Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dead Right is Still Dead, Right?

(alternate title: The City of God is Bigger than My Personal Crosswalk)

Today is graduation at U of D here in Newark, which I totally got messed up. I was sure that graduation day was last weekend, so it didn't even dawn on me not to drive over to California Tortilla on Main Street to buy my favorite salad for lunch.

As I was driving down Main Street to get home, it became painfully obvious to me how much more chaotic and dangerous Main Street actually is when the pedestrians are not primarily college students. On graduation day (as well as visitors day), the town is flooded with parents and siblings who have no idea how to navigate the town successfully and safely as a pedestrian.

Parents... siblings... non-city residents... are rather clueless and therefore very dangerous walking about the town on days like today. Essentially, we have a free for all going on which means at least one thing can be guaranteed for drivers: GRIDLOCK.

What crosswalk?  We can just jaywalk, right??
What traffic signal device? Those things aren't really for pedestrians are they?
What sidewalk? Sidewalks are for decoration, right? Clearly, they are not supposed to actually perform a function are they?
Nope. "Pedestrians Have the Right of Way!"  Just ask any of the violators of the above. That's what the law states. So, there you have it. (Read: You can mow me down, but as a pedestrian I was 100% in the right!)
To an outsider watching students during the semester navigate the city and interact with the traffic, pedestrian movement tends to look somewhat arbitrary. In fact, a number of friends and family members who visit regularly comment with frustration that students seem to be so confident moving about so freely, while such high volumes of traffic flow all about them.  Yet, there is very rarely a deluge of chaos during the semester or a pedestrian injury (except perhaps at 3:00 am Saturday mornings, but that's another story).
After the first week of their freshman classes, most college students have been shown or have figured out how to use the crosswalks properly, where to cross busy roadways safely, and how to navigate busy intersections successfully. The norms and rules for getting around and co-existing with thousands of two-ton projectiles are firmly fixed for most students. Crosswalks are the designated free crossing zones, so they don't jaywalk.Sidewalks are protected walking areas, free from bikes, skateboards, and most importantly motor vehicles. And traffic signal devices provide reliable crossing cover for treacherous intersections.
Not so much by deliberate choice as by a desire to survive, students develop a complex system of interpreting the interplay of ALL the legal requirements in order to live safely and harmoniously.

This is my key point: How often do we take the letter of a particular aspect of the law and make everything else subservient to it? In this case, I used "The Pedestrian Has the Right of Way" to illustate my point, but I could just as well have used something from the moral law or some sort of social justice mandate to make the illustration. 

So often, we tend to elevate a particular aspect of the law, typically one that favors us somehow, and make other aspects of God's law subservient to it. I know I do. If we go to the analogous extreme that the pedestrian example does, we actually turn the law on its head and make it our own personal right! I know I do this, too.

Instead, shouldn't we ask ourselves how can we better obey the spirit of the law by exhibiting our love for our Savior and neighbor?

Here are a few ideas for pedestrians, drivers, me (and anyone else interested) toward that end:
  • cultivate a desire to love and obey all of the the law (not just the parts we agree with)
  • make a decision whenever we get behind the wheel to love and respect our neighbor as ourselves (instead of making our desires more important than theirs).
  • and love the Lord thy God with ALL of ourselves - heart, mind, and soul. (understanding that the city of God is much bigger than our own present crosswalk.)
(above ideas not in any particular order).

Friday, May 27, 2011

God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment

Two things I'm grateful for this morning:
  1. I purchased Hamilton's book called God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment on Kindle for only $7.99 (retail $40).
  2. Kindle has added the copy function to their Kindle for PC app, making it easy to copy excerpts and attribute them well.
That said, here is a great paragraph from the book that summarizes what I think the book will primarily be about:

"Salvation shows God to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6b–7a). Ross Wagner rightly states, “These words are invoked repeatedly throughout Israel’s sacred writings as a way of characterizing the intimate connection between God’s very nature and his commitment to his people.”88 Judgment shows God to be the one “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the sons and on the sons of the sons, on the third and on the fourth generations” (Ex. 34:7b; for a catalog of quotations of and allusions to this text, see the appendix to chap. 2, §8, “Exodus 34:6–7 in the Law, Prophets, and Writings”). Thus, salvation and judgment balance one another. The reality of judgment should keep us from thinking of God in purely sentimental terms as though he were a grandfatherly buddy who just lets things go. The reality of salvation should likewise keep us from thinking of God as merely a terrifying, vengeful judge89 Those who flee to him will be saved, but those who do not fear him will be judged. Paradoxically, it is the reality of his terrifying judgment that is meant to send us fleeing to him. This matches the “eternal gospel” proclaimed by the angel in Revelation 14:6–7: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship the one who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water.”

Hamilton Jr., James M. (2010). God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Kindle Locations 929-940). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dying to Self Precedes Resurrection

Excerpt from today's Peacemeal:
"The expansion of the peaceable kingdom comes alongside the death of our own pleasure or convenience. Jesus willingly demonstrated this and set an example to be followed. Resurrection is a reality that we as believers should cling to with a fierce tenacity; but we must remember that something specific always precedes resurrection -- death. But if it dies, it produces many seeds… "

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John 12:23 "And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Being Joyful Exiles

In this month's TableTalk magazine, John Piper writes about our position as Christian exiles in this world:
"This is my main point: being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. Where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying 'good riddance' to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate. Being Christian exiles in American culture does not end our influence; it takes the swagger out of it."

More of this month's articles from TableTalk are available from Ligonier.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Are We 'Linked In'?

Social networking can be a wonderful supplement to the body of Christ and helps facilitate communication and relationships in a helpful way. However, there are also reasons for strong warning against the human heart's tendency toward falseness, evil, and too heavy a reliance upon the medium to facilitate our interactions. To do so, it would seem, would be to thwart God's intention for building His community of His people to His glory.

Jill at RZIM writes in this morning's devotional titled Linked In:
"Showing a child as a sign of the community of God's kingdom, Jesus seems to be saying something deliberate about the kind of community he is drawing together.  Little children love readily with all of themselves.  Their connections are real; their unity genuine, perhaps because their minds have not yet been deterred by suspicion, disappointment, or pride.  And as such, their hearts grasp something about communing we often do not as adults."  
Read Here to Find Out What
"Jesus suggests that those who will be like children, like men and women aware that the love we seek also seeks us, will find the kingdom of God.  In other words, the very community we long for is governed by one who longs for us to be in it."
Amen to that.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We Don't Drift Toward Holiness

From Desiring God:
Hard work is not the opposite of grace, it is the result of experiencing grace.

D. A. Carson explains:
People do not drift toward Holiness.
Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.
We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
(For the Love of God, Volume 2.)

Psalm 90 from Pyromaniacs

Phil Johnson writes a timely piece on Psalm 90 about the toil and trouble of life, Moses, and God's promise of our heavenly dwelling in Him, at Pyromaniacs.

Psalm 90

From Everlasting to Everlasting

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cherishing the Church

Wow. I just listened to the sermon by Dr. Joel Beeke, preached in 2009 during "Echoes from the Genevan Pulpit" aka the Calvin500 Conference. 

Here is a link to the recording from SermonAudio, and here is a link to Beeke's paper which is a pretty close representation of the original talk.  Dr. Beeke used the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church” as his text for the message.

A few key points:
The Status of the Church
The church belongs to Christ: “My church.” Christ died for the church to purchase her; therefore shouldn’t we cherish her also? We may be quick to criticize, but we should only do so as did Jeremiah, with tears streaming down our faces, weeping for her. Jesus was also exalted to God’s right hand to make intercession for the church; this should be emphasized more in our ecclesiology. Finally, Jesus used the word “My,” referring to His bride - the church - made possible through the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Substance of the Church
The church as founded upon Christ: “This rock” refers to the divine sonship of Jesus. Thus, the substance of the church is three-fold: 1) Christ is the undergirding cornerstone (I Cor. 3:11). 2) The apostles build their doctrine on Christ as the Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). 3) All the bricks form the building, the new Jerusalem, the true believers who are living stones built on the foundation of the apostles, who are in turn built on Christ the cornerstone (I Pet. 2:4-5).

The Success of the Church
Success as the workmanship of Christ: “I will build.” This shows us five guarantees: 1) wonderful indestructibility (as Flavel said, we must not to be quick to bury the church before she is dead); 2) wonderful institution (the bride of Christ has lasted 2,000 years; it is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints); 3) wonderful individuality (we complain about the church’s messiness, it's sloppy building site, but we are part of the mess — we are all a work in progress, and God deals with us individually to be the exact stones He wants in His building); 4) wonderful churchly inheritance (we cherish the church for this inheritance, that is laid away and undefiled, that we will one day receive); 5) wonderful invitation (Jesus has more work to do, as the world has not yet ended — we still invite people to come repent and believe the Gospel).

He had so much more to say than this, so I want to listen again to catch it all.

All of the MP3s from the conference can be purchased and downloaded at Ligonier. I purchased my copy of the entire conference during a $5 Friday promo. (Sales begin at 8:00am on Fridays at Ligonier.)

HT: Gospel-Centered Musings

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This (what's going on?) asked a question on my previous post (What's Going On) that I thought warranted a separate post. He started by saying that he remembered playing that song when he was in a band back in the day. He then asked me what I thought of the song today.

(Of course, that was prior to Blogger going down for two days and subsequently, my ISP service going down yesterday. In the Blogger reset, apparently his comment and question was lost.)

What do I think of the song What's Going On today?
First, although I still think the song has amazing musical quality and the vocalist can really belt it out, I also consider the song a near perfect expression of unbelief.

I don't say that at all to be unkind, but rather as an admission of my own tendencies toward unbelief. The lead singer and songwriter is incredibly honest, raw, open, and vulnerable. "Authentic" as some might put it.  Granted this particular artist is unsaved, but she really does an amazing job of capturing much of the underlying skepticism and disillusionment of people who grew up in my generation. I do think that God used music like this to prepare the soil of my soul just before I met Jesus Christ.

It's obvious listening to this song now that the trouble with the worldview that I held at that time (and that this band sings about) is that it is essentially man-centered! It magnifies so much of what is wrong with the culturally popular American Worldview.  The singer is praying for revolution because she is disillusioned by "still trying to get up the great big hill of hope" and because all she does is try, omg, does she "try in this institution." The best thing communicated in the song and video is the 'brotherhood of man' as she calls it, and then depicts her friends reaching down from the slide to pull her up.  (People outside the church sometimes get the fellowship thing better than we inside the church do, unfortunately. I wouldn't say that about my church at all, even though we all have opportunities to do better with this. Ah, yes. that is a a topic for another post, I suppose.)

The good news for me was that the true "revolution" is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In America, we need to understand that even a pagan unbeliever's life is often characterized by moralism and legalism.  So, is it any wonder that moralistic therapeutic diesm would be totally unattractive (and ineffective to bring about salvation!) to someone who's worldview is embodied in this song?

When, as a Christian, I find myself with the same type of feeling portrayed in this song, I find solace in the scripture passage, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."  I return to the true Gospel message of Jesus Christ to find out that -- it's not about me or what I've done or not done. Rather, the Gospel is ALL about our great Savior God and what He has done for us in sending His Son to live the perfect life so that through Faith in His sacrficial death for our sin, we will have true fellowship with God now and eternally. He has become our our true hope and destination.  That is very good news which is truly counter-cultural!

Then this is where the fellowship/brotherhood thing comes in. The Bible tells us that we are Christ's ambassadors, as if He is making His appeal thru us to the world. We are commissioned to take this revolutionary, counter-cultural message to the lost -- and -- we are 'called out" (ecclesia) from the world in order to build one another up -- with the Gospel of peace.  I need the body of Christ - the Church- for this. Because the world cannot give it; they don't have it. The world might have an understanding of some things by the light of nature, but the world's wisdom is not going to contain or comprehend Gospel Truth. I need the church for this, the fellowship of believers speaking Gospel Truth into my life.

And now that my church is ending this week and with my pastor resigning three weeks ago, I will be for a short time, a sheep without shepherd and a flock. Please pray that this intermittent time will pass quickly and will lead to God's best for all of those in our little fold. Thank you!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What's Going On?

Back in the early 90's before I was saved, I used to listen to this song all the time. Kind of my theme song.
Lately, it seems to be popping up in my memory a lot. Hmmm.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Greener Grass Conspiracy: Book Review

Saturday, as I made my "To Do" list for the day, I noticed a strange irony. The top two tasks on my list for the day were 1) mow my lawn/do yard work and 2) finish reading and reviewing The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge. Funny how the first task sort of had the effect of diminishing my tendency toward desiring "Greener Grass" at least from a literal standpoint. Afterall, the people with the nicest yards also put in the most effort trying to achieve some standard of lawn perfection and as a result are then required to spend a lot more time tending it to keep it that way. The rest of us who only wish we could have such manicured lawns. When it comes to grass, I don't think anyone is truly content.

Well, Mr. Altrogge doesn't even mention mowing the grass in his book, but he has presented us with the truth about his so-called Greener Grass Conspiracy. He describes it this way: "This grand conspiracy of the world, Satan, and my heart is called the Greener Grass Conspiracy."  The conspiracy leaves us "always believing that the grass is greener somewhere else, always wishing that things were different, always dreaming of a brighter tomorrow without ever enjoying where God has me today."

This is a great little book that reads quickly and is packed with really great material.

I like to think of it as John Calvin and Jeremiah Burroughs meet Tim Keller and Donald Miller.

The flow of the book moves from a convicting view of our lack of contentment, our inclination toward idolatry and the vanity of  King Solomon's life to the true contentment found through the blood of Christ and the Gospel. From there, Altrogge moves to the secret of learning contentment in every situation. Each chapter throughout the book ends with thoughful discussion questions, making it ideal for a group study or individual reflection.

The first four to five chapters will sound really familiar to most readers of contemporary reformed authors such as John Piper, Jerry Bridges, and Tim Keller. Altrogge's conversational style is funny at times and helps the book move along at a refreshing pace.

I'm grateful that he ushers the reader quickly into the second half of the book, because for me this is where I found the real "jewel of contentment," so to speak. Where some books tend to lose steam midway through, The Greener Grass Conspiracy actually hits its stride in the middle.

My favorite chapter was 7: "Some People Have to Learn the Hard Way." At first, I was sure this chapter was about hard-headed, stiff-necked folks just like me. Instead the chapter was really for all of us. It focuses on the example of Paul in scripture learning to be content in all situations. Contentment is just not our natural disposition since the Fall.

Even though Altrogge quotes Puritans Thomas Watson and Jeremiah Burroughs fairly extensively in the second half, his engaging and approachable style make re-reading these timeless truths enjoyable and rewarding. I would even recomend this one to teens and young adults, feeling sure that they would not be bored, disappointed or alienated by the tone or prose. Overall, I would give the book a full 9 out of 10 stars.

Thanks to Crossway Books for providing a free review copy! If you would like me to send my finished copy to you, reply in the comments thread. (it looks slightly used now, but no marks or dog ears).