Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Resolutions

Each year, as we prepare to turn our calendars over to the New Year ahead, articles surface seemingly from every domain vilifying the perennial practice of resolution-making. After all, the idea of making a resolution in the first place assumes first identifying something wrong with our selves, something that we are compelled to fix or to be better at. Resolutions are at the heart of the human experience, identifying what think we need to do or should not do. They start and end with (mostly man-made) imperatives.
Even business management gurus are known to deride the resolution in favor of setting objectives or accomplishments, which improves somewhat upon the legalist impulse found in resolution-making. In order to set goals, objectives, and accomplishments for the coming year, business folks typically begin by defining a strategy and what they value most.  From their business's core values they derive specific measurable outcomes which define their success. An example in business might begin with the core value customer service, and a goal of creating outstanding customer satisfaction, which in turn creates the objective of increasing face time with the customer by 20% each quarter.
In the domestic realm, I may determine that time with my family is a top priority; therefore, one of my objectives could then be to spend every Saturday with my immediate family this coming year, instead of every other Saturday, as I did this past year. Again, the emphasis here really is on the imperative and pragmatic, with a focus on quantifying specific improvements. Although these are areas of high value, this approach ends up being only a piecemeal approach that puts the weight on picking oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps.
The approach that I believe deserves more attention at this time is visualization. In some respects visualization has gotten a bad rap, for instance, in sports, where slogans like “Be the Ball” abound. In the evangelical world, visualization is even more convoluted with messages that exhort with “imagine your best life now” platitudes or “name it, claim it” theology.
The type of visualization that I think has some merit might seem a bit too esoteric if you’re more of the pragmatic type, but stick with me, because we’ll get there. Think: “What is the chief end of man? To Glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” right? Then a proper Biblical view of visualization would necessarily start and end with the glory of God.
2 Cor.3:18 ”And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate [(behold, reflect) (in the Word of God) as in a mirror]  the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Biblical visualization then is beholding, contemplating and reflecting the Lord’s Glory. When we spend “face time” with Him, we become more like Him. We are transformed into His image by The Word of God. The previous verses go further to show us that it is specifically the Gospel that transforms us into his image and glory:
2 Cor. 3:7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
So, as we reflect on the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the indicative), our righteousness waxes in ever-increasing glory. Our resolutions and accomplishments (the imperatives) flow out of the abundance of the grace and truth that we find as we look into the face of Christ.

The most basic way for us to “see” Jesus is by studying the Gospels. Unfortunately, this concept has been neglected, perhaps partly because of the bad press over the “Red Letter”-only style of evangelicalism that stratifies the scriptures and relegates other portions of the Bible based on “whether-Jesus-ever-said- anything-about-it.” Of course, Jesus IS the Word, therefore, such reasoning is fallacious at the most elementary level.

However, the principal point I want to make is that if we want to KNOW Jesus, I believe the very best place to start is in the Gospel accounts. When I was first saved, I remember asking folks where I should start in reading the Bible, because it seemed a bit overwhelming and intimidating at first. The answers I got fit generally into three categories:
1)      Start at the beginning in Genesis, because the Bible needs to be taken as a whole. This advice came from both my Catholic friends and my extremely conservative, mostly reformed friends.
2)      It doesn’t matter. The entire Bible is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. A few people took this approach – true, but not all that helpful for a total newbie.
3)      Read one of the Gospel accounts, preferably the Gospel of John. Most of my self-proclaimed “born again” friends were firm believers in this approach.

I must say that #3 proved by far to be the most beneficial, and the one that I recommend heartily.

John 20:30 says: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

After reading the Gospel of John, I immediately picked up the phone and called Alan, my friend who had originally invited me to Bible study and church. I told him something along the lines of, “Alan! I just finished the Gospel of John and I know it’s true – all of it. I believe every word, and I know now without a doubt, I’m Christian. I wasn’t totally sure if I believed all the Christian faith before now, but now I’m certain!!"

This type of enthusiasm that I get every time I read about what Jesus has done and about His promises is what I believe John is writing about in Revelation when he quotes Jesus speaking to the seven churches saying, “You have forgotten your first love.” I remember my first love and whenever I long for Him again, I gravitate toward those books in the Bible where Jesus is directly revealed. Not always the “Red Letter” books only. Often, it includes OT prophets and historical narratives. Yet, every once in a while a good soaking in John or Luke or Matthew revives my faith with the most profound indicatives.

One final place where I think we may glean a Biblical concept of visualization is in God’s promises.
So, to prepare for the start of the New Year, rather than coming up with resolutions of my own, I think I'll stick with the indicatives of what Christ has already done and to what He has promised to to those of us who are His children:
  1. His grace is sufficient for us. (2 Cor. 12:9). In fact, He has made provision for our salvation by His grace through faith.
  2. God has promised that His children will not be overtaken with temptation 1 Cor. 10:13. Instead, He assures us that a way of escape will be provided.
  3. God promises: “I will never leave you or forsake you. So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Heb. 13:5-6
  4. "Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling and to present your faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude v 24).
  5. God has promised us victory over death. He first resurrected Jesus by way of assuring our resurrection.
    "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3,4). and: "but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:57).
  6. God has promised, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  7. God has promised that all things work together for good to those who love and serve Him (Romans 8:28).
  8. God has promised that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  9. God has said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5).
  10. God has promised His people eternal life (John 10:27,28).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Grammar of the Gospel

Did you know that the Gospel has a specific grammar?

Sinclair Ferguson masterfully unfolds the beauty of our union with Christ in the videos below, showing us the invaluable worth of this doctrine for Christian theology and life. Yet, it is also, perhaps, one of the most neglected.

Union With Christ in Christian Living - Main Session 2 from Parkside Church on Vimeo.

Sinclair Ferguson - Paul on Union With Christ (Main Session - Video) from Parkside Church on Vimeo.

One of the key sections in the conference session came when Dr. Ferguson spoke about the structure—or grammar—of the gospel. Justin Taylor wrote about Dr. Ferguson's talk: "Natively, the gospel is a foreign language to us and we need to learn that the grammar of the gospel is shaped by the gospel itself. He noted how hard it is for us as Americans to learn Latin. The verbs go at the end end. We are a doing community and it’s hard for us to put the 'doing' at the end. But the gospel teaches us to put our doing word at the end and Jesus’ doing word at the beginning—but our native tendency is to drag back the doing word and put it at the beginning, and then top that up with Jesus’ doing, just to make life a little better."

Here are some of his notes on the a very clear grammar of the gospel. . . .

"The Mood of the Gospel

We need to learn that the grammar of the gospel has its appropriate mood.

In our languages today we speak in the indicative mood and the imperative mood. The indicative mood is saying these are the things that are true. The imperative mood is saying these are things you need to do. And in the gospel, the structure of the grammar is always indicative gives rise to imperative. . . .

The Tense of the Gospel

There’s also a tense of the gospel: the present is to be rooted in the past. You need to go backward to what Christ has done in order to go forward in what you are to do. There is an emphasis of the already and the mopping-up operation of the not-yet.

The Prepositions of the Gospel

Do you remember how Paul uses prepositions in Galatians 2:20-21, where in a few words he summarizes the work of Christ:

The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me;
and therefore I am crucified with Christ;
nevertheless, I live, but not I; Christ lives in me.

In these three prepositions the apostle Paul has, in a sense, summarized the basic structure of our union with Christ.

Since we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, he came as our substitute and representative—there is this sense in which we now know through faith that we were crucified with Christ. And the past that dominated us has been nailed to the cross; the dominion of sin that reigned over us has been broken—so that he has died for us and we have been crucified with him, and wonder of wonders there is this third dimension of our union with Christ: a mutual union, in which not only are we are said to be in Christ, but Christ the Lord of glory, in all the fullness of his role as our benefactor comes to dwell in the heart of the merest believer."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel!

My favorite Christmas hymn by Selah with scenes from The Nativity Story.
Very nice.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

RC Sproul Jr in Columbia

An excerpt from R.C. Sproul Jr's article yesterday called "A Gringo in Columbia:"

"This is not, by the grace of God, my first time in a less developed nation. Beyond several such trips I have also been privileged to minister from time to time in prisons around the country. In each case I walk into the situation thinking myself a fine fellow, and walk out ashamed. My shame is found in my relative spiritual immaturity in comparison of those I have come to “help.” I’m supposed to be bringing a message from God. Instead God speaks to me- “You are soft, pampered, and worst of all you are proud.” I come in eager to teach. I go home grateful for what I have learned. And then I forget. "

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Made me weep

HT: John Samson of Reformation Theology and Effectual Call.
For two reasons, I can't help but weep when watching this video of the people of the Kimyal tribe in West Papua, New Guinea as they receive their first ever New Testament translated into their own language. The way they rejoice, celebrate, and wail the arrival of Bibles from World Mission is enough to make any brother or sister in Christ weep with them exalting in the joy of the Lord.

The second reason, as Rev. Samson and the missionaries in the video all mention, is the conviction of just how easily we take for granted as Christians in America our unrestricted access to the Word of God. How many of us have multiple copies of multiple translations. I know I own four NIVs (Streams in the Desert, NIV Study Bible, Pocket Leather Bound, Woman of the Word Study Bible), two KJVs (one no frills, the other is a Geneva Study Bible), one Message, two NKJ (Spirit-Filled Believer version and Oswald Chambers Daily Devotional version), two NASBs (Zophiates Hebrew/Greek Keyword Study and a straight paper cover), two ESVs (Daily Reader version, and Reformation Study Bible version). Those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. I probably have a few others stashed away somewhere. My point is: I weep when I think of just how much I take for granted that one of my Bibles will always be there for me, and yet how rarely in the grand scheme of things I actually soak it in and appreciate it as I should.

Watch this video and be amazed by people who are EXCITED to receive God's Word!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Milton's contribution to Modern English

Shakespeare was my favorite author of study during my college years. Yet, I'd have to say my first 'true literary love' award would have to go to John Milton. His epic poem, "Paradise Lost," was an amazingly picturesque portrayal of the story of the creation, rebellion and fall that impacted me greatly.

The language was challenging and rewarding, which was more than I could say for my experience with Chaucer. Most of my fellow classmates were taken with Chaucer's catchy character portrayals and the jovial, if crude and crass, joking in his stories. His Middle English was a challenge, but my peers were motivated to find out things such as how the churlish Miller's Tale would end. For some reason I was just not as motivated by Chaucer as I was by Shakespeare and Milton (See First Things for their "Literary Smackdown: Shakespeare vs. Chaucer").

What I remember most from my BritLit course was listening to my professor as he read the first book of Paradise Lost to us, which opened an entirely new and higher level of English comprehension for me going forward.

This year, as I was substituting for an Honors English class in a public high school, I was privileged to teach Book 1 of Paradise Lost , and then lead the students in answering a battery of questions afterward. So, in keeping with my professor's example, I read about half of the book to them. To my great pleasure, they too silently listened as I did my best to impart his amazing words. Hopefully, they were able to gain from the richness of his language.

Guardian magazine recently published an article detailing Milton's tremendous contributions to Modern English, comparing his work to other literary giants. None of them came close. Here is a sampling: outer space, stunning, literalism, unprincipled, unaccountable, irresponsible, arch-fiend, self-delusion, pandemonium and sensuous, just to name a few of the 630 words accredited to him.
Very interesting!

A shadow as darkness and nothingness, compared with its source: Christ

An incredible article at Gospel Coalition by Will about the gospel and Vietnam's search for identity. Originally called "Reality or Less Than Nothing" this article is pure genius.