Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day

Oh, how we need more models of godly fatherhood like this! It's a great blog post entitled, "A Father Worthy of Imitation." Hat tip to Greg Caskey for pointing it out to me.

(By the way, one of the quotes in the blog post is from John Paton's autobiography. I can't recommend that book highly enough. The story about his father is worth the price of the book, but there is so much more that will repay many times over the money paid and the time taken to read it.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Preference: Rebuke or Flattery?

Which do you prefer to...give?

I didn't ask which you prefer to receive, though that would also be telling.

Consider Proverbs 28:23:
Whoever rebukes a man will       afterward
find more favor
                                 than he who flatters with his tongue.
Here is the sweet irony of God's wisdom -- kind of like God telling us that pragmatism doesn't work.

Why do you flatter? In order to win or preserve favor. But flattery is like cotton candy. "Ooooh! Cotton candy!" You eat some. But if you keep eating it, it makes you sick. (Truth be told, cotton candy is actually better for you than flattery.)

In the long run, flattery isn't good for finding favor. Ironic. If you want real, substantial, loving relationships with people, speak the truth in love. Even (especially?) when the truth they need to hear is hard, if they are wise, they will know you really love them. And you will find more favor than the cotton candy man who always seems to have a flock of buyers begging favors. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What Do You Think Of Calvinism?

Let's do a quick round of the word association game.

I say: 
You say:
For the first half of my life, I would have responded with things like, "arrogance" or "theological system over scripture" or "then we're just robots" or "frozen chosen" or "de-motivator to missions and prayer." Near the end of my time in college I was confronted with words and texts in the Bible that I did not like. But they were in the Bible. And I knew I couldn't just ignore them or sweep them under the rug of feigned ignorance. Thus began a multi-year journey to understand what these doctrines meant and whether or not I believed them.

I started out with strong visceral resistance. I moved (slowly) on to reluctant acknowledgement. I eventually ended up, having been maddened and sobered and scared and humbled and thrilled in the process, in a place of joyful embrace. John Piper, through his writing and preaching, was one of my main guides in this journey.

There are plenty of caricatures of Calvinism out there that I repel. There is much misunderstanding of what Calvin actually taught (have you ever read him?), and what "The Doctrines of Grace" (as they are commonly called) actually teach. There are also many "Calvinists" out there who give Calvinism a bad name. None of that means it is not true. That must be determined humbly and rigorously as we submit our minds and hearts to the whole counsel of God's Holy Word.

So, I wonder what your associations are. And I wonder if the following videos might help. In my opinion, these are some of the things that ought to be associated with the label.

First, John Piper's brief testimony: 

And secondly, a poetic description he wrote:

HT: JT here and here

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Race Set Before You

Have you ever been tempted to slow up because you don’t like the course you’re on?

You’ve got cancer or some other disease and everyone else seems to be the picture of health and wellness.
You’re unemployed and everyone else seems to be getting a job or busy at work.
You’re working like a dog and everyone else seems to have more time and days off.
You hate your job and everyone else seems to like their job.
You’re failing at your job and everyone else seems to be succeeding.
You’re struggling financially and everyone else seems to be getting along just fine.
You’re single and everyone else seems to be married or getting married.
You’re unhappily married and everyone else seems to be enviously single or enviously married.
You can’t get pregnant and wombs everywhere seem to be bursting with life.
Your kids seem to give you nothing but grief, while happy homes everywhere mock your pain.
You're aging not gracefully but painfully, and everyone else appears younger and carefree.

You look around and bitterness and resentment begin to rise. And you slow up. And your hands drop to your sides. And your knees hurt and feel weak. And the path seems always uphill and rough. And you’re tired. And you want to quit. And it seems fruitless to fight (after all, any fight you’ve waged in the past has only resulted in this!). Maybe some relief will come by giving up the fight. Maybe you’ll find some rest at the edge of the path as you brood over/wallow in your disappointment and frustration and self-pity. And you coast. And you wander. And you stop even being bothered by it.

The book of Hebrews was written for you.

There is a race set before you. It’s not the same race that is set before the next guy. You weren’t called to run his race. Don’t worry about him (see John 21:21-22). You have a race set before you. And you were meant to run it. Not sit on the side of it. Not give up on it.
Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
In the preceding context, the writer gives us a list of people who have already crossed the finish line. They are part of the great cloud of witnesses that are set all around us. They made it. And they are cheering us on as we run toward the finish.

Some of them seemed to cross as victors:
Hebrews 11:32-35a And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets--who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.
Some seemed to cross as victims, tacked to a circumstantial cross by their seemingly victorious enemies:
Hebrews 11:35b-38 Some (through faith!) were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy-- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
So, which of these two categories would you like set before you? I’m guessing you’d like the former set before you. But God may choose to set the latter before you. Does the latter necessarily mean you don’t have enough faith to be victorious? No. Does it necessarily mean God is not pleased with you? No.
Hebrews 11:39-40 And all these (the conquerors and the conquered; the victors and the victims), though commended through their faith (they were pleasing to God by faith, not because they won or succeeded; their acceptability with God was not necessarily evident in earthly success, but in the fact that they kept trusting – through thick and thin), did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Instead of fixing your eyes on the difficultly of the race set before you; instead of looking around at everyone else who seems to have it better than you, fix your eyes on Jesus. He had a race set before him that makes even the most difficult race look like a cake walk. He endured it for the joy set before him. He blazed the trail by faith, for the sake of your faith. He’s the pioneer and the perfecter.

The real reward and the real victory and the real joy is not victory on this earth. It’s not earthly success. If, in the race set before you, you experience success and victory, keep looking to Jesus and know that you only win by his grace and for his glory. If, in the race set before you, you experience failure and defeat, keep looking to Jesus and know that these trials can’t take the true victory and reward from you. God doesn’t love only the successful conquerors. In fact, it's often the pain of defeat and trials that are filled with his loving fatherly training.
Hebrews 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. … For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Have you ever been tempted to slow up because you don’t like the course you’re on? Do you see how the book of Hebrews is for you? Hear and heed... 
Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away…
Hebrews 12:12-16 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive (Run after!) for peace with everyone, and (Run after!) the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it (with your eyes fixed on Jesus) that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Do Good Things Happen To Bad People?

This question isn't exactly en vogue. The reverse gets a lot of press, but this one not so much. We should get people to start asking this question. It's not the angst-riddled riddle that plagues your average person on the street. But it should be. 

None of us even begin to realize how much mercy and grace is poured out on us every single day. We all enjoy innumerable gifts we do not deserve. We all are spared innumerable miseries we have no existential right to avoid.

The fact that people who utterly reject God continue have air to breathe and beating hearts and any sense of pleasure whatsoever, for any length of time whatsoever, is an amazing merciful gift!

Matthew 5:44-45 (emphasis added):
[Jesus said], Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Why do good things happen to bad people?!

Only the merciful love of God.

There are angry atheists who will hug a loved one today and be hugged in return. Some of them will eat succulent steak tonight (they have tastebuds!). Some of them will enjoy the pleasures of the marriage bed tonight (they have erogenous zones!).

There are indifferent agnostics who could not care less what Jesus said or did, and they will lay their head down on a bed tonight…with a pillow! They will drink clean water – even in DE! They will go to the grocery store and pick up beautiful produce they did not grow, miraculous vegetables and fruits they did not plant or water or harvest. They most certainly did not supply the seed or the water or the miracle that is top soil.

There are sour church goers who think they’ve kept the rules and lived a good life and are smugly self-righteous. They look down with contempt on so many lazy, immoral, distasteful inferiors. They don’t need a bloody cross. They’ve kept the rules. They deserve the paycheck of a good life and warm, congratulatory entrance into heaven. They’ve earned it. No matter they turn their back on the cross of Christ as unnecessary (at least for the likes of them), or they belittle and downsize it to be just an example of sacrificial love we should try to emulate. "God helps those who help themselves! If only more people would get off their selfish, lazy tails and try a little harder!" These hypocrites wear warm clothes all winter! They pull warm blankets around them and never shiver the whole night through! They go on vacations and feel the satisfaction of warm sand between their toes! They feel the warmth of the sun on their skin! They enjoy laughter with friends! (Maybe that last one was a stretch.)

There are relativists (with, as one writer put it, "their morality firmly planted in mid-air") who reject the unshakable truth that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the way, the truth, and the life. They will read today, because they can (they have books)! They will listen to beautiful music! Many of them will never worry where their next meal is coming from! They will not have to beg, borrow,  or steal.

How should your paragraph read? Sometimes it's really helpful to ask the questions nobody's asking. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Covering Your Sin

Who's going to cover your sin?


Or God?

I was encouraged by Psalm 32 this morning.

King David knows what it's like to try to cover up your sin. And he knows it doesn't work. God opposes the proud:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
But, David also knows that God gives grace to the humble who don't try to cover their sin.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Result? The LORD, by his blood-bought covenant mercy, covers our sin.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (i.e. the deceit of covering up your sin).
David then wants you to be blessed like him:
Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.
Don't be silent about your sin. Acknowledge it to God. The blood of Jesus was shed to COVER, to atone for, that sin. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn 1:9). Don't veer off into deceitful denial. It will not go well for you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
You can hide your sin and be surrounded by fears of exposure. Or you can expose your sin and have God as your hiding place, surrounded by the joyful shouts of deliverance.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
You can run from God, searching for a way to avoid his omniscient eye. Or you can run to God, and his omniscient eye will watch over you as you go his way.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Who's going to cover your sin?


Or God?
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
When you experience this blessing of a cleansed slate and a clean conscience, you will be glad: 
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!