Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's The Difference?

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, opposing the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences. To commemorate this historical moment I would like to highlight his very first thesis.
1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
This reminded me of something I wrote about the difference between confession and repentance:
Confession and repentance are no doubt related, but they are in fact, very different. Confession is the acknowledgment of a wrong while repentance is the sorrowful turning away from the admitted wrong. Too often in Christian circles we accept/offer confession without repentance. This leads to pattern behavior and passive justification of the wrongs repeated. One starts to think, "Well I continue to confess how cruel I am, so I need not make any adjustments. At least I'm confessing to being a cruel person." Without repentance we are merely self loathing parrots who repeat practiced lines that get us crackers in the form of pity while never changing the dirty newspaper in our tiny cage.
In light of what Martin Luther started with in his 95 Theses, it should not surprise us that 500 years later the Catholic church still emphasizes confession over repentance. You do not go to your Catholic priest to repent, you go to confess. While the Catholic church no longer sells indulgences, the heart of the matter remains: Confession vs Repentance. Martin Luther was right to start with a life of repentance in his refutation.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Do You Possess Yourself?

I consistently, and probably always will, struggle with patience. It is only when I think of patience in terms of choosing instead of reacting that I have any victory. The times where I lose my patience are when I view it as an emotion that I lack rather than a decision that I make. Is it an emotion? Or is it an internal choice whereby we hold our tongue and thoughts captive? Henry Scudder, in his book, "The Christian's Daily Walk," captures the idea of patience beautifully:
"A man without patience, is not his own man: he has not power to rule over his own spirit, Prov 25:28, nor yet of his own body. The tongue, hands, and feet of an impatient man will not be held in by reason. But he that is patient, enjoys himself, and has rule over his spirit, Prov 16:32; no affliction can put him out of possession of himself."
This is extremely helpful when battling impatience. Rather than waiting or striving for some unseen emotion, take possession of yourself, rule over your spirit, and have your body in submission.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Despair or Declare?

Psalm 3

v1-2 1 O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God.

Is this despair? Or is it a declaration on the basis of hope? In light of the rest of the Psalm, I think it is a declaration to ward off despair. We have two options when trouble arises:
  1. Despair
    • Lose hope
    • Give up

  2. Declare
    • Take hope
    • Have faith
I believe David fights off despair through declaration to God. This admits two things:
  1. God is the answer
  2. There is hope
v3-4 3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.

This is a past tense statement while the opening two verses are a present tense statement. In other words, David is showing why he had hope in his declaration: he recounts the past when God answered his cry. Note the progression...
  1. God his his shield (safety)
  2. Glory (adornment)
  3. Lifter of my head (joy)
Similar to the progression of the Gospel:
  1. God saves
  2. Imputes glory
  3. Our joy is the result
Basically, the Gospel is our reason to cry out to God rather than fall into despair. He has proven that He can save us, shower us with glory, and bring us joy.

v5-6 5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

Now we have another progression. David sees God as sovereign in v5 and has courage in v6. This is the practical application of the Gospel. If God can save you and bring you joy then he must be trusted with control over your life. Realizing this brings a wonderful mixture, as we see from David, of comfort and courage. He had comfort in his rest and courage against his foes. We have comfort resting in Christ and courage to face our enemies.

v7-8 7 Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. 8 Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!

The conclusion that came from David realizing the reality of God's sovereignty and goodness culminates in v7-8. David asks to be saved on the basis of God's victory over his enemies. In other words, to recap... David is in trouble, cries out to the Lord in hope, sees that God is sovereign and good in his protection, and David concludes that salvation belongs to the Lord.

The Gospel: Man realizes his trouble > Cries out on the basis of God's victory and power > God saves

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

God Roasted Them

John Piper recently wrote about the harshness of God's punishment used in Jeremiah 29:22-23:
Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them.
Often I find myself discussing God's judgment in the Old Testament as if God answers to man. The argument men make against God's punishment is rooted in a low view of God and a high view of man, and I thought a good response was John Piper's following exposition:

I am shocked by the term “roasted.” Why such a description? It actually happened, that’s why. Nebuchadnezzar roasted them. And why did it happen? Why such an outrageous physical horror and why such an outrageous physical word used to describe it?

Because speaking false things about God and committing adultery does not feel outrageous to us. But roasting someone in the fire does. So God correlates the two so we would learn what is really outrageous in the world. Demeaning God and breaking covenants.

The combination of man's sinfulness and stupidity result in God having to use wretched punishment to send the message that man is wretched. We are so dumb and blind that we need shocked and awakened from our decrepit death. This all culminates at the cross. A hideous death for hideous sinners.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Devotions Are Boring

For a long time I have struggled with the idea of having a "quiet time" or "devotions" at the start and end of each day. Should I do a daily Bible study? Go through a devotional book? Get on a Bible reading plan to read the entire Bible in a year? A Psalm a day? A Proverb a day? Lately I have been rewarded after taking a very simplistic principle and applying it to my time alone with God. The principle is this: Study to know more, love more, and act more. It may seem too simple or too bumper sticker, but there is a logical progression in the principle. Know more comes first because until you know more things about God and His word you will not love Him or people more than you do now. Love more comes second because after knowing more you will love God and people more which will fuel acting and serving God and others. Act more comes last because it is the logical result of loving God and others more. While there is a progression here, you should not take "know more" and only focus on it, reasoning that once you know enough you can start to love God and others more. They are all three connected. Knowing more is pointless unless it drives you to love more, and loving more is meaningless if it doesn't push you to serve God and others. So if you start to study and find that after a while you are not loving more, then you are not knowing more, you are simply reading things and they aren't landing on your heart. This is why fluffy devotional books tend to collect more dust than dog ears, because it does not fill you with knowledge that leads to love which leads to service. C.S. Lewis assisted me in this principle:

"I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."

This gets to the root of what I am attempting to say, but from a different perspective. Lewis is basically saying that deeper issues like theology and doctrine, rather than shallow inspirational fluff, cause you to think, study and know truth about God. In other words, if you read about God's omniscience it will land deeper in your life and heart due to the very depth of the topic demanding your attention and thought. This will help stir embers of love and zeal instead of the flash burn from an inspiration-a-day calendar that says "God knows more than you, so trust Him". Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, or practices with reference to your devotional time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Martyn Lloyd-Mondays

Everybody picks a day of the week to have a theme. My favorite author/preacher is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones so I'm going to have Martyn Lloyd-Mondays. The following is taken from his third volume, "The Unsearchable Riches of Christ," of his eight volume Ephesians set. The reason I pick this quote, which may seem outdated, is that it is quite applicable today in light of the logical positivism that so many people hold to.
One of the surest signs of a Christian understanding is that we see through the utter folly of Victorianism and Edwardianism, with their utterly false optimism. They believed that the world was advancing and developing and progressing quite inevitably. With Tennyson they sang about the coming of 'the Parliament of man' and 'the Federation of the world'. The twentieth century was expected to be marvellous, all as the result of secular knowledge, especially scientific, and education and culture. As regards the Bible they would hold on to the ethical, moral teaching of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. But, of course, they were too clever, they were too scientific, to believe in miracles or the supernatural. As long as we taught everyone the 'ethics of Jesus' all men would embrace and love one another and there would never be another war. We do not hear so much about that now, and of course it is not surprising. After having experienced the horrors of two World Wars, and in the light of what is happening in the world at the present time, there is little evidence to suggest that we have arrived at the golden era in which men, having achieved sanity as the result of education, turn their swords into ploughshares. The evidence points to an almost opposite conclusion. The foolish vapid optimism of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, which lingered on to 1914, and which some tried to revive even after 1918, presents rather a pathetic aspect today.
If you change a few words, dates, and names, this is something that is precisely accurate to today. Like a sniper preacher, shooting from 50 years ago, the doctor is right on target even today.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Christians and Halloween

With the annual celebration of Halloween just around the corner it is important, as Christians, to respond in a balanced way. Too often the public Christian response to things like The Da Vinci Code, The Golden Compass, or Halloween is imbalanced and reactionary.

The balanced view of anything that is not explicitly listed as a sin in God's word should be a redeeming view. When I say, "redeeming view," what I mean is to assume an attitude of undaunted hope in Christ's ability to redeem not just people but the culture. An example of the church having a redeeming view is when thoughtful books and discussions were had in response to The Da Vinci Code. Rather than overreact and respond in fear, some Christians responded in hope knowing that Christ could use the popularity of Dan Brown's book to edify his body and make his name known. Having this attitude shows the gospel in a practical way. The church looks at something that is not giving God glory and redeems it so that it can. This is what the gospel does to sinners. It comes at someone who is not giving God glory and redeems them so they can.

Friday, October 23, 2009

God is Better Than Evil?

In his book, "The God I Don't Understand," Christopher J. H. Wright has a chapter entitled The Defeat of Evil. In it he addresses the tension between God's sovereignty and the existence of evil. When he said the following, it illuminated something to me:
"God demonstrated his sovereignty by showing that he can take what is done as an existing evil in the world and use it to bring about his own good purposes. God remains good, and God remains sovereign."
Wright was using the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers to show that God can use existing evil to bring about his good purposes. This immediately made me think of the Gospel. The central element of the Gospel message is an evil that took place as part of God's good purpose to save sinners. This was just the beginning of what started to become clear to me. Evil, at its core purpose, seeks to corrupt, take over, and destroy whatever it sets its sights on. Like a disease it seeks to destroy us from the inside out. Now this is where it gets really cool. God is better than evil at its goal of inward takeover and destruction. He showed this perfectly when he defeated death by using death. In other words, God defeated evil through evil. He, in a sense, corrupted evil from the inside. So God is better at what evil attempts to do than evil itself. He does this same takeover/destruction with the Gospel. He destroys sinners from the inside out; the old man dies and a new one is born in his place. What a glorious and life giving takeover the Gospel is!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

"I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist", by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek is a book that attempts to make a systematic case in defense of Christianity. I say, "systematic," because they go to great lengths to build their case in the proper order with each chapter building off the last. In other words, if you want a book where you can hop around from chapter to chapter, I would not recommend this book.

My summary of the book is as follows. It is a well crafted scientific, philosophical, historical, and textual argument for Christianity. Starting with a defense that truth about reality is knowable and working all the way to evidence for Christ's resurrection, their argument is like a snowball rolling down a large hill, getting larger and larger as it goes. While reading this book I felt like I was watching a wise cracking lawyer lay out fact after fact reinforcing his case, growing more and more confident as he goes.

My two criticisms of this book are what I would call the "sassy" tone the authors sometimes have. It comes across as slightly arrogant and would probably turn off some skeptics who read this book. My second criticism is Norman Geisler's insistence on grinding his "free will" axe in the last two chapters. To those who think views on free will do not affect the Gospel, I put forth Norman Geisler's Gospel presentation at the end of this book as exhibit-A.

However, the overall good in this book completely overshadows my two criticisms. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether you are a Christian looking for solid arguments to defend your faith or if you are a skeptic who thinks you've got enough proof to reject Christianity. This will be a book I reference often.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

John Calvin : 500 years

We are celebrating the 500th birthday of John Calvin in our children's ministry at Clifton Baptist. I thought it would be a good time to outline the opening of Calvin's, "Institutes of the Christian Religion". First I would like to quote his self proclaimed purpose in his address to King Francis I of France.
"My purpose was solely to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness. . . . The book itself witnesses that this was my intention, adapted as it is to a simple and, you may say, elementary form of teaching."

Take note of the pastoral care that John Calvin had as the purpose behind writing this book. Second, notice his humility in calling what I consider to be one of the greatest works ever written as an, "elementary form of teaching."

The Knowledge of God and That of Ourselves are Connected
  • How are they interrelated?
1. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God
The idea here is that without an honest and true view of ourselves we will never aspire after God. It is the knowledge of our sinful estate that makes us discontent. Discontentment will almost always lead to searching. Since God is the antithesis of our depraved state He is alluring to us. The phrase, "irresistible grace," takes a deeper meaning in light of this. Could a starving man resist a warm meal?

2. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self
It is only by looking at the original painting to truly be able to scrutinize a replication. Basically, we need to see God as He is, perfect and holy, to scrutinize our imperfect and wretched existence. We must view the source to understand or examine the product. We are not just bearers of God's image, we are His creation.

3. Man before God's majesty
Man can not truly grasp the severity of his sinfulness until he compares himself to God's majesty. Not only will he not grasp his sinfulness, he will not be deeply affected by it. Knowledge of sin does not equate a deep sorrow over sin.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tim Keller on Miracles

In his book, "The Reason for God", Tim Keller has a chapter entitled Science Has Disproved Christianity in which he addresses criticisms of Christianity based on the false conclusion that science has disproved God/Christianity. The first question Keller discusses is, "Aren't miracles scientifically impossible?"

"It is one thing to say that science is only equipped to test for natural causes and cannot speak to any others. It is quite another to insist that science proves that no other causes could possibly exist. . . . There would be no experimental model for testing the statement: 'No supernatural cause for any natural phenomenon is possible.' It is therefore a philosophical presupposition and not a scientific finding."

In other words, you can not in one swing say that science only tests natural causes and in another conclude that this means no supernatural causes exist. It would be like taking a metal detector to the beach and stating that there are no non-metallic substances on the beach based solely on the fact that you are unable to detect them with your instrument.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Gospel in Psalm 2

Psalm 2

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.

6 As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.

7 I will tell of the decree:The Lord said to me, You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

The Gospel:

- Man is sinful and rebels against God (v2)
- God judges man (v4)
- He raises up a King (v6)
- The King is God's Son (v7)
- His heritage will be the nations (v8)
- Those not in submission will perish (v12)
- Those in His refuge are blessed (v12)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Prodigal God Resources

The Prodigal God is by far one of the best books I have ever read. If you want a fresh but biblical outline of sin, man, and the Gospel, then this book has what you need.

Mark Dever: "This brief exposition is unsettling and surprisingly satisfying. Like seeing something as familiar as your own home, or your own self, with new eyes."

John Piper: "The Prodigal God is vintage Keller - biblically faithful with a fresh angularity. That is, Keller seizes a great truth and comes at it from an angle and with language that help us see it in new ways."

Keller has now put together a 6 week sermon series designed for churches and small groups to go through along with the reading of the book. The official site has the sermon audio for free, but you can also check out the store to pick up the leader guide, DVD's of the sermons, and the books. I highly recommend this book and plan on using this for my own small group.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Meaning of the Millennium

An Evening of Eschatology
The Meaning of the Millennium
A Conversation with John Piper, Doug Wilson, Sam Storms, and Jim Hamilton

On September 27, 2009, Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary hosted “An Evening on Eschatology” at the Downtown Campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Premillennialism (represented by Jim Hamilton): The return of Christ happens before (pre-) the thousand-year reign of Christ, which is a reign of the risen Christ on the earth.

Amillennialism (represented by Sam Storms): The return of Christ happens after the thousand-year reign, a reign that occurs in heaven, in the intermediate state, and not upon the earth. Those who have died in faith and entered into the presence of Christ share his rule and reign during the current church age in which we now live.

Postmillennialism (represented by Doug Wilson): The return of Christ happens after (post-) the thousand-year reign, which corresponds to the Christian age, and the reign of Christ from heaven leads the church to triumph by and through the gospel to such an extent that the Great Commission will be successfully fulfilled, and the Christian faith will pervade all the cultures of all the nations of men. All Christ's enemies will be subdued in this way, with the exception of death, which he will destroy by his coming.



Download: Audio / Video

Thursday, October 15, 2009

John Piper: 30 years of ministry

John Piper's testimony & story of 30 years of ministry: click here

His passion for preaching and spurring fellow believers on to joy in their salvation was a goal he had 30 years ago. He still, even today, continues to set his sights on this goal.

His candidate sermon is just as powerful as his preaching today, although his voice pitch is a little different, the passion and the sincerity is still there.

Listen to his candidate sermon: click here