Friday, May 30, 2014

poor in spirit

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted..." 
(Matthew 5:3-4 ESV)

"Ultimately it is only the man who feels quite hopeless about himself who really trusts God."  (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

Friday, May 23, 2014

more on holiness

Here are my final highlights from Kevin DeYoung's The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness:  

There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to him.

Love does not equal unconditional affirmation. Love entails the relentless pursuit of what is for our good.

When we sin, our union with Christ is not in jeopardy. But our communion is.

Some Christians are prone to go on lengthy idol hunts and can’t feel good unless they feel bad about something.

You have permission to see evidences of grace in your life. You are allowed (and expected) to be obedient. You will never be perfect in this life. You cannot do anything to earn God’s love. But as a redeemed, regenerate child of God you don’t have to be a spiritual failure.

The Spirit is a light to us in three ways. (1) He exposes sin so that we can recognize it and turn away. (2) He illumines the Word so that we can understand its meaning and grasp its implications. (3) He takes the veil away so that we can see the glory of Christ and become what we behold. Or to put it another way, the Spirit sanctifies by revealing sin, revealing truth, and revealing glory.

Add a note the gospel aids our pursuit of holiness by telling us the truth about who we are.Certain sins become more difficult when we understand our new position in Christ. If we are heirs to the whole world, why should we envy? If we are God’s treasured possession, why be jealous? If God is our Father, why be afraid? If we are dead to sin, why live in it? If we’ve been raised with Christ, why continue in our old sinful ways? If we are seated in the heavenly places, why act like the devil of hell? If we are loved with an everlasting love, why are we trying to prove our worth to the world? If Christ is all in all, why am I so preoccupied with myself?

By faith we are justified. And by faith we make every effort to be sanctified. Faith is operative in both—in justification to receive and rest, and in sanctification to will and to work.

God is constantly making promises in the Bible, and these promises are meant to fuel the engine of obedience.

That’s essentially what spiritual warfare is: believing the truth from God instead of the lies from the devil.

If I had to summarize New Testament ethics in one sentence, here’s how I would put it: be who you are. 

By faith, through the Holy Spirit, we have union with him. Christ lives in you and you in him. You are one with Christ, so live like Christ. Be who you are.

I fear many of us have become numb to the poison we are drinking. When it comes to sexual immorality, sin looks normal, righteousness looks very strange, and we look a lot like everybody else.

We must always remember that in seeking after holiness we are not so much seeking after a thing as we are seeking a person. 

The Bible allows for no such division between communion with Christ and obedience to Christ... Fellowship with Christ does not exist apart from fealty to Christ.

We need to understand that time spent in prayer is time spent with our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend. Communion is the goal, not crossing off a line on our to-do list.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Notice how Christ’s words are synonymous with his person. We take hold of Christ as his words take hold of us. Mutual indwelling involves more than just obedience. It also “entails a growing absorption of Jesus’ words.  

We think relevance and relate-ability are the secrets to spiritual success. And yet, in truth, a dying world needs you to be with God more than it needs you to be “with it.”

Horatius Bonar reminds us, holiness is not measured by “one great heroic act or mighty martyrdom. . . . It is of small things that a great life is made up.”

The best-looking Christian is the one growing by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

evolutionary hope?

If history proceeds unguided by the blind forces of time, matter and chance, and if future life will be shaped by evolutionary dynamics, then there cannot be an ultimate hope or purpose to history. One scenario of such a future is described by the Time Traveler in the latter chapters of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine...  
'I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over the world. The red eastern sky, the northward blackness, the salt Dead Sea, the stony beach crawling with these foul, slow-stirring monsters, the uniform poisonous-looking green of the lichenous plants, the thin air that hurts one's lungs: all contributed to an appalling effect...
'So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth's fate, watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away. At last, more than thirty million years hence, the huge red-hot dome of the sun had come to obscure nearly a tenth part of the darkling heavens. Then I stopped once more, for the crawling multitude of crabs had disappeared, and the red beach, save for its livid green liverworts and lichens, seemed lifeless...
'A horror of this great darkness came on me. The cold, that smote to my marrow, and the pain I felt in breathing, overcame me. I shivered, and a deadly nausea seized me. Then like a red-hot bow in the sky appeared the edge of the sun. I got off the machine to recover myself. I felt giddy and incapable of facing the return journey. As I stood sick and confused I saw again the moving thing upon the shoal—there was no mistake now that it was a moving thing—against the red water of the sea. It was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and tentacles trailed down from it; it seemed black against the weltering blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about. Then I felt I was fainting. But a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote and awful twilight sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle.
In the Epilogue, this is written of the Traveler...
He, I know—for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made—thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so...
The narrator, however, finds some hope in the two flowers given to the Traveler by Weena (from the past, or rather, the past future...). Perhaps the author is also suggesting, by his overall plot, that socialism may hold some hope for the human race.  But Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck succinctly addresses the notion of hope in the theory of evolution... 
"In the theory of evolution there is nowhere a resting point, nowhere an end or a purpose; the blessedness which according to the expectation of many it is going to bring, is always in process of changing.  No such thing is possible, then, as an eternal, blessed life.
"Hence it is that some, convinced of the impossibility of a resting place, have again called in the ancient, pagan doctrine of the eternal return of all things, and now present this notion as the solution to the world problem.
"If the now existing world has reached the apex of its development, it must again collapse and begin everything anew.  After the flood of the tide comes the ebb, and the ebb will again cause a flood; after the development comes the retrogression, which newly brings about a development.  And so on endlessly.  There is only such a thing as time; there is no eternity. There is only movement; there is no rest. There is only a becoming; there is no being. There is only the creature; there is no creator who is and who was and who shall be.
"All this confirms the word of Scripture that those who are without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, have no hope and are without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). They can guess, it is true, and wish, and indeed they never cease doing so; but they have no solid basis for their hopes.  They lack the certainty of the Christian hope."
(Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, p. 547)
Classics Illustrated photo above courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

sunday notes

"He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."  (Acts 28:30-31 ESV)

Sermon MP3 here. 

“And you will be my witnesses... to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)... 
Thirty years and 1500 miles later... “...and so we came to Rome.” (Acts 28:14)

Do I sincerely believe that Jesus’ death for our sins and his resurrection are true historical events?
Have I been convicted of my own lostness and turned to God in faith and repentance?
Am I committed to the world-wide expansion of this good news about Jesus?
Am I submitted to, and living for, the larger and glorious Kingdom of God or for my smaller kingdom of self?
Have I quenched or grieved God’s Spirit, who desires to give me power and boldness in witness?  
Am I prepared to give a gracious defense for what I believe and why I believe it?
Am I using my limitations as an opportunity for advancing the gospel, or as an excuse for not sharing the gospel?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

pleasing God

"...walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." (Colossians 1:10 ESV)

"...and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him." (1 John 3:22 ESV)

This is something I've struggled with... what does it mean to please God? And, given the continued presence and taint of indwelling sin upon all my thoughts, motives, and deeds, how can I actually do anything that is acceptable to God?  

This is helping bring clarity: Kevin DeYoung's The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. (Crossway, 2012)  Here are some highlights... 

It’s one thing to be humble about our piety. It’s another to think piety is impossible. The truth is God’s people can be righteous—not perfectly, but truly, and in a way that genuinely pleases God.

But God does not expect our good works to be flawless in order for them to be good.

Our good works are accepted by God, not because they are “wholly unblameable and unreproveable in God’s sight,” but because God is pleased through Christ to accept our sincere obedience, although it contains many weaknesses and imperfections.

But as born-again believers, it is possible to please God by his grace. Those who bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God are fully pleasing to God (Col. 1:10). Presenting your body as a living sacrifice pleases God (Rom. 12:1). Looking out for your weaker brother pleases God (14:18). Obeying your parents pleases God (Col. 3:20). Teaching the Word in truth pleases God (1 Thess. 2:4). Praying for the governing authorities pleases God (1 Tim. 2:1–3). Supporting your family members in need pleases God (5:4). Sharing with others pleases God (Heb. 13:16). Keeping his commandments pleases God (1 John 3:22). Basically, whenever you trust and obey, God is pleased.

There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to him.

Some Christians are prone to go on lengthy idol hunts and can’t feel good unless they feel bad about something.

You have permission to see evidences of grace in your life. You are allowed (and expected) to be obedient. You will never be perfect in this life. You cannot do anything to earn God’s love. But as a redeemed, regenerate child of God you don’t have to be a spiritual failure.

So... God sees me united to his beloved Son. Jesus' righteousness is perfect and I am being gradually transformed into his perfect image.  And because of Christ's death (not only for my sins but also for my imperfect works) he can look beyond (see through) the imperfections and take pleasure in the intent of my renewed heart, and accept my attempts to trust, love, and obey him.

Friday, May 9, 2014

no moral relativists in reality

I'm continuing to post some highlights from the excellent book by Jerram Barrs, Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God's Alternative to Legalism and Moralism (Crossway, 2013)...

Indeed, Jesus, unlike us, preached the school of the law to those who seemed closest to God, those who already had extensive knowledge of the truth, those who valued God’s law and taught it, and those who seemed committed to living in obedience to God’s commandments.

One of the great weaknesses of evangelical churches today is a serious failure to teach thoroughly the requirements of God’s law.

In other words, what we need in our churches is serious exposition of the kind of righteousness that God and his laws demand. Wherever there is little serious exposition of the school of the law of God, people end up with a devalued understanding of the good news of the gospel. 

The law, properly expounded, because it is so beautiful, exposes the ugliness of our sin. 

We need to make sure that, rather than beginning with the condemnation of sin, we expound the beauty of righteousness.

We know from Scripture, and it ought to be evident from our own personal experience, that walking in obedience to God’s law brings freedom, blessing, and gladness into our lives. We rejoice that God is good, just, upright, and pure. We rejoice that this holy God has created a moral universe where there is a sure and eternal distinction between good and evil.

We rejoice that this morally righteous God has made us to be finite reflections of his infinite being and that, as a consequence, we are created to imitate him in his goodness. We rejoice that even though we are sinners, Christ has fulfilled the demands of the law for us where we have failed to obey our Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge. We rejoice that as those redeemed by his perfect life and by his offering himself up to death in our place, we are now called to love his law and to be revived by his Spirit as we commit ourselves to obeying his commandments. We rejoice that our Father has promised that through the intercession of his Son, by his Spirit’s power and as we offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices, he will day by day renew us into his likeness in true righteousness and holiness.

This doctrine of common grace has been neglected in many churches of almost all theological traditions.

It should be our prayer that even the brutality of Islamic radical militants will be used by God to cause many Muslims to turn away, sickened by these appalling acts of terrorism, and to find their hope in Jesus Christ.

This moral rule of God is true for every person, both believer and unbeliever.

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them..." (Romans 2:14-15 ESV)

There are no moral relativists, in reality. Everyone you or I will ever meet is attracted to some aspect of the beauty of righteousness and will be critical of particular areas of human wickedness. All people are blessed for even a measure of obedience to God’s commandments; and all reap sorrow and destruction for disobedience to God’s laws in this life. This is true whether they are Christians or not.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

big brother and SF writers

I don't usually use the term "cultural thought police", but that sure seems applicable for the following article about science fiction writers. 

From "Heinlein, Hugos, and Hogwash"...
The purpose of all this hogwash is not to aid the plight of minorities. The purpose is power. The purpose is terror.
One need not ignite a suicide-bomb to enact a reign of terror. One need only have the power to hurt a man’s reputation or income, and be willing to use the power in an arbitrary, treacherous, lunatic, and cruel fashion. For this, the poisonous tongue suffices.  At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

global christianity

Philip Jenkins, the author of The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2011), writes about the stunning multiplication Christian churches in the global south, primarily in Africa and South America.  Jenkins is Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.   Here are a few highlights... 

In 1900, 83 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and North America. In 2050, 72 percent of Christians will live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and a sizable share of the remainder will have roots in one or more of those continents.
Over the last century the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably away from Europe, southward, to Africa and Latin America, and eastward, toward Asia. Today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions. If we want to visualize a “typical” contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria, or in a Brazilian favela. 

As to belief and practice these Christians are more conservative than the mainstream churches of North America and Europe...

Making all allowances for generalization, then, global South Christians retain a strong supernatural orientation and are by and large far more interested in personal salvation than in radical politics. 
The believer’s life in this world is transformed through conversion, and the change echoes through every aspect of their lives, from ethics of work and thrift to family and gender relations.
Generally, we can say that many global South Christians are more conservative in terms of both beliefs and moral teaching than are the mainstream churches of the global North; this is especially true of African churches. 
For the foreseeable future, though, the dominant theological tone of emerging world Christianity is traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural. 

Jenkins also notes that in some regions Christianity is not seen as a new or novel addition...

In many cases, as in India, China, and large parts of Africa, Christian missionaries were not so much breaking new ground as reopening ancient and quite familiar mines. In the 1880s missionaries in the Congo met with mass enthusiasm that would be difficult to explain if we did not realize that the people were rediscovering what had been the national religion only a century or so earlier. The response of those peoples was not “Thank you for bringing us this startling new message” but rather “Welcome back.” White Christians were treading where African and Asian believers had been before, and where they had left deep marks in local cultures. Their ghosts still walked.

Add to this the amazing growth of the church in China: "By 2030, China's total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world..."  See "China on course to become 'world's most Christian nation' within 15 years."