Saturday, December 25, 2010

Eagerly Waiting

Christmas. Who doesn't love it? How can you not enjoy reflecting on the most amazing miracle ever recorded, when transcendent God stooped to associate with humanity? But Christmas calls us to do more than look back. It calls us to look ahead with joy - or dread.

We cannot reflect on Jesus's birth without remembering why he came. He was not born just so we could have neat nativity scenes and songs about sweet baby Jesus. His main goal in life was not that we could get presents in his honor. His mission was set from before creation - he came to save sinners. Jesus was born to go to the cross, and to rise again and be glorified.

And we know that the story does not end there - Jesus is coming again! Christmas should remind us to not just look back on this wondrous event, but to look forward to its spectacular consummation. He came the first time to humbly go to the cross and die for our sin, but the second advent will have a significantly different goal:

"Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:25-28)

Christmas rightly taught should bring about two distinct reactions, depending on our standing before God. Those of us who are in Christ, who have had our sin dealt with, should experience both joy and eager expectation. We rejoice in what Jesus has done "by the sacrifice of himself", and long for the day when he returns to bring our salvation to its ultimate consummation. One of the all-too-often neglected marks of a Christian is an eager waiting for Christ's return. So this Christmas, if you are in Christ, ask yourself if you properly love the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ.

For those who are not saved, however, there is no such longing for his return. The thought of Jesus returning can bring only the dreadful realization that he is not coming again to deal with sin yet again. He is coming to judge, to crush his enemies beneath his feet, to slaughter the rebels who refused to submit to his righteous rule. They know that the second coming marks the end of the time of forbearance, that there will no longer be a chance to deal with sin, and that it is time to face the appointed judgment. No wonder they will do anything to turn the focus of the holiday away from Christ! Who wants to be reminded of such a fate?

This Christmas, I would encourage you to ponder what your attitude towards Christ's return says about the state of your soul. Are you eagerly longing for it? Horrifically dreading it? Or perhaps totally apathetic towards it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

You're not moving? You're not moving. I can't believe you're not moving.

Recently I read through 1 Samuel, thinking a look at the life of David would be good preparation for the Christmas season. Sure enough, I noticed one parallel I hadn't picked out before - not with David per se, but with the ancillary characters.

Early on in 1 Samuel, we read about the lazy, apathetic priest Eli. He of course would go on to lose the priesthood due to his extreme passivity. Others have noted how frequently the scripture mentions him sitting or lying, a subtle way to illustrate that he wasn't exactly a man of action. The most extreme example of this is found in 1 Samuel 3.

Samuel had been given by his parents to tabernacle service, and he was sleeping in the tabernacle when God called to him. Thinking it was Eli, he kept going to ask the old priest what he wanted. The third time, Eli figured out that it was God speaking. Don't let that slip by too quickly - the creator of the universe was speaking! What an incredible occurrence! And Eli, the high priest, whose whole life's work was to be devoted to serving God - when he perceived that God was speaking audibly, how did he respond?

Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the young man. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Yeah, okay. The one person on earth who should have been most excited about this spectacular, earth-shattering news that God was speaking basically said "God called? Take a message. I'm going back to sleep." Oy.

Fast forward a thousand years, give or take. The parallel I see in the Christmas narrative? Can you imagine what the Jewish religious leaders were thinking in Matthew 2 when the magi showed up? Here were people who had traveled a long, long way because they were certain the long-awaited hope of Israel, the Messiah, had been born. The greatest announcement they could imagine had just been made, and how did they respond? At best, they just pointed the magi in the right direction and asked for a report of what they found. Where was the excitement and urgency? Was there no one to celebrate and go with them? This was what they had supposedly been wanting for generations, they even had the promise on the tip of their tongues, and when it was finally here, at best they couldn't be bothered to walk a couple thousand feet to Bethlehem.

And total apathy about the Messiah is the best possible spin. Notice this shocking phrase in verse 3: "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Far from being their hope, it seems they found news of the Messiah's birth was terrifying. We could analyze why - fear of Herod trumping fear of God, lack of faith that the Messiah would do what God said he would, love of status with the Romans (a theme which would come back later). Regardless, rather than longing for Messiah's appearing, these guys were at best apathetic towards it and more likely in dread of it.

So what about us?

We have perpetual access to God's word. The creator and sovereign Lord of all that is has spoken - and we have a record of it in the Bible! Is our attitude towards that any better than Eli's apathetic laziness? Is it similar to the Jewish leaders' dread? Do we pay lip service to admiring God's revelation, yet cringe at the thought of actually listening because of what it may cost us? Are we waiting for something 'better' than God's word (I speak as a fool)?

If the fact that God has spoken isn't enough to get us moving, what could it possibly take?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


OK, so this is a bit late - think of it more as a Thanksgiving retrospective than a preview. After what was essentially no-post November, I may actually have a few minutes here and there to post this month. So here we go.

I love Thanksgiving. Not because of any of the 'traditional' aspects - although I do love the meal and watching the Lions lose - but because it may be the holiday that most directly illustrates the absurdity of atheism and all forms of godlessness.

We hear so much around the holiday about the importance of being thankful. Even secular, anti-Christian sources remind you to think of all that you have to be thankful for. Yet these folks apparently never stop to think that thankfulness is meaningless unless it's directed: it makes no sense whatsoever to be thankful for some provision unless you are also thankful to its provider.

To whom can an atheist (whether admitted or merely in practice) possibly be thankful for the myriad graces they enjoy? Random chance? Millions of generations of genetic mutations that somehow proved to be beneficial? Uncontrollable chemical reactions in the brains of people they'll never meet that have a butterfly effect on their lives? String theory and the particular variation of the multiverse in which they happened to spawn? Their best possible answers make it seem like I'm hacking merrily through a field full of men of straw.

Consider one of the great Psalms of praise, Psalm 100. I had to memorize this in children's chapel way back in the day, so I'll quote it in the KJV like I remember it. At the center of a great exhortation to praise God and give Him the thanks He deserves, we find this as the ultimate reason for our thankfulness:

Know ye that the LORD, He is God:
It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

He is God. He made us. We are His. Everything we have, all that we are, is owing to God creating, sustaining, and providing for us. As Paul asks, "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"

Small wonder, then, that when Paul begins his great indictment of humanity, he starts by recounting our thanklessness: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Nowadays we don't just have people refusing to thank God, but openly pretending He doesn't exist. They're trying to be thankful for the gifts without acknowledging the giver. Tragic and suicidal.

So this Thanksgiving - and every day - remember not only for what we should be thankful, but to whom we need to be thankful. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Stuff I Never Got Around To - Part 1

The past couple weeks have been absolutely crazy with work. If I had stopped after one week and taken the rest of the month off, it would've been considered a pretty decent month. Two weeks in it's a really good month, and there's still plenty to go. But between the massive workload, long hours, some travel, and wanting to actually see my family at some point, I haven't had much time to write. Sorry, sometimes it happens.

So now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd search through my list of 'blog ideas' and write about something that I just never got around to. I've got quite a long list, so this could be a running item - if I get around to it. Today's entry from the dustbin of ideas comes from November of 2009. Here goes.

You may recall - well, you probably don't at this point - hearing news of this study about the noticeable effects of single parenting. In short, some scienticians took some rodents that normally are dual-parented. They removed the fathers from some of the families, and compared development of the control group with the single-parent rodents. To the utter shock and amazement of everyone who heard the results, taking away the fathers was bad, mmmkay?

A few commentators picked up on this study at the time, bringing it up just long enough to issue a collective "Well, DUH!!!" before moving on. I mean seriously, is it even the least bit surprising to anyone who knows anything about anything that having a father is better than not? I first read about this from the great Al Mohler, who does a nice enough job connecting the study to Biblical data, especially the emphasis on the vulnerability of the fatherless and our mandate to care for them.

But I wonder if the obviousness of the study's findings made it too easy to rush past without pondering the most significant aspect of the study - and how it obliterates a line of argumentation on a seemingly-unrelated social issue.

When I first read this article, my first reaction was amazement at the main finding - that a 'nurture' condition had been conclusively shown to alter the physical structure of the brain.

Now why is this significant? Ponder that, dear readers, and see if you can identify which issue this applies to. Leave thoughts in the comments; I'll provide hints of where I'm going if you need.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dry Springs

In stark contrast to the perpetually annoying chorus of voices within the church today that urge us to play patty-cake with false teachers, to 'engage in open dialogue' and 'learn from each other', we have the book of 2 Peter. Well, we actually have a whole lot of scripture, but 2 Peter is what I just read, so here we are. This short letter displays the difference between true and false teachers, and pulls no punches in condemning those who pervert or undermine the gospel. The next time someone urges you to 'hear out' a rank heretic like Brian McLaren, take a quick look at 2 Peter 2 instead.

This chapter contains a few colorful descriptions of false teachers that just caught my eye this last time through. The metastasizing heretics are "waterless springs and mists driven by a storm". These descriptions are a bit more vivid for me after having been to Israel and other parts of the Middle East, places where it's largely dry. The south of Israel is a barren wasteland, and much of the rest of the region only gets rain a few times a year. A good source of water can mean the difference between life and death. A reliable spring (such as En Gedi) in the middle of the desert is resource precious beyond words. Throughout the region, cisterns holding thousands or even tens of millions of gallons catch as much rain as possible, not wanting to waste a drop of the rain that may not return for a year or more. In that part of the world perhaps more than any other, water equals life.

So imagine you're a traveling through one of the deserts, and as is to be expected, you're getting thirsty. As the miles add up with no sign of water, you're getting increasingly desperate and think this might be it. But then you see off in the distance a big sign for the "En Bell" desert spring and oasis. At last, water! You turn off the road and divert towards the oasis, expecting to find refreshment and nourishment to save your life. As you draw near you see the green plants all around it, and you believe your prayers have been answered. But then you get to the spring and go to drink, and find nothing but dust. The spring is completely dry! Just then you look around and see that the plants are all plastic. There's no actual life here - just a big, phony display meant to make you think there is. Whoever set this up sucked you into his trap, and by now it may be too late for you to get back to the road and find the actual water supply.

Or imagine you're a farmer, and you desperately need the rain to come or all of your crops will die - and possibly your family as well. Off in the distance you see the clouds forming, and they're big! Huge black thunderheads hundreds of miles wide are header your way (the local weatherman calls it the "El Osteen" phenomenon). Finally, water is coming! The clouds get closer, the lightning gets brighter, the thunder is deafening - it's going to be a big one for sure. The crops will be watered, and the cisterns will be full enough to last for several years. But when this huge storm passes over, not a single drop of rain falls. It's all lightning and thunder, all pomp and show, but none of the life-giving substance.

And that's how Peter describes false teachers. Their fate is well-deserved. Those who intentionally deceive, who promise life and give false hope while spectacularly failing to deliver - have nothing to do with them. Find a good church where the life-giving Word is preached without compromise and lived out without fear. And don't be cowed by the PC police into giving a platform to those who scripture explicitly condemns. If they preach a false gospel, treat them accordingly. Love the church (and yourself) enough to take a stand.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Workplace Safety and Response to Correction

This morning I was walking through a jobsite with the site superintendent when we saw one of the dumbest things I can ever remember seeing. At this site, they've cut several shafts for new stairways and elevators, and of course they have guardrails up all around them. One of the ironworkers on the 4th floor was trying to get some equipment to a guy on a lower floor, so he had tied it to a rope and was trying to swing it down to him. When it didn't work well, he stepped out through the guardrails, and was leaning out over the unprotected elevator shaft, swinging this heavy equipment at the end of the rope, with no fall protection at all. Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?

The superintendent saw this guy narrowly escaping a 50-foot plunge to his death and persisting in his stupidity, and of course went over to talk some sense into him (i.e. if I see anything that stupid again, you're getting kicked off all our sites forever). And of course the guy was thrilled that someone cared enough to warn him about how dangerous his situation was, and expressed tremendous gratitude to the superintendent for correcting him rather than letting him fall to his death. Not only that, the ironworkers' manager came over a few minutes later to express how grateful he was that one of his workers had been spared the consequences of his stupidity, and to declare how excited he was to be working on a jobsite where they care enough about worker safety to take corrective measures.

Nah, just kidding.

You know what happened. The worker responded to the rebuke with indignation, declaring that he was perfectly fine as he was, merely a gentle breeze away from a plunge to his death. He complained to his manager, who registered his disgust at all the [many, many expletives] rules on this site that keep anything from getting done, and threatened to take his company off the site if things didn't change (an offer that was very nearly accepted). No gratitude for likely saving the dude's life, but anger at the oppressive rules.

How much can you relate to that? If you care enough to warn someone about the dangers of their perversion, greed, hatred, unwillingness to forgive, indifference to the things of God, persistent disobedience, refusal to do the good they know they should do, or any of other sins, how often does he thank you for caring more about his life (both here and eternally) than he cares for himself? Or is it more likely that you'll be the bad guy, the judgmental one, derided as the holier-than-thou jerk who butts in where he doesn't belong?

It reminds me of the image of the spider lowering itself into a bonfire. A caring person sees it happening, and grabs the spider to save it and put it onto good ground. The spider, far from being grateful for this intervention, lashes out in anger and bites the hand that's trying to save it.

Of course, this is nothing new. We see this same type of reaction throughout scripture. God rebukes his people to get their attention and turn them back from their self-destructive ways, and rather than being thankful for the call back to the right path, they are angry and rebel even more. A frequent complaint God registers through the prophets is Israel's terrible response to judgment. As Isaiah says, "The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the LORD of hosts" (Isa 9:13). Or consider this lament of Amos:

"I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
   and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.
"I also(C) withheld the rain from you
   when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
   and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
   and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
   to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.

"I struck you with blight and mildew;
   your many gardens and your vineyards,
   your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.

"I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
   I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
   and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD.

"I overthrew some of you,
   as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
   and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,"
         declares the LORD. (Amos 4:6-11)

Or as Hebrews begins a discussion of this issue, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him."

Two takeaways from this:
1) When rebuked, take it seriously and learn what you need from it. Be thankful for the brother who loves you enough to risk losing your friendship by putting himself between you and the sin you love.
2) If you're on the other end, care enough that you risk the spite. Remember the end of James: "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." People are stepping outside the guardrails and dangling over the precipice. Love them enough to tell them to come back.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Agreement in Principle

Commenting on John 20:24-29, Don Carson offers this:

We must also reflect on the repeated little word "my". Thomas does not say, "Our Lord and our God," as if he were reciting some sort of liturgical slogan. His confession is intensely personal: "My Lord and my God!" It is never enough merely to confess the truth of something that is out there in the public arena. Even the Devil himself could affirm, however begrudgingly, that Jesus is both Lord and God. But a true child of God is making more than a public statement about a public truth. The Christian is not simply affirming that Jesus Christ is the Lord and God of the universe but that in the most intimate sense he is the Christian's Lord and God. The confession is intensely personal. If you cannot utter the words of this confession with similar deeply personal commitment, you have no part of Jesus and the salvation that flows from his death and resurrection. Your heart and mind must confess with wonder, "My Lord and my God!" (Scandalous, 163)

This morning in church, the sermon was on Exodus 4, where Moses agrees in principle that delivering Israel from slavery and back to the promised land is a good thing, but has no end of lame excuses for not wanting to be involved personally. The point was made: Beware of agreeing with God in general, but denying in reality.

Evangelism? Yeah, it's a great thing to do. How long has it been since I've actually done it? Umm.....
Knowing the Word? Of course it's a worthwhile pursuit. For someone else, right?
Forgiving? Forgiveness is a wonderful, blessed thing! Until I have something to forgive, that is.
Husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her? Oh, how much better of a place the world would be if more men did that! What, me? Well, I, uh...
Caring for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow? Yeah, I think the church should do something about that. Or the government should tax evil rich people to take care of that. Yeah, that'll do it.
Keeping myself from even a hint of sexual immorality? Oh, that would be great if that could happen! What, it's not supposed to really happen, is it?
World missions and loving our enemies? Great! Who, me?

And on and on we could go. There's a lot in scripture that we - I -might think is a great idea. But am I willing to actually own it and do it? It starts with submitting to Jesus as Lord and God, and continues through all the dozens of implications of his Lordship. Do I personally not just acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Savior, but submit to his lordship and embrace his salvation? Am I genuinely saved, and do I live like it? How about you?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Samson and Biologos

I recently was reading through the story of Samson again, and one incident in particular stood out this time. I've always found this vignette a little puzzling:

Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her. The Gazites were told, "Samson has come here." And they surrounded the place and set an ambush for him all night at the gate of the city. They kept quiet all night, saying, "Let us wait till the light of the morning; then we will kill him." But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron. (Judges 16:1-3)

What exactly is the point of this story? To illustrate Samson's great strength? Check that - supernatural strength. The gates of a walled city of that era would have weighed many tons. To rip them out of the wall and carry them miles away and up a hill - I don't know that any modern construction equipment could even do that! So if the author wanted to describe God's empowering of Samson, and tearing a lion apart by hand or single-handedly killing 1000 Philistines with a jawbone didn't get the point across, this would certainly hammer it home.

But there's much more than that going on here. More than just bragging about his God-given strength, this passage is a lament over how pointlessly he squandered it. Samson's God-ordained, angelically-announced mission in life was to kill Philistines, and as this an many other incidents from his life show, God had thoroughly equipped him for the task. He was given physical strength like nothing the world has seen before or since, and he should have been using it to fight for God's people and against God's enemies. Instead, we see over and over again throughout Samson's life that he wanted to be buddies with the Philistines, wanted to marry one even. Instead of fighting them, he was constantly trying to win their approval.

Consider the absurdity of this situation. Samson went to Gaza, one of the chief Philistine cities. To fight? No, to shack up with a Philistine prostitute. When the Philistines figure out he's there, they send a bunch of soldiers to set an ambush for him. When Samson wakes up, what does he do? Go out and kill them? No, he uses his supernatural strength to do tricks for them! As he rips the gates out of the city wall, it's hard not to picture him acting like a 5th grader trying to impress the cool high school kids. "Hey guys, look at what I can do! Please like me!" Instead of using his divine gift to fight God's enemies, he uses it to try to win their approval.

And for some reason, it seems awfully similar to what they're doing at Biologos.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wisdom and Knowledge

Sometimes when you read multiple sections of the Bible concurrently, unexpected connections jump out at you that you hadn't made before. For example, one day last week I was reading the beginnings of Proverbs and Ephesians. Now in the first section of Proverbs, we are implored over and over and over to seek wisdom and knowledge and understanding. In the first few verses of chapter 2, we are implored to receive, treasure, make our ears attentive, incline our hearts, call out, raise our voices, seek, and search like treasure for wisdom. At the risk of understatement, it's really, really, really, really, really mega-important.

Then in 2:6ff we find the source of wisdom. Where should we go with all our seeking, searching, treasuring, calling out for wisdom? "For the LORD* gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright...". Which makes sense - if you truly want wisdom, go to the only wise God.

Anyway, later I was reading the first few chapters of Ephesians. Towards the end of chapter 1, we read Paul's great prayer for the Ephesian church, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him...."

Whoa! That's just what I had been implored over and over to seek with tremendous urgency. Having just read of how vitally important it is to seek wisdom, and that it ultimately comes from God alone, it caught my eye (much more than usual) that Paul here beseeches God to grant the Ephesians wisdom. Just made it stand out a bit, you know? But Paul's prayer doesn't end there - he defines the wisdom that he prays unceasingly for God to grant this church:

"...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

That is, true wisdom consists of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ. If you want to be wise, know the gospel. Any 'wisdom' and 'knowledge' and 'understanding' that doesn't point to Jesus is tragically deficient. Above all else, know Jesus.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Anchor for the Soul

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:17-20)

What is it that ultimately provides stability for our lives? What will keep us steady through the highs and lows, the ups and downs of life? The author of Hebrews points at several things in this passage. First, the character of God - that it is impossible for Him to lie. Second, God's promise. What can God not lie about? His intention to call a people to Himself and bless them, as first promised to Abraham and now received by the heirs of the promise. Third, the method God has used to bring this about - the eternal priesthood of Jesus on behalf of his people.

In short, the anchor for the soul is the gospel.

Now why would he point there instead of, say, their experience or feelings? These converts were enduring persecution, and the threat of apostasy was seemingly constant. What kind of spiritual malpractice - nay, cruelty - would be required to exhort these people to search their feelings and try to discern what God is telling them through their circumstances? How crazy would it be to trust your feelings when your family is disowning you, you're being kicked out of the synagogue, thrown in prison, and everything you own is being confiscated? Thankfully, we have a more reliable guide than our wildly swinging emotions - we have the unchangeable nature of God, the certainty of His promise, and the complete work of Christ.

As Jesus himself said, pointing us squarely to Him: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

On Sermons

"Church leavers think of the traditional sermon as boring, modern monologue. But the early Christians, not to mention the Reformers, had a more corporate understanding of the ministry of the Word. The preacher may have been the only one speaking (except for the occasional and welcome "amen"), but the time was still considered corporate worship because preacher and listener would exult in the Word together. The preacher worshiped as he spoke the Word and the congregation worshiped just as much to hear the Word. If our preaching seems like an oration or a simple lecture and the hearers see themselves as passive pew-warmers, then we are to blame, not the nature of preaching itself."
-Kevin DeYoung, Why We Love The Church, 174

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." Revelation 1:3

Are you prepared to listen to the sermon in a manner that could rightly be called 'worship', that will bring a blessing to you, that will allow you to better obey God's Word?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How low will you go?

Stephen Hawking is known for many things, not least of which is stealing his idea for a donut-shaped universe from Homer Simpson. As you may have heard, he has a new book about the beginning of the universe which, sadly, makes you think he'd be better off getting more of his ideas from Springfield.

The quote which has been headlining the promotional material for this book - what they view as the strongest selling point, the message they most want to get out - is utterly absurd. Consider the intellectual dishonesty and intentional self-deception required for a physicist like Hawking to write something like this:

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist."

This is beyond ridiculous, and Hawking has to know it. What he knows - what everyone who has even the slightest knowledge of gravity knows - is that gravity describes the forces of attraction between things. In classical Newtonian form, the force is proportional to the product of the masses divided by the square of the distance between them. General relativity covers extreme cases such as singularities and massless particles, but even in these cases the objects involved must exist (they have mass, momentum, spin, energy, etc). Where there is no mass/momentum/energy, there is no gravity. For Hawking to pretend otherwise, to claim that a description of interaction between things matters when there is nothing, is delusional beyond imagination (well, almost).

Hawking's nonsensical idea of gravity mattering when there is nothing would be laughable - if not for the tragic ending of those so determined to be 'free' from our sovereign creator.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Oh noes - have I been misusing this scripture?

A verse that I've quoted quite often is Psalm 14:1 (also 53:1) - "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Like many, I've used it in reference to atheists, and used the terms 'atheist' and 'fool' interchangeably. But lately I've been thinking that maybe I've been using this scripture inappropriately, and that this comparison is unfair to fools.

See, the verses say that the fool says there is no God - but he only says it in his heart. And the rest of these psalms show the result of such folly - living as if there is no God produces nothing good, to say the least. The fool of the psalms simply pretends there is no God, and proceeds to live like it.

And yet, even in his insane wickedness, there is no indication that the fool would actually be stupid enough to say there is no God. He wishes there is no God, he lives as if there is no God, but to say it out loud? Even that seems to be too ridiculous for the fool.

But in the race towards insane depravity, the modern atheist leaves the biblical fool in the dust. In his wicked quest to spread his rage against his Creator from his own heart to the public, there is nothing so obvious he won't deny it, no line so clear he won't cross it, no rationalization so flimsy he won't cling to it and bet eternity on it. (Case in point - Stephen Hawking. But that'll have to wait for next time.)

So perhaps I owe an apology to all you fools out there. Sorry 'bout that. But you still desperately need to repent.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Final Beatitudes

When the Biblically-literate hear the word "beatitude", they almost always think first of the opening of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. And for good reason - this series of blessings pronounced by Jesus is the introduction to his gospel, and works as a very brief summary of his teaching ministry. Volumes have been written analyzing these beatitudes (and the rest of the sermon), and it would be well worth your time to master this passage of scripture - and especially to live it out.

But as we've been going through Revelation over the last year at church, another set of beatitudes has stood out. Seven times in this book, Jesus pronounces a blessing on his people. Given the importance of this book as the capstone of God's revelation and the presentation of our hope in Christ, I think these blessings are worth more than a little effort to meditate on. Here they are; read, think, and discuss.

(Rev 1:3) Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

(Rev 14:13) And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!"

(Rev 16:15) "Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!"

(Rev 19:9) And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."

(Rev 20:6) Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

(Rev 22:7) "And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."

(Rev 22:14) Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A little about Stephen

Stephen story in the New Testament isn't very long, but he makes quite an impression in only two chapters. This guy was such a powerful speaker that his most learned opponents "could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking", and resorted to lying about him to try to shut him up. When he was brought before the rulers, he delivered an incredibly bold, convicting, smoldering sermon that left the listeners with only two choices - repent, or kill him. They chose poorly, and Stephen became the first martyr for Jesus. Unwilling to be silenced or compromise the truth, he stands forever as a model to those who would rather die than disown their Lord.

Yet despite his obvious oratory gifts, what do we first see him doing in the Jerusalem church? He's in charge of making sure that when food is distributed to widows, the Jews don't get more than the Gentiles. This incredible preacher is assigned lunch duty, and he does it without complaint.

I was thinking about this recently as I was contemplating those who don't serve anywhere in the church. Specifically, those who are waiting to find "the right place" to use their gifts. Maybe they have musical talent, but there are no openings for 'worship leader'. They want to be teachers, but no opportunities have been made available. Or they look at the known service opportunities, find nothing interesting, and forget about it.

To them, I present Stephen. He was a powerful preacher, but the preaching calendar in the Jerusalem church would be rather full (at best, he would be #13 in line). But rather than sit on his hands or pout, he dove into the ministry that was offered to him - caring for widows and keeping the peace. And when his chance to preach came, he made the most of it.

If you're in a church where you can't serve in your ideal role, be like Stephen. There are so many needs in the body. Find one, and help fill it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

No true Scotsman would write a post like this

There is a logical fallacy commonly known as the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. For those who aren't familiar with it, here's the classic story used to illustrate it:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."

Why bring this up? It seems that NTS has become the accusation du jour for atheists/fools to hurl at Christians. A typical exchange will go a little something a-like-a this-a.

Atheist: There are many Christians who are evil, wicked, immoral, reprehensible, etc.
Christian: Anyone who does such things has shown himself to not be a Christian.
Fool: A-ha! It's the No True Scotsman fallacy! By relying on such a fallacy you show the weakness of your position, and admit defeat! You lose, sucka!

So the question before us today is, is this a proper place to cry 'fallacy'? Let's break down the fallacy and see what exactly is being said.

What you have is group A with essential and necessary membership requirements; everyone who meets the requirements is part of the group, and everyone who is in the group meets all the requirements. In math proof speak, they are "if and only if". In the Scotsman fallacy, the requirement is "being Scottish" (whether born in Scotland, born of Scottish parents and/or just lives in Scotland, the exact definition is beyond the scope of this paper). A man born of Scottish parents in Glasgow is a Scotsman, a German born in Berlin or New Zealand is not. For the group "Pitchers for the Atlanta Braves", the requirements would be (1) a Major League Baseball player (2) for the Atlanta Braves (3) who plays the position of pitcher. Anyone who meets all three requirements is in the group, anyone who meets zero, one, or two isn't. Clear? Mmmmkay.

Next, you have some separate, unrelated issue B, usually a negative condition, such as the acts of the Aberdeen man in the example above. Finally, you put them together - someone who meets all requirements for A, but also does negative B. Is he still in group A? Of course. But someone else in group A could say no, which would be the fallacy.

Now how does that apply to the exchange with the atheist fool? In this case, group A would be "Christians", and issue B would be wickedness/immorality. His claim is that when the Christian asserts that wanton, unrepentant sin reveals someone to not truly be a Christian, he is committing this fallacy. Does this hold up? In order to work, the fallacy requires B to be a completely separate issue from group identity. In other words, whether or not someone is so evil that even an atheist is willing to call it evil must be completely unrelated to whether or not he is actually a Christian.

But if something like, oh, say, submission to the Lordship of Christ is a necessary requirement of Christianity, the objection completely falls apart. (See, among numerous examples, Mat 7:15-27, Romans 6, like, all of 1 John, etc etc.)

A few closing observations.
1) I have no idea how the no-Lordship folks would respond to this. But that's way down on the list of objectionable things about no-Lordship theology, so whatever.
2) Take a gander at the introduction to John Piper's excellent little book, Finally Alive (pdf). Go ahead and read the rest of it too - but for now just the intro will suffice. Note that both the atheist fool and the Barna group begin with the same premise: that someone professing to be a Christian or born again actually is, and that his behavior has no bearing on the validity of the claim. To them, the only requirement for being in A is claiming to be in A. Not surprisingly, both reach a similar anti-Biblical conclusion (that being born again does not result in sanctification). Just something to keep in mind when reading the next Barna book about how we need to reform the church or church growth wizardry or whatever.

Friday, August 20, 2010

For Dan Phillips

By popular demand. Since we're both fans of Justin Taylor, I thought this might be appropriate. Here you go.

Earlier this week, Justin linked to an article based on the logical proposition that calling something by a different name doesn't change what it is. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it so, etc.

Several weeks ago, he linked to the Poythress article on modern spiritual gifts, calling it the best essay on the topic ever. (For DJP's evisceration of that essay, see here, here, here, and here.)

So did you notice how the logic of the former completely destroys the main premise of the latter? Fun.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Rebekah Grace Machel, born May 3, weighing in at 7 pounds, 2 ounces. Behold her majesty:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Question On Dealing With Cultists

This weekend we got a visit from some Jehovah's Witnesses. Occasionally we'll get some Mormons and representatives from other cults to stop by. So it got me to thinking, what's the best way to deal with them? I can think of three basic options.

1) Just get rid of them as fast as possible. Say you don't want to talk to them, make excuses, just don't answer the doorbell, etc.

2) Apparently the J-Dubs were busy this weekend, since they also visited my pastor. You can hear his method here, starting at about 7:00. (Go ahead and listen to the rest of the sermon too, there's hardly a better use of an hour.) Basically he let them know right up front that he knew who they were and what they believed, pronounced Biblical judgments on them unless they repent, and drove them out of the neighborhood.

3) The third option would be to engage them in conversation, letting it be clear that they are under condemnation according to scripture, and taking the opportunity to present the gospel as clearly as possible. Make it clear that you don't regard them as Christian brothers, but as people in need of salvation from God's wrath. They think they're recruiting you, but instead you hit them with gospel truth.

I'd like some input on which is the best approach. I think we can safely say that #1 is the least optimal - there are very few occasions where I'd recommend just getting rid of them. There have been times I've used #2 and #3 and I can see the strengths of both, but I'd like to figure out if one is generally superior to the other.

So what do you think?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lesson From A Fig-Picker

One of my favorite little vignettes in all of scripture occurs in the little, oft-neglected book of Amos. The northern kingdom of Israel was enjoying one last burst of prosperity (just a few years before being vanquished by Assyria), and they had started to believe they were blessed, safe, and secure. But Amos saw their rampant sin and impending doom, and he proclaimed a message calling them to repent or face judgment. His message had been made known to the king's inner circle, and they were none too pleased with it. We pick up in Amos 7:10.

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.’”

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.

Amaziah the 'priest' was nothing more than a yes-man, one of the false prophets the kings of Israel surrounded themselves with to pretend they had the Lord's blessing. (This trend did not die with them, by the way.) When he heard what Amos had been preaching, he had the king bring Amos in so they could intimidate him into silence or, better yet, make him go away. So Amaziah gave him a dressing down, telling him to get in line or take his message south to Judah where that sort of thing was more acceptable. It's easy to imagine Amaziah axing "Who do you think you are? Don't you know what we're supposed to tell the king? Don't rock the boat! Get with the program or go away."

Amos had an answer that Amaziah and King Jeroboam probably weren't expecting:

Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, "I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs."

Interesting, eh? In response to the "who do you think you are?" challenge, Amos essentially answered, "Me? I'm nobody. I'm not of royal descent or noble birth, I don't have a great job, I'm just a lowly shepherd and occasional fig picker." So if Amos was nothing special, why did he go around challenging the status quo? By what authority did he pronounce judgment on the king and contradict all the king's hand-picked prophets and advisors?

"But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.' Now therefore hear the word of the LORD."

Amos knew the truth, that he was nobody special. But he had what none of the supposed priests and prophets of Israel did - the word of God. He was fully aware that his authority did not come from his own greatness, skill, charisma, or persuasiveness. Like Paul, Amos had no illusion of his own grandeur, but he knew the grandeur of the message that was entrusted to him by God.

And so he spoke boldly, pronouncing judgment on Amaziah, continuing to preach God's word even when threatened by the king. God had spoken, and that message was to be proclaimed, regardless of how it would be received, regardless of any opposition. What mattered was not the greatness of the messenger, but the divine authority of the message. It was too important to be compromised, molded to the acceptable standards of the day. What God had said, Amos would say. He would preach the whole counsel of God, because only in God's word was there hope for Israel.

Perhaps we should go and do likewise.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Questions on the NPP

Last night our church hosted a lecture on the New Perspective on Paul, and unfortunately I was not able to attend. This is a teaching I've read a bit about and frankly still don't understand tremendously well, so I was hoping to get some of my questions answered. Since I couldn't go last night and I know some brilliant, well-informed people read the stuff I write (for reasons I can't quite comprehend), I thought I'd throw some of my questions out there and see if anyone can help me out.

1) What if the NPP is correct - how exactly does that change anything about the faith from how it's been passed down (specifically in reformed/protestant/evangelical circles)? How would it change evangelism?

2) If the NPP interpretation of early Romans is correct, how does that lead to the objection of Romans 6? For example, when I'm teaching about the doctrine election, people will generally raise several objections. Frequently these objections will perfectly match the objections Paul raises and answers about election in Romans 9. I think this is a good confirmation that the way I'm presenting this doctrine tracks well with how scripture does, because it brings about the same responses.

Similarly, when teaching through the first five chapters of Romans (or presenting the gospel) in the 'traditional' understanding, one big objection frequently comes up - that we might as well sin all we want if we're forgiven anyway. A natural/logical response to the ideas of sin/wrath/atonement/forgiveness is for people to latch onto the 'forgiveness' part and pervert it into a license to sin (an accusation papists still bring against Christians - much as early unbelievers apparently leveled it against Paul). Romans 6 is Paul's presentation of this objection and his response to it. If Romans 1-5 are understood in the 'traditional' way, it makes perfect sense for this objection to be raised. My question is, if the NPP is true, how does its understanding of 1-5 lead to the objection of 6?

3) Whenever a 'traditional' scholar critiques the NPP, its best-known proponent (NT Wright) will respond by claiming they just don't understand it. Not that they understand and don't agree, nor even that they're intentionally distorting his teachings; no, they're giving a good-faith effort, but they somehow fall short of comprehending. This has come out most clearly in his interactions with John Piper, who Wright credits for diligently studying the NPP and writing the best critique he could, but apparently for some reason he just can't grasp what's being taught (otherwise he'd agree, of course). Don Carson has received similar commendations and rebukes.

Now, by any reasonable measure, Piper and Carson would be considered intelligent and well-educated. Yet both are supposedly incapable of comprehending what the NPP actually says. You will note that never does Wright accuse them of intentional misrepresentation or intellectual laziness. He credits them with honest, good-faith efforts to understand. But they are supposedly incapable of doing so.

So my question is.... can such teaching possibly be the gospel?

Should this not be a huge red flag? The gospel was understood by those who were "not wise according to worldly standards." The poor, uneducated, illiterate slaves of the Roman Empire were fully capable of intellectually grasping the message. It was proclaimed by fishermen who weren't exactly Harvard-edumacated. Those who rejected it are never portrayed as lacking the intellect to comprehend, but lacking the spiritual eyes to embrace. They regard it as folly, not as unintelligible technobabble that flies over their heads.

But in this case, a form of the gospel is presented. Godly scholars, well-educated and intelligent by any measure, make a diligent study of it in order to faithfully re-present its claims. And when they disagree, it's supposedly because the message flies over their heads. Let that sink in. The Bible claims the gospel was easily understood by children and uneducated slaves. This gospel supposedly cannot be understood by godly scholars of the highest order. Something don't line up.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti - A Way to Help

There's obviously a lot that could be said about Haiti now. For example, if I find the time, I'd like to look at why Pat Robertson is at the very least an idiot, or at Luke 13:1-5 and the context which leads to it, which in this instance the topics happen to overlap with the first point.

But for now, I just want to inform you of a way to help in Haiti. My pastor first wrote about his passion here, explaining (correctly) that the first priority in giving aid as Christians is to help our brethren. To that end, Harvest is partnering with Mars Hill out of Seattle in a new venture - Churches Helping Churches. Every penny that is donated will be passed through directly to churches in need in Haiti (or wherever the next disaster or persecution outburst strikes); Harvest and Mars Hill are eating all the administration costs to ensure that all gifts go to the intended recipients.

So please, give as you're able, and give as you're willing to sacrifice. God has blessed us materially beyond comprehension - let us use our blessings to bless our brothers in their time of need.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Complete and Discuss

OK, here's a new little challenge for you. I'll start a verse, see if you can complete it without looking it up. Then feel free to discuss the implications. We'll start with an easy one, something Jesus said. Ready?

"Those whom I love, I...."

Did you get it? What do you think?

Look here if you get stumped, or see the context here.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Unofficial TeamPyro Insane Comment Rant O' The Year Contest

I'd like to take a moment and announce a new semi-running feature: the insane comment thread rant contest, focusing on the comment threads over at TeamPyro. Those guys do a great job unapologetically expounding God's word, and of course whenever that happens it brings out some real wonderful responses, the type that deserve to be brought to light more than buried in a comment thread. The type that provides a great lesson on how not to argue if you wish to be taken seriously.

Every couple of weeks someone will just go on a rant which is completely devoid of coherent thought, or completely misrepresents scripture in a particularly amusing way, or otherwise was written on a typewriter in a shack in Montana. When that happens and I remember to get around to it, I'll reproduce it here for posterity and maybe add some comments on why it's so bad. Then if you want to be taken seriously, just don't write your comments like that. Think of it like How to Write Badly Well, only for theology comment threads.

Our first entry for 2010 comes just two days into the year. Well done. It's a response to this post by DJP, in which he lays out some basic theology on how our plans and God's sovereignty intersect. This prompted a beauty of a rant from (new?) commenter 'healtheland' which gets our year in insanity off to a strong start (at 9:29 AM, January 2!). Some of the great elements of a terrible comment that get squeezed into this one rant include:

1) Start off with a horrible interpretation of scripture, and a passage that's especially hard to misinterpret at that! Somehow the clear teaching of Matthew 6 becomes something opposed to "act wisely and trust God's sovereignty". Ooooookay.....
2) An appeal to "ethnocentric" issues, because somehow what God says is different based on where you live or something.
3) The horrible interpretation seems to become horrible application, as he insinuates that there's something holy about just wingin' it through life and/or living in abject poverty and stone age conditions. Shane Claiborne would be proud.
4) Politics! Can't have a good insane rant without bringing in completely-unrelated political issues now, can we?
5) Katrina (?!?)
6) R-rated Movies and Blackberries
7) A passive-aggressive accusation that all Christians in the West (except the author, of course) are worldly, syncretistic pagans

Wow. Not a bad start. I give it a 6 points for awful handling of scripture, +2 for the attempted appearance of political neutrality, +1 for being so Claiborne-esque, a solid 9. It'll be tough top that one, but I'm sure it'll be done. If nothing else, we'll have our monthly update from Russ the Reformed Charismatic, which is always nice, and I'm sure someone else out there will step up to the plate. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and the trolls are getting their keyboards ready. Let's rock.

First, I would have liked to see your analysis attempt to deal with Matthew 6:24-34. Also, there is an ethnocentric issue here, as the preoccupation with planning is far greater in modern western cultures than they are in other times and places, where people are much less likely to have the idea that they have very much control over their lives or circumstances, where lives do not move according to schedules (except for very rudimentary agricultural ones), and even their very concept of time is different. And yes, the culture that produced the Bible - one where wars, plagues, droughts, famines, etc. were very capable of altering best laid plans - is a lot closer to those than it is to our modern, technologically driven American culture. (Keep in mind: the very reason why paganism, animism and spiritism were such a snare to those in Biblical times was the FALSE promise of being able to impose a spiritual system of control over uncertain and chaotic lives. But where those cultures relied on the false gods of heathen religions, our culture has its own idols: our economic, political, military and technological systems. And yes, Christians are very much wedded to those. Witness the ferocious anger of so many Christians at Obama's threats to change our economic, military and cultural traditions. And yes, there was similar anger directed at George W. Bush.

A classic example is the "conspiracy theory" stuff. Rather than admitting the temporary, precarious nature of things, it is far more easier for one group of Christians with a foot in this world to believe that Obama is weakening our economy and throwing open the door to terrorists on purpose. And on the other hand, Christians of a different political stripe would rather believe that George Bush allowed black people to die in New Orleans because of some alleged racial animus rather than admit that there is only so much a government can do when a historic hurricane like Katrina strikes such a vulnerable area. While people may have legitimate grievances with the ideology and competence of Bush and Obama, the main point is how "the American way of life" is idolatry and how so many American Christians are heavily steeped in it.

Well, most of the Christians in the world cannot afford such delusions, because most Christians now live in the third world, with daily lives not much different from those who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus Christ. And while those Christians still have to deal with the very strong temptations of their traditional local primitive religions - especially when they are syncretized with Christianity - they do not have to deal with the temptations associated with Blackberries and daily planners and our own Tower of Babel-esque myths that we have so much power, influence and control within our own borders and exert it throughout the world.

Worldliness is a huge enemy, and in order to prevent being esnared by it, Matthew 6:24-34 and Romans 12:1-2 are vital. So many of us Christians view "worldliness" as listening to rock music or watching R-rated movies (or, as it were, patronizing "Christianized" versions of those forms of entertainment), but it really goes much further and deeper than that into a person's entire values and worldview.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolution Time

Round about this time, people make their resolutions for the upcoming year. Most likely by now you've seen people axing about it via facebook status, or you've been dragged into a "what's your resolution?" conversation. It's just the way we are - the promise of a new year holds out hope that things will change for the better. So we resolve to do things better this year than we had in years previous.

Many of us make resolutions about how we'll take care of our bodies. We resolve to eat better, to lose x pounds, to join a gym and work out four times a week. Some of us decide we're going to really focus on improving relationships - we resolve to spend more time with our kids, or pay attention to our spouses, or get to know the neighbors. Sometimes it's a resolve to finish that long-dormant project, to read certain books, to take work more seriously, to stop wasting so much time reading stupid blogs, whatever. This season provides a convenient opportunity to look back over the past year(s), see where we'd like to improve, and feel like we can get a fresh start. We resolve to do all sorts of things that we think will make us better people.

With this thought lurking in the background, something I read in the gospel of Luke grabbed my attention. Consider this rebuke Jesus laid on the Pharisees:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you." (Luke 11:37-41)

The Pharisees would have been masters of the new years' resolution game. Frankly, we're nothing but rank amateurs compared to them. They followed the minutiae of the law and their traditions to the tiniest detail. As we see in this and numerous other examples, they fully believed that their observance of self-improvement rituals made them righteous, and they despised those who didn't live up to that standard. If there was something that could be done to make them look more holy, they'd do it, and condemn those who didn't.

And yet as Jesus rebukes them, we can see that they were missing the point entirely. They were living out their rules and ceremonies, yet were internally wicked, merciless, greedy, adulterous, idolatrous, wretched sinners. What they needed was not another ritual, another rule to follow, another behavior to improve. They needed to be changed from the inside out. They needed to be born again, to repent, to love God and fall on his mercy and rely on his grace and live in faith. They needed to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus alone as the sovereign creator and lord of all. If that interior change were to occur, if their self-righteous, prideful rebellion was transformed into humble faithful submission to God, their exterior actions would be truly holy.

I wonder how many of us fall into the same trap as the Pharisees. How many of our resolutions are based on the goal of making ourselves better people by improving our behavior - ignoring the fact that our hearts are stubbornly rebelling against our creator? How does it help us to lose twenty pounds, quit smoking, or limit our TV intake if we persist in rebellion against God, refuse to come to Jesus in faith, and fail to be so overwhelmed by his grace that it overflows in joy and love and mercy to our fellow man? Modifying a behavior does me precious little good if I am still dead in sin and condemned to forfeit my soul.

Behold, now is the time of the Lord's favor. Now is the time of salvation. Stop fooling around with things that are temporary, and pursue what is eternal. Lay aside the silly resolutions, and get right with God! Hear and respond to the blessed invitation God spoke through his prophet Isaiah:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
   hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
   my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
   a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
   and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
   for he has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
   call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
   and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
   and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
   and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy
   and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
   shall break forth into singing,
   and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
   instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the LORD,
   an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.