serious, there does seem to be a bit of a hierarchy to them. Murder is a pretty big deal - certainly a bigger deal than coveting your neighbors' donkey. And yet, that is not the first or second or even the third commandment. It's not even the first 'You shall not.' The warning against strange gods is the first of those. Both the greatest commandment and the Sermon on the Mount do not present things like murder as root sins. The true roots of sin, the roots that grow into actions like murder, are seeded within the mind, which is where idolatry always begins.

No idol is constructed in the act of murder. Rather, the murder is, at its end, and offering to an idol. the real idol is the enlarged anger within us, and it forms through our willingness to sustain an idea about our righteousness, and therefore an idea about ourselves.... The great evil of murder, then is the fruit of the idolatry that is first an idea, and the idea is almost always about the self."

    - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., pages 31-32
    (italics in the original)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Longest Book in the Bible

Everyone knows it's the Book of Psalms, right? Guess again! Read this:

Would you believe it's Jeremiah?

Ideas As Idols

"[In] the Sermon on the Mount...Jesus is teaching us not only to focus but also to actively cast aside the things that stand between God and ourselves. And what are they really? Mostly they are ideas, and our ideas are full of I. Ideas are what first pull our attention away from God and from the wonder of knowing him. And then, because they are our ideas (or so we come to believe they are), we engage with them passionately, forming them into idols, like golden calves.

Just as we must get rid of our distractions in prayer, we must dissolve the ideas that have become idols before we can approach the altar of God..."

     - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., pages 29-30

Monday, July 15, 2013

Turn Yourself Around

Hat Tip: Clark Bunch

The Most Difficult Idol to Dislodge

"...the overwhelming evidence before us -from Eden until now- suggests that making strange gods for and of ourselves is something that comes to human beings as naturally and easily as taking a breathe, expelling it, and taking another. And the most painful truth is that the first and most difficult idol to dislodge is the idol of oneself."

     - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 28

Sunday, July 14, 2013

God's Prayer Book

Did you know God wrote a prayer book? From The Blazing Center:

Prayer is difficult. Not because of anything in God – as the Puritan Matthew Henry observed, God is more eager to hear our prayers than we are to pray them. No, prayer is difficult because of us. Sinful flesh and human weakness battle against our ability to persevere in prayer. Publishers know this. Search for “prayer” on Amazon and you’ll find enough books to construct a small mansion entirely from piles of “7 Steps” paperbacks. Many of these are helpful books (though some of them aren’t!). But wouldn’t it be nice to have the definitive book on prayer, one that included both forms of prayers and words to pray, one that could be used in any season of life?
Actually, that sounds like the Psalms.

The Psalms are the prayer and praise book of the Bible. When we read a psalm, we are listening in on an inspired conversation between God and his people. The conversation takes place sometimes in moments of pure delight and other times in extended seasons of crushing despair. Sometimes it is a private conversation: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing!” (Psalm 6:2). At other times we hear the raised voices of a glad throng of worshipers: “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1). In a sense, the Psalms are God’s most comprehensive answer to the request, “Teach us to pray.”

Until recently I still never used psalms regularly in my prayer life. In the last few months I’ve been incorporating the psalms into my day, and it’s been a great blessing to me. I’m going to describe my current practice and some things I’ve learned, but with this caveat first: I’m not you! I’ve fallen victim too many times to slavishly following the most recent devotional suggestion I read on a blog as though any one person had the corner on the prayer market. Don’t do that. Odds are in a few months the practice I describe now will have changed in some way. So pick through what might be helpful, translate it to your own situation, and discard the rest. All right, with that out of the way, here’s what I’m doing.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Source Where All Needs Are Met

"...We have lacked perfection since the original sin of Eden, and through millennia God has been intent on reclaiming and restoring us to himself, the source where all of our needs are met.

We encounter a huge part of that reclamation effort within the direct communication drawn by God and delivered by Moses, but what we seldom realize is this: all of the commandments are simply an expansion of the very first commandment - the one about gods and idols. The command is given primacy not because the Creator is insecure and in need of constant attention, but because it is the one commandment that, if obeyed, renders all of the others quite nearly moot. Were we not continually making idols of the objects of our desire - all of those shiny things we cannot resist grabbing on to - nothing would be cluttering up the space between us and God; the lines would be straight and the crooked letters rendered unnecessary.

The 'you shall nots' are less a list of restrictions and limitations than an invitation to keep turning back to God, who will 'satisfy the desire of every living thing' (Ps. 145:16) The 'shall nots' say, 'Don't steal that; look at me. Don't objectify her with lust; look at me.Don't nurse your anger unto death! Look at me. Do not look out there, not even to your past, be it good or bad; and do not look to your earthly desires. Look at me, and let me love you, and you will have no need of the rest.'"

      - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., pages 21-22

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The One Who Bleeds For You

Some great stuff from J. D. Greear:
The main question the prophet Elijah was commissioned to answer was “Is there really only one God?” and, “If so, which God is the right one?” Elijah’s name gives away his answer, “Eli-jah” in Hebrew means “The Lord is God.” The climactic answer takes place in the showdown on Mt Carmel. Elijah is outnumbered 850 to 1. What Elijah revealed about the true God there, or, rather, what God revealed about himself, is as relevant today as it ever was. Jehovah is distinct from the ba’al’s, and every false god our culture puts forward, in at least four ways, two of which I’ll share with you here, and two of which you’ll have to listen to the whole sermon on this passage to get!
1. False gods require strenuous efforts; the true God is known by grace through faith.
False gods require strenuous dancing to please them. We see it in the prophets of Ba’al, who danced around the altar in their attempt to get their god’s attention (1 Kings 18:26). That is how every false religion operates: if you obey well enough, then you will be accepted. Thus religious ‘gods’ like Allah say, “Are you dancing hard enough? Are you keeping the commandments well enough?”
But secular gods are just as demanding. Popularity, money, or beauty demand that you dance like a slave to please them. So if money is your god, you dance like a slave for it, to get into the right school, to get the right job, to get that promotion. If beauty is your god, you dance—sometimes literally—so you’ll feel good about your body. If popularity is your god, then you dance for your circle of friends, desperately seeking to gain their approval.
The prophets of Ba’al danced, but all Elijah did was pray in faith (1 Kings 18:36–37). That is because Elijah knew the true God, the God of the gospel. Every other religion says that your acceptance is based on your obedience, but the gospel is unlike every other religion. The religious say, “I obey; therefore I am accepted.” The gospel reverses that: “I am accepted; therefore I obey.”
2. False gods mutilate us; the true God mutilated himself for us.
The prophets of Ba’al begin by dancing around their altar. They end by slashing at themselves until their blood runs (1 Kings 18:28). False gods always push us toward destruction: “Work harder. Do better. Obtain more. You still aren’t getting my attention. Slash yourself!” So we slash at our bodies by going through crash diets to attain that perfect figure. We slash at our families by overworking to make extra money. We slash at our souls by compromising our integrity to get someone’s affection.
False gods push us to mutilate ourselves, because we desperately want to win their approval. But only one God was ever mutilated for us—Jesus Christ.This story ends with a magnificent fire coming from heaven, but as Jesus himself points out to his first disciples, the fire was not intended for sinful humanity (Luke 9:51–56). It was ultimately intended for him: of all the characters in this story, Jesus is not Elijah, calling down fire; he is the sacrifice who receives the fire of judgment.
At the cross, Jesus took into his body the fire of God’s justice so that we could take into our lives the fire of God’s love. Other gods demand dancing, slashing, mutilation. But Jesus Christ is the only God who was slashed and mutilated for us. As Tim Keller has said, “Every other god will make your blood run; only the true God bleeds for you.

Nothing Between You and the Presence

   "...'You shall not have other gods besides me' this meant no gods other than the God who freed the Israelites  yes, but it meant something deeper as well. It meant inviting God's presence - the living, breathing truth of who God is - to reside amid all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, at all times.

To place anything - be it another deity or something more commonplace like romantic love, anger, ambition, or fear - before the Almighty is to give it preeminence in our regard. To become too attached to a thought or feeling or thing is to place it between God and ourselves. When we attache ourselves to something other than God, God's presence is blocked, unseen, and disconnected from our awareness. The straight line between creature and Creator is then impeded, and - as with most unwise detours - disorientation follows."

 - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., pages 14-15

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Playing the Game of "Jesus Says"

Hat Tip: The Thinklings

Only Wonder Comprehends

"There is a quotation attributed to Saint Gregory of Nyssa: 'Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything.'  A simpler translation reads 'ideas create idols; only wonder leads to knowing....

...We are so comfortable with our idols and so convinced that they are built on entirely correct ideas that we have stopped wondering at anything and, therefore, are comprehending almost nothing."

    - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., pages 8,10

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Paradise Regained

The story of paradise lost becoming paradise regained is the story of God’s grace bringing us from alienation from him to membership in his family. God’s grace restores us to what Adam lost for us — sonship to the God who made us, loves us, and provides for us in every detail in life.” 

               — Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God, page 6

HT: Of First Importance

Removing the Fireplace Screens

"...But let us, for a moment, consider the idol as the God of Moses saw it. The very first commandment of the Ten Commandments includes the phrase, 'You shall not have other gods besides me' (Ex. 20:3). Other translations use the phrase 'you shall not have strange gods before me.'  Do we stop to think of what it means to have something 'before God'? It means to put something 'first,' yes, but more fundamentally it means to put something 'in front' of God, as one might put a screen in front of a fireplace and therefore place it 'before' the fire.  What is before God, then, is also before us; it stands between God and us; it separates us from him. Just as a covenant of marriage cannot grow in closeness and oneness - cannot become one flesh - if something is put between a couple, the covenant between God and humanity cannot grow and survive if our strange, self-reflective idols are placed between ourselves and him."

      - Elizabeth Scalia in  Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life., page 9

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reading "Strange Gods"

Now that  I'm done quoting excerpts from a book by a Pentecostal Pastor, I'm going to switch gears in an entirely different direction and start quoting from a book by a Roman Catholic!

For many years I have followed an intriguing blogger and writer widely known on-line as "The Anchoress," and more recently revealed under her true name as Elizabeth Scalia. She is a Benedictine Oblate and the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos.  Mrs. Scalia has recently published an insightful book on the subject of idolatry, entitled Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. None of my regular readers will be surprised that subject attracted my attention! 

Now I know that some of you will immediately react in puzzlement at the idea of a Roman Catholic in good standing discussing the subject of idolatry. After all, you may think, aren't all Catholics somewhat idolaters who worship statues and images, and pray to saints and the Virgin Mary? Our Protestant prejudices can easily come into play here. There is plenty of stuff in Catholic theology and practice that I do not endorse or agree with, and I am not turning in my protestant identity badge or, so the speak, "swimming the Tiber." After all, I'm a "Five Solas" kind of guy. However, I do challenge you to put some of your anti-Catholic prejudices on hold and let the quotations from the book which I will be posting speak for themselves. Or, better yet, get and read the book. 

I called the book "insightful," and I really mean the adjective: This book is stock full of insights. I learned things about idols, idolatry and the human heart that I have not read or seen in all the many other books and blogs I have read on this subject from good evangelical writers, pastors and theologians (and I've read some of the best). And on top of that, "The Anchoress" is such a good writer that the insights are a great pleasure to read!

Be looking here for some really good quotes over the coming weeks.

Following the Prototype

If you follow this blog, you know that over the past month or so I've been posting quotes from a book I really enjoyed, - Jonathan Martin's Prototype: What Happens When You Discover That You Are More Like Jesus Than You Think.  I think it's now time for a brief wrap up.

Martin is a Pentecostal (Church of God) pastor, and founder of an interesting church in North Carolina called Renovatus, which advertises itself as a church for "liars, dreamers and misfits" under renovation by Jesus..  From their website:
We believe there is no better word than renovation for what happens when people start embodying the Kingdom of God (primary message of Jesus on earth) in a city. Renovation is what happens when people practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, study and confession. Renovation is what happens when liars, dreamers and misfits have a meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ, and submit to a gradual process of real transformation. Renovation is what happens when people begin to read ancient Scriptures and start living into the stories they read. Renovation is what happens when worship becomes a way of life, and prayer a way of being in the world with God. Renovation is what happens when people demonstrate the power and justice of God by demonstrating the Kingdom in life together. A small band of us set out to live that kind of renovation: to join God in renovating ordinary lives to embody the Kingdom. 
If you are pentecostal/charismatic adverse, be forewarned that some of that practice and atmosphere is found in this book, particularly in Martin's reminiscences of childhood experiences at pentecostal camp meetings. However, if you can get past that, there is a lot in this book that any evangelical Christian can benefit from.

The thesis of the book is that Jesus was uniquely conscious of His status as the beloved Son of God, but that we also have similar derivative status by our redemption and adoption as sons & daughters of the Father. Jesus heard the voice of the Father at His baptism calling Him "My Beloved Son," and never forgot that voice, even in the immediate crises of His desert temptation, all the way through Gethsemane and the cross. Security in the knowledge of His identity and "belovedness" freed Jesus to love others freely and unconditionally. Jesus heard the voice, knew His identity....and never forgot.

Martin goes on to say that many Christians have also heard that voice of acceptance in Christ  Our problem, however, is that we soon forget! He says that if we can learn to know and believe our identity as beloved and accepted in Christ, we too can be freed from the need to present phony fronts to the world around us, and be free to love and accept others as Jesus did. Following Jesus is not just WWJD (What would Jesus Do), but who did Jesus know He was, and do I also know my own identity as a beloved child of God. If we do, then, even as Jesus' wounds on the cross became symbols of victory and glory, our personal spiritual and psychological wounds can become, not things of shame to hide, but things to glory in as symbols of His victory in us, and  tools of Christ's work through us to free others. That is what makes Jesus the "prototype," or, to use a more Scriptural term, the author and finisher of our faith.

I'm not going true justice to the book in this brief summary. This book has taken me apart, and its message is now putting me back together in strange ways. Go back and read all the quotes I've posted, or, better yet, get and read the book. I do not think you will be disappointed.