Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Critical Question for Every Generation

John Piper:

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this:
If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
And the question for Christian leaders is: Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No?
ht: JT

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Just and the Justifier

Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church at the time, asked his congregation, "What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city?" The first slides in our imaginative Power Point presentation would probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant s3xua1ities, p0rn0graphy in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers being dragged off to City Hall. As Barnhouse gave his sermon to a CBS radio audience, he had a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would politely answer “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and the churches would all be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.” (ref: Christless Christianity).

Since Satan desires to keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ from being made known, it is not uncommon for him to do so often by substituting other things for Christ. Like an illusory veil of moralism that hides our need for the Savior. He does both inside and outside the church.

Andree Seu recently quipped at the WorldMag blog:
"There is a woman on my street who is loving, gentle, thoughtful, caring, joyful, and redolent of a deep inner peace. She has that beauty that comes from the inside and radiates outward. I see her on her porch early in the morning having coffee and earnest conversation with her husband. They walk down the street at a leisurely pace, hand-in-hand, and she points out flowers to him, and he listens.
"And she is not a Christian...
"I am not like my neighbor. I am not so loving, so kind, so gentle, so peaceful, and do not have a close relationship with my daughter. My neighbor is all the things I want to be.
"And I am a Christian."
Such observations remind me that I am being renewed from what I once was to what God is making me. It does no good to compare our own progress with others, because that will either lead us to pride (Lord, thank you that by your grace I am not a sinner like “that” man or woman over there”) or to despair (Lord, I will never be as holy and effective for the kingdom as Paul was. Or as kind and gentle and forgiving as so and so).

In our walk with God, we must not fix our gaze on ourselves. Rather, we acknowledge with the hymnist that nothing in our hands we bring, simply to Christ’s cross we cling.

We rely upon the Holy Spirit to convict us not only our lack of outward obedience, but also of the heart’s sin stained motives even for the apparent "good" that we do. It is easy, afterall, to work one’s self up even by a host of potential worldly motivations in order to accomplish deeds that appear outwardly good. Of course, this is exactly the type of moralism that Satan uses keep people from understanding their true need for and utter reliance upon Jesus Christ.

Your neighbor and mine, though neither may be Christian, were created in the image of God and have an understanding of the law. Paul explains how this works in Romans 2:14-16:
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
Fast forward to Romans 3, and I think Paul explains why things often appear as they do and he provides the perfect evangelistic response in case someone voices this as an objection to the Christian faith:
21 "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.** (emphasis mine)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Post-Secular Amsterdam?

The Weekly Standard recently featured a fascinating article, "Holland's Post-Secular Future". The writer details a host of trends seen coming from what is seen as a country destined to become the fully secularized bastion of atheism and immorality.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

CCEF on CS Lewis & Four Loves

David Powlison gives a brief summary on the usefulness of C.S. Lewis's writings on The Four Loves. This is part of a series on secondary resources for counseling.

Dr. David Powlison - On C.S. Lewis and The Four Loves from CCEF on Vimeo.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Four Themes in London's Looting

Mike Ovey of Oak Hill College writes  in Looters: Them or Us? about four themes that can help Christians learn and respond to the recent widespread Looting in London events.
  • First, we must recall what the Bible teaches about wealth.
  • The second theme is to understand the evilness of envy.
  • The third theme is about civil disobedience.
  • The fourth theme is the great biblical theme running throughout the Bible: sin doesn't work.
He makes some awesome observations, applications and scripture references that elaborate on his themes. Check it out>>>
ht: challies.com

Law of Love AND Love of Law

Kevin DeYoung's post entitled The Law of Love and the Love of Law discusses how we can tread the correct path when it comes to love and the law. Love and the Law are not two mutually exclusive, either or propositions. The law cannot save us, but it is useful and necessary for both the unbeliever and believer alike. In his article, DeYoung quotes The Lutheran Formula of Concord, which says:
“We believe, teach, and confess that the preaching of the Law is to be urged with diligence, not only upon the unbelieving and impenitent, but also upon true believers, who are truly converted, regenerate, and justified by faith” (Epitome 6.2).
One point that I especially thought I'd highlight is when he writes, “'love' is a command of the law (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:36-40). If you enjoin people to love, you are giving them law. Conversely, if you tell them law doesn’t matter, then neither does love, which is the summary of the law."
Read the whole piece here>>>

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When What We are Against Defines Us

Byron Yawn has posted an excellent article on the Danger of Defining Ourselves by What We Are Against.

Here is his top 10 (very convicting!) which I've copied and pasted here for reference:

1. You’ll forget to talk about what’s good… especially about Jesus. The majority of Jesus’ discourses did not include “woes.” Paul wrote Colossians and Ephesians 1:3-13 from the same prison cell. Pointing out error is only part of the job of disclosing truth. At some point, after we wrestle the opponents to the ground, we must get around to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and his person. It’s okay to come off positive about Jesus. It’s acceptable – from time to time – to have no agenda other than loving Jesus and drawing attention to him. We are stewards of a mystery just as much as we are defenders of it.

2. You’ll begin to take yourself too seriously. You can easily lose sight of the necessary difference between your opinions about the truth and the truth. The truth stands outside of us and will survive without us and our laser beam defenses. The primary unintended consequence of taking yourself too seriously is a noble sounding arrogance. “Hey man I was only speaking the truth.” The truth should foster humility not swagger. What do we have that was not given to us? Besides, as far as messengers go, we are completely dispensable and easily replaceable. Lighten up. You’ll live longer.

3. You’ll begin to preach the same sermon from every passage. You will become the angry prophet. The cadence of all your sermons will march out to set fire to the straw man of the week. We so often seem to end up preaching about preaching rather than actually preaching. This is my favorite manifestation of this attitude. We rail against the absence of expository preaching while butchering passages that have nothing to do with the need for expository preaching.

4. You’ll foster mean people. You will attract people with gnarled and rancorous dispositions. Brawlers. Sword drawn zealots ready to throw themselves on an edge over the smallest disagreement. Often, it’s not us but those who come behind us and take our opinions to the next level who do the most damage. Note: they will one day come calling for you. You will be the last victim of your own edge.

5. You’ll eventually assemble an audience of self-congratulatory clones. Ironically, despite the emphasis on discernment in your ministry, the people under your ministry will become undiscerning as they depend on your pontifications rather than thinking for themselves. Everything you say and write will be hailed as brave and brilliant. “Great point Byron. Let em have it!” Each of your sermons will be delivered directly to the choir. Their main (and your most preferred) compliment will be your capacity for “telling it like it is.” There will be no constructive conversation. Only monologue. Your theological entourage will be rubber stamps. Don’t be encouraged when you gather a following. There’s no shortage of the angry fringe element looking to get a sip of your Kool-Aid.

6. You’ll take all correction personally and as an unpardonable offense against “God’s man.” Any disagreement with your position will be received as an offense. Any critic will be labeled as unfaithful. Any critique of your view will only go to verify the obstinate blindness of your opponent. All your defenses will come down to a small-minded ad hominem. People will eventually stop trying to talk with you. You will consider this a victory. You will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of a self-inflicted martyrdom.

7. You’ll make a terrible shepherd. “Angry prophets” never make good pastors. They’re snipers not shepherds. Your impatience for inconsistency will eventually come out in those given to your care. It’s ministry according to Darth Vader. The distance between a confrontation of a brother’s sin and room for change will become increasingly short. You’ll lose all sense of grace. You’ll forget your own sin. You’ll lose sight of how much patience Christ has with your misrepresentation of his character. You’ll eventually begin to think love is weakness if it means walking beside people who struggle to change.

8. You’ll become the type of person you warn others about. You’ll eventually become the type of person you could easily preach against. A small-minded, self-taught, belligerent purveyor of doom trying to make a name for themselves. Discernment will be the least of your qualities.

9. You’ll thrive on controversy. If it isn’t negative, you won’t have much to say. You will end up having to out do yourself in the “shock value” department every week. You will be able to make a sermon on “God is love” sound like a funeral dirge. It will get old. You will get old. You’ll become petty, lacking substance in your observations as you spend your intellectual rounds time picking off easy targets. You’ll become a master of the obvious.

10. People will stop listening. The “flavor of the week” will begin to apply. They have heard it all before so why listen at all. It’s all the same message, “Pull Pin. Throw Grenade. Wait for Shrapnel.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brothers, Birthright and The Good News

I love studying apologetics; however, when I get into discussions with other Christians about apologetic topics, our conversations often breakdown along the lines of intended outcomes. In the strictest sense, an apologetic argument is measured on its ability to defend one's original position (or presupposition) and defeat one's opponent. While I also generally approach apologetics this way, rather than defeat the opponent (or their position), I prefer an approach that would be more akin to 'converting' a fellow image bearer. So, a distinctive approach for me is that I try to leave room for an open door to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologians who "do apologetics" tend to view this more as evangelism than actual apologetics. However, I think they go together.

The other day is a case in point. A young Chinese college student was in our small group asking what seemed to be sincere questions about the fairness of God's justice against sin and the idea that He "choses" some to be saved, while condemning others. This is a common objection that comes up in formal debate, just as much as it does in conversations with skeptical unbelievers.

In order to make her case, she gave an illustration of two brothers who both steal from their father and are caught. How is it "fair" that the father choses to forgive one brother and yet still punishes the other? How is it fair or just that both are guilty but one is allowed to go free without punishment?

Of course, the standard theologically trained apologetic approach is to rightly quote Romans 9:13-15 which says,
13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,
   “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
   and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

Clearly, this answer is a slam dunk. Two brothers. Both wretched sinners. One is the chosen heir of God's promises, the other rejected and turned away. Both deserved wrath, but God is merciful to whom He wishes to be merciful and is perfectly just to do so. And if we end the discussion there, we plainly declare in unspoken terms: "See, we win. We're right and you (unsaved, unchurched, untrained, skeptical, young woman from a foreign, secular, atheist upbringing) are just wrong."

Having been much like the young girl who asked this question myself at one time, I also like to take "the book answer" further toward a trajectory of how such questions are answered in Jesus Christ himself.
The girl's presupposition is that both disobedient brothers deserve equal punishment -- the father's wrath for what they have done to him. That is a perfectly true presupposition. I believe we should acknowledge this with her, so as
1 - not to give the impression that we are saying that God is unjust, and
2 - to carefully be sure that she does not view Christianity as promoting antinomianism (rejection of the holiness of God's law and His character).
By recognizing that law-breaking deserves punishment and wrath, she is demonstrating a strong sense of justice and understanding a vital foundation (the bad news) for laying out the truth of the Gospel (the good news).

Where she goes wrong, however, is in thinking that both crimes are not equally punished -- that the crime committed by the brother who receives mercy goes unpunished.

So, here this is the point in which I introduce Jesus Christ. I ask her to consider that there are not merely two brothers, but in fact three brothers. The two who sin greviously and both deserve punishment. Now, the third brother is the true elder brother (thank you Tim Keller, Prodigal God). Jesus is the third brother who has not sinned or done any wrong. He doesn't deserve punishment. He has lived in perfect obedience to His father. He is the true heir and the brother with the entact birthright. Yet, he loves his true younger brother Jacob so much that he steps in and says, I will take his punishment for him.

Thus, the forgiven brother has his sin paid for by Jesus on the cross -- and he is also made co-heir with Christ in the father's kingdom. In the same way, when we we are forgiven by trusting in Christ's death on the cross for our sin against our Heavenly Father, we are made co-heirs with our elder brother Christ in His kingdom.

Not sure what kind of impact it made, but she seemed to be thinking pretty hard about it. Now, we pray.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Difficulties and Rewards of Friendship

Noel Piper recently wrote candidly about her adventure into asking for friendship with some women in her local church >> here>>.   She attributes her difficulty with the fact that she is an introvert, but I wonder whether it is a common struggle among women to find friendship and fellowship with other women? I hear about it so often that I think it may be a rather common struggle for all of us. If so, then that fact provides a great incentive for being all the more diligent in seeking out friendship and fellowship among our peers. Something I desire to be much more proactive about. And thus I pray.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Temptation Starts with Distorted Identity

"Who am I?" Perhaps the quintessential question of human existance for all of us. Dr. Russell Moore's awesome new book called, "Tempted and Tried: Temptation and Triumph of Jesus" helps dissect the human experience of temptation by showing how the question of human identity is really the starting point of our downfall into sin.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two, in which he writes:

“Temptation – for the entire human race, for the people of Israel, and for each of us personally – starts with a question of identity, moves to a confusion of the desires, and ultimately heads to a contest of futures. In short, there’s a reason you want what you don’t want. Temptation is embryonic, personality specific, and purpose directed.
Something is afoot out there that’s deeper and older and scarier than we can contemplate. The Christian Scriptures propose an answer to the question, What’s wrong with me? Before you wrestle with the temptation in your own life, you’ll need to see the horror of what it really is, as well as the glory of how Jesus triumphs over it. Jesus walked through the cycle of temptation for us, and does so with us. Like “a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7), he walked out into the wilderness and onto the stairway to hell.
The first step in the cycle of temptation is the question of our identity. James told the poor and the beaten down to “boast in his exaltation” and told the prosperous and the up-and-coming to glory “in his humiliation” (James 1:9-10). Why? James understood that temptation begins with an illusion about the self – skewed vision of who you are. The satanic powers don’t care if you illusion is one of personal grandiosity or of self-loathing, as long as you see your current circumstance, rather than the gospel, as the eternal statement of who you are.  If the poor sees his poverty as making it impossible for him to have dignity, he is fallen. If the rich sees his wealth as a denial that “like a flower of the grass he will pass away,” even “in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:10-11), then he is undone.
Temptation has always started here, from the very beginning of the cosmic story. When the Bible reveals the ancestral fall of the human race, it opens with a question of identity. The woman in the Genesis narrative was approached by a mysterious serpent, a “beast of the field” that was “more crafty” than any of the others (Gen. 3:1). And that’s just the point. The woman, Eve, and her husband were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). They were living signs of God’s dominion over everything except God and one another. This dominion was exhaustive, right down to “every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).
But here she was being interrogated by a “beast of the field” that questioned God’s commands and prerogatives. Without even a word, the serpent led the woman to act as though he had dominion over her instead of the other way around. He persuaded her to see herself as an animal instead of as what she had been told she was – the image-bearing queen, a principality and power over the beasts.
At the same time the serpent was treating his queen as a fellow animal, he also subtly led her to see herself as more than an empress – (as god)… The serpent walked the woman along to where she could see herself as if she were the ultimate cosmic judge, free from the scrutiny of her Creator’s holiness. At the very beginning of the human story was a question: Who are you?" (Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Jesus, Crossway 20011, pages 28-29.)
The book just keeps getting better from there. So far, it has exceeded my expectations and I'm thrilled that other bloggers have been recommending it, otherwise, I may have missed out entirely.

Two things that I really loved about the excerpt above: 1) Learning that a distortion of our identity precedes our distorted desires and lusts taking root in the heart. 2) Reading his exposition of the creation/fall account which focuses on Eve's identitity as an image bearer. Typically in conservative Christian circles, our main focus is on Eve's identity as wife, but here Dr. Moore shows us why her core identity is much more essential, eternal, and evangelistic than her peripheral identity. The entire book is full of insights that are at least this good, for which I am extremely grateful.

(as a side note: Today's RZIM Devotional, "Peripheral Identities", discusses a similar idea from the perspective of Ruth and Naomi. I thought it was worth sharing.)