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Rooted Resolutions in 2014

ImageThink for a moment of the more significant things you would like to be able to say of yourself at the end of 2014. Would it be that you became a deeper lover of Jesus? A more faithful spouse or parent? A more productive member of the church? A more effective witness for Christ? A more faithful steward of the gifts He has given you? The list is no doubt as diverse as we are. There is something, however, that unites every resolution on every list; all Christ-honoring, church-edifying, soul-sanctifying resolutions will depend on and grow from our time in Scripture.

Most of us are probably aware by this point that our New Year’s resolutions are really declarations of divine dependence! Christian resolutions are not promises to “try harder” this year. That kind of heart posture is out of step with the gospel detracts from God’s glory either in our inevitable discouragement or occasional accomplishment. Christian resolutions are used to pinpoint areas of our weakness as an invitation for the Lord to magnify His strength just there (I Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor 12:9). But what we may not always remember is that the word of God is the place He has appointed to release this empowering grace into our lives. It is the word of God that is able (Acts 20:32). It is the word of God that has power (I Cor. 1:18; Luke 37, “no word of God lacks power”). It is the word of God that calls us into being, creating in us what it describes for us (Luke 8:11; Acts 12:24). It is the word of God that is living, active, and abiding (Heb 2:12; I Jn 2:14). It only the word of God that is not empty but is our very life (Deut. 32:47). If we stand in need of ability, we stand in need of God’s word. Read more…


Seeing the Unseen in the Scripture

blindfoldThe book of Hebrews was written to a persecuted people. They were being thrown in prison (10:34; 13:3), their property was being plundered (10:34), and they were facing widespread shame and reproach (12:1-3; 13:13). One of the main purposes of the letter, therefore, is to equip the church for endurance. This strengthening takes many forms throughout the letter. They are exhorted to use the means of grace like the community of believers (3:12-13; 11:4-40) and the word of God (4:12). They are warned of the consequences of shrinking back and being destroyed (10:39). They are given God’s perspective on their trials, which is to discipline them as sons (12:7-11). They are comforted that their kingdom is one that can never, ultimately, be shaken (12:28). And they are told of the glories of their coming, certain inheritance (2:5-8). This inheritance is to rule the world to come with Christ, the founder and perfecter of their salvation.

But it is just here that the help seems to break down. Our future participation with Christ in ruling the new creation is meant to affect our present-tense subjection to society. But how? How can we hope to have everything subjected to us in the world to come, which is the promise of 2:5-8, if we see nothing subjected to us in the present? How can we know this is not just a pipe dream promise to comfort us in our misery? Read more…

Where Misery and Mercy Meet

les_miserables_ver11_xxlg-headerThis was, in many respects, an amazingly powerful film. The gospel merits of Victor Hugo’s novel are significant, and some of them carried over into this latest adaptation. If you aren’t familiar with the real story, I would encourage you to read Tony Reinke post here, and let that whet your appetite to go read the book! What I want to do in this post is offer a few reflections coming out of the (2012) movie, which would not necessarily hold as reflections of Hugo’s book.

As much as I appreciated the movie, I left the film with a general sense of uneasiness. This general sense can be parsed in two directions. Some of the discomfort resulted from a good and necessary work the Lord can use this film to accomplish in my heart. As a 21st century American, I recognize my need to be discomforted! Some of the dis-ease, however, arises from deficits in the film when seen from a biblical perspective. If these deficits are not identified they can be uncritically assumed into the emotional impact of the film.

I. Beneficial Discomfort:

(1) The vocal quality in the film was well below that of the broadway cast. This was disappointing at first because the score of this musical is so powerful! Upon reflection, however, recording it “live” made for a much grittier feel to the songs which corresponded faithfully to their pained and pleading message. It is good to remember that these kinds of stories should not be engaged as entertainment, where the “feel” imparted by the music does not necessarily correspond to the message of the lyrics. If a message is weighty and raw, it should be delivered in a weighty and raw way, and be received as the same. This is a good reminder in worship (preaching and singing) as well as daily conversation. The messenger and the medium must reflect the message.  Read more…

Grace, Thanksgiving, and Glory

2 Corinthians 4:15 is worthy of reflection, and all the more at the beginning of this Thanksgiving week. Paul says, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

I. Putting the Pieces Together. Our first step of reflection is to picture three building blocks that make up the main pieces of this verse: grace, thanksgiving, and glory. Second, we ask how these three pieces are held together. Paul says that as grace extends, it increases thanksgiving; and thanksgiving results in glory. So if you are a spatial thinker (like I am!) it will help to put thanksgiving right there in the middle. Paul is picturing both what fuels and what flows out of our thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is fueled by grace. As grace extends to more and more people it increases thanksgiving. This increase seems to be both a broadening scope (more and more people are giving thanks), and a deepening intensity (with greater joy and understanding).

And as the current of this grace extends – broadening and deepening – it doesn’t pile up on itself and end at thanksgiving. Instead, thanksgiving channels grace and directs it to it’s final destination which is the ocean of God’s glory! As thanksgiving increases, God is receiving a broader and deeper glory. And notice it is God who receives it! This connects the end of the verse back around to the beginning and lets us see that the grace is recognized as coming from God in the first place. And when God is thanked for what He alone can give, He is glorified! Thanksgiving for His unique power and care and wisdom in our life shines a light on the divine perfections that make up the glory of God. Read more…

12 Thoughts for Election Day 2012

The following are some thoughts that I have had meditating on various Scriptures in light of this election season in our nation. They do not represent a comprehensive biblical statement on politics. Rather, they reflect ways that I have been pastoring my own heart over the days leading up to November 6. My purpose in sharing them with you is to encourage you to draw out further implications for our response to this election – regardless of its outcome. And to encourage us in the place of prayer for our own hearts, our church, and our nation.

1. Biblically, “elections” (kings coming to power) are signs either: 1. of God’s grace in giving the people what they do not deserve (ie. David), 2. of God’s handing them over by giving the people what they want (ie. Saul), or 3. of God’s judgment in giving the people what they do not want but deserve (ie. Nebuchadnezzar).

Therefore while we should be sobered that either candidate coming into office represents various stages of #2, we can be thankful that He has not yet introduced the full dimension of #3 in this nation. And this election, like every election, is cause once again to joyfully anticipate the Day when God releases the fullness of #1 in the Person of His Son.

2. In Jeremiah, God calls Nebuchadnezzar, “my servant.” In Isaiah, God calls Cyrus, “my anointed.” Both the king that took Judah into exile and the king who released them to return home as designated servants of God. 

Therefore we see that neither one of these candidates is our hope. They are both to be understood as servants of the God who is our hope. Our hope is that God will use either man to accomplish His purpose for His people in His-story.

3. Nebuchadnezzar is termed God’s “servant” whom He “calls” from the north to accomplish His purpose. He is then disciplined and devoted to everlasting destruction by God for what he does. 

Therefore we see that just because a king is raised up to accomplish God’s purpose does not mean everything this king does is in accordance with the will (of command) of God. We must be able to distinguish between affirming the sovereignty of God and endorsing the position/action of leaders He has brought to power. Read more…

Soul Doctors

The Puritans excelled at pastoral care. Known today for emphasizing doctrine, they are less known for using this doctrine in their ministry as doctors of the human heart. The Puritan pursuit of divinity served the very practical purpose of helping people become more like Christ! As Richard Lovelace has put it, “A Puritan sermon was never a tape-recording of abstract doctrinal information, but an operation on the spiritual lives of the hearers in which no doctrinal tool was ever used which did not vitally relate to the needs of some class among them.” A powerful example of this pastoral, spiritual divinity is found in the writings of Thomas Brooks (1608 – 1680). One of his best known treatises is entitled Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The work is well worth reading in its entirety, but a flavor of his thought (and some real help!) can come just by working through the table of contents. The power here isn’t in the information, but in the thoughtful, careful application to the soul under temptation. Brooks lists 12 devices the devil uses to draw the soul to sin and then puts forward a list of revealed remedies:

1. By presenting the bait and hiding the hook. For remedies, consider that (1) we ought to keep at the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the bait, (2) sin is but a bitter sweet, (3) sin will usher in the greatest and saddest losses, and (4) sin is very deceitful and bewitching.

2. By painting sin with virtue’s colors. For remedies, consider that (1) sin is never the less vile by being so painted, (2) the more sin is so painted the more dangerous it is, (3) we ought to look on sin with that eye with which within a few hours we shall see it, and (4) sin cost the life-blood of the Lord Jesus.

3. By the extenuating and lessening of sin. For remedies, consider that (1) sin which men account small brings God’s great wrath on men, (2) the giving way to a less sin makes way for the committing of a greater, (3) it is sad to stand [against] God for a trifle, (4) often there is most danger in the smallest sins, (5) the saints have chosen to suffer greatly rather than commit the least sin, (6) the soul can never stand under the guilt and weight of sin when God sets it home upon the soul, and (7) there is more evil in the least sin than there is in the greatest affliction. Read more…

‘How To Write a Sentence’ – In a Sentence

Surprisingly (maybe to some) there are a variety of books entirely given over to the task of teaching you how to write. And this variety doesn’t even include the basic grammars – those tomes that paralyze you from ever actually writing from fear of stumbling into a nest of dangling participles or forgetting what knot you use to repair a comma splice. Those I do not enjoy (and I’m sure someone will tell me it shows!). Some of my recent favorites are autobiographical sketches like Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life or Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I enjoy general helps like Joseph Williams’ Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, Roy Clark’s Writing Tools or Thomas and Turners’ Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose. After all, there is no sense rushing off to your idyllic cabin in the Catskills to polish off your magnum opus before you stock your toolbox. Discipline specific discussions like Carl Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History or Pyne’s Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History have fired my excitement, equipped my ignorance, and helped me vicariously avoid standard pitfalls. And of course there are delightful romps through (and all over) language like Doug Wilson’s Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life which refuse to allow writing to get too cramped.

My favorite books on writing are sympathetic – enjoying and modeling the approaches they describe. Stanley Fish’s How to Read a Sentence: And How Read One certainly fits this description. It is an awesome thing to stop and ponder  how much power is compacted into a form of communication I use every day. There is surely a facet of what it means to be formed in the image of the God who creates with His word that we can glimpse here, if we only ever stopped to look at a sentence!

As I was working my way back through his celebration of what makes a sentence work, and some of history’s most powerful and pleasurable sentences, I thought it would be fun to try and capture the essence of each chapter itself in a sentence. I failed. Each chapter required at least two, a blend of re-presentation and evaluation. (Occasionally I would repeat a summary phrase from Fish himself). Once I had them written I thought maybe I could share them here in the dual hope of testing their clarity as a summary of the work and inciting some of you to pick it up for yourselves (and do me one better!). So here we go: Read more…

Grace as Guidance for Giving

Under the law of Moses, the tithe was first and a tenth of everything. The tithe was taken from the first fruits (see, for example, 2 Chron. 31:5-6). It was therefore an act of faith, trusting that God would bring in the fullness of the harvest or herd needed to survive (see the “test” of Mal. 3:10). It was also a tenth (see, for example, Leviticus 27:30-32). There was no such thing as “tithing 7% or 2%” of your crops or cattle. If you didn’t bring in the full 10% you were robbing God (Mal. 3:8-9) since the tithe was holy to the Lord. And the tithe was a tenth of everything – grain, wine, oil, flocks (Deut. 14:23). So the Mosaic law commanded the people of God to bring the first tenth of everything as their tithe to honor Him as their Provider, to teach them the fear of the Lord, and to provide for the priests, aliens, orphans, and widows (Deut. 26:12).

There is no indication that the tithe has been brought over into the New Testament. The indication, rather, is that the Law has been fulfilled, and thus ended, in Christ (Matt. 5:17-19; Rm. 10:4). So New Testament saints are not under the Law of Moses, but are under the Law of Christ (I Cor. 9:21; Gal 6:2). This does not mean that the moral law of God has changed or has been broken. Rather, it means that the Mosaic Law was a temporal expression of God’s eternal moral law suited for its specific purpose. That purpose (to bind all alike under sin and lead to Christ, Gal 3) has been accomplished in Jesus. Therefore that law (all of it, not just the ceremonial and civil sections) has been superseded by Christ. The new expression of the eternal law of God is not found for NT believers by looking to Moses, but by looking to Christ. Read more…

A Necessary Joy

The Bible often asks us to put words together that seem to pull in opposite directions. Dependent responsibility. Loving discipline. Necessary joy. It seems axiomatic in our culture that joy attends leisure, or at least a lack of compulsion. Duty is rarely conceived of as a theatre for joy. Biblically, however,  a believer’s sanctification is held up as a necessary joy. Both of those words are important for the biblical picture. Sanctification is necessary for the believer. And, simultaneously, it is a joy for the believer. And the common root that holds the duty and delight of our sanctification together is our justification by faith alone apart from works of the law.

I. Justification by Faith Alone Makes our Sanctification Necessary. In Romans 3:28 Paul writes: For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. So we are made right with a holy God by faith alone. What does that means for me at the moment of my justification, as I am born again by the Spirit, united to Christ, and adopted by the Father? Romans 4:5 tells me that I am, at the moment of my justification, ungodly! To the one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. 

Justification is a legal declaration. My sin and its penalty is imputed to Christ (He who knew no sin is made to be sin for me), and His righteousness and its blessing is imputed to me (so that I might become the righteousness of God in Him, I Cor 5:21). And on the basis of this double reckoning, the Judge declares my justification. I carry the status of one who is right with God. I am accepted in the Beloved. God relates to me as if I am holy – in fact He relates to me as a Father – and all the while I am in fact ungodly! Not even my act of faith is godliness. It was grace, given to me by God. So at the moment of my salvation, I am still Lazarus in the tomb, wrapped in grave clothes, reeking of decay, but my eyes blinking open.  I am spiritually alive, but a far cry from being ready for the marriage feast!  Read more…

The Layers of the Great Love of God

As believers, the apostle Paul longs for our hearts to be rooted in the richness of God’s love. He prays in Ephesians 3:16 that the Father would strengthen us by the Spirit so that we might increasingly know ourselves rooted and grounded in the breadth, length, height and depth of divine love. This supernatural capacity in the church is a priority for Paul because of what it produces in the saints. There is a liveliness (rooted), a perseverance (grounded), and a fruitfulness (filled) that permeate our inner man through an experiential awareness of the love of Christ.

The way Paul talks about it here, this encounter with God’s love is guided and guarded by propositions (“knowledge”), but ultimately surpasses them in the power of the Spirit. In other words, the fact that he says “the love of God has heights and depths and widths and breadths” means there are more and greater dimensions we can realize than we do now. And the fact that he says, “it takes the Spirit to be rooted and grounded in this love” means that we need to be moved from realization to revelation. When the Spirit takes truth we know and touches our heart with its power, the effect in our inner man is likened in vs 20 to our resurrection from the dead (see 1:19-20)! Realization and revelation work together like fuel and fire. Fuel without fire is unhelpful. Fire without fuel is unsustainable. Fuel with fire is encounter! This is what Paul prays God will do in the church, for our good and His glory (vs. 21).  Read more…