Monday, January 31, 2011

Sound Down

"The word 'catechism' derives from the Greek word katecheo which is found in several places in Scripture. The most familiar is Luke 1:4, where Luke explains why he wrote his Gospel: 'that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed [catechichized].' Like many Greek words katecheo is put together from two words, in this case kata, meaning 'down toward,' and echeo, meaning 'to sound.' Katecheo is 'sound down.'"

-Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 12-13.


Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Exodus 15:1-21 The Song at the Sea

In the beginning God created a sanctuary; He created the universe and blessed it. And on the seventh day, He rested from His work named it holy. His work was completed, His work was to be enjoyed, and His work was to be shared.

The Text:
We can divide the song into three parts: First, celebrating the immediate deliverance (15:1-10), second, celebrating Yahweh’s superiority and the people’s identification with Him (15:11-13), and finally, the broader impact of this victory in the world (15:14-18). This song should be seen as the continuation of the Exodus. Yahweh has come to make Himself known, and in doing so, make Himself present in and with His people for the world. Holiness is completion and communion, and God comes to bring His holiness to Israel (Ex. 3:5, 12:16, 13:2, cf. Lev. 20:7-8). This is referenced later as the reason why Israel must be holy: Yahweh brought them out of Egypt (e.g. Lev. 11:44-45). The Exodus is a display of Yahweh’s holiness. His holiness is His free determination to bring creation to fulfillment and to share its glory. This is why Israel rejoices in Yahweh’s glorious “holiness” in the Exodus, having done “wonders” – great and marvelous works (15:11, cf. 3:20, Gen. 18:14). This song stands as part of that display and accomplishment of Yahweh’s holiness, and this fits with the creation sequence in the text (Ex. 14:19-14:31). This song is the “Sabbath” of a new creation, the remaking of Israel as a new Adam to be enthroned with God in his “holy habitation” (15:13). Miriam and the other women are a new Eve, like Deborah, Hannah, and Mary, and types of the bride of Christ. But even this mini-Sabbath looks forward to a firm dwelling, a “holy place” which is established forever (15:17-18). The entire song celebrates Yahweh’s military victory over His enemies: He is a man of war (15:3), and His right hand has done mighty things (15:6). But His Wind-Spirit, the battle-storm of His presence wields violence with a surgeon’s creative wisdom. Yahweh’s mighty arm will continue this conquest by making the surrounding nations silent like a “stone” like the Egyptians (15:16, 15:5). But one of the central ways that God’s arm will continue this battle is through this song. The song extends the Exodus by repeating the story, repeating the gospel of Yahweh’s victory so that their enemies will hear and be afraid (e.g. Josh. 2:9-14).

Dead People Don’t Sing
The Song at the Sea is a striking reminder that praise and worship and song is what always bursts out of people who have been rescued and remade. When a body is resuscitated, it suddenly starts breathing, and when people are brought back to life, they suddenly start singing. It is far too easy to make fun of the enthusiasm of some of our charismatic brothers, but frequently this is merely a cover for our own lack of faith (14:31). Has God saved you? Has God triumphed over your enemies? Then how can you not sing? This is why our worship is so full of song, this is why our choir plays an important role in leading us in song, and this is why our homes should be full of singing and music and praise. When people know that the Lord is a man of war, nothing can keep them from singing. This means singing loud, this means singing with joy, and this means that choir directors should never have to go recruiting. Love always bursts out in song and dance and praise, and it begins here and spills out into the world. This is the Song of the Lamb, our war song, and with it we bring the justice of God to the world (Rev. 15).


Top 20 Christian College Professors

College Crunch ranks the top 20 Christian college professors. Not sure what all the criteria were for this. But still interesting to see who is considered particularly influential and important in the academic world.

Ben Carson, Robert P. George, Alister McGrath, Al Mohler, Alvin Plantinga, Marilynne Robinson, and N.T. Wright make the list.

You can find the entire post here.


Legalists & Antinomians

Douglas Wilson adds this bit to a recent flurry of blog posts and articles:

"For many among the contemporary Reformed, a legalist is someone who loves Jesus more than they do, and an antinomian is one who appears to enjoy loving Jesus like that. And if this ever happens on a large scale, it will be a great revival and reformation, recognized as such by the museum curators of the future."

There a couple of layers of cheerful irony there as you can see for yourself if you read the rest of the post here.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Grace of the Law

"By reclaiming Luther's grand discovery of justification by faith, Christians again embrace the law with David, Paul, and James. The law leads to Christ, plainly outlines the extent of Christ's payment, defines his righteousness, protects believers from sinning against God's love, and enables them to give concrete expression to their love for God by deeds of obedience."

Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 6.


The Good Old Days are Now

"... if we must go through what seems the worst of times, we are held in the best of all hands, inseparable from the best of all loves (Rom. 8:38-39)"

Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 2.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Time, Space, and Holiness

All the days of creation are concerned with the creation of matter in various states: light, land, plants, animals, etc. And the days "stack" up on top of each other. The first day is the creation of light and darkness: Day and Night. And that is necessarily the beginning of the "evening and morning" cycle. But every day after the first day stacks up on top of the first day, experiencing an "evening and morning." The rest of creation does the same. While it is not explicitly mentioned in every detail, later days assume the presence of the former days.

Waters are gathered together in one place on day 3 from the ones that were separated to form the firmament on day 2. Stars and lights are set in the firmament on day 4, and birds fly across the face of the firmament on day 5. The earth that God formed on day 3 is used for the forming of the animals and man on day 6 and so on. The days stack up.

This has implications for our understanding of time. The past penetrates into the present and the future. Time stacks up.

But what the first six days indicate is that time is a kind of space. There is "room" in a day for a certain amount of work, a certain amount of *stuff*, but God builds, plants, forms, separates, and names within the "space" of a creation day.

But then God does something radically different on the seventh day. On the seventh day God stops working, He stops creating, and He sanctifies, makes holy the seventh day because He rested from all of His work which He had created.

In one space of time, God planted a garden. In another space of time, God formed the oceans. In another space of time, God painted the birds and invented fish.

But when God stops working, the "space" is filled not with "nothing" since the nothingness has been displaced by creation. Rather, the "space" of the seventh day continues to be filled by "all His work which God had created and made."

To sanctify that, to bless the seventh day is to pronounce a benediction on the whole week, all of the work, all of creation. In other words, for God to call the seventh day "holy" is for God to name the creation a holy place. The seventh day is a sanctuary, a space in time which extends in all directions spatially, claiming all of creation as holy space.

But this naming also extends backwards in time. In God's blessing of the seventh day, the previous days are blessed and pronounced holy. This is true by virtue of those artifacts which persist in time -- all the *stuff* that God made is still there when He blesses everything on the seventh day. But there also seems to be a sense in which sanctification, calling something/someone "holy" penetrates into the past. Events stack up on top of one another, but they are and remain permeable to holiness.

In the beginning, God created a sanctuary, a holy place: the universe.


Dealing with Porn and Lust Part 4

Once while Jesus was up on the mountain with three of his disciples, being transfigured, the other disciples were down below having a hell of a time trying to deal with a stubborn demon.

When Jesus comes back down the mountain, the desparate father of the afflicted boy asks Jesus if He can help.

There are two things that are striking about this story. First, Jesus says that the root problem is unbelief and essentially rebukes everyone: the father, the disciples, etc. He calls them a "faithless generation." And this is pretty clearly an allusion to the generation that came out of Egypt, the faithless generation that died in the desert for their lack of faith.

But the parallels go further. Jesus was up on the mountain in glory, just like Moses was up on Sinai seeing the glory of God and receiving the law. Meanwhile, down below the faithless generation was doing its thing. In Exodus, Israel (God's son, Ex. 4:22), was making a golden calf and having a middle eastern orgy rave, complete with all the latest musical acts straight out of Egypt. In the gospels, the disciples are at the bottom of the mountain fighting a demon in another son and losing. While the externals are somewhat different, in both cases God's people are losing to sin and the flesh. And in both cases, sin and demons are trying to kill a son. And while we might think Jesus was being a little harsh -- it was a demon afterall -- Jesus still locates the source of the problem in a lack of faith.

Secondly, later, when the disciples ask Jesus privately why they could not cast out the demon, Jesus frankly tells them that this was a tough demon, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting" (Mk. 9:29).

Now, we can clarify several details quickly before turning to the struggle with porn and lust. First, not every sin is necessarily caused or inflicted by a particular demon. Sin is a force, a gravitational pull, a cancer that resides in our own human flesh in Adam, and therefore something that the Bible holds individual people responsible for. At the same time, sin is also frequently pictured as part of Satan's prowling and devouring. And when sin afflicts people, they are both victims and victimizers. They afflict themselves and they are afflicted. There are inner and outer forces at work. And we are called to struggle against them all.

Second, we should remember that Jesus specifically commissioned the twelve to go around casting out demons (Mk. 3:15). This is not necessarily a gift or power or ministry that God has given to every believer. Every believer has the Holy Spirit and is therefore safe and protected from the attacks of sin and the evil one -- no temptation has overtaken us which we are not able to resist. God does not send His faithful children into battles that they cannot win. But the fact that the disciples who were commissioned to cast out demons could not cast out this demon draws the parallel closer to common believers and their struggles. While Jesus and a chosen few are up in glory, we struggle here at the bottom of the mountain with sin, the flesh, and the devil. And Jesus' says that these kind only come out with much prayer and fasting.

There is of course a mechanistic, superstitious way of hearing Jesus. And some nut jobs will start saying certain prayers and crossing themselves and rubbing a lucky icon while trying to free themselves of the demons of sin. Others will read books and blog articles and try support groups and accountability partners with just as much superstition as the others.

But this is the point: Frequently, these sins of porn and lust seem like they cannot be beaten, they cannot be overcome. These are frequently sins that create habits and addictions that latch on to souls with vehemence. And it is easy to grow weary in the struggle against sin, particularly when it does not appear that we are winning. But if Jesus were to appear before a crowd of people struggling with sexual sin, He would probably call them to faith: "O faithless generation..." Jesus calls us to faith. He calls us to confess our unbelief, and to come to Him, to trust Him, to believe Him. And this means throwing ourselves into the battle. This doesn't mean putting yourself in foolish situations. If you've cancelled your internet, I'm not suggesting you turn it back on. The point here is to resist all temptation with all of your might, trusting that God is able and willing to deliver you.

And so the question becomes: Do you really want to be delivered? Do you really hate that sin? Do you really want to be free? Then pray. Pray like your life depends upon it. Pray like you are desperate. Cry out to God. Beg Him, plead with Him, call upon Him.

Sometimes people do everything except pray. But this is like making all your health care decisions based on what you read on the internet. You need to go to the doctor. You need to talk to the One who can make you well.

Others say they have prayed, but what they mean is that they have offered up two sentence requests having already decided to sin or having already decided that it won't work. And of course it won't. Because you don't really want it. You don't really believe.

But if you are in a battle in which if the air support does not come soon you will be dead, you will get on that radio and yell, beg, and plead for cover. You will not take no for an answer. You will not stop crying out until you have been answered. And this may sound charismatic, this may sound mystical, but every Christian needs to learn to pray until they have been heard. This doesn't require a supernatural sign; this doesn't necessitate a highly charged emotional outpouring -- though it may include those elements. But there is praying and then there is praying. And every believer knows their Savior, and every believer knows when they are in His presence.

Fasting is something that many Christians have neglected, but Jesus says that it should be part of our prayers for deliverance and freedom. It is a weapon in our arsenal, and it should be taken up in the fight against sin.

No matter how deep your sin, no matter how addicted you think you are, no matter how enslaved you feel, begin by believing that Jesus can deliver you, and then pray for deliverance. Fast and pray. Fast and pray like you'll die if you're not heard. Because it's true.

Some of these demons can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.

You can find the previous posts in this series here, here, and here.


Friday, January 21, 2011

More on Bonhoeffer

Jordan Ballor adds to the Bonhoeffer discussion over on the Touchstone blog this morning.

He writes:

"In response, I'll point out that part of the academic critique is simply what academics are wont to do when looking at a popular book. There isn't enough nuance here, this detail is wrong there, and so on. As I've said elsewhere, Metaxas' biography is not a substitute for a scholarly biography like Eberhard Bethge's. Still, it does show some surprising sensitivity for a popular biography. Metaxas rightly notes that Bonhoeffer was seeking to articulate a Protestant form of natural law in his Ethics, an aspect of Bonhoeffer's work that has largely escaped the notice of academics. Perhaps you don't get a modern political left/right dichotomy in scholarship all that often, but in Bonhoeffer's case you do get a Barthian/liberal theology divide."

You can read the rest here.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Counterfeit Bonhoeffer?

Some interesting stuff on recent scholarship on Bonhoeffer from Tim Challies.

He writes: "I’ve made no secret of the fact that I enjoyed reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Actually, it’s one of my all-time favorite biographies; it’s readable, engaging and it deals with a fascinating part of history. But lately I’ve come across a few articles by experts in Bonhoeffer who say that it’s just plain wrong—it’s a portrayal of the man that is geared toward evangelicals and, in seeking to make the reader happy, it succumbs to all sorts of errors.

Richard Weikart of California State University says that Metaxas “serves up a Bonhoeffer suited to the evangelical taste” and notes with disbelief that in “an interview with Christianity Today Metaxas even made the astonishing statement that Bonhoeffer was as orthodox theologically as the apostle Paul.”

As orthodox as Paul? Metaxas does not seem to know that in his Christology lectures in 1933 Bonhoeffer claimed, “The biblical witness is uncertain with regard to the virgin birth.” Bonhoeffer also rejected the notion of the verbal inspiration of scripture, and in a footnote to Cost of Discipleship he warned against viewing statements about Christ’s resurrection as ontological statements (i.e., statements about something that happened in real space and time). Bonhoeffer also rejected the entire enterprise of apologetics, which he thought was misguided.

You can read the rest of the post here.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Proverbs 30:15-17

We continue the proverbs of Agur who enjoys organizing his points around short, repetitive numerical outlines. In the immediately preceding context, he has prayed for neither riches or poverty (30:7-9) and then proceeded to explore cultures and societies of pride and greed (30:11-15).

“There are three things that are never satisfied, four never say, ‘enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water – the fire never says, ‘enough!’” (30:15b-16)

This verse on the surface seems to shift topics slightly while continuing the theme of greed. But while the previous section was focused on human greed, this verse turns to “naturally occurring” greed. The hinge for that transition is the leech who has two daughters (30:15). That image combines human/natural imagery intentionally and nicely summarizes the previous section while giving an easy introduction to the four things that never have enough.

The four things that never have enough are grouped into two pairs:
The grave
The barren womb

The earth
The fire

The first two are more directly part of human life, and the second two are more general to the created order. In the first two, we note that the grave is constantly hungry to take life, and the barren womb is constantly hungry to create life. Dry ground always needs more water to sustain life, and fire is always looking for more ground to devour. Waltke points out that the four are listed in a rather chiastic order with the first and fourth in the list concerned with taking or destroying life while the second and fourth on the list are concerned with giving and creating life.
The four also answer to the initial thesis which points to those things which are never satisfied, which never say ‘enough.’ The list grows to develop this: Sheol, restrained womb, earth not satisfied, fire doesn’t say ‘enough’. And in this sense, they are all in agreement that they stand as constant reminders of the gravity of death and destruction.

“The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it.” (30:17)

This recaps a previous theme, and suggests that Agur has not left his initial subject. Here we return to the primal sin of dishonoring parents (30:11), as well as locating that sin in the “eyes” (30:12-13), and devouring things (30:14).
We noted previously that people who dishonor their parents reject their provision. They are already unsatisfied with the womb that bore them, and they are not thankful for their instruction. This unthankfulness is always the beginning of idolatry, because parents are the first gifts of God and because parents are ordinarily the first presentation of God’s grace. To reject parents is to reject God and to insist upon finding another god. This is a futile mission because all other gods are tyrants and blood suckers, and this blind arrogance always oppresses the weak, sucking life from society and creation like a parasite.

But the implication of this whole section seems to be that these four “naturally occurring” insatiables are pictures of proud and greedy people. Pride and greed and idolatry create a world of pain and death and are never satisfied. People who dishonor their parents and have evil eyes devour the lives of the poor and the needy: these people have embrace a hell and a curse and therefore they only deal out hell and cursing.

But this also has to do with a big picture view of the world. Is the world governed by a loving Father who provides for all the needs of His people or is the world some sort of chaotic, survival of the fittest competition? If there is no loving, providential God, then the latter conclusion is the only logical option. If the world isn’t God’s gift, then it must grabbed and raped.

In so far as people become these life sucking forces in the world they are surrendered to that sort of culture, that sort of life. When people become living graves, they will have become friends with vultures and worms. It’s no accident that these are carrion birds; they gather wherever there are corpses. The implication of course is that children who mock their parents end up dead. People who devour the poor end up being devoured themselves.

Here the created order is teaming up with God’s justice. Ravens fed Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kgs. 17:4-6). A dove and a raven served Noah following the flood, and Jesus says that God provides for the ravens (Lk. 12:24). But this points to how we view God and the world that He created. The created order groans under the weight of our sin and curse, but it is fundamentally on God’s side. It serves Him and His purposes, and this means that even Hades and barren wombs and deserts and fire are under His perfect control and can and will be used for His good purposes.

Consider Sheol which gave back our Lord Jesus from the grave, the barren womb which has become fruitful in the virgin birth, the deserts that have become fruitful gardens, and the fire that has been tamed by the Spirit.

In Christ, all of these things have said, 'it is enough.'


Anathema in Romans

A couple months ago I was musing on the word "anathema" in the Septuagint here and here.

In the second post in particular, I was considering the possible connections between the story of Achan/Jericho and Paul's situation dealing with the Judiazers in Galatians.

As I've been working on Romans 8-9 a bit recently, it occurs to me that the context is very similar to Galatians 1 where Paul uses the word "anathema" to describe preachers of the false Judaizing gospel. Only the direction of the anathema is reversed. Instead of pointing the curse at the Judaizing false preachers as in Galatians, Paul turns the gun on himself and says that he would be willing to be anathema for the sake of his brothers according to the flesh (Rom. 9:3).

Only given the immediate context, it seems better to take Paul as not offering to be damned for the sake of the Jews, rather this desire to be anathema from Christ for the Jews is an illustration of the love of God revealed in Christ in 8:31-39. The certainty of Paul's persuasion that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus is that Paul would be glad to be killed/die/be utterly destroyed so that they might live. The point is that this is exactly what Jesus did for us: God gave up His own Son to the pain and agony of the cross, but because of the resurrection, this makes our suffering and hardship an opportunity to imitate the love of God in Christ. We may be accounted as "sheep for the slaughter," but in the Lamb of God who was slain, we are "more than conquerors," completely victorious through Him who loved us.

Paul's desire to be "cursed" is a desire to die for them, love them, sacrifice and be sacrificed for them not in a fatalistic, Hellenistic, mock-heroism but rather in the certain hope of the resurrection and the invincible love of God in Jesus.

If God's love is invincible, then we can lay our lives down for one another, for the lost, for our enemies. If we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus, then we too can become curses like our Savior who bore our curse on the cross for us. In Him, we are freed to give our lives away fearlessly and gladly.

Understanding the fierce love of God drives us to mission.


This Is Who You Are

We share this meal every week because Jesus told us to. But Jesus told us to share this meal because it was meant to define us and redefine us. This meal is who we are on many levels. We are disciples of Jesus, we are witnesses of His resurrection. This is the feast of the new covenant, the Kingdom of God, the new world order in King Jesus. This meal insists upon forgiveness in the blood of the new covenant. It proclaims the gospel, the death of Christ until He comes. This meal looks forward, it anticipates a bigger banquet at the coming of the King. This meal means that your Father in heaven feeds you and cares for you, and you must not worry or fear. This meal means that you are part of a new family, brothers and sisters and mother. This meal is a love feast, a marriage feast an expression of God’s love for His people in the gift of His son, His love in the gift of the Spirit poured out upon the Church, the bride of Christ. This meal means that God loves sinners, and failures, and outcasts because you have been welcomed to His table. This is the table that the Lord your Shepherd prepares in the presence of your enemies. And we could go on and on, but the point is that this is who you are. You are God’s people, you are a forgiven people, you are a loved people, you are a reconciled people, you are a people cared for and provided for, you are an evangelistic people, people with a mission, a calling, witnesses of the resurrection, friends of God, full citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and so on. And therefore, you must put down all of the other identifications that haunt you. You must reject all of the sins and powers that claim authority over you. You are not a failure of a husband, you are a beloved son of God. You are not a bitter, nagging wife, you are a forgiven child of God. You are not a disobedient son or daughter. You are not a liar. You are not a cheater. You are not thief. You are not an alcoholic. You are not a porn addict. You are not a homosexual. You are not an adulterer. You are not a whore. You are none of those things. You are not damaged goods. You are not broken merchandise. Maybe you used to be, but not anymore. Now you are forgiven saints. You are washed and clean and there is no one who can bring a charge against you. Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. But you may be thinking, but I still struggle with some of these sins. They still haunt me and trouble me. Yes, but the question is, whose word do you believe? Whose power do you trust? God says you are justified. You are innocent. You are forgiven. This meal is who you are. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice, and then go and sin no more.


Second Sunday in Epiphany: Rom. 8:35-9:5

The love of God in Christ compels us to love Him and to love His people, making His life present in this world. But this love is also the power of God in us and through us to bring reconciliation to the world. Epiphany is all about the revelation of this justice of God in the love of Christ (Rom. 1:17).

The Text:
The gospel of God revealed in Jesus means that God is for us and no opposition can trump His love (8:31-34). But this doesn’t mean that His people face no challenges or injustice. In fact, Paul recognizes that following Jesus is likely to get you condemned, with charges brought against you, but these cannot separate us from His love because Jesus is risen (8:34-35). Paul points to Psalm 44 where the psalmist remembers how God both delivered and saved His people (Ps. 44:1-8) and then also cast off His people and scattered them among enemy nations (Ps. 44:9-16). But the psalmist insists that he and his people have not forgotten God or broken covenant, though all these things have come upon them (Ps. 44:17-19). And here Paul quotes the psalmist saying that they are like “sheep for the slaughter” (Ps. 44:22) and therefore they cry out for redemption and deliverance (Ps. 44:23-26). But Paul puts this Jewish psalm in the mouth of Christians in Rome now facing the persecution of enemy Jews, and he insists that Christians are completely victorious because of Jesus (Rom. 8:37). This is because Paul is persuaded that they cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ; it is more powerful than any threat or enemy (Rom. 8:38-39). But it is this confidence that drives Paul to go on the offensive, to see his enemies as an opportunity to display the power and justice of God. Paul has such great sorrow and continual grief for his enemies that he could even wish to be “cursed” for them (Rom. 9:3). Paul longs to imitate and see the power of the love of God which was manifested when He did not spare His own Son (Rom. 8:32). In Christ, all “sheep for the slaughter” are united to the Lamb who was slain, and their love and sacrifice for the lost become God’s means of triumph over evil. What the Old Covenant was meant to teach has arrived in power in Jesus and His Spirit: love turns enemies into friends (Rom. 5:6-11).

Parish Life
Jesus said: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Our love and care for one another is to be consciously evangelistic and not clickish. The world delights in clicks as false forms of security, but the only safe place is in the love of God. We are still working to hit our stride with parish life, but the point is to organize centers of fellowship, Bible study, prayer, evangelism, and mercy.

Prayer for the Lost
Nothing reveals our hearts more honestly than our prayer. If the Holy Spirit were to bear witness in your conscience, what causes you great sorrow and continual grief in your heart (cf. Rom. 9:1-2)? There may be many things in a fallen world, but somewhere up near the top ought to be the enemies of the gospel and the hellish lives that unbelief always brings with it. Because this is crucial to any attempts at reconciliation and evangelism, the elders are working on scheduling regular days of fasting and prayer particularly for those who have left the faith, as well as more broadly for those who walk as enemies of the light (cf. Phil. 3:18).


Thirsty for God

Why are we here? Why have you come? Why did you hurry to get dressed and eat breakfast and bustle the kids into the car? You are here because Your God has called you here. You are here because the Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit is Your God, and you have no other God, and He has promised to meet you here today. You are gathered here at the first light, early on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the beginning of the new world on the day our Lord rose from the dead. But you are here because you are thirsty. Your soul is thirsty. We are here because our flesh longs for God in a dry and thirst land. And we have come to His sanctuary to see His power and glory. This means that we come eagerly, expectantly. We gather hungry looking for food, desperate looking for love, weary looking for rest. We serve the God of many blessings, countless blessings, and we have enjoyed those blessings this week: family, friendship, food, laughter, shelter, work, sleep and much more. And while we must not forget these gifts, we must not allow any of them to be substituted for the Giver. These are true gifts, good gifts, abundant gifts, and we can and should revel in them all. But if we understand them as gifts they must drive us to the Giver. If He gives such grace, our souls should long for Him.

“O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” (Ps. 63:1-2)


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Look, Dad, Jesus is God!

Regularly, my children remind me that Jesus is God.

I ask them, "Who came to die to take away our sins?" And one of them will say, "God." And frequently, I find myself clarifying their answer, giving it an emendation with something like, "right, Jesus." But very quickly I usually get the counter clarification that "Jesus is God, Dad." And they're really very insistent about this. Some of this goes back to one of the first theological conversations I had with my son when I think he was about two years old. We had a brief Arian controversy break out at the dinner table regarding the divinity of Christ, but in the end, orthodoxy won out and my son embraced the Nicene formula.

But it's still striking. Yes, Jesus is God, but my instinct is to clarify that Jesus is a particular way that God has revealed Himself, that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. I tend to want to nuance their answers a bit. But they insist: Jesus is God, Dad.

And I'm beginning to think that sometimes my son intentionally answers my questions this way. I think sometimes he deliberately answers my question which obviously begs for the response "Jesus" with the answer "God." e.g. Whose birthday is on Christmas, son? "God's." I haven't called him on it yet, but I'm deeply suspicious. Not that this causes me any deep trouble or concern, mind you. But this is the sort of pondering that us fathers get to do. What does it all mean?

I think some of it is a fascination with the idea of the Trinity. It's a reoccurring question especially when I read/say things about Jesus loving God or praying to God or obeying God. The kids apparently have little radars that go off to catch this oddity: "But Jesus is God!" they exclaim and laugh. This is absurd their laughing eyes seem to say. And we review the Trinity, we talk through the story of Christ's baptism, the transfiguration, the crucifixion, Pentecost, etc. And it's all good. They all agree that it must all be true, but they never really stop smiling about how funny it is. It never seems to get old, and we cover the same material again and again, and it's still funny. And they shake their heads at me smiling and laughing like it's one of the best jokes they've ever heard.

But I wonder if some of it is also just pure and simple excitement and wonder in the fact of Christmas, the surprise of the Incarnation. It's so easy to say that Jesus is God in a perfunctory way as if that's normal, as if that's just to be expected. Of course he's God, I almost feel myself saying sometimes as my daughter flashes her wide, brown eyes at me, reminding me. Don't forget the surprise, Dad.

And that's just it, God as man continues to be a present, a surprise, all wrapped and waiting to be opened. And we do open it, and Jesus reveals the fullness of God to us. But almost as quickly as we unwrap the Gift, there He is in the gospels teaching and healing and dying and rising again, all wrapped up, ready to be opened again. And again, and again, and again.

And then it doesn't seem quite so ridiculous for my children to remind me over and over and over. I think children frequently understand gifts a lot better than grown ups. They can spot a present all the way across the room. And every time I ask about Him, they want to rip off the paper and be surprised again. It's God! Look, Dad, Jesus is God!


Reformission Rev. Review Pt. 4

Driscoll notes that it is easy for leaders to be distracted by their own well meaning people. People call in the middle of the night with crises. People come into the office sobbing with stories of sin and struggle. People have interpersonal tangles that they would like you to dedicate several hours a week to. People want to be "good friends" with the pastor and spend time together regularly.

And the point isn't to be heartless or unfeeling or unavailable. Pastors are shepherds, and they must shepherd the sheep. And sheep wander off. Sheep get into trouble. Sheep need lots of care and love and time.

But every pastor must quickly learn that they cannot do everything. And if pastors cannot do everything for everyone in the church, then of necessity, they must quickly learn to prioritize. And just to be clear, this means saying "no" to some things, some people, some real needs, some hard cases. Sometimes it means not answering the phone, not responding to emails, requests, whatever.

Of course, pastors must remain dedicated to loving their people, must remain "given to hospitality," and must not be rude or unkind. But pastors cannot do everything, and pastors who try to do everything will fail and they will burn out and in the end will actually do their congregations more harm than good.

This principle is always true, even in small churches, but this principle gets more and more obvious and important the larger the church grows. A pastor can know his flock fairly well when it is fairly small. He can fairly routinely make his way around through the congregation, checking in with them, giving counsel, and spending time with them. I remember in the first church I pastored, a mission work, there were maybe 28 people in worship if everyone came. Even in a tiny mission work like that, pastors must not delusionally think that they can do everything, but they can get to know their people and visit with them regularly. But I also remember the last time we had the whole church over to our apartment. Thankfully the weather was nice, and the fifty plus people could spill out into the yard. My wife and I realized we wouldn't be able to do that anymore. And while our hospitality remained regular, the schedule got longer and longer. While we might have been able to cycle through everyone in a month or two when we first arrived, by the time we were preparing to leave, it would have taken three or four months to make it through everyone.

When we arrived back in Moscow at Trinity to serve as one of the pastors here, I believe the congregation was a little over two hundred at the time. I remember Jenny asking at one point (with some trepidation), "How are we going to be able to have everyone over?" She didn't mean all at once, just how could we schedule or plan to visit with everyone in the church? And I told her that we wouldn't because we couldn't. Over the course of the two and a half years since we've been at Trinity, the congregation has continued to grow, and with over three hundred people regularly in worship, it's just not possible to know everyone really well.

Driscoll recounts similar realizations as Mars Hill grew. He relates how at one point they even had close friends drop by one night to tell them that they were leaving the church. And the reason they were leaving was because the Driscolls hadn't been spending much time with them any more. Whatever questions we may have for them, the point is that particularly as congregations grow, pastors can't be best friends with everyone in the church. Just as a side note: Where God provides close friends for pastors and their wives and families within larger congregations, this is itself a particularly significant ministry to pastors and their families. And sometimes these relationships are crucial means of grace at specific times but can also providentially shift and change over time. This must be received with thankful hearts, commended, and people need to guard against any feelings of offense or bitterness or rivalry.

Furthermore and even more importantly, pastors can't do all the work of ministry in the church because that is not how a healthy church will grow. But the point that Driscoll makes that is a really helpful reminder is that this is the way it's supposed to be anyway. Pastors can't and shouldn't do all the ministry because they aren't the only ministers.

In fact, Driscoll points to Ephesians 4 where Paul says that Jesus gave His Spirit to the Church in the form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). In other words, the ministry of pastors and teachers is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. And I'll just say it one more time to be clear: The saints are to be actively involved in the work of ministry. Of course pastors and teachers are saints too, and they have an important ministry also. But their ministry is to equip the rest of the saints to do ministry. Why? So that the body of Christ might be edified, built up. Literally, the word means to build a house. The way churches get built is by pastors equipping the saints to do the work of ministry. And Paul continues by explaining that this is how the body of Christ will grow up and grow together. If churches want to grow up and grow together, then the saints must be equipped.

Pastors must train and equip by doing and setting an example, but this means that faithful pastors must be training other men to be elders, deacons, and laymen who will then go out and do counseling and evangelism and mercy ministry in the church and outside the church (and likewise the women).

Driscoll fairly candidly admits that at various points in his ministry he was trying to do too much, and it had ramifications for his own health and family life. This is a good warning.

But overwhelmingly, I found this reminder to be freeing and liberating. When Jethro confronted Moses about this same problem, Jethro was a wise elder/father in-law and could see the burn out coming a mile away. Jethro's advice was good news. It was gospel wisdom. And the Jethro principle still stands as basic, essential wisdom for the body of Christ.

Now I'm a big fan of Richard Baxter style pastoral ministry, and I do think that Driscoll's advice should be balanced with Baxter's pastoral heart. It would seem a little strange to me for a pastor to never engage in counseling or pastoral care, though I know in some churches there are pastors who only preach and other pastors who only counsel. I would think that some interaction with the needs and challenges of the congregation remains important and strategic, but the principle of delegation and sharing the load and equipping the saints to do ministry stands. And this is exactly what the apostles did in Acts 6. Whether or not those seven men are "deacons" in the technical sense, they are certainly deacons in as much as they are alleviating the load of the apostles.

Someone might have objected that the apostles were heartless for neglecting the needs of the widows. Wasn't it the apostle James who insisted that pure and undefiled religion was the care of orphans and widows? And there may be some hyper-Baxters who would have a hard time letting go of the ministry to widows: what if it falls apart? What if they don't get cared for? But the apostles (James included) said it would not be right for them to worry about that ministry. They were called to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2-4). That's a wonderful apostolic example set for many pastors.

Train other saints to do the work of ministry. Train other saints to counsel, to do mercy ministry, to help with pastoral care, to do administrative work, to organize events, whatever. And of course gifts and interests will vary from pastor to pastor and that will color this principle in different ways, but the pastor's job boiled down is to pray and preach.

The last thought on this is that pastors have to remember their own families as the first members of their congregation. The pastoral care must begin there. Pastors who have Richard Baxter as their hero must begin being Richard Baxter in their own homes, dating their wives, loving their children, and not neglecting their physical and spiritual wellbeing. The pastor's home is his first parish. Pastors can't do everything, but it shouldn't even be a question about which members of your congregation you should spend time with first. Love your wife so that she is not a de facto widow; love your children so that they are not de facto orphans. This is pure and undefiled religion.

Anyway, good stuff from Driscoll: Leaders, don't be distracted. You can't do everything. So equip the saints. Pray and preach and love your people. And trust Jesus to build His Church.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Dealing with Porn and Lust Part 3

So we have established that the Biblical pattern of repentance is putting off the old man and putting on the new man. And frequently it is the new man that drives out the old man. It is the active pursuit of faithfulness and service and ministry that actually shakes off the demons of sin. Obviously hypocrisy must never be indulged. Do not stand up and condemn sins that you have domesticated in your own life. Dealing with sin is not the same thing as making friends with it and taming it. Dealing with sin means killing it, running from it, crying out to God for deliverance from it. But when you're running toward Christ and your sin is chasing you, that is not hypocrisy, that is faithfulness, and God promises to bless your flight.

The sins of lust and porn are at least in part grounded in fundamental laziness. This is because there is a gift of God called sex, and that gift is to be received and enjoyed and celebrated in the context of marriage. And lusting after pornstars is trying to get these gifts on the black market. These sins are fundamentally lazy because it takes real, honest, hard work to love a flesh and blood woman, and it takes even more work to keep her. It's easier to look at pictures and pretend. It's easier to serve yourself than to serve another person. And laziness is best friends with lack-of-self-control. When you are lazy, you are not in control of your life, your life is being ruled by the moment, by the television, by your computer. You are at the mercy of whatever comes next, whatever pops up next, whatever comes on next. But the fruit of the Spirit is love and this love exhibits self-control. This love has discipline, direction, mission. This is because this Love is the person of the Holy Spirit driving us to walk worthy of the calling with which we were called.

So here's the point: When a guy is struggling with having self-control on his computer, I ask him, "Where else are you struggling with self-control? Where else are you being lazy with your time and decisions? How much do you drink? How much do you smoke? What are your eating habits? Study habits? Consumption habits in general?"

You cannot refuse to exercise and then wonder why you are not strong. You can't be lazy all day long in other areas and then expect to be a disciplined, hard worker when it comes to women and sex. And this means that one of the ways that you should attack the sin of lust is through hard work and discipline. Set limits: time limits, drink limits, food limits, whatever, and you don't have to get all legalistic about it. Of course there are Biblical standards which must be observed, but practice makes perfect. When people practice saying "no" when they don't have to, this exercises self-control muscles which will most certainly be needed later in other contexts. But if all you ever say is "yes" and "more" why do you think you will suddenly have an outbreak of self control when it really matters?

Laziness in one area of life is rarely isolated. Cultivate discipline. Get up at reasonable hours, go to bed at reasonable hours, work hard at your job, pay your bills on time, don't over eat/drink/smoke/whatever, read your Bible, spend time in prayer consistently. Make a schedule and stick to it. And as you do this, do not do this as though this is a magic formula for porn deliverance. It isn't. Do this in faith, do this before the Lord, and do it prayerfully.

"O God, I'm scheduling this week carefully because I want to learn self-control and discipline so that I can be a real man and learn to love a real woman. Help me keep my word and do this for your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen."

And if you're already married, then you already know the name of that real woman, and you can insert her name in the prayer and get busy loving her.

Here are Part 1 and Part 2.


First Sunday of Epiphany: 1 Cor. 12:27-13:3, Eph. 4:1-16

The Feast of Epiphany is the culmination of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates what it means for God to be present, to reveal Himself, to be manifested to the world. Last week, we considered John’s exhortations to receive the love of God and to walk in that love. We continue a similar theme this morning, thinking about the Church as the Body of Christ, the continuing manifestation of God’s Incarnation in the world.

The Texts:
Eph. 4 and 1 Cor. 12-13 have a number of obvious similarities. Both are concerned about the body of Christ, the gifts of the Spirit, and the primacy of love. Beginning with 1 Cor. 12-13, we should notice that love is the way gifts get sorted out. Not everyone does the same thing (12:29-30), and people can try to do things that aren’t their gig (13:1). And the difference is love (13:2-3). And this love is the love of God filling up God’s people and overflowing to everyone around them. The name of this love is the Holy Spirit (12:6-13). Paul has the same love in mind in Eph. 4:1-2, but Christ manifests His gifts differently in everyone (4:7, 11). But this gift manifests itself in love (4:15-16). Finally, notice how the gifts cascade out in love from apostles to teachers (4:11) for the equipping of the saints for the building of the church (4:12). Pastors don’t build churches; saints build churches. Pastors and elders equip saints to do the work of ministry. To be a Christian is to join the work of ministry. And Paul says that this is necessary for the unity of the Church and the maturity of the Church (4:13-14). In order for the Church to grow up into unity and maturity, the saints must be equipped and the saints must do the ministry. This is why ministry is one of the ways we fight sin and squabbles (Eph. 4:25-32).
Type rest of the post here
Jesus, Gifts, Interests, and Needs
How do you know what you’re supposed to be doing? Should you keep doing what you’re doing now? Should you go back to school? Should you sell the house and move across the country? Across the world? Should you have more kids? Should you give thanks for the ones you have and then look for ways to serve other families? Should you spend more time with your own family? Should you spend more time with your neighbors? Should you invest more energy in your hobbies? Work longer hours to have more to give to missions? And we could extend these questions generally to our congregation: What should Trinity be growing up into? Should we spend more energy and resources on ministry to the poor? Should we spend more energy and resources on missions? Should we spend more energy and resources on Christian education? The Biblical principle is not to worry about these questions but rather to “Seek first the Kingdom…” (Mt. 6:33) and “Delight yourself in the Lord…” (Ps. 37:4). Therefore, we begin with Jesus and His Kingdom and then we prayerfully consider and seek counsel regarding our gifts and interests and the needs around us. The love of God and neighbor orients and directs our gifts.

For the Ministry, For the Kingdom
Regardless, we are a congregation overwhelmed by the love of the Triune God in Christ, and we are therefore committed to returning this love to our King and overflowing to the Palouse. And since the love of Christ is no small thing, we need to be thinking big and long term about how we want to see the love of Jesus transform this community. This means we want to come here and offer all that we are to the Lord (that’s what the offertory means), and then be commissioned to use our gifts for Jesus.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Dealing with Porn and Lust Part 2

I believe in shotgun style repentance, which is to say most people do best to use a scatter shot approach to dealing with sin. And frequently God delivers us from sin through a number of different means all working together, pushing and pulling us into sanctification. And for those who have experienced this grace, we look back and it's never easy to explain how or why we repented of any of our sins. There may be points where specific decisions were made and promises kept, but the cumulative effect of grace is always thankful hearts, overflowing with gratitude, recognizing the miraculous nature of deliverance.

One side of dealing with the sin of lust is amputation -- extreme violence to the limbs and organs facilitating sin. And so on the one hand, sin should be dealt with head on, no holds barred: confession, restitution, moving away, quitting your job, getting rid of your computer, cancelling the internet, cable, phone, etc., whatever it takes.

But repentance is always at least two acts in one: putting off and putting on. And I'll be covering this in more detail in a future post, but the point I want to make here is that both must be done. We must always put off sin and put on Christ. The principle here is found in Ephesians 4:17-32. Paul says to put off the old man and put on the new man. In fact, as Paul gives examples of what he means, it becomes clear that putting on the new man, putting on Christ is one of the central ways we put off sin and put off the old man. In other words, when you grab hold of Jesus, whatever was in your hand before comes loose. You can't hold that sin and hold Christ at the same time. You can't speak the truth and lie at the same time. You can't steal and give to those in need at the same time. You can't be bitter and angry and forgiving and kind all at the same time. Jesus and sin just don't mix.

But this means that one of the things sinners must learn to do is pay no attention to their sin. One of the Devil's strategies is to distract God's people with their ugly hearts. But we must not let our sins distract us. And particularly repulsive sins like porn are not only disgusting but also humiliating. No man delights in the thought of confessing the lust in his heart; because we are descended from Adam, because we have rejected the grace of God, because we have loved the darkness, there is a lot of darkness in our hearts.

But deliverance from sin does not come from looking at our sin; it comes from looking to Christ. Deliverance from our disgusting infatuation with darkness doesn't come from squinting at the darkness. In the darkness, you can't see anything. In the darkness, everything is black, everything is dark. You can only see if you look to the light. And it's the same deal with every sin, but perhaps more pointedly when the sin seems particularly embarrassing.

Masturbating while watching porn is gross and vile and guys who struggle with patterns of this feel guilty, ashamed, humiliated, and disgusting. And the Devil wants you to wallow in that shame. But Jesus wants you to get out of it. He bled and died for our all our disgusting sin, and it's only pride and unbelief that refuses to look to Him.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that in addition to cutting of your hand and plucking out your eye, you need to love Christ, love His people, and get busy living like a Christian. Now if you're in leadership in a church, depending on the severity of the problem you may need to step down or take a sabbatical, but that doesn't stop you from living like a follower of Jesus. There may be real and lasting consequences to sin, but that doesn't stop anyone from loving Jesus, loving His people, and loving the lost and the lonely. Part of the slavery of sin is making sinners feel dirty and defiled such that they pull back, they stop fellowshipping with believers, they stop volunteering to serve, they refuse to share their faith with unbelievers. But that's like refusing medicine because you're sick.

You think you're unworthy; you're a hypocrite; you're a liar. But that's only true if you don't hate your sin, if you're not fighting your sin. Well, you say, I wasn't fighting sin last night when that page popped up on my computer. Yeah, well what are you doing right now? What are you going to do today? Instead of surfing around aimlessly on the web at 2 in the morning, why don't you start going to bed at a reasonable hour and planning to fellowship with some godly friends? Why don't you find a homeless shelter to volunteer at? Why don't you go to a Bible study? Spend time in prayer, memorize Scripture, invite your neighbors over for dinner, go do something constructive, something pleasing to God.

The point is that we always need to repent of sin, but repentance means putting off sin and frequently you cannot put off sin unless you are busy putting on Christ. You cannot let go of sin, unless you are grabbing hold of Jesus.

So don't let your lust distract you. Jesus died to put that sin to death. Amputate the sin and look to Christ. Get rid of your laptop and start going to a Bible study. Drop your cable and start volunteering at the local crisis pregnancy center. Cancel the data plan on your phone and call up one of the deacons and see if you can help with anything.

And don't say you're such a lousy stinking sinner. Of course you are, that's why you need Jesus. And when you recognize the depth of your need, when you see how badly you need the grace of Jesus, what better time to try to convince your unbelieving neighbors of their need for a Savior? That's not hypocrisy; that's honest, heartfelt love for the gospel.

Part 1 can be found here.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Reformission Rev. Review Pt. 3

I really appreciated Driscoll's take on spiritual gifts, particularly those that seem a bit more unusual or more miraculous than others. Driscoll notes that in the early days of the church, there were at least a few occasions where he believes demons were attacking the church plant. He recounts a few close calls in church where he had to do some fast thinking and preaching on his feet to deal with people apparently sent from the enemy or possessed by one of his spirits. Likewise, Driscoll talks about a number of strangely vivid dreams that were apparently prophetic in nature, and on at least one occasion the Spirit leading him to a woman whom he had never met before who was being abused by her boyfriend.

There were several things impressive and refreshing about Driscoll's take on this stuff. First, he isn't sensational at all. He comes off as the first skeptic, and because he's skeptical of his own take on this kind of stuff, he readily gets advice, feedback and accountability from his fellow elders, pastors, and wife. Secondly, he says he grew up in the Roman Catholic church and was converted in college, and has never really been a "pentecostal" sort. He wasn't out looking for something weird or supernatural, but in the last analysis concludes that these gifts are given by God to various people at various times in His Church and they should be received and used. So obviously, as he notes, he isn't a "cessationist" although he is clear that he believes that the Bible is the final authority on everything, the canon is closed, and that these gifts should be exercised within and under the accountability of godly elders and friends.

When I was ordained and when I was interviewed for pastoral ministry at Trinity, I registered my stance on "cessationism" as strongly qualified. While I recognized that certain manifestations of miraculous gifts were unique to the first generation of apostles (writing the New Testament, for example, and perhaps some of the healing and prophetic gifts to confirm their authority to do so), I nevertheless was and continue to be uncomfortable insisting that all miraculous gifts have ceased from the Church. Church history is just too plum full of odd stories and miraculous interventions. Just read a missionary biography for instance. Lastly, this isn't a central theme of the book by any stretch, but just as it assumes a subtle but authentic role in Driscoll's story, it apparently remains a subtle but significant part of life at Mars Hill. And there's something about that subtlety that seems, again, refreshing and biblical. The error of the "pentecostals" is to make these sign gifts the center of Christian life and experience, but the error of cessationists is to reject them entirely and pretend they don't exist. We need a biblical balance between these two extremes.

People have and do abuse and misuse the gifts of the Spirit, and others lie and oppress and divide the body through gimmicks and shows. But this doesn't mean that God isn't free to do what He wants. He isn't bound by our tidy little theological boxes. But the standard is always love, and this means that love sees the dangers and potential challenges of strange and miraculous interventions and love sees how and when to receive the gifts of God for the blessing of His Church. And because the love of Christ is always manifested in love for His Bride, authentic spiritual gifts will always delight in real accountability and submission to pastors and elders and the communion of the saints. People who view miraculous gifts as a license to disregard godly elders have already proven their gifts to be a sham.

You can read parts 1 and 2 here and here.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Dealing with Porn and Lust Part 1

As others have noted, we live in a pornified culture. We live in a world that is obsessed with sex, or more accurately, we live in a world that is obsessed with trying to find absolute fulfillment and meaning in orgasms. We are like children gorging ourselves on candy and desserts, and we wonder why we feel so awful and why we never really feel satisfied, why we can never get enough. But our appetites ought to drive us to Christ, for all the joys and pleasures of created hunger and passion, all of it ultimately points us to the God Who alone can satisfy our hunger and thirst.

But there is real slavery in the sin of lust, and many men (and women) find themselves trapped in patterns of lust, guilt, and porn. I'm frequently asked about how guys should deal with this. Sometimes guys come and ask for advice and accountability for themselves, and sometimes I get questions from friends of guys who really need help, who really struggle to be pure.

So what does the Bible say about dealing with slavery to porn/lust? The following is the first of several posts on this topic.

First, Jesus says that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out (Mt. 5:30). And of course it should not be missed that Jesus says this right after talking about men committing adultery with women in their hearts. Jesus is not so naive as to miss the fact that eyes and hands are frequently involved in the sin of lust.

When Jesus repeats this principle in a slightly different context, He says that it is better for you to enter life maimed than to be cast into hell with both of your eyes and hands (Mt. 18:8-9).

But people are too quick to dismiss these words as exaggerations and hyperbole. Surely Jesus is not actually encouraging self mutilation, is He? Well, perhaps not, but He doesn't mean if your hand causes you to sin, you should try to find an accountability partner. If Jesus urges dismemberment, we ought to be thinking of things that are extreme and painful.

In other words, Jesus is urging His followers to wage war on the lusts of the flesh. Don't show any pity. Cut them off. Don't be nice to your sin. Don't let your eye pity that little demon. But too many guys just feel guilty and wallow around in their inability, feeling bad for themselves, and wishing they could change and then proceed to do nothing or next to nothing about it.

Where do you live? Who do you live with? Where is your computer? What are the usual patterns to your sin? Now get out your sword and start hacking. Do you need to move? Do you need to find new roommates? Do you need to sleep with your bedroom door open and the light on? Should you get rid of the internet, drop your laptop computer out of the window, or get all your bank statements sent to your mom?

The point is if Jesus says you should do something extreme, then don't go do something reasonable and tame. You can't go parlay a peace treaty with the devil. If you aren't planning extreme violence against your sin then you have already failed. The first step in battling sin is learning to hate it. And if you aren't ready to slay the dragon, then you aren't really fighting even if you're all dressed up for battle.

So talk to your pastor, talk to your wife, talk to trusted friends who have the guts to really call you on the mat, who would not think twice to turn you in to the police or the elders. Then start cutting off all the hands and eyes that are enabling this sin. Cancel your cable, turn off the electricity in your home for a month, take cold showers, move across the country, turn yourself into the police, get a new job, get rid of your cell phone, whatever it takes.

And if you think moving across the country, getting a new job, or getting rid of your computer just seems a little too extreme, then you are already disobeying the Lord Jesus. It would be better to enter life without a house, without a phone, without a job, without a computer than to be cast into hell with all those millstones dragging you down.

It should be remembered that Jesus does not ask us to do things that are impossible. He doesn't invite us to follow Him and then require what we cannot do. Jesus calls us to follow Him, and that call is the grace we need to obey. His invitation is His assurance that we can obey. You cannot obey on your own. You cannot muster this purity on your own. But when God speaks, creation bursts into existence; when Jesus speaks, new creations explode into being. And when God calls us to repent of our sins, He does so as the God of grace, the God of Resurrection, the God of the Exodus, the God whose Word is enough. If Jesus tells you to get out of the boat and walk on water then you can and you should but don't look at the wind and the waves. Keep your eyes fixed on Him.

You can read the other parts in this series here and here.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Reformission Rev. Review Pt. 2

In the early days, Driscoll recounts how some of their biggest challenges seemed to surround finding a good music leader. He recounts various musicians, drummers, and guitarists who filled the positions at various points in the history of Mars Hill. While I grew up in a fairly contemporary Christian worship music scene (true confessions: I played bass guitar for our church's worship team for a few years), I have over the years become more and more convinced that most of what is offered under that name is less than helpful, even though I am always open to finding good, new worship music (and I think the church should be committed to producing quality, new worship music/songs).

I have some familiarity with the worship music scene at Mars Hill -- I've listened to a few of the recordings posted on the Resurgence website -- (so I wasn't really surprised), but my initial reaction was honestly still that these "struggles" seemed trivial, sort of part of the immaturity of the early days of the church plant. Sort of like a young high school punk complaining that his garage band hasn't gotten any gigs. I'm tempted to tell the kid to grow up and get a job. Get married, have some kids, and join the *real* world. I admit that I was *tempted* to feel the same away about the Mars Hill music leader struggles. Grow up and find a hymnal, I sort of wanted to say. But on second thought, it's just a fact that music and worship is really important to God, and even though I would quibble with the electric guitars and garage band style of worship music, it dawned on me that this concern and trial was actually in some ways a really good sign that the church was on the right track.

Worship is central; God loves music. God loves when His people sing to Him with joy and love in their hearts. This doesn't dismiss the quality and culture issues, but the fact of the matter is that there are many believers who worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth with guitars and drums who will entire the Kingdom before the proud antics of Christians with high brow organs and violins. And furthermore, in so far as these struggles were borne out of a heartfelt love for Jesus and a desire to worship Him, Jesus was pleased with their baby steps and believers who walk in the obsessed love of Christ grow up into maturity. And this goes for all of us, whether we're plinking out old hymns on a piano or making a glorious ruckus on a Fender.

You can read the first part of this review here.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets

In the old theonomy discussions, Mt. 5:17 always played a prominent role. In what sense does Jesus "fulfill" the law and the prophets? But the word "fulfill" is something of a key term in Matthew's gospel. The Greek word PLAYRAO is used 16 times in Matthew’s gospel, and in 13 of those occurrences, Matthew uses the word to describe how Jesus’ own actions or words “fulfill” what was spoken in the Law and Prophets and Writings of the Hebrew Scriptures: E.g. “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet…” (Mt. 1:22, cf. 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 5:17, 26:54, etc.).

Given the fact that Jesus is explicitly and implicitly reenacting the story of Israel, it does not seem likely that Matthew used this word 13 times accidentally. 12 is the number of the tribes of Israel, and 13 suggests that Jesus is the fulfillment of the old Israel plus one. He is Israel and yet something far greater.

But if one wanted to understand what Jesus meant by not coming to destroy the law and the prophets but rather has come to "fulfill" the law and the prophets, it seems like the first step would be to do a thorough exegetical study of all those other uses. When Matthew says Joseph and Mary's flight to Egypt is a "fulfillment" of Hosea's prophecy, "Out of Egypt, I have called my son...," we ought to look at that "fulfillment" if we want to understand how Jesus came to "fulfill" the law and the prophets and not destroy them.


Second Sunday in Christmas: 1 Jn. 4:1-21

Christmas is all about the love of God for His people, for the world, and if we understand this, our response must be love for God and for His people and for the world.

The Text:
John says that false prophets have gone out into the world, filled with the spirit of antichrist, who deny that Christ has come in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:1-3). But He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (4:4). And we can tell who people belong to by the voices they listen to (4:5-6). John exhorts the Church to love one another because this is the mark of the life of God: God is love (4:7-8). Christmas and Easter are the great manifestations of the love of God (4:9-10), and when people get that, they love one another (4:11). This is because even though no one has ever seen God, God lives on earth in people who have been engulfed in the love of the Father and Son through the Spirit (4:12-14). We may not have seen God, but we have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son (4:12, 14-15). And this is why as we love Him and one another, God lives in us, so that “as He is, so are we in this world” (4:16-17). The opposite of love is fear, and fear is obsessed with punishment (4:18, cf. Mt. 25:46). We do not love Him out of fear but because He loves us (4:19), and our love of God is proven by our love for the people right in front of us (4:20-21). The proof of Christmas is in our love for God in Christ as He is present in those around us. This is why John is so worked up about the spirit of antichrist who denies Christ came in the flesh. In the incarnation we have seen God by the power of the Spirit, but John knows that this incarnating Spirit did not finish when Jesus ascended into heaven. Rather, that same incarnating, Christmas Spirit was poured out on all flesh at Pentecost. While Jesus is in heaven in His flesh, the Spirit is making Him present here in this world in and through the flesh of the saints.

Discipleship Love
Being a Christian means being a disciple; it means we have left everything for Jesus our Master. But our temptation in the Reformed tradition is to overemphasize the intellectual side of love, to the detriment of the rest of human experience. But the greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are, not just our minds (Dt. 6:5, Mt. 22:37), and Jesus insists that loving Him is central to following Him (Jn. 21:15-19). Paul connects knowledge, love, and the presence of God as well (Eph. 3:17-19). And notice all the plurals.

Obsessive Love
Paul picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 5 as well where he is simultaneously defending his own credentials and assuring the Corinthians of the truth of the gospel. And the thing that connects these two is the Spirit of God who is their guarantee (cf. 1 Jn. 4:12-13). And this Spirit is the love of Christ compelling them and making them seem crazy (2 Cor. 5:13-14). This same Spirit pours out many different gifts, but it is the same obsessive love of the Trinity at work in all (1 Cor. 12-13). Therefore, Christmas means knowing the love of God in Christ and loving one another (1 Jn. 4:9-11).