Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Donkey, the Stallion, and the Strategy of the Hills

In 1983, for Palm Sunday, John Piper preached a sermon on Matthew 21:33-46. His sermon was basically a parable, following and unpacking the storyline of Jesus' parable. I read it years ago and it hit me like a freight train!

I was reminded of it yesterday and I re-read it. I was overwhelmed again. I plan to read it to our family on Christmas Eve. Perhaps you'll want to incorporate it into your personal or family reading this Christmas.

You can listen to it or read it here.

Christmas Music Round-Up

If you love good Christmas music, you probably have your favorites and go-to's. If you're looking to expand your playlist, here are a few suggestions.

  • Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb" is excellent. You can listen here.
  • Austin Stone Worship has a good album called, "A Day of Glory" that you can listen to here.
  • I love the song "Baby Son" by John Mark McMillan.
  • Page CXVI has a great album called "Advent to Christmas" that you can listen to here (and you can buy it here). We studied Isaiah 40:1-11 last Sunday. Their "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" (track 3) is basically that passage to song! All the songs are good, but I really like their rendition of Silent Night (track 7 - be sure you listen to the end).
  • Sojourn Music has two Christmas albums. You can listen to "Advent Songs" here and "A Child is Born" here.
  • Sovereign Grace Music has two Christmas albums. "Savior" can be found here. And "Prepare Him Room," which is brand new, can be found here.

And I love this rendition of "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day":






Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Reading Others Through the Lens of Your Strengths or Your Weaknesses


We all have strengths. We all have weaknesses. We interact all the time with those whose strengths line up with our weaknesses and whose weaknesses line up with our strengths. This is the wisdom of God to guard us from the myopia and foibles our weaknesses produce.

This is also God's wisdom to kick up quite a bit of interpersonal criticism and conflict. When another has strengths where I am weak, they can help and warn and come alongside me and be a great blessing. Constructive criticism and cooperation is necessary and good. But our criticism can be (and often is) bad. And destructive.

For example, when you are working with someone like this, it's very easy to "read them" through the lens of your strengths. You are a good leader. They are a good servant. You are organized and a good planner. They are disorganized but will flexibly meet any need at the drop of a hat.

If you read them through the lens of your strengths, you will see only their weaknesses. In fact, their weaknesses will be magnified by your lens. And you will judge and criticize and become impatient and irritated with them on account of their poor leadership or organizational inferiority. Might there be reason to challenge or encourage them to growth? Of course! But not before you do it with the right lenses on.

The right lenses come from taking a honest look at yourself. You may be a good leader, but you may not be the most willing servant. You may be organized and a good planner, but you may not be the most flexible or patient person you've ever met. If you view others through the filter of your weaknesses, then you're ready to dialogue about their growth edges, with the right disposition and approach.

Or, flip it around. You may be a good servant. You may be willing to give people the shirt off your back. You'll drop everything to help someone in need. You end up working with someone who doesn't seem to have the same level of willing concern for others. They seem to say 'no' way too easily. If you read them through the lens of your strengths, their weaknesses will be magnified. You will judge and criticize and become impatient and irritated with them on account of their "lack of love" and "comfortably organized life." Might there be reason to challenge or encourage them to growth? Of course! But not before you do it with the right lenses on.

The right lenses come from taking a honest look at yourself. You may be flexible and responsive to needs, but you are given to people pleasing and not good at saying the hard thing when it needs to be said. You may be willing to give people the shirt off your back, but you don't plan or manage your own life very well, often frustrating people by your forgetfulness or disorganization. If you view others through the filter of your weaknesses, then you're ready to dialogue about growth edges, with the right disposition and approach.

We all have weaknesses. We all tend to downplay them. We also tend to up-play the weaknesses of others. We need to SEE our tendency to do this. And we need to see and be reminded of our weaknesses. None of us is omni-competent. None of us is without sin. Once we have that clearly in view, we're in the right place to address another's weaknesses. We will look at their weaknesses through the lens of our weaknesses, not through the lens of our strengths. We will be ready to treat them with the same understanding and honor and benefit-of-the-doubt that we want (and need!) to be given.

How do we SEE like this? Jesus showed us.
Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
At the bottom of all of this is the need for gospel grace to saturate our souls. We need that grace down deep, for deep-seated personal security. We're totally accepted by God through Christ. Warts and weaknesses and all. Without that gospel governing our daily perspective, we will inevitably seek to establish a standard of relative righteousness for our own (self) justification. We will need to vindicate ourselves by means of our sacrifice or service or success. We will look to our own performance and then look around to compare ourselves with others. And we will look down on and condemn those who don't measure up to our standards.
"I'm working so hard, why can't they...?" 
"I've had to make so many sacrifices, he hasn't even...!" 
"What is so hard about...?!"
We will necessarily be focused on our strengths and successes, because we have to be. We won't be honest about our weaknesses and failures, because we dare not be. We will necessarily be focused on the weaknesses and failures of others, because the strengths of others magnify to us our weaknesses. In our pride, that bugs us. And so we want the spotlight to stay on their weaknesses, rather than thanking God for their strengths. If the grace of the gospel isn't saturating your soul, you'll necessarily be insecure and on the lookout for inferiors to prop up your fragile self-worth.

But when the gospel of grace saturates us to the core...everything changes.

We've embraced the fact that we're sinful and we've failed and we're broken and weak. We've received the acceptance and approval of God through Christ. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There's nothing to hide. There's no need to hide. We are loved and accepted not based on our performance or success, but on the basis of Jesus' victorious life and in-my-place death.

We know who we are -- more sinful than we ever dared admit; more loved than we ever dared dream.
We know we are still imperfect. We know we are not omni-competent. Only Jesus is. And so we graciously, patiently work with other imperfect people (like us!), looking humbly through eyes that are so often filled with "logs."

And we begin thanking God for the strengths of others, even when they magnify our weaknesses. And we view the weaknesses of others through the lens of our weaknesses. "I'm so glad she is strong where I am weak! Thank you, Lord, for how you've made us all with different strengths and weaknesses. We need you. We need each other. We are not you. You alone are perfect. And you are so gracious and patient with us imperfect people!"

Lord, have mercy and help us see!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Urban Promise at BBC (and, hopefully, vice versa)

If you missed this past Sunday's presentation by Urban Promise, you missed out (not to mention that you missed the Skype call with the Kirks!)! It was so encouraging to hear about this ministry's vision and mission, and to hear testimonies of their impact in the city of Wilmington.

We even ended up hearing of how Brett Wharton's witness while at UD was used by God to lead Jeff Thompson to faith in Christ, and God then used Jeff Thompson to lead David to Christ. David is now a street leader at UP, and the guy in the middle in the video below. David is actively passing on the love of Christ to kids younger than him in his neighborhood!

They did a little demonstration of their excellent drum line skills (and this is only a representation of their full line)! You can listen to a brief portion of it below. That's Kenny on the left, David in the middle, and Ty on the right.

video

I'm very excited about the prospect of our involvement with Urban Promise. Our student ministry has already begun to plug in. Let's pray about how we should be involved beyond that. As you do, here are a few of the needs and opportunities they have:


Thursday, December 3, 2015

How Healthy is Your Marriage?

Kevin DeYoung provides 10 excellent diagnostic questions. I've edited and abbreviated them slightly.
1. Do you pray together? While I do know of good marriages where the husband and wife don’t pray together nearly as much as they would like, I don’t know any bad marriages where the husband and wife pray together all the time.
2. Do you still notice each other? Is there any chance anyone would ever catch you noticing your spouse as attractive?
3. Do you ever hold hands? In the movies? On the couch? Walking around the block? During prayer at church? In the car? We all love to see old couples holding hands. It always made me feel good as a kid to see my dad reach for my mom’s hand while driving. If this simple act of affection is missing, more may be missing than you realize.
4. When is the last time you said “I’m sorry”? Not as an excuse. Not with a snarl. But a sincere, tender, broken-hearted apology.
5. When is the last time you said, “Thank you”? I’m not talking about politeness when passing the salt. I’m talking about a specific expression of gratitude for doing the dishes, for letting you sleep in, for working hard to provide for the family, for watching the kids all day, or for making your favorite meal.
6. When is the last time you planned a surprise? Do you still surprise each other with gifts, with special outings, with a kiss out of the blue, with coming home early?
7. When is the last time you embarrassed the kids together? Children should roll their eyes from time to time because of how silly mom and dad can get. They should see you dancing, see you kissing, see you acting utterly goofy. The kids will hate it, but deep down probably love it too.
8. When is the last time you went out and talked about something other than the kids? You don’t have to spend money. You can go on a walk...
9. What would others think about your spouse just by listening to you speak about him or her? 
10. Do you think more about what you aren’t giving or about what you aren’t getting? We all get hurt in marriage. We all get disappointed. ... But as you think about what needs [work] in your marriage, are you fixated on your spouse’s deficiencies or your room for improvement?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Marriage is Like "Dancing in the Mine Fields"

Another good marriage song... This one by Andrew Peterson.

Here's how the song came about, in the artist's own words (found here):
In December of 2009 my wife and I celebrated fifteen years of marriage. A few days later, we got in a silly argument and I wrote this song after she went to bed. Marriage, see, was God’s idea. It’s one of the most potent metaphors in all of Scripture for the way God loves us and the way we’re to let ourselves be loved by him. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. To the contrary, it’s fraught with peril. Any good marriage involves a thousand deaths to self—the good news is, in Christ that marriage involves at least as many resurrections. We lay our lives down and enter this perilous dance with another human being who has done the same. Why should we expect to emerge unscathed?
The video isn't overly impressive, but listen to the words and you'll be encouraged. And  you've got to love seeing decades-old marriages that are still lively and sweet (like the couples seen in the video).


Andrew Peterson - Dancing in the Minefields from Centricity Music on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Hope Benjamin Watson Gets Under Your Skin

In the wake of Ferguson and the maddening and disheartening number of racially charged police shootings over the last year and a half, there has been no end to the commentary on the news and social media. Some has been helpful. Some has been despicable. Some has brought clarity. Some has only muddied the waters.

Benjamin Watson is a star tight end for the New Orleans Saints. More importantly, he is a thoughtful and outspoken Christian. You may have read his Facebook post response to Ferguson back in 2014 when he wrote it, but I only recently came across it. It went viral and was viewed by millions...for good reason. He summarized his thoughts under the following 12 headings:

I’M ANGRY
I’M FRUSTRATED
I’M FEARFUL
I’M EMBARRASSED
I’M SAD
I’M SYMPATHETIC
I’M OFFENDED
I’M CONFUSED
I’M INTROSPECTIVE
I’M HOPELESS
I’M HOPEFUL
I’M ENCOURAGED

Please take the time to read how he unpacks each of these statements. You can find the full post reprinted here. You can watch him share an abbreviated version here:



I don't know about you, but after reading (or watching) that, I want to hear from Benjamin on race relations and the power of the gospel to break down the dividing walls of hostility. If you're with me, you might want to check this out. He will be doing a webcast on Nov 24, at 7:30pm to have a conversation about race with pastor Darrin Patrick. You may also want to order a copy of his new book called, Under Our Skin.

May the Lord use his efforts to shed divine light and wisdom on these complex issues, and bring about more blood-bought unity across all kinds of blood lines.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Shrink Ray & The Magnifying Glass: A Couple of Satan's Weapons

Some very helpful wisdom here from Tim Challies (who's got a great blog, by the way):
One of Satan’s greatest tricks is to convince you that the sin you are being tempted with is a very small sin. “This is just a little one. It’s not like you’re going to kill anyone. It’s not like you’re committing adultery. You’ve done it before and God didn’t strike you down. The joy will by far outweigh the risk. We will keep this one between just you and me.” And too often you believe his lie. You indulge in what seems like just a little sin, a harmless peccadillo. 
One of Satan’s greatest delights is to convince you that the sin you have just committed is a very big sin. That same sin that was so small in the future looms so large in the past. Now he whispers, “Oh, you have sinned so badly. You have sinned so big. How could you have done this? You’ve gone and done it this time—you’ve sinned beyond his grace.” And again, you believe the lie. You wallow in guilt and sink into despair.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Husbands, Play This One For Your Wives

Pastor Tyler put me on to this song awhile ago. It's excellent. Husbands, why not plan a date, print the lyrics, and give them to her as you play it in the car on the way out?



Here are the lyrics:

You are a sight for aching eyes
A river for my thirst
When all the world is harsh and dry
Wasted by the curse
All words seem beggarly and poor
When set to sing your grace
What could I've know of love before
My eyes had seen your face?

My love, how beautiful you are
My love is ever where you are

I know you feel the wounds of time
The wandering feet of crows
But I am yours and you are mine
And none but me could know
How all of you enraptures me
Till I can't look away
I pray that I will live to see
You wear a crown of gray

My love, how beautiful you are
My love is ever where you are

Oh when you kiss me I am lost
Or is it that I'm found?
My feet send roots beneath the rocks
To fix me to the ground
Never to float away again
A captive to the tide
No more to wander in the wind
Without you by my side

My love, how beautiful you are
My love is ever where you are

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Suta" Video for IDOP

Sunday, Nov 1 was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We showed the following video produced by Voice of the Martyrs. I referenced it again this past Sunday, as it is a powerful illustration of 1 Peter 2:12.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
If you didn't get a chance to see it on Nov 1, or if you'd like to watch it again, here it is: 



Luke 6:27-36
"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 
Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 
"If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 
And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 
And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Bible Project

THIS is a really cool project. Check out their video on Ruth to get an idea of how helpful these videos can be.



Visit their website to see what biblical books and themes they've done, and what project they're working on right now. Scroll down to "Book Videos" and "Theme Videos" to see the lists.

HT: JT

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Because We Ought to Make Fun of "Reality TV"

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, 9-10, 14
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has been already in the ages before us. 
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.



Matthew 6:32-33
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

HT: KD

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Second Helping Sermon Quotes

In case you want to go back for seconds on these (emphasis added):

Carl Trueman (from this article -- and the whole thing is worth reading!): 
When I married a young couple in my congregation a few years ago, I commented in the sermon that all human marriages begin with joy but end in tragedy. Whether it is divorce or death, the human bond of love is eventually torn apart. The marriage of Christ and his church, however, begins with tragedy and ends with a joyful and loving union which will never be rent asunder. There is joy to which we point in our worship, the joy of the Lamb’s wedding feast. But our people need to know that in this world there will be mourning. Not worldly mourning with no hope. But real mourning nonetheless, and we must make them ready for that.

J.I. Packer [from “The Gospel and the Lord’s Supper,” in Serving the People of God, vol. 2 of Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 49-50.]:
We are … to learn the divinely intended discipline of drawing assurance from the sacrament. We should be saying in our hearts, ‘as sure as I see and touch and taste this bread and this wine, so sure it is that Jesus Christ is not a fancy but a fact, that he is for real, and that he offers himself to be my Saviour, my Bread of Life, and my Guide to glory. He has left me this rite, this gesture, this token, this ritual action as a guarantee of this grace; He instituted it, and it is a sign of life-giving union with him, and I’m taking part in it, and thus I know that I am his and he is mine forever.’ That is the assurance that we should be drawing from our sharing in the Lord’s Supper every time we come to the table. 
And then we must realize something of our togetherness in Christ with the rest of the congregation. . . . [We should reject the] strange perverse idea . . . that the Lord’s Supper is a flight of the alone to the Alone: it is my communion I come to make, not our communion in which I come to share. You can’t imagine a more radical denial of the Gospel than that. 
The communion table must bring to us a deeper realization of our fellowship together. If I go into a church for a communion service where not too many folk are present, to me it is a matter of conscience to sit beside someone. This togetherness is part of what is involved in sharing in eucharistic worship in a way that edifies. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"At The Table" by Josh Garrels (Music Recommendation)

I quoted from the song "At The Table" by Josh Garrels a few weeks ago. It's one of my favorites from his newest album entitled, "Home."

If you aren't familiar with Garrels' music, you can listen to a bunch of it here. You can also download a free sample album here. Here are a few recommendations to get you started: Farther Along, The ResistanceRevelator, Pilot Me, Zion and Babylon, & All Creatures. I'll go ahead and stop there. Enjoy!

Friday, October 30, 2015

"We Don't Fight For Survival, But For Service"

I hope you'll take 4 minutes of your life and watch this video about The Westminster Bookstore. It's not only a good advertisement for their services, it is a model of how to do business to the glory of God.

While I'm at it, here are a few more reasons to make use of wtsbooks.com:

  • The books they provide are carefully vetted for good theology. You can trust that the books they are providing are good books. Think about it this way. The books you find under a given category (e.g. Children's Resources) are like a list of recommended books from a mature and trusted friend.
  • They provide EXCELLENT service (expect a very fast arrival - esp given our close proximity here in Wilmington). See the video for WHY their service is so good. 
  • Their pricing is almost always comparable to Amazon, and sometimes better. Yes, their shipping costs can make them a bit more expensive than Amazon (esp if you are an Amazon Prime member), but they are worth patronizing. We do not need or want all the smaller bookstores in the world to die at the hands of Amazon.


The Westminster Bookstore from Westminster Bookstore on Vimeo.

HT: JT

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

An Open Letter To Atheists Who Have A Problem With Suffering

Dear Atheist,

I'm not writing to pick a fight. I'm writing to provoke thought, and perhaps further dialogue.

I think I can say with fairness that all the atheists I've known or read have had a serious problem with the "problem of pain (or suffering or evil)." I'm guessing you are no different. If you are an atheist and have no problem with the suffering in this world, then go ahead and push along. I won't be offended.

When atheists lay their problem with suffering at the feet of Christians, the argument tends to go something like this:

If the God of the Bible exists, he is said to be all-powerful and all-loving. And yet, there is horrific suffering in this world. How can this be?
Is God not all-powerful? Is he unable to put a stop to all suffering?
Is God not all-loving? Does he not want to put a stop to all suffering?
If such atrocious and gratuitous suffering exists in this world, then either God is not all-powerful, not all-loving, or (your conclusion of choice), God does not exist.
The presence of such suffering and pain is a problem, you say. I agree. It is a problem. A big one. Theists of all sorts -- not just those who embrace the Bible -- have wrestled with this problem for millenia.

The problem, however, is this: only those who believe in a personal deity are allowed to have a problem with suffering. You atheists actually disallow yourselves this problem. And yet, you keep playing this card. Not a few outspoken atheists who recount the path they took to atheism include the problem of suffering as a key influencing factor.

Do you feel the thickness of the irony? The fact that you have a problem with suffering is the result of something very anti-atheistic. There is a problem with the problem you have with suffering. 

If you are an atheist, you believe there is no G/god. If you believe there is no God, then you believe we live in an impersonal, naturalistic universe. In other words, there is no personal, super-intelligent, super-powerful being behind the creation of this Universe. As such, there is no ultimate design or purpose for all that exists. Leaving aside the question of the origin of matter, you believe that all that exists on earth, including we humans and all we experience, came about by means of impersonal forces (like time, chance, random mutations, natural selection, etc.).

If we live in a world guided by random chance and natural selection and the survival of the fittest, why be surprised or bothered when powerful homo sapiens exterminate millions of other homo sapiens they deem inferior? Why does Hitler's rule bother you? Why does it seem so wrong? Why is it problematic? Isn't it natural? At least you have to say it's to be expected. It's simply humans acting out their evolutionary impulses. But it bothers you. What do you make of that feeling? Is it meaningful? Is it evidence of evolutionary weakness...or progress? Who's to tell? The one who "wins"? What if your crusade to rid the world of the intellectually inferior race of believers-in-God fails? Does that mean you are the evolutionary weak?

If this is a cold, impersonal, mechanistic world and female homo sapiens or young homo sapiens get chewed up in the cold, impersonal gears of sexually predatory behavior by more powerful male homo sapiens, why does that bother you? What did you expect? This is an impersonal universe that came about by impersonal forces, right? Of course the strong eat the weak. Of course male Australian redback spiders are, more often than not, eaten by the female after they copulate. Of course cannibalism happens. Of course genocide happens. What did you expect? It’s called natural selection. It’s called "survival of the fittest." It’s called "might makes right" (because there really isn't a transcendent "right," right?).

Consider also the havoc wrought by natural disasters. Why does the suffering that comes about seem unfair or wrong? Why are you so angry with the God in whom you do not believe? Does your sense of fairness and injustice against us helpless humans merely betray your evolutionary weakness? Again, are those judicial sentiments to be deemed evolutionary progress? How would you know? Who is the arbiter of such questions?

Maybe the Adolf Hitler's and conscience-less serial killers are harbingers of a more highly evolved human race. Maybe they are the most human humans. How does that thought hit you? Does it bother you? And yet, their behavior seems to be very unsurprising if cold, impersonal forces govern the universe and have gotten us this far.

The fact that you have such a problem with suffering is a problem. It's incompatible with what you believe to be true. The fact that suffering bothers you should bother you. You are not being consistent. Do you really believe there is no G/god? Maybe you are a nominal atheist. Maybe you should stop carrying your card.

You lay the problem of suffering at the feet of theists and Christians. Fair enough. But it seems a bit disingenuous. I lay at your feet the problem of your problem with suffering. Your problem with it betrays what you really believe.

I understand there are probably many reasons for your atheism. I am not claiming this is the only one. What I am saying is that when you bring up this issue, you lay it at our feet and say (something like), "If there is this much suffering in the world, how can there be a G/god?!" But why does that seem like such strong evidence in your favor? Because suffering is so intolerable to you?

Why is suffering so intolerable to you? Why haven't you accepted it? Why do you rage against it? That reaction only makes sense if there is some design and purpose for this world that appears to be short-circuiting when we suffer.

I can understand that you want the God who is "guilty" of all this pain, dead. I understand that if you could, you would kill him. And since you can't, at least you can "believe" he doesn't exist. That's the best you can do.

If there is no personal God in whose image we are made, from whom our emotional and judicial sentiments arise regarding human dignity and the evil of evil, then, ironically, we lose the opportunity to have a problem with suffering. If you pull the plug, your saw stops cutting. If you believe there is no God, you aren't allowed to declare suffering metaphysically or morally problematic.

And yet the stubborn facts remain. You don't live like a consistent atheist. Some have been courageous enough to be fairly consistent. They sound something like this (Bertrand Russell, the famous atheist philosopher):
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Free Man's Worship)
Any "Amen's"?

I believe atheism is a form of suffering -- self-imposed, yet real, suffering. What is it like, for intellectually honest and consistent atheists, to have to suppress the appropriate outrage at evil and suffering, and coldly, impersonally call that evil and suffering natural?

Woody Allen, who has described himself as a "militant Freudian atheist," gave voice to some of that suffering like this (“Adrift Alone in the Cosmos,” NY Times, 10 Aug. 1979):
More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray (?!) that we shall have the wisdom to choose correctly. I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence.
May I end by posing some intentionally rhetorical questions? I'm most certainly not trying to force-feed you any spiritual placebo pills. I'm just asking that you honestly consider an alternative worldview.
  • What if the thing that brought about all this pain and suffering in the first place was the desire to be god, to determine for ourselves what is good and evil, for no one else to set those boundaries for us? If you saw off the branch upon which you sit, you will inevitably crash to the ground. Why then rage at the tree for growing that branch up so far in the air?
  • What if godlike control and invulnerability are really what you want? What if you hate that you are so vulnerable; that you can't remove all the evil that threatens you and those you love? Is that why you try to condemn and execute God -- for not preventing or removing all of the pain and suffering, on your terms, according to your timing? Is it because you know, deep down, that the evil out there, lurking the shadows, just might eat you up...and you're scared? Or, is it the roaring maw that sometimes emerges from the shadows in your soul that scares you even more?
  • What if what you really need is your desire-to-be-god impulse to die?
    • What if, -- please consider this for just a moment -- what if your cosmic treason, that deserves to be crushed, led God to humble himself and take on human flesh and be crushed in your place? And what if the God who was not guilty of perpetrating all this pain willingly suffered and literally went through hell on earth so you could be healed and given ultimate security -- a love and a hope that can't be severed or killed by suffering or death?
    • And what if one day -- after this God has patiently given merciful opportunity for innumerable rebels to be reconciled to him -- what if he will then return to end all suffering and pain and set the world to rights and make all things new?
    If these things are true, then there just might be an explanation, and even a purpose, for all the pain and suffering. The problem of suffering is still a problem. No rose-colored religion glasses here saying pain don't hurt. But if these things are true, then God took our problem, and made it his.

    Yours sincerely,

    Chris McGarvey

    Thursday, October 22, 2015

    What Do You Do When You Fail? (Or, Our Stupid DIY Righteousness Project)

    When I sin, I can either run to Jesus or I can run elsewhere. Instead of running to Jesus, we so often act like our own saviors. We keep tinkering away on our DIY righteousness project.

    Awhile ago, I was talking with Jeff Stark, a friend who is a biblical counselor. Jeff is a connoisseur of the gospel (don't you want that to describe you?!). He loves to help people learn to run to Jesus. And he is wise to the many ways we try to act like our own saviors. He mentioned four ways we tend to run to other things instead of Jesus. I thought it was a really helpful list: 
    • Feel bad. Beat myself up. ("I can't believe I...!" "What is wrong with me?!" "Uh!!! I can't do anything right!")
    • Feel bad. Try harder. ("I'm NOT going to do that again!" "I am GOING to do better!")
    • Feel bad. Compare to others. ("At least I’m not as bad as...")
    • Feel bad. Redirect against the negative and look to the good things I’ve done or am doing. ("At least I don't..." or "At least I'm doing okay in my ____" or "At least I AM doing ____.")
    We might add that we often don't get any further than "feel bad." We simply feel like a failure (again), and...(big sigh)...move on. 

    Each of these paths is a dead end. 

    So, where should we run? How about this path instead?  
    • Feel bad.
    "Wait a minute! I thought we were blazing a new trail!"

    Actually, it is a new trail. All the previous "feel bad" responses were something different. There wasn't enough God in them.

    Is is bad to feel bad? Not necessarily. You've been unfaithful to your faithful God. You should be grieved.
    "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)
    "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." (James 4:9-10)
    But don't stop there. 

    Listen to what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. They had been in need of repentance, and when he confronted them, they responded well. 
    2 Corinthians 7:9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you...
    Grief over your sin is never an end in itself. The Spirit of God doesn't convict you to rub your face in it. That's what Satan loves to do. He loves to wag his finger at you and tell you what a failure you are ("And you call yourself a Christian?!"). The Spirit, on the other hand, convicts you to lead you to real repentance and real forgiveness and freedom.

    Jesus meant what he said: "It is finished!" You don't have to prove anything to God by means of prolonged penance or self-loathing. That flies in the face of the gospel of grace.

    So, "feel bad" should always lead us TO JESUS. It's what happens when you "come to your senses." God wants you drawn back into fellowship with him, not drawn and quartered.

    When we feel bad about our sin, and it leads us TO JESUS, what should happen when we get there?
    • Confess and repent. 
    Own your sin. Call it what it is. Don't downplay or excuse or blame-shift or justify what you've done. If you find yourself explaining away...minimizing...downplaying...justifying...rationalizing...blame-shifting, then you're basically saying you don't need forgiveness and grace.

    1 John 1:8, 10
    If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
    So, take your real sin to the only REAL SAVIOR. He died for that sin. He is your advocate and mediator. He intercedes for you. 

    1 John 2:1 
    ...if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

    You must get real with God about your real sin. That's what true confession is. If my sin is only between me and God, I need to confess it to him. If it is also against another person and I need to make it right, then my confession and repentance will also have a horizontal component.

    Call your sin what it is, and turn your back on it. Walk away from it because you are walking toward Jesus. Forsake it, because you want to walk faithfully with Jesus. 

    And finally, 

    • Remember and believe the gospel of grace! 
    This is SO IMPORTANT. You need to preach the gospel to yourself. You need to BELIEVE. THE. GOSPEL. Jesus died to save sinners! He loved you and gave himself up for you. You didn't deserve his mercy then. You don't deserve it now. It never was based on what you deserve. And it's not based on that now.

    You don't have to wait for God to "cool off" or give him some time to warm back up to you. Don't treat him like he's just a great big one of us.

    Remember and believe 1 John 1:9,
    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 
    Do you see that little word, "just" in there? Do you know that it is a JUSTICE issue that God forgive his children? If you are in Christ and you confess your sins, he is...JUST to forgive you and cleanse you. He would be UNJUST not to! Why? Because he is a God in covenant with you. That is unbreakable faithfulness and grace, all blood-bought on the cross. Thank you, Jesus!

    Romans 8:1
    There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
    Romans 8:31-39
    ... If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? 
    Christ Jesus is the one who died-- more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 
    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    One final thought. How much power to change is there in feeling bad, beating yourself up, trying harder, comparing yourself to others, and redirecting away from your sin to focus on the good you're doing?

    NONE.

    But the gospel is the power of God to save and sanctify us. No wonder we get in such a rut. This "DIY righteousness project" is such a self-perpetuating cycle. It beats us down.

    But what if we really started regularly running to Jesus? Might the "Jesus righteousness project" actually provide us with power to change? Might it be another kind of self-perpetuating cycle? A glorious one? Might Jesus lift us up?

    • Rather than feel bad and beat yourself up, mourn your sin and be blown away that Jesus was beaten up and killed for it.
    • Rather than feel bad and try harder, grieve your infidelity and put that sin to death by the power of the Spirit.
    • Rather than feel bad and compare to others, beat your breast and say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" And then, "THANK YOU for your sweet mercy to me, a sinner who is now a son!"
    • Rather than feel bad and redirect to the things you're doing well, remind yourself that you're never more worthy of the grace of God on your best day, and never beyond his gracious reach on your worst.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2015

    Are We Freaks of Nature?

    Annie Dillard:
    This (natural) world running on chance and death, careening blindly from nowhere to nowhere, somehow produced wonderful us. I came from the world, I crawled out of a sea of amino acids, and now I must whirl around and shake my fist at that sea and cry Shame! ... Either this world, my mother, is a monster, or I am a freak. ... There is not a person in the world that behaves as badly as praying mantises. But wait, you say, there is no right or wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept! Precisely! We are moral creatures in an amoral world. ... Or consider the alternative.... It is only human feeling that is freakishly amiss.... All right then--it is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave…lobotomized, go back to the creek, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first.”
    -- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2007), pp. 178-79. Found in Preaching: Communicating Faith in a Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller, 278.

    Monday, October 19, 2015

    Jonathan Edwards' Letter to a Teenager

    Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century theologian and pastor, once filled the pulpit for a church whose pastor had passed away. In the wake of his visit, the church experienced some revival, and a teenager named Deborah Hatheway was one of those deeply affected. She wrote to Edwards several weeks later, asking for spiritual counsel.

    Here's part of what Edwards wrote in response (slightly edited for readability and with emphasis added). His advice to her is good advice for us all.

    ∗ 

    Northampton
    June 3, 1741

    Dear Child,

    Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ; it was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan’s whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps in, insensibly, into the midst of religion and sometimes under the disguise of humility. [Therefore,] always look upon [the truths and grace] that have these two effects: (1) those that make you least, lowest, and most like a little child; and (2) those that do most engage and fix your heart in a full and firm disposition to deny yourself for God, and to spend and be spent for him.

    If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul under darkness and dull frames of mind, ’tis proper to look over past experiences, but yet don’t consume too much of your time and strength in poring and puzzling thoughts about old experiences, that in dull frames appear dim and are very much out of sight: but rather apply yourself with all your might, to do an earnest pursuit after renewed experience of grace, new light, and new, lively acts of faith and love.

    One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face, and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute, than examining old experiences...for a whole year.

    When the exercise of grace is at a low ebb, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails, don’t desire to have fear cast out any other way, than by the reviving and prevailing of love, ... for when love is asleep, the saints need fear to restrain them from sin. ... But when love is in lively exercise, persons don’t need fear, and the prevailing of love in the heart naturally tends to cast out fear, as darkness in a room vanishes away as you let more and more of the perfect beams of the sun into it (1 John 4:18).

    —Source: Jonathan Edwards, “To Deborah Hatheway,” in Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 91-95.

    Saturday, October 17, 2015

    One More Reason to Support A Door of Hope

    Did you see the recent piece done on A Door of Hope by Delaware Online? Pray for them as they get their new Middletown location up and running.

    Speaking of ADOH, at one of their fundraising events last year, Eric Metaxes was the speaker. One of the things I remember him saying is this: 
    "The better they do their job, the more money they need (not the more they make!). It’s not that way at Planned Parenthood. That’s a for profit organization."
    Just one more reason you should support A Door of Hope.

    Friday, October 16, 2015

    Explicit Tattoos In Church

    Russell Moore recently pondered a childhood episode when he saw an unsavory fellow in the pew in front of him with an x-rated tattoo on his arm. This guy was "known" for his hard living. After telling the story of his reaction, and his grandmother's response, he asks a great, thought-provoking question:
    "Could the next Billy Graham be drunk right now?"
    He goes on to write:
    The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might currently be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic today. ...
    I encourage you to read the whole thing. It's great application of Jesus' words in Luke 5:32:
    "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

    Thursday, October 15, 2015

    You and I Need to Need

    Eugene Peterson:
    We human beings learn early and quickly to acquire expertise in using our plight, whatever it is, to get those around us to do far more than get us through or over the conditions. We learn how to use the conditions of need as leverage in getting our own way. Not our health, not our maturity, not our peace, not justice, not our salvation, but our way, out willful way. This impulse to make oneself the center, to shrewdly, or bullyingly manipulate things and people to the service of self is what we, at least in our theology textbooks, call sin. Incurvatus in se was Augustine’s phrase for it, life curved in upon itself.
    We are created to be open. To be open to God, to open out towards our neighbors. We can only be whole and healthy in so far as we do this. When we are in need, ... [Our n]eed rips gashes in our self-containment and opens us to the neighbor. Need blows holes in our roofed-in self-sufficiency and opens us to God. But not necessarily.
    For the self-willed self does not give up easily. It makes a persistent and determined stand to use these need-generated openings not to move out, but to pull whoever is trying to help it, into its service, put the neighbors to its use.
    -- Subversive Spirituality, “Teach Us to Care, Teach us Not to Care,” p 158 (emphasis added).

    Wednesday, October 14, 2015

    The Gospel and Caring For the Elderly

    What does the gospel have to do with caring for the elderly?

    Everything, says Russell Moore, a self-proclaimed "recovering social Darwinist." He recently spent a few difficult days getting his grandmother moved into a care home and shares some very helpful reflections.

    How Do You Prepare For Suffering and Persecution?

    Such a good word from Kevin DeYoung (emphasis added):
    How will the church of Jesus Christ respond when the things that the church must believe are considered laughable, backwards, or worse? ...  
    You cannot plan for opposition, at least not in the way we might think. You cannot plan for it by ruminating and worrying about it, or by making yourself miserable now so you’ll be prepared to suffer later, or by fearfully anticipating the worse in every situation. 
    The only way to prepare for persecution (however big or small) is to trust that if that day comes there will be new mercies on that morning for you. The only way to prepare to walk with Jesus on that day is to walk with him on this day. 
    The best preparation is not to meditate on yourself. What would I be like if I were persecuted? Would I be a coward? Will I be terrified?  Sometimes we think, “If I suffer or get cancer or something bad happens to me, I’d be a wreck. I won’t be able to handle it. If persecution comes my way, or people think poorly of me, or if I have to deal with hatred in the classroom, I will surely fail.” But that’s putting the focus in the wrong place. The answer is not to meditate on yourself, but to meditate on Christ. 
    If you want to have a face like an angel on the day of trial, you need to reflect the glory of God now. If you want to see the Son of God in the clouds on your last day, you need to look upon the face of the Son of God on this day. 
    Be full of faith. Be full of wisdom. And pray for the Holy Spirit that you may know Christ richly, love him sweetly, and be assured of his grace and mercy to you at all times. If that is deep in your hearts, then how could you possibly deny him? How could you turn from him? How could you reject Him? He is your only comfort in life and in death.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2015

    A Profound Dialogue with a Gay Activist

    This is profound at several levels. I wish the conversation hadn't ended there. We all could benefit from more candid, yet respectful, personal conversations with people who have very different beliefs.

    Roman Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft recalls a conversation he once had:
    My teacher was an articulate homosexual activist who was arguing, at Boston College, that “Catholic” and “gay” are as compatible as ham and eggs. I respected the clarity and intelligence of his mind and the openness and apparent goodwill of his heart, so I hoped that our conversation might open and clarify both our minds and teach us something new. (This almost never happens when these two sides argue about this subject.)
    I was not disappointed.
    I shall try and reconstruct our dialogue with a minimum of additions and polishings, as I like to believe Plato did to Socrates in his early dialogues. For purposes of anonymity, I shall call my dialogue partner “Art.”
    PETER: Art, I’m really curious about one point of your argument, one part I just don’t understand. And I believe in listening before arguing, as you said you do. So I’m not trying to argue now—that’s not the point of my question—but first of all to listen and to understand. OK?
    ART: Of course. What’s the point you don’t understand?
    PETER: Well, to explain that, I have to ask you to listen too, to where I’m coming from.
    ART: And where’s that?
    PETER: Just the teachings of the Bible and the Church, all of them. I know you don’t believe all of them, only some. But I do. So from my point of view, what you do, and what you justify doing, is a sin. That’s the label you reject, right?
    ART: Right. So what don’t you understand?
    PETER: Please don’t take this as a personal insult, or even an argument, but I know of no other way of phrasing it than with biblical language, which you will probably find offensive. My question is this: Why are you guys the only class of sinners who not only deny that your sin is sin but insist on identifying yourself with it? We’re all sinners, in one way or another, and I’m not assuming your sins are worse than mine, but at least I think I’m more than my sins, whatever they are. I love the sinner but hate the sin. But you don’t do you?
    ART: No, I don’t. What I hate is that hypocritical distinction.
    PETER: Why?
    ART: Because when you attack homosexuality, you attack homosexuals. It’s that simple.
    PETER: But alcoholics don’t say that the Church attacks alcoholics when she attacks alcoholism. And cowards don’t say that they are their cowardice. And murderers don’t say the church is hypocritical for condemning their sin but no them, the sinners. Adulterers don’t deny the distinction between the adulterer and the adultery. The only group of sinners I’ve ever heard of who do this is you. And it seems to me you all do that, you always say that. All gays say that. Don’t they?
    ART: Yes, we do. And I forgive you for being so insensitive that you don’t realize that you’ve done right now what you defend the Church for doing: insulting and rejecting me, and not just what I do.
    PETER: Wait a minute here! You’re saying that when I make that distinction between what you are and what you do, when I accept what you are as distinct from what you do, I’m rejecting what you are? How can I be rejecting what you are in accepting what you are?
    ART: That’s exactly what you’re doing. In fact, you’re trying to kill me.
    PETER: What? That’s crazy. Now you’re being paranoid.
    ART: No, listen: In trying to separate what I do from what I am, you’re trying to separate my body from my soul, my sex life from my identity. That’s what you’re doing by insisting on that distinction. Your distinction between what you call the “sinner” and the “sin” is really death to me; it’s the separation of body and soul, deed and identity. I’m holding the two together; you’re trying to pull them apart, and that’s death.
    PETER: That’s sophistical. That’s an argument that just doesn’t fit the facts. Look at the facts instead of the argument. This is what the church believes about you—what I believe about you: you can be a saint! You have dignity. The Church thinks more highly of you than you think of yourself. She loves your being more than you do; that’s why she hates your sins against your being. We believe your self is greater than your deeds, whatever they are. But you don’t.
    ART: The Church and the Bible will tell me I’m an abomination to God.
    PETER: No! Not in your person, only in your sins, just like the rest of us, like all of us. That’s Paul’s point in Romans 1. He’s condemning hypocritical condemnation of pagan homosexuals by straight Jews just as much as he’s condemning pagan homosexuality.
    ART: The Church is my enemy.
    PETER: The Church is your friend. Because the Church tells us two things about you, not just one, and she will never change either one, she never can change either one, because both are matters of unchangeable natural law, based on eternal law, based on the very nature of God. She can’t ever say that what you do is good for the same reason that she can’t ever say that what you are is bad. She defends your being just as absolutely as she attacks your lifestyle; she hates your cancer because she loves your body. It’s the same authority for both. The authority you hate when it condemns what you do is your only reliable ally in defending what you are. You want the Church to change her teaching on what you do, and you’re trying to put social pressure on her to do that, but if she did that, then she could change her teaching on what you are, too, for the same reason, under social pressures. I’m sure you know that the old social pressures to hate homosexuals are far from dead. You know what happened in Hitler’s Germany. You know how changeable and fickle mankind is—and how dangerous. When the last bastion of absolute moral law is compromised, when even the Church bends to the winds of social pressure, what shelters will you have then?
    ART: I’m not worried about the Left; I’m worried about the Right.
    PETER: Today, maybe, but what about tomorrow? Today the fashion is the be Leftist, but just a short time ago the fashion was from the Right, and tomorrow it may swing to the Right again, like a pendulum. You can’t rely on fashionable opinions to protect you. That’s building sandcastles. The tides always change and knock them down.
    ART: I’ll take my chances, thank you. I don’t know what will happen in the future, I grant you that. But I know what’s happening now, and I can’t take that. We just can’t take your “love the sinner, hate the sin” distinction. That much we know.
    PETER: You still haven’t explained to me why. I began by asking that question, and I really want an answer. I want to know what’s going on in your mind.
    ART: OK, I think I can explain it to you. You say I shouldn’t feel threatened by that distinction, right?
    PETER: Right.
    ART: You say the Church tells me she loves me, even though she hates what I do, right?
    PETER: Right.
    ART: Well, suppose the shoe was on the other foot. Suppose you were in the minority. Suppose what you wanted to do was to have churches and sacraments and Bibles and prayers, and those in power said to you: “We hate that. We hate what you do. We will do all in our power to stop you from doing what you do. But we love you. We love what you are. We love Christians, we just hate Christianity. We love worshippers; we just hate worship. And we’re going to put every possible pressure on you to feel ashamed about worshipping and make you repent of your sin of worshiping. But we love you. We affirm your being. We just reject your doing.” Tell me, how would that make you feel? Would you accept their distinction?
    PETER: You know, I never thought of it that way. Thank you. You really did make me see things in a new way. You’re right. I would not be comfortable with that distinction. I would not be able to accept it. In fact, I would say pretty much what you just said: that you’re trying to kill my identity.
    ART: See? Now you understand how we feel.
    PETER: Yes, I think I do. Thank you very much for showing me that. But do you realize what you’ve just said? What you’ve just showed me?
    ART: What do you mean?
    PETER: You’ve said to me that sodomy is your religion.
     HT: JT

    Monday, October 12, 2015

    The Ironic Similarity Between Magic and Technology

    C.S. Lewis often helps us see through the smoke and mirrors of our age:
    There is something which unites magic and applied science [i.e. technology] while separating both from the 'wisdom' of earlier ages.
    For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.
    For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique...