26 July 2012

Signing Off for 10 Days

Back Monday, August 6, after some ministry and traveling.

25 July 2012

Eternally Swallowed Up

Jonathan Edwards, reflecting on seeing Christ in the next life, while preaching on 2 Corinthians 5:8 at the funeral of David Brainerd:
The nature of this glory of Christ that they shall see, will be such as will draw and encourage them, for they will not only see infinite majesty and greatness; but infinite grace, condescension and mildness, and gentleness and sweetness, equal to his majesty . . . so that the sight of Christ's great kingly majesty will be no terror to them; but will only serve the more to heighten their pleasure and surprise. . . .

The souls of departed saints with Christ in heaven, shall have Christ as it were unbosomed unto them, manifesting those infinite riches of love towards them, that have been there from eternity. . . . They shall eat and drink abundantly, and swim in the ocean of love, and be eternally swallowed up in the infinitely bright, and infinitely mild and sweet beams of divine love.
--Jonathan Edwards, 'True Saints Are Present with the Lord,' in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 25: Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (Yale University Press, 2006), 233

He Is the Firstfruits

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. --Romans 6:4

24 July 2012

The Real Jesus

A January 1959 letter from C. S. Lewis to Edward Lofstrom. At one point Lewis responds to something Lofstrom had asked him about by saying--
'Gentle Jesus', my elbow! The most striking thing about Our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. (Remember Pascal? 'I do not admire the extreme of one virtue unless you show me at the same time the extreme of the opposite virtue. One shows one's greatness not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities and filling all the space between')

Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist. So go on! You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him. This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the Tiger and the Lamb, the avalanche and the rose. He'll frighten and puzzle you: but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can't.
--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:1011

Sin Doesn't Get Tired

Sin--including especially the sin of pride--is active, not passive. Sin doesn't wake up tired, because it hasn't been sleeping. When you wake up in the morning, sin is right there, fully awake, ready to attack. . . .

Purpose by grace that your first thought of the day will be an expression of your dependence on God, your need for God, and your confidence in God. 
--C.J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah, 2005), 69

Grace in Practice

Our brother Tullian on Liberate 2013--
Real life is long on law and short on grace—the demands never stop, the failures pile up, fear sets in. The idea that there is an unconditional love that relieves the pressure, forgives our failures and replaces our fear with faith seems too good to be true. Longing for hope in a world of hype, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the news we’ve been waiting to hear: God sent Jesus to set sinners free. Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate everyday people from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves.

23 July 2012

God Chose What Is Weak in the World (1 Cor 1:27)

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring--
'I do really wish to destroy it!' cried Frodo. 'Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?'

'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'

'But I have so little of any of those things!'

20 July 2012

Myth Became Fact

In his fascinating essay “Is Theology Poetry?” C. S. Lewis spoke of the incarnation as 'the humiliation of myth into fact.' He wrote that
what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes small, solid—no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowing boat on the Lake of Galilee.
The Word, the Logos, the central meaning of the universe, the integrative center to reality, the climax and culmination of all of human history, that which summoned solar systems into instant existence—at just the right time (Gal. 4:4)—became a baby. The night Christ was born in Bethlehem, Chesterton wrote, “the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”

He became a man. The one true man. All that you and I experience Jesus experienced, with the exception of sin. I am increasingly thinking that to question whether Jesus led a normal life as we do is to put the whole point backward. His was the only normal life the world has ever seen. We are the abnormal ones.

When Jesus performed miracles he was not doing violence to the natural order. He was restoring the natural order to the way it was meant to be. People were not supposed to be blind but to see. People were not made to be lame but to walk. Legs are supposed to work.

Demons did not belong in people. Unlike Adam, who failed to exorcise Satan from the Garden, Jesus did what Adam should have done, exorcising demons from men and women made in God’s image. Adam was supposed to exile Satan from Eden but failed, so he was exiled from the Garden, and Israel later recapitulated that exile corporately. Jesus experienced the curse of exile as the one true and faithful Israelite who didn't deserve to be exiled. The remnant of one. Elijah said 'I, even I only, am left' (1 Kings 19:10), but only Jesus could truly say that in an absolute and ultimate sense.

In this sense Jesus’ miracles were not supernatural. They were truly natural. This fallen world is sub-natural. Jesus is the one truly human being who ever lived. The incarnation does not give us a hypothetical picture of how we would be able to live if only we were divine. It gives us an actual picture of how we are meant to live, and one day will, when we are once again fully human.

19 July 2012

'It Has to Be Something Else I'm Looking For'

Don't watch this 2009 documentary of Mike Tyson with your kids, but I find it moving in a way I can't quite articulate. It is stirring to consider the tragedy of Tyson's life against the backdrop of the whole-Bible theme of glory and shame--granted in Eden, disfigured by sin, regained in Christ, and fully reinstated in the new earth.

Tyson is the only fighter whose career I followed with any interest. I have a strange, deep affection for him. Not sure why. Would love to see his eyes open to Christ and the gospel of free glory. He seems as primed for it as ever despite the blindness that clearly remains. I have hopes for it. If I had his address I'd love to write him.

I find his closing comments from 1:21:30 to the end very moving.

17 July 2012

The Thing Just Isn't There

One of the most stirring quotes I have yet read from one of the most stirring men I have yet read. Full context here.
I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion--it raises its head in every temptation--that there is something else than God--some other country into which He forbids us to trespass--some kind of delight which He 'doesn't appreciate' or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.
The thing just isn't there.
Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us--a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing.
 --C. S. Lewis, as recorded in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949 (ed. Walter Hooper; Cambridge University Press, 2004), 124

15 July 2012

The Beauty and Brightness

We see in natural bodies, that when heat is raised in them to a high degree, at length they begin to shine. And a principle of true grace in the soul is like an inward heat, a holy ardor of a heavenly fire kindled in the soul.
This in ministers of the gospel ought to be to that degree, as to shine forth brightly in all their conversation; and there should as it were be a light about them wherever they go, exhibiting to all that behold them, the amiable, delightful image of the beauty and brightness of their glorious Master. 
--Jonathan Edwards, 'The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister,' a sermon preached at the ordination service of Robert Abercrombie in 1744, from the Yale edition of Edwards' Works, 25:94

13 July 2012

Depth with God

. . . all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. -Psalm 42:7

Every seasoned saint who walks deeply with God, I am coming to believe, has been through a very distinct experience.

I could call the experience 'adversity' or 'suffering' and that would be true but unhelpful. I have in mind something more specific, more penetrating. 

I have in mind the experience of God's children when they walk through the deep valley of a single instance of adversity or suffering so great that it cannot be handled in the same way as the various disappointments and frustrations of life. This particular adversity passes a threshold that the garden variety trials do not reach. 

An Over-the-Head Wave

The picture in my mind at the moment is swimming in the ocean of Laguna Beach in southern California many times years ago. Wading out into the water I would immediately feel the waves beginning to come against me. First my ankles, then my knees, and so on. As I continued, though, inevitably a wave would come that could not be outjumped. It washed over me. I'd get completely submerged and there was nothing I could do to avoid it.

That total-submersion wave is what I have in mind. I'm not thinking of bad grades, failed dating relationships, rejected applications for school or jobs, the flu, resentment over being sinned against. These are forms of adversity. But they are waves that hit us in the knees. We lose our balance, but quickly get it back. We keep moving on, weathering the trial but essentially unchanged. We aren't forced to change. Such trials wash into all of our lives with some regularity.

But those who live into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and are quietly walking with the Lord from a posture of fundamental trust have weathered something deeper. At some point in their lives a wave has washed over them that could not be outjumped. And somehow they survived emotionally. They softened rather than hardened.

Finally Believing What We Say We Believe

Someone who has become a Christian and truly believes what he or she confesses to believe comes to a point in life where they must suddenly, for the first time, bank all that they are on that professed belief. Their true trust must be proven.

It is not as though they didn’t believe before. They did, with sincerity. But their belief had only to that point been tested by the gently lapping waist-high waves of adversity.

To switch metaphors: it's the difference between saying you believe a parachute will float you safely to the ground and actually jumping out of the plane.

At that moment of life meltdown we are forced into one of two positions: either cynicism and coldness of heart, or true depth with God. A spouse betrays. A habitual sin, left unchecked, blows up in our face. We are publicly shamed in some way that will haunt us as long as we live. We lose utterly that one thing we always counted on—physical health, financial stability, etc. Our good name is stolen. We hear words from the lips of a son or daughter that had only been the stuff of nightmares. A malignant, inoperable tumor. Abuse of a loved one, the kind of abuse that makes us physically nauseous to think about. Sustained depression. Profound disillusionment in some way.

A Universal Experience

When I consider the saints I know who exhale that depth of trust that makes them almost otherworldly, there has always been a time of weathering a wave of adversity that went over their head.

Abraham is told to slit the throat of his only son. Jacob wrestles with God and is crippled the rest of his life at just the moment when he needed God most, about to meet Esau. Moses kills a man and loses everything the world holds dear. David ruins his life through an afternoon's indulgence. Job reaps the nightmare of all nightmares.

When that moment comes looking for us, sent by the hand of a tender Father, we will either believe that what we said we believe has just been disproven, or we will believe that what we said we believe will sustain us. The two lines of professed-belief and heart-belief, to this point parallel, are suddenly forced either to overlap completely or to move further apart. We cannot go on as before.

Let us not be simplistic or formulaic. Many such over-the-head waves may wash over us in life. Or we may experience such a crushing trial in our 20s--then another in our 40s that makes the trial 20 years before seem only waist-high--and so on. But I remain struck at how often it seems to have been one defining, devastating affliction when a senior saint reflects back on life.

The Tragedy of Shallowness

I know Christians in the latter half of life who are not deep people. They are dear people. But they are shallow. If they will take off the mask and be truly honest, they will acknowledge that what they are after in life is comfort, nice vacations, a good tan, and being liked. Nothing wrong with any of these things. But these now have their heart’s deepest loyalty rather than Christ. As a result they are not compelling, not magnetic, people. They are wispy, not solid.

Could it be that a wave came suddenly crashing over their head and they believed that their faith had just been disproven? That God had failed them? Could it be that the very moment which they now look back on and view as the moment when God failed them was the Father inviting them further up and further in? Might it not be that the Lord stands as ready as ever to welcome them into depth, into a communion with him they never dreamed of, and that it is only on the other side of giving in and banking everything on him?

He Went through the Wave

Recognition of the strange ways of the Father should not drive us into a fearful, darting-eyes existence. Recognition of this pattern should sober us, encouraging us to go on as we have been and not to throw in the towel when the nightmare becomes reality.

He is in it. He is over it. He loves us too much to let us remain the shallow, twaddling people we all are and will remain as long as the waves only reach our waist.

But above all else remember when life implodes that his own dear Son went through the greatest nightmare himself, in our place. The tidal wave of true separation from the Father washed over Another so that it need never wash over us. 

12 July 2012

The Central Point in the History of the World

Anglo-Catholic Bible scholar of two generation ago, A. G. Hebert:
The Old Testament is confessedly incomplete, since it looks forward to a future Event; we shall define the object of the Messianic Hope as the completion of the Purpose which God took in hand when He called Israel to be His People.

And the New Testament, in its turn, is unintelligible without the Old, which it presupposes everywhere as its background.

And if we believe that the Lord God, to whom the universe belongs, was indeed revealing Himself to man and redeeming him, it follows that the preparatory action of the Old Testament is just as much His action as is the Fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah; and further, that this Fulfillment must bear the marks of finality. This thought of finality receives a notable expression in a verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which may be freely translated: 'As it is, once for all, at the central point in the history of the world the Messiah has appeared, to put an end to the power of sin by the sacrifice of Himself' (Heb. ix.26)--'at the central point of history'--literally, 'at the consummation or summing up of the ages', at the point where the meaning of the whole is gathered up, totum simul, all in one instant.
It happened at Jerusalem, at the passover festival of one of the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea.
--A. G. Hebert, The Throne of David: A Study of the Fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus Christ and His Church (New York: Morehouse-Gorham, 1948), 19

10 July 2012

Ascend the Hill: Rock of Ages

Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law's commands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and thou alone

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to the cross I cling
Naked, come to thee for dress
Helpless, look to thee for grace
Foul, I to the fountain fly
Wash me, Savior, or I die

--Augustus Toplady (1740-1778)

What's the Purpose of the Psalms?

Although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross; and the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving Him to govern us and to dispose of our life according to His will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature become sweet to us because they proceed from Him.

In one word, not only will we find here general commendations of the goodness of God which may teach people to repose themselves in Him alone, but we will also find that the free remission of sins, which alone reconciles God toward us and procures for us settled peace with Him, is so set forth and magnified, as that here there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation. 
--John Calvin, 'Preface to the Commentary on the Psalms,' in Elsie McKie, ed., John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Paulist, 2001), 58

09 July 2012

Theology and Scripture

In the opening pages to his volume on justification, Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer (R.C. Sproul's doctoral supervisor) says that
theology is occupied in continuous attentive and obedient listening to the Word of God. . . . The word of theology has too often witnessed to itself rather than to the living Word of God. It has too often been articulate without first being attentive. When this has been so, theology has invited reproach—and deserved it.
 --G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification (Eerdmans, 1954), 9

06 July 2012

What Philosopher Ever Saw This?

Show me a single mortal in the whole universe, no matter how just and saintly, to whose mind it would have ever occurred that this should be the way of salvation to believe in him who was both God and man, who died for our sins, who rose and sits at the right hand of the Father. What philosopher ever saw this? Who among the prophets? The cross is a scandal to the Jews and a folly to the Gentiles. 
--as quoted in Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Hendrickson, 2009; repr.), 257

Walk With Me

Before I ever heard Tim Keller say "You're accepted, therefore obey" Whitecross was beating that gospel drum. Fifth grade baby. Recognize.

My blood has cleansed you
You sins are remembered no more
So come on
Walk with me

05 July 2012

A Hateful Delusion

Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel, 1876:
Consciousness of self-importance is a hateful delusion, but one into which we fall as naturally as weeds grow on a dunghill. We cannot be used of the Lord without it leading to dreaming of personal greatness, thinking ourselves almost indispensable to the church, pillars of the cause, and foundations of the temple of God.

We are nothing and nobodies, but that we do not think so is very evident, for as soon as we are put on the shelf we begin anxiously to enquire, 'How will the work go on without me?' As well might the fly on the coach wheel enquire, 'How will the mails be carried without me?'
--Charles Spurgeon, as quoted in Iain Murray, Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Banner of Truth, 1995), 20

The title to the editorial in which Spurgeon wrote this was: 'Laid Aside: Why?'

04 July 2012

How Not to Begin Academic Articles on the Bible

A few opening lines from an essay by N. T. Wright on Paul:
I am aware that fresh interpretations of Paul, including my own, have caused controversy in evangelical circles, and particularly Reformed circles. My own name has been linked with proposals that have been variously dismissed, scorned, vilified, and anathematized. . . .

From time to time, correspondents draw my attention to various Web sites on which you can find scathing denunciations of me for abandoning traditional Protestant orthodoxy, and puzzled rejoinders from people who have studied my work and know that I am not saying what many of my critics suggest. . . .

It is blindingly obvious when you read Romans and Galatians--though you would never have known this from any of the theologians discussed in other essays in this volume--that virtually whenever Paul talks about justification, he does so in the context of a critique of Judaism and of the coming together of Jew and Gentile in Christ. As an exegete determined to listen to Scripture rather than abstract my favorite bits from it. . . .
And the bit that really makes me cringe--
Like America looking for a new scapegoat after the collapse of the Cold War and seizing on the Islamic world as the obvious target, many conservative writers, having discovered themselves in possession of the Pauline field after the liberals tired of it, have looked around for new enemies. Here is something called the New Perspective; it seems to be denying some of the things we have normally taught; very well, let us demonize it, lump its proponents together, and nuke them from a great height. This has not made a pretty sight. Speaking as one of those who are regularly thus carpet bombed. . . . 
--N. T. Wright, 'New Perspectives on Paul,' in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (ed. Bruce McCormack; Baker, 2006), 243-47

A few thoughts.

1. On the spectrum of conservatives who engage with Wright, I would place myself quite far on the 'appreciative' side of that spectrum. I have quoted him positively several times on this blog, such as here. Tons of wisdom and clarity in his stuff. Puts the whole Bible together in amazingly helpful ways. Etc etc etc. Much more to be said here.

2. Wright is unfairly caricatured. And I too am ready to see it stop. I come from the world of conservative American Presbyterianism, and the blogs are scathing. Downright mean. Methinks that when Jesus said that 'on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak' he didn't mean 'every careless word except those typed out on blogs' (Matt 12:36-37).

3. And yet there is a deep irony is Wright's last paragraph in the quote above. He grieves over his critics lumping him together with other New Perspective advocates. Yet in doing so Wright himself lumps together all his critics in just as unfairly a fashion. Like a dad yelling at his kid to never yell.

4. The impugning of motives in that last paragraph is horrid. What an awful example for younger scholars. 

5. Either you believe God is one day going to vindicate you publicly before all your accusers, a la many of the psalms or 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, or you do not. If you do, you will not feel the need to preemptively get a head start on that vindication process. Wright's immature complaining in passages like the above is a reminder to us all that when publicly misrepresented it is always the way of wisdom to err on the side of silence. Gentle correction of some publicly stated untruth about us may indeed at times be called for. But when we do so let us do it calmly, without exaggeration, soothing rather than stoking the flames of controversy and emotions, and without a tone of licking our wounds.

6. On a strictly pragmatic level, Wright's bemoaning is counterproductive. It makes his overall writing programme less compelling and convincing, not more. He had the same victim tone in his 2010 ETS lecture on justification.

7. I continue to benefit from Wright's work and I eagerly anticipate much more, as the Lord gives him strength.

03 July 2012

Patience in Ministry

Zack Eswine:
Most of us have trained for pastoral ministry as if the “game speed” of the pastorate requires a quantity of results all at once. We’ve learned languages in thirteen weeks, skimmed books in thirteen minutes and mastered divinity in six semester bursts of adrenaline, reddened eyes, missed time with wife and kids and breath that both smells and depends upon coffee or mountain dew. Many of us also find ourselves in organizational ministry structures that likewise measure our daily ministry output on this same value of doing the most amount of work in the least amount of time for the biggest amount of influence.

We are prepared for a “game speed” that values results large and fast only to find that most days require our patience and our ongoing presence among unfinished people whom we can neither fix lightly nor heal quickly.

Mary Kassian: "Sometimes the most missional thing a mom can do is to say 'no' to outside opportunities and focus on being a mom"

The conclusion to Mary Kassian's wise review of Helen Lee's The Missional Mom (Moody, 2011), in a recent Themelios:
The Missional Mom emphasizes the “missional” part and neglects the “mom” part. To be fair, I don’t think this was Lee’s intent. But I had the uneasy feeling that a mom who picks up the book because she’s experiencing difficulty in parenting might get the message that she just isn’t doing enough: she needs to add “social activism” to the top of her staggering “to-do” list, even if that means bumping the needs of her children down a couple notches.

One story in particular made me feel uneasy and wonder exactly what Lee was encouraging moms to do. She shares the story of a female physician who left her nursing baby for three weeks, went on a work/missions trip to Africa, and had the opportunity to nurse an infant there. Lee concluded that God brought this lactating mom “to the right place at the right time” because a white woman nursing a black child “demonstrated a profound expression of racial harmony.” Lee assured readers that this story would certainly inspire the physician’s daughter someday, “even as it encourages those of us who also long to spread the fragrance of Christ in the world” (p. 148).

I’m not convinced.

I don’t see how leaving your nursing baby to travel half way around the world to nurse someone else’s baby is somehow more “missional” than staying home to nurse your own. Admittedly, there may be details of the story of which I’m unaware, but to uphold this as a model of a missional mom is questionable. It implies that a mom ought to put the needs of others (or her desire to self-actualize/ exercise her gifts) before the needs of her children. It also implies that looking after our own children isn’t nearly as “missional” as looking after other people’s children.

I’m all for women living out their motherhood in light of the Great Commission, being intentional about ministry, and engaging in the lives of others in appropriate ways in the various seasons of life. Lee’s book challenges moms to be missional. I just wish it had affirmed that when a woman has young children, they are an important part of her mission—and that sometimes, the most missional thing a mom can do is to say “no” to outside opportunities and focus on being a mom.

Step Aside Justin Bieber

This is a real ballad.