Thursday, January 29, 2009

A true child in the faith?

Frank Turk at Pyromaniacs asks whether we are aspiring to have our pastors say of us, what Paul had said of his congregants:

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."
or this:

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."
or most robustly like this:

"Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. "

His challenge is that we should ask whether Paul would call us his 'true child in the faith?' I thought additionally to ask whether our own pastors would be compelled by how we live our lives in the family of God to introduce us as his true child in the faith?
He says, "That's what you should be aspiring to" and then promises to write a continuation for those of us who are not there yet. Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On critiquing the sermon

At Stuff Christians Like>>> Funny stuff, but also very true to what is going on my heart when I sit in judgment. In addition, I think it helps explain those occassions where I sit through a sermon, thinking something to the effect that "I didn't really get anything out of that." Then two or three days later, I replay it on the web or CD player, I find myself saying "Wow! that was incredible." Exact same sermon. So, what changed? My approach and attitude.

It's the difference between when I am being forgiving, loving, giving, and open versus judgmental, taking, selfish and apathetic. And sometimes I'm just a hair away from switching sides. This is a great reminder to take every thought and word captive and make it subject to Christ. Good stuff.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Little Miracles

Movies that God uses in our regeneration

What movie(s), if any, has God used as one instrument in drawing you to know Jesus Christ as your savior?
Here are a few that have been mentioned by some of the people I know from church:

The Passion of the Christ
Amazing Grace
Ben Hur
The Devil's Advocate
Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace
Left Behind
Less than Zero

A biggee for me personally was Mississippi Burning.

Some of these titles, I think, were quite obvious - the ones that were made by Christian producers and directors. Then there are a few that were decidedly secular, but interestingly depict the horror and depravity of human sin and downward cycle of destruction that can result even within a temporal context.

In the case of my pick, Mississippi Burning, what grabbed my heart the most was not just the horrid treatment of our brothers and sisters. Much of what was portayed in the movie, although based in part on a true story, was overly theatrical and scripted to generate an emotional reaction. What was most profound and undeniable was that even through extreme persecution and the most unjust and inhumane treatment that could be concocted by those in power over them, they continued to worship God. They continued on in their faith. They clung to the Bible, the very Word of God. Something resonated deep within me that many of these poor, persecuted and pitiable people had such a solid foundation of truth and hope that they could not be shattered. I wanted what they had and thought that somehow we shared in a common bond, even though I did not personally know Christ.

It may not have been the director or producer's intent to portray this in the movie as clearly as I was seeing it, but that was in fact my main impression. And I always have remembered that and loved to see those scenes where the black community would come together to share the sabbath together and worship God. I did not actually receive Christ until several years after, but for some reason that movie impacted me in ways that I cannot understand or even explain.

Thank God that the days in this country of such open hostility to our brothers and sisters in Christ are well behind us and that the electing of a black president is symbolic to that end. I pray for the day that our country's collective will is just as strong against the persecution of the unborn. Let's hold out hope that we will repent of our unjust practices toward these defenseless and most tender lives entrusted to our care.

Stop the Harps! The Great Shepherd loses none

“There shall be more wonder at the going to heaven of the weak believers than at the stronger ones. Mr. Greatheart, when he comes there, will owe his victories to his Master and lay his laurels at his feet; but fainting Feeblemind and limping Ready-to-Halt with his crutches, and trembling Little-Faith—when they enter into rest, will make heaven ring with notes of even greater admiration that such poor creeping worms of the earth should win the day by mighty grace.

Suppose that one of them should be missing at the last? Stop the harps! Silence the songs! No beginning to be merry while one child is shut out! I am quite certain if, as a family, we were going to sing our evening hymn of joy and thankfulness, if mother said, ‘Where is the little mite? Where is the last one of the family?’ there would be a pause. If we had to say, ‘She is lost,’ there would be no singing and no resting till she was found.

It is the glory of Jesus that as a shepherd he has lost none of His flock, as the Captain of salvation, he has brought many sons to glory and has lost none.”

—Charles Spurgeon, “Jesus Admired in Them That Believe”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

This is impossible - so pray!

"Do you believe that the Son of God came from heaven and lived and did all He did on earth, that He died on the Cross and was buried and rose again, that He ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, in order to leave us in a state of confusion? It is impossible."
- D Martin Lloyd-Jones

So what did the good doctor order in his book on Spiritual Depression?

"Come to Him, come to His Word, wait upon Him, plead with Him, hold on to Him, ask Him in the words of the hymn:

'Holy Spirit, Truth Divine,
Dawn upon this soul of mine,
Word of God, and inward Light,
Wake my spirit, clear my sight.'"

An ever-faithful reminder from a great preacher.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

True Adoption, Lived Out = Our Fellowship in the Church

This is a revisit to a previous post on the article "The Brotherhood of Sons" by Russell Moore at Touchstone Journal.

A little reflective commentary:
In the Old Testament bloodline was everything. If you did not belong to the Jewish bloodline, you could not fully participate in all of the covenant blessings, even as a believer in and follower of Yahweh. And within the bloodline there were tribes that further defined your potential role(s) within the covenant community. Essentially, your rights were assigned according to your DNA.

On the other hand, in the New Testament, Jesus seemingly eradicates familial lines when he says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26-27)

What can we make of this? Did Jesus eradicate the covenant that Yahweh had with the Israelites? NO! Jesus said, "Before Abraham was born, I AM (Yahweh). (John 8:58)" He is God, He has always been God, and He does not change. The covenant promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ, just as Paul wrote to the Galatians in Chapter 3, verses 26-29:
"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

(Here's my point:)
If we think that our familial bloodlines are the primary building block of covenant community in the church, we have missed a very key ingredient in the whole idea of the Gospel message -- that key is ADOPTION.

The spirit of True, Biblical adoption is to treat every church member just as we would if they were our own blood relative -- actually, we should even treat each church member BETTER than a blood relative. Because the Brotherhood with Christ far exceeds our understanding of earthly relationships, transcending every station and biological pre-determinant, such as: slavery, race, age, and gender.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Moore's article that speaks to this idea:

"We fall for all our ideological idolatries—from white supremacy to genocidal warfare and beyond—because we see our “brotherhood” only in our DNA. We engineer radical reproductive technologies that sever procreation from fatherhood and motherhood, precisely because we don’t want children so much as we want ourselves, our own genetic material living on before us. We identify more with ourselves)... than with our churches because we don’t understand the household into which we’ve come."

"... It is difficult to see before us the day when the graves of this planet are emptied, when the great assembly of Christ’s Church is gathered before the Judgment Seat. On that day, the accusing principalities and powers will probably look once more at us, ... and they may ask one more time, “So are they brothers?”

The hope of adopted children like my sons—and like me—is that the voice that once thundered over the Jordan will respond: 'They are now.' "


Monday, January 19, 2009

Joyful, Serious Church Life

In his blog article Joyful, Serious Church Life Together, John Piper sets forth a new plan to incorporate a Relational Commitments Statement as part of the covenant vows made when receiving new members.

In addition to the wisdom in this approach, there is an incredible illustration on pages 3 and 4 called "A Tale of Two Families" that is worthy of much consideration and discussion.

Peacemaker Ministries provides the basic model that Piper's church has used to develop their approach. Here is just a small descripion:

These Commitments accomplish several important purposes:
• They remind us of our mutual commitment to work together to pursue unity, maintain friendships, preserve marriages, and build relationships that reflect the love of Christ.

• They help to prevent surprises, disappointed expectations, confusion and conflict by describing how we expect to relate to one another within the church.

• They provide a clear track for us to run on when conflict threatens to divide us, and they
remind us how to move quickly toward reconciliation.

• They establish guidelines for how our leaders will counsel others, guard confidential information, and protect our children from abuse.

• They define and limit the spiritual authority of church leaders and thereby insure that all members are treated fairly.

• Finally, they reduce our church's exposure to legal liability by clearly establishing our relational practices and by affirming our mutual commitment to resolve conflict biblically.


Responding to criticism

Great advice from Prodigal Jon at Stuff Christians Like.
Here's an excerpt:
"If I truly believed that verse (Matt 5:11), I would respond to hate mail with a thank you note. I would receive criticism that was meant to wound, as a gift."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to read a book in 2 hours

Demian Farnworth at Fallen and Flawed has offered some helpful steps to reading an average sized book in 2 hours time. As he states, this method would not work particularly well with every type of content, but can be extremely helpful in gleaning insight from topics that are inherently high on ideal and low on detail, like most of the best-selling business books on the market.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest"

This looks like a great conference, not to be missed!
TenthWomen Conference, February 21, 2009

"The Freedom and Challenge of Resting in God's Image"—download a brochure with registration form.
Description: We invite you to the 2009 TenthWomen Conference at Tenth Presbyterian Church as we consider what “rest for your soul” really means. For women in particular, contemporary life brings stresses—and joys—that can leave us restless, anxious, and weary. But Jesus offers an antidote. Come and enter his rest.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." — Matthew 11:28

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Salvation and Infants

Here is an excellent article at The Thinklings on assurance for parents on the death of infants. Even though I don't have children of my own, I just love Jared's reasoning and the way he is able to lay out the scriptural reasoning for his position. Enjoy.

Book Reviews at Treasures of Encouragement

Check it out here: A Quest for More by Paul David Tripp>>>

Pittsburgh mayor changes name from Ravenstahl to Steelerstahl this week

"I'm not sure how a man named "Ravenstahl" got elected in Pittsburgh to begin with, but that is indeed the mayor's name. At least, it was."

Read the article>>>

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sunday School Scripture Reading and Memorization

The technological advancement of the printing press coincided with the Reformation, making it possible for every person to have their own copy of the Word of God. This was an enormous leap in spreading access to the scriptures. As a result of the invention, however, many believe that two other spiritual disciplines declined: scripture memorization and reading of the Word in community. Memorization was absolutely essential, as people would store up God's Word in their hearts and carry it around with them that way. Also, lengthy passages of scripture were regularly read in community, as any given church might have only one copy of God's Word. But in reading the Word together, the whole body was built up in knowledge and faith.

This semester in Sunday School, we are reading large portions of scripture together. Sunday we all read Isaiah Chapters 52 and 53, Phillipians Chapter 2, and Mark 10:35-45 together. This week, we are working on memorizing the passage on the humiliation and exaltation of Christ in Phillipians 2.

Phil 2:5 "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

Quote of the Day

“Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us. Look on him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into thy heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to thy corruptions: do this daily.”

- John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin pg 85.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Thoughts on prideful suffering and humble prosperity

The suffering of Job and the cosmic battle that ensues with satan is commonly seen as a testing of Job’s faith. What I think we sometimes forget is – or at least I sometimes forget – that it is not only in suffering that our faith is tested. In fact, we see in scripture many times, many examples of men (and women) who faced similar testing when exalted to powerful positions. I can think of Daniel, David, Solomon, Joseph, and Deborah, to name a few.

In the lowness, humiliation and helplessness of our suffering, we are often ‘forced’ to think like servants of God and others, and to depend only on the strength of the Lord to sustain us. It is a test that we would not curse God and die, or become embittered in our circumstances, like Naomi, who asked to be called (Mara) instead of trusting God. It is a proof of our faith when we do not shrivel up and give up, but instead, like Joseph, Ruth, and Daniel, continue worship and obey God in each lowly station, and to serve others in love, regardless of their treatment and attitude toward us.

In their periods of earthly exaltation, Joseph, Daniel and Deborah used their high positions of honor to serve others and to worship God. These are rare examples. These are people, who by worldly standards, are not bound, because of their position, to show concern for the good of others who are of lower status, to be in want of material need, or to be dependent upon another – even a Holy God.
Is this not also a difficult test for us? When we are blessed and honored, to be drawn away from God?

In the movie “The Devil’s Advocate,” Al Pacino’s character repeats the same quote a couple of times, including at the very end of the film. He says, “Vanity, definitely, my favorite sin.” This is the temptation that he appeals to repeatedly to hook Kevin Lomax.

Similarly, John Piper writes, “Satan is a liar and a murderer because he is totally self-centered. So he cares nothing for man, except where man’s prosperity can draw him away from God.”

Prosperity and exaltation in this life, just like suffering and lowness, are simply circumstances in which we might be tempted to draw away from God.

At one end of the spectrum, we feel forsaken and forgotten by God, and ruled by our emotions, we start to believe those lies. We believe that somehow we've earned the right to acceptance by God, when His acceptance and love toward us is based completely on unmerited favor. When be believe this way, we soon start to treat our relationship with God in such a way that our lives start to become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet, ultimately, God has other plans and His sovereignty ends up ruling in the end. As believers, we know that only Jesus Christ has been completely forsaken, on the cross, when He paid the full penalty and experienced the full weight of God’s wrath upon Him. Our “feelings” of forsakenness are only temporary and mild in comparison and ultimately – not true. This delusion of self-pity is in fact a form of pride.

On the other hand, when we feel triumphant and have been exalted into great positions of responsibility and power, it is so easy to draw away from God then too, but with a slightly different twist on our self-justification. In vanity, we start to believe that we earned it. It was because of our own merit, our strength, our own willpower, etc., that we have succeeded above others. We forget that our exaltation and strength is found only and completely in the Lord himself, and not of ourselves. Every gift and talent that got us where ever we are today was given by God to us as stewards -- not to Lord it over others, but to serve others and to use to worship God. In fact, God in His ultimate sovereignty trumps our vain pursuits and many of us end up back at the ground zero of humiliation and lowness before too long.

Both of these types of circumstances, though on opposite ends of the spectrum, cause us to focus on ourselves. In both situations, when we focus on what we are attaining and have done or what we have sacrificed or put up with, we are making it all about us, and not about God.

Yet, I would offer even yet another type of suffering pride of which we might be cautious. Many martyred saints, venerated in the Catholic Church, wrote lengthy diaries of great and gory details they endured in suffering for the faith. (As a side note: I mention this specifically because the account of Perpetua was read in our church this past Sunday). Out of the period of martyrdom in the early church, many false teachings arose including Gnosticism and Montanism, to name a few. With regard to the martyrs' extreme suffering, some churches started to exalt certain people as more spiritual because they had suffered the most severely. Imagine the poor souls under this teaching who would seek ways to be persecuted and willingly submit themselves to torture and gruesome suffering – so that (in vanity) they would be more Godly or be set up as closer to the Holy Spirit than their brothers and sisters.

As usual, I can't help be think of the Greatest Commandment and how it applies in both (all three) of these circumstances: Matt 22:37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Get with God

"The Scottish preacher Eric Alexander once said in my hearing, 'God must first do a mighty work in a man before he does a mighty work through a man.'”
Read the entire article at New City Presbyterian

Flacco attracts Delawareans as Ravens fans

In May 2008, I predicted that Joe Flacco, as the Ravens rookie quarterback, would draw Delawareans back to being Baltimore fans. Many of us moved on to the Eagles after the Colts vacated Baltimore years ago. I went so far as to believe that expanding their fan base was actually one of the factors that influenced Baltimore's choice to draft Joe Flacco in Spring of last year. That was just a guess, but now look!!
Yesterday, The News Journal reported (just as I had predicted) that many Delawareans are becoming Ravens fans. If Flacco and the Ravens go to the Superbowl, that would be amazing, and as a Delaware alumn, I would have to root for the Ravens over the Eagles! (I just hope my pastor doesn't find out - LOL).

Friday, January 9, 2009

"What's Wrong with the World Today?" asked The Times

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G. K. Chesterton

(ht: Tim Challies)

On Staying Stuck

Staying Stuck (HT: Lydia Brownback via Tara)
Scripture reference:
"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness"
--Ephesians 4:17-24

Powerful Message on Biblical Suffering and Peacemaking

Keynote by John Piper, 2006 Conference (ht:Peacemaker Ministries)

John Piper Annual Conference Keynote Address 2006 from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sarkicophobic much?

Read the whole article by Dan Phillips over at Pyromaniacs>>>
Here is an excerpt:

"In sum: sarkicophobia creates people locked in perpetual self-absorption in the name of Christ, ever taking their spiritual pulse, immune to direct appeals from Scripture to believing obedience. The last thing it produces is Christ-centered, God-glorifying, robust, hearty, daring, fruitful, pioneering, world-rejecting Devil-defying Christians."

How to Respond in Wisdom to Church Critics -- Calvin's Institutes

With so many books being written recently criticizing churches for what they ought to do and be, how they ought to minister rightly, and so many other theories on how churches can be more "this" or less "that," I thought this quote from John Calvin to be an excellent mediator of wisdom and balance for folks like me who may feel a bit tossed about by the contradicting theories and ideas on the subject of ecclesiology. In fact, I'm looking forward to studying the Institutes throughout the year, with the R21 bloggers. Enjoy the read below, and I hope it is as edifying to you as it was for me. God bless.

The Institutes, Book Four, Chapter 1, Section 12

12. "When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults. Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like. Others, again, which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not destroy the unity of the faith; for why should it be regarded as a ground of dissension between churches, if one, without any spirit of contention or perverseness in dogmatising, hold that the soul on quitting the body flies to heaven, and another, without venturing to speak positively as to the abode, holds it for certain that it lives with the Lord? [522] The words of the Apostle are, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you" (Phil. 3:15). Does he not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to be a ground of dissension among Christians? The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all, or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation. Here, however, I have no wish to patronise even the minutest errors, as if I thought it right to foster them by flattery or connivance; what I say is, that we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, [523] and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord. Meanwhile, if we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty. To this effect are the words of Paul, "If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace" (1 Cor. 14:30). From this it is evident that to each member of the Church, according to his measure of grace, the study of public edification has been assigned, provided it be done decently and in order. In other words, we must neither renounce the communion of the Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline when duly arranged. [524]"

Friday, January 2, 2009

Quote of the Day

"We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive." C. S. Lewis