Wednesday, January 30, 2013

george mueller


"A human life, filled with the presence and power of God, is one of God's choicest gifts to His church and to the world. Things which are unseen and eternal seem, to the carnal man, distant and indistinct, while what is seen and temporal is vivid and real. Practically, any object in nature that can be seen or felt is thus more real and actual to most men than the Living God. Every man who walks with God, and finds Him a present Help in every time of need; who puts His promises to the practical proof and verifies them in actual experience; every believer who with the key of faith unlocks God's mysteries, and with the key of prayer unlocks God's treasuries, thus furnishes to the race a demonstration and an illustration of the fact that 'He is, and is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.'"

--A. T. Pierson, on George Mueller. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

theology engaging culture


Bruce Little writes...

"The world does not understand the nature of its lostness. It knows something is wrong, but fails to comprehend the true nature of that lostness. Of course, on a personal level, that lostness is only remedied in Christ, but I use the term lostness to speak of the philosophical and moral calamity that has come upon western cultures.

"Increasingly we have witnessed the blunting of belief in God.  Even among those who claim to believe that God exists, there is very little edge to that belief - it is weak and ineffective. This has left people without an external reference for moral direction and without a metaphysical grounding for morality. Clearly, this is a decisive point of intersection of theology and culture.

"Here the Christian message offers the missing piece deleted by naturalism - the personal, infinite Creator God who stands above nature and has spoken. This points first, not to a religious truth, but a truth about the nature of reality; that is, the world is one way if God is there, and it is another way if He is not. However, our voice in the name of truth will have little weight if our theology has no edge and we do not order our lives any differently than those without the truth." 

From "Theology Engaging Culture", by Bruce Little, Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Christianity "disinvited"


"We were not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection, and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part because of his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration's vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans."  

(Addie Whisenant, the Presidential Inaugural Committee)

"In other words, a Christian pastor has been effectively disinvited from delivering an inaugural prayer because he believes and teaches Christian truth."  

(Albert Mohler)

Excerpted from "THE GIGLIO IMBROGLIO -- The public inauguration of a new Moral McCarthyism, by R. Albert Mohler Jr.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

God is wrathful because he is love

"I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God.  Isn't God love? Shouldn't divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn't God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn't wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn't wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love."  

(Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge)

recent snow





Thursday, January 17, 2013

not worthy


And Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,' I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children.  But you said, 'I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'" (Genesis 32:9-12 ESV)

Jacob was a conniving man, a man full of schemes and deceit. God called him in sheer undeserved grace and spared his life from a murderous brother whom he had cheated.

Ironically (and lovingly), the Lord placed him in another family where he himself became the target of hostile schemes. He's even the unsuspecting mark in a bait-and-switch wedding. He gets a taste of his own deception, though he seems slow to stop dishing it back.

And yet, the Lord keeps blessing Jacob in spite of himself.

When Jacob must return home (read: get out of town fast), he must face the unresolved problem he had to flee in the first place: namely, his angry brother Esau, who is now coming his way with a number of men, all probably armed.  

Then this amazing thing comes out of Jacob's mouth. He admits his unworthiness: "I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant...". He sees that he did not deserve even the least of the good things God had brought into his life.

I don't sense that this is posturing on Jacob's part. I think he knows, maybe for the first time, how really vulnerable and weak and dependent and foolish he is.  To underscore this fact he will soon-- because of a divine encounter -- be walking with a limp for the rest of his life.  He will be blessed, but broken.  He sees that his schemes were not the source of blessing in his life, God was.  God alone had done good for him. 

The Puritan pastor, John Flavel, once wrote, "When God intends to fill a soul, he first makes it empty.  When he intends to enrich a soul, he first makes it poor.  When he intends to exalt a soul, he first makes it sensible to its own miseries, needs, and nothingness."  

I think this is right. This seems to be God's normal way of dealing with us.  When we think we are good, or have it all together, or that we somehow deserves God's blessing, he makes it all come apart.  And then we see in a flash how paltry our best efforts are and how surprisingly marvelous his grace is.  He breaks the illusion of our self-sufficiency and cleverness.  

It is his mercy that brings all our scheming to an end. 

  

  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

prodigals



But he [the older brother] was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" (Luke 15:28-32 ESV)

Tim Keller has rightly noted that there are two lost sons in this parable, and the saddest sight is the outwardly-obedient older brother who cannot stand to see his younger brother received again by his father, presumably because he feels his inheritance may be at stake.  He is resentful for any expenditure that he himself does not receive. 

Neither son seems to love, or have loved, his father simply for the love that the father bestows.  One wants his money so he can run, and the other stays so he can get his portion on site.  

"Here, then, is Jesus’ radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.”  (Tim Keller, The Prodigal God)

Painting above is The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, 1669. 

kintsugi




Kintsugi and kintsugori are Japanese techniques of restoring pottery and ceramic in such a way that the break and repair are seen as beautiful.  

Using epoxy and gold dust (or silver dust) the fracture is repaired but not hidden.  Rather the restoration is highlighted in beauty and value. 




Henri Nouwen writes, "The great mystery of God’s love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken. In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness in which we can come in touch with the unique way that God loves us. The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing. I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away.  But how do you live in your brokenness? Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse? The great call of Jesus is to put your brokenness under the blessing." 




"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:7-11 ESV) 




Friday, January 11, 2013

this is just so beautiful

three questions x 2




Three questions to ask when studying a passage of Scripture:

1) What did it mean to them at that time? (historical, linguistic, contextual backgrounds)

2) What does it mean for all time? (doctrine, place in the history of redemption)

3) What does it mean to us now? (application, faith, worship, obedience, etc.)

Three questions to address when preaching that passage:

1) What does it mean? (state and explain the principle)

2) What does it look like? (illustrate)

3) What do I do with it? (apply)


Saturday, January 5, 2013

four kinds of causes


Some atheists maintain that everything we see in the universe can be explained solely by natural causes.  

Oxford mathematician John Lennox makes an important point:  "Physical laws cannot create anything. They are a description of what normally happens under certain given conditions."  

In other words, what is called an explanation may actually only be a description.  A material process may be described but not be fully explained, unless all kinds (or levels) of causation are considered.  Lennox writes,  

Millennia ago Aristotle thought a great deal about these issues.  He spoke about four different “causes” that we can, perhaps, reasonably translate informally as “levels of explanation”. Thinking of the jet engine, first there is the material cause – the raw material out of which the engine is crafted; then there is the formal cause – the concept, plan, theory, and blueprint that Sir Frank Whittle conceived and to which he worked. Next there is the efficient cause – Sir Frank Whittle himself, who did the work. Fourthly, and last in the list, there is the final cause – the ultimate purpose for which the jet engine was conceived and built: to power a particular aircraft to fly faster than ever before.

The example of the jet engine can help us to clear up another confusion. Science, according to many scientists, concentrates essentially on material causation. It asks the “how” questions: how does the jet engine work? It also asks the “why” question regarding function: why is this pipe here? But it does not ask the “why” question of purpose: why was the jet engine built? What is important here is that Sir Frank Whittle does not appear in the scientific account. To quote Laplace, the scientific account has “no need of that hypothesis”.  (John Lennox, from God and Stephen Hawking)

So physics can't be separated from metaphysics.  A set of formulas on a blackboard don't actually create anything.  We may describe phenomena, say, a jet engine or an animal such as a cat, but describing is not the same as creating.  The how of the cat in its biological functions does not answer why there's a cat in the first place.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

top ten +1




Here are the best books I read in 2012, being my own top-ten list (well, 11 to be exact), in no particular order...

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, by Michael Reeves. This is fresh, devotional, easy-to-read-and-grasp, but very profound.  It will change the way you think about the Christian life.

Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, by Michael J. Kruger.  An top-notch academic work and a new landmark in understanding how we go about knowing what writings came authoritatively from God.

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke.  This is a needed and very readable book, about... well, how to read and what to read.

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, by Michael Reeves. Brief but excellent introduction to the Protestant Reformation.  Excerpt: "The Reformation was not, principally, a negative movement, about moving away from Rome; it was a positive movement, about moving towards the gospel."

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, by Marcus Luttrell. Riveting account of this operation-gone-wrong near the Afghan/Pakistan border.  Some very surprising heroes emerge. 

Einstein, by Walter Isaacson. An up-to-date biography on a very colorful figure.  Well-done.  

True Spirituality, by Francis A. Schaeffer.  The was the best re-read of a classic this year.  I've learned that, instead of reading some new offering -- which may or may not prove profitable -- I go back and re-read a book that helped me in the past.  Great books, when discovered, should be read again and again in order that they be mastered.  Excerpt: "This is the Christian life, and this is true spirituality. In the light of the unity of the Bible’s teaching in regard to the supernatural nature of the universe, the how is the power of the crucified and the risen Christ, through the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit, by faith."

God and Stephen Hawking, by John Lennox.
Who Made God, by Edgar Andrews. Two short but insightful critiques of how science (so-called) can get off track.  Excerpt from Lennox: "Physical laws cannot create anything. They are a description of what normally happens under certain given conditions." 

Histories and Fallacies, by Carl R. Trueman.  Main conclusion: "...while there is no such thing as neutrality in the telling of history, there is such a thing as objectivity, and that varied interpretations of historical evidence are yet susceptible to generally agreed upon procedures of verification that allow us to challenge each others’ readings of the evidence."  Excerpt: "...the present is profoundly shaped by the past at every level.  That may seem obvious, but it is amazing how often we can forget this simple fact and assume that what we have today is nature, not culture, and that the way we think and do things is simply the correct way that has emerged at last."

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, by Gregory Koukl.  Very helpful and practical. A veteran apologist takes some cues from Columbo. 







Tuesday, January 1, 2013

dangerous calling

Below are some highlights from my reading in Paul Tripp's Dangerous Calling (about the dangers of being in ministry, specifically pastoral)...


You are most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you are aware that there is no truth that you could give to another that you don’t desperately need yourself. You are most humble and gentle when you think that the person you are ministering to is more like you than unlike you.

I had let my ministry become something that it should never be (my identity); I looked to it to give me what it never could (my inner sense of well-being).

There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge is an accurate understanding of truth. Wisdom is understanding and living in light of how that truth applies to the situations and relationships of your daily life. Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to transformation of your life.

Do you see yourself as a minister of grace in need of the same grace?

Pastor, you don’t have to be afraid of what is in your heart, and you don’t have to fear being known, because there is nothing in you that could ever be exposed that hasn’t already been covered by the precious blood of your Savior king, Jesus.

Because sin blinds, God has set up the body of Christ to function as an instrument of seeing in our lives, so that we can know ourselves with a depth and accuracy that would be impossible if left on our own.

Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.

...it is only love for Christ that can defend the heart of the pastor against all the other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry.

It is simplistic to conclude that people in ministry have a natural and abiding love for people. It is dangerous to conclude that everyone in ministry is working for the furtherance of the big kingdom. It is important to recognize that many people in ministry have been seduced by self-glory and have lost sight of the glory of God.

For much of my Christian life and a portion of my ministry, I had no idea that my walk with God was a community project. I had no idea that the Christianity of the New Testament is distinctly relational, from beginning to end. I understood none of the dangers inherent in attempting to live the Christian life on my own. I had no awareness of the blinding power of remaining sin...

I need to commit myself to living in intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community.

I cannot allow myself to think that I am smarter than him [God]. I cannot allow myself to think that I am stronger than I am. I cannot assign to myself a level of maturity that I do not have. I cannot begin to believe that I am able to live outside of God’s normal means of spiritual growth and be okay.


All quotes above taken from Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, by Paul David Tripp.
Photo above is "View from the Pulpit," Old Meeting House (1773), Sandown, New Hampshire, (c) 2007, by Paul Wainwright.