Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 - Helpful Quotes

We continued our study through the Sermon on the Mount this past Sunday, considering Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 together. I mentioned that I'd share the quotes from the sermon, in case you wanted to reflect on them a bit more. Here they are (all emphasis is mine):

Dallas Willard commenting on Matthew 6:1, 
“One of the greatest fallacies of our faith, and actually one of the greatest acts of unbelief, is the thought that our spiritual acts and virtues need to be advertised to be known. ... Secrecy rightly practiced enables us to place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God, who lit our candles so we could be the light of the world, not so we could hide under a bushel. We allow him to decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed. The Spirit of the Disciplines (173-74)

Addressing the apparent tension between Matthew 5:16 & Matthew 6:1, A.B. Bruce stated, 
 We are to show when tempted to hide and hide when tempted to show."
Jesus is apparently motivating us in Matthew 6 with the promise of reward. Is it selfish or mercenary to be motivated by reward? 

No. There is a world of difference between proper and improper rewards, between selfishness and enlightened self-interest. C.S. Lewis wrote with great insight on this point: 
“We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of rewards. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love, that is why we call man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”
I didn't quote this one on Sunday, but Lewis addresses this point again in The Problem of Pain:
"We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by its very nature, seeks to enjoy its object."
In Matthew 6:3, why does Jesus say, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing?" John Stott offers some insight when he writes, 
“Not only are we not to tell other people about our Christian giving; there is a sense in which we are not even to tell ourselves. We are not to be self-conscious in our giving, for our self-consciousness will readily deteriorate into self-righteousness. So subtle is the sinfulness of the heart that it is possible to take deliberate steps to keep our giving secret from men while simultaneously dwelling on it in our own minds in a spirit of self-congratulation.” (Christian Counter-Culture, 130).
Commenting on Matthew 5:5-6, Don Carson writes, 
“The person who prays more in public than in private reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety…but a reputation for piety…is his concern.”

And finally, Matthew 6:16-18 makes clear that we are not to draw attention to our fasting. But what if someone finds out? Is it always wrong to let other people know that you are fasting? John Piper, in his excellent book length treatment of fasting, A Hunger For God, says, “being seen fasting and fasting to be seen are not the same.”

Apologetics with Rebecca McLaughlin

Rebecca McLaughlin is a sharp and articulate defender of the Christian faith. She's written a book titled, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion. She was asked HERE (time stamp 11:53) "What motivated you to write this book?" Her answer is an interesting one, and it gives you a window into some of her background.

The book addresses the following questions:
  1. Aren't We Better Off without Religion? 
  2. Doesn't Christianity Crush Diversity? 
  3. How Can You Say There's Only One True Faith? 
  4. Doesn't Religion Hinder Morality? 
  5. Doesn't Religion Cause Violence? 
  6. How Can You Take the Bible Literally? 
  7. Hasn't Science Disproved Christianity? 
  8. Doesn't Christianity Denigrate Women? 
  9. Isn't Christianity Homophobic? 
  10. Doesn't the Bible Condone Slavery? 
  11. How Could a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering? 
  12. How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell? 

One quick example of Rebecca's winsome competence:

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Gospels Reading Plan for Jan-May

As we study through the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings, we've provided a reading plan that takes you through all four Gospels 2x and the Sermon on the Mount 6x from Jan-May. If you misplace your copy, it's posted here for reference.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Sabbath in the Bible

The Bible Project just posted a great video explaining the meaning of Sabbath in the Bible:

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Magi and Magnificent Providence

I'm reading slowly through the Gospel of Matthew, wanting to "fix my eyes on Jesus...in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Heb 12:2; Php 3:8). Matthew chapter 2 was up for today. I'm reading the ESV Study Bible notes along with the text, and I loved this comment on Matthew 2:11:
“The gifts were likely used providentially to support the family in their flight to Egypt.”
What a beautiful, providential provision for this peasant family! The magi from the east were doubtlessly wealthy. This was no haphazard little band of three guys on camels. Most likely they traveled in a large caravan of people and animals and supplies. If they came from Babylon, their trip was around 800 miles. Covering that distance would have taken over 40 days. These dignified magi would not have popped up a couple of Coleman tents each night. A small nomadic camp would have to be set up, meals prepared, and precautions taken in protection from thieves. This was probably an impressive entourage. Consider how quickly they gained face time with Herod the King upon arrival. 

All this to say, when they showed up at the door in Bethlehem, it’s hard to imagine their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh totaling a cheap token. These gifts "were likely used providentially to support the family" while they were refugees in Egypt, possibly longer. 

We don’t know how old Jesus was when Joseph died, but perhaps this providential gift served his poor widow and son. Imagine the thoughts when Mary took a few more myrrh beads or frankincense tears from the pouch to exchange at the market. “Great men traveled great distances to offer these costly gifts and to worship my son. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. He has exalted those of humble estate. He has filled the hungry with good things." (cf. Luke 1:46-53)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Body-Image Brokenness

Brianna McClean wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition (Australia Edition) entitled, "Eve's Nakedness and Your Broken Body." It's really well written, addressing a pervasive problem with grace and wisdom. She writes to the daughters of the King, but knows that the sons need to read it too. I'd encourage you to read the whole thing. A couple quotes should prove that it's worth your time.
Eve was the last woman to experience unbroken body-image. She was the last woman to see her body outside of the shadow of sin. In Genesis chapter two, Eve listens to the serpent and not to God, sin enters the world. Note, the first consequence of sin is broken body-image. Adam and Eve realise they are naked and feel ashamed. They cover themselves. Imagine Eve squirming in her fig-leaf, sucking in her stomach and pinching her upper arms. She is dissatisfied. ‘Am I ugly?’, she wonders for the first time. Sin affected Eve’s physical body, made it mortal. The moment she turned her back on God the life-giver, pain, disease and death embedded themselves in her DNA. 
As God made Eve’s animal-skin covering, he was really sewing a prototype. He had plans for a much better covering, one which would destroy the power of sin and shame. The clothes of Christ’s righteousness. The Bible has good news for those weighed down by body-hatred. Jesus Christ died for your body, and he will resurrect it. Christ didn’t just die for your soul, he died to redeem your physical body. The New Creation will be a physical place, where God’s people will live in their redeemed physical bodies. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Beauty is Vain... Or Unfading

Proverbs 31:30 (ESV)
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Beauty is vain? What does that mean?

First, what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean that beauty is meaningless. We live in a world made by a beautiful God who fills his world with beauty. He is the designer and source of all beauty. It is his glory on display. Beauty matters.

So what does it mean? It means that physical beauty is fleeting. God loves us enough to tell us not to build our identity on something so transient, so fragile. If you do, you'll be building your life on sand. Sand that easily shifts. Sand that pours through your grasping fingers. Hourglass sand that quickly runs out. If you build your identity on how you look, who you are will be tragically fragile.

This was illustrated with sad clarity recently in a World Magazine article by Sophia Lee entitled, "Selfies with a Supermodel."

Through her friend who runs a ministry to the homeless in LA, the author met Ivy Nicholson, a once world-famous model. Nicholson is now elderly and homeless. Pictures of her then and now provide visual aid to the wisdom of Proverbs 31:30. And Lee's article provides sad testimony of the effects of "chasing after the wind" of physical beauty.
Ivy was regaling Regina with tales of her past…how she traveled all around the world doing high-fashion shoots. And for the rest of the afternoon, all she talked about was the past. One of the first things she said to me was, “Do you know who I am? Look me up!” 
The once-gorgeous young woman was now an 84-year-old homeless woman, but she still acted as if in the heyday of her 20s, giggling and fixing her hair in her compact mirror. She barely talked about her kids and grandchildren, but bragged how easy it was for her to gain VIP seats at fancy-schmancy bars and hard-to-reserve restaurants.
She concludes with this: 
I felt rather sad for the poor woman: She seemed to me to be basing so much of her self-worth and value on her physical appearance and past experiences. I also felt convicted, because as embarrassed as I am to admit it, I also base too much of my own worth and self-confidence in how I look and what I’ve accomplished. … Is this really what I want to boast about 50 years from today?

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV, emphasis added)
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Gospel Gold from John Newton on "The Advantages of Indwelling Sin"

Why does God allow such deep and prolonged struggle with sin throughout our lives? What are the advantages to allowing so much sin to remain in his children?

John Newton, the former slave trader, who was converted and became a pastor (and author of the famous hymn, "Amazing Grace"), thought long and hard on these questions. He penned a letter on the advantages (!) of indwelling sin. It's full of the savor of God's wisdom and the sweetness of his grace. Here's an extended excerpt (emphasis mine). This is gold, brothers and sisters. Gospel gold.
If the evils we feel were not capable of being over-ruled for good, he would not permit them to remain in us. ...
The gracious purposes to which the Lord makes the sense and feeling of our depravity subservient, are manifold. Hereby his own power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love, are more signally displayed: his power, in maintaining his own work in the midst of so much opposition, like a spark burning in the water...; his wisdom, in defeating and controlling all the devices which Satan...
... The unchangeableness of the Lord's love, and the riches of his mercy, are likewise more illustrated by the multiplied pardons he bestows upon his people, than if they needed no forgiveness at all.
Hereby the Lord Jesus is more endeared to the soul; all boasting is effectually excluded, and the glory of a full free salvation is ascribed to him alone. If a mariner is surprised by a storm, and after one night spent in jeopardy, is presently brought safe into port; though he may rejoice in his deliverance, it will not affect him so sensibly, as if, after being tempest-tossed for a long season, and experiencing a great number and variety of hair-breadth escapes, he at last gains the desired haven. ...
But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, wilfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them. They dare not, they will not ascribe anything to themselves, but are glad to acknowledge, that they must have perished (if possible) a thousand times over, if Jesus had not been their Saviour, their shepherd, and their shield.
... In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of [Him], if they had not known so much of themselves.
Further, a spirit of humiliation, which is both…the strength and beauty of our profession, is greatly promoted by our feeling, as well as reading, that when we would do good, evil is present with us. A broken and contrite spirit is pleasing to the Lord who has promised to dwell with those who have it; and experience shows, that the exercise of all our graces is in proportion to the humbling sense we have of the depravity of our nature.
But that we are so totally depraved, is a truth which no one ever truly learned by being only told it. ...experience is the Lord's school, and they who are taught by him usually learn, that they have no wisdom by the mistakes they make, and that they have no strength by the slips and falls they meet with.
... Thus by degrees they are weaned from leaning to any supposed wisdom, power, or goodness in themselves; they feel the truth of our Lord's words, "Without me [you] can do nothing;"...
Whoever is truly humbled will not be easily angry, ...will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing, that if there be a difference, it is grace that has made it, and that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart; and, under all trials and afflictions, he will look to the hand of the Lord, and lay his mouth in the dust, acknowledging that he suffers much less than his iniquities have deserved. 
These are some of the advantages and good fruits which the Lord enables us to obtain from that bitter root, indwelling sin.

You can go and read the full letter HERE.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Waking Up to Male Privilege

I went on a walk last night to pray. It was around midnight. It was in a pretty "safe" neighborhood. I was preparing to preach on Genesis 34 the next morning. It's the heartrending story of the rape of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob.

At some point in that walk, it struck me that I wasn't worried (even though there are a few killer dogs I prefer to avoid). That lack of fear is a luxury I usually take for granted.

That's not a luxury most women enjoy. My wife was recently on a walk at night in that same neighborhood. At one point she noticed a vehicle that seemed to be following her (parking, then moving). She "tested" that theory, and got a little more concerned. She wasn't far from home, so she crossed the street and ducked behind our van in our driveway. I saw her through the window, so I came out to find out what was going on. After hearing what had happened, she described the vehicle and we realized it was right across the street, parked near the public mailbox.

My adrenaline was pumping and I started walking toward the vehicle, wondering what to do and/or say. I yelled across the street at the guy (his window was down), and after he gave me a lame answer to my questions, he drove away.

I take the safety of solitary late-night walks (or runs) for granted. Women don't.

Genesis 34 starts out like this:
1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
It's likely that "going out to see the women of the land" carries negative connotations. It wasn't wise for Dinah to do this alone. Canaan was a dangerous place for young women. And she was most likely only 15 or 16 years old. But the text says nothing about her to chide or blame. She is a victim of Shechem's unbridled lust. This is rape. This is sexual assault. He saw her. He seized her. He forced himself on her, humiliating and degrading her.

If you wonder what the Bible, what God, thinks of this, we get the clear judgment in verse 7:
The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done.
In Hebrew narrative, editorial explanations are rare. When they are given, they are the ancient near eastern equivalent of bold and underline emphasis. What Shechem did was an outrageous thing. Outrage is the righteous response. The brothers were right to be indignant and very angry. Such a thing must not be done!

If you believe the Bible, sexual assault is NOT the fault of the victim. NO ONE should lay any blame at her feet, and I don't care "how she was dressed."