Tuesday, March 30, 2010

counterfeit gospels

Tullian Tchividjian writes in the Gospel Coalition Blog:

"In one of [Paul Tripp's] books (co-authored with Tim Lane), How People Change, he identifies seven counterfeit gospels—-”religious” ways we try and “justify” or “save” ourselves apart from the gospel of grace. I found these unbelievably helpful. Which one (or two, or three) of these do you tend to gravitate towards?"

Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”

Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”

Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”

Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”

Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”

Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs.”

Social-ism. “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Proverbs a mini-guide to life

Tim Keller writes his observations on the book of Proverbs in the Redeemer City to City blog:

"In my regular, daily Bible reading over the past year I read through Proverbs 3, a passage I've studied and preached through many times. But during this reading, I realized that in verses 3 through 12 we have all the themes of the rest of the book, and therefore a kind of mini-guide to faithful living. There are five things that comprise a wise, godly life. They function both as means to becoming wise and godly as well as signs that you are growing into such a life:

1. Put your heart's deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart (Prov 3:3-5a)

2. Submit your whole mind to the Scripture. Don't think you know better than God's word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.

Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Prov 3:5b-6)

3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. (Prov 3:7-8)

4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Prov 3:9-10)

5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Prov 3:11-12)

"As I meditated on these five elements--rooted in his grace, obeying and delighting in his Word, humble before other people, sacrificially generous toward our neighbor, and steadfast in trials--I thought of Jesus. The New Testament tells us that the personified 'divine wisdom' of the Old Testament is actually Jesus (Mt 11:19.) And I realized that a) he showed the ultimate trust and faithfulness to God and to us by going to the cross, b) he was saturated with and shaped by Scripture, c) he was meek and lowly in heart (Mt. 11:28-30), d) he, though rich, became poor for us, e) and he bore his suffering, for us, without complaint. We can only grow in these five areas if you know you are saved by costly grace. That keeps you from idols, from self-sufficiency and pride, from selfishness with your things, and from crumbling under troubles. Jesus is wisdom personified, and believing his gospel brings these character qualities into your life.

"For a number of weeks I have been spending time praying for these five things for my family and my church leaders. There's no better way to instill these great things in your own heart, than to pray intensely for them in the lives of those you love." (--Tim Keller)

Friday, March 26, 2010

major construction ahead

“I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted him to do, and we should be obliged if he would leave us alone. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what he intended us to be when he made us... Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. … But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -- throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself. (C.S. Lewis)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

where it begins

Was struck by this quote today...

"You can organize marches and make your protests. It all comes to nothing, and makes not the slightest difference to anyone. But if you have a large number of individual Christians in a nation, or in the world, then and only then can you begin to expect Christian conduct on the international and national level. I do not listen to a man who tells me how to solve the world's problems if he cannot solve his own personal problems. If a man's home is in a state of discord, his opinions about the state of the nation or the state of the world are purely theoretical." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

current inks

I know you've been dying to see what inks I'm currently using in my fountain pens. Well, a picture is worth a thousand words...

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!"

(Psalm 65:4 ESV)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

on hyssop

"A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished,' and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:29-30 ESV)

The Apostle John in his gospel adds a detail not mentioned by the other gospel writers-- that the last drink offered to Jesus was extended on a woody stalk of hyssop. (Hyssop is an aromatic perennial which grows in Palestine, being an herb in the mint family.)

The gospel of John, though very readable to Greeks of the first century, was written by a Palestinian Jew and has many Old Testament references throughout, usually in the form of images (like the vine, the shepherd, the stone water pots, etc.) rather than direct quotes from the OT like Matthew. There are also elements of irony, such as Jesus speaking of the temple, referring to himself rather than the building, as his hearers presumed.

The mentioning of hyssop would trigger OT references in the mind of a Jewish reader. For example, the Passover...

"Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you." (Exodus 12:22-23)

Hyssop was used to sprinkle the water and blood for cleansing from leprosy (Lev 14), and for sprinkling from the defilement of death (Num 19). King David uses the figure of hyssop as an appeal for God's cleansing: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:7)

Most deaths in the OT were defiling rather than purifying. That is, death was something that brought defilement, from which cleansing was needed. The sacrificial deaths, on the other hand, brought cleansing and healing for those for whom the death was a substitute. The death of the Messiah, would itself be cleansing and healing, because it is the atoning sacrifice to which the other sacrifices foreshadowed (Isa. 53).

So, here at the crucifixion of Jesus we have a scene which outwardly looks like a public condemnation and immense defilement, yet John is alerting the reader to a detail that points to a deeper, divine plan. When a person of Jewish background read this account of Jesus' death, he would immediately catch the implication that the death of Jesus was not a martrydom or defilement, but rather his death brings cleansing and healing.

It's that death that cleanses you and me from sin and makes us God's people. The author of Hebrews makes mention of hyssop, as part of the initiation of the Mosaic covenant. Hyssop was used to sprinkle the blood onto his covenant people:

"For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.' And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Hebrews 9:19-22)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

finding the real self

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." (Romans 6:12-13 ESV)

"Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day, and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. ... Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage , ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him every thing else thrown in." (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Friday, March 12, 2010

halftime video

Virginia Tech 2009 halftime video, featuring among others, Hannah Pierce on cello. Now playing in Times Square.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

marriage quote

"In its nature, marriage is of perpetual obligation and can be dissolved in no way by the life of the parties but by some crime which wholly subverts its design. The scriptures mention two such: adultery, and willful, permanent desertion (Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 16:18; 1st Corinthians 7:15). Irratibility of temper, want of congeniality, ungodliness, scolding, penuriousness, insanity, incurable disease, helplessness or consent of parties can give no right to dissolve the marriage bond. The law of God is decisive. The laws of man should be no less so." (William S. Plumer, 1870)

Monday, March 8, 2010

reading notes

"Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. ... Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:13, 16 ESV)

On the danger of not preaching the gospel to church members we assume are truly converted, Mark Dever writes:

"...assumption on our part too often leads to presumption on theirs. That is, when we assume the Gospel instead of clarifying it, people who profess Christianity but don't understand or obey the Gospel are cordially allowed to presume their own conversion without examining themselves for evidence of it-- which may amount to nothing more than blissful damnation. Our ministries are ultimately about 'ensuring salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.'" (The Deliberate Church, p. 42)

Sometimes in pastoral counseling I will ask the counselee(s), "tell me why you think you are a Christian." The looks I get from that question! But it is so easy to live in a Christian culture, or from a Christian upbringing, or to know the lingo and to like the music... people can be self-deceived.

On the topic of "what is an evangelical" -- and perhaps the word has come to be emptied of meaning in the 21st century -- John Hannah summarizes the four characteristics of evangelicalism, along with a fifth characteristic added by Mark Noll...

"Evangelicalism", at least in its 20th century American form, is characterized by...
1) centrality and high view of the Scriptures
2) centrality and importance of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.
3) the importance of personal conversion.
4) the imperative to proclaim the gospel to all.
5) the importance of fellowship and community for spiritual growth.

This is certainly the air I breathed as a young Christian in the 1970s, and I hold to these as vital characteristics for Christians today. I know this is a generalization, and take it as such: I see #1 being attacked by the modern prophetic movement, #2 and #3 marginalized by the emergent movement, and #4 eroded by relativism in general. #5 still seems to be important -- everybody likes community and spiritual growth -- but it is not gospel-centered without #1 through #4.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

currently reading

The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander. (Crossway, 2005)

An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism by John D. Hannah. (Zondervan, 2009)

gospel stories

It's important, when reading the gospels, to realize that the individual stories are not strung together like so many beads taken randomly from the bag of the writer's experience.

In Mark, for example, the first 8 chapters have to do with a coming-of-sight regarding "who" Jesus is. But after Peter's confession (ch 8) and the transfiguration (ch 9), the rest of the gospel turns on "what" Jesus came to do. And it seems --at first-- impossible to see clearly that the glorious Messiah should be betrayed to wicked rulers and give himself over to an unjust trial and cruel death upon the Roman cross.

The disciples must come to grasp not only glory but humility. Just like the two-step miracle in chapter 8 ("I see men as trees walking"... a blurred vision that needs a second touch from the Master for full clarity) so the disciples must learn the character of service in the Kingdom.

So as I was reading in chapter 9 I came across these two events, which at first sight may seem unrelated:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

The disciples are pre-occupied with thoughts of pre-eminence in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. This leads to a discussion, a rather embarrassing discussion, in which Jesus teaches about childlike humility.

But pride (pride in ministry, no less) takes other forms. Comparing and ranking ourselves against one another in God's family is one form. There's another form: looking down upon, or excluding, outsiders who do not belong to our group. But as Jesus said, those who name his name, and see the power of his name for deliverance, will not likely prove to be enemies in the end. In fact, he says, even if someone gives us a glass of water because we are followers of Christ, that person will be rewarded.

So the gospel -- and both of these gospel stories -- teaches us that we cannot compare and rank ourselves with anyone, whether inside or outside of our ministry group. There is no place for pride in the Kingdom, and those who receive the gospel have nothing boast about ... except a wonderful King!

Friday, March 5, 2010

the gospel accepted, assumed, confused, lost...

I came upon a stimulating article by Mack Stiles, former InterVarsity staff worker, on "What's Happening to InterVarsity?"

There is definitely a tension in postmodern evangelicalism brought in by emergent church proponents (and others). Some of the criticisms are warranted, but there may be danger in throwing out the historic gospel and its centrality to the church's mandate.

Here is an insight that applies to any church or ministry...

"...you don't need much more than a cursory scan of history to see that solid Christian organizations can easily lose the gospel if they are not attentive. Losing the gospel doesn't happen all at once; it's more like a four-generation process.

"The gospel is accepted -->
The gospel is assumed -->
The gospel is confused -->
The gospel is lost.

"It is tragic for any generation to lose the gospel. But, as Philip Jensen says, the generation that assumes the gospel is the generation most responsible for the loss of the gospel."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

lev 26

Read chapter 26 of Leviticus this morning (cf Deut 28-29) re the blessings and judgments of covenant faithfulness, and unfaithfulness, respectively. Some observations:

--God seriously desires trust, humility and obedience from his people.

--He desires to bless his people with good relationships and joyful prosperity in his land.

--The punishments for disobedience come in stages, lesser to greater, which is evidence that they are intended to turn the people back to himself. His desire is restoration.

--Confession, repentance and restitution restore relation with God. He is faithful to his covenant and will not abandon his people.

--God cares for his creation and wants the land to have its sabbath rest. Creation is not to be abused.

--Only Jesus can fulfill completely what is expected in terms of obedience and righteousness before God. The older covenant gives way to the New. Jesus' nature miracles (e.g. feeding the 5000 where all ate and were satisfied) are evidences of this. These miracles are foreshadowings of creation blessing to come in the new heavens and new earth, "wherein righteousness dwells".

Monday, March 1, 2010

sunday sermon notes

From Joe Kelley's message:

Seven miracles of Jesus in the Gospel of John (and their applications)...

1. Water to wine (2:1-12) – Changes religious ceremony to the joy of a relationship; Jesus is Lord over nature.

2. Healing of the official’s son (4:43-54) – Gives life to the dying through the one condition of faith.

3. Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15) – Restores lost powers to the sinner.

4. Feeding 5000 (6:1-15) – Provides the bread of life; He sustains the life He creates.

5. Walking on water (6:16-24) – In the middle of our most trying circumstances He will come to us and bring calm.

6. Healing a man born blind (9:1-12) – As we obey, he opens our eyes to greater truth.

7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44) – He is the source of eternal life. The life He provides on earth will continue into eternity.