Wednesday, September 28, 2016

consider the clouds

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; 
I will sing praises to you among the nations.  
For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; 
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! 
Let your glory be over all the earth!  

(Psalm 108:3-5 ESV; see also Psalm 36:5; 57:10-11)

I love stepping outside in the morning and looking up at the clouds in the sky. Or in the evening I'll take a walk and enjoy a beautiful sunset, with streaks and colors of light illuminating the clouds.  

One thing clouds always remind me of is that God's steadfast love and faithfulness is gloriously high above me, infinitely surpassing any of my earthbound needs and concerns.  His love is greater than my sin and higher than any problem I face. His steadfast love and faithfulness is inexhaustible. We can never run out of his faithfulness nor reach the end of the love which he has toward all who are in Christ Jesus. (See Romans 8.)     

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), America's greatest theologian, believed that all of creation was a kind of language that communicated the glory of God to us.  So, when God created rocks, and trees, and plants, and streams, and clouds, he had in mind certain truths that would be conveyed to observant minds and hearts.  The 11th volume of the Yale edition of Edwards' writings is the Typological Writings (1744, WJE Online Vol. 11), edited by Wallace E. Anderson, Mason I. Lowance, Jr., and David H. Watters. Edwards used Scripture as his guide for determining God's intended purpose of things created.  Here is one entry regarding the "heavens" and "clouds": 

#212. The immense magnificence of the visible world, its inconceivable vastness, the incomprehensible height of the heavens, etc. is but a type of the infinite magnificence, height and glory of God's work in the spiritual world: the most incomprehensible expression of his power, wisdom, holiness and love, in what is wrought and brought to pass in that world; and in the exceeding greatness of the moral and natural good, the light, knowledge, holiness and happiness which shall be communicated to it. And therefore to that magnificence of the world, height of heaven, those things are often compared in such expressions. "Thy mercy is great above the heavens, thy truth reacheth [unto the clouds"]; "Thou hast set thy glory above the heavens," etc.  
~ Jonathan Edwards, Typological Writings (WJE Online Vol. 11)

Edwards' teaching on the types (God-intended images and shadows) in creation has transformed the way I look at nature, like the clouds.  I see these things now not as convenient illustrations of God's nature and character (after the fact) but rather images and metaphors divinely intended from the beginning to be objects for our contemplation. Nature truly is a form of revelation from God.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

on the Spirit and Word

the privilege of being the church

"To me the saddest and most grievous thing of all at the present time is the failure of Christian people to realize what the New Testament tells us about ourselves, and what it means to be members of the body of Christ.  In a world that attaches such significance to honors and glories and position, is it not amazing that we can regard our membership of the church as we do?  Many seem to regard it as almost a kind of dignity that they confer upon the church, instead of realizing that it is the highest and the most glorious privilege that anyone can ever have or know.  Others regard their membership of the church as a task and as a duty, and are rather pleased with themselves if they perform any function.  Now that betrays a complete failure to understand what it really means to be members of this body, which is the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself."

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home & Work (Baker Books, 1973) p. 196.

Here is the original sermon (in MP3) upon which this commentary is based: "The Bride's Privileges."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

unraveling strands II

Over twenty-five years ago, Carl Henry gave a lecture, first to the Baptist Union of Romania (September, 1990), and later to the Tyndale Seminary faculty (the Netherlands) and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, entitled "Christianity and Resurgent Paganism".  As with all of his writings I am continually amazed at Henry's prescient insight into Western culture and its trajectory.  Where Henry refers to "modernism" we can easily substitute the term "post-modernism." This is the second post with a few quotes from this talk.  

"Modernity, therefore, needs to be liberated not only from the shackles of unbelief, but also from its bondage to wrong beliefs.  Prominent among these beliefs is the notion that science, as mathematical physicists ideally pursue it, is the only reliable method of knowing.  Modern empiricists sponsor an ideological totalism of their own when they confer explanatory crown rights on a theory of truth that cannot decide the final truth of anything.  Naturalism, as Ronald Nash says, is 'not a decision based on science... It is... a religious decision.' Indeed, and an irreligious decision.  It's presuppositions preclude acknowledging the reality of God, the supernatural, divine Providence, unchanging truth and good, and an afterlife.  Its restrictive and reductive assumptions provide no evidence of open-mindedness.  They reflect rather a dogmatic closed-mindedness to comprehensive truth.  While splitting atoms and chasing quarks in search of an ultimate explanatory principle, naturalism's intellectuals have lost the infinite and omnipresent Deity.

"Neither science nor democracy arose independently of Christian influences in the West.  Yet the Christian mission is not reducible to scientific and technological advancement or to the victory of democracy.  Some have lived in the best societies but have lost the pearl of great price; others have found it who have lived in the most decadent societies.  Nor will Christianity be a failure if in the third millennium Christians are outnumbered.  Neither Jesus nor Paul taught that believers would be a majority movement, and both warned of impending persecution as the cost of discipleship.  But they remind us still that those who accept Christ's proffered place in the kingdom of God are the blessed both in this life and the next.

"The Western World's present defection from the Bible is not the last word.  Unfolding judgment is already underway; a death-warrant hangs over modernity, both in the present millennium and in eternity to come."    

~ Carl F. H. Henry, "Christianity and Resurgent Paganism" (1990), found in gods of this age or...God of The Ages? (Broadman & Holman, 1994)

Monday, September 19, 2016

the believer and good works

In Sunday's sermon we learned how we should reject moralism and embrace God's grace given to us in Jesus Christ (Romans 2:1-11)

In staff meeting this morning we discussed a related question -- how then do we do good works as Christians without lapsing back into moralism? What exactly is a good work for the believer, the kind of good work God is looking for?  How do the good works we attempt before salvation differ from the good works that God expects of the believer after salvation?

I think there are at least four differences between a moralistic approach to life and the life of the Christian seeking to do good.   

1) There's a different standard.  For the believer God's word is the source book for what constitutes a good work.  Before, it was what seemed right or good to us at the time, or what is popularly viewed as good in our culture.  Though there are many good works from a humanitarian viewpoint, the believer increasingly views his works in terms of God's will and from his perspective.  God declares what is good.  (Matt. 15:7-9; John 14:21; 1 John 3:4) 

2)  There's a different motive.  Once it was insecurity and fear of judgment, or gaining approval of God or others, or keeping up an appearance, or having pride in our goodness, or proving our own righteousness which drove us to do good.  Now it is more and more a matter of faith (trust in God, his Word, and his ways) working through love (love of God and neighbor).  Once it was a lot about outward actions, and now it includes the heart of our actions.   (Matt. 22:34-40; Rom. 14:23; Gal. 5:6; Heb. 11:6)

3)  There's a different dynamic.  Previously, it was mainly our dedication, will-power, and self-effort which was producing our good deeds, or perhaps family and societal expectations.  Now we are finding power through the Holy Spirit to manifest the fruit of our union with Christ to walk in the goodness he has called us to.  (John 15:5; Gal. 5:22-25; Eph. 2:10) 

4)  There's a different goal.  Formerly, it was self-glory (to be seen as good) or a humanitarian concern (to do good for the human race, as good as that may be).  But now it is the glory of God that we want to display -- that he might be honored, that God and his ways would be seen as true, good, and beautiful.  (1 Cor 10:31; Matt 5:16)

What makes me right and acceptable before God has nothing to do with me, my goodness, my worth, my works, my anything, but rather the righteousness of Christ (crucified and risen) given to me as a gift to be received with the empty hand of faith.  There's no boasting, no self-pride, and no craven fear anymore!  

The grace of God I now have (and forever have in Christ) frees me to actually begin to do good works, the kind of good works that God created me to do.  I'm not doing these good things out of fear of rejection and loss of salvation, nor am I doing them to commend myself to God or others, or to feel good about myself.  I am now doing good works in living relationship with God, by faith, out of love, and with the desire that he -- not me -- be honored.  

It is really only after we've been humbled (of our pride) and saved (from our fear) that we can actually do something good, not only in the sight of man, but in the sight of God.  

So, as we walk day-by-day with the Lord, and as we want to be careful not to lapse into moralism, we can ask ourselves some questions about the good things we are seeking to do:

  • Am I seeking to do this in accordance with God's word, ...or is it about my idea, tradition, the expectation of others? 
  • Am I doing this out of a loving trust in the Lord, ...or am I acting in pride or fear of someone or something?
  • Am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, ...or is it my will-power going through the motions?
  • Am I doing this to bring glory to God rather than myself? 

Friday, September 16, 2016

unraveling strands

Over twenty-five years ago, Carl Henry gave a lecture, first to the Baptist Union of Romania (September, 1990), and later to the Tyndale Seminary faculty (the Netherlands) and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, entitled "Christianity and Resurgent Paganism".  As with all of his writings I am continually amazed at Henry's prescient insight into Western culture and its trajectory.  In this post and the next I will highlight some quotes from this talk.

"The unraveling strands of Western civilization are everywhere.  Not simply at the future end of history, nor even only at the looming end of this second Christian millennium, but already in the immediate present, modernity is being weighed in the balances.  Dismay and distress follow in the wake of the rebellious despiritualization of our once vibrant civilization.  Secular hedonism has nurtured the disintegration of the family and the desanctification of human existence.  

"One clear sign of the times is the retreat of intelligence, the disinclination for disciplined thought, as seen especially in the clouding of the religious mentality.  No objectively ordered structures are acknowledged, universal meaning is shunned, and a significant common vocabulary decreases with it.  The portrayal of the inherent nature of things is more and more suspended on human emotions.  Man's own will becomes the only law he tolerates: virtue is whatever makes one feel 'good'.  As epistemological ambiguity plunges the religious realm into a subjectivist dilemma, many moderns reduce religious doctrines to mere 
verbalizations of inner experience...

"Western society manifests a quantum leap of immorality and indecency unprecedented since the fall of the Roman Empire.  We live amid 
contemporary caesars who assert brute power...  

"Happiness is defined as the gratification of sensual desires: adults and teenagers become sexually obsessed apes. Society accommodates carnal 
appetites that undermine life-giving realities.  Malcolm Muggerridge has 
observed that as the phallic cult spreads, more people become impotent.

"There is no reason, however, for evangelical Christians presently to withdraw from the world.  The secular city may brand this generation 'post-Christian', and we may, all too uncritically, borrow this characterization.  No generation since the resurrection of the crucified Jesus is post-Christian, however, for He who has conquered death and is the Church's risen Head has, as the writer of Hebrews notes (1:2), turned forward the prophetic time clock to the 'last days.' ... We are thrust into this strategic turning time by God's decree and mandate."

~ Carl F. H. Henry, "Christianity and Resurgent Paganism" (1990), found in gods of this age or...God of The Ages? (Broadman & Holman, 1994).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

of drones and mother birds

"O LORD, how manifold are your works! 
In wisdom have you made them all; 
the earth is full of your creatures."  
(Psalm 104:24 ESV)

It is exciting to see Google and Chipotle running tests in our community for using drones to deliver burritos. See Roanoke Times article here.  It is really quite a feat, and really fun that our university is on the cutting-edge. 

And yet -- think about this-- it has taken us humans thousands of years to develop the technology to be able to do this. We have to produce the materials, build the drone, write the code -- probably millions of lines of code -- and utilize the skill of lots of engineers, just to deliver a burrito to one location and fly back.  

But every year I notice many birds, small birds -- many smaller than most drones -- flying about finding food, collecting, taking it to the nest, feeding their young, and repeating this many hours every day for several weeks.  And then... they train their young to fly and do the same!  And all of this, without the help of any engineers!

So did these "natural" thinking-flying-feeding-training machines come about naturally?  Random mutations and natural selection -- only a matter of time, matter, and chance?  

I just can't buy that.

Jesus said, "Consider the birds..." (Matthew 6:26)

Photo above of drone by Jacob Demmitt, of The Roanoke Times,

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

faithful love at the heart of marriage

Here are some highlights from a new book by Christopher Ash: Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be (Crossway, 2016). About halfway through and it's excellent so far...

"We are male and female so that we may use our maleness and femaleness in joyful service of God in the government of his world."

"Marriage and family can easily become just a respectable form of selfishness... If we marry mainly to meet our own needs, then our marriages will be just that: good-looking masks for selfishness. It is a short step from 'loving you' to 'loving me and wanting you.' It is too easy for Christians to think of marriage as a discipleship-free zone. So that outside of marriage we talk about sacrifice, taking up our cross, and so on. But inside marriage we just talk about how to communicate better, how to be more intimate, how to have better sex, how to be happy."

"The defining moment is thought to be when they are alone in the bedroom, not when they serve together as a new social and family unit in the wider society. Sociologists have noted how destructively intense such relationships become, and therefore how brief."

"This irony, that we expect so much of marriage but find it disappointing, is an irony the Bible understands perfectly. It calls it idolatry. This means that if I pursue any goal except the honor of God, then I am worshiping an idol. And idols are empty, vacuous, disappointing things that have no power to help me. We see this brilliantly exposed in Isaiah 44:9–20 and in Psalm 135:15–18. The moment I make my 'relationship' the goal of my life, I doom myself to disappointment. Surprisingly, the key to a good marriage is not to pursue a good marriage, but to pursue the honor of God. We need to replace this selfish model of marriage with one in which we work side by side in God’s 'garden' (that is, God’s world), rather than gaze forever into each other’s eyes."

"The blessing 'be fruitful and multiply' is given so that men and women will be able to govern and care for the world God has entrusted to them."

"One of the great reasons why married couples ought to want children is that they force us to welcome into our circle strangers we have not chosen... And therefore in parenting we learn to welcome the stranger, the one chosen by God for us to love."

"When you or I find ourselves 'falling in love' with our future wife or husband, we should ask, Why has God given me these feelings? Why do I feel like a bird in springtime? The answer is, so that as a couple delighting in one another you can forge a new social unit whose heart is faithful love; and then out of that heart of faithful love can overflow generous love to others... The principle is that faithful love cannot flow out from a marriage unless it is present as the heart of a marriage."

~ Christopher Ash, Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be.

not worthy to pray

"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"  (Luke 18:13 ESV) 

"Prayer must not be based on or depend on your personal worthiness or the quality of the prayer itself; rather, it must be based on the unchanging truth of God’s promise. If the prayer is based on itself or on anything else besides God’s promise, then it’s a false prayer that deceives you—even if your heart is breaking with intense devotion and you are weeping drops of blood. 

"We pray because we are unworthy to pray. Our prayers are heard precisely because we believe that we are unworthy. We become worthy to pray when we risk everything on God’s faithfulness alone. So go ahead and feel unworthy. But know in your heart that it’s a thousand times more important to honor God’s truthfulness. Yes, everything depends on this alone. Don’t turn his faithful promise into a lie by your doubts. For your worthiness doesn’t help you, and neither does your unworthiness hinder you. A lack of faith is what condemns you, but confidence in God is what makes you worthy."

~ Martin Luther, from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther.