Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Story

The Bible is just like its author in that there has never been a more controversial and influential book written in the history of mankind. Even within Christianity there are a lot of dissenting views concerning many things about the Bible. One leading reason that many people struggle with reading, studying, and seeing the Bible's prime place in their lives is because they fail to see it written with its original intent. So many have fractured the Scriptures so badly that they see it as simply a book of stories, examples, and rules.

Contrary to what many Christians have concluded, the Bible does not tell two stories - the story of Israel in the Old Testament and the story of the church in the New Testament. No, the Bible tells one story and points to one figure. It tells the story of how God rescues a broken world and points to Christ who accomplishes this rescue. God reveals himself through types, promises, and prophecies in the Old Testament while in the New Testament He comes down to His creation and joins humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of every type, every promise, and every prophecy. The Old Testament prefigures and directs us to God’s rescuer, the New Testament presents God’s rescuer. Therefore, the whole Bible (both the Old and New Testament) is all about God’s rescue plan of redemption, and God's rescuer – Jesus Christ.
Even though it's a children's Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible is one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the singular, Jesus-centered storyline of the Bible. Sally Lloyd-Jones appropriately places (in an excellent way) the Bible in its proper context as the launching point of unpacking it.
She writes –

God wrote, "I love you" – he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote his message everywhere! Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror – to show us what he is like. To help us know him, to make our hearts sing.

The way a kitten chases her tail. The way red poppies grow wild. The way a dolphin swims.

And God put it into words, too, and wrote it in a book called "the Bible."

Now some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have rules in it. They show you how life works best [or how it works at all]. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is – it's true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all these stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who one day…

Vital Inerrancy

I recently came across an article online on the BiolLogos site entitled "After Inerrancy: Evangelicals and the Bible in a Postmodern Age." It’s a multi-part article written by Kenton Sparks, a professor of
Biblical Studies at Eastern University. Here’s how it starts:

I write for Evangelicals who either believe or suspect that our tradition has painted itself into an intellectual corner. The Church has been down this road before. In the 16th and 17th centuries it mistakenly criticized Copernicus and Galileo because their scientific views were clearly "unbiblical." And just as the evidence finally came crashing down on Church dogma in those days, so in ours, the facts are stacking up quickly against fundamentalistic beliefs in "creation science" and in the kind of "biblical inerrancy" that supports it.

While there was perhaps a period in history when Evangelicals could deny the substance of these new theories because the available evidence seemed thin, it seems to me that we’ve now crossed an evidential threshold that makes it intellectually unsuitable to defend some of the standard dogmas of the conservative Evangelical tradition. Holding fast to these old dogmas merely perpetuates the "intellectual disaster of Fundamentalism" and the "scandal of Evangelical Mind."

The intellectual cul-de-sac in which Evangelicalism finds itself can be traced back to many causes. But it seems clear, at least to me, that a fundamental cause of the scandal is its doctrine of Scripture. Often this doctrine involves a strict adherence to "Biblicism" … to a belief that the Bible provides inerrant access to the truth about everything it touches on … from biology, physics and astronomy to psychology, history and theology. In more progressive Evangelical circles inerrancy is sometimes defined more delicately, in a way that allows the non-biblical evidence to carry more weight in our reflection, but even here the subtle influence of inerrancy often engenders poor, or at least inferior, judgments about science, history, human beings and theology. In the pages that follow I will briefly explain why conventional Evangelical understandings of Scripture simply cannot be right. I will also survey some of the important resources that can help the Church get its bearings in a world without Biblicistic inerrancy.

I’m not sure what Biblicistic means, but any time you turn a word into an "ism" and then add an "istic" on top of that, it must be really bad. I’m pretty sure Biblicistic is here to make inerrancy sound as lame as possible. Later, just to be crystal clear, Sparks opines, "Biblicist inerrancy is an intellectual disaster."

Where Inerrancy?
The authority of Scripture has, for the past two or three centuries, been under almost constant attack. So it’s no surprise see it happening again. Even Christians hoping to be counted in the evangelical fold are eager to call into question the full and complete inspiration of Scripture. Is the whole Bible inspired by God? Do I have to believe all of Scripture? Does the whole Bible have a purpose, place, and authority in my life? This means it is crucial that we understand, defend, and celebrate the authority of the Bible in our homes and in our churches.

One struggles to know where to begin with Sparks’ assault on biblical authority. A single writing occasion is not the place to launch a full-on defense of inerrancy. There are many fine books and articles written in years past that do just that, including Robert Yarborough’s fair-minded, yet devastating review of Sparks’ previous work.

Another angle on the subject might look at what constitutes evangelical theology. Sparks writes from "our" evangelical tradition, and yet he disavows any notion of penal substitution and understands the Scriptures to be fallen like creation and in need of redemption. In the comments in another post, he argues, "I have no interest in preserving Christianity … I believe because, as I understand it, it makes sense of human experience. But if it turns out that Christianity fails to do that, I’ll simply turn elsewhere." I don’t know Dr. Sparks and am not an expert on his thought. I just don’t see how he can claim to speak as an evangelical scholar (to use language from his book). And with articles like this, why would evangelicals see the web site BioLogos as "one of us."
So there are a lot of things one could say, but let me simply call to mind the Apostle Peter’s assessment of Holy Scripture - And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1.19-20).

In the context, Peter is reminding his readers that the Lord will come back in fiery vengeance on the wicked – and because Christ will return, we ought to pay attention to His Word and live accordingly. The false teachers deny all this. So Peter presents two pieces of evidence for Christ’s return in judgment. First, he presents eyewitness testimony - they saw Christ’s glory on the mount of transfiguration (1.16-18). Second, he presents written evidence - the prophetic word confirms what we saw (1:19-21). Amazingly, Peter describes the prophetic word, which I take to mean all Scripture (v. 20), as "something more sure" (v. 19). In other words the Bible is more reliable than our senses (see Luke 16.31 for something similar).

More than that, the prophetic word was not produced by the will of man. Rather, men spoke by God, not in the sense of mechanical dictation (a straw man if there ever was one), but as the instruments of divine revelation. The Scripture is so much a divine book that Peter can say the men who spoke the words recorded in Scripture were "carried along by the Holy Spirit." As Calvin says, "they dared not to announce anything of their own, and obediently followed the Spirit as their guide, who ruled in their mouth as in his own sanctuary."

The verb translated "carried along" is the same word translated earlier in v.21 as “produced.” The prophetic word was not produced by man but by the Spirit. It’s surely significant that word is also used in v.17, 18 with reference to "the voice borne from heaven." The words of the prophets (known only to Peter’s audience in written form) were borne from God just as surely as the words spoken by the Father on the holy mountain. The Scripture is the Spirit’s book through and through. What Scripture says is what the Spirit says (Heb. 3:7; Acts 4:25; Rom. 9:17).

Why Inerrancy?
This is but one reason why inerrancy is denied at great peril. There are many ways to defend inerrancy, but the simplest argument is this - Scripture did not come from the will of man; it came from God. That is clear from 2 Peter 1.19-21 and 2 Timothy 3.16 (to name the classic texts). And if it is God’s Word then it must all be true because as Romans 3.4 tells us, "Let God be true though every man a liar."

All of this is so critical because when we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word - claiming the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. In other words, when we deny inerrancy we are forced to make one of two conclusions - either the Scripture is not all from God, when 2 Timothy 3.16 says it is all breathed out by God, and Jesus and the Apostles assume (and teach) it speaks for God; or, second, we must conclude that God is not always dependable. Both of theses conclusions are beneath the Christian. This sort of thinking does not work for our joy and freedom in Christ, and it does not bring honor to the Spirit of God who carried along the men who wrote God’s word.

A Sorry Story Gets Sorrier

From the New York Times:

VATICAN CITY — Addressing the sexual abuse crisis from the seat of the Roman Catholic Church before thousands of white-robed priests, Pope Benedict XVI on Friday begged forgiveness, saying the church would do “everything possible” to prevent priests from abusing children.

“We, too, insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again,” Benedict told thousands of priests and the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for celebrations marking the end of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest.

The pope did not outline specific actions that the church would take to combat abuse, as many had hoped — and as Benedict had pledged at an audience in April. Nor did his remarks go much beyond what he had already said in a letter to Irish Catholics in March and in a private meeting with victims of sexual abuse on Malta in April.

But it was the first time that Benedict had asked forgiveness for the crisis from St. Peter’s Square, the heart of the church itself, and on an occasion focused on priests.

The pope said the Devil was behind the scandal, saying it had emerged now, in the middle of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest, because “the enemy,” or the Devil, wants to see “God driven out of the world.”

The Roman Catholic Church seems unable to shake the sex abuse scandals that have plagued her over the last decade and more. The incidents of abuse have undoubtedly rocked the church and, more seriously, devastated many individuals and their families.

I’ve not followed the Church’s dealings with this matter very closely. I’m certain others have more astute observations. But after reading The Times coverage of Pope Benedict’s comments, I’m left with a few quick thoughts.

1. Promises to “do everything possible” absent concrete plans and actions amounts to a failure to repent - There must be a plan of action in keeping with repentance or the Church’s credibility on this matter is completely shot.

2. Superstition won’t solve the problem - It appears from The Times article that at least this writer thinks something significant has happened because pronouncements were made from St. Peter’s Square. A decree from “the heart of the church itself” means nothing if it doesn’t address the hearts of priests and leaders inside the church. I suppose something of an aura of ex cathedra pronouncement is supposed to attend these comments. If so, what a sad indictment when the problem exists in churches on main street around the world, churches that have basically received protective cover from the Church hierarchy.

3. Blame-shifting won’t solve the problem - It’s pretty sad that the Pope resorts to “the Devil made them do it.” To be certain, the Enemy opposes the people of God - but from all outward appearances, he seems to be getting a fair amount of help from the Roman Catholic Church itself. As far as I know, it’s not within the Slanderer’s ability to prevent a full and thorough repentance, the acceptance of accountability, and serious action to protect children from priests. The Pope’s comments seem rather interested in not spoiling a celebration for the priesthood rather than actually taking steps to secure justice for abused individuals and families. It’s lame to blame the Devil. Better to repent in sackcloth and ashes, and make restitution four-fold.

4. Polity matters - The way a church organizes herself to call leaders and to practice discipline matters immensely. The Roman Catholic Church faces this tragic circumstance in great measure because its polity allowed the protection of offenders and disenfranchised its members. Church polity could never prevent abuse in any absolute sense. But a New Testament approach to membership and discipline, resting final adjudication with the local church, would certainly have helped to contain the spread of abuse and the collusion of priests and bishops. If the congregation had authority to hand an unrepentant sinner over to Satan, and to treat the offending priest like a pagan or tax collector (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5), abuse cases would have instantly been public, accountability and scrutiny intense, and members protected and informed. At the end of the day, church polity isn’t a dusty old idea bored pastors sit around and discuss. It’s part of how we live out the gospel and it has significant consequences for those affected.

5. Finally, only the gospel rightly understood and applied will heal these hurts - Some want justice - others want mercy. Some demand punishment - others want forgiveness. Some want financial recompense - others the kind of charity that protects the Church’s collective interest. The competing justice concerns are staggering. No one will be justified before God, no matter the option chosen. The only sufficient hope is a discovery of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. What else frees us from self-righteousness? What can purchase forgiveness without compromising justice? How else will victim and sinner be reconciled to one another and to God? Only by an exclusive embrace of Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished in His crucifixion and resurrection. Only by trusting that alone, apart from any works of merit, will there be freedom to survive this abuse and scandal and to live in the redemption Jesus provides. Law won’t fix it. Only grace alone can.

Justification by Facebook

John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. He was right.

Throughout history, we have bowed down to golden cattle, celestial beings, stone animals, and even human body parts. The passage of time has only increased the number of ways we exchange the worship of the One True God for lesser, false gods. Today, we can sadly add yet another idol to the list - social media.

Social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), as technology, is neutral and harmless – even good. Social media can and should be used for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel in every possible way. But natural-born idolaters, like you and me, are no more than a few clicks away from making this good thing a god thing.

Social media carries a unique set of temptations. Much like the adulterous temptress described in Proverbs, social media offers us the invitation to come into her house and enjoy the choicest foods, only to find the meal poisoned.

The most dangerous of these tainted meals is pride. Few other creations in history have allowed us to see how "important" we (and our emotions, thoughts and opinions) are with such tantalizing immediacy as our walls, blogs, and tweet stats. There are times we check our wall, or our stats, because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus, and we forsake the true justification of who we are in the gospel for the false justification of who we are in the eyes of our friends. We do the opposite of what we set out to do in the first place - we serve ourselves instead of God and his people.

Pride creeps in through wall postings, profile changes, tweets, status updates, etc. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with mentioning what we are thinking, how we are feeling, where we are having lunch, or who we are with, we would be well served by checking our hearts before we do. Are we sharing this information to give people a helpful window into our lives as we seek to live out the gospel, or are we unwittingly (or even quite wittingly) enticing our friends toward coveting the life we are living? Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth posts.

So what's the answer? Well first, let me be very clear in that it's not to abandon these social resources God has given us to communicate and connect. Blogging, tweeting, facebooking are all excellent grounds on which we can enjoy, explore, grow and flourish in life. Can you imagine the gospel revival, and the call back to the worship of Yahweh if the Christian community invaded Facebook, took it over, and used it for exaltation of Jesus Christ and glory of God?

I'm not even saying everything we post has to be a Bible verse or, "Praise the Lord…" Those things would be great (and we should do them) but it's even more basic than that. I don't even have Facebook, but I so often hear of people posting:
• Life sucks
• I hate people
• Why don't all of you get a life
• My car is my baby
• Different abbreviations for swear words (or phrases)
I know of people (not from our church) who have actually publically ripped their church on Facebook. I've seen some Christians rip others publically on Twitter and in their blogs. Please understand that when people hear us claim we are Christians and then witness us express ourselves in such negative, hateful, materialistic ways, it is impossible for them see their need for the gospel – and so they don’t believe in Jesus.

So what's the answer -

1. Think before you post
Don't use such public forums to vomit up your emotions. It sounds simple, but stopping to think about why we are about to do what we are about to do is an amazing sin-killing weapon. Use it and use it often. It has been a great help to me.

2. Consider "fasting" from social media for a season
While this may seem extreme, in light of Jesus' counsel about tearing out our eye if it makes us sin (Matthew 5:29), fasting seems like the least we could do to expose the true condition of our hearts. If we are flatly unwilling to consider it, that should tell us something.

3. Believe the gospel
Make your solid theology soundly practical in daily life. If, when we are tempted to go to the fleeting approval of man to shore up our insecurities, we instead go to the approval of God that is ours in Christ, the approval unaffected by the abundance or absence of re-tweets, we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.

Calvin was right. The heart is an idol factory. But at this intersection of technology and idolatry, pull the plug on the bad and keep the good.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Honor Of A Brother

Sometimes the most penetrating lessons are those learned from our kids. Though we may feel like we spend so much time teaching our kids manners, how to share and treat other kids, to obey, etc. - I often think that if we humbled ourselves, and opened our eyes we would learn some extraordinary lessons from our children about how to be loving, caring, sensitive, gentle, selfless, thoughtful, and giving. Now, I know kids might not consistently show such qualities of the heart but, let's be honest, neither do adults – and that is why we can learn from our children. And, as I stated a moment ago, the lessons we can learn from our kids often have the most impact.

Someone sent me a link this past week that is related to one our kids in Grace Bible Church. A couple weeks ago Peter DeFilippo hosted an Alex's Lemonade Stand in hopes of raising money for cancer research. While hosting a lemonade stand for such a cause is outstanding in and of itself, read below to see how Peter came about such an idea -

I am Peter DeFilippo, and I am hosting an Alex's Lemonade stand for cancer research. I have a brother with a brain tumor, and I was walking down the hall while visiting him at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. I saw a flyer about Lemonade days in the family room. I asked my Mom if we could do this, I would be glad. She said yes. It is important to me to raise money for this research so that people don't have cancer anymore.

I was overwhelmed by the simplicity, genuineness, concern, and selflessness that Peter so boldly and lovingly exhibited. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4.8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Could there be any earthly thing worth thinking about more than Peter DeFilippo's heart and actions. I've been thinking about it all week and the question that keeps coming to my mind, and challenging my heart, is – Could this be what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 18.3, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." In fact, you should keep reading in that chapter as Jesus goes on to express his admiration for children.

I have found that as adults we often think that because we are bigger, have jobs, pay the bills, etc. that we are more mature than our kids – and perhaps we should be. I think that's what God intends for us. But are we, really? I'm not sure that’s necessarily the case –
• intelligence does not equal maturity
• possessions do not equal maturity
• positions of authority do not equal maturity
• popularity does not equal maturity

Well, then, what does equal maturity? We need to be humble and teachable enough to learn from anyone and any circumstance the Lord may bring into our lives – from the youngest of children to the most painful event. That may be the greatest (but not the only) sign of maturity. I am positive Luke DeFilippo does not always make his brother Peter's life easier. Yet Peter is able to take his attention off of himself and express a genuine, God-given love and concern for Luke. Thank you, Peter, for teaching us about having a love and concern for others. Thank you for teaching us about selflessness and sacrifice. Thank you, Peter, for teaching us about unity. Peter, thank you for teaching us about what it means to be a Christian.

Let's think about these things that Peter has taught us – for they true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

By the way, Peter raised $1040 by hosting an Alex's Lemonade Stand honor of Luke – not that it mattered.

Answer The Question

As much as we might not like it (and even try to fight it) judgment is a reality of life. We make judgments, and we are judged, daily – often without even realizing it. One of the most well known, and often misquoted, verses in the Bible is Matthew 7.1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

What so many people fail to understand is that not all judgment is bad. Judgment can bring (among other things) improvement, progress, even salvation (as we see most explicitly in the gospel). In fact, one of the most vital questions one needs to address when sharing the gospel is, “From what are we saved?” You water down the gospel if you tip-toe around this question or refuse to address it altogether.

This past week I spent some time in Florida visiting my father. Now, I would consider myself to be a very alert individual. I know who is around me and, in general, what they are doing. So you can imagine my irritation (being the every gracious and patient one that I am) when suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, a gentleman appeared in front of me, blocking my forward progress. He looked me in the eye and asked directly, "Are you saved?"

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this intrusion. I uttered in response the first thought that came into my mind, "Saved from what?" All right, I'll be honest, that was my second thought. What I was first thinking, but did have the grace not to say, was, "Who the heck are you?" But when I responded, "Saved from what?" I think the man who stopped me was as surprised by my question as I had been by his. He began to stammer and stutter. Obviously, he wasn’t quite sure how to respond and was ill-prepared to listen and have a conversation. And one might even assume he just wanted to preach at me.

After stuttering for a moment, the man seemed to catch his breath enough to say, "Well, you know what I mean. You know, do you know Jesus?" Then he tried to give me a brief summary of the gospel.

This unexpected encounter left an impression on me that made its way into my thoughts periodically throughout my trip. I was torn about what to think because, on the one hand, I was delighted in my soul that someone cared enough about me, even though I was a stranger, to stop me and ask about my salvation; but, on the other hand, it was clear that, though this man had a zeal for salvation, he had little understanding of what salvation is. He was using Christian jargon. He was throwing Christian clichés at me - and the words fell from his lips without being processed by his mind. As a result, his words were empty of content. Clearly, the man had a love for Jesus and a concern for people. Few Christians have the courage to engage perfect strangers in evangelistic discussion. But sadly, he had little understanding of what he was so zealously trying to communicate.

Dr. R.C. Sproul writes a very, very good children's book called – The Prince's Poison Cup. In it, Dr. Sproul clearly and brilliantly helps us see we cannot have the cup of God's fellowship without Christ first drinking the cup of God's wrath for us. The basic upshot of Dr. Sproul's book is - We are saved by God, for God, from God.

• Could a statement be more aggressive – We are saved by God…
• Could statement be more gracious and reconciling – We are saved by God, for God…
• Could a statement be more merciful – We are saved by God, for God, from God.

This what Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10 – “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” This is something I try to keep my eye on when hearing gospel presentations. How is the problem being described – because there is a problem. In fact, there's an enormously gigantic problem and it isn’t just “broken shalom” - it also includes the judgment and wrath of God.

Gospel means good news – it's the good news of Jesus Christ. However, understand the news can't be good if there isn’t first, or if it's not addressing, bad news. The bad news is our depravity. It's the judgment of God under which we fall. The bad news is that our rebellion has led us to an eternity of God's fury being poured out on our heads. It's the cup we're served. If you can't, first, be honest about the problem, the bad news that dooms us, then the good news really isn’t good – it's nonsense.

So as we (personally) dive deeper into the depths of the gospel, and as we (personally and corporately) bring the gospel to the world to which we're called, let's always keep the bad news, the reality into which we are born, as the prelude to the good news. When discussing and explaining the gospel, we must answer the question, “From what are we saved?” It's then, and only then, that the gospel is truly good and Christ is exalted to His rightful place in our lives.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Re-Telling Story

I love listening to our oldest daughter, Isabella. This stage of her life is fascinating to me because she retains so much of what she's taught. I almost can't believe some of things she knows and I love listening to her tell me the things about which she learns. For example, she loves telling jokes. I use the word joke loosely because they really aren't jokes and they really aren't funny. What is funny, though, is how funny she finds these "jokes". I find myself laughing at how hard she laughs. Now, sometimes it gets to be a little much because she likes to tell, and tell, and tell, and tell these jokes again – to the point I have to say, "Let's take a little break, Pixie."

Much like Isabella likes to tell and re-tell her jokes, the Lord desires we reflect and re-tell ourselves about the glorious way in which He has revealed Himself. In fact, ONE OF THE IMPORTANT FUNCTIONS of
worship is recital - a “re-telling” of the wonderful things that God has done.

• Psalm 75.1 - We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.
• Psalm 78.2-4 - I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

The New English Bible translation of Psalm 75.1 is a little closer to the Hebrew – “Thy name is brought very near to us in the story of thy wonderful deeds”. God’s “Name” is part of His gracious self-disclosure. It is a revelation of who He is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5-7, 14). God’s “Name” then, is brought very near to us in the story of His wonderful deeds - that is, who God is, disclosed in the accounts of what He has done.

Thus the re-telling of what God has done is a means of grace to bring God near to His people. Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near and eventually turn away from Him – they don’t know Him. They have loved His works more than His being.

The emphasis this psalm makes regarding God is that he is the sovereign disposer - the “disposer supreme” (as one commentator puts it). It is wonderfully stabilizing to us to rest in such a God. He declares, “At the set time that I appoint. I will judge with equity"(75:2). It is hard to imagine a category more suggestive of God’s firm control than the set time. Yet mere control without justice would just be fatal. This God, however, not only sets the appointed times, but judges uprightly (75:2).

Further, in this broken world there are cataclysmic events that seem to threaten the entire social order. So elsewhere David ponders, "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). But here we are reassured, for God himself declares, "When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars" (75:3). So the arrogant who may think themselves to be the pillars of society are duly warned - Boast no more (Psalm 75:4).

Tell and re-tell God’s wonderful deeds to yourself, your children, your friends – believers and unbelievers alike. Let's bring His Name near.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


There is a Christian radio station that I know a number of you listen to – K-LOVE, 89.5FM. This channel plays a certain song (quite frequently) by Matthew West, called, "Save A Place For Me." I have to admit that I don’t listen to music very often. I listen to mostly sports talk, and the DJs on K-LOVE drive me crazy with the wrong, and dumb, things they say. However, I'll occasionally turn it on when there's a commercial on the station I am listening to – and it seems like every time I turn to K-LOVE this song comes on.

I've wanted to write something about this song since the first time I heard it a couple of months ago, but a number of other things/events have taken my attention instead. It seems as though the song has "climbed the charts" – growing quite a bit in popularity. I don’t know the history, emotions, or motivation of Matthew West in writing the song. It's about losing a loved one. In the song, West expresses the thoughts and emotions one may have in reflecting on the time they had with the person they lost. My concern, my problem, is really with the chorus –
“Save a place for me, save a place for me
I'll be there soon, I'll be there soon
Save a place for me, save some grace for me
I'll be there soon, I'll be there soon”

Now before I go on let me say that Matthew West is pretty solid – his lyrics are generally consistent with the truths of Scripture. But not this time. As my very observant and gracious wife, Robyn, said to me, “There just isn't a whole lot that's Biblically sound in those words.” I, not being so gracious, would like say that it's disappointing and disturbing to me that, on a matter of such importance as God's grace, Matthew West could be so wrong and inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. Whenever I hear this song it really, really, really bothers me – I have to turn it off.

I understand there are times when songwriters take some "liberties" in implying certain emotions through their music – much like authors may take grammatical liberties. However, music is so emotionally charged and moving (one song can touch thousands of people) that a person just cannot write songs, or even imply things in those songs, that are so acutely against truths about God, His grace, and His Kingdom. Michael Card, a singer from several years ago, used to have the lyrics of his songs approved by the elders of his church to guard against Biblical inconsistency and untruthfulness – and in case you’re wondering, I absolutely think this song is severely inconsistent with the Bible.

First, look at what's implied about Heaven in the words, "Save a place for me." I'll admit that this is the lesser of my two grievances – but still, is God at risk of running out of room in Heaven? You might not think that's what West is saying. Maybe you believe he is just saying what most who've lost a loved one feel in their hearts – he can't wait to see this particular person in heaven someday. I won't disagree that could be what he's trying to say – but it's not what he's saying. If what he's trying to express is his anticipation over seeing this person, whom he loves and misses so much, in heaven, then there are other words he could’ve written – other songwriters have.

Second, what the heck does he mean, "Save some grace for me"? This is the one that really gets my undies in a twist. I've tried, please believe that I've tried, to get around these words as meaning something other than what seems so obvious to me – but I cannot. I just can't see what these words could mean other than that God does not have enough grace for all of us to experience fully in heaven, in His Kingdom. Yikes! This is an astonishing error that goes against anything, and everything, the Bible teaches us about God's grace.

Now let me address the former – “Save a place for me”. The Bible is clear that this present world, in which we now live, is not our home. It is also replete with references to God's preparation of our eternal home –
• John 14.1-3 – (Jesus speaking) "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

• Hebrews 11.16 – “But as it is, they (people whose faith is in God) desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
• Revelation 21.1-4 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

What happens to you when you read these verses? I hope you don't just read over them as if you already have several times. God is active. He's an active God, faithful and progressive in preparing your eternal home.

Now about God not having enough grace. I almost don’t know where to start because this implication is so outrageous. Let me just say three things –
1. In the Bible, you never see a limit to God's grace. God never gives grace to some at the expense of not giving it to others.
2. God is who He is. While we can learn about Him and strive to know Him – we cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His nature and scope of His character. What we do know isn’t even a blip on the radar. God is not stronger in certain areas of His character and weaker in other areas. His character is so complete that it is what naturally emanates from Him.
3. God shows us grace through God the Son, Jesus Christ. God freely and abundantly gives His people grace through His Son, Jesus Christ – both for their justification and sanctification. To say, or imply, there isn’t enough grace for everyone God had chosen and called to Himself through Jesus is also to say that Jesus' death was not sufficient to save the world. That, my dear friends, is heresy.

I think the Bible speaks for itself when it comes to these issues. So let me close with the words in Hebrews 13.9, "Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings…" We have to guard our doctrine. Theology matters because it's what we believe about God (and everything else's relationship to Him) and impacts how we relate to God. Strange teachings differ with God's truth and will, in effect –
• give you a flawed system of belief (one other than Christ)
• give you a small view of God
• lead you away from Him to others false gods

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Mother's Honor

The family is God's idea. You see can see it all the way back in Genesis 2 when God said, "It is not good that man should be alone." The family is God's design, as the "little church," to glorify Himself through the relationships of His people. The way a husband/father leads, a wife/mother follows and nurtures, and children respect, honor, and obey can proclaim gospel truths and put the character of God on display like nothing else.

The Bible has a lot to say about the different responsibilities of men and women in the home. God is clear that the man is the head of the home. But, with what He says in His Word about women, and the make-up with which He's created women (especially emotionally), I think God is clear that the woman is the heart is the home. A woman's influence over the atmosphere of the home is far superior to that of a man's. One might not think that would be the case with men, in general, being bigger, stronger, more intimidating, and the leader of the home. However, God does not think how one might think, and He has created and blessed the home with such an interesting dynamic in the partnership of the husband/father and wife/mother.

King Solomon writes in Proverbs 1.8, "Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching…" Fathers instruct and mothers teach – they share this responsibility. I want to encourage mothers that this responsibility to teach your children is an immeasurably significant privilege, opportunity, and experience. A mother's heart is, among so many things, warm, kind, gentle, and nurturing. A mother can teach and touch the hearts of her children in a way a father just cannot. And I believe, therefore, the honor that is due a Godly mother is beyond any words man can utter.

A prime example for us to see is the relationship between Bathsheba and Solomon. Solomon is king of Israel. He was famous, powerful, and supreme in all the land. People bowed in his presence. They did what he said. He had immense authority and honor. You need to know that Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, married David, Solomon's father, under disgraceful circumstances that were tainted with arrogance, covetousness, lust, adultery, and murder – very displeasing to God. But she was his mother, nonetheless. Now, not only is Solomon king – but he is known as the wealthiest and, perhaps, wisest king in Israel's great history. So, how did he treat his mother in this exalted role? See what is says in 1 Kings 2.19 - So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him…and the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. Then they had their conversation. He rose for her. He bowed to her. And he called for a throne to be put beside his for their conversation. She was his mother. Even kings stoop when their mothers enter the room.

Solomon was not a perfect king - he was not a perfect man. None of the writers of the Bible were perfect but God guided their insights, Solomon's insights, and preserved for us true ones in His book – the Bible.
God has a way of nullifying the greatness of the great and exalting the lowliness of the lowly. In our culture motherhood is, I think, on the upswing – but only after decades of unusual lowliness and bad press. God ordains a reward for sons and daughters who do not forsake the teaching of their parents and honor them (Ephesians 6.2). Solomon goes on in Proverbs 1 to say - 9for (because) they (hearing your father's instruction and not forsaking you mother's teaching) are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. What this verse makes plain is that the instruction of fathers and the teaching of mothers, rooted in the fear of the Lord, is good news.

Kids don't always feel that way. Even at age thirty-one, my father still has things to teach me, and wisdom he can share with me - I am still my father's son. But, to be honest, while I don’t necessarily have to obey my father, I don’t always honor him like I should and still roll my eyes and throw my stubbornness at him. Sometimes parents have not grown up into grace enough to feel it, either. But that's what the verse says - hearing a father's instruction and not forsaking a mother's teaching will be a wreath of grace and glory and joy; it will be like gifts and prizes around your neck. In other words, it will mean triumph and celebration and joy.

As parents, let's seek the Lord for the grace, patience, and understanding to continue teaching our children - and build up trust in our children and create an atmosphere in which they are urged on toward obedience.

As children (of any age), let's pray for the humility to obey and/or honor our parents by recognizing their wisdom and God-ordained position in our lives.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Theology of Earth Day

Earth Day took place this past week and, to be honest, it’s hard for me to get excited – usually Earth Day just comes and goes for me. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible for Christians to celebrate Earth Day in the right way. I’m sure many do. We can thank God for the physical world, enjoy the beauty of creation, and think through ways to be stewards of the earth, which God has put under our authority.

But the official Earth Day has become extremely political and its movement rests on several debatable premises, such as “the world is in greater peril than ever” and “climate change is the greatest challenge of our time.” This makes for poor theology about how we are to view the Earth and our relationship to it. More to the point, there are deep assumptions, unspoken assumptions, that too often provide the foundation for our basic thinking about the environment. Unless Christians are building on the right foundation, we will not think about environmental issues in ways that are most helpful and most biblical.

I think most Christians who celebrate Earth Day do so because they believe the world is a gift from God for us to enjoy. I’m going to assume that Christians understand the Creator - creation distinction. I'm also going to assume they aren’t worshiping the earth or divinizing the creation. I don’t think any Christian would disagree with this motivation.

But there are a few other bricks to lay in the foundation of wise environmental stewardship. Kevin DeYoung is a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan. He is someone I read often and respect. He simply and clearly explains three bricks that need to be laid in the foundation of our environmental understanding and exercise. Read below:

Brick #1: We must distinguish between theological principles and prudential judgments
Consider this wise counsel from Jay Richards in the Introduction to Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

With respect to the environment, the theological principles are easily stated and uncontroversial. The biblical picture is that human beings, as image bearers of God, are placed as stewards over the created order. We bear a responsibility for how we treat and use it. We are part of the creation, as well as its crowning achievement. God intends for us to use and transform the natural world around us for good purposes. Proper use is not misuse. But as fallen creatures, we can mess things up. No serious thinker in the Judeo-Christian tradition questions these basic principles.

Prudential judgments are another thing entirely. They require careful analysis of the relevant scientific, economic, and political aspects of an issue. They require us to weigh costs and benefits, and to discern where facts leave off and fashion begins. (3)

Richards goes on to use global warming as an example. Before we make definitive pronouncement about the “Christian position” on global warming we should consider a number of questions: 1) Is the planet warming? 2) If so, are humans causing it? 3) If we are, is this warming bad? 4) If it is bad, what are costs and benefits of the proposed solutions? There is legitimate debate about all four questions. But if often feels like to be taken seriously as a person who wants to steward God’s creation you must quickly answer yes, yes, yes to the first three questions and then be in favor of cap and trade, Kyoto, or some other government initiative. Earth Day is steeped in politics, advocacy, and a host of assumed solutions so that it becomes difficult for Christians of a different ideological bent to appreciate what may be good about the modern environmental movement.

Brick #2: People matter most
I know it’s not the point of the Legion story in the gospels, but I think it is a reasonable conclusion: the life of one man is worth more than 2,000 pigs. Does this mean every desire of men and women should be put before every consideration of the plant and animal world? Of course not. The Bible wants us to care for animals too (Exod. 20:10; Jon. 4:11; Deut. 22:4, 10; 25:4). But human life is more valuable than animal or plant life (see, for example, the sacrificial system). Christians should not be intimidated by the charges of speciesism. The Bible plainly teaches that man is the crown of God’s creation with dominion over it (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:3).

Similarly, we in the West who, after centuries of increasing affluence, have the time, energy, and resources to pursue new environmental goals should not impose those same sensibilities on people in the developing world still struggling to survive. As Environmental Stewardship puts it:

Further advances in human welfare for the poor are not often threatened by a belief in the West that human enterprise and development are fundamentally incompatible with environmental protection…This false choice not only threatens to prolong widespread poverty, disease, and early death in the developing world, but also undermines the very conditions essential to achieving genuine environmental stewardship. (68)
Brick #3: People are producers, not just polluters
If there is one biblical insight missing from the modern environmental movement, it is this one. Too often a model is assumed where the earth is a healthy organism and humans are cancerous cells. All we do is pillage, pollute, and destroy. The world would be better off without us. Our goal then is to minimize our “footprint” at all costs. All we do, it is implied, is consume the planet’s valuable resources.

But the Bible also teaches that we are (sub)creators. We are capable of spilling 11 millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska. But we are also capable of turning virtually worthless sand into silicon chips. We can create beauty as well as despoil it. We can actually make a harsh planet more inhabitable, more conducive for human flourishing. Would anyone but the most ardent environmentalists rather live on Earth now or 4000 years ago? By God’s grace, humans have learned to feed more people and help those people live longer, healthier, easier lives.

We must resist the temptation to think of humans as intruders from another world wrecking carnage in a pristine environment. Instead we must see ourselves as stewards, called to subdue, enjoy, protect, use, develop, and make more humane God’s fallen creation. I would argue that Christians should not be seeking a romantic ideal where the earth is untouched by human hands. Rather, we want to think carefully about how we can use our hands to make the earth more hospitable for more people, so that we might enjoy the beauty, grandeur, creativity, and productivity of our Father’s world.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

48 Hours

People can speak and write (as I often do) on issues concerning life. But often times, it's the personal experiences that impact us the most. As many of you know, Dan Stephens broke his neck on Good Friday and his wife, Ashley, has recorded the thoughts, emotions, reactions, fears, etc., that they experienced during those first forty-eight hours. I hope you can see that even in the midst of so much uncertainty and fear that God is still good. He is still faithful. He is still sovereign…

by Ashley Peterson

We feel so loved to have so many people care and ask about Dan and his accident. We could feel your prayers. Below is the story. Let it be a testament to the protection and mercy with which God has blessed us. He is so, so good.

"Let's move the TV armoire downstairs."

Dan is on the bottom. I hear a crash. The TV stand slips out of his hands.
It smashes him into the wall. He somehow gets out.

Panic. Fear. His ear is bleeding. His neck hurts. We drive to the clinic thirty miles away.

"You should never have moved with a neck injury."

Neck brace. Ambulance. Glens Falls Hospital.
Laying in the ER for two hours. CT scan taken. Waiting.

"Dan, hold my hand while I tell you this news. Your neck is broken in 3 places. It is highly unstable."
I fall to the ground. I keep squeezing Dan's hand. He keeps wiggling his toes.

One hour later, the special ambulance team arrives. They study the CT scan to prepare to move Dan.
Dan is strapped in. Everyone is scared.

No one can believe Dan rode thirty miles in a car without protection.
They must not have known he was held by the Protector.

Dad prays over Dan.
One hour ambulance ride. I follow with mom and dad in the car. Praying. We walk in the ER.
Fifty people are around Dan. We aren't allowed in.

"Can he move his fingers and toes?" I am crying. "We can't tell you anything for fifteen to twenty minutes."

Waiting. Praying. Shaking. We finally see him.
"Dan is fortunate- one move and he could have been paralyzed.
People try to move their necks and fall to the ground."

ER. Talk of emergency surgery or a halo. The guy next to Dan is having a heart attack.
We see the three large cracks on Dan's vertebra on the computer. Scared.

Moved to the spine ward. It's a waiting game.
MRI. The nurse sits down with me alone and goes through all the options.

Surgery- potential of paralysis from the jaw down. Halo. Months of recovery.

I am shaking. God allows that moment to be when my best friend arrives. She sits with me.
We talk about different scenarios. What would happen. What we would do.
Pray. Pray. Pray. MRI is finished. We wait. We pray.

Doctor tells us he feels there will be no surgery. No halo. How can this be? We are happy but a little in disbelief. We are nervous. We have to wait for the head surgeon to hear the final word.

Nightime. Dan can't sleep. Neither can I. He starts shaking uncontrollably.
Nurse takes forever to give him something. Praying the shaking doesn't hurt him.
The Glens Falls nurse told us any movement could damage him.
The Lord protects him.

Waiting. Friends. Family. We feel the love. We feel all the prayers.
Doctor concurs with the night doctor.
Says "You will not go paralyzed. Just don't get into a car accident or something".
We have long drives ahead. I'm scared. My faith holds me.

Scans. Scopes. X-rays. Tubes. So many questions. Waiting for answers.

We keep hearing how lucky Dan is. Lucky? No, God protected him.
Some scary moments.
Moving Dan so many times. Trying on new braces. Figuring out medicines with Dan's allergy to morphine.
God protects Dan.

We hear more and more. "He's going to be okay. Just be careful as he heals."
I think, "We were careful when we were moving furniture." Clearly, "Just be careful..." scares me.
We survive on faith alone.

"Dan's doing better than we could have hoped. He's so lucky." Luck had nothing to do with it.

We travel home. "God protect us." God does. We thank Him.

He is so gracious to us. I keep holding Dan's hand. He says he feels like God gave him a second chance at life.
I feel the same way. God doesn't owe us anything. Everything is a gift.

We have a long road ahead. We are scared. Cautious. Nervous.
God will protect Dan's neck. God will fill us with peace. He is doing it right now.

What would we do without our faith in Jesus Christ? If John 3:16 wasn't true?
If we didn't have the resurrection to celebrate today?

I couldn't have made it through this weekend without my faith. without all the prayers. Dan feels the same way.

So that is the story. In a nutshell.
The weekend felt like a whole year long, yet it went by like a whirlwind.
The next six months will feel so long. But in the end, Dan will be like new. There should be no mobility loss.

I don't know how to end this note except to say thank you for your prayers. Thank you for caring.
Thank you for your words of encouragement. We are forever thankful for our family in Christ.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Must Confess

Over the last couple years, I have wrestled with my understanding of confession. Growing up, and into college/seminary, I often heard of how important it is to confess my sins to the Lord, even after my conversion, in my relationship with Him. I've also heard many people say, in relation to communion, that there should be no known, unconfessed sin in one's life – which would make them unworthy to partake in communion. Many people see confession as the time one takes to present their acts of disobedience to the Lord. And I have to be honest that these ideas about confession sit in my heart like sour milk would sit in my gut on a sunny, ninety-degree day – sick!

I am troubled by this understanding of confession for many reasons – and I while I believe each reason has sufficient Biblical reasoning in themselves, I would much rather you take them all as a whole.
1. It brings our Heavenly Father down to the level of an earthly father. It's comparing, not contrasting, His love and forgiveness to the love and forgiveness of an earthly father. THERE IS NO COMPARISON. While earthly fathers are to reflect the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc. of God the Father, in all our striving we don't even come close. I am a poor dim reflection – just ask my kids. While, at times, Scripture does use, and thus makes it appropriate to use, the illustration of an earthly father to draw out, or teach, an element of our Heavenly Father – it never, ever, ever is appropriate to bring our Heavenly Father down to the level of an earthly father. This just devalues the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness God pours into our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ.
2. Behind the guise of humility and obedience, it emphasizes a heart's attitude that makes confession an act of righteousness that can improve my standing before God. It's a "spiritual" rock, other than Christ, on which I can stand. Whenever you assign the power to justify, or sanctify, to a person, or an act, you are stealing a power, and a role, that belongs only to God – and that's idolatry (Romans 10.3-4).
3. It makes one's relationship with God dependent, not totally on Christ - but also on my confession. That's not freedom – it's condemnation (Romans 8.1).
4. I am so utterly depraved, my sin is so abounding, that I cannot possibly bring a list of any accuracy to God.
5. Related to the previous point, yet distinct from it – everything I do, every act of "righteousness," is tainted with my sinfulness. Therefore, I cannot possibly present a list of any worth to God.
6. This mindset and heart's attitude does not accurately reflect God's desire and aim in our confession before Him.

Now, after all that, let me say that I do believe spending time in confession with the Lord is imperative and an act of obedience. And while it is, at times, very appropriate to confess specific sins, such as habitual ones that seem to have constant victory over you, that is not God's overall aim in requiring confession from us. God's end is that Jesus would be exalted – and that He would be glorified. So, as we confess, we are to focus more on the rebellion of our hearts (pride, self-centeredness, anger, bitterness, deceit, jealousy, idolatry, indiscipline, weakness, inconsistency, discontent, etc.). Our sinful actions flow from our rebellious hearts. Searching our hearts, not our actions, will bring transformation (Proverbs 4.23). And in confessing the rebellion and depravity of our hearts, we must do so in light of the greatness of God. We need to confess to God who we know Him to be (praise) and confess what we know He's done for us in Christ (thanksgiving). This should be a regular time in which we spend with Him.

I want to close with this quote from Scotty Smith – “When I confess my sins, I’m never informing God of something he doesn’t already know. I’m only echoing the call to greater freedom whose origin is in the concert hall of the gospel. When I express a need, the repository of heaven has preceded my cry, readying sufficient grace and supplies beyond my imagination.”

Wow! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Centrality of the Resurrection

This past week I woke up in the middle of the night a few times, not immediately able to fall back to sleep. So, as I lay there staring into the darkness of my bedroom, I found myself thinking about, of all things, Jesus' resurrection. For Christians, Easter is our day. It's the day the work of our Savior was validated by His Heavenly Father and, therefore, our faith has now gained an object. We don’t have to have a general, flimsy faith that sometimes works and other times fails us because it's generated from within our own selves. No, our faith has meat. Now, it has muscle because our faith is given to us by the one who did the work - Jesus Christ conquered sin and death in His perfect, righteous life which was given up - and RAISED UP.

The resurrection of Jesus is where the victory was declared. If there is no resurrection, there is no Savior and no redemption. If there is no resurrection, Christianity is just like every other religion in this world – a bunch of people worshipping a dead idol. Even Paul acknowledges this - And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15.14-15) In other words – if there is no resurrection, we are frauds.

The great puritan theologian, John Owen, said this about the centrality of the resurrection: “This truth is so important that nothing in religion can exist without it. The apostles diligently confirmed it in the first churches; and for the same reason it was attacked by Satan and denied and opposed by many. This was done in two ways: first by an open denial of any such thing – “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12); and second, those who did not dare to attack it directly expounded it in an allegorical way, saying that “the resurrection has already taken place” (2 Tim. 2:18). Observe that our apostle in both cases does not only condemn these errors as false but declares positively that their admission overthrows the faith and makes the preaching of the Gospel vain and useless.” Note well – denying the resurrection, or allegorizing it away, invalidates everything else in Christianity.

When it comes to Jesus, people deny everything under the sun – from His deity, to the things He said, to the things He did. You don't have to look long or hard to find someone who has a problem with Jesus in some way. And yet, many of those people will even categorize themselves as a Christian. There are even countless numbers of people who don't take God seriously (I am referring to those who have an awareness of God but live as though they are their own god) and still call themselves Christians. But please understand, this is the reality – a denial, in any way, related to Jesus' deity, teachings, and/or works, or anything less than a surrendered heart and passionate pursuit of God, is ultimately a denial of Jesus' resurrection. The sovereignty and power a resurrection demands cannot expect anything less.

Take the time to just think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So many words/thoughts will flood your mind/heart – power…strength…completion…finality…approval…victory…commitment…. Note that last word because if Jesus is the reality of your life (the one through whom you see everything else) and His resurrection is the power of your life (Philippians 3.10) there will be no half-hearted pursuit of God. You will strain to live in reckless abandon to Him.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Alternative Society

“Let me write the songs of a nation; I don’t care who writes its laws.”
–Andrew Fletcher, Scottish politician

The debate continues. I really thought after the vote to reform healthcare by our government officials this past week, some of the healthy debate, nasty banter, and all around discussion would subside – at least a little bit. Man, was I wrong (and I hate it when I'm wrong). In fact, it seems as though all the emotions, attacks, and defenses have intensified. I tried, believe me I tried, all week to write without bringing attention to the events of this past week – but the Lord just wouldn’t allow it. I sat down on three different days to write this jot, but it was a subject the Lord continued to surface in my mind. So, given the recent uproar in Washington, I thought it might be helpful to jot this week, not about healthcare reform, but about our role and responsibility as Christians, the church, in responding to politics and spurring cultural change.

I've said this before - Christ did not die on the cross so you would be either a Republican or a Democrat. It just doesn’t matter to Him. Wherever you might land politically, it’s helpful for all Christians to remember that the Kingdom of God is not flying in on Air Force One. Unfortunately, when it comes to engaging culture, many Christians think exclusively of political activism. I fully agree that Christians need to be involved in the political process – but our priority, as Christians, is to bring the standards of God’s Word to bear on every dimension of our culture.

That said, politics are not the only thing (and definitely not the main thing) God had in mind when He commanded cultural transformation (Matthew 28.19-20). A temporary victory in the voting booth does not reverse a downward moral trend driven by cultural gatekeepers in news media, entertainment, art, and education. Politics is not a cure-all. In fact, with every passing day, I grow more convinced that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, DC (politics).

Yet, we seem to get more upset about things said and decisions being made in Washington than we do in the aforementioned cultural pillars of our society. Why? Is it because we care more about how our personal lives are affected than we do our culture? Let me say this – God has established His church as an alternative society, not to compete with or copy this world, but to offer a refreshing alternative to it. These are our moments to shine. These are the times the Lord has given us, in the dead of night, in the middle of a Katrina, to shine as lighthouses for His glorious redemption and hope to fall on our culture, therefore:

• We are to have joy while others wallow in their negativity
• We are to act out in kindness when others lash out in anger
• We are to have self-control when people are harsh and nasty
• We can comfort because we are at peace when people are overcome with worry and fear
• We need to exhibit patience when so many people are running and jumping around like "chickens with their heads cut off"
• We are to be confident (in Christ) when others are beside themselves
• We should be servants when everyone else is demanding service
• We have to show love in the midst of a culture that reserves love

We should get on our knees, raise our hands to the sky, and thank God for these opportunities to proclaim His majestic Name and live out His glorious truths. Yet, so many times we react to crisis, injustice, evil, etc., no differently than anyone else and instead of offering an alternative society, we inadvertently communicate to our culture that we have nothing unique to offer – nothing deeply spiritual or profoundly transforming.

Our story (of God's redemption) is the only one that brings meaning, purpose, and hope from above – something completely alternative to our world. Let's accept what the Lord ordains for our lives and make His Kingdom our priority.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It Wasn't The Luck of The Irish

I am a servant of Christ to a foreign nation for the unspeakable glory of life everlasting,
which is in Jesus Christ our Lord
– Patrick

Whether you are Irish, Roman Catholic, both, or neither it's hard to escape the week without recognizing Saint Patrick's Day. I am only part Irish, and not at all Roman Catholic, so I know virtually nothing about Saint Patrick other than the green beer, parades, shamrocks, leprechauns, and drunken Red Sox fans that celebrate in his honor every March 17th. Technically, Saint Patrick was not even a saint, as he was never canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Additionally, Patrick was not even Irish. Rather, he was a Roman-Britain who spoke Latin and a bit of Welsh.

Patrick was born around 390 A.D. He was a rebellious non-Christian teenager who had come from a Christian family – his grandfather was a pastor and His dad was a deacon. When he was roughly 16 years of age he was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland on a ship where he was sold into slavery. He spent the next six years alone in the wilderness as a shepherd for his masters’ cattle and sheep. However, during his extended periods of isolation without any human contact, Patrick began praying and was eventually born again into a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.

In his early twenties God spoke to Patrick in a dream, telling him to flee from his master for a ship that was waiting for him. Amazingly, Patrick made the 200-mile journey on foot without being caught or harmed to find a ship setting sail for his home, just as God had promised. Upon returning home, Patrick enrolled in seminary and was eventually commissioned as a pastor. Some years later God spoke to Patrick in a dream, commanding him to return to Ireland to preach the gospel and plant churches for the pagans who lived there.

The Roman Catholic Church had given up on converting such “barbarians” deemed beyond hope. The Celtic peoples, of which the Irish were a part, were an illiterate bunch of drunken, fighting, perverted pagans who basically worshiped anything. They were a violent and lawless people, numbering anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000. They had no city centers or national government and were spread out among some 150 warring clans. Their enemies were terrified of them because they were known to show up for battles and partake in wild orgies (as well as other extreme levels of debasement) before running into battle naked and drunk while screaming as if they were demon-possessed.

In faith, the forty-something year-old Patrick sold all of his possessions, including the land he had inherited from his father, to fund his missionary journey to Ireland. He worked as an itinerant preacher and paid large sums of money to various tribal chiefs to ensure he could travel safely through their lands and preach the gospel. His strategy was completely unique, and he functioned like a missionary trying to relate to the Irish people and communicate the gospel in their culture by using such things as three-leaf clovers to explain the gospel. Upon entering a pagan clan, Patrick would seek to first convert the tribal leaders and other people of influence. He would then pray for the sick, cast demons out of the possessed, preach the Bible, and use both musical and visual arts to compel people to put their faith in Jesus. If enough converts were present he would build a simple church building that did not resemble ornate Roman architecture, baptize the converts, and hand over the church to a convert he had trained to be the pastor so that he could move on to repeat the process with another clan.

Patrick gave his life, until he died at the age of 77, to the people who had enslaved him. He had seen untold thousands of people convert as between 30-40 of the 150 tribes had become substantially Christian. He had trained 1000 pastors, planted 700 churches, and was the first noted person in history to take a strong public stand against slavery.

Curiously, Patrick’s unorthodox ministry methods, which had brought so much fruit among the Irish, also brought much opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. Because Patrick was so far removed from Roman civilization and church polity, he was seen by some as an instigator of unwelcome changes. This led to great conflicts between the Roman and Celtic Christians. The Celtic Christians had their own calendar and celebrated Easter a week earlier than their Roman counterparts. Additionally, the Roman monks shaved only the hair on the top of their head, whereas the Celtic monks shaved all of their hair except their long locks which began around the bottom of their head as a funky monk mullet. The Romans considered these and other variations by the Celtic Christian leaders to be acts of insubordination.

In the end, the Roman Church should have learned from Patrick, who is one of the greatest missionaries who has ever lived. Though Patrick’s pastors and churches looked different in method, they were very orthodox in their theology and radically committed to such things as Scripture and the Trinity. Additionally, they were some of the most gifted Christian artists the world has ever known, and their prayers and songs endure to this day around the world, including the Celtic hymn "Be Thou My Vision."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

As your Teaching Pastor, one of the great desires of my heart and goals of my ministry is to expose you to many different men and women who effectively communicate the truths of God that need to touch our hearts and be embraced at the heart-level. One such man is Tullian Tchividjian (cha-vih-jin). Tullian is the Senior Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The article below is taken from chapter eight of his book, Unfashionable. Below, Tullian communicates the meaning, purpose, and importance of communicating the gospel to our world in ways people can understand, without compromising the message of the gospel. I found this article to be very well written and especially interesting in light of our recent study of 1 Corinthians 14. It is right in line with Paul's constant (and consistent) challenge to Be Clear. Enjoy, be enlightened, and be challenged…

“The principle behind Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 9:22 to “become all things to all men” is what Christian thinkers call “contextualization.” Contextualization is the idea that we need to be translating gospel truth into language understood by our culture. Cross-cultural missionaries and Bible translators have been doing this for centuries. They take the unchanging truth of the Gospel and put it into language that fits the context they are trying to reach. Contextualization simply means translating the Gospel—in both word and deed—into understandable terms appropriate to the audience. It’s Gospel translation that is context sensitive.

Genna, my eight-year-old daughter, loves going to her Sunday school class for various reasons. She loves seeing her friends and singing her favorite songs. But she also loves to learn from her capable and creative teacher. He works hard to use language, concepts, and illustrations that she and the other children in the class will understand as he faithfully teaches them the Bible. And as a result, Genna gets it. She walks away Sunday after Sunday excited about what she’s learned. This thrills Kim and me. We’re both grateful that her teacher understands the need to contextualize.

Similarly, every English Bible translation is an effort to contextualize the Scriptures (originally written in Hebrew and Greek for ancient peoples) for an English-speaking audience of today.

Contextualization also involves building relationships with people who don’t believe. We don’t expect them to come to us; we go to them. We meet them where they are. We enter into their world by seeking to identify with their struggles, their likes, their dislikes, their ideas. Chuck Colson speaks of it as entering into people’s “stories”:

We must enter into the stories of the surrounding culture, which takes real listening. We connect with the literature, music, theater, arts, and issues that express the existing culture’s hopes, dreams, and fears. This builds a bridge by which we can show how the Gospel can enter and transform those stories.

Edith Schaeffer, wife of the late Francis Schaeffer, wrote about a visit the two of them made to San Francisco in 1968. One night they went to Fillmore West to hang out with the druggies and hippies and take in a light show. She records how heartbroken they were as they witnessed on that night “the lostness of humanity in search of peace where there is no peace.” She concluded, “A time of listening is needed—listening to what the next generation is saying, listening to the words of the music they are listening to, listening to the meaning behind the words. If true communication is to continue, there is a language to be learned.”

Contextualization begins with a broken heart for the lost and a driving desire to help them understand God’s liberating truth. Only by real listening and learning can we hope to persuasively communicate God’s unchanging Word to our constantly changing world.

Sadly, some well-meaning Christians conclude otherwise. For these Christians, contextualization means the same thing as compromise. They believe it means giving people what they want and telling people what they want to hear. What they misunderstand, however, is that contextualization means giving people God’s answers (which they may not want) to the questions they’re really asking and in ways they can understand.

This misunderstanding of contextualization has led these people to argue that cultural reflection and contextualization are at best distractions, at worst sinful. They admonish us to abandon these things and focus simply on the Bible. While this sounds virtuous, it ends up being foolish for two reasons. First, as we’ve already seen, the Bible itself exhorts us to understand our times so that we can reach our changing world with God’s eternal truth. To not contextualize, therefore, is a sin. And second, we all live inescapably within a particular cultural framework that shapes the way we think about everything. So if we don’t work hard to understand our context, we’ll not only fail in our task to effectively communicate the gospel but we’ll also find it impossible to avoid being negatively shaped by a world we don’t understand.

In a recent interview, pastor Tim Keller put it this way: “to over-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of their culture, but to under-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of the culture you come from. So there’s no avoiding it.”
Whether translating the Bible or developing relationships with non-Christians, we’re to be missionary minded in everything we do. That takes work—the hard effort of maintaining the big picture and communicating comprehensibly and compellingly to those who don’t share our convictions and worldview. Therefore, every day and in every circumstance, we need to be consciously and rigorously translating our faith into the language of the culture we’re trying to reach.

This is the challenge: If you don’t contextualize enough, no one’s life will be transformed because they won’t understand you. But if you contextualize too much, no one’s life will be transformed because you won’t be challenging their deepest assumptions and calling them to change.

Becoming “all things to all people”, therefore, does not mean fitting in with the fallen patterns of this world so that there is no distinguishable difference between Christians and non-Christians. While rightly living “in the world,” we must avoid the extreme of accommodation—being “of the world.” It happens when Christians, in their attempt to make proper contact with the world, go out of their way to adopt worldly styles, standards, and strategies.

When Christians try to eliminate the counter-cultural, unfashionable features of the biblical message because those features are unpopular in the wider culture—for example, when we reduce sin to a lack of self-esteem, deny the exclusivity of Christ, or downplay the reality of knowable absolute truth—we’ve moved from contextualization to compromise. When we accommodate our culture by jettisoning key themes of the gospel, such as suffering, humility, persecution, service, and self-sacrifice, we actually do our world more harm than good. For love’s sake, compromise is to be avoided at all costs.

As the Bible teaches, the Lordship of Christ has a sense of totality: Christ’s truth covers everything, not just “spiritual” or “religious” things. But it also has a sense of tension. As Lord, Jesus not only calls us to himself, he also calls us to break with everything which conflicts with his Lordship.

Contextualization without compromise is the goal!”*

*This article was posted on Tullian Tchividjian’s blog, which can be found at

Monday, March 8, 2010

The "M" Word

One of the things I love most in life is watching my kids grow, learn, and develop. With each passing day it seems I learn more about them (as well as from them), have more fun with them, and relate better to them. One of the things that's so interesting to me is how much they like doing things for Mommy and Daddy. What an example it is to me because, too often, I don’t like doing things for anyone but myself. But my kids will do whatever we ask them. Cooper, can you go get Daddy's phone? Isabella, can you sit with Ruby? Brynn, can you get a couple of diapers? And without hesitation, they're off running to accomplish the task at hand. They've even fought and screamed at each other over who gets to help Mommy and Daddy. Now, please don't think me naïve. I know this isn't going to last but it's remarkable to me nonetheless, not that they do, but that they love to do. They get excited and do things for us with so much energy.

Recently at a pastors’ conference, John Piper shared a type of biographical sketch and spoke on the life of C.S. Lewis, and the impact Lewis has had on his life. He quoted C.S. Lewis throughout his message but one particular quote caught my attention in light of what the Lord has been showing me through my children. Lewis, in talking about the Puritans, and William Tyndale in particular, had this to say about works in light of the gospel: "In reality Tyndale is trying to express an obstinate fact which meets us long before we venture into the realm of theology; the fact that morality or duty (what he calls ‘the Law’) never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the “Gospel,” for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the “Puritan” of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote."

Those are serious, and very appropriate, words for us. Moralism thinks in terms of doing external duties. It oppresses a person with pressures from the outside. It takes one's heart, and for that matter, Christ, completely out of any equation. Moralism is me-centered. Moralism believes God’s love for me rises and falls based on how obedient I am. And I'm afraid something happens to us when, after we cry out to Jesus as Savior and Lord, we steadily decline into a "works"-centered, a "me"-centered, religion. Sure, it starts with the gospel, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but we talk and act as if we are sustained by the antithesis of the gospel – namely, our morals.

Paul writes – (Galatians 1.6-7) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. The Galatians were struggling with loyalty and observance to the law over and above their love and devotion to Christ. They were still living in the leg irons of duty instead of in the freedom of God's grace, provided through Jesus Christ. They were trying to change their external actions without concerning their heart with Jesus Christ and living their lives compelled by the love, grace, and person of God. This leads Paul to say, in effect, just a few verses (v.10) later – Am I living for other people or am living for God – because it can't be both. That's what resting on your morals, instead of in the arms of Jesus Christ, does to you – it clouds your view of Christ with the muck of doing out of duty for others to see.

It has to be one or the other – moralism vs. Jesus Christ. You cannot claim both and it cannot be both, because Christianity is never, ever, ever about moralism.

So, I ask you – On whom, or what, are you depending for God's love?

*Quote from C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, p.187

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Godly Possibility

Do you ever get on your own nerves? Really – do you get tired of struggling through the same battles and wondering if you'll ever get right the things in your life that have been wrong. I drive myself crazy a lot because I go through a period where I'm learning a lot, I'm surrendering my heart and sensing a real closeness with the Lord and then – BAM! – I start to fall in one area after another – selfishness, impatience, anger, lack of discipline and organization. I'm one messed dude. (I'm sure that’s something everyone wants to hear from their pastor!)

Christianity means change is possible - deep, fundamental change. It is possible -
• to be disciplined when you, at one time, weren’t
• to become tenderhearted when you were once hard and insensitive
• to stop being dominated by bitterness and anger
• to become a loving person no matter what your background has been

The Bible assumes God is the decisive factor in making us what we should be. With spectacular bluntness the Bible says to put away malice and be tender-hearted. It does not say –
• If you can…
• If your parents were tender-hearted to you…
• If you weren’t terribly wronged…
It says - be tender-hearted.

This is incredibly freeing - it frees us from the terrible fatalism that says, “Change is impossible for me”. It frees me from enslaving views that make my background my destiny. If I was in prison and Jesus walked into my cell and said, “Leave this place tonight,” I might be stunned, but if I trusted His goodness and power, I would feel a rush of hope that freedom is possible.

If it is night and the storm is raging and the waves are breaking high over the pier, and the Lord comes to me and says, “Set sail tomorrow morning,” there is a burst of hope in the dark. He is God. He knows what He is doing. His commands are not throw-away words – they always come with freeing, life-changing truth to believe.

For example – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4.32-5.2)

1. God adopted us as his children - We have a new Father and a new family. This breaks the fatalistic forces of our “family-of-origin.” Matthew 23.9, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”
2. God loves us as his children - We are loved children. The command to imitate the love of God does not hang in the air, it comes with power: be imitators of God as loved children. Love is the command and being loved is the power.
3. God has forgiven us in Christ - Be tender-hearted and forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you. What God did gives us power to change. The command to be tender-hearted has more to do with what God did for you than what your mother did to you. This kind of command means you can change.
4. Christ loved you and gave himself up for you - Walk in love just as Christ loved you. The command comes with life-changing truth - Christ loved you. At the moment when there is a chance to love and some voice says, “You are not a loving person,” you can say, “Christ’s love for me makes me a new kind of person. His command to love is just as surely possible for me as his promise of love is true for me”.

Let's pray together, for our lives and our church, as St. Augustine did, “Lord command what you will and grant what you command”!

Welcome To The Main Event

“The victory may have been theirs, but it is not for the victory alone that they are honored. Rather, it is for the quality of their effort and the manner of their striving.”

The quote above is one from Sports Illustrated – and I have it hanging on my office door because, while Sports Illustrated intended for it to refer to athletes, it makes me think so much about life. It reminds me, and challenges me, too, that I can glory in the Lord and enjoy the blessings He brings because He strengthens me to fight through the struggle He also brings.

It's interesting that when the Bible speaks of life, it often does so in terms of competition – fight, run, race, finished, endurance. These are some of the words you would find, referring to how to live this life, reading through the New Testament. Hebrews 12.1 says, "…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." The biblical word endurance (or perseverance) is the ability to keep on doing the things you have been called to do (and have committed yourself to doing) when you are on top of the world and when the world is on top of you. Nothing is more essential to success than endurance. Faith is the gunshot that starts the race – endurance is what keeps you going.

Other than Christ, there might not be any greater example of one who strove more than the Apostle Paul. We're talking about a guy who was shipwrecked, thrown in prison, stoned and dragged out of a city to be left for dead - only to get up and walk back into that same city. Some would call that dumb – I call it tough as nails. But in writing to his young protégé, Timothy, Pauls says – “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6.12). Then in the next letter he writes, just before he's about to die, he tells Timothy – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4.7-8). In other words – Hey Timothy, remember when I told you to fight? Well I did – I fought, and finished, and won. And now the Lord is going to reward me for fighting the fight He gave me the strength and power to fight. Talk about sovereignty. Talk about grace and faithfulness. Talk about redemption when before Christ I couldn’t even fight - I couldn’t even put on the gloves or the shoes.

This matter of striving is so critical to the Christian life that James 1 tells us that above all other human traits, this is the one God wants built into our lives. Why? Because if we will strive and endure then God can do anything in our lives and through our lives – “And let steadfastness (endurance) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.4).

So what do you do when the pressure is on? All kinds of people get up in the morning, put on their running clothes, and start the race. But the test comes when the miles click past and the muscles start to fatigue. What do they do then? It’s easy to put on a white dress, rent a tuxedo, and get to the front of the church to say, "I do." But to have a happening marriage - not for five years, but for life - that takes striving and enduring. It’s one thing to have a kid(s), but to keep on training that kid(s) day in and day out, following through on what you have said and taught - that takes commitment!

Let me say in addition to that - it's easy to pray a prayer, it’s easy to confess (with words) faith in Christ - but to keep following Him when the pressure is on takes striving, staying power.

As you look ahead, there's no way for you to know what's ahead in 2010 but you can be sure that God’s mercies will be new every morning. Start each day asking Him for the strength to strive and endure so you can fight the good fight of faith – AND WIN!

In A Time of Crisis

Two weeks ago, an earthquake made its presence felt as buildings fell, thousands died, and countless were left homeless in the country of Haiti. I didn't feel it in New Jersey at first - but after a while I began to feel the reverberations in the news reports. The more I heard and saw, the more I was left shaken. As Mark Driscoll put it - I'm haunted by Haiti. In addition to Haiti, tragedy strikes every day. Think about it. Right now, as you read this –
• people are dying from sickness
• there is abuse, murder, rape, and kidnapping
• many are without homes
• terrorists are plotting their next attack
The list could go on and on.

Whether or not we are experiencing tragedy at a particular moment – the aftershocks are going on in our lives through the questions that are asked. Tragedy causes people to search and we need to be prepared to give them direction. Here are a couple of the more popular questions that are asked by a world looking for answers –
What good could possibly come from this tragedy? You say that God loves us. You say He has a purpose and that good will come of this. Like what? First, God's sovereign goodness is seen throughout Scripture. The classic New Testament passage is Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God causes all things – the all things is the hard part because that is made up of what we call the good thing and bad things. There is really no denying the good that comes out of tragedy when people respond – 9/11, the tsunami, Haiti, etc., all clearly display God's glory, through His working, for those who are open to seeing it.
Another question that is asked is - How should this event change me? That is an excellent question to ask God in prayer. However, I don’t think it's one we often ask because we're afraid of what God might do in us or what God might ask us to do. But we need to put ourselves aside and ask God to change us – to work in us so He can work through us.

Change demands action. So what steps of obedience can we take to show our world Christ today?

1. We need to pray (Eph. 6.18). That might sound cliché but the truth is we can do nothing in our own strength – we must ask the Lord for His strength. We also need to pray for those who are suffering – that God would show them His purposes, love, grace, mercy, and glory.
2. This is the day to be a bold witness for Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5.10). People are looking for answers. This is a time to speak up for Jesus. Open our mouths, Lord, and fill them with the good news you've provided.
3. We can respond to God's call to help in tangible ways. The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two symbols – each with their own meaning. The first symbol means danger. The second symbol means opportunity. So many of you gave generously from your hearts to our church family's efforts to support aid/relief to Haiti. Thank you for your kindness, I am so proud of our church. But continue to be on the alert for opportunities, now in Haiti, but also elsewhere, and then act on the need. Ask God for a willing heart and the rest of you will follow.

A Devine Jealousy

On Thursday, I was watching our men's ice hockey team play Norway, in what is called the preliminary round of the Olympics. Going into the Olympics, Norway was characterized as a "push-over" team, and on Tuesday, Canada had rocked them 8-0, so I wasn’t expecting much of a competition. Well, if you saw the game, then you know exactly what I'm talking about, as the Americans did most of what they wanted during the course of the game. As I watched the game, thinking, "These guys stink," I learned the Norwegian team had only one full-time ice hockey player on its roster (note: every player on our team plays hockey full-time in the NHL) – and it showed. There was such a clear difference between the players who had made hockey their profession and those players who were construction workers, teachers, truck drivers, etc., by profession, and only part-time hockey players.

As I was thinking, I was able to make a clear connection to those who give their hearts, all of their hearts, to the Lord, compared to those who create the façade that they've given their hearts to the Lord, when they're constantly trying to find areas of their heart to hold back and reserve for themselves. The truth is, this is a battle we all fight everyday – some just fight it harder than others. Knowing they had idols and were worshipping false Gods, Joshua told the people of Israel – “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (Joshua 24.23). In this context, the word incline has the idea of bending. I find that interesting, because our hearts were originally created to relate and enjoy God. He's the way we originally bent. But since the fall our hearts are naturally sinful – that's they we now bend. It takes a constant pleading by us to God, and a daily work of the Holy Spirit, to bend our hearts back to God.

There are several people in Scripture who illustrate this point - David, Peter, and Paul (just to mention a few).
• David – the only man God refers to as "a man after My own heart." Yet David's pride manifested itself throughout his reign as King of Israel. He also lied, committed adultery, and murdered. Doesn’t sound like a man after God's own heart – does it? Yet David's heart remained broken before the Lord and was always bent back toward Yaweh – especially after his sin.
• Peter – often ripped for being foolish, impetuous and lacking faith. Yet Peter was one of the leading apostles and fathers of the early church. As you read through the gospels, into Acts, and 1, 2 Peter you really see him grow in his knowledge, experience, and intimacy with the Lord.
• Paul – once a man who would have followers of Christ imprisoned and killed. Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to author about half of the books in the New Testament. He also became one of the leading apostles and New Testament church leaders. Yet he plainly admits – “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7.15-20).

Scripture gives us a vivid picture of each man's spiritual growth and constant bending of the heart toward the Lord.

Please live in the reality of this truth – we have a righteously jealous God. He wants our whole hearts – all of our beings. He is jealous over His glory and refuses to share it with anyone – including us. He wants all our worship because He alone deserves it – and He knows for us to give our worship, our hearts, to anyone/anything else only leads to our demise. We need to pray for self-forgetfulness and daily ask the Lord to take control of our lives – this is Christianity. If your identity is really found in Him, it's a battle of the wills – and I promise, HE WILL WIN.

So ask the Spirit of God to search you heart everyday revealing to you your "sins of self" (ways/areas in which you are holding out on God). Forget religion, morality, or any other external thing – there is no comparison between a person who is giving the Lord their whole hearts and one who is not.