Monday, September 30, 2013

Continually Bearing Witness....

Did signs, wonders and spiritual gifts cease after the apostolic age? Here's Sam Storms' view, based on a passage in the Book of Hebrews - "Hebrews 2 and the Continuationist - Cessationist Debate"
The author of Hebrews asks, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb. 2:3-4).
Does this passage support the notion that signs, wonders, miracles, and spiritual gifts of a certain sort ceased to exist at some point in the first century? No.Several things should be noted.
First, the author does not limit this text to the apostles, nor does the word “apostle” even appear in the passage. The phrase “those who heard” would surely include the apostles but by no means must be limited to them. Many more than the Twelve heard Jesus, did miracles, and exercised spiritual gifts.
Second, to “what” or to “whom” did God bear witness by signs and wonders? Most likely he has in mind the gospel of “salvation” (v. 3). Jesus first proclaimed the message, those who heard him confirmed it to those who did not have the privilege of hearing it firsthand. God in turn confirmed the veracity of this gospel by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Spirit.
Third, nothing in this text suggests that the miracles that confirmed the message were performed only by those who originally heard the Lord. The text allows for the possibility that when God testified to the gospel he did it among and through the author of Hebrews and his audience as well. The present tense participle, “God also bearing witness,” at least suggests that “the corroborative evidence was not confined to the initial act of preaching, but continued to be displayed within the life of the community” (William Lane, Hebrews, 1:39).
Fourth, nothing in the text asserts that these miraculous phenomena must be restricted either to those who personally heard the Lord or to those who heard the message of salvation secondhand. Why wouldn’t God continue to testify to the message when it is preached by others in subsequent generations? In other words, in saying that God “bore witness” to the people of the early church he is not necessarily saying that God never “bore witness” for the benefit of those in the church of more recent days.
Fifth, we must not forget that there are other purposes, uses, or benefits in the display of the miraculous beyond that of gospel attestation. Paul believed that “miracles” and “healings” and “prophecy” and the like were designd by God to build up the body of Christ. They were given for “the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). The error of reductionism must be avoided. That is to say, we must not take one stated purpose of signs, wonders, and miracles and reduce God’s aim in such phenomena to that alone. There is no reason why signs, wonders, and miracles could not easily continue to function in numerous other ways beyond the age of the apostles.
Sixth and finally, note that the author distinguishes between “various miracles” and “gifts” of the Spirit, suggesting that by “gifts” he intends more than what we would call miraculous charismata. I doubt anyone would restrict all spiritual gifts (such as teaching, mercy, evangelism, etc.) to the first century simply because they served to authenticate and attest to the gospel. So I find nothing in this text that would require a cessationist view of spiritual gifts. 

Gospel-Centered Confusion

I am not a fan of "buzz words."  You know...when terms that once had a fresh and specific meaning become so widely used that different people use them to mean different things, or just read past them. One of the current buzz terms that falls into this category is "gospel-centered." This post by Bryce Ashlin-Mayo has a necessary corrective:
In recent days, there has been a rise in rhetoric. The use of the phrase “Gospel-Centered” has become ubiquitous. People are arguing for Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Gospel-Centered Preaching, Gospel-Centered Evangelism, Gospel-Centered Children’s Ministry, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry, etc. On the surface, it is hard to argue against the use of the phrase.
The challenge I would make to this phenomena is not necessarily against the desire to be Gospel-Centered (although I think it is fair to ask: Should we be Gospel-Centered or Christ-Centered? Have we lifted the message over the Messiah?) but I would challenge what one means by Gospel-Centered. If one believes that the Gospel is simply the message of reconciliation between God and the individual through Christ (in essence: an individual transaction of salvation paid for by the death of Christ) and nothing more, this means something very different than if one believes that the Gospel is the message of reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1:20) through Christ: between God and humanity, between humanity and humanity (reconciliation, justice, and compassion), and between humanity and creation (creation care).
If we simply understand the Gospel as a transaction between God and the individual, we have only understood the Gospel in one dimension and, in doing so, conveniently commodified it for a consumerist culture. This is analogous to seeing the physical world around us through only one dimension (length), void of width or height. By adding two more dimensions, we see breadth and depth of the world around us. The same is true with the full Gospel message and, thus, the embrace of the full dimension of God’s love (Ephesians 3).
The church is called to proclaim the gospel not simply in its words, offering something for people to consume but also through its actions and communal presence. The Church, as the people of God, are called to be a city on a hill, living in God's Kingdom expressed through forgiveness, peace, justice, compassion, etc for the entire world. The Church doesn't simply have a mission, the Church is called to embody mission by its very existence, presence, and activities because its very existence is an invitation of reconciliation. In an individualistic consumerist culture, this is extremely counter-cultural, explaining why the church's role is so difficult but also why it is so important.
Thus, I would argue that the church can only be Gospel-Centered if it embodies and proclaims the message of reconciliation of all things through Christ; thus, is active in sharing how one’s reconciliation with God is only possible through Christ, is active in carrying for our planet, is involved in reconciliation ministries, is pursuing justice and compassion, is caring for the whole person, etc. If the church is not doing these, pursuing these, etc., is it truly Gospel-Centered? If the church simply communicates a one dimensional message of individual salvation (individual reconciliation with God) it is simply not communicating the whole gospel.
Echoing the mission of the Lausanne Movement the call of the church is for: The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Miracle Sitting Next to You

Is there a miracle sitting next to you in church today? From Marshal Segal at Desiring God:
God gave me you to be my miracle.
That’s the banner over our relationships in the church. God performs the miracle of our growth in godliness through people — Holy-Spirit-filled people in our lives and churches.
These are the people sitting next to you in corporate worship this morning. Maybe another morning with the same people at the same building on the same day of the week begins feeling ordinary or natural. But there’s power in that room. What happens when God’s word sounds, his Spirit falls, and our prayers rise shakes whatever hold sin continues to have in our lives.
More Like Jesus
You receive the word with these people. You sing with these people. You give and serve and plan with these people. And you are made holy with this people. We grow in our faith and devotion and purity and joy in the context of this specific community of believers.Russell Moore uncovers the corporate miracle of our sanctification in his chapter of the new book, Acting the Miracle. If we want to be more like Jesus, we can’t leave home without the church. It is God’s indispensible, irreplaceable means of making us holy. And our words play an especially important role in that process.
Miracles That Kill Sin
Moore speaks specifically to the miracles our words can be for one another. He writes, “The word of the church breaks the power of the deception of sin” (122). People all around you — people you love — are blind to their sin and therefore being consumed by it. They simply cannot see the futility and rebellion in which they are living.
And your words might make the miraculous difference. The timely application of Scripture, or rehearsal of the gospel, or warning of what’s to come, or gentle rebuke of sinful behavior, may save someone from eternal bondage, punishment, and death. By God’s grace and power, your words eternally save and sanctify — your words, the one resource we have that never runs dry.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Magic Fairy Dust

Take the time to notice the "Fairy Dust" all around us!  From R. C. Sproul, Jr at Ligonier:
It was Arthur C. Clarke who posited this law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I disagree. The technology need not be advanced at all. The truth is that the sole reason we don’t see the world all around us as magic is that we are jaded, too cool for the school of wonder. A little fire, a little sand, a little care, a little gentle blowing, and presto chango, we have glass. That’s magic that we now watch at Founders’ Days fairs. A little water, a little sluice box, more fire, a hammer and some nuance, and abracadabra, we have a golden ring.
C.S. Lewis reminded us of the glory of dirt in his account of the creation of Narnia. As Aslan sings his creation song the ground itself begins to bubble up like a toasted cheese sandwich. Soon those bubbles burst and elephants, badgers, and platypi shook off their mantles and walked forth into the light. Having been just born they mistake the evil Uncle Andrew, with his wild shock of hair, for a plant. Believing that hair to be roots they plant him upside down, and the coins in his pocket (silver and gold—this was a bygone era) fall to the ground, and up sprouts trees of silver and gold. The fecundity of Eden, I suspect, would have been much the same.
As Jesus is about the business of remaking, redeeming the world, as He, the second Adam succeeds in fulfilling the dominion mandate, our dirt becomes ever more productive and fruitful. Sand was turned into computer chips such that I rub the tips of my fingers across plastic keys (also formulated from liquid dirt, petroleum) and the words in my head become words on the screen in front of me. Sand turned into glass wires, through pushing a few more buttons, will take those same thoughts across the globe to your magic machine. You are reading my mind right now, all because of magic fairy dust.
Technology is indistinguishable from magic, because it is magic. The exercise of dominion flows out of the image of God in us and is empowered by the same Spirit who said “Let there by light” and there was light. God took nothing and made everything. We, reflecting His glory, take dirt and make widgets. The widgets, however, exist ultimately not for our comfort, but for our sanctification. They exist so that we might give thanks, that we might praise the One whose image we bear. To be jaded, to fail to be astonished that hot water pours forth when we twist a knob, that cool air flows into our homes, offices, shops and cars with the push of a button, that sheep become sweaters, that iron, wood, and cat gut become guitars to accompany our praise, is to be bored by magic.
Dust has a greater power still. When it is molded and shaped, then filled with the breath of life, it in turn speaks words of life, just as its Maker did. Words—spoken, written, preached—these bring life from death, conviction from indifference, gratitude from cynicism. Lord, give us wonder.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Man of Sorrows

Beautiful song by Hillsong - full of strong gospel truth. I love it that they print the words across the screen as they sing. Listen to the music, let the words sink in, soak in the truth of it. You will be blessed.

HT: Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology

Depression - Suffering Service

Depression (medical and spiritual) is a subject the church has just got to start facing and addressing. The testimony of the Warrens after their sons' recent death has helped bring this to the fore. Peter Hughes at The Briefing has written a good piece on the subject - The first paragraphs are below.
Life is pretty good at the moment. I have three great kids. My marriage is going well. We planted a church a few years ago, and we are starting to get some traction. The problems we have are because of growth. All in all, this is one of those seasons people dream about. Life is good.
And yet…
I feel like there’s a weight around my neck, a fog blanketing me. People seem to talk slowly, and my brain functions on just two cylinders. I go to sleep okay at night, but I am awake again at 4am, and by the time I get out of bed I will still be tired. A cup of coffee clears the mist for an hour or two, but then I am back deeper in it than before. Little problems are starting to feel insurmountable, and I often wonder, “Can I deal with this?” My wife is loving and attractive and yet I don’t feel the desire to express this to her. I read the Bible and the word ‘joy’ is an alien idea, and I feel I have almost forgotten what it’s like to laugh.
In short, I am suffering from depression.1
The good news for me is I understand why this is happening. I know it will end soon, but others suffering from depression will be unable to see the end. The bad news is that once I am through this, I know it will happen again, and again, and again.2
At some point in their lives, around one in five people in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States will suffer from depression. Though I don’t have the statistics, I suspect that that figure is higher in churches.3 It will affect different people in different ways, with different causes, but it is a growing problem.
Despite this, we aren’t good at talking about it in our churches—at least not good enough. There is a fear that if I’m not living a life of ‘joy’ then there’s something wrong with me. If I can’t serve like everyone else in church then something’s wrong with me. If I’m depressed, I’m not really a Christian. But by looking at what the Bible has to say about depression and what it says to the person who has depression, we see that in fact looking at depression helps us appreciate and see the glory of God even more vividly....
This is a good article. He applies the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13- 53:12 to our struggles with depression. I recommend it for your reading and consideration..

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lord Willing

HT: Radio Free Babylon

(Click image to enlarge)

One of Those Days

If you are having "one of those days," here's good advice from Pete Wilson
Ever have one of those days?
You know those days, when everything goes wrong!
Who hasn’t had one of those days?
I had one the other day. It was the kind of day where I think I would have been better off just staying in bed. The kind of day that makes you wonder if you can do anything right.
Anyway, I was sitting there in the midst of my very bad day and jotted down a few choices I felt I had to shake this funk. So here’s my list. Hope it helps you on your very bad day.
1. Do something nice for someone else. While I’m not really sure that being selfless for selfish reasons is exactly Biblical, it sure does seem to work.
2. Tell yourself, “Well, at least I ______________.” At least, you went to the gym, or played with your kids, or walked the dog, or read your children a story, or recycled, or ended the day with a great dinner with friends, or saved the world from impending disaster. Okay, you probably didn’t do the latter but you get the point.
3. Go to bed early. I’ve said this before but sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get some sleep. I’m always amazed how a little extra sleep helps you have a whole new perspective the next morning. Lamentations3:22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
4. Keep a proper perspective. Ask yourself: “Will this matter in a month? In a year?”
5. Be grateful. Remind yourself that a lousy day isn’t a catastrophic day. Probably, things could be worse. In fact, I believe most of it can and will be redeemed by God.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Delivered Up For Love

"Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; — but the Father, for love! "

— Octavius Winslow, quoted by John Stott in The Message of Romans (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994), 255

Benefits (and Struggles) With Daily Devotions

Private devotions aren’t magic. We know that (for the most part).
But still, we can be tempted to think that if we just figure out the secret formula — the right mixture of Bible meditation and prayer — we will experience euphoric moments of rapturous communion with the Lord. And if that doesn’t happen, our formula must be wrong.
The danger of this misconception is that it can produce chronic disappointment and discouragement. Cynicism sets in and we give up or whip through them to alleviate guilt because devotions don’t seem to work for us.
Our longing for intimate communion with God is God-given. It’s a good thing to desire, ask for, and pursue. The Spirit does give us wonderful occasional tastes. And this longing will be satisfied to overflowing some day (Psalm 16:11).
But God has other purposes for us in the discipline of daily Bible meditation and prayer. Here are a few:
Soul Exercise (1 Corinthians 9:24Romans 15:4): We exercise our bodies to increase strength, endurance, promote general health, and keep unnecessary weight off. Devotions are like exercise for our souls. They force our attention off of self-indulgent distractions and pursuits and on to God’s purposes and promises. If we neglect this exercise our souls will go to pot.
Soul Shaping (Romans 12:2): The body will generally take the shape of how we exercise it. Running shapes one way, weight training shapes another way. The same is true for the soul. It will conform to how we exercise (or don’t exercise) it. This is why changing your exercise routine can be helpful. Read through the Bible one year, camp in a book and memorize it another year, take a few months to meditate on and pray through texts related to an area of special concern, etc.
Bible Copiousness (Psalm 119:11Psalm 119:97Proverbs 23:12): A thorough, repeated, soaking in the Bible over the course of years increases our overall Biblical knowledge, providing fuel for the fire of worship and increasing our ability to draw from all parts of the Bible in applying God’s wisdom to life.
Fight Training (Ephesians 6:10–17): Marines undergo rigorous training in order to so ingrain their weapons knowledge that when suddenly faced with the chaos of combat they instinctively know how to handle their weapons. Similarly, daily handling and using the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) makes us more skilled spiritual warriors.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Severing the Shackles

Good interview with Heath Lambert, the author of  Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace at the Gospel Coalition site -Severing the Shackles of Porn
All "life dominating" difficulties feel enslaving to the people who struggle with them. Women who cut themselves or make themselves throw up feel enslaved to the problem. Guys who struggle with homosexual temptation feel enslaved to a problem they don't know how to combat.
Struggles with pornography are like these and many others. But porn is unique because it is, I suspect, much more prevalent. For guys struggling with porn, the enslaving elements are found in two areas. First, sexual sins have a unique ability to enslave (for biblical-theological reasons I don't have space to unpack here). Second, porn hides in the dark. When you combine the sexuality and the secrecy of porn you have an enslaving combination. This means one of the most important things guys can do to break its enslaving power is the one thing they often sense they cannot do—expose the darkness to the light. This is hard, but Jesus will empower you to do it when you ask him for his help.
Read it all at the link.

Just One Litttle Problem....

HT: Jason Clark

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Demonstration of Vulnerability and Authenticity

I just finished watching Rick and Kay Warren's interview with Piers Morgan on CNN. If you want to know what real Christianity is about, just watch that interview. Christianity is so much more than words alone. It is power. It is grace. It is blood, sweat, and tears. And it is honest.
Rick and Kay's son, Matthew, had a lifelong battle with mental illness. He ultimately decided to take his own life, in spite of everything Rick and Kay have done over the years to love their son unconditionally and help him in his illness. Their story will give you a better picture of Christianity than 1000 sermons alone could ever give you. And it will give you hope to press on in the midst of your trials and grief.
Piers Morgan did a beautiful job of asking the important questions. And God did the rest. If you want to see how real Christians struggle through the most painful experience of their life, then watch this interview. You will learn more about God, and grace, and hope than 1000 sermons alone could ever teach you.
This is where the rubber of Christian hope meets the road of hard knocks. And even though Rick and Kay were knocked to the ground by the gut-wrenching pain of their son's suicide, their faith in God has empowered them to persevere.
Thousands of people are interviewed every year on a whole host of networks. But you will be hard-pressed to find an interview that does more to display real Christianity than this one.
Rick and Kay Warren are genuine and loving people. They are just like the rest of us with their times of joy and times of sadness. But their pain through their son's death has taken them to a place of intense brokenness.

Through it all, they know Matthew is in heaven. He was a believer in Jesus, and a young man of tremendous compassion. He was saved by God's grace. And it is that same grace which carried Rick and Kay through this amazing interview, and which has flowed through them to millions of people around the world for many years now.
Christianity is not about being a "celebrity pastor." Rick will be the first one to tell you that. It is about what Rick and Kay do on a daily basis to serve others by God's grace, and the living water which poured out of them in front of a worldwide audience on CNN.
This will likely be one of the few interviews in your lifetime which has the power to literally set you on a new course. A course of hope. And a journey to heaven.
I hope you make the time to watch this interview. And then share it with others. When Matthew was on earth, he made a habit of encouraging those who struggled with their own issues. And Matthew made a definite point to tell them about Jesus. Now others are learning about Christ's love through the courageous faith of Matthew's parents.
As Rick shared in the interview and then tweeted this evening, "In God's Garden of Grace, even broken trees bear fruit." If you are broken today my friend, there is One who has more than enough grace to see you through. After all, just look what He is doing for Rick and Kay. That kind of power goes way beyond words alone.
If you think you know all about Christianity, why don't you watch this interview just to compare it to any of your preconceived notions. You might see something here that you had no idea was even possible.
Remember. The miracle of Christianity extends beyond true doctrine. And that's what confirms it is real.

Moral Sinners

"The devil does not particularly care whether we are moral or immoral. What concerns him very much is only whether we are close to God. The devil casts us into immorality because it darkens our mind’s eye [“nous”] and thus takes us far from God. However, he is careful because sin can push us to repentance, and then he would lose us. Even virtue is a useful tool to him, and he has often used it to draw many people away from God. His most secure prisoners, after all, are those who are morally irreproachable but also have a grand idea of themselves. And unfortunately there are many of them.”

“We do not have the right to hide the truth just because we are too weak to put it into practice. We are obliged to confess the truth and at the same time admit that we do not do what our Lord has commanded.”"

~Alexander Kalomiros: Nostalgia for Paradise

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Wild Grace

Love this! Grace Gone Wild by David Mathis at Desiring God:
Grace is on the loose.
Contrary to our expectations, counter to our assumptions, frustrating our judicial sentiments, mocking our craving for control, the grace of God is turning the world upside. He is shamelessly pouring out his lavish favor on undeserving sinners of all stripes, and thoroughly stripping away our self-sufficiency.
Prehistoric and Unshackled
Grace has been on the move since before creation, roaming wild and free. Even before the foundation of the world, it was the untamed grace of God that jumped the bounds of time and space and considered a yet-to-be-created people in connection with his Son, and chose them in him (Ephesians 1:4). It was in love — and to the praise of his glorious grace — that “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus” (Ephesians 1:5–6). Such a divine choice was not based on foreseeing anything good in us. He chose us by grace — “and if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5–6). It was “not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
With patience, then — through creation, fall, and flood, through Adam, Noah, Abraham, and David — God prepared the way. Humanity waited and groaned, gathering up the crumbs of his compassion as a foretaste of some feast to come. The prophets “prophesied about the grace that was to be yours” (1 Peter 1:10). And in the fullness of time, it came. He came.
Jumping the Fence
Now “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11). Grace couldn’t be kept from becoming flesh and dwelling among us in the God-man, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16). The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth are here in him (John 1:17). Grace has a face.
But grace would not be restricted even here, even in this man. Grace would not just be embodied, but break the chains, jump the fences, and roam the globe unfettered.
Casting Away Restraint
It was sheer grace that united us by faith to Grace Incarnate, and blessed us in him “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). In grace were we called with effect, and given new birth. Because of grace unmeasured, boundless, free, now our dead hearts beat and lifeless lungs breathe. Only through grace do we believe (Acts 18:27), and only in grace do we receive “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).
But such wild grace keeps going. We get the Spirit, and experience our long-planned adoption, and cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). We receive “the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Grace keeps breaking through barriers and casting away restraints. Grace justifies. A perfect, impeachable, divinely approved, humanly applied righteousness is ours in this union with Jesus. We are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24Titus 3:7). Through this one man Jesus, we are counted among “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). And so we happily say with Paul, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). And with sobriety do we heed the warning, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). The best of our doing, and our worst, has no bearing on our Father’s acceptance.
Breaking into Our Lives
And just when we think we have been carried far enough, that God has done for us all that we could imagine and more, grace shatters the mold again. Grace sanctifies — too wild to let us stay in love with unrighteousness. Too free to leave us in slavery to sin. Too untamed to let our lusts go unconquered. Grace’s power is too uninhibited to not unleash us for the happiness of holiness.
So it is that we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), and live “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Grace abounds not through our continuing in sin, but through our Spirit-empowered, ongoing liberation (Romans 6:1). Grace is too strong to leave us passive, too potent to let us wallow in the mire of our sins and weaknesses. “My grace is sufficient for you,” says Jesus, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It is “the word of his grace” — the gospel — that builds us up and makes us holy (Acts 20:321 Timothy 4:5). We live on daily doses of “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:6). It is God’s grace that causes us to endure, and sustains us as we persevere. We have entered into “this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2). We are what we are “by the grace of God” (1 Corinthians 15:10), “strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1Hebrews 13:9). “This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1 Peter 5:12).
Flooding the Future
Just when we’re sure it is done, and certain that some order must be restored, some boundary established, some restraint applied, God’s grace not only floods the future of this life, but leaps the walls of the next, and pours out onto the plains of eternity.
We will be glorified with Jesus.
If the Scriptures didn’t make plain the story of our glory, we’d be scared to even dream of such grace. Not only will Jesus be glorified in us, but we will be glorified in him, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:16). He is “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10). So Peter tells us to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). It will be indescribably stunning in the coming ages as he shows “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
Chosen before time. Called with effect. United to Jesus in faith and repentance. Forgiven. Adopted. Justified. Sanctified. Sustained. Glorified. And satisfied forever. Grace gone wonderfully wild.

Friday, September 20, 2013

5 Tips (Part 2)

Part Two from Five Tips for Finding Your Theological Balance by Derek Rishmawy:
Finding your theological balance indeed can be difficult, so here are five tips for those of us still in process.
1. Read your Bible like crazy.

You can't know the Scriptures too well. And by "knowing the Scriptures" I don't just mean the canon-within-a-canon you've chosen for yourself out of three Pauline epistles and a Gospel, or from the books of Matthew and James. Get a few prophets, Old Testament narratives, and even some Torah in there. God gave us 66 books to reveal himself, so ignoring bits will inevitably leave you off-balance. Get this one wrong and the rest won't matter.
2. Read more than one theologian.

Focusing on that one pastor or thinker to the exclusion of others is a recipe for imbalance. As a limited, fallible human, your hero will be myopic somewhere. Expand your horizons. Read outside your tradition a bit. Wander outside your century. Who knows what gems you'll find?
3. Read the key irenic, broadly focused theologians.

Every theologian has hobby-horses and pet issues, but some are well known for their controversies and others for their broad, even-keeled treatments of issues. Look for those theologians who are widely consulted even across traditional boundaries. If there's a Methodist or Catholic being quoted by a Reformed theologian, like Thomas Oden, go ahead and pick him up.
4. Read the key polemical theologians.

I've recently set myself the task of reading some key theologians in the early church controversies: Ireneaus against the Gnostics, Athanasius against the Arians, Cyril against the Nestorians, Augustine against the Pelagians, and so forth. These teachers demonstrated an ability to defend or preserve some necessary tension—some holy imbalance—in the faith. The ability to defend one issue clearly is often a sign of a good grasp on the whole.
5. Read about more than one subject.

This one should be obvious, but if you fixate on one issue, no matter how central it is, you'll have balance issues. It's okay to give sustained attention to interesting or key subjects, but if I've only ever read about the cross and never the resurrection or the ascension, I'll have a skewed view of Christ's person and work. What's more, narrow reading usually obscures a fuller understanding of the couple of subjects I do study since every doctrine is only meaningful within the framework of the whole.

I could easily list more, but the point is, don't be that drunk guy falling off his horse. Study widely, read deeply, and constantly check yourself against the whole of Scripture. Do that, and you may just begin to find your balance.

5 Tips to Balance

Below is from Five Tips for finding Your Theological Balance by Derek Rishmawy
If you asked me to name my theological pet peeves, right near the top would be what I call pendulum-swing theology. This process usually occurs when you grow up hearing one particular view of something, get sick of it, and then swing to the opposite extreme. For example, you grow up a hyper-Calvinist, something happens, and you swing to open theism. You see this swing a lot in atonement theology, too. Sometimes, when evangelicals who've grown up on a steady diet of penal substitutionary atonement discover Jesus actually did some other things, too—like defeat the powers, demonstrate God's love, and so forth—they end up chucking penal substitution altogether instead of carefully integrating each truth into a holistic doctrine of reconciliation. Martin Luther described the history of theology as a drunk man getting on his horse only to fall off the other side—and then repeating the process. This problem irks me.

So finding evenhanded treatments of just about any subject is one of my greatest delights. A sense for balance is one of the highest virtues a theologian can possess, while a lack of balance is a serious vice. In trinitarian theology, for example, focusing on God's oneness over his threeness, or vice versa, leads to either modalism or tritheism—neither of which works with the gospel. In fact, they both destroy it. In Christology, too, the Chalcedonian definition keeps us from tipping into an overemphasis on the Son's divinity or humanity to the exclusion and distortion of the other. Again, lose your balance, you lose the gospel. God is both immanent and transcendent; tip one way or the other and you end up with either a soggy pantheism or a cold deism—neither of which works well with the gospel. You see how this works?
So finding evenhanded treatments of just about any subject is one of my greatest delights. A sense for balance is one of the highest virtues a theologian can possess, while a lack of balance is a serious vice. In trinitarian theology, for example, focusing on God's oneness over his threeness, or vice versa, leads to either modalism or tritheism—neither of which works with the gospel. In fact, they both destroy it. In Christology, too, the Chalcedonian definition keeps us from tipping into an overemphasis on the Son's divinity or humanity to the exclusion and distortion of the other. Again, lose your balance, you lose the gospel. God is both immanent and transcendent; tip one way or the other and you end up with either a soggy pantheism or a cold deism—neither of which works well with the gospel. You see how this works?
That said, it's important to be balanced even with our love for balance in theology. Bruce Ware explains this point in his foreword to Rob Lister's excellent, balanced book on the doctrine of impassibility:
Theological balance, like physical balance, is normally a sign of health and well-being. The reason such balance is "normally" but not exclusively best is simply that, in some situations, imbalance is clearly required. So physically, balancing equally on both legs with sustained upright posture is normally best, yet if one wishes to dive into a swimming pool, one must embrace the imbalance of leaning altogether forward—a position that if done "normally" would result in endless bloody noses and skull fractures. (16)
In all sorts of areas, balance is good, but sometimes there's no balance to be had. Ware reminds us specifically of the Reformation solas. Christ is not one among many mediators, or else he isn't Savior. We aren't saved by God's grace and our merit. It can't be God's glory and ours. And, of course, as soon as we elevate other authorities alongside Scripture, we begin to lose sight of biblical proportion.
Indeed, there are times when balance is no virtue, but a gospel-destroying vice. The gospel requires a few headlong plunges. In other words, a true sense of balance will recognize that there are times for both/ands along with times for either/ors. Knowing the difference between the two is crucial to avoiding heresy and preserving the gospel.
More from this article in the next post.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Friend Jesus

Love this! - Can I Tell You About My Friend Jesus? by Jared Wilson:
I love my friend Jesus because he knows everything I’ve ever thought and still doesn’t cross the street to avoid me when he sees me coming.
I love my friend Jesus because the blood of his sacrifice speaks a better word than the sweat of my effort, and he shouts it triumphantly.
I love my friend Jesus because he chased after me when I ran away and he didn’t stop til I was found and tackled.
My friend Jesus? He’s a storm-hushing, tomb-busting, dragon-crushing brother.
I love my friend Jesus because he took my death, even though he had plenty of time to think it over and every reason to say no.
I love my friend Jesus because he’s never left me and won’t ever leave me, even when I’m most leave-able.
I love my friend Jesus because even when he’s laughing at me, he’s laughing with me. There is no guile in him, no mockery.
I love my friend Jesus because even when he calls me on my bull he doesn’t nag or shame me.
I love my friend Jesus because he never checks his watch while I’m talking to him.
I love my friend Jesus because he never brings up my old stuff.
I love my friend Jesus because, while the crowd gathers with their stones on that side, he stands on this side of the line with me.
I love my friend Jesus because he keeps the devil on a leash like a dog but will throw him into the lake of fire like he’s a cat. #dogperson
I love my friend Jesus because he doesn’t nitpick.
I love my friend Jesus because he never leaves me behind.
I love my friend Jesus because he waits unhurried with me.
I love my friend Jesus because when I enter the room, he doesn’t shake his head & mutter “This guy” but smiles and shouts “This guy!”
I love my friend Jesus because, though he has every right to be, he is nevertheless not ashamed to call me his brother.
I love my friend Jesus because he doesn’t “get upset” with me.
I love my friend Jesus because he is forgiver, healer, conqueror, king, God.
I love my friend Jesus because he uses the dirt of my sermons to open blind eyes. What a powerful, gracious friend.
I love my friend Jesus because he doesn’t just erase the records against me, he burns the record book and scatters the ashes to nothing.
I love my friend Jesus because when he sees me shuffling in, tail between my legs, he runs to meet me in welcome.
I love my friend Jesus because he doesn’t pass on false reports about me but is glad to be my eternal advocate.
I love my friend Jesus because he upholds the universe by the word of his power. I am in good with the boss of existence.
I love my friend Jesus because he just straight-up — no hesitations, no qualifications, no ifs ands or buts — loves me.
I love my friend Jesus because while many give me trouble, he gives me rest.
I love my friend Jesus because when all around my soul gives way, he is all my hope and stay.
I love my friend Jesus because he always lives to intercede for me.
I love my friend Jesus because I can just be myself with him.
I love my friend Jesus because he is infinitely rich with grace and a big spender.
I love my friend Jesus because he makes me feel like a conqueror but he does it without feeding my ego.
All of these sayings previously appeared as Tweets by @jaredwilson. I'd suggest you follow him!

Whoa is Me!

From The Sacred Sandwich

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Abortion Clinics Closing at a Record Rate - From Christianity Today:
(BP) For Abby Johnson, the closing of a single Planned Parenthood center demonstrated her dramatic reversal from abortion clinic director to leading pro-life advocate.
But for pro-lifers throughout the United States, it marked another exhibit in a hopeful trend—abortion centers are shutting down at an unprecedented rate. The total so far this year is 44, according to a pro-life organization that tracks clinic operations.
None was more telling for Johnson than the mid-July closing of the Planned Parenthood center in Bryan, Texas. It came less than four years after Johnson, burdened by her involvement with abortion, walked out of that clinic as its director and into the offices of the Coalition for Life.
"Knowing that the former abortion clinic I once ran is now closing is the biggest personal victory of my life," Johnson said in a written statement after the announcement of the shutdown. "From running that facility, to then advocating for its closure, and now celebrating that dream ... it shows that my life has indeed come full circle."
Since her celebrated conversion from Planned Parenthood director, Johnson has started a ministry to help workers leave the abortion industry. She has pledged, as she said in July, to "fight until every abortion clinic in this country has shut its doors."
This year, 42 clinics that provided surgical abortions have shut their doors, and two that offered chemical abortions by drugs also have closed, according to Operation Rescue, which monitors closings and health and safety violations by clinics nationwide. That number far surpasses the 25 surgical clinics shutdown last year and the 30 in 2011, by Operation Rescue's count. While others estimate a smaller number of closings, the pattern is clear.
Some of the shutdowns have been of major clinics. For instance, Virginia's No. 1 abortion provider closed, The Washington Post reported in July. NOVA Women's Healthcare in Fairfax, Va., shut down after state and local governments enacted regulations the abortion provider appeared unable to meet. The northern Virginia clinic performed 3,066 abortions in 2012 and 3,567 in 2011.
The reasons given for the upswing in closings are varied even among pro-lifers. They include:
-- the increasing state regulation and oversight of clinics;-- a growth in pro-life opinion and activity, and-- a decline in the abortion rate.

Cause and Cure for Broken Relationships

It doesn’t matter where you live, what you do for a living, or how you spend your free time, you have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience the wreckage of broken relationships. Infidelity, divorce, misunderstanding, fragmented workplaces, even death…these things touch us all, even in the “safe haven” of church. Broken relationships are everywhere.
But what breaks them? And how can they be restored? This is the question taken up by James in the fourth chapter of his epistle. James is a “horizontal” book, in that it is primarily concerned with the love that people ought to have and show for each other. Of course, as I’ve said before, the horizontal hinges on the vertical: where there is no faith, there can be no love.
Listen to what James says: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (4:1-4).
I can almost guarantee that you do not believe this. Not for one minute.
In November of 2012, The New York Times published an article by Lori Gottleib entitled “What Brand is Your Therapist?” In the article, Gottleib discusses something that she learned from Casey Truffo, a branding consultant:
This is something Truffo discovered in her own former private practice of 18 years, during which she saw a shift from people who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves better to people who would come in “because they wanted someone else or something else to change,” she said. “I’d see fewer and fewer people coming in and saying, ‘I want to change.’ ”
From a branding perspective, the fix was simple. At professional-networking events or in newsletters, her pitch went from “I treat people with depression and anxiety” to “Are you having trouble with the difficult people in your life?”
Like Truffo’s patients, we all desperately desire to locate our problems outside ourselves. You know what I mean: it’s not you, it’s him. It’s her. It’s this. It’s that. That’s why we disbelieve James. When Babu Bhatt tells Jerry Seinfeld that he’s a “very bad man,” Seinfeld is stunned. “Was my mother wrong?” he wonders. We’ve all been told our whole lives that we can do and be anything we want — in short, that we’re wonderful — and that we just have to overcome those external obstacles in our lives. If we can just fix those people (or remove them altogether from our lives), alter our circumstances, elect a different President, get a new job, and so on and so forth, then — and only then — will we be free and happy. James’ words — thatwe’re the problem — are horrifying.
Unfortunately, they’re also true.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Practicing Detachment

From The Anchoress:
Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go.. to move forward. — CS Lewis
That is very true. It is also true of great experiences — those moments of ‘triumph’ when for a short time it all comes together for you; the accolades that follow can surprise and confound and are always too effusive.

Take what is healing in all of that, but the rest must be let go. Practice detachment, or you begin to believe the hype, and then you’re lost. If you have not practiced detachment, when your hand inevitably misses a rung, it will come a hard, hard fall.

Red Like Blood Review

My review of  Red Like Blood: Confrontations With Grace, by Joe Coffey & Bob Bevington

As a blogger, I sometimes get access through various publisher programs to free copies of books for review purposes . As pledged in my book review policy, I will always tell you if I got a book for free, and I will give you my honest opinion, free book or not. This is one of those books.

I came to the book without high expectations. I'm very interested in the subjects of grace and forgiveness, so I figured it might be a good read just from the subject matter. It was more, much more, than I expected.

Is this a great book? No. Is it one that will be cherished and read for generations to come? No, probably not. Am I glad I read it? Yes, oh yes!. Why? Because I felt close to Jesus while reading it. I was, at times, so caught up while reading this book in the greatness of the grace and love of God for us broken sinners, that I had to put the book down and just luxuriate in His love. It's that kind of book.

The book has two authors. Joe Coffey is a pastor and the son of a pastor. Bob Bevington is a optometrist and entrepreneur, who calls himself a returned prodigal after divorce and a ruined family. Together they take turns telling stories of grace working in their lives and and the lives of many of their friends. Bob tells his personal story of adultery and betrayal of his first wife, Rita, and his remarriage to Amy, his then mistress. Later, he and Amy become Christians, and sought reconciliation with Rita. I won't give away the details, but Rita and Amy are now great friends and do seminars together about forgiveness and grace. What a story! God is good!.

Beyond the great stories, the book is filled with little nugget sayings like these, that just seem to drop in the middle of a narrative and grab the reader's soul.
"Our brokenness forms the cracks through which grace flows in." (Page 50)
"You [God] do what you want when you want - that makes you the only Person in the entire universe who is truly independent. And your absolute independence is precisely the reason I can absolutely depend on you." (Page 74)
"It doesn't matter whether it's big or small in the world's eyes, if God is moving in my life in any way at all, it's HUGE!" (Page 112)
"Freedom from addiction is not merely about applying our willpower. It's about feasting on Jesus." (Page 127)
"Grace always flows red like blood. that is why there is a cross. But for grace to have the power to save we need a risen Savior. That is why the tomb is empty today." (Page 209)
See what I mean? Red Like Blood is worth reading. Take the time to do so; I think that you'll be glad you did.

(BTW- The authors have a blog at Red Like Blood. check it out!)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Meeting at the Mercy Seat

From Ligonier Ministries, a great little piece by Stephen Nichols on Romans 3:
One of the most important paragraphs in the Bible may very well be Romans 3:21-26. This densely packed paragraph offers a thorough and glorious discussion of justification by faith. Not surprisingly, this paragraph plays a crucial role in the history of doctrine. Martin Luther camped out here. And not surprisingly, the roots of this paragraph extend throughout the Bible itself. Two key places deserve notice. The first takes us back to Exodus, while the second comes near the end of John’s Gospel.
First, consider Exodus 25:22. The context here concerns the description of the tabernacle and specifically the key piece of furniture in the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant. On top of the ark is the mercy seat, flanked on either end by two cherubim (Ex. 25:19). At this very place, at the mercy seat, God meets his people.Exodus 25:22 declares, “There I will meet with you.”
The connection to Romans 3 concerns the Greek word used for the Hebrew word for mercy seat. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, uses the word hilasterion to translate the Hebrew word. (The Hebrew word is kappuret, related to the word for atonement, which is kippur.) This Greek word, hilasterion, usually gets translated as “propitiation” in the New Testament. “Propitiation” only occurs a handful of times in the New Testament. One of those times comes in Romans 3:25. Referring to Christ and his work of redemption, Paul states that God put forward Christ “as a propitiation.” Christ is the acceptable, wrath-satisfying sacrifice on our behalf.
And then there is John 20:12. Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb of Christ only to find it empty. As she stooped down to look in, “She saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” Back in Exodus 25, two carved angels took their places at either end of the mercy seat.
Now all we need to do is connect the dots. God desires to meet with his people, and the blood of the spotless lamb is the only means by which that meeting is made possible. The mercy seat of the Old Testament, and the blood sprinkled upon it by the high priest, prefigured Christ to come. Christ did come, and Christ did make the sacrifice, and Christ was raised from the dead. Make no mistake about it, these are historical realities. The tabernacle was real. The ark of the covenant was real. The mercy seat was real. The cross was real. The empty tomb was real. And a real woman stooped to look at real angels.
Christ is our mercy seat. There, in and through Christ, God meets us. The dots are connected.

Death Extinguished By A Sea of Blessings

Christ has paid far more than we owed — as much more as a boundless ocean compared with a drop of water. Doubt not therefore, O man, when you see such a wealth of benefits; nor inquire how that spark of death and sin can be extinguished, when such a sea of blessings is let in upon it. 

— St. John Chrysostom, quoted by George Smeaton in The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement

HT Of First Importance

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hope When Weak

“We have within us deeply rooted weaknesses, passions, and defects. This can not all be cut out with one sharp motion, but patience, persistence, care and attention. The path leading to perfection is long. Pray to God so that he will strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls and, having stood up, immediately run to God, not remaining in that place where you have fallen. Do not despair if you keep falling into your old sins. Many of them are strong because they have received the force of habit. Only with the passage of time and with fervor will they be conquered. Don’t let anything deprive you of hope.”

                   – St. Nektarios of Aegina

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Transformed Wholeness

"Some think of the gospel as so slender it does nothing more than get us into the kingdom. After that the real work of transformation begins. But a biblically-faithful understanding of the gospel shows that gospel to be rich, powerful, the wisdom of God and the power of God, all we need in Christ.

It is the gospel that saves us, transforms us, conforms us to Christ, prepares us for the new heaven and the new earth, establishes our relations with fellow-believers, teaches us how to work and serve so as to bring glory to God, calls forth and edifies the church, and so forth. This gospel saves — and ‘salvation’ means more than just ‘getting in,’ but transformed wholeness. "

— D. A. Carson   "Four Questions with D. A. Carson"

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Witness to Vulgar Grace

"My life is a witness to vulgar grace—a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up a ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request—”Please, remember me”—and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mind.  This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough."

          -Robert Farrar Capon

HT: IMonk

The X Factor

The Bible is no magic book. But saying it that way might give the wrong impression.
A strange, enigmatic power stirs when we reach for the Scriptures. Something influential, though invisible, is happening as we hear God’s words read or spoken. Something supernatural, but unseen, transpires as we see the text in front of us and take it into our souls. Someone unseen moves.
He is a personal force, fully divine and full of mystery — more a person than you or me, and yet no less an indomitable and ultimately irresistible power. He makes the seemingly simple into something supernatural, as reading the Bible takes us beyond the realm of our control. There is an x-factor when we read the Book.
More Than Cause and Effect
He loves to strengthen human souls in obvious and subtle ways as they encounter God’s word — whether that Word is the incarnate Christ himself, the gospel word of salvation for sinners, or the written word in the Scriptures.
As much as we may want to master the discipline of Bible intake, to trace the lines of cause and effect from some action we take to some resulting satisfaction of our soul, the Helper resists our efforts to objectify grace. He lingers in silence. He labors mysteriously. He imperceptibly shapes us this morning to make us into who we need to be this afternoon. His hands act untraceably as he molds our minds, hews out our hearts, whittles at our wills, and carves at our callouses.
Beyond Our Control
Not only does he hover over the waters, over all created space, standing ready to execute the Father’s will and extend the reign of the glorified Son. But he hovers all the more over the divine word — whether incarnate, spoken, or written — standing ready to awaken dead souls and open blind eyes and warm cold hearts.
It was in him that the gospel first came to us “not only in word, but also in power” (1 Thessalonians 1:5), and it was with his joy that we “received the word much affliction” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). It was by him that “God chose [us] to be saved, through sanctification” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
More Than We Can Muster
With the Helper in view, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24).
He is the one through whom now is revealed to us the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7–10). Our helper is the one who searches everything, even the depths of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). No one comprehends the thoughts of God, except our aid (1 Corinthians 2:11). He is the one whom the truly born again have received “that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). And so when we — not just apostles, but we Christians — communicate the Christian message and teaching, we “impart this in words not taught by human wisdom,” but taught by him, “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
He is the promised one, with whom we were sealed when we “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in [Jesus]” (Ephesians 1:13). The word of God is said to be his sword (Ephesians 6:17).
More Than Meets the Eye
When we get alone with the Bible, we are not alone. God has not left us to ourselves to understand his words and feed our own souls. No matter how thin your training, no matter how spotty your routine, the Helper stands ready. Take up the text in confidence that God is primed to bless your being with his very breath.
There is more than meets the eye to this spiritual discipline. A variable we can’t control. An enigmatic power we cannot command. A mysterious goodness we can only receive.
The x-factor in Bible reading is the Holy Spirit.