31 August 2012

Ordinary Heroism

A good word from my friend Geoff Ziegler on Hollywood's latest unwitting depiction of the consummated eschatology that every fallen-but-God-imaging-and-thus-Eden-remembering human longs for.
As the film progresses we discover that the only hope for the city is found in people who devote their lives to making it better. “You don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything,” someone says to Bruce Wayne. His response reveals the heart of the film: “Not everything, not yet.” The fate of Gotham will be determined by just how much he and others are willing to give.
At the risk of being over-dramatic, it strikes me that each of us are called by God to just this sort of heroism. Though tempted to remain content in our own prosperity, or to complain against the mistakes of others, or to simply try to “wait things out,” we are summoned by God to lay down our lives in service to the world around us. “A new commandment I give you: love one another as I have loved you.” We have been loved completely by one who gave everything for us, and that very love compels us to do likewise. And unlike the superheroes of our age who must only rely on themselves, we can give ourselves without fear, for our lives are hidden in Christ, securely kept for us.
I am left with two simple questions: what does it mean for me to give my life to the family and community God has placed me in? And will I be willing to do it?
The more blockbusters I see the more clear it becomes that every one of them is a shadow of which Jesus is the substance.

29 August 2012

Gospel Yoda

In a heart-strengthening interview of Scotty Smith, Darryl Dash asks about the influence of Jack Miller in Scotty's life. Jack is someone I cannot wait to meet in heaven.
Jack Miller had a marked influence on your life. What are some of the ways you've been shaped by him?
Jack’s influence on my life was (is) immeasurable. I first met him as my advisor at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1975, and for the next 21 years he became my professor, spiritual father, mentor and gospel Yoda. His life of humility and boldness, joy and laughter, love for grace and commitment to prayer are ever before me. I never knew a freer man, a more welcoming soul, a more caring evangelist or a more playful saint than Jack. Selfishly for me, I hate the fact God took him to heaven when he was just 64 and I was just beginning to move into one of the more difficult seasons of my life as a pastor and man. But Jack married my heart to Jesus, more than to his own.

28 August 2012

Zeal: Necessary, Dangerous

Lukewarmness in religion is abominable, and zeal an excellent grace; yet above all other Christian virtues, it needs to be strictly watched and searched; for 'tis that with which corruption, and particularly pride and human passion, is exceeding apt to mix unobserved. 
--Jonathan Edwards, The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, in Works, Yale edition, 4:243

27 August 2012

Does Genesis 2 Contradict Genesis 1?

Lots to say on this of course, but it's hard to imagine a better, wiser, more concise note on the relationship between the two creation accounts than what is offered in the ESV Study Bible:
Gen. 2:4–25 The Man and Woman in the Sanctuary of Eden. The panoramic view of creation in ch. 1 is immediately followed by a complementary account of the sixth day that zooms in on the creation of the human couple, who are placed in the garden of Eden. In style and content this section differs significantly from the previous one; it does not contradict anything in ch. 1, but as a literary flashback it supplies more detail about what was recorded in 1:27. The picture of a sovereign, transcendent deity is complemented by that of a God who is both immanent and personal. The two portrayals of God balance each other, together providing a truer and richer description of his nature than either does on its own. In a similar way, whereas ch. 1 emphasizes the regal character of human beings, ch. 2 highlights their priestly status.

The Struggle

The new Tenth Avenue North record looks solid: their typical exaltation of a robust gospel, injected in this album with an awareness of the despair and feelings of futility that are a regular part of any Christian's ongoing walk with the Lord. Here are a few tracks.

The Struggle:



HT: Wade Urig

24 August 2012

Glorifying God Is Seeing Him Truly

In August 1949 C. S. Lewis wrote a letter to Dr. Warfield Firor (right, top). Firor was a famous American surgeon at Johns Hopkins who supplied Lewis with an endless stream of hams and other gifts in the late 1940s, when post-war Britain was limping along economically. It is amusing, reading through his letters from this period, to see Lewis try to express appropriate gratitude every time yet another ham shows up at the Kilns. He shared most of them with others.

Following up on Firor's only visit to Britain to meet Lewis earlier in 1949, Lewis explores a theme raised also in Reflections on the Psalms.
When you were here you started the subject of Praise as Worship, which has led me to some bewilderment. Take the traditional language: glorifying, i.e. literally 'making glorious' what is already not only glorious but Glory itself and the source of all other glory--magnifying what is already infinite--exalting what is already highest.

At first it is hard to see what all this means. It sounds like the most famous flunkeyism, like telling a rich man that he is rich: and I am sure that this impression has a powerful and repellent effect on modern people, especially in democracies. I take it the truth is that in so far as a creature sees God it cannot help in some way (not of course necessarily by words) telling Him what it sees (silence might be one way). Its 'praise' is a necessary reaction: the divine light sent back to its Source from the creature which has become its mirror. The sun is not brighter because a mirror reflects it: but the mirror is brighter because it reflects the sun.

On a lower level this necessity of telling the object what it is has been experienced by every man in love. True, he may tell the girl she is pretty in order to please her: but he'd have to tell her anyway. Thus 'exalting the Lord' is in reality indistinguishable from seeing Him. There's no question of flattery or even courtesy about it: the moment the Creator-Creature relation is normal (in the proper sense of the word normal) praise or worship is there automatically. The picture of Heaven as perpetual worship, a place, in the hideous words of the hymn
Where congregations ne'er break up
And Sabbaths have no end
which has tormented many a luckless child (finding one Sabbath per week a ration only too liberal!) comes alright when one sees the real meaning: the perpetual worship is the perpetual vision, the perfect exercise of all one's faculties on the perfect Object. Of that, one could never have too much.
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 970-71; italics original

23 August 2012

Calvin on the Christian life

It's been fun working slowly through John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety, edited by Elsie McKee, in the Classics of Western Spirituality series.

I sat in on an M.A. class on Calvin's theology a few years ago and am just now getting around to reading this text, highly commended in that class. The book is a representative sampling of material from Calvin's life as a Geneva pastor--his sermons, liturgy, prayers, and a smattering of related essays by Calvin concerning the Christian life.

In short, this is Calvin the pastor more than Calvin the theologian.

In his sermons, prayers, and other pastoral writings I see coloring Calvin's whole ministry the same two great traits that struck me in the Institutes: one, an enthrallment with God's majesty; two, a tender concern for the afflicted consciences of Christians and the power of the gospel to calm such internal afflictions.

Here is how McKee concludes her excellent opening introduction to the volume.
These few selections cannot give voice to the full range of Calvin's pastoral piety, but they may offer an introduction to the varied expressions of his personal religious experience and his teaching. They can perhaps suggest something of the intensity and practicality, the biblical and all-encompassing character, the active and social manifestations of this piety--a piety that reshaped religious life in the city of Calvin's exile and made it a 'school of Christ' for many people who never met the pastor of Geneva.

So what was Calvin's pastoral piety?

Intensely personal but never individualistic. Woven through with the great doctrines of justification by faith and regeneration of life, the glory of God and providence. Undergirded with prayer, proclaimed in word and shared in sacraments, sung in psalms. Embodied in action and demanding respect for the neighbor and solidarity with those who suffer in spirit, mind, or body. Not an easy or comfortable piety; it asks for one's all. Sturdy and down to earth, lived in the mundane context of daily work, yet always conscious of the presence of the transcendent God and the high calling of living before God. An energizing, lifelong response to God's liberating claim, God's righteous mercy, God's compelling love, a belonging that is all our joy.
--Elsie McKee, ed., John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Paulist, 2001), 34-35

Could a better statement be made on John Calvin's understanding of what it means to walk with Christ?

21 August 2012

Whitefield: The Love of Jesus

It is condescending love, it is amazing, it is forgiving love, it is dying love, it is exalted and interceding love and it is glorified love.
I am talking of the love of Jesus Christ, who loved me before I loved him. He saw us polluted in blood, full of sores, a slave to sin, to death and hell, running to destruction, then he passed by me and said unto my soul, 'Live,' he snatched me as a brand plucked from the burning.
It was love that saved me, it was all of the free grace of God and that only.
--George Whitefield, 'Christ the Support of the Tempted,' a sermon preached in 1740 in England, from Lee Gatiss, ed., The Sermons of George Whitefield (2 vols; Crossway, 2012), 1:341

There's Grace Enough for Us

P.S. I am a Calvinist of the five-point variety and it is no trouble to say that I wholeheartedly agree with 'There's grace enough for us and the whole human race.'

14 August 2012

Eden 2.0

Offline for a week, heading out for vacation.

Which reminds me of this amazing picture.

Which in turn reminds me of the true and final Vacation just over the horizon of my short little life. Freely mine. Because of the work of Another.

HT: Stronglite

Gospel Fellowship

Silly Peter:

'Before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party' (Gal 2:12).

Fellowship broke.

Now how does Paul handle this? Certainly, he rebukes Peter—'I opposed him to his face' (2:11). 

Yet how does Paul do this? What is his diagnosis?

Paul identifies Peter’s error as gospel error. 'I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel' (2:14). What was Peter’s mistake? Gospel leakage.

But in what way was Peter's heart leaking out gospel? How specifically was he not believing the gospel?

The text tells us: 'fearing the circumcision party' (2:12). Fear. That was what drove Peter.

To sum up: Paul says Peter feared other men, causing him to not walk in step with the gospel, causing him to introduce all kinds of dysfunction into his relationships with other people.

I conclude: the gospel liberates us not only from fear of the judgment of God in the future but also from fear of the judgment of men in the present. By Galatians 2 Paul had already learned this (Gal 1:10). Peter had not.

In Christ we are already in. The craving to be judged positively, welcomed in, affirmed by another, brought inside—at bottom, the craving to be justified—has been met. Secured vertical in-ness empties the need for elusive horizontal in-ness. Justification by faith alone breathes health and calm and quiet into our relationships. Remember, it is on the immediate heels of this passage, about a horizontal conflict, that Paul pens the most famous words in all the Bible on justification by faith (Gal 2:16).

Is the Gospel in Proverbs?

The book of Proverbs is a gospel book, because it is part of the Bible. That means the book of Proverbs is good news for bad people. It is about grace for sinners. It is about hope for failures. It is about wisdom for idiots. This book is Jesus himself coming to us as our counselor, as our sage, as our life coach. The Lord Jesus Christ is a competent thinker for all times and all cultures. He is a genius. And he freely offers us, even us, his unique wisdom.
 --Ray Ortlund Jr, Proverbs: Wisdom That Works (Preaching the Word; Crossway, 2012), 16

HT: Kevin Fiske

The Last Idol

The first two paragraphs of George Whitefield's 1741 sermon 'The Lord Our Righteousness,' based on Jeremiah 33:16--
Whoever is acquainted with the nature of mankind in general or the propensity of his own heart in particular must acknowledge that self-righteousness is the last idol that is rooted out of the heart. Being once born under a covenant of works, it is natural for us all to have recourse to a covenant of works for our everlasting salvation. And we have contracted such devilish pride by our fall from God that we would, if not wholly, yet in part at least, glory in being the cause of our own salvation. We cry out against popery and that very justly. But we are all papists, at least, I am sure, we are all Arminians by nature. And therefore no wonder so many natural men embrace that scheme. . . .

This is the sorest though, alas, the most common evil that was ever yet seen under the sun. An evil that in any age, especially in these dregs of time wherein we live, cannot sufficiently be inveighed against. For as it is with the people, so it is with the priests and, it is to be feared, even in those places where once the truth as it is in Jesus was eminently preached many ministers are so sadly degenerated from their pious ancestors that the doctrines of grace, especially the personal, all-sufficient righteousness of Jesus is but too seldom, too slightly mentioned. Hence the love of many waxeth cold and I have often thought, was it possible, that this single consideration would be sufficient to raise our venerable forefathers again from their graves, who would thunder in their ears their fatal error. 
--George Whitefield, 'The Lord Our Righteousness,'  as quoted in The Sermons of George Whitefield (2 vols.; ed. Lee Gatiss; Crossway, 2012), 1:262-63

13 August 2012

Triune Beauty

The second paragraph of Mike Reeves' excellent new book, Delighting in the Trinity--
This book . . . will simply be about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how God's triune being makes all his ways beautiful. It is a chance to taste and see that the Lord is good, to have your heart won and yourself refreshed. For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God. If the Trinity were something we could shave off God, we would not be relieving him of some irksome weight; we would be shearing him of precisely what is so delightful about him. For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desirable. 
--Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (IVP, 2012), 9 (italics original)

Fornication's Pain

A sobering, research-based passage from Christian Smith's Lost in Transition (successor to Soul Searching) that focuses on 18-23-year-olds rather than teens.
Some recent accounts of young adult sexual behaviors seem to want to suggest . . . that all is indeed well. Some writers celebrate young women's sexual license as a way to cheer on the alleged evening of the old double standard for men and women when it comes to sexual adventuring.
Others, in documenting the sex lives of youth, hardly veil their enthusiasm for the spread of serious sexual activity among them. As long as sex is "safe" and consensual, these writers seem happy to expand freedom to larger segments of youth and to increasingly lower ages.
We are less upbeat.
To be clear, we do not raise doubts about these optimistic viewpoints because we are puritanical prudes intent on eliminating pleasure from young people's lives. We raise doubts because we have heard too much directly from the mouths of emerging adults themselves about the major pain and damage that their free pursuit of sexual pleasure has often caused in their lives.
Christian Smith, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (Oxford University Press, 2011), 149-50

10 August 2012

At Home and on a Holiday

Sam, as the company of eight prepares to leave Lothlorien:
"I've often wanted to see a bit of magic like what it tells of in old tales, but I've never heard of a better land than this. It's like being at home and on a holiday at the same time, if you understand me. I don't want to leave."
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter 7

Image credit: Stronglite

09 August 2012

'Who Was Praying for Me Tuesday Night?'

The Brooklyn Tabernacle has been built from the beginning not on the Sunday services but on the Tuesday night prayer meeting.

In the 1990s Pastor Jim Cymbala's oldest daughter Chrissy was far from God, and had been for two and half years.

In Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim tells the story of what happened. 
February came. One cold Tuesday night during the prayer meeting, I talked from Acts 4 about the church boldly calling on God in the face of persecution. We entered into a time of prayer, everyone reaching out to the Lord in concert together.

An usher handed me a note. A young women whom I felt to be spiritually sensitive had written: Pastor Cymbala, I feel impressed that we should stop the meeting and all pray for your daughter. 

I hesitated. Was it right to change to flow of the service and focus on my personal need?

Yet something in the note seemed to ring true. In a few minutes I picked up the microphone and told the congregation what had just happened. "The truth of the matter," I said, "although I haven't talked much about it, is that my daughter is very far from God these days. She thinks up is down, and down is up; dark is light, and light is dark. But I know God can break through to her, and so I'm going to ask Pastor Boekstaaf to lead us in praying for Chrissy. Let's all join hands across the sanctuary."

As my associate began to lead the people, I stood behind him with my hand on his back. My tear ducts had run dry, but I prayed as best I knew.

To describe what happened in the next minutes, I can only employ a metaphor: The church turned into a labor room. The sounds of women giving birth are not pleasant, but the results are wonderful. Paul knew this when he wrote, "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . ." (Gal. 4:19).

There arose a groaning, a sense of desperate determination, as if to say, "Satan, you will not have this girl. Take your hands off her, she's coming back!" I was overwhelmed. The force of that vast throng calling on God almost literally knocked me over.

When I got home that night, Carol was waiting up for me. We sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee, and I said, "It's over."

"What's over?" she wondered.

"It's over with Chrissy. You would have had to be in the prayer meeting tonight. I tell you, if there's a God in heaven, this whole nightmare is finally over." I described what had taken place.

Thirty-two hours later, on Thursday morning, as I was shaving, Carol suddenly burst through the door, her eyes wide. "Go downstairs!" she blurted. "Chrissy's here."

"Chrissy's here?"

"Yes, Go down!"

"But Carol--I--"

"Just go down," she urged, "It's you she wants to see."

I wiped off the shaving cream and headed down the stairs, my heart pounding. As I came around the corner, I saw my daughter on the kitchen floor, rocking on her hands and knees, sobbing. Cautiously I spoke to her name:


She grabbed my pant leg and began pouring out her anguish. "Daddy, Daddy. I've sinned against God. I've sinned against myself. I've sinned against you and Mommy. Please forgive me."

My vision was clouded by tears I pulled her up from the floor and held her close as we cried together. Suddenly she drew back. "Daddy," she said with a start, "Who was praying for me? Who was praying for me?" Her voice was like that of a cross-examining attorney.

"What do you mean, Chrissy?"

"On Tuesday night, daddy--who was praying for me?" I didn't say anything, so she continued:

"In the middle of the night, God woke me up and showed me I was heading toward this abyss. There was no bottom to it--it scared me to death. I was so frightened. I realized how hard I've been, how wrong, how rebellious. But at the same time, it was like God wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. He kept me from sliding any farther as he said, I still love you. Daddy, tell me the truth--who was praying for me Tuesday night?"

Dressed in His Righteousness Alone

08 August 2012

But I Will Be With You

Moses said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" But the Lord said, "But I will be with you . . . and I will be your mouth."

And Gideon said to him said, "Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house." But the Lord said to him, "But I will be with you."

Jeremiah said, "I don’t know how to talk! I'm only a youth." But the Lord said to him, "Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you."

"And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

07 August 2012

06 August 2012

Battling Bitterness by Grace

Robert Jones, biblical counseling professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his new and wise book Pursuing Peace, from a chapter entitled "Battling Bitterness by Grace":
There is nothing uglier than bitterness—that inner anger lodged deep in the heart, sometimes known only to the bitter person (and his all-seeing God). Bitterness is settled anger, the kind that not merely reacts to someone’s offense, but forms a more general and global animosity against the offender himself. Anger responds to an incident: “I’m angry about what you did.” Bitterness goes deeper to form an attitude—a settled stance or posture—against the perpetrator: “I’m bitter at you, because you are an evil person.” The incident becomes almost secondary.

With most hurts we encounter in our imperfect world, especially small ones, we learn to overlook the offense and forgive the offender. But occasionally we experience a major hurt—an offense that cuts deeply or turns our world upside down—that lingers in our minds and tempts us to become bitter. We might store that hurt in our heart, nurture it, and let it grow to the point where we look with hostility at the offender.
What hope do [we] have to escape the sorrow, slavery, and soul impoverishment that resentment brings? 
The answer is found in Jesus. Jesus understands. He is with us. He comes to us in our mistreatment and remains with us to help. He understands mistreatment as one who was sinned against severely. He has been there. The Scriptures tell us that he came to save his own people, but they did not receive him (John 1:11; Isa. 53:3).

Jesus was sinned against severely: mocked, taunted, punched, spit upon, abandoned, and crucified. This is the Jesus—the mistreated one—who is with us and who is able to help us handle our resentment and overcome our bitterness.

How? The answer is the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 4:31, the apostle Paul calls us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The antidote to bitterness? “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). This verse is the apostle’s strategy to battle the bitterness he warns against in the previous verse. He calls us to have our minds consciously controlled by God’s forgiveness through Jesus’s death on the cross. Grasping the mighty work of our incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord moves us to forgive others. 
--Robert Jones, Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling our Conflicts (Crossway 2012), 138-39

Image credit, and a free downloadable PDF excerpt of the book, here.

There Is No Other Stream

A good reminder from our brother Tullian: