Monday, March 28, 2016

True Affluence

But those who are satisfied with what they have, and pleased with their own possessions, and do not have their eyes on the substance of others, even if they are the poorest of all, should be considered the richest of all. For whoever has no need of others' property but is happy to be self-sufficient is the most affluent of all."

        +St. John Chrysostom. (HT Holy Fathers)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Crux Probat Omnia

On Good Friday, it is important to remember the words of Martin Luther: Crux probat omnia — The cross is the test of everything. Below is an excerpt from The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge (Via Internet Monk):
The crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance. The resurrection is not a set piece. It is not an isolated demonstration of divine dazzlement. It is not to be detached from its abhorrent first act. The resurrection is, precisely, the vindication of a man who was crucified. Without the cross at the center of the Christian proclamation, the Jesus story can be treated as just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure. It is the crucifixion that marks out Christianity as something definitively different in the history of religion. It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed. Since the resurrection is God’s mighty transhistorical Yes to the historically crucified Son, we can assert that the crucifixion is the most important historical event that ever happened. The resurrection, being a transhistorical event planted within history, does not cancel out the contradiction and shame of the cross in this present life; rather, the resurrection ratifies the cross as the way “until he comes.”
…The resurrection is not just the reappearance of a dead person. It is the mighty act of God to vindicated the One whose very right to exist was thought to have been negated by the powers that nailed him to a cross. At the same time, however, the One who is gloriously risen is the same One who suffered crucifixion. It is not an insignificant detail that “doubting Thomas” asks to see the marks of the nails and the spear in the Lord’s resurrected body (John 20:25). The book of Revelation is an extended hymn to the risen Christ, but he is nevertheless the “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,” the One whose wounds still show, the One by whose blood the robes of the redeemed have been cleansed for all eternity (Rev. 5:6-7)
The reason Paul said to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), is not that he considered the resurrection to be of lesser importance. The reason Paul insisted on the centrality of the cross in polemical terms was that the Corinthian Christians wanted to pass over it altogether. This tendency persists in the American church today. H. Richard Niebuhr put it unforgettably in The Kingdom of God in America: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” When this happens, we may have spirituality, but we do not have Christianity.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

True Riches

The only true riches are those that make us rich in virtue. Therefore, if you want to be rich, beloved, love true riches. If you aspire to the heights of real honor, strive to reach the kingdom of Heaven. If you value rank and renown, hasten to be enrolled in the heavenly court of the Angels.'

 St. Gregory the Great

HT: Holy Fathers

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Everyone Is Invited To the Party

This is a very good article - The Gospel Isn't a Rule Book by Thomas Christianson at Relevant:
"You're scum"
That's what religious leaders in Jesus' day called the people who were at a party with Him one evening.
Jesus had invited this guy named Matthew to be one of His disciples. Matthew was a tax collector. That means he was basically a traitor and a thief because he was collecting taxes for an occupying Roman government. Matthew was excited, so he threw a party and invited Jesus and all the other disciples plus everybody Matthew knew.
The issue was that the only people Matthew knew were outcasts like him.
That's the group of people Jesus was hanging out with when the Pharisees asked the rest of the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
Part of the Problem
Most of us probably have at least one story we could tell about a time religious people made us feel like scum.
In church one week as a kid, I got called out from the pulpit in front of maybe 600 people for wearing a T-shirt and jean shorts. I already hated going to church, so this was just one more reason to dislike the place. I kept wearing shorts and a T-shirt whenever my mom dragged me along.

I didn’t like the feeling of being judged by someone in a place of spiritual authority. But years later, I became part of the problem before trying to be part of the solution.
After I had made the choice to follow Jesus, I attended seminary to study Scripture and theology. I gradually got to the point where I wasn't sure whether other people really “understood” the Christian life the way I understood it, and I was quick to criticize people who were “doing it wrong.”
I wouldn't have admitted it to anybody at the time (especially myself), but I was miserable, and I'm pretty sure I made a lot of other people miserable, as well. I had become like the minister who had tried to shame me. I had become like the religious people who couldn't understand why Jesus would want to be around “scum.”
I'll never forget the day where, during prayer, I felt like God took a wrecking ball to the prison of expectations and self righteousness I had constructed around myself brick by brick. God showed me a freedom I had lost in the midst of all my rules and striving, and I vowed never to go back.
Here are some perspectives I work to maintain to help me be more like Jesus, who was accepting of imperfect people, rather than being like the Pharisees, who were on the wrong side of the coming of a new movement from God and refused to deal with the broken, flawed people who filled the world.
The Gospel is Good News, Not a Rulebook
Jesus is always far more accepting than anyone around Him is comfortable with. People's lives are changed after being around Jesus. On more than one occasion, even His own disciples are confused about why Jesus is interacting with outsiders, which is funny since they are absolutely not the kind of people a renowned rabbi would normally select as his followers.
The Kingdom of God is a party everyone is invited to. Christians are not the door bouncers, we're the promoters, getting the word out to everyone.
In Galatians 2:18, Paul writes, "I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down." If we just create new “Jesus rules,” or standards someone has to meet before we let them in to our Christian circles, we're completely missing the point of why Jesus was born, lived, died and lived again.
No one ever has to be an outsider again.
Acceptance Isn’t the Same Thing As Approval
Several times, Jesus ends an encounter with some form of “go and sin no more.” The difference between the way Jesus does this and what we tend to do is that Jesus did it in a relational manner. It was only after He showed how much He valued people through acts of acceptance, salvation, healing, etc that He said this.
We can only hold people accountable to the level we have influence with them. Influence comes from relationship, and relationship is gained by demonstrating genuine care over the course of time.
When Jesus told people to go and leave their sinful life, it didn't come across as a threat, but rather as a caution. "Hey,I want you to have a better life. Stop doing things that hurt yourself."
We need to love well before we can disciple well.
We Don’t Know the Full Story, But God Does
Jesus says there will be surprises when the Kingdom of God fully arrives. He warns us against being hypocritical judges.
C.S. Lewis tells a story in the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia series wherein a soldier fighting against Aslan is welcomed into paradise because Aslan knew that the soldier's devotion was in search of truth and Aslan accepted that as worship.
Before you worry about me being a universalist, remember that I'm just telling you something C.S. Lewis considered. Lewis also wrote a book called The Great Divorce where he suggested that anyone can leave hell anytime they want, but the vast majority want to stay.
I have no clue whether C.S. Lewis is right in either of these cases, but here's why I love what he has written: He's taken a two-sided issue and found a new side. If a human being can do that, how much more can God do that?
My point here is that our gauge of who has it together and who doesn't may not be calibrated all that well. The ones we consider imperfect may be closer to the Kingdom than we ourselves are.
It is in keeping these perspectives in mind that I try to live on a footing of humility. Often, I fail spectacularly, but here's the beauty: When I'm more willing to accept imperfection in others, it doesn't devastate my own sense of value and worth.
When I screw up and Jesus doesn't zap me with a lightning bolt, it reminds me of His great love.
In those moments, it becomes easier to remember to love others, as well.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Flourishing Life

Below is an excerpt from a post by Darryl Dash discussing Andy Crouch's new book Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing.
,,,The premise of the book is simple. We are meant to flourish, and flourishing requires two things that at first don't seem to go together. "Here’s the paradox: flourishing comes from being both strong and weak." Or, to put it in a form of a 2 by 2 chart, we're to embrace both authority and vulnerability.
It's easy to miss this paradox. In my talk, I'd focused on the grace that's found in weakness, reflecting on the Lord's words to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). I'd inadvertently glorified what Crouch calls the withdrawing/suffering quadrants, missing the quadrant of flourishing (authority and vulnerability). Crouch's model helped me understand that we're meant to be weak and strong in equal measure.
Flourishing, though, isn't about health, wealth, growth, affluence, and gentrification. We know this because Jesus, our model for flourishing, didn't live an affluent life. Flourishing means that we care for our communities, especially those who were most vulnerable. It means that we avoid the temptations of withdrawing into safety, or grasping for power, just as Jesus did.
I was most moved by how Crouch weaves the gospel into this model. The path to flourishing is a path that takes us through suffering:

Surprisingly, rather than simply moving pleasantly into ever greater authority and ever greater vulnerability, we have to take two fearsome journeys, both of which seam like detours that lead away from the prime quadrant. The first is the journey to hidden vulnerability, the willingness to bear burdens and expose ourselves to risks that no one else can fully see or understand. The second is sacrifice, the choice to visit the most broken corners of the world and our own heart.
"Without a doubt," Crouch writes, "this is the greatest paradox of flourishing: it is only found on the other side of suffering— specifically, our willingness to actively embrace suffering."
The implications for leadership are profound. "Leadership does not begin with a title or a position. It begins the moment you are concerned more about others’ flourishing than you are about your own. It begins when you start to ask how you might help create and sustain the conditions for others to increase their authority and vulnerability together."
Strong and Weak is a book that manages to be both simple but profound. It's worth four dozen self-help books. This book helps us understand the right path to flourishing, and how to help others take it too. It's a path that Jesus took before us — a path that looks like dying, but one that leads to real life.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Lewis on Christian Living

Simply put, Christian living is God’s way of living. We could make an endless list of what a Christian does and doesn’t do. 
It would likely include things such as: read the bible daily, pray daily, love one another, or attend church. And, while all of those things are highly important aspects of living life God’s way, it often helps to look at some specific ways we can live a Christian life in direct relation to the obstacles we’re facing today. 
C.S. Lewis, a well-known apologist and Christian thinker, wrote well before our time, but he wrote highly applicable and practical truths about Christian living that still ring true today.
While Lewis provides a wealth of wisdom, here are five tips relevant in today’s age taken from his book “Mere Christianity.”
A Christian living in any era, but especially in today’s age: 
1. Possesses True Humility 
“True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
We have a Gospel message and a Gospel mission, and we’re walking the tightrope between promoting a message that points to Jesus and promoting ourselves. While not always bad, we’re living in an age where self-promotion, selfies, and self-help books are prevalent. We battle with either thinking too highly of ourselves or not thinking highly enough—both of which consume us with “self.”
Lewis’s words are beautifully simple and powerful. To be truly humble, Christians must think of themselves less.
2. Chooses Truth Over Originality 
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
We’re told to just “be you” by nearly every person we encounter. And, while it’s important to remain true to oneself, we can become consumed with being unique, original, or different. 
I love Lewis’s advice: when we simply tell the truth according to scripture, we become original without ever noticing it. A Christian in today’s world chooses truth over originality.
3. Pursues God Over Happiness
“And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Whether I’m logged online or driving in the car, I’m confronted by people, places, and things promising happiness. I want to be happy—we all do—so I often find myself chasing the next thing I believe will make that happen. If I can just {fill in the blank}, I’ll find true happiness.
The Christian living in today’s age chases God over the pursuit of happiness. Catching glimpses of God becomes more important than grasping feelings of happiness. The irony is that it’s when we seek God that we experience true and lasting joy. 
4. Understands Progress Often Means Turning Back
“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Turning back or turning around is essentially the definition of repentance, which means to turn away from sin and turn to God. 
In today’s world, we applaud progress. We want to climb higher, faster, longer. We blaze ahead, often knowing we’re going in the wrong direction. We know that if we make a wrong turn, the GPS will re-route us.
The Christian living in today’s world knows that the man who realizes he is on the wrong road and turns back soonest is the most progressive.
5. Listens to the Holy Spirit
“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
We’re busy, we’re overwhelmed, we’re stressed, and we’re anxious. We listen to our to-do lists, our well-meaning friends, and ourselves. 
The Christian living in today’s world—the one who truly wants to live for Christ—pauses to listen to the Holy Spirit every moment of every day. She slays busy and stays quiet, even among the chaos.
As always when we talk about living a life that reflects the fullness of Christ, it’s important to remember that it is only by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that we’re able to live a life pleasing to God.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Breaking Idolatry

Resisting the Power of Idolatry from Crossway on Vimeo.

Resisting the Power of Idolatry by Phillip Ryken
One of the things that has really helped me understand the power of idolatry in our own time and place is, strange to say, the plagues in the book of Exodus. One of the things that was amazing for me to discover is that all of the plagues in Exodus relate to gods that the Egyptians worshiped.
Just to give one example: the first plague was blood in the Nile River. The Nile was everything to the Egyptians. It was the source of their economy—it was like what Wall Street is for America’s economy. One of the things that God was showing—and Exodus is explicit about this in a few places—was his glory over the Egyptians and their gods.
In the story of Exodus you see God not just gaining a victory over people like Pharaoh, who had set himself over and against God and God’s authority, but actually over all the things the Egyptians worshiped.
It’s a little scary to think about but I think that’s a lesson for our own time and place. All of the things that we worship—power, money, sex, whatever idolatries we have in our own time and place—all of those idols are going to be defeated.
Ultimately, all of those idols are going to let us down, they are going to disappoint us, and they are only going to be a source of frustration. This is actually good news, because God doesn’t want us to worship those things; he wants us to worship him alone.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beyond the Prayer List

Do you use a prayer list? Doe praying fron a list sometimes seem routine and mechanical? Some thoughts on this issue from Inject Your Prayer List With Life by P.J. Tibayan (via Desiring God)
I want to pray more this year. More than ever before.
God promises that he hears and actively responds to prayers as we come to him in the name of Jesus. We have not, because we ask not. I’m resolved to pray biblical prayers for myself and others. I’m responsible to pray for the members of my church family because I’m a member of the family and James commands us to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). As a pastor, I’m to be devoted to not only the ministry of the Word, but also the ministry of prayer (Acts 6:4). As a friend, I want those I love to experience the joy of the Lord.
But there’s the problem: My praying through a list of names and needs often feels more like reading a shopping list than meaningfully communing with the Father in heaven.
As a Christian who cares a lot about theological accuracy, I’ve found that if I pray a biblically grounded prayer request then I’m content with that even if I’m not really meaningfully pleading or connecting with God. There has to be a better way.
As I finished up Tim Keller’s book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, I realized the problem, and discovered two antidotes. Tim Keller writes, distilling the insight of J. I. Packer,
. . . Packer is concerned about how many Christians tend to pray from long “prayer lists.” The theological thinking and self-reflection that should accompany supplication takes time. Prayer lists and other such methods may lead us to very speedily move through names and needs with a cursory statement “if it is your will” without the discipline of backing up our requests with thoughtful reasoning.
Packer writes that “if we are going to take time to think our way into the situations and personal lives on which our intercessions focus,” we may not be able to pray for as many items and issues. “Our amplifyings and argumentation will [then] lift our intercessions from the shopping list, prayer-wheel level to the apostolic category of what Paul called ‘struggle’’’ (Colossians 2:1–3). (229–230, see also 250)
I see at least three tips for transforming our praying from grocery-list-praying to wrestling with God.
1. Reason with God from his word.
First, when praying for names and needs, do not only ask God your specific request, but tell him why you’re asking for it. Undergirding all of our requests is the spirit of “not my will, but yours be done.” This does not mean that we just tag an “if-you-will” mantra at the end of each request. Every specific answer God gives to each prayer prayed is already according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).
It does mean that when we pray our desires and reasons to God, we listen afresh to what his word teaches us about his character, mission, and desires — his will. It’s okay if we don’t know the Bible as well as a pastor or theologian. God knows that. We submit our request and our reasoning to our Father, knowing he cares for us and is drawing us near to him. And we ask him to continually be shaping and aligning our will with his.
For example, instead of praying, “God, please heal John of his sickness,” you might pray, “God, please heal John from his sickness so that he might glorify you at his job (1 Corinthians 10:31), working as unto you and not unto men (Colossians 3:23). Heal him so that as he goes back to work, he’ll accomplish the good works you’ve prepared for him (Ephesians 2:10). Heal him in order that he might earn money as your means of supplying his needs (Philippians 4:19) and giving him the resources he stewards to generously support the Great Commission work in his local church and elsewhere (2 Corinthians 9:6–8). And while he’s sick, draw him near to you and help him examine his soul for sin (Psalm 139:23–24). If there is any, may he confess it to you and others as you lead him (James 5:14–16).”
2. Reflect on how God might use you to answer your prayer.
Second, reflect on what God is leading you by his Spirit to do in light of your request. He may be telling you to follow up with the person or contact him. Perhaps he’s telling you to write him a note or ask him a question when you see him on Sunday. Maybe he’s telling you to repent of your negligence in the way you relate to that person. It’s possible he’s leading you to start a conversation where you can begin to share the gospel with him. You’ve asked God to move. What do you think he might be leading you to do? Pray those self-reflective thoughts to God as you pray about the specific name or need.
Instead of praying, “God, please heal John of his sickness,” you might pray, “God, please heal John of his sickness. Help me to encourage him to draw near to you in the time of sickness. Should I ask him if he’s examined his soul for sin? If I should, can you please help me to ask him in a way that is not misunderstood or offensive? Help me ask in a way that is edifying and in which he feels loved. As I send him a text message, I pray that it lifts up his soul toward joy in you.” Practice self-reflection. Then make sure you do what you believe God is leading you to do as you participate in God’s sovereign response to your prayers.
3. Resist the urge to cram and rush.
Third, wrestling with God in prayer takes time. As you intercede for others, God is drawing you near to himself. You can’t microwave meaningful moments with the Father. Moments like these are marinated. As Keller puts it, “We may not be able to pray for as many items and issues.” I confess that I often pray for 11–13 church members a day like I’m reading a grocery list with a quick helpful thought between names. We should consider extending our prayer time or choosing to pray through fewer names, taking our time while drawing near to him. 
As we meet with God in prayer, may we continually learn to wrestle with our Refuge and struggle with our Stronghold, that we may receive strength in the inner man for those we love and serve. As you slow down, reason with God, and reflect for yourself, “May [God] grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16–19).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Shake the World Again

To eat, to breathe
to begat,
Is this all there is?
Chance configuration of atom against atom,
of god against god?
I cannot believe it!
Come, Christian Triune God who lives,
Here am I,
Shake the world again!

- Francis Schaeffer

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Right Question

"The most important question we ask of the text is not 'What does this mean?' but 'What can I obey?' A simple act of obedience will open our lives to this text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies, dictionaries and concordances."

- Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, page 71

Friday, March 11, 2016

Bible Shaped Identities

How Reading the Bible Shapes Our Identity byDavid Powlison from Crossway on Vimeo.

Rewiring Our Self-Understanding
We often talk about Scripture as God’s self-revelation. But if every revelation of God is a revelation of myself in relation to God, then all of Scripture is continually in the business of rewiring our self-understanding.
Here are two examples that are particularly stunning and lovely: the Psalms and Ephesians.
The Psalms are one sustained portrayal and expression of an identity that is small before a God whom I both need mercy and refuge from, and a God who is great and worthy of all praise, adoration, and love. The Psalms never explicitly say, “Here’s an identity rejig.” But the whole book of Psalms rejigs your identity—every psalm, every prayer, every hymn of worship.
But my favorite “identity” book is Ephesians. Depending on how you understand the nature of what each sentence says about who you are, there are about fifty different identity statements in Ephesians. Every single one of them connects you to God. If he is Father, I am son. If he is the Holy One, I am a saint. If he is the one who indwells the temple, then I am part of that temple. If he is the possessor who is giving an inheritance to his children, then I am an heir owned by the one whom I will inherit from.

How To Read A Psalm

I have often said that Christians don't fathom the spiritual depth and importance of the Psalms. Here's a little help - How To Read A Psalm via Bible Study Tools
When I have preached on a psalm in a church, some people have mentioned to me that they were familiar with a verse from the psalm but they had not thought about the passage’s overall message. I have often wondered if believers have a good reading strategy for getting the most out of a psalm. With this post, I will point out a reading strategy that focuses on the three-part structure of a psalm (this post is adapted from Ryken’s Words of Delight, 197–201).
First,  the subject is generally contained in the first few verses of a psalm. A psalmist may be responding to a thought, emotion, or a situation. The theme may be stated in different ways. In Psalms 1 the theme is found in the first two verses. The psalmist presents his thoughts from the Law about the blessedness of a godly man. In Psalms 23:1 David’s theme is his theological thoughts about God’s rich provisions for him. In Psalms 11:1-2 David’s theme involves a situation where his trust in the LORD helped him through an apparent assassination attempt. In Psalms 124:1-2 the psalmist presents a situation reflecting God’s deliverance of Israel from an enemy. The controlling themes in lyric poems are found in the early verses.
Second, the development of the subject is the major part of the poem’s structure. The various authors of the psalms generally develop their subject in four ways. The first way is by using contrast. In Psalms 1 the psalmist sets up a contrast between the righteous and the wicked. This contrast emphasizes the blessedness of the godly. David’s trust in the LORD to handle his trial in Psalms 11 is contrasted with the advice to flee from Jerusalem. The second method of developing the subject is through listing items that are associated with the subject. Praise hymns generally catalog God’s characteristics and actions. Another example of this is found in a psalm of confidence, Psalms 23.  In this familiar example, David’s subject of God’s rich provisions for him (Psalms 23:1) is itemized by a number of God’s provisions such as rest, restoration, moral direction, and protection (Psalms 23:2-6). The third manner is by the use of relationship. The subject in Psalms 19 is the majesty of God (Psalms 19:1). David initially shows how nature reflects God’s majesty and then moves to a related item, God’s majesty as reflected in His Word (Psalms 19:7-14). The fourth way is through repetition. The theme in Psalms 133 is the blessedness of Israelites who are united in worship. The psalmist uses various images to develop his theme.
Third, a  psalm is rounded off by its conclusion. This may be in the form of a summation as in Psalms 1:6, “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” It may also be in the form of prayer as in Psalms 19:14 or an exhortation as in Psalms 32:11.
Reading a psalm in light of its threefold structure gives us a strategy to better understand a psalm’s overall message. And, as we comprehend each psalm’s overall message, may God grant that they guide us in our worship of him.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Coming Civil War

I want you to think about a coming civil war. No, not the Captain America movie (which I will definitely go see). I'm referencing another civil war that will directly affect most of my readers. This will be a conflict between religious ideas about the nature of America, and the role of Christians in this nation. I think the post I'm about to link to is so important I want to urge all of you to read it. Even if you do not concur with his conclusions, please at least think (and pray) about these issues.

A Coming Evangelical Civil War? by Alan Cross

Here's one sample paragraph:
...the conflict will be about theology in a way that we have never really had agreement on and do not often raise in level of importance to the place where division is ever even considered. But, events are driving us to consider not just our orthodoxy (right teaching), but also our orthopraxy (right practice). How does our Evangelical theology cause us to love God and love people (the Great Commandment)? How does our theology cause us to see other people? How does it cause us to see ourselves? To see our churches? To see America? Will we be people of the Cross or people seeking glory? Will we see the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross as our hope and salvation that then causes us to love and sacrifice for others, even our enemies? Or, will we see the Cross as the means to and end of us being safe and secure and receiving our “best life now”?
Please go to the link and read the whole post; it is well worth the time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Common Red Herring

Aringa Rossa
In Dan Brown’s (in)famous The Da Vinci Code, Bishop Aringarosa is the intentional distraction. Throughout the story, he is carefully presented as a suspicious character, but in the end, we discover he is Brown’s pawn to tempt his readers toward wrong conclusions. The bishop was tricked by the real villain. However, perhaps it came as little surprise to those who know Italian, and their literary devices: aringa rossa is Italian for “red herring.”
A red herring is something that distracts, whether intentionally or not, from the real purpose and goal. It can be a logical fallacy or a literary device. Either way, a red herrings misleads the audience, or the argument, but presenting itself as plausible, yet does prove to be what it seems.
I find the same can be said of the common Bible-reading advice that we make sure to take away specific points of application every day. It sounds plausible, but in the end it can be an important distraction.
What Is “Application”?
The common advice is appealing because we all want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Who wants to feel the failure or share in the shame of being pegged like one “who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror . . . and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23–24)? It would seem, at first glance, that Bible application is an essential spiritual discipline to consciously pursue every time we encounter God’s Word—but that depends on how we define “application.”
The key question we need to answer is what effect should regular Bible intake have on our hearts and lives—and how does it happen?
God’s Word Is for You
For starters, let’s be clear that aiming to apply God’s words to our lives is grounded in the good instinct that the Bible is for us. Optimism about life application makes good on these amazing claims that all the Scriptures are for Christians:
  • “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
  • “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. . . . [T]hey were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).
  • “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The whole Bible is for the whole church. We have good Scriptural warrant to come to God’s words expecting them to be understandable and applicable. We should make good on Puritan preacher Thomas Watson’s counsel,
Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied. (quoted by Donald S. Whitney in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life)
Yes, take every word as spoken to yourself, with this essential anchor in place: seek to understand first how God’s words fell on the original hearers, and how it relates to Jesus’s person and work, and then bring them home to yourself. Expect application to your life as God speaks to us today through the Spirit-illumined understanding of what the inspired human author said to his original readers in the biblical text.
Specific Applications for Every Day?
So then, is it right to think of “application” as an everyday means of God’s grace? Is this a spiritual discipline to be pursued with every Bible encounter? The answer is yes and no, depending on what we mean by application.
Good teachers have claimed that every encounter with God’s Word should include at least one specific application to our lives—some particular addition, however small, to our daily to-do list. There is a wise intention in this: pressing ourselves not just to be hearers of God’s Word, but doers. But such a simplistic approach to application overlooks the more complex nature of the Christian life—and how true and lasting change happens in a less straightforward way than we may be prone to think.
It’s important to acknowledge that the vast majority of our lives are lived spontaneously. More than 99% of our daily decisions about this and that happen without any immediate reflection. We just act. Our lives flow from the kind of person we are—the kind of person we have become—rather than some succession of timeouts for reflection.
And this is precisely the line along which the apostle prays for his converts. He asks not that God give us simple obedience to a clear to-do list of commands, but that he give us wisdom to discern his will as we encounter life’s many choices coming at us without pause. Paul prays:
  • that we would be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
  • that our love may “abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:9–10).
  • that we “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9–10).
Rather than dictating specific actions, he wants to see us formed into the kind of persons who are able to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).
God’s Word Is for Seeing
And so, as John Piper says, “A godly life is lived out of an astonished heart—a heart that is astonished at grace. We go to the Bible to be astonished, to be amazed at God and Christ and the cross and grace and the gospel.” The kind of application most important to pursue in encountering God’s Word is such astonishment. Press the Scriptures to your soul. Pray for the awakening of your affections. Bring the Bible home to your heart.
As we’re freshly captivated by the grandeur of our God and his gospel, we become what we behold: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And so we come away from our Bible intake with a more satisfied soul. Which imparts a flavor and demeanor to our lives and decision-making that affects everything.
Meditating on God’s words shapes our soul. Sometimes it yields immediate and specific points of applications—embrace them when they come. But be careful not to let the drive for specific actions alter the focus of our devotions from astonishment and seeking, as George Mueller did, “to have my soul happy in the Lord.” Coming to the Scriptures to see can make for a drastically different approach than primarily coming to do.
The Bible is gloriously for us, but it is not mainly about us. We come most deeply because of who we will see, not for what we must do. “Become a kind of person,” counsels Piper, “don’t amass a long list.”
The Blessing of Bringing It Home
This is the pathway to flourishing we catch a glimpse of in the old covenant in Joshua 1:8—meditation, then application, then blessing:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
When Bible reading first aims at astonishment (meditation and worship), it works first on our hearts and changes our person, which then prepares us for application, and application to God’s blessing: “your way [will be] prosperous, and then you will have good success.” So applying God’s words to our lives is not only an effect of his grace to us, but also a means of his ongoing grace.
Jesus says in John 13:17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” So also James 1:25 promises that someone who is not a hearer only but “a doer who acts . . . will be blessed in his doing.”
When we bring God’s words home to our hearts, and then apply them to our lives through an amazed and changed heart, it is a great means of his grace to us. He loves to bless the true application of his Word—first to our inner life, and then later to our external lives.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Our Culture Is Unique (Not A Good Thing)

Interesting and provocative - 3 Ways Our Culture Is Different from Every Other Culture in History by Gavin Ortlund:
We live in a turbulent cultural moment. The world around us is rapidly changing, and we face many challenges unprecedented in the history of the church. Augustine fought the Pelagians; Aquinas synthesized Aristotle; Luther strove with his conscience; Zwingli wielded an axe; but probably none of them ever dreamed of a world in which people could choose their gender. Secularizing late-modernity is a strange, new animal.
Identifying the historical and global isolation of our culture does not discredit it. “Weird” does not always equal “wrong.” Nonetheless, seeing ourselves in a broader perspective can go a long way toward humbling and opening us up to where Scripture wants to transform our thinking. I say “our” thinking because our first impulse in cultural critique shouldn’t be bashing others, but searching our own hearts. Since culture isn’t what we see but what we see through—the glasses, not the landscape—we’re often more “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2) than we realize.
Three Modern Eccentricities 
Here are three ways our culture is eccentric in its basic instincts about God, morality, and life—ways we tend to see things differently not only than Solomon, Jesus, and Paul, but also Aristotle, the Aztecs, and Attila the Hun.
1. God is in the dock.
I’m currently writing my doctoral dissertation on Anselm (1033–1109). I’m always amazed by how exercised he was by the problem of divine mercy. Throughout his writings he labored over the question: how can a just and righteous God pass over sins and spare the undeserving?
Today we have the opposite problem. Divine mercy is assumed, and divine justice must be explained. How could a good and loving God ever judge people? (This is one of the top seven objections to Christianity Tim Keller tackles in The Reason for God.)
What’s so striking to me isn’t that Anselm and American culture have different answers, but that they’re asking different questions. For an 11th-century monk, it simply never occurred to him that God, rather than man, would be the one needing to be justified. C. S. Lewis captured this distinction well: “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock.”
Perhaps the greatest example of this role reversal is the rise of atheism, a relatively rare phenomenon before the modern West. There are some scattered examples in pre-modern times of various kinds of materialism or agnosticism, but they’re strikingly sparse. For every one Lucretius or Democritus, you can find entire centuries and nations that know nothing but priests, monks, imams, lamas, shamans, sages, and sorcerers.
2. Morality is about self-expression.
In most cultures throughout history it was assumed that external reality is fixed—and that the basic point of life is to conform ourselves to it in some way. Buddha and Plato agree on this point; they only differ on what the conforming process looks like.
Our culture, by contrast, tends to exalt human desire and aspiration such that the point of life is for external reality to be conformed to it. To paraphrase Lewis: For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality; today it’s how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.
In the late-modern West we’ve reduced truth to a personal construct and lost confidence in reason’s ability to access external reality. Thus the only foul in ethics is “harm,” and the only requirement for sexual behavior is “consent.” Basically, for many in our culture, you should be able to do anything you want so long as you don’t inhibit someone else’s self-expression.
Plato could have at least understood Buddha’s four noble truths. Buddha would have comprehended Plato’s advocacy for reason and justice. Both would be only perplexed and exasperated with the modern mantra “be true to yourself.”
3. Life is starved of transcendence.
In most ancient cultures, life and meaning were relatively stable. You didn’t have people like Albert Camus contemplating whether the absurdity of human existence necessitated suicide among the ancient Mongols, Mayans, or Vikings. As Brother Lippo Lippi put it in Robert Browning’s poem, “This world's no blot for us, nor blank; it means intensely, and means good: to find its meaning is my meat and drink.”
Many today lack this sense of objective meaning; we are starved of transcendence, community, stability; we’re aching to find something big to live for; we feel listless, adrift, barren. Think of Nietzsche’s anguish in proclaiming the death of God in the late 19th century—in a milder, semiconscious way, this is how many feel today.
Our standard of living has risen, but so have our suicide rates; we are smarter, but more uncertain; surrounded with pleasure, but less fulfilled; able to do almost anything but uncertain whether to do anything.
I believe much of the sexual confusion and brokenness in our culture is the result of this deeper, existential void. We use things like sex and money to address basic questions of identity and fulfillment. As Keller recently observed, “In ancient cultures people had sex and made money to build a community; today, they do so to build an identity.” Or as Trevin Wax puts it, “One reason our culture is so sex-saturated is that we are so transcendence-starved.”
How Should We Respond?
Gospel faithfulness demands we engage our culture with both truth and love, yielding neither to compromise on the one side nor escapism on the other. This means we cannot simply bemoan the encroaching cultural darkness, swatting at the errors around us with our theological club. As TGC’s Theological Vision for Ministry puts it, “It is not enough that the church should counter the values of the dominant culture. We must be a counterculture for the common good.”
In responding to these metaphysical, ethical, and existential Copernican revolutions in our culture, I believe we must work hard to establish the corresponding subversive biblical doctrine in each of three areas: (1) a high view of God, (2) a thoroughgoing notion of repentance, and (3) a transcendent vision of worship.
1. God is transcendent.
We can learn a lot about sharing Christ in a pre/post-Christian setting from Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17. He starts with the doctrines of God and creation, painting a comprehensive picture of the world that can explain the Athenians’ experience, and then he goes to the gospel. In our setting also, we need to help people feel a sense of God as the transcendent One on whom we depend for every breath and before whom we’re accountable for every thought. No one needs a gospel so long as God remains in the dock. 
2. Life comes through death.
To challenge our culture’s inverted moral compass, we must also help people see that dying to self is the path to life—that what happens to Ebenezer Scrooge is a better picture of the human ideal than what’s preached in the self-help section at Barnes & Noble. Opposing biblical-behavior deviations is important but more surface-level; we must go deeper to show that the whole substratum of the Christian life is “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Until we establish that the key to life is repentance, our hermeneutical arguments will have limited persuasiveness.
3. Beholding God is our goal.
In sharing Christ with the sexually broken we must do more than denounce sexual immorality. We must proclaim a vision in which the ultimate human experience is the beatific sight of God in heaven, not a new sexual encounter. Postmodern people must be able to sense, as they listen to our preaching and observe our worship, “This is big enough to give my life to—this is what I’ve been looking for my entire life.” 
In these areas we will be pushing directly against the grain of the thoughts and values swirling around us. But only to the extent we do so will our gospel witness be clear and effective to our culture—and to ourselves. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

For the Brokenhearted

A word of encouragement for the brokenhearted - From William Bridge, A Lifting Up For The Downcast, As quoted by Ray Ortlund via Peter Cockrell
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty. Exodus 34:6-7
“Well, you say, but though God is able to help me, I fear that God is not willing to help me, and therefore I am discouraged. But be of good comfort, says the Lord, for my name is Merciful, and therefore I am willing to help you.
But you say, though the Lord is willing to help me, yet I am a poor unworthy creature and have nothing at all to move God to help me. Yet be of good comfort, for the Lord says again, My name is Gracious. I do not show mercy because you are good, but because I am good.
Oh, you say, but I have been sinning a long time, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years. If I had come to you long ago, I might have had mercy. But I have been sinning a long time, and therefore I fear there is no mercy for me. Yet, says the Lord, be of good comfort, for my name is Slow to anger.
Oh, you say, but I have sinned extremely, so many sins that I am never able to reckon up and to humble myself for them, I have broken all my promises to God and all the vows I made to him, and therefore I am discouraged. Yet, says he, be of good comfort, for I am abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Are you abundant in sin? I am abundant in steadfast love. Have you broken faith with me? Yet I am abundant in faithfulness also.
Oh, but though the Lord is all this to his chosen ones like David, Abraham and Moses, yet I fear the Lord will not be this to me. Yes, says the Lord, keeping steadfast love for thousands. I have not spent all my mercy on David or on Abraham or on Paul or on Peter, but I keep mercy for thousands.
Oh, but my sins still recoil on me. I am the greatest sinner in the world, for I have sinned all kinds of sin. I fear there is no hope for me. Yet, says the Lord, be not discouraged, for I forgive iniquity and transgression and sin, even all kinds of sin. This is my name forever.
Oh, but I am afraid to lay hold on this promise, for I think this is a doctrine of license. Do not say that, says the Lord, who will by no means clear the guilty. But if there is ever a poor, drooping, fearing, trembling soul that desires to know my name, here, says the Lord, is my name by which I will be known forever.
The name of God quiets the heart against all discouragements.”

William Bridge, A Lifting Up For The Downcast (London, 1961), pages 270-272. Slightly edited.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Noise & The Voice

The Noise & The Voice
(1 Kings 17:1, 19:11-12)

Noise is all around me,
sounds and lights, digital and real,
distracting mind and heart
with the banality of life.

Where is the Voice?
Does He still speak
even in the midst of chaos?

Speak, holy still small voice!
Enable me to hear.
Turn me from the cacophony
to the silence of your desert.

The Voice still speaks!
For you are the God
before whom I stand

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Nailed It

Just a reminder that whatever you've carried around, whatever has weighed you down and held you captive has been paid for... You're debt has been paid in full, "Once and for all". - HT KLove

Friday, March 4, 2016

What is Theology

This post What is Theology is adapted from the ESV Study Bible via Crossway Books:
The Goal of Theology
The study of theology is considered by many to be dry, boring, irrelevant, and complicated. But for those who want to know God, the study of theology is indispensable.
The word “theology” comes from two Greek words, theos (“God”) and logos (“word”). The study of theology is an effort to make definitive statements about God and his implications in an accurate, coherent, relevant way, based on God’s self-revelations. Doctrine equips people to fulfill their primary purpose, which is to glorify and delight in God through a deep personal knowledge of him. Meaningful relationship with God is dependent on correct knowledge of him.
Any theological system that distinguishes between “rational propositions about God” and “a personal relationship with God” fails to see this necessary connection between love and knowledge. The capacity to love, enjoy, and tell others about a person is increased by greater knowledge of that person. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. Good lovers are students of the beloved. Knowledge of God is the goal of theology.
More Than Knowledge
Knowledge without devotion is cold, dead orthodoxy. Devotion without knowledge is irrational instability. But true knowledge of God includes understanding everything from his perspective. Theology is learning to think God’s thoughts after him. It is to learn what God loves and hates, and to see, hear, think, and act the way he does. Knowing how God thinks is the first step in becoming godly.
Many would like to think that just being a “good” person and “loving” God, without an emphasis on doctrine, is preferable. But being a good person can mean radically different things depending on what someone thinks “good” is, or what constitutes a “person.” Loving God will look very different depending on one’s conception of “God” or “love.” The fundamental connections between belief and behavior, and between love and knowledge, demand a rigorous pursuit of truth for those wanting to love God and to be godly. Hebrews 5:11–6:3 teaches that deepening theological understanding equips one to be able to differentiate good from evil, and it exhorts believers to mature in their knowledge of God and his ways:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity. (Hebrews 5:12–6:1)

A Commitment to Truth

Good theology is based in the belief that God exists, is personal, can be known, and has revealed himself. These presuppositions motivate theologians to devote themselves to a passionate pursuit of knowledge from God’s Word. Unfortunately, the word “theologian” is used almost exclusively for vocational theologians rather than for anyone earnestly devoted to knowing God. On one level everyone who thinks about God is a theologian. But a believer whose life is consumed with knowing his Lord is most certainly a theologian, and theologians are committed to truth.

Loving God means loving truth. God is a God of truth; he is truth. In Scripture, all three persons of the Trinity are vitally related to truth. In light of this relationship between God and truth, it should be no surprise that the Great Commandment includes loving God with one’s mind: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, quoting Deuteronomy 30:6). Fully loving God and obeying the Great Commandment requires actively engaging the mind in the pursuit of truth.

A Commitment to Your Neighbor

The second half of the Great Commandment—love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)—also requires a great commitment to truth. Love, kindness, and compassion must include profound concern that people understand the truth, since their lives depend on it. God meets man’s greatest need of relationship with him through an understanding of truth: “Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18; cf. 1 Peter 1:23). Sanctification also happens by means of the truth: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17; cf. Romans 12:2).

Authentic discipleship is marked by knowing and obeying truth: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). Therefore, loving others involves having a deep desire that they understand truth. This is the reason the Great Commission has a vital teaching element. Making disciples of Christ involves teaching them to observe all he has commanded (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus wants people to understand and obey truth and thereby find life in him. Failure to care whether or not loved ones understand the truth is failure to care about their abundant and eternal lives.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Entitled To Nothing

Well this is a puch in the nose!  But I needed it..... and you do to. Christian Exile: You Are Entitled to Nothing by Stephen McAlpine
...Christian exile, let me be clear. You are entitled to nothing. You are entitled to nothing.
In Christ you will be given everything, Romans 8:32 tells us so. But what are you entitled to? Nothing.
Jesus himself says so to his disciples:
So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
What are unworthy servants who have only done their duty entitled to? Nothing.
What can we bring to the cross of the one who, though entitled to everything, gave it all up for our sakes? Nothing.
A sense of entitlement has a sound. It is not the sound of warfare, but ofwhinefare. An over-preening sense that we are entitled to, if not everything, then at least a good deal of it.
And when such a sense of entitlement is threatened we throw a hissy fit.
And it worries me. Why? Because we are entitled to nothing.
I am not saying we cannot stand up publicly for biblical truth in our culture. The church is a witness to the gospel and a fractured enactment of God’s future kingdom, here and now. But the culture is not the kingdom – yet. Hebrews 12:28 tells us we are “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken“. But we’re receiving it, not entitled to it. Why? Because we are entitled to nothing.
Our sense of entitlement derives from three decades of prosperity gospel, or an iteration of it that, like a parasite, latched onto the entitlement culture and suckled at its malevolent teat.
This false gospel tells us that it is God’s role, nay his very duty, to ensure that all of the creases in our lives are ironed out.
That our teeth are white. That our car is shiny. That our second car is just as shiny. That our kids are happy. That our retirement is healthy.
Such a gospel is, ironically, an impoverished gospel, no gospel at all.
Then, bloated on this ricin-laced sweetener, we watch as the culture slides away from a Christianised morality framework.
The predictable response is an outraged sense of entitlement; a low grade social-media whine occasionally flaring to hot anger.
Yet we are entitled to nothing. We are entitled to nothing.
Oh, I forgot. We are entitled to something: a godless eternity, cut off from all that is good and the good God whose very presence makes it good.
We are entitled to an eternity of nothing, but here’s the good news: the God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us, will also give us all things. Because we are entitled to them? No. We are entitled to nothing.
Grace and entitlement cannot co-exist. They are mutually exclusive. Where one exists the other must give ground.
Why are “all things” not enough for us? Why the sense of outrage when the godless culture of entitlement threatens our entitlements? Because we don’t want to wait. We want all things now, we are entitled to them now.
Yet the gospel tells us we are entitled to nothing, past, present and future.
Christian exiles, it’s going to be a tough couple of decades in the West, as the culture turns increasingly hostile towards God’s people. If we are going to thrive joyously in the Babylon of our day, indeed if we are going to be compelling witnesses to a desire nothing else can touch, then the first thing to go must be our strong sense of entitlement. Its a strong sense indeed, but a misplaced one.
I sense that we are so afraid of losing what we believe we are owed, we are blind to the distinct possibility that this is God’s judgement for a culture that has rejected Him, and His refining process for a church that has neglected Him.
And the first step in our refining process may well be acknowledging this:
We are entitled to nothing. We are entitled to nothing.